Ten Thousand Years will not Suffice

by Agape4Rivendell

II  III  IV  V  VI  VII  VIII 

20. 
Third Age - 2990  

I.

“You do not know of what you speak,” he heard his father’s angry voice coming from the study. “I have seen things that I hope you never will. Your trust in Adrahil is misplaced. He gathers an army to him, leaving Gondor’s defenses to us. He had promised, Indis, promised that he would replace the men he called back two years ago. No matter my urgent pleas for replacements, he refuses. Not directly. Oh no, direct would be too straightforward. He uses subterfuge, rumours of impending attacks as excuse; he sends Dol Amroth’s regrets, but I do not believe him. I have seen no threat of attack; have heard no reports of enemy movements. I have my ways, Indis. Spies and other such tools. Gondor’s weal does not concern him.”

“He is not a fool, Denethor. He knows if Minas Tirith falls that Belfalas will be next.”

“I am not saying he is a fool. I am saying he expects Minas Tirith to fall and is preparing to protect his own lands. The other southern fief lords watch him and use him as an example. None of them want to send their sons to serve Gondor.”

“And Finduilas?” she whispered. “Was her death a part of this?”

“She married me against his will, in the end. Though he gave it begrudgingly. For her to die under my care…” He could not continue.

Boromir quietly knocked on the door; ashamed he had listened so long. His father admitted him with a word.

“My Lord. Forgive me for disturbing you, but you did ask to me to come?”

Denethor’s face had lit with joy when he heard Boromir’s voice. His enthusiastic response was met with a smile from Indis. He turned to her. “Stop your laughing at me, dearest sister.” His mood had changed from anger to delight in a moment. “Leave us now, if you wouldn’t mind. I would speak to Boromir of his appointment.”

She hugged him, turned to smile at Boromir as he stepped into the study, and left.

“Sit down, here beside me,” and Denethor sat on the settle across from his desk. “How are you, my boy? Are you prepared?” His excitement mirrored Boromir’s.

“I will never be as ready as I wish, Father, but I am striving to learn all you have asked of me. And more.” He smiled in the delight of his own initiative. “I have spent the last few months, whenever I have had a moment from studying the ceremony and the duties that will be mine upon commissioning, visiting the Great Library. Father, I have found some wonderful books on the battles of our land. Did you know there is one whole room devoted to the Battle of Dagorlad?”

“Have you given up your studies of the Elves, then?”

“Stories of Elves are for children, Father, along with other myths. I want to study battles, Father. I want to discover why we won many and lost others. I want to be prepared for when I go into battle.”

His fervor heartened Denethor, but his mind flew back to the time of Amdir’s most desperate shame. He willed his son would be spared such a thing – to have left a battle in fear and cowardice. Yet, Amdir had recovered and had become a warrior of renown in all of Gondor. Would that Boromir would become such a warrior. One was desperately needed. He knew he was not the warrior that Amdir had been, nor Thengel. He felt his own lack most acutely.

“I have read of the battle. How could it last so many years, Father? How could the men of Gondor not given up and been defeated?”

“Do you think Gondor battled alone, my son? ‘Twas those very Elves that you decry that brought Isildur victory. The hearts of men are courageous, Boromir, but none are as resilient as the Elves that fought at our side at the beginning of this age. Do not forget that, nor that Elves were once our allies. Mayhap, the time will come when Gondor will look towards the Elves again for aid.”

Boromir hung his head. “Aye, Father. I will remember it.”

“You like the Great Library?”

“Not as much as Faramir. I find the books I need and leave it immediately. I take them to the parapet and study there, with the wind in my face, and the sounds of Minas Tirith in my ears. He sits for long hours in the dust and the dark. I do not know how he stands it!”

Denethor laughed. ‘How I used to love the Great Library, never leaving it.’ He shivered. ‘Until Curunír.’ A sudden chill filled him. Was the wizard still about? Would he assail his own son, as Denethor had been?’ He turned to Boromir. Speaking as casually as he could, he asked him about Faramir and the library.

“Nothing keeps him from there. Indis has fits, at times. And Listöwel is so funny. Whenever he seems lost, she sends me to the library and he is there, nose pressed to a scroll. Then I have to drag him back to the nursery.”

“It is his mother’s fault,” Denethor said quietly. “She instilled such a love in him.”

Boromir placed his hand on Denethor’s leg. “I know, Father. They would sit for hours and read. I could not do that. I could not sit so long. My body needed to be about.”

Denethor hugged him. “I know, Boromir. That is why the Valar gave me two such sons: one to be my warrior and one to be my counselor.”

“Is that what I am to be Father, your warrior?”

“Aye, Boromir. That you will be, for your eye is quick and your body is broad and strong, even now.”

“And Faramir, Father?”

Denethor smiled. “He is second son, Boromir. He will be trained in Gondor’s ways, but you are Heir. On your birth anniversary, you will be appointed as Squire of Gondor. Then, on your twenty-first, I will take you to a certain place, and you will pledge your loyalty to Gondor. There, I will name you Heir to the Steward. Faramir will receive no such title.”

Boromir looked at him with tears in his eyes. “Faramir is my equal, Father. He has the same heart as I do. Would you leave him out like this?”

“I am not ‘leaving him out,’ Boromir. He will be trained. He will become a squire, as are all sons of the lords of Gondor, but he will never be Heir. Only you will. It is as you were fated to be. By your birth. Do you understand? No matter the love we have for Faramir, he will always be the younger. We must help him accept that.”

“Oh! He does, Father. And it makes me angry.”

“Why, Boromir, when that is what his future holds?”

“Because he sometimes thinks circles around me, Father.”

Denethor sat back, smiling. “It is good that he does, Boromir. He will keep you alert. Now, enough talk of Faramir; we must look to the ceremony itself. Have you memorized the oath?”

~*~

Listöwel sat with Faramir, holding his carven horse in her hands. The head had definitely been separated from the body and she was hard-pressed to consider how to fix it.

“Ada can fix it. Might I take it to him?”

“He is with Boromir now. They are studying together.”

“I wish I was with them. Am I not old enough, yet?”

She heard the exasperation in his tone and smiled. “‘Tis not that you are not old enough, Faramir, but that it is not yet your time. Boromir is learning of his duties as squire. It will be many years, my pet, before you will become a squire. Do not concern yourself about that yet. Let us try to fix your horse.”

“A fastening of some kind, perhaps a nail, would hold it together. Or some pitch?”

“A nail would—“

“To the smithy!” Faramir suddenly yelled. “To the smithy!” And slapped his hand on his thigh as he galloped around the nursery.

She laughed and agreed while holding her hand out for him to take it. He ‘rode’ past her, all the while urging his ‘horse’ onward. Yelling back over his shoulder, he pressed her to walk faster.

He slowed down as they entered the tunnel. “I miss Snowflake. A wooden horse is acceptable for children, but I am now six. I think I should have a horse. What do you think, Listöwel?”

“We could write a letter to Théoden King asking him? Though that would be impolite – to ask for a gift.”

He sighed. “Mayhap we could visit again?”

“We have just returned,” she laughed. “It has only been three months.”

“But I am so much taller now and stronger, too.” He lifted his arm to show her his muscle. “I could hold on better and ride faster; I know I could.”

“I am sure you could. The winter winds and snow are falling on Rohan. It would be a very difficult trip to take.” She was trying desperately to think of excuses. Denethor would never allow such a journey at this time of year. She wanted to spare him the disappointment.

