Ten Thousand Years will not Suffice

by Agape4Rivendell

II  III  IV  V  VI  VII  

11.
Third Age - 2960

Walda had come in the middle of the night, bearing food, wine and warm blankets.

“You will have to take these back with you,” Denethor laughed in the joy of the surprise visit. “Else the watcher finds them and tells. Though they will be sore-missed when you leave.” He did not have to tell Walda that the blankets were not what would be sore-missed, but his friend’s presence.

“We will not look to the time of my leaving,” Walda had said. “We will look to the stars. They are the same as those in Gondor?”

“Yea, verily they are. Though their positions are slightly moved. But look. I have not seen that star before, off to the south of us.”

“Nay, I have not either,” said Walda, “It is bright – brighter almost than Eärendil.”

“You know the night star by that name also?”

“We do.”

Denethor sat in silence, wondering of the things that were common to both races of men, and wondering when the rift that sundered Rohan and Gondor had occurred.

“If neither you nor I have seen this star before, perhaps it is some portent for our land?”

~*~

How strange that he would remember that conversation. He looked towards the south sky and marked the star again. It shone brightly in the night. ‘Why would a new star appear,’ he wondered again, ‘in the year that the Corsairs allied themselves with the one we do not name; the same year he rebuilt his black city?’

Signs and portents. He shivered slightly and pulled his cloak closer. Ten years had passed since that night and Walda himself had passed, stricken by wound-fever just this past month. Denethor’s heart grew heavy again, so he searched once more for the star. Whatever the reason, it gave him hope. He looked up as Amdir approached.

“My Lord, here is some ale. Will you not come by the fire? The men are restless and your presence reassures them.”

Denethor snorted. “It is not my presence that reassures them, but my sword.”

“Aye, my Lord, you have become a warrior mightier than the great Boromir himself.”

Denethor burst into laughter. “Enough of this foolery. I cannot abide your jibes any longer, my friend. Let us to the fire.”

Damrod moved over to make room for his Captain. “What news from Ithilien?” he asked in Sindarin.

“The Rangers under Inlach have been deployed to Henneth Annûn, at last. If we had garrisoned them earlier... but they are now ready to harass the Enemy.” Denethor had responded in the same tongue. Not many knew of the existence of the hidden fortress, but both Amdir and Damrod were there at the finding of it in 2948.

Denethor raised his eyes at a sound. Two of his men, new recruits, were walking towards him. The taller stepped closer, while the other hung back. “Permission to speak, Captain?”

“Of course,” Denethor motioned for the man to sit, but he did not. “What troubles you?”

“Our mission. We have been traveling more than a month, yet our orders were to foregather at Nardol. Will we be returning to the garrison soon? We have seen no sign of Orc. Perhaps the reports were false.”

Denethor’s cheeks blazed. The veiled insult to Walda’s men hung heavy in the air. “The men of Rohan are our allies. If they have reported Orc movement in this part of Gondor, then know it is true. We search till we find the band or their dead carcasses, fired by the Rohirrim. Their zeal appears greater than our own, if all that is on your mind is returning in safety to Nardol.” His voice fairly crackled with suppressed rage. The soldier bowed and hurriedly backed away.

“Was there call for such a response?” Damrod asked as one friend to another. “Conditions have been harsh; this winter is cruel and the men are cold and weary.”

Denethor dropped his eyes to the fire. Taking a stick, he stirred the embers until the flame rose high into the air, sparks flying off into the night. “Too many men of Gondor believe that we are better than the men of Rohan. Yet, Walda’s blood was the same as mine.” He marveled as this thought struck him. Before he had fought in Walda’s company those many long years ago, he had thought the same. He had had respect for Thengel alone of all the men of Rohan. “If I allow this to continue, it will be as the fire before us. For now, the embers of distrust lie dormant, but if I do not stop this now, the embers will turn to fire and the bonds will be severed. Long have I toiled to hold the allegiance of Rohan, even through the loss of Thengel’s friendship. I will not let it go easily.” He was silent for a few moments longer.

“It was fate that had us stationed at the garrison of Nardol, else Walda would have passed ere I was able to farewell him. I promised him that I would follow and destroy this band of Orcs. And I will not break my promise, though it take even a year to fulfill!”

“Was it not Walda who pledged his company to Gondor’s aid after ‘Wen...” Amdir stopped at the stiffening of Denethor’s body.

‘Aye, it was Walda,” Denethor said quietly. “But Orodruin erupted shortly after Thengel was crowned King of Rohan. It seemed all of Middle Earth conspired against us that year. Thengel’s chosen, that Thorongil, had even counseled restraint. Restraint!” Denethor threw his cup at the fire. Sparks flew as it hit one of the encircling rocks around the fire and bounced off onto the other side.

Amdir raised an eyebrow, walked over, picked up the offending cup and returned it to Denethor. “Mithrandir also counseled restraint,” Amdir said quietly.

Denethor stood up, glared at his friend, and walked towards the perimeter of their camp. Amdir followed him. “You are in a foul mood tonight?”

“What would you have of me?” He closed his eyes. “ I cannot understand why father gives ear to the wizard’s counsel. I feel that I fight three enemies: the one we do not name, Thorongil, and Mithrandir.” His left hand clasped and unclasped the hilt of his sword.

Amdir was silent for a moment. “Thengel looks to Thorongil with respect. What is your quarrel with him?”

“I know not. My heart is uneasy whenever I am in his presence. Some premonition.”

“You could be brothers, you look so alike. Is he of the blood of Númenor?”

“I know not, and that is another thorn in my side. No one seems to know anything about him, other than that he comes from the North. Yet he has become Thengel’s second!” A heavy sigh escaped him. Thorongil’s presence had made it more and more difficult for him to visit his old friend and Captain, and their friendship suffered.

“And Mithrandir?” Amdir asked.

Denethor spat. “He is a wizard. Need more be said?”

Amdir smiled. Long had it been since Denethor had been in such a mood as this. “The men wonder at their Captain’s actions. Mayhap if you came back to the fire...?”

“I am tired, Amdir. Check the pickets. I am turning in.”

“Yes, my Lord,” his friend said and turned back to camp.

~*~

It was almost dawn and still sleep had evaded him. The snows had come during the night, laying a blanket of white over the sleeping men. He had risen to relieve himself and somehow had become separated from the rest of his company. He turned his head right and left. ‘Where are they?’ he wondered. He had only gone a few steps, he thought, but the snow had changed the landscape and he found himself confused. The hairs on the back of his neck stood up. He quieted himself and listened. There, off to the left, he heard the faint clink of armour. He knew he best find his men. This was going to be a full-blown mountain storm and they must move to the lowlands as quickly as possible. Born in the fire and dark of the mountains, Orcs hated snow. They too would quickly retreat to the warmer clime of the foothills.

Heading towards the sound, he crept as silently as full armour would let him. He cursed the wearing of it now. The frigid air imbedded itself into the metal and he was becoming very cold. ‘At least I have gloves,’ he thought. The sound seemed to be going away from him. Had the men broken camp? That was an impossibility. Amdir would not leave without him. He quickened his pace. “What...” he cried aloud. Before him stood a man, at least something akin to the shape of a man, but squat and round. He remembered the old tales and stood still. This was not an ally, but perhaps it was not an enemy. The creature had not moved. Denethor himself kept still, then slowly raised his hands, palms outward. The Wose, for Denethor knew that is what it was, grunted, gestured for Denethor to follow him, turned and moved off to higher ground. Denethor stood for a moment, unsure what to do, but the Wose kept moving. Denethor knew he needed to follow, to discover what manner of men these were, and what their plans for Gondor were. The creature could have killed him when first they met; Denethor knew they used poisoned arrows and he had been caught unaware.