“I like snow. I like sliding down it. I like the taste of it.”

“Of course you do. So do I. Yet, it is very cold and very difficult for horses to travel in. Would you want to put your pony through such a trip?”

“No,” he said hesitantly. “Snowflake is extremely brave though. And very strong. I have a difficult time holding his reins sometimes. He can pull very hard.”

“You have always ridden him well, Faramir. Your father is quite proud of your skill.”

“Someday, I am going to learn to shoot an arrow from a horse, just like Éomund. We must go back,” he looked up at her, seriously, “There is no one in Gondor to teach me such things!”

“Traditional ways of fighting in Gondor do not include shooting arrows from horses, Faramir. Do you know why?”

He thought for a moment. “The grasslands. We do not have the grasslands.”

“That is correct, Faramir. We do not have the landscape for such fighting.” It seemed unreal to be speaking of battles with a six year old. If Finduilas were alive, she would be sickened. She tried to turn the conversation. “Would not a carpenter be a better choice for our horse, not a smithy?”

“Horses are always tended by smithy’s, Listöwel.” He smiled at her lack of such knowledge.
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II.

“Here do I swear fealty and service to Gondor, and to the Lord and Steward of the realm, to speak and to be silent, to do and to let be, to come and to go, in need or plenty, in peace or war, in living or dying, from this hour henceforth, until my lord release me, or death take me, or the world end. So say I, Boromir, son of Denethor of the House of Húrin."

“And this do I hear, Denethor, son of Ecthelion, Lord of Gondor, Steward of the High King, and I will not forget it, nor fail to reward that which is given: fealty with love, valour with honour, oath-breaking with vengeance."

Then Boromir received back his sword and put it in its sheath. And the hall erupted with great shouts of joy and approval. The bells that hung in the tall towers rang, while trumpets blared their agreement. Hundreds of birds were released from dozens of cages, and the uproar caused the peregrine that nested in the high towers and the very peaks of Mindolluin to flit about above the Courtyard, calling their sanction of the vow. The White Banners of the House of Húrin flew from every parapet, every window, hung on every door. The City was bathed in elation and delight.

Indis beamed, tears flowing down her cheeks and wetting her bodice. She took no notice. Listöwel clapped her hands, dancing a little in pure joy. “Ah, to have such a day. So long overdue; so long needed,” Indis cried and Listöwel turned and hugged her.

Denethor beamed. Boromir had not forgotten one word, one bow, one clasp of his hands, nor failed to acknowledge one of the Lords of the Council. Everything had gone as planned. None could say his son did not appoint himself well. He choked a few times during the ceremony, stifling the tears that would fall. None could see how overcome he had been by the words his own son, his very own son had said to him. His heart burnt from the joy of it. ‘To speak and to be silent, to do and to let be, to come and to go…’ The words echoed through his mind. His son, his Boromir, headstrong and willful had pledged to die to himself to serve his adar. Denethor shook at the depths of the vow. Did Boromir realize what he had promised? ‘Aye,’ Denethor thought. They had gone over the vow and the meaning of each and every word until Boromir could say it as a catechism in his sleep.

Boromir stood next to the Chair as one after another of the Lords of Gondor, then the guests, then the people, came forward to pat him on the back. Adrahil and Imrahil were first in line, though, their status as Princes of Dol Amroth earning them this rightful place. Denethor had been stunned when Adrahil had ridden up to the Citadel. Not many were allowed to ride their horses onto the very Courtyard of the White Tree, but Adrahil would not be put off. An affront to the customs of Minas Tirith, but Denethor, even knowing that Adrahil did it on purpose, would not let it besmirch this day for his son. He would not chastise his father-in-law. Boromir bowed low to his adadhron and to his uncle. Both smiled. Adrahil handed the lad a sword; Denethor smiled. He had already given the lad a fine sword, but Adrahil again seemed to want to cast aspersions on his son-in-law. The sword was of Elven make, Denethor noted, and beautiful. Clean lines, but too large for the lad. ‘Ah,’ he thought, ‘this is a sword for when Boromir goes into battle.’ Denethor stood and bowed to the old Prince. Adrahil acknowledged his thanks and moved on. Imrahil gave Boromir a fine mithril baldric to hold the Horn of Gondor. Denethor almost stumbled. The gift was beyond priceless. The smile that the young Prince gave Boromir was as brilliant as the belt.

Théoden and Théodred both greeted him with hugs, as did Éomund and Erkenbrand. Their gifts were throws made from the hides of bears from the White Mountains. Denethor nodded his thanks as Boromir thanked each in turn.

Boromir stood for hours, straight and tall, accepting the plaudits and praises, never faltering once. Finally, the last person in line came forward. ‘Indis,’ his heart cried out. She bowed low to him and then handed him a rose, yellow as the sun. It was from his naneth’s garden. He cleared his throat, trying to keep his composure. Bowing to her, he took the flower, hung it on a tie on his tunic, and stepped forward. He slung the Horn over his back, moved his sword to the side, and hugged her fiercely. Tears fell. He could not help himself. He buried his head in her shoulder so that none would see, but he knew she felt the sobs that shook his body.

Faramir ran up to him. “I am hungry, Boromir. Now can we go eat?”

Boromir laughed and swiped the tears away. “Aye. Let us go before our guests eat everything in Merethrond.”

He took Faramir’s hand, moved the Horn so that it swayed and bumped him as he walked. It was an incredible feeling to have the Horn on his body at last. He had thought his adar would not give it to him until he was twenty-one. But Denethor had smiled this morning, as he helped Boromir dress, and handed him the great Horn. “I would that you would have this now. To signal your coming and going from Gondor, to raise the hearts of our people as they hear you wind it, and to make your enemies quail before you.” Denethor had hugged him firmly and with passion. “I am most proud of thee, my son. Thou hast done well, thou hast prepared well, and thou art ready. Do not question thyself in this. Do not question thyself in thy service to Gondor. Thy heart is good and full. By the Valar, I pray that when thou goest, thy steps shall not be straitened; and when thou runnest, thou shalt not stumble. Thou art strong and pure. Lay hold on instruction, do not desist; keep her, for she 'is' thy life. Listen to those above thee, obey always, and know that thou wilt never disappoint me. I find no want in thee, ion nîn.” A lump came to the lad’s throat as he felt the lingering hug. ‘It is good to be alive,’ he thought. And Faramir tugged and pulled and exhorted him to walk faster.

~*~

He was so tired that his head hung heavy. ‘Will this practice never end?’ he thought. His arms ached and his legs cramped. Denethor watched, a frown upon his face. Drawing a deep breath, Boromir bowed to the Swordmaster and lunged forward. His sword went flying. Cursing, he bowed again, retrieved his sword, and stepped into the training once more. Denethor called out. “You are not holding…” he fumed in silence. “Here!” He stepped forward and the Swordmaster handed the Steward his sword. “Boromir. This is how you hold your hand if you are going to parry. You are holding it wrongly. See?” and he thrust at the lad whose eyes opened wide.

“Aye, Ada. I see. Like this?” and he stepped into a parry with his hand held just right. He smiled as his adar’s face broke into a grin.

“That is how it is done in Gondor, my son.” And he laughed and hugged the lad. “Come now. It is time for nuncheon and Faramir awaits.” He bowed to the Swordmaster and gave the sword back. “Thank you,” he smiled at the man.

“To do and to let be…” the man reiterated his own vow and bowed to his Steward.

Boromir shivered. His adar was the greatest man in the whole of Gondor. In the whole of the world.

Just then, Théodred slipped onto the practice ring, keeping well away, hiding in the shadows.

Boromir grinned. “I thought you would sleep the day away,” he called to him. “There is armour and a sword in the corner. Suit up and join me.” For all his bravado, he hoped Théodred would turn him down. The sun was hot and his own armour grew heavier by the moment, but his friend walked resolutely over and donned a breastplate and helmet. He unsheathed his sword and smiled. Boromir knew that smile well. Self-assured, the lad probably thought a winded Boromir would be easy to best. Boromir ran to the well, drew a bucket of water, and poured it over his head. He had worn only a light shirt under the armour and he would not be weighted down. He walked to the center of the circle, feigning fatigue.

Boromir saw the Swordmaster smile. He was accustomed to Boromir’s ruses. He had been winded, but he had reserves that he had yet to tap. He stood before his friend, saluted, and then moved back.

Théodred moved in immediately. Boromir stepped back, the swing wild. He tried not to smile. Théodred, again thinking he had the advantage, swung again, and missed again. After a quarter hour had passed, Boromir noted the catch in his opponent’s breath, the slight lag between thrusts and recovery, and the sweat pouring down Théodred’s face.

He stepped forward and thrust. The blades connected, as Théodred was able to react quickly. Théodred swung again, flailing with his own sword, and missing terribly. Boromir stepped in and again his sword connected, this time pushing Théodred’s away easily.

Théodred stumbled, caught himself and smiled. “I seem to have underestimated you.”

Boromir said nothing, lunged and knocked the sword out of Théodred’s hand.

The lad bowed. “I did underestimate you!”

“Nay!” Boromir laughed as he clasped his friend to him. “I had motive. I am starving and need sustenance. I wanted to eat, end this quickly, and partake of nuncheon.”

Théodred laughed. “You jest, but you beat me well and good.”

“I did not,” Boromir became serious. “I took advantage of you. If you had been mounted, I would have been cut down in the first few moments of battle. You are not accustomed to the armour of Gondor, nor the sun and heat. I had only to wait until they took their toll.”

Denethor called to them. They cleaned their armour and their swords, dunked their heads in the trough and commenced to wet each other down, hair flung wildly about. Denethor stayed five paces from them. Then, they joined the Steward, arm slung across each other’s shoulders.

“How many times did you best Boromir during our last visit?” Denethor asked the Prince as they walked through the tunnel.

Théodred blushed. “I took advantage of him,” he whispered.

Both boys laughed. Faramir joined them as they entered the Citadel.

“Did you have fun?”

Boromir picked him up, though his arms ached. “Aye, we did. And when will you join us?”

“Tomorrow,” the boy said seriously. “I will be old enough tomorrow. I have a birth day coming.”

Denethor took him from Boromir and placed him on his shoulder. “Duck!” he said as they passed through the dining hall door.

Faramir laughed. “I do not ever want to grow older,” he suddenly said, “I want to sit on your shoulders, Ada, forever.”

Denethor swung him down and kissed him soundly.

When the meal was complete, the four sat in front of the window; cool air blew through it, refreshing their minds as well as their bodies. A knock on the door startled them all. Peace and quiet had softened them.

“Enter.” Denethor called and quickly stood as Théoden entered the room. “Have you eaten?” Denethor asked; then indicated a chair as Théoden nodded.

“Some time ago,” he said quietly.

Denethor felt the strain in the man’s voice. “My lads, ‘tis time you went to the Library for some study. Your lessons have been neglected since our friends from Rohan arrived. And you, young man,” he hugged Faramir, “Away with you to the nursery. Listöwel awaits.”

Heavy sighs followed his pronouncements, but they knew arguing was useless. They each in turn hugged both men and left the room, their noisy exit filled the room and the corridors beyond.

“I have some wine I think you would enjoy.” He walked to the cupboards. His skin prickled on the back of his neck as he poured the libation. Sitting, he held the glass and stared deeply into it. When Théoden did not speak, he leaned forward. “What troubles you, Théoden King?”

The King looked up, startled. “You do have the gift of sight.”

Denethor looked discomfited. “Some say I do.”

Théoden laughed. “Do you know how oft I have been told of your insufferable pride? Yet, now, you act as one ready to hide.”

“I have pride in Gondor, my sons, my Knights and my people. Foresight is a gift that I do not take lightly. I have done nothing to earn it. So how am I to be proud of it?”

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III.


“You have stalled long enough, my friend. Your heart is not here. Are you ready to leave Minas Tirith so soon?” Denethor stood up and walked to the window, wishing he would not hear the answer.

Théoden joined him. “I am heartsick. A foolish old man, you would say, but I left a sister who is with child and I would be by her side.”

“Théodwyn!” Denethor turned and hugged his friend. “She is with child!” He sat on the sill, wonderment written on his features. He had forgotten how easily the Rohirrim bred. “I am glad.” A great smile covered his face, Théoden’s beloved sister with child. “You must be away, though I am sore-pressed to lose your company so soon.” He paused. “Boromir will be unhappy. I am most surprised at the ease with which he and Théodred renew their friendship each time they meet.”

“It is as if they are destined to mirror each other. Théodred too will be forlorn. I do not look forward to the ride home.” He laughed.

“Éomund must be chaffing. I cannot believe he has not ridden out of here himself. It was kind of him to come.”

“He is patient,” Théoden said and then laughed mightily. “What am I saying! The man has not one scrap of patience in his body. But he knows his duty. He will stay until I say it is time to leave. And I am saying now, it is time to leave.”

“I would ride with you to the Mering, but it is not possible.”

“I would have been delighted. Mayhap, we would have thrown in a line once we reached the river?” He laughed loudly.

Denethor smiled. “You heard about today’s contest and that my Boromir bested your son. So now, you want to best me at the river!”

“All know of your lack of skill, Denethor, when it comes to fishing. It gives me joy to fill my creel while yours remains empty.”

~*~

Indis, Listöwel and Morwen had spent the last few hours packing the gifts they had made for Théodwyn. Morwen laughed. “I wonder when Théoden will finally tell your brother,” she said to Indis. “I have never understood men. The important things they leave to the last, while the trivial things they speak of first. They have discussed fishing at least ten times since we arrived.”

“Nay. It would seem so, dear friend, but their minds and their speech have been on hard things. Life is not so simple, as you well know. I heard Théoden speaking of heightened Orc attacks from the north. How often do they strike?”

Morwen laid down the embroidered tunic. “More than twice a fortnight. And in larger bands than ever before.” A shiver passed through her and Indis gave her a quick hug. “I fear for Rohan. I fear for my daughter and the life she holds. Will we never have peace?” she cried.

“Denethor speaks often of the peace he finds in Rohan. It comforts him to think on it. Mayhap the attacks have increased because it is soon to be winter. The Orc, I think, hate the cold and the snows of the plains of Rohan. They wish to do what damage they can now, before hiding again in the Misty Mountains.”

“They hate nothing but men!” Morwen spat. “We are too spread out. What with guarding the borders on the east and the west, and watching the north, we have spread ourselves too thin. We cannot lose more of our men.”

Indis nodded. “We know the same loss of men here, Morwen.”

“I know,” the Steelsheen said, “but it does not ease my heart. What of the other fief lords – do they send men?”