They walked for close to an hour, always climbing. Denethor knew Amdir would be deeply concerned and would form a search party. The snow, however, was covering any tracks they had made. He was becoming more and more concerned himself. Finally, the Wose pointed to a cave, barely discernable in the trees, and motioned for Denethor to go inside. After a heartbeat’s hesitation, Denethor bent low and entered the cave. The warmth of the fire hit him as he unbent himself and stood. For that, he was grateful. For what stood before his eyes, he was alarmed.

~*~

Damrod shook Amdir frantically. When finally his eyes opened, Damrod whispered, “Denethor is missing.”

Amdir looked at him as one who has lost his wits. “What are you saying? He has nowhere to go. He would not stray from the camp. Mayhap he moved closer to the fire?”

“I have looked. I have looked everywhere and I tell you, he is not in the camp!” Damrod hissed.

Amdir stood, quickly looked around him and had to accept what Damrod said as true. “I do not understand. Is there a sign of a struggle?”

“Nay. His blanket has been moved back as if he had left it willingly, but there is no sign of him.”

Shivers ran down Amdir’s arms. “Wake the men. We must search for him.”

The camp quickly awoke and patrols were sent out in all directions. After an hour, Amdir knew they were in serious trouble. Denethor was nowhere to be found and there was no sign of him, nor any trail to follow. The snow had covered even the patrols’ tracks as they searched.

“What are we to do?” he heard the tall soldier ask. “We should leave, go back to Nardol and get aid.”

Amdir strode towards the man, grabbed him and snarled, “I will hear no further discourse from your lips. Do you hear me? And when we return to the garrison, you will hold yourself under house arrest. Now pick up your belongings and join your patrol.” He turned towards Damrod. “We will keep our base camp here. A small contingent will keep the fires burning. The rest of us will...” ‘Where will we start,’ he wondered. ‘Should we go in all directions or just concentrate on one area?’ They were only one company, seventy men. 'How do I best use them?' Damrod waited. “We will break into seven patrols," Amdir continued. "Each patrol will walk forward, towards the summit, for one hour. At the end of that time, the outer two companies will turn east and west. The other three will continue northward.” He turned towards his trumpeter. “You will sound the call once every quarter hour. Damrod, you will command those left here.”

“Nay, Amdir, I will not stay,” he said in Sindarin. “Please, put someone else in charge. I would be about the search.”

Amdir looked into his friend’s eyes. “I have almost no hope that we will find him. The storm rages. After the hour, I would have you take a unit and return to Nardol as quickly as possible and bring the entire garrison, less one company. Once you return, you must start the search from the base of the mountain, whilst we continue on upward.”

Damrod shook. “I understand. I am sorry. I will do as you command.”

Amdir turned, assigned those to lead each patrol, and started off northward. The cold was seeping into his very being, but he was unsure if it was the cold of the snow or the cold of fear.


II.

Thorongil walked towards the throne, the last rays of the sun catching in the windows high above the throne, sifting through the banners hung low, and leaving strange streaks on the floor. Thengel's face lit up when he perceived him standing silently, waiting for his King. "Come, Thorongil, we are going to feast tonight. Théoden has had a fine day of sword practice and I have promised him we would celebrate." He stopped as Thorongil kept silent. "What is it? What news bring you?" His tone had hardened.

"Thengel, King. A messenger has come from Halifirien. There has been an ambush and Walda is dead along with many of his men. Men from Gondor, under Captain Denethor, had come to the company's aid, but too late."

Thengel stood. "This is old news given nigh unto two fortnights ago; have I not sent forth Eómund's éored to search for and kill their attackers?" He stopped. Thorongil was unusually quiet. "What further news?"

Thorongil took a deep breath. "Denethor is missing. It is nigh unto three days since last he was seen. They have searched the Drúadan Forest, but to no avail."

Bewilderment clouded Thengel's eyes for a moment and he sat hard in his chair. "What has Ecthelion done? Has he sent his Knights?"

"I have heard naught but that the garrisons at Amon Dîn and Nardol have been emptied to help in the search."

"Ready my horse, and yours too. We ride in one hour." Thengel almost ran from the room. Thorongil attempted to stay him, but the King had left the room before a word had left his second's mouth.

~*~

Morwen pulled his heavy cloak from the cupboard, shook it out and held it for him. “I would away with you, my King, if not for this.” She stroked her full belly.*

“I know you would, my beloved. Even if you were not with child, I would not allow you on this venture. The Orcs must be fierce and strong to have killed Walda and so many of his éored. His prowess as leader had become legend. He will be sorely missed.”

“But,” she pointed out; “I have proven useful in skirmishes in the foothills to the north of Edoras.”

He strode towards her, took the cloak from her outstretched hands, and put it on their bed. Then, he took her in his arms. “They do not call you Steelsheen for naught, my love. You are a true shieldmaiden of Rohan, though, thankfully, you have not vowed yourself from our bower.”

She leaned into his chest and sighed. “I seem to do the opposite,” she said and gave a small laugh.

He hugged her tighter. “You fill the Golden Hall with the laughter of our children. What more could King ask for? Warriors and shieldmaidens for Rohan and comfort for our old age.”

She tried to push herself away in anger, but he held her ever closer. “So that is what I have become,” she mocked, “begetter of warriors?”

He clucked his tongue, kissed her brow, and wept openly. “Nay, my beloved. You are my very life.”

Nonplussed, she folded into his body. “Forgive me, my King. Verily, you are my life. I will not tell you to take care, for I know your wisdom in matters of battle. Remember that wisdom, when it is needed, and come back to me.”

~*~

Struggling to quell the fear that assailed him, Amdir strode towards the fire. Damrod stood. "There has been no word?"

"No, my Lord. Nothing. The men from Amon Dîn arrived last night and have begun searching the lower foothills. Here is the map that Denethor made five years ago. I have marked where each company of men is searching."

Amdir stared. The forest and mountain were so large; they would need more than three times the men they had now if they were ever going to find Denethor. "The band of Orcs was found?"

"Yes, my Lord."

"Stop it! Stop calling me that! It is Lord Denethor's title, not mine!"

Damrod stopped. He hung his head, bit his lip and closed his eyes. He knew what Amdir was feeling; a part of him felt it too. Long had he served Denethor. Long had they been friends, but not as long as Amdir.

Amdir strode from his side, shaking his head as he walked. A moment later, he returned. "I am heartily sorry, Damrod."

"Nay, my…" He wanted to kick himself. "Amdir, we will find him. There was no sign of struggle. The Orcs were found and he was not among them. Some magic perhaps that we have not considered."

Amdir looked up at that. He remembered Denethor's brushes with the wizard. A shudder ran through his body. "You speak true. Denethor is brave and battle smart. He will know how to take care of himself. There is something else here that we are not considering. Let us take a moment and think of the legends and tales that have come out of this place." He wished mightily that he had spent more time with Denethor in the Great Library.

Both men sat by the fire. Amdir fingered the braid that outlined the tree of Gondor on his tunic, while Damrod poked the fire with a stick. "This is hopeless," Amdir suddenly cried. "I know naught of this place."

"Amdir," Damrod said, "mayhap one of the men stationed at Eilenach knows something of the tales. After all, there is a small garrison at the top of the summit. I can send for their commanding officer and we can question him?"

~*~

"Baranor, Captain of Eilenach, at your service, Lieutenant." The man saluted and stood silent, waiting.

"There are tales told about many places in Gondor, Baranor. I need you to think. Have you heard any tales or legends of the Drúadan Forest? Of this area that we search?"

"Aye, my Lord. There have been tales of strange men, rushing from the trees and attacking any who would stand in their way. Yet, I have heard no tales of them harming men of Gondor. They are said to use arrows tipped with poison, that they hate Orcs, and that they are half-naked and wear only grass skirts. These are only tales, though. I myself, nor none of my men, have ever seen one. We stay to the outskirts of the Wood, high above the tree line though, and venture not far into it, unless following Orcs."