“Not enough. Never enough. Denethor constantly battles their stubbourness. They fear for their own lands. I understand them; however, it ill behooves them to let Gondor fall. They will quickly fall themselves, once Gondor is undone. But come now, we have so little time together. Tell me of Edoras.”

“I will tell you of the simbelmyne that grows on the graves of our dead.” She bowed her head. “Forgive me,” she whispered, “I fear for Théodwyn. If only she would come and stay with us, at least until the babe arrives.”

“She refuses?”

“She refuses. Her place is beside Éomund, she says. I agree. But not now. Now she should be in Edoras where the leeches can watch over her.”

“And protect her from Orc?”

Morwen looked up in dismay. “I know. It is Orc I fear, not the birth.”

“Is there naught we can do,” Listöwel asked, “but let those we love go to battle after battle? Is this how life is destined to be for the sons of Rohan and Gondor?”

Indis looked at Listöwel, sadness filling her eyes. “Unless some device can be found, some tool to fight the One we do not name, we must proceed as we always have done.”

“With weeping and wailing women!” Morwen’s tone was so harsh that Indis went to her side and held her. “Do not fear for Théodwyn. Éomund will care for her. He will let naught happen to her nor to the babe. If danger comes too near, he will send her to Edoras. You know that.”

Morwen lowered her head. “More and more do I wish I were a man, to go with the Riders and fight for those I love.”

“You have done that and more, Morwen. Your name, dearest sister-friend, brings comfort and joy to your nation’s heart. You are called Steelsheen by your people. Do you not know they give you that title because you fill them with hope! Do not let despair o’ercome you.”

“There is none who can help us?” Listöwel asked. “There are two wizards that we know who dwell in Middle-earth; there are the immortal Elves. Cannot they help?”

“Curunír has stayed away for a very long time. When he was here, he dwelt only in the Great Library. Mithrandir is not friend to Denethor. There is a wall of distrust built up between them these past years that will not easily be torn down. As for the Elves - have any even seen an Elf since the Battle of Dagorlad? I have not. I do not think they care for the world of men, if ever they did.”

They sat in silence. Finally Morwen spoke. “We best finish our packing. Théoden has made up his mind to depart. I will miss you both very much!”

“I will say my farewells to you this evening,” Indis said as she hugged Morwen. “Tomorrow, Denethor and I ride to Osgiliath. He hopes to rebuild the city. Now that the bridge has been repaired and both eastern and western Osgiliath are garrisoned, it is safer there. We meet with his Captains.”

~*~

Théoden was gone and a gloom settled upon Denethor's heart. He had meant to go to Osgiliath at first light, but he, Théoden and Éomund had tarried at the breaking of the fast. He sent a message to Indis that they would leave after nuncheon.

He missed the Mark, the quiet of the great plains, where one could ride for days and see no one, no sign even of a hut to blemish the landscape. Where the sky was always blue and the ground never shook.

He had not long for contemplation this day, nor for melancholy. Errand-riders brought the news that Easterlings had struck and killed an entire patrol out of Cair Andros; Orc had attacked another patrol out of Amon Dîn. They would not travel to Osgiliath! He spent the next day and night in closed meetings with his Captains and the Council.

By morning, he had made up his mind. Climbing the stairs two at a time, he rued the fact that he had neglected this tool. Mayhap his men would still be alive had he spent time in the tower room. He unlocked the door. It sat there, looking at him with disdain. He shook his head. This was not a being; it was just a tool. Mayhap he should wait until he was in a better mood before using it. ‘Nay,’ He thought, ‘how many more warriors will die before my mood improves? Now is the time.’

He stepped in front of it, his back to the window. A cold shiver ran down his back. 'Just a breeze from the window,' he thought, ruefully. ‘Nothing to do with the Stone.’ He had used it only twice this past year. Once, only a fortnight ago to ascertain where the Rohirrim were as they traveled to Gondor for Boromir's ceremony. A smile lit his face as he thought of his firstborn. Pulling his thoughts away from pleasantries, he touched the Stone. It was cold, as usual. Taking in several deep breaths, he steadied his mind and focused on his City. The Stone grew warmer and Minas Tirith lay before him. He paused for a moment, drinking in the beauty that lay before him. The white Mindolluin marble gleamed, the banners still hung from the celebration, and the people smiled. It warmed his heart.

He turned his mind to Cair Andros. The island fortress lay quiet. Moving further north and east, he espied a dust trail. Pushing his mind further, he saw them, a large troop of Easterlings with many wains following, headed east. He breathed a sigh of relief. They were probably headed home to replenish their supplies. But, he noted the path they took. 'Knights of Gondor will meet them when next they dare to enter our land,' he thought grimly. 'I must come here more often; we must be ready when they return.'

He stepped back for a moment, feeling utterly drained, and let his hands slide from the globe. 'Have I eaten?' He wondered at the fatigue that filled him. 'Never the mind, I will eat when I finish here.' Another shiver ran down his spine and he considered stopping. 'Nay, the day is new; there is time before we depart.'

Moving forward again, he willed his mind calm and placed his palms on the Stone. It was easier to control this time. He saw his City as soon as he touched it. Willing to see the beacon hill and the fortress beyond, he moved northward. The outpost seemed quiet, though he noted the weekly supply train headed towards it. He looked further north, towards the Entwash. No sign of Orc. Finding that he held his breath, he let it out slowly. 'Théoden,' he thought suddenly. He would be able to see his old friend one more time. He turned his eyes westward and the Rohirric caravan came into view. They were already past Eilenach. They were not yet traveling this day. Another smile creased his face. Suddenly, he wished with all his might that he were there with his friend. His mind's eye saw Thengel and Walda before him, sitting by a fire. He had been exiled from Gondor, a punishment from Ecthelion, but the time spent on the borders of Rohan had been one of the happiest times of his life. They were near the Mering; Thengel was cooking their golden dorado, rather cooking Thengel and Walda's dorado. Try as he might, he had never been good at fishing. He saw Walda leaning back on his saddle, feet stretched before him, sword twirling in his hand. And Thengel – he had burnt his fingers tasting the succulent fish, and was sucking on them, easing the pain. Both were dead now. A wave of grief o’ercame him. Tears fell unbidden.

The Rohirrim column moved and Denethor was pulled back to the present. He sighed and let his eyes swing eastward, back towards Gondor. A quick look at the Entwash and then, further east. His brow furrowed. There had been no attacks from the mountains of Emyn Arnen. 'Why?' he wondered. Quickly skipping past Osgiliath, he viewed the mountain range and the Harad Road. Nothing moved. He had never looked past them before, but now he felt an urge to further his gaze. Another chill ran through him, but he dismissed it.
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IV.

Boromir grabbed Faramir’s shoulder and pulled him tight to his body. Protection bristled from him as quills from the porcupine. “Adar says to keep a distance from wizards, Faramir.”

“But I like his hat,” Faramir exclaimed excitedly. “How does it not blow away in the wind?”

“Pitch, my lad,” a warm, gravely voice said.

“Nay,” Faramir giggled. “I see no pitch.”

“Ah,” the wizard smiled, “then it must be magic.”

Faramir’s eyes widened, but he said nothing, mesmerized by the kind eyes that stared down at him. He had to bend his head far back to look up into those eyes. ‘This must be the tallest man I have ever seen.’

Boromir tried to pull him away, but Faramir dug in his feet. “May I touch it?” he asked, pointing to the hat sitting high upon the wizard’s head.