"Then where do you patrol? Never mind. We will discuss that later. So do these men, these creatures, have a name?"

"The only name that I have heard is Wild Men."

"That does not bode well for Denethor, if he has become entangled with Wild Men." Amdir stated dryly. "Thank you." He gestured and the Captain left him. Clearly, Amdir was in charge of this undertaking.

Damrod stood. "Let us assume these Wild Men have our Captain. They must leave some sort of trail. The snow stopped falling this morning. If our men begin the search again, starting from here and fanning out, we must come upon some sign."

"We need more men." And as he spoke these words, men on horseback broke through the forest into their camp. "Thengel," Amdir cried. "You have come. How did you know? Are you prepared to search?"

"Stop, stop," Thengel cried good-naturedly. "Take a breath. I will wait."

As Thengel dismounted, he found himself hugged warmly.

"You have been missed, my friend." Amdir said, and then, remembering whom he was addressing, stopped. "I am sorry. I have overstepped my bounds."

"Nay, Amdir, you have understepped by not sending for me immediately. Has there been further news?"

"How many…?" he could not answer Thengel's question for his entire being strove, yet feared, to hear the answer to his own question.

"Two hundred strong; an éored and then some," Thengel said. "Show me what you have done thus far." The King gently took command and Amdir gratefully relinquished it. Two heads bent over the map table, looking at the large scrawl that was Denethor's, one fair-haired, the other raven.

"After all this is over," Thengel finally stood straight, "we should go fishing."

Amdir stretched and smiled. It was the first upon his face in six days. "It is good to be with you again. Your plan is sound."

Thorongil stepped forward in response to Thengel's gesture. "Here is where you will lead the éored," Thengel pointed to the map. Thorongil bowed and turned away. Soon the sound of horses' hooves was heard as the éored moved away.

~*~

She was pacing back and forth in front of the Steward's Chair, clasping and unclasping the hilt of her sword, much in the same manner her brother did. She had strapped her sword to her side as soon as the messenger had come to her study; his face vividly telling her something was seriously wrong. 'Does Ecthelion think that he and Denethor are the only ones in the family with any foresight?' She thought as she stamped to the Great Hall. "What do you mean, he is missing? How do you misplace a Captain of Gondor?" Indis spat the words. Her father sat back, bitten by her anger. "Do you think I will countenance one more member of this family being harmed in any way? What have you done, then?" she asked. "How many battalions of Knights have you sent?"

Ecthelion stepped out of his Chair and put his arm around her shoulder. She wanted to swipe it away, her fear and anger were so great, yet she stilled herself and permitted it.

"By the time I sent Knights, I believed he would have been found. You know your brother; he is resourceful. He will return shortly."

She pulled herself away, stunned beyond words. He saw the look in her eyes. Perhaps he had erred; perhaps he should have sent a company or two.



*author's note - do not kill the messenger, dear friends. Honestly, Tolkien had poor Morwen have five children within 20 years. That's more than one child every five years!!!


III.

It had been at least two days since he had seen or heard anyone; three since he had eaten anything. He had nothing to reckon the time with; his prison was as black as the sewers of Osgiliath when the night sky was bereft of moon or stars. Yet, his training had taught him ways to mark time. He laughed to himself. 'It is the grumbling of my stomach that keeps time!' The smile quickly faded. How long would he be held? Did they have any intention of releasing him? What were their plans for him?

He had come into the cave and was greeted by the sight of at least one hundred of these dark, foreboding men staring at him, scowls on their faces. They were short, hairy men, all looking strangely the same with wispy whiskers sticking out of their chins and wearing only grass skirts, even in the dead of winter. He had tried to stand up straight, but his head had bumped itself on the low ceiling well before he was halfway standing. Low for him, but not for the Wose. Most of them moved aside as he had entered and his gaze was drawn towards a chair at the far end of the cave. Upon it sat a most gruesome looking old Wose. Neither crown nor device did he wear of any kind, yet Denethor knew this was their leader.

He took a deep breath and walked forward. Some of the creatures started towards him and he realized that he had his hand on the hilt of his sword. He had been unconsciously clasping and unclasping it. He let it go and slowly raised his hands, palms opened. He wished sincerely he could let go the fear that coursed through his veins. There had been no tales of Wose attacks upon Gondorians, but their demeanor was far from friendly. In ages past, the Rohirrim, on the other hand, had oft hunted these creatures.

As he approached the chair, a slight stir arose and he slowed his gait. He stopped about five meters from the Wose, bowed his head and placed his hand to his chest. The Wose just growled and gestured to two creatures standing next to him. They strode forward and started to take his sword. Before he thought, he had unsheathed it from its scabbard and had assumed his battle stance, the sword held comfortably in his hand. The creatures stepped back, picked up bows, and began to arm themselves. 'This will not do,' Denethor thought, 'the arrows are no doubt poisoned. I will be dead before I am able to take any with me.' He stood up as far as he was able, turned the hilt away from him, and offered it to the head Wose. The sword was quickly taken by one of the creatures; he was further searched, but since he had been taken directly from sleep, he had nothing further with him. Thankfully, he had his cloak. Two others grabbed his arms and forced him to the back of the cave. A stone was moved and he was pushed into a little alcove. The stone was rolled back and that was the last of the daylight.

He had walked the perimeter of the alcove hundreds of times since being deposited there and combed every corner, hoping to find some means of escape. There was none but through the stone-covered entranceway. He had then attempted to move the stone, but it would not budge.

He heard a noise, stone scraping against stone, and moved away from the entrance. In the faint light, he saw the stone had been rolled away, a bowl and a cup were set down, and the stone was rolled back again.

'Wonderful,' he thought grimly as he picked up the bowl and felt twigs and shrubbery in it along with a few berries, 'just like at Amon Anwar. The best of food.' He devoured it quickly and found that the cup held clean, clear mountain water. He wished for more. He also wished his silent keeper had taken the chamber pot. The smell was becoming almost too much to bear.

~*~

She chided herself for letting her temper get the best of her. She could not imagine that he would not have sent a rescue party. She stormed the balcony of her bedchambers, yelling her anger into the wind. At last, she sat on the cold stone floor and sobbed. This is how Listöwel found her. She gently helped her to stand, walked her to an overstuffed chair and forced her to sit upon it. Quietly, she fixed tea at the fireplace and brought it to her friend. She sat at her feet, quietly waiting for Indis to speak.

“I cannot keep from shivering. Thank you for the tea; it was much needed.” She sat back in the chair and sighed. “My father is a mystery to me; has always been so. Every time I think that we are becoming closer, that I am finally understanding his ways, he does something that is beyond my comprehension. Did he not consider that Amdir would not have sent the message asking for help, if help was not indeed necessary?”

“Has he sent it now?”

“I do not even know. I... I left the Great Hall before I did or said something I would regret.”

“I will go to Ingold. He will tell me what plans are being made, if any. And if none are contemplated, I will very much use all my powers of persuasion to make sure he speaks with the Steward. Even if help is sent too late... I am sorry. That is not what I meant to say. Even if help is not needed because they have found Denethor, it is help not wasted.”

Tears again sprang to Indis’ eyes. “Too late. Always, for the Steward’s family, help seems to come too late. My poor beloved ‘Wen.” Sobs shook her body again and Listöwel rose to hug her.

“Be at peace, my dearest friend. ‘Wen is now. Ever was she in pain here. There had been no peace for her ever, after your mother’s death. Her timid, gentle nature was not for this place. She is in a better place, I am sure. And happy, I hope.”

“Yes, she is happy, I am sure. All I want for our family is happiness and peace. Is that too much to ask of the Valar, sister-friend?”

“Nay, it is not too much and it will one day come to pass. There will be happiness in the House of the Stewards.”

Indis drew in her breath. ‘The House of the Stewards.’ What had Listöwel said? Was this foresight? Nay, she could not think that. The House of Stewards was the burial ground for her family. There was no happiness there. Only cold and dark and bitter visits. She shivered.

Listöwel’s eyes opened wide, seeing the shiver and realizing that her words of comfort were far from comforting. “Absenen, forgive me, dearest sister. I misspoke again. I do not know why my tongue is betraying me.”

“Na lerya, Gwathel,” she slipped into Sindarin. “Va mahta.” Slowly her eyes closed, the tea fulfilling its purpose. Sleep came.

Tears had filled Listöwel’s eyes as well and she again sat at her friend’s feet.

~*~

“Tracks have been found further up the mountain, my King. I have sent one entire company in that direction. They are not the tracks of men of Gondor, nor of men of Rohan.”

Thengel looked up at his second. The sun caught his eye and only the outline of Thorongil was visible through its strong light. He caught his breath. They could be twins! His mind reeled. There is something here. There is something strange about this man and the Steward’s son.

“My King?” Thorongil asked.

Thengel blinked, looked away and when he looked back, the sun was lower and Thorongil was fully visible. Still, the likeness remained, but not so apparent. “Place three companies in that area and have them search every nook and cranny. It is now seven days and I want him found.” His voice cracked from the force behind it. He took a cup and filled it with wine and handed it to Thorongil. “I love the man as if he were my brother. I will not see harm come to him. Do you understand, Thorongil?”

“Yes, my King. He will be found before the night comes, if I have any say in the matter.” His face was now grim and reflected the concern of his King. “By your leave?”

“Go.” Thengel turned towards the maps and held his breath. ‘It is too long. I cannot begin to think where he might be or what has happened to him. How he could have been taken so easily?’

“My Lord?” Amdir stood at his side. “Is there word?”

“Yes. Thorongil’s company found tracks near the beacon. Three companies have been sent hither. We will find him. Thorongil is the best tracker I have ever seen. He puts my men to shame. He has vowed to me that he will find him before night falls. And I trust his word.”

“Then I will trust it too, my Captain,” Amdir said with a smile. “Ever, when you commanded the Horse Guards in Minas Tirith, your trust was most difficult to attain. But once attained, it was never lost. I will trust the one you have put your trust in.”

Thengel smiled. “I will tell you this, Amdir. Thorongil is an enigma. I now nothing of his background, nor of his people, yet he is my trusted right hand. I... I know Denethor is not happy with this, but I must put my people’s security above my heart’s own wants. Denethor must learn this too. Someday, he will have to put his trust in another. I had hoped it would be sooner, but he is stubborn and proud. I know he trusts you and that he trusts me, but not wholly. And that is what is needed. Else he will fail. It would be a catastrophe if he fell. For all of Middle Earth, for there is greatness in him, my friend.”

“I wish the same for him. He turns to me now only in the most desperate of times. In years past, it was difficult for him to reveal his thoughts; now it is nigh unto impossible. It grieves me, Thengel.” Amdir had slipped into the speech of friends. “Do you remember our fishing trip? Life was sweet then. I believe we should have made that a yearly occurrence. It might have helped Denethor to be open and frank with his friends. He had been at that time. Now... I miss our camaraderie, our friendship. We have been stationed apart too many times and he has no other that he leans upon. And because of the times of separation, he no longer leans upon me.”

“Aye. So you think it is not just Thorongil’s presence that causes our friendship to wane?”

“It is his years with no friend at his side, with his father’s constant manipulations, with his sister’s death, with the constant questioning of his own worth that taunts him with his every decision. I would that Ecthelion had kept me ever at his side. I know not where his path takes him.”

Thengel sat heavily in his chair by the fire. His face looked haunted and old. “There are many paths that may be taken by each of us, Amdir. Many do not look wise, in hindsight. Would that I had never left Minas Tirith. The strength and safety of Rohan depends much upon our brethren in Gondor, and I would that I was still part of that strength. We fight only skirmishes here; the real war is in Gondor.”


Absenen - sorry
Na lerya – let it go
Gwathel – sister (sworn)
Va mahta – I will not fight


IV.

Six days now and no contact, no inkling of what his fate would be. The twice a day feeding times were his only exchange with his captors, and yet, even at those times the stone was not rolled far enough back for more than a shaft of daylight to filter through. No word was spoken. He did not even know what tongue they spoke. The stone cup and bowl were shoved forward; his empty one was taken and the chamber pot remained. The darkness, the cold, the wet, and the stench were driving him mad. Surely, they would come for him soon. He had availed himself of every device he could think of to keep hope in his heart, but it was fading fast as his strength faded. Even death... no he would not think that.

And suddenly, as if the Valar finally heard, the stone rolled back at a time that was not the customary feeding time. He tried to stand, but the sickness that had begun to assail his body two days past, had left him weak. He clung to the wall and pulled himself up. It must be the twigs they had fed him. His body was not used to such fare. He wiped his mouth from the last bout just passed, shivered and waited. The light blinded him as the stone was pushed fully away. He waited.

~*~

The noise of the scuffle drew his attention. "What is going on over there?"

"King Thengel," a man shouted. "Thorongil is coming and he has something with him."

At that, Thorongil pushed through the crowd of men gawking at his prisoner. Standing before his King, he shoved the hobbled creature to the ground. "We found this holding this." And there before him in Thorongil's hand, unmistakably, was Denethor's sword. Thengel's face fell and Amdir took a step forward, bent on wreaking havoc on the prisoner to drive an explanation from it. Thengel put his arm across his friend's chest and stopped Amdir’s forward progress. 'So this is a Wild Man,' Thengel thought. A shiver ran down his spine as he thought of the tales of their lightening-like strikes, the poison that could fell a man almost the moment the arrow pierced him, of children being stolen for food. These could not be true tales. Old men sitting around fires on the cold winter nights that assailed Edoras told them. They could not be true. And yet, here stood one before him, in the same likeness as the stone carved ones by the Mundberg.

He sat in his chair and beckoned the creature forward, but it shook its head and would not come. Fear played on its face and in its eyes; yet a glee seemed to shine in those same eyes. The creature knew! It knew they were looking for Denethor and it knew it was safe as long as it kept his whereabouts secret. 'How am I to get this one to speak, to tell us where the sword came from? I had not heard they were cunning, yet this one is.'

Thorongil grabbed the creature by the arm and brought him to Thengel. "Speak, if you value your life," he growled at him. The creature looked up and smiled. Amdir stepped forward and would not be held back, his knife flashing out quickly and finding its way to the creature's throat. "If you do not tell me," he snarled in the Common Tongue, "I will cut off your ear. And then I will cut off the other, and another part of your miserable body until you have told us what we want to know or until you are dead. It matters not to me." The creature whined, if that is what one could call the sound, and looked towards Thengel, but Thengel turned away.

"Tall man dead. Tall man walk on Wild Men land. All tall men die soon."

Thengel looked in shock. The thing knew the Common Tongue; he had not thought that possible.

~*~

They brought him out into the light of the cave, one holding either side for he could not, in truth, stand himself. They crossed to another opening close by his prison and dragged him to an underground stream. He was thrown into it and immediately his armour and mail pulled him down and he quickly sank. Blinded as he was by the sudden light, he did not see the stream and had not the time to take a breath as water rushed into his lungs. ‘I am going to die,’ he thought and struggled to break the surface. The icy cold of the water, coupled with his weakened state, worked against him and he sank further. Gratefully, he felt a hand grab his collar and pull him up. He was thrown onto the bank and lay there coughing till his sides hurt. A hand tried to pull him up and force him to stand, but his knees buckled and his head lolled to the side. Once more, another came and grabbed his other arm and the two dragged him towards the main cavern. He continued choking. His head was on fire from the pain of the cold, the pain of his sides, and the pain of his stomach from the last two days retching.