The man sat down on a bench near the very point of the parapet. Faramir shyly climbed upon his lap as he was handed the great hat. He squealed in delight as he put it on his head. It fell down over his face and ended up around his neck. Boromir tried to stifle a laugh. “It smells,” Faramir said, “but I like it, like grass and cinnamon and smoke – not smoke from the fireplace, but smoke, like when the fields, after harvest, are lit.”

“We must leave here,” Boromir tried to pull Faramir away, but the lad would not leave. Boromir stalked away, hoping Faramir would follow. He was angry; they had such little time together and Boromir had saved this afternoon to play with his brother. He walked to the fountain and sat, watching warily.

“Obedience is a fine thing, Faramir,” Mithrandir stated quietly.

“I am obedient. I will not go with you, but I like your smell. May I keep your hat?”

Mithrandir chuckled. “No one would recognize me without my hat,” he said sadly, “therefore, I cannot give it to you, but you may wear it for a little while longer.”

Faramir had pushed the rim up and the hat rested on his forehead, but every time he moved, the hat fell forward again, covering his face. Every time it did, he squealed again in laughter, as if he were playing hide ‘a seek. The wizard’s laughter echoed over the Courtyard.

Boromir found it hard to keep a straight face. He wanted to join them, the wizard and his brother. He wanted to laugh, too. His days were spent in training, schooling and such. There was not much laughter as each squire competed, drilled, fought and sweat to earn the satisfaction of their teachers. Boromir’s brow furrowed. Why had adar asked them to stay away from the wizard? There was no sign of treachery or danger, as far as Boromir could tell. Mayhap, the wizard was hiding something. His adar was the smartest man in the whole of Middle-earth. ‘I will ask him why we cannot visit with the wizard. It would be best if I knew the reason. Then, I could protect Faramir even better.' He watched and waited, hoping Faramir would grow tired of Mithrandir and come away with him. He had hoped they might look for treasures in the shops on the first level. The day was growing old; he would have to return to his barracks soon. His heart grew heavier as the sun moved lower in the sky. Faramir played on.

~*~

The Emyn Arnen lay still and black in the distance. They called to him, these mountains, and some part of him wished to look over the last peak, to peer into the Fields of Gorgoroth. The Stone grew warmer still. Númenoréans had built that tower as they had the fortresses of Minas Anor and Minas Ithil. It had been lost to the enemy, by Gondor’s own neglect, in 2950. ‘Nay,’ Denethor thought, ‘not neglect, but lack of warriors to hold it. Always it comes back to that. Not enough men.’ His anger stirred again as he thought of the fat lords of Lamedon, Lossarnach, Anfalas, and Belfalas. He chided himself. He understood their motives; he couldn’t agree with them. The globe grew warmer yet. A part of him was surprised at the anger he felt. A part of him wanted to withdraw from the Stone. He would not. He must see.

Once past the mountains, the plains stretched before him, desolate ruins and rivers ran through it. Some of the rivers ran black as night, no movement stirred them; some ran red as fire. He realized he was looking at molten fire pouring from Amon Amarth itself, creating rivulets running from its peak and broken sides, down to the valley below. To his right, he saw the towers of Minas Morgul. He remembered the painting that hung in Merethrond, of the once proud and noble stronghold, Minas Ithil. What he viewed now was black and hideous. He wished he had not seen it. He turned towards his left. The great tower of Barad Dur rose high. He stayed his eye, for a moment. A part of him did not want to draw any nearer. His mouth felt dry and his eyes burned. ‘I should stop,’ the distant thought said. ‘Night must be nigh. The children await me.’ But he could not leave without one closer look. He blinked rapidly, hoping the action would ease the pain in his eyes; it did not. He drew closer. The tower reached to the sky, black walls stretching in a grotesque shape. His skin began to prickle again. ‘Something moved? Nay. Something was inside?’

Slowly, he moved towards the blackness before him. Now and again, he would breath; most of the time, he did not. The tower rose and came closer; his mind cried out, ‘Run,’ but he could not. He held on tightly to the globe, as if holding it tighter would protect him. He did not know what he needed protection from, but he would not let go. The walls were before him; he could reach his hand out and touch them. Black and beautifully polished, they shimmered in the moonlight. He shuddered, tried to pull back, and found he could not. He breathed deeply, forced his eyes closed, and pulled with all his might; his hands came free. He staggered towards the window. It was day still. Where had the moonlight come from? What had he seen? He gulped fear down. Sliding slowly to the floor, he sobbed. What caused the pain in his heart, he did not know, but he was filled with a deep melancholy, the likes of which he had never felt before. He pulled his cloak about him and huddled there, in the dark of the Citadel’s tower room, and shivered. After a time, he forced himself to stand upright. Staggering down the stairs, he tripped as he rounded the corner to his quarters. His personal guard caught him.

“My Lord Steward! Is all well? Shall I send for the healer?”

The look in the man’s eyes nonplussed Denethor. How must he look if the man thought he needed a healer? “I have only tripped, nothing more,” he said brusquely, pushing the man out of the way and then almost falling into the door. The guard stiffly opened it and moved back. Denethor’s heart ached. Why had he done that? Why had he been so cold? This man had served him for the last nine years. Faithfully. He tried to stand up straight. “Thank you.”

He walked a little steadier into the room and went to the sink stand. After laving his face and his hands, he stood still, leaning against the table. His mind felt thick and his head heavy. Bowing, he cried again. Great tears ran down his cheeks and into the basin. He lurched back. The tears were black! He cried aloud and ran towards his bed. The guard flung the door open and ran in.

“My Lord?”

Denethor shuddered. Using every ounce of his strength, he brought his mind under control, banished the fear from it, and sat quietly upon the bed. “I…” He could think of no excuse for the scream. “I would like to have some wine,” he said lamely. The guard stared at him. The look in the man’s eyes hurt. “Leave me. I am well. And send for some wine and food.” The guard nodded and left. Denethor shook his head. He could have pulled the rope and his servant would have gladly ordered food. The guard must think him mad. His chin started to quiver again and a sob escaped his lips. He stood and walked towards the basin. ‘I cannot have seen what I thought.’ The basin was empty; no sign of tears at all, black or clear. He sighed in relief. He walked to the window and sat on the large sill. It overlooked the parapet. At the end of it, at the very point of the great stone walkway, sat Faramir. Someone was with him. Denethor strained his eyes. It was the wizard! Mithrandir!

~*~

Indis hurried from Listöwel’s room. Denethor’s own guard had sent a messenger to her, asking her to see him at her earliest convenience. She slowed as she came to the stairwell. Smoothing her dress, she walked up the three levels to Denethor’s suite. The guard’s face lit up when he saw her. He stepped away from the door, took her arm, and walked towards the back of the hall. She swallowed, wondering why the secrecy, but waited for him to speak.

“My Lady. Forgive me for calling you away from your duties. You know I understand duty and would not send for you for a triviality.”

She nodded as fear flitted across her mind.

“The Steward came to his quarters staggering. It was not drink that caused his impaired gait, my Lady, but I know not what. He does not seem injured, yet, he walked as one with a head wound. I did not understand it, but tried to help him to his room. He…” shame covered his face. “He pushed me aside and reprimanded me. I let him into the room and stepped out again. Only a moment or two passed and I heard him scream. I ran in and his face was wild. He moved about the room as one under attack. There was no one in the room with him. Then he ordered me to serve him food!” The man stepped back, breathing hard.

Indis took a deep breath. “You did well to call me. Did you send for a healer?”

“Nay, my Lady, he refused one.”

“Ah.” She took another breath and let it out slowly. “Thank you. Return to your post. I will meet with the Steward.”

They walked back to the door and Indis knocked, quietly. No answer came. She knocked again. She nodded to the guard who opened the door. She stepped in and he closed it behind her. Blinking her eyes against the light that shone through the wall of windows, she searched for him. He sat on a windowsill, head bent. She walked slowly towards him, cold shivers running down her arms. ‘He sits so still,’ she thought. Gently, she called his name. He did not reply, did not look up, did not acknowledge her. She called again. No response. Quickening her steps, she reached him and sat at his feet. She placed her hand on his knee. Looking up into his eyes, she cried aloud, “Denethor!” He said nothing. The eyes that stared back at her were black as coal, distant and filled with pain. “Denethor!” she cried again. He blinked his eyes.

“Ah, Indis. How good of thee to visit me,” he said in a hushed voice. “I have missed thee.” He raised his eyebrow and looked closely at her. “What ails thee, dearest sister?”

“Thou hast missed thy supper, my Lord, and I came to bring thee food. Art thou hungry?” She was alarmed that he spoke in the Sindarin, but kept her voice soft and light.

“Missed my meal?” He looked at her quizzically. “Have I missed Boromir and Faramir, too?”

“Aye, my Lord, thou hast. Should I send for them?”

“Nay. I am most weary. I would rest for a time.” He leaned his head back against the window ledge.

“Let me help thee to thy bed, dearest brother.”

He smiled up at her. “Please, I seem to have lost my strength this day.” His voice grew quieter and quieter.

She helped him up, led him to his bed, and laid him on it. She pulled a duckdown from the nearby closet and laid it over him. He closed his eyes. ‘Oh, by the all the Valar, what could be wrong with him?’ she thought. She pulled the rope by the bed; the guard entered. “Send for the healer,” she said quietly. Denethor did not stir. “And send for Listöwel.”

~*~

“Where is Adar?” Faramir asked.

“He is in his study. We are not to disturb him. I must leave you now. I must return to my quarters.”

“But I do not want you to go. We were going to go to the first level. You promised.”

“You spent too much time with the wizard. It is late now. I have my duty to perform, Faramir. You knew that when first we met this afternoon.”

“You are angry with me.”

“Aye. You disobeyed Adar, you wasted our time together, and now I have to return to my barracks. I wanted to spend time with you, Faramir.” He meant to look as stern as possible, but the look on his brother’s face melted his heart. “Walk with me to the Sixth Level. At least we can spend that time together.”

Faramir’s face lit up. “Did you ride your new horse, yet?” Faramir asked in excitement. “I have never seen such a beautiful horse. Why did Théoden King give you such a horse? I wanted my pony, Boromir. Do you think he will send me Snowflake? Do you?”

Boromir laughed. “You are trying to get all the words you would have said this afternoon into one sentence?”

The shy smile on Faramir’s face undid Boromir. “My dearest brother. Théoden King gave me the horse as a gift. You know that. For becoming a squire. When you become a squire, I imagine he will give you a horse too.”

“But that is so long away,” Faramir complained. “I want my pony now.”

“We might send him a letter, Faramir, and ask him how much the pony is. Then, we can save up and buy him. Then, you will have your pony.”

Faramir clapped his hands. “Will you help me write to him, Boromir?”

“The very next time we meet, Faramir. I promise. We are here now; I must go in.” He hugged his brother tightly. “I will see you in seven days. You will count them?”

“Listöwel made me a counting table. I mark it every day. It takes a long time for a day to go by, does it not, Boromir?”

“Aye. A very long time indeed, little brother. Now, go home before they send the guard out to look for you!” He hugged Faramir one last time and went into the Third Company’s doors.

Faramir stood there for a moment. He still had the wizard’s smell about him, but he wished now that he had left the wizard when Boromir had asked him to. A tear ran down his face and suddenly he was swept up into strong arms. The wizard smiled down at him.

“Choices are hard to make sometimes. And we cannot always see what the choices we make will do to us. Come, I am going to the buttery. I am famished. Are you?”
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V.

He remembered staggering, falling forward, his hand slipping from the stone. What had assailed him? One moment he had been looking towards the Plains of Gorgoroth, the next his mind had burst into a thousand different colours. No, he had pulled himself away from the globe. It did not control him. It did not. It did not! He trembled. A cool hand touched his forehead. He opened his eyes and Indis stared down at him. He smiled. “I am sorry. I took ill. Something I ate,” he lied.

“Never the mind. The healer left some tea for you to drink. It should help.” She refused to tell him of her all-night vigil, watching him toss and turn, screaming in his sleep. She forced a shudder away. This was no food illness. She had seen terror and despair. “The sun is shining. Would you command Faramir and I to ride with you today? Mayhap the warmth will rid your body of this ailment?”

He hissed. A long shuddering sound. He found himself shaking violently. “I do not think I could sit a horse this day. Mayhap tomorrow?”

“Aye,” she smiled. “Tomorrow you will have recovered. Faramir waits outside for your morning tea. May I allow him entrance?”

“Nay. I do not feel quite well enough. You break the fast with him; I will try to sleep a little longer.”

She kissed him lightly and left the room.

Faramir ran to her. “Is Ada better?”

She knew the lad had seen the healer leave as the boy had entered the antechamber. “Aye. But not well enough for you to join him this morning. Come,” she kissed his forehead to comfort him, “we will eat and then we will go to the training circle. Boromir is to practice his bow today. Would that not be pleasant? To see him, even if we cannot speak to him?”

Faramir hugged her. “Oh! That would be so wonderful. Thank you.”

They walked to the dining hall and met Listöwel. “I saved you a seat,” she smiled. “The entire guard seems to have taken over the hall. The cooks are furiously baking. ‘Twill be a little time before the griddle cakes are ready.” She laughed at Faramir’s look of long-suffering. “Do not be concerned, Faramir. The cooks know you are famished. You will not have to suffer o’erlong. Besides, you have some studying to do.”

Faramir looked up in surprise. “Indis said I might go to watch Boromir shoot his bow.”

“Oh. May I join you? We may discuss the part archery played in the history of Gondor while we watch.”

Faramir moaned. “Always history. I am tired of history. I want to read of Vëantur.”

Listöwel sighed. “We have read Vëantur so many times I have lost track! You need to read of the line of your adadhron. We have hardly touched the history of the Swan Prince. Your mother is descended directly from the line of the kings of Númenor. Have you not wondered why your adadhron is called ‘Prince’ Adrahil? We shall read about that this morning. But not too early,” she saw the look of chagrin on the lad’s face and laughed. “I promise. We will watch Boromir, but then we will read of the Princes of Númenor.”

~*~

The three met again at the third bell at the entrance to the training grounds. Indis obtained permission for them to enter. Faramir started to run, but Indis caught him by the arm and held him back. Whispering, she said, “Thou art the Steward’s son, Faramir. Remember that.” Faramir nodded in understanding. “I wilt.” They walked in quietly. Indis was shown to the Steward’s box; Listöwel and Faramir followed. There were scarce fourteen people in attendance; most were of the same ilk as Indis – relatives come to watch their own.