The Wose rose and came forward. Surprised Denethor heard him use the Common Speech.

“Why man from Stone-houses come here?”

‘I was kidnapped!’ he wanted to shout, but instead whispered, for he had no voice left, “You requested my presence.”

“No. Tall men come to my land. We no ask you to come. Why you come?” His tone was growing harsher and the guttural voice was becoming more difficult to comprehend.

“Your land? I am sorry. I did not know when we crossed into your land.”

“You come to mountains. You come into my land.”

“We were hunting Orcs. They had murdered some of our friends.”

“Horse-riders your friends?” the man fairly screamed at him.

Denethor shook his head, trying to discern which way this questioning was going, trying to make sense of it, and to not fall into a trap. But every sinew of his body ached and he could not think. He tried to shake his head again, to clear it so that he could speak, but his ears started ringing, and cold sweat poured down his face. Shivering, he continued to try to respond, but at last, darkness came.

~*~

“We will leave tonight. After the Great Gate is closed. I have friends among the Rangers stationed in the garrison on the first level. I have arranged for them to open the gate, give us horses, and then we will be off. We will go to Amon Dîn and find out what is happening. Denethor’s men will know and will tell me. I will stay here no longer, bereft of any hope of helping my brother.”

“You speak rashly,” Listöwel moaned. “Ecthelion will never let us go. And even if we find our way to the garrison, his men are all gone from there, involved in the search no doubt.”

Indis interrupted her. “Of course he will not let us go! Why do you think I am speaking of leaving at night? As for Denethor’s men - they will not abandon the garrison completely. Someone will be there and Amdir will have communicated more to them than he would to father.”

“Indis, Ecthelion will send help. He must. This is his son. This is folly on our part. We have never been on a sortie at night alone. What fey mood has come over you that you would even consider this?”

“The fey mood is my father’s making. I know him too well in this respect. He will not let us go; he will not send help to Amdir, thinking that Amdir will be able to rescue Denethor. But the forest is wide, and Amdir does not have enough men, and my brother will die!” She pushed more clothes into the satchel and whirled around to face Listöwel, tears streaking down her cheeks. “You do not have to come with me. I know the dangers are great. If there was any other I could trust, I would go to them, but there is no one who will dare to go against Ecthelion’s orders. Even though those orders be wrong.” She looked Listöwel full in the face. “You and I, dear sister-friend, we have been trained well. We have even been through battle. We can care for ourselves. We will be heading north. The area from here to Amon Dîn is protected. We will stay the night at the North Gate and then, as soon as daylight comes, we will be off to the garrison. We will be safe.”

“I wish Eledhwen was with us. I wish Morwen was with us. Dare we ask Elleth?”

“No, however much I would value having her and her sword at our side. She would tell Ingold and we would be imprisoned in our own rooms. You know Ecthelion would do this. Therefore, dear sister-friend, it is up to you and me.” She belted her scabbard across her hips, thrust the newly sharpened sword into its place, and tied her cloak around her neck, pulling the hood up close around her face. Listöwel did the same. They then quietly walked down the seven levels of Minas Tirith.

By the time they reached the first level, Listöwel was hoping that her friend had changed her mind. Given time to think of what she was about, surely she must realize it was a fool’s errand. But when the man from the garrison stepped out of the shadows with two horses, Listöwel knew they were lost. She could not let her friend go alone, no matter the dangers.

They had passed through the Great Gate with no questions even asked, and turned their horses towards the North Gate. Immediately, the wind grabbed their cloaks and they had to quickly pull them around them. The cold was intense.

~*~

Amdir’s hand slipped at the thought that Denethor was dead and blood flowed from the slight cut in the creature’s neck. Thorongil quickly stepped in and put a cloth to it to staunch the flow. The creature fell, cowering before him.

“No, no. Tall man alive. Tall man alive,” he screamed.

“Where?” Thengel walked closer. “Where is he?”

“Cave. We keep in cave. You no find. Hidden.” The eyes gleamed with fear. “I take you to cave,” he said suddenly and the company flew into action.

Horses were brought, weapons were strapped on, and excitement and hope finally filled the men. Thorongil brought Thengel’s stead and helped him mount. “It may be a trap, my King?”

Thengel grimaced. “Yes, but we must go.”

The Wose led the company upward towards the summit. In less than an hour, the company found themselves standing near the beacon of Eilenach, in front of a well-hidden cave. “I passed this way myself at least five times,” Thorongil muttered, “and not once did I see it.”

“Wild Men smart. Wild Men know how to hide things.”

Amdir held his breath. Was this a trap? Was Denethor, in fact, dead and being used as bait?

~*~

He woke to the stench and retched again. After he was finished, he rolled over and tried to pull his cloak about him. Somehow, he had dry clothes upon him and his armour had been removed. He wondered what day it was, how long he had been unconscious.

The stone rolled away and the two who had come for him the last time strode into the alcove. Denethor tried to back away, but his legs would not do as he told them to. The Wose each grabbed an arm and pulled him up. Placing their hands under his arms, they again dragged him forward.

Denethor shook, envisioning another dunk in the icy waters of the underground stream. “Please,” he struggled to speak, “let me speak with your leader.” They only grunted and continued to drag him forward.

But they did not turn towards the part of the cave that held the stream; they dragged him towards the main cavern. He found himself in front of the head Wose. The two let go his arms and he fell forward.

“Why you come, Tall Man?” the Wose bellowed. “Why you attack Wild Men?”

“We did not attack Wild Men,” Denethor said wearily. “We were hunting Orcs.”

“Gorgûn. Yes! You kill Gorgûn who kill Horse-riders?”

“Gorgûn?” he repeated, not comprehending what the word meant. ‘What could be gorgûn?’ he wondered. ‘Orcs! He must be speaking of Orcs.’ “Yes, we have come to kill those who murder the Horse-riders.”

“Then – you stay, you kill Gorgûn! Then you leave mountain. Leave to Wild Men. Yes?”

Denethor reeled at this statement. What was this creature saying to him? Why the change?

Shouts were heard at the entrance to the cave and the Wose disappeared, running into hidden alcoves. Denethor fell forward as his guards deserted him. Blackness once again enveloped him as his head hit the cave’s floor.


V.

They had ridden only an hour, the winter storm long over and the full moon thankfully lighting their way, when they heard the sound of hooves behind them. They looked at each other in panic, thinking Ecthelion had found them out and sent riders after them. Indis reined in her horse. She listened intently. There was only the sound of one horse. They were not discovered; she breathed a sigh of relief. ‘But who could it be?’ she wondered.

Listöwel pulled her horse closer to Indis’ and her friend whispered, “Who do you think it is?”

A familiar voice rang out, “Indis, Indis are you near?” She almost cried. ‘Arciryas! The dear sweet man, and him not even liking to ride. Here he comes alone and in the dark.’ Her heart swelled as the thought came to her.

“Here, Arciryas, we are here,” she cried and soon saw him approaching them. She did not want to hear the tongue-lashing he might be preparing to give her, but her love for him overcame any trepidation she felt.

“It would be better, my love, if you had asked me to come with you,” he stated flatly as he pulled his horse next to hers.

She saw the hurt in his eyes. “Would you have let me do what I must if I had told you?”

“Of course not.” He had to bite his lip to keep from shouting.

“You would stop me even now?” she asked as her heart sank. She did not want to quarrel with him, not now with Denethor missing, and she would not return to the City.

“Nay,” he sighed. “I will join you, as I joined my life to you. I do not condone this action, my love, but if you feel it is what you must do, then I must follow. May I ask what your plans are?”