The floor of the courtyard was immaculately kept, the sand sculpted in the traditional spiral shape of Minas Tirith and at the center, as always, the White Tree. Other parts of Minas Tirith might be in a state of disrepair, but the Sixth and Seventh Circles showed no sign of age or neglect. Tradition was kept.

They sat in the cushioned seats and waited. The first part of the practice consisted of pairings of squires. As he waited for Boromir, Faramir kept his hands folded. Indis laughed quietly at his composure. The lad’s legs were too short and thus stuck out straight before him. His expression screamed of boredom. She leaned over, “Boromir will be up shortly. He is third on the list.” Faramir nodded. Soon, Indis noted him twiddling his thumbs. She put her hand over them, not speaking. Faramir shrank a little into the chair and stopped the movement.

Suddenly, he jumped up; a cry of ‘Oh!’ escaped his lips, and then, “Boromir!”

Indis rolled her eyes. As far as Faramir was concerned, the only reason to be here was to watch his brother. She had hoped the lad would pay attention to the techniques of the squires as they brought their swords together. Denethor would expect such a report from his son. She saw Faramir’s wide-eyed adoration; his little mouth was opened in joy at the sight of Boromir, and she smiled and sat back. There was no use trying to shift Faramir’s attention. Watching closely, she noted that Boromir appointed himself well. He handled the training blade with ease. Denethor had been correct; the boy was a natural swordsman. She smiled again. He would soon pass her in skill. Then, too soon for Faramir’s liking as noted by his heavy sigh and the sudden thrusting of his body back fully into the seat, Boromir’s turn was over. Another three pairings and the first part of the training session was complete for the day. As the squires left, eight men strode forward carrying four great round targets that they set at either end of the courtyard. Two groundskeepers ran forward with rakes to smooth the sand. At last, all preparations were complete.

Faramir straightened in his seat. Indis noted the keen look in his eyes. Two lads stepped forward, bows in their hands, full quivers strapped to their backs. They stood side by side waiting for their signal. At last, it was given. Quickly they strung their bows and shot. Four times the signal was given and four times their arrows were loosed. Another signal and they bowed and left the grounds. Two more took their places on the other end of the yard. The sun had reached its zenith before Boromir stepped out. Indis quickly put her hand over Faramir’s to stop the lad from clapping. Four times Boromir missed the center, but, with each turn, the arrow came closer. Indis sighed. The boy’s stance was wrong. She would have to speak with his trainer. Then she noticed he did not stand at ease. His whole body was stiff. He would not be a natural archer; he would have to practice long to master the bow.

She looked at Faramir. The boy was enraptured. After Boromir finished, she made as if to leave, but the child sat. “It is time to leave, Faramir. We have been here longer than I expected. You are late for your lessons.”

“Just a little longer,” he pleaded.

She was surprised at the intensity of his entreaty. She smiled at Listöwel who nodded her approval, then sat back and watched Faramir watch the squires. He sat on the edge of his seat, never moving. At last, the final pair concluded their practice and left. The spectators started leaving; the targets were removed, and the groundskeepers returned to begin their cleaning.

Indis touched Faramir on the arm. Startled, he jumped. “‘Tis time to leave, Faramir.”

“Is it over? So soon?” He looked crestfallen.

“For today.”

“May we come back tomorrow? To watch Boromir? And the archers?”

“Tomorrow we will ride with your father onto the Pelennor. He is most anxious to be with you.”

Faramir’s face lit up. “Oh, Indis. I would very much like that.”

Tears were in the boy’s eyes and she hugged him tightly. “He loves thee very much, Faramir, but affairs of state press down upon him. Thou must remember that and help him.”

“I wilt, Indis. I promise.”

~*~

His memory was returning. He had been in the tower room. He had held the Palantir in his hands. He… He had seen something. Shuddering, the memory, accompanied by a painful bright white light, filled his mind. Ecthelion! He had seen his father, stern and cold, looking down at him. He had seen the Pelennor on fire and his father berating him for letting Gondor fall. He moaned and thrust his head into the pillows, but he could not hide from the eyes, staring at him in fury, the lips stretched taut in a deep scowl, the brow furrowed. He threw the bedcovers off and stood up, but found he was still weak. The stone had not affected him like this the first time he had used it. What foul magic was this? He walked slowly to the window and sat upon the sill. The sun was at its apex; he had slept long. If he closed his eyes, he still saw the scene played before him. Yet, the sun hurt his eyes. He held his hand over them; then looked down at the Courtyard of the Fountain. None were about except the four guards of the White Tree. He breathed a sigh of relief. Then wondered what he had expected to see.

The memory flooded back. He had seen his sons. Faramir stood in front of Boromir; Boromir was holding him around the chest; Faramir’s head came well below Boromir’s chin. He saw them standing thus and he ached to hold them both. But then he recollected the wizard. Faramir had run to greet the wizard and then sat on his lap! Why? Faramir had disobeyed. He wondered why Boromir had allowed this and then remembered seeing the lad sitting on the lip of the Fountain, hands crossed over his chest, obviously angry. Denethor chuckled. He knew Boromir’s stance when angry; always the arms were about his chest and his eyebrow cocked to one side. But Faramir! Faramir had disobeyed him. Anger o’erwhelmed him for a moment. He shook his head. ‘Twas not the lad’s fault. Not Boromir’s fault. Drawing in a deep breath, he stood. He must speak with Faramir. He had not voiced his opinion of the wizard fully. The child did not understand. He would be more forceful. Forbid him to see the wizard again.

Indis entered the room. “I had hoped to share your noon meal?” He stared at her for a few moments and she felt uncomfortable. “Have you already eaten?”

“He calls me Adar now. Had you noticed?”

“Who, Denethor?”

“Boromir. He no longer calls me Ada. I think I will miss that.”

“He grows up, my brother. Come and eat with me.” She pulled the rope and, almost instantly a servant brought a tray in. “I took the liberty of ordering our food.”

He smiled quietly. “You always take care of me, do you not, my dearest sister?”

She did not like this quietness of his. What had caused it? Where was his joy? “I love you, Denethor. It is as simple as that.”

“Is it not because I am Steward?”

She shivered. “I have always cared for you, even before you became Steward.”

He stared at her. “I was Heir.”

Indis grew angry. “Who stood beside you when Ecthelion would have made Thorongil Steward?”

He blinked, drew in a breath, and shook his head. “My mind is not my own today. Forgive me, Indis.”

“You have not yet eaten. Come and join me.”

She sat at the table and he joined her. After a few moments of silent eating, he spoke. “I seem to remember Faramir wanting to break fast with me this morning?”

“Aye. He stood outside the door, waiting.”

“He was here?” he asked doubtfully.

“I told him you were ill and would ride with him tomorrow.”

“I did not know he was here. I saw him with the wizard, the one named Mithrandir. Did you see him?”

“I did not. I did not know he was in Gondor.”

“He is here now. I saw him this morning.”

Indis knew of Denethor’s meetings with Curunír. How he had grown up fearing wizards. She also knew of Mithrandir’s support of Thorongil. Mayhap the wizard’s visit is what caused his change. She had thought he had been grown out of his fright.

“I have asked the boys not to associate with any wizard, yet I saw Faramir in the Courtyard on his lap.” The tone was quiet, but Indis heard the anger scarcely contained.

“Mithrandir is pleasant. Faramir is kind. If the wizard had approached him, he would be hard-pressed to be discourteous.”