“We are going to Forannest. We had hoped to camp just beyond the North Gate until sunrise and then reach Amon Dîn by midday. However, it is taking longer in the dark than I had surmised. We have at least another hour’s ride before reaching Forannest.”

“Then we should be on our way,” he stated flatly. Suddenly, he leaned over and kissed her. “I am glad I was able to find you,” he said through unforeseen tears. “Do you think you are the only one who fears the fates that seem to come to the Steward’s family? Am I not now part of that family?”

Impulsively, she dismounted and flung herself towards him. He slid from his own horse and held her in his arms. Neither would let go for many long moments.

~*~

The waves slapped furiously at the rocks, trying to escape those coming up from behind, and then they fell back upon themselves. The sound barely reached his ears, high as he was on the cliff top. Yet, still he strained, trying to hear them. He wanted to hear anything but the thoughts in his mind. She was beautiful. He drew in his breath as he thought of her again. 'Stop this!' he told himself angrily. 'She is a child.' So he strained again to hear the sea and the gulls and anything that would take his mind off her.

"Lord Denethor," she called and he cursed himself for not finding a better hiding place. He turned, despite himself.

"Lord Denethor, Ada would like you to come to his study.” She paused for a moment when he did not rise. “Shall I wait for you?" She smiled and his heart tightened.

Her sweet smile almost undid him. He drew in another long breath and turned away from her. "No, you go ahead. I will be there in a moment." He knew he was being rude, but he dared not come near her, not when they were alone in this desolate place. 'Why would her father let her come this far to find him? Why would he send her?' The thoughts attacked every fiber of his body. He did not dare ask her. 'Did she come of her own volition?'

"As you wish," she sighed and turned to go. He heard the sigh and wanted to take her in his arms and kiss the sigh away, but he could not. He was Steward of Gondor and she was Princess of Dol Amroth. And – this was the telling point, she was only ten years old. His face burned with shame. The waves came up and covered his face in a cool spray.

'No, it isn't the waves. Where am I?' His eyes opened and he looked into the eyes of his enemy.

"Do not speak, my friend," the gentle voice said as he laved his face. "You are weak and need to use all your strength for healing. Know that you have been rescued by King Theoden. You are in his own tent, and I have been caring for you." The man smiled. "He says I have some talent with healing."

Pulling in a breath, which caused a flurry of coughing, he looked away from the kind face. Another type of shame enveloped him. He closed his eyes and felt the cool cloth on his forehead. 'Why do I think him my enemy?'

"Would you like some water? You have lost much weight in the short time you were captured. I am afraid we found the food was poisoned. It is good we discovered you when we did, though I do not believe it was poisoned to kill, but to weaken, to keep you biddable."

The prattle continued, but this last piece of news startled him. "It was only twigs and berr..." he started and then realized how easy he had been to overcome. Cheeks blazed again.

"You were already weak, my Lord, when they gave you the food. Your mind was clouded. You had not the strength to discern wisely."

'Why is he making excuses for me?'

"I have prepared a tea. Perhaps you would drink some?"

A tear slid slowly from his left eye. "Please, do not be kind to me. I..."

"My Lord, save yourself. Do not speak. All is well now. You must get your strength back. We were afraid we had lost you."

His eyes closed and dreams began again, dreams of the child running through the waves, sable curls flying in the wind, gulls soaring about her as she held up pieces of cake. Nothing seemed to frighten or dismay her. Her nana called to her to come back, but she continued running. The woman turned to him for help.

~*~

”The Wild Men have a just complaint, my King,” he heard the voice saying. “In times past, the Rohirrim have hunted and killed them. I do not believe they tried to kill Denethor, just question him. To their mind’s eye, we were trespassing.”

At this, he tried to pull himself up. He snorted, “This land belongs to Gondor,” he said, his eyes wild.

“Yes, my Lord, of course it does, but the Pukel-men have lived here for ages before your people stepped foot on this land. They feel it is theirs.”

“Do not try to coddle me, to placate me. I see through your words. No matter what they feel, this land is not theirs. We will teach them whose lands they are!” Denethor shouted, then fell back upon his cot, coughing violently.

Thorongil stepped closer, bent and touched his forehead. He looked towards King Thengel. “Fever,” he whispered. “I was hoping he would be spared. The poison and the dunking in the icy mountain stream have weakened his body. He must be taken to the Houses of Healing and quickly.”

“My Lord,” Amdir spoke for the first time, “you should return to Edoras. My men will take Denethor home. There is no need for your full compliment. The Orcs have been killed, the Wild Men have been run off, they will not bother us further, and so great a company as yours is will only slow us down.”

“I would not leave my friend in this state,” Thengel sighed.

Denethor snarled. “Talk... not here... must... think.”

Thorongil raised him slightly and held a cup to his lips. “Drink this, my Lord. It will help you think.” The eyes that looked back at him were suddenly clear and Thorongil started, respect growing in his own eyes. “It will help you think clearer when you have awakened.”

Denethor smiled, drank and slept almost immediately.

“I would ask a great favor of you, Thorongil.” Thengel took his arm and led him out of the tent. “Amdir is right. This great of a company would move too slowly. And my councilors would rail if I attempted to go ahead alone. Though my heart will be with my friend, I deem it prudent that I return to Edoras. The favor I would ask... Would you go with Denethor, care for him until he is received into the Houses of Healing? My heart would be much at ease, if you were with him.”

“Yes, my King. I will go to Minas Tirith.

~*~

He could not shake this darkness. He left the festival and headed for the cliffs. Sitting down, he tried to calm himself in the sound of the sea. It crashed against the rocks at the base of the cliff and the sound stilled his heart. Where had this sense of doom come from? The sky was whitewashed blue. Gulls flew overhead, not a sound came from them. He thought this was odd. The gulls in Minas Tirith were forever screaming their complaints. Here, all was silence. Sleet grey fingers of clouds drifted overhead. The sun was just beginning to go down. However, a low cloudbank, hidden due to its coloring being the same as the sky, suddenly started to hide it. There were only pieces of the sun left showing. Denethor, though his eyes were wide open, drifted. His mind was not his own any longer. The cloudbank and the half-hidden sun turned into a mountain spewing forth fire and smoke. Higher and higher the flames reached until its red and malevolent light covered the entire sky. A darkness started to creep from it, filling the sky, moving closer and closer to where he sat. A hand touched his shoulder and the darkness was gone replaced by bright white light.

VI.

“Indis,” Arciryas took her in his arms. “What must I do to earn your trust?”

She averted her eyes; she could not look at him, and he grieved.

“Come, please. Sit here beside me.” She made as if to leave, but he pulled her closer to him. “Listöwel is sleeping; the horses are bedded down for the night. We will not leave for at least another three hours. The way to Amon Dîn is rough. We must wait for the sunrise.” He gently pulled her to the bed. They were in the captain’s quarters at the garrison of the North Gate. The captain, once he had ascertained who his late night guests were, had given Indis and Arciryas his room to sleep in.

She sat, her back straight. He could feel the faint shivers of fatigue and grief running down her arms. “My love,” he whispered, “have I been so cold, so unfeeling a husband that you will not turn to me in your time of need?” He wanted to cry out, his pain was so great, but he held his tongue. If someone under his care was wounded and could not speak, he used other means to discern how to treat them. Whispering her name, he sat quietly, stroking her hair.

She leaned closer. Sobs shook her body. He said nothing. At last, she surrendered herself to her grief; he let her cry. “I… I thought I was over Morwen’s death; I am not. I cannot endure more death. I cannot.”

He continued whispering her name, saying nothing more, hoping she would pour out her heart so that healing could begin.

“I think if Denethor dies… If he is dead… How will I bear it? How will I continue to live?”

He leaned back against the wall, pulling her closer to him, wiping the tears from her checks with his gentle hands, as he continued to whisper, “Indis, my love, my own.”

“You are too kind,” she sobbed, “I have not been the wife you had hoped for, I know. It is hard for me to speak of the things of my heart. Long have I had to protect it, to protect those whom I love. I cannot stop being strong. But, I so want to stop. I want to hide, to scream, to cry and be protected. I am so tired.” She hiccupped and he smiled.

“Wait one moment, my love.” He gently leaned her back against the wall, walked to the captain’s table, poured water from a jug, and brought the cup to her. She drank, closed her eyes, and leaned against the wall again.

“I would protect you, if you would allow it,” he said quietly, speaking into her hair as he sat and held her in his arms. “You are strong, Indis,” he emphasized the word ‘are.’ “You will always be strong and I love you for that.” He kissed the top of her head. “A soldier cannot always fight without rest. He must trust those around him: someone to cover his back, someone to sharpen his sword, someone to fetch arrows to replace those he has let fly, someone to stand guard. Yet you, my love, have fought without rest since your mother died. May I take this watch for you? Will you not rest for a time? Will you not trust that I will protect those you love? Do you not know that I would die to protect you and them?” He put his hand on her chin and turned her face up, towards him. “I too love Denethor. He has been my friend for many a year; he has been my brother and my Captain. I will do everything I can to help him, to protect him. Will you let me carry some of this burden?”

She drew in her breath. Oh, the love and pain she saw in those deep grey eyes! How could she have doubted him? She threw her arms about his neck and buried her face in his shoulder. “I am so sorry, Arciryas. I will try. I will try.”

~*~

Thorongil poured a little more of the draught down Denethor’s throat. Within a few hours, they would be at the garrison of Amon Dîn. Amdir had promised him that they would only stop long enough to procure fresh mounts. Thorongil had done everything in his power, with the few herbs he had with him, to stay the progress of the poison. Denethor’s fever had slowly risen and he was becoming incoherent. Thorongil’s supplies, especially the dried athelas, were dwindling.

Amdir dismounted and walked towards Denethor’s litter. “He seems to be worsening,” he said, his brow furrowed in concern.

“Aye. He had been chilled to the bone by the dunking in the icy stream, the lying in sodden clothes for hours, the eating of the poisoned food. All these are now fighting against anything I do. We should light a fire to warm him, the blankets are not enough, but we do not have the time.”

“Are you saying his time is short?”

“Aye, I am afraid so.” Thorongil stood and stretched. He had not slept since they had rescued Denethor and the lack was starting to affect him.

“Are you finished with your ministrations?”

“Aye. We can go forward.”

“Then let us!” Amdir shouted and the company mounted. “I have sent a rider ahead to warn the garrison of our coming and to prepare fresh horses for us.” He turned Hros’ head and motioned for the company to follow.

~*~

Arciryas, Listöwel, and Indis had finally reached the beacon hill and the garrison of Amon Dîn. A small contingent of knights was there. As they entered the compound, they were surprised to see much activity. Arciryas quickly dismounted, grabbing the arm of one knight as he ran past them. “What is happening?” he asked.

“Lieutenant Amdir approaches. We are preparing fresh mounts for the main company. They are going on, immediately, to Minas Tirith. Now let me do what I must do,” and he tore himself away from Arciryas’ hold.

Indis dismounted and ran over to where the two were. “What of Lord Denethor?” she cried to the knight’s retreating back.

He turned, recognized her, and spoke. “I know not. I have only received orders from Lieutenant Amdir.” With that, he turned and ran to the stables. Men were leading saddled horses out of the stables into the courtyard.

A loud commotion drew their eyes towards the garrison’s gate. It was Amdir. Indis cried out in concern, but Listöwel, at a signal from Arciryas, ran to her friend’s side and held her close. When Indis saw Denethor on the litter, she cried out in pain. Amdir quickly dismounted and ran towards them.

“What are you doing here? Did Ecthelion sent you?” he asked in confusion.

Arciryas, in the meantime, ran to the litter. Thorongil reported to him all that had happened, along with what he had done to slow the effects of the poison and the fever. “We must get him to the Houses of Healing as quickly as possible,” Arciryas said. Then he turned to the man standing before him, “Thank you, whoever you are.”

But Thorongil just bowed and walked towards Amdir.

~*~

Once they had passed through the Rammos, they rode as swiftly as possible towards Minas Tirith. Finally, Denethor had been placed in the care of the healers. Amdir, accompanied by Thorongil, had gone to the Great Library to look for legends, tales, or lore books that would help the healers combat the poison. The warden had pulled all his assistants from other chores and placed them on the task at hand. After too many long hours, the poison, and its antidote, were found. Amdir sent the information to Adanedhel. Then, he took Thorongil by the arm and led him to the fourth level, stopping at a familiar haunt.

“I will report to the Steward within the hour,” he stated as they sat at table, “ however, I wanted to have a moment with you. I must thank you.”

“There is nothing to thank me for, Lieutenant. My liege, King Thengel, requested my aid. I could not deny him.” The maid had passed their drinks to them, eyeing the stranger appraisingly before she left them.

“You did more than many would have done. I would think you had used some sort of magic to keep him alive. I saw his face, heard the laboured breathing. If not for you, he would be dead. Where did you learn your craft?”

Thorongil looked long at the man seated across from him. Was this a trap? He wondered. He knew Amdir was close friend, besides first lieutenant, to the Captain. “I have served many long years in other armies, besides those of Rohan. I have learned much in that time. The craft comes from here and there,” he said, evasively.

“Where e’er you learned it,” Amdir said, placing his hand on the man’s shoulder, “I care not. Only know that I am glad you brought the knowledge with you to the Drúadan Forest when it was most needed.”

The sincerity in Amdir’s voice and eyes quelled Thorongil’s suspicions. “Your Captain has earned my respect, Lieutenant. He is a brave man. And one that is not to be toyed with, if I read his eyes truly. He has suffered grievous wound, but will recover.”

“Again, thanks to you. I have a house on the sixth level. Let us finish our ale and I will take you there. I would be most grateful if you would deign to stay with Listöwel and me?”

“Aye, I would be obliged.”

~*~

Ecthelion strode into the room. The healers bowed and backed away. Indis rose from the place where she had sat, holding Denethor’s hand. “Adanedhel has told me he will live. For that, I am glad,” he said quietly. He sat on the opposite side of the bed. “Is he awake?”

“Nay, Father. They have given him a sleeping potion. He is beyond all endurance. His body needs rest. I am sure Adanedhel told you that.”

“Aye,” he said. Looking down at his son, the image of his beloved Rían, he wept quietly. “I am an old fool. I am worse than Turgon was in his blindness. Always, I put Gondor before those I love. Forgive me, my daughter.”

“I am not the one to ask forgiveness from, Father,” she stated crisply. She could not keep the anger from her voice. “Mayhap, when Denethor is healed, you can ask for his forgiveness.”

“Aye. Would you mind if I sit with you for awhile?”

~*~

Denethor gasped and looked around. The bright light that had been about him had moved off. It was the Elf – he could just barely see him moving swiftly north. It was the same Elf that he had found in his room. It was at least a year ago. He had awoken from a deep sleep; the Elf had been standing over his bed, great grey eyes staring at him. He had jumped from his bed, but the Elf had disappeared, gone quickly out the window. Denethor had run to follow him, and discovered that the window led to a sliver-thin ledge overlooking the rocks of the Bay of Belfalas. He had looked to his left and his right, but could see naught in the dark of the storm-laden air. Yet, here again was that self same Elf. He called to him in Sindarin, but the Elf never swayed from his path. He screamed again. “Daro!”

“Hush, Denethor. All is well,” Indis whispered, putting her head close to his. “You are safe. Estelio nin! You are in the Houses of Healing. I am here by your side. Please, little brother, wake up.”

His eyes were still hurting from the brightness of the light. He could see it, in his mind’s eye. He tried to lift his hand, to cover his eyes e’er he opened them, but his hand would not obey. He felt a cool cloth on his forehead, and heard the whispering voice of his sister. Again, he tried to open his eyes, and this time, he was successful. Looking down upon him was Indis’ beloved face.

“I was in Dol Amroth. I had seen something… “

“Nay, my sweet brother, you have been held captive by the Wild Men. Thorongil, Thengel’s captain, saved you. He brought you back to me, to Minas Tirith.”

He touched her cheek. Finally, his body was responding to his will. “You have been crying,” he said softly. “I am sorry to have caused you pain. Goheno nin.”

“Ú-moe edaved!” she cried. “Were they terrible to you? Did they…” She could not ask.

“Thorongil.” Denethor said in wonderment, finally realizing what she had said. “Aye, I remember him now. He was kind. He did not lie to me. I knew I was in great danger, yet he did not hide it from me. I owe him my life.”

“Aye, that is true.”

“Would you ask him to come to me? I would speak with him for a moment.”

“Yes, Brother. Rest a little longer and I promise, I will bring him to you.”


Daro – stop
Estelio nin – trust me
Goheno nin – forgive me
Ú-moe edaved – there is nothing to forgive

VII.

Denethor had been moved from the Houses to his own chambers. Thorongil, feeling quite uncomfortable, sat in an overstuffed chair that had been pulled up to the bed. Denethor was finishing some broth, while Indis watched, militantly. Thorongil had to hide a smile when she chided her brother to finish the last spoonful. She quickly kissed him on the forehead, took the bowl from his hand, smiled at Thorongil and left them. Thorongil sat back in the chair, trying to hide his discomfiture. Denethor, he could tell, seemed to feel the same way. Neither man appeared ready to begin any kind of a conversation. Thorongil wished he had a pipe. He could not have smoked it, though; he had noticed that none seemed to smoke, here in Minas Tirith.

“I thank you for coming,” Denethor started. “I wished to thank you for all you have done for me.” Thorongil started to speak, but Denethor held his hand up. “Please, this is most difficult for me and I would like to… I am sorry. How can I say this is difficult when it is my life that has been saved! I am a poor wretch that did not deserve saving. I have harboured ill will towards you. And for that I am most sorry.”

“I well understood your feelings. I was discourteous too many times while you visited in Rohan. It seemed there was much to do, and I was very new to the Rohirric way of life. I was brusque and rude,” Thorongil said. “Forgive me.”

Denethor hung his head. Would this man not let him thank him properly? He was becoming upset again. He shook his head. ‘I am an idiot,’ he thought. ‘Why does this man seem to continuously aggravate me?’

“Let us stop right now and begin afresh. Perhaps if we shared a little about ourselves, we would find some common ground?” Denethor said, politely.

Thorongil was immediately suspicious. Though Denethor spoke courteously, Thorongil deemed there was purpose behind the question. “My Lord, if you would begin… ”

Denethor smiled. This was not going to be easy. “My life is public. You must know much about me already. I am heir to the Steward of Gondor, in the line of Anárion, of the House of Húrin. I am Captain of the garrison at Amon Dîn, just having returned from a five-year stint at Dol Amroth. Indis, whom you have already met, is my sister. I… ” He took a deep breath. “I lost a sister to the Corsairs many years ago. Thengel… King Thengel was my commander for a time, while he lived in Gondor. That is all that is pertinent. Oh, yes. I served under Walda many years ago. And - I am a hideous fisherman.”

Thorongil laughed. “I am a good fisherman, I am sorry to say,”

Now it was Denethor’s turn to laugh. “Then you must go fishing with Amdir and Thengel. I go with them to stoke the fires. I am utterly useless when it comes to the sport, but they seem to like my company. You also have the hands of a healer, it would seem.”

“I have been on my own for a good number of years. I learned, through expediency, the ways of healing. I would have preferred not to have had to learn them at all.” The mood in the room had sobered quickly.

“Aye,” Denethor said. “As a soldier, I know whereof you speak. Ever we must do things we would prefer not to.”

There was silence in the room for a time; the fire crackled and snapped. Thorongil was not sure if Denethor had fallen asleep or not. He sat quietly, waiting.

“What have you done,” Denethor’s voice startled him, “that you would have preferred not to have done?”

Thorongil thought for a long moment. “I would not have left my mother alone, all those long years. I would have spent more time with her.” He surprised himself with the answer. “My father had been killed when I was but a small child. She was left alone among those who were not kin. It occurs to me now, that she must have been lonely.”

Denethor thought of the many years when, as punishment, he had been sent off among strangers. “Aye,” he said, “that is a very difficult thing. And yet, you remember her well?”

“Aye. She was kind.” He stopped. He would not continue this.

Denethor noticed the straightening of Thorongil’s shoulders, and knew he would share no more. “Perhaps you would like to see something of Minas Tirith. Or has someone already shown you around my City?”

Thorongil laughed at the ‘my’ city. “Your city?” he said quietly.

Smiling, Denethor nodded. “I have become possessive of this city. It is dear to me. Ever do we fight to protect her.” A slight scowl crossed his face. “Orcs and other foul creatures continuously attack. Corsairs from the south and Easterlings from the East cross our borders with seeming impunity. Have you seen the mountain? The one that spews smoke and fire? It seems nature itself attacks Gondor. We fight, but desperately, it would seem.”

“I have heard stories of the courage of Gondor,” Thorongil said quietly. “Rohan relies upon Gondor.”

“As Gondor relies upon Rohan,” Denethor whispered. He pulled the bell and waited.

Thorongil realized his interview was over. He stood and bowed to Denethor. “Perhaps I may come and visit again?”

Denethor looked up. “Aye. I would like that, very much.” He suddenly felt an overwhelming gratitude for the candor of the man.

~*~

“I do not understand,” Denethor stomped towards the White Tower. He had finally been allowed to leave his rooms, deemed well enough to return to duty. “How could Ecthelion open the ranks of the Knights of Gondor to outsiders?”

“Mithrandir counseled it. Your father agreed. It seems he has been most pleased with Thorongil’s service.”

“As am I,” Denethor stated flatly. “He is a very good soldier. I am glad I asked father to ask him to stay and fight for Gondor. Yet, I do not think it wise to have strangers in Gondor’s service. I cannot imagine fighting next to a Corsair. I would rather cut off his head, than fight on his side. I do not understand what Mithrandir hopes to accomplish by this.”

“Were you able to speak with your father about it?” Amdir asked.

“Nay. It was decided without me. I should not be surprised.” A heavy sigh escaped his lips.

“Orc attacks have been more numerous of late, the loss of life has grown, and there are other considerations,” Amdir said.

“Aye. The most difficult consideration is lack of men.” He shook his head. “I should wed myself and give father an heir, but there is no time and no woman who has even tweaked my interest.”

Amdir laughed. “You are enjoying the life of the bachelor too much, my friend. Listöwel had introduced you to that young friend of hers months ago, yet you have made no attempt to further the relationship.”

“She was an idiot. Forgive me. She only talked of who was going to what party, or what new dance was the rage. She spoke of nothing of substance. I could not abide listening to her.”

Amdir hooted with laughter. “You have become too accustomed to Indis and her great knowledge of the things of Middle Earth, strategies, and battle talk. Having women around you, like Listöwel also, who know how to wield a sword, does not help the cause, I must say.”

“Well, let us to the buttery and see what food we can scrape together. I would eat on the escarpment today, not with the lords and ladies in the Great Hall of Feasts. They watch to see whom I will sit next to and then their tongues wag. I will never find a wife here.”