Denethor bit his lip. “I do not trust them.”

“Nor do I, my lord. I will speak with Faramir.”
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VI.

Denethor’s mind was made up. He must meet with his Captains. Their meeting in Osgiliath had been canceled twice now. Never the mind that Adrahil, he grimaced at the thought of that man, had invited them to the birth ceremony for his newest grandchild. Gondor’s weal was of more import. He would not go. But when he had discussed the invitation with Indis, she had suggested sending Boromir as Gondor’s representative.

“The lad has just begun his training. He is only six months into it. I do not want him interrupting it for such a little thing.”

“Adrahil is his adadhron. But more than that, he is Prince of Belfalas and a Lord of Gondor. We must send someone.”

“Send Listöwel. She can visit her family while there.”

Indis smiled. “Denethor! You are the most stubbourn man I have ever known. We cannot send Listöwel as Gondor’s representative. She holds no title. Better to send Boromir. Listöwel can accompany him.”

He paced up and down in his study. “It is not good for the lad to interrupt his training. I am being honest. I do not like Adrahil. For Prince Imrahil’s sake, I will send Boromir. His training must continue while he is in Dol Amroth, otherwise I will not send him.”

“I agree. Listöwel will be given a missive for Prince Imrahil. He will make sure Boromir has time and opportunity for training.” She smiled again. “He will be most pleased at Boromir’s progress. I was at practice yesterday and he did well. In fact, he did better than well. He wields the sword as if born to it. You would have been proud.”

“You mean,” he said sternly, “I should have been there.”

She took a deep breath. “I did not say that, nor did I think it. What has come over you, these last days? You are gruff and not yourself.” He stopped his pacing. Pain filled his eyes and she gasped. “You still suffer from your illness?”

“I am concerned about our meeting. You will be accompanying me?”

“Of course. I have the papers together. The mapmaker has created a whole new set of maps of Ithilien, based upon your journal entries. We will be ready. When do we leave?”

“Before first light tomorrow.”

“Then,” she asked, perplexed, “when will you send Boromir to Dol Amroth?”

“Tomorrow.”

“Oh.”

He shrugged. “It cannot be helped.”

“Faramir will be alone for at least five days.”

He looked at her quizzically. “And?”

“And he should not be alone that long. You speak of sending Boromir off and Listöwel with him. Whom do you see attending Faramir? What with the both of us gone too.”

“He is…” He paused, shook his head and sat on the settle. “I cannot seem to think straight, Indis.” He hated showing her his weakness. He did not understand it, nor where it came from. Nor the anger that smoldered in his mind. But she had always been his counselor.

“What have you been about, Denethor?” He looked down at his hands and she continued. “Do not you trust me?”

“I have found a tool, brought by our ancestors from Númenor. It is powerful. I used it the day I took ill. Ever since, I have needed to return to it. It is powerful,” he reiterated. “Yet, it drains me. I am not as strong, I suppose, as those men of Númenor who brought it across the sea, but Gondor needs to use every tool available to fight this evil that assails us.”

“So. You have used the Palantir?”

“How do you know of it?” he snapped.

“I was counselor to our father. Do you not remember? I was afforded access to all areas of Gondor. I saw the Palantir, though our father never used it.”

“I know that. Yet, Gondor’s plight is worse than before. I deem it necessary to use it. And every other tool at my hand.”

“Have you researched it?”

”Do you think I picked it up one day and just opened my mind to it?” His tone was churlish. “Of course I read of its uses.”

“If it presents your mind and body with aftereffects, might it be better to use it infrequently?”

“I could have prevented the attacks upon our patrols if I had only looked before.”

“You cannot know that, Denethor! You cannot be everywhere at once.”

“With the Palantir, I can. And I will continue to use it.” He paused, walked to his chair and sat. “I must endeavor to strengthen myself so it does not affect me so profoundly.” He did not tell her of his vision, nor that he looked into Mordor’s valley. “We will send Faramir with Listöwel and Boromir. The time in Dol Amroth will do him well. Send a rider immediately. Then, have two companies go with them. I would have them well-protected.” He looked at her. “I know you are concerned. The Palantir did not harm me the first times I used it. I will be more careful, use it more wisely, I promise.”

“Thank you, my Lord.” She left the room.

~*~

“He promised to take us riding today, Indis.” The child’s chin quivered. “I went to the stables already and brushed my horse. They are saddling him now.”

“I am sorry, Faramir. He prepares for a meeting and you must pack for your visit with your adadhron.”

“I do not want to go to Dol Amroth. I want to stay here with Ada.” He sat, stubbournly, in the middle of the nursery floor. “I will not go.”

“Faramir. Let us go to your Ada’s study. At least we might take tea with him.”

His eyes lit; jumping up, he ran to the door.

“Might you wash the jam from your face before we go?”

He licked his lips. “There! It is clean.”

She laughed loudly. “Nay, it is not. Come with me. It will only take a moment.”

It did only take a moment and before she could move, the boy was out the door and running down the stairs. ‘Oh,’ she thought hurriedly, ‘I hope Denethor has a moment for him.’ By the time she reached the Steward’s level, she ran into Faramir. The lad was crying.

“His door is locked and he does not answer.” He flung himself into her arms.

“Let me try, Faramir.”

“But I called to him, and he did not answer.” His crying turned to sobs.

‘He is still so wounded,’ she thought. ‘He misses Finduilas so.’ She held him close. “We must wipe your face again, Faramir. You do not want your Ada to see tears.” He succumbed to her ministrations.

She knocked, loudly, on the door and called, “Denethor. It is I, Indis. And I bring your son, Faramir, with me. Would you allow us to enter?”

A heartbeat’s time and she heard wood scraping against wood. She turned to Faramir and smiled. “He probably did not hear you, my sweet. The doors are heavy.”

Denethor opened the door, a frown upon his face. When he noted the pleading in Indis’ eyes, he relented. “Faramir. It is good to see you, my son. Why are you here?”

‘Oh!’ she wanted to slap him. “We have come to say our farewells. Faramir will leave on the morrow,” she said as pleasantly as she could. “He desires a hug.”

He put his fingers to his forehead. “Of course.” Turning to Faramir, he took his hand and walked him to the settle. ‘I do not have time for this,’ he thought, chafing at the knowledge of what had to be done for tomorrow’s meetings.

“Ada. Can we not go riding today?”

Denethor swallowed. “I cannot. When you return, we will go. I promise.” The boy looked at him, tears welling in his eyes. Something in his memory awoke. “Come with me, Faramir. Let us to the garden.” Taking the lad’s hand, he smiled at Indis and walked past her, through the doors and into Finduilas’ apartments. He opened the garden doors and walked through. Sitting on the stoop, he pulled Faramir into his lap. “I have not been feeling well these past days, Faramir. My duty calls me to Osgiliath. You understand duty, my son…”

“Ion nîn,” Faramir interrupted him.

“Ion nîn,” Denethor said and smiled. “I have not been keeping my promises, have I?” The lad looked down at his fingers and twiddled them. “I know. I am sorry, Faramir. When you return from your adadhron’s, we will go riding. And I will keep this promise.”

“Ada, must I go? I want – to stay – with you,” the boy had begun to sob.

“I will be gone, too, Faramir. You would be lonely here, all alone in the Citadel, waiting for me.” His son turned and buried his face in Denethor’s tunic, crying unabashedly. “I will miss you, Faramir.” He put his hand on the lad’s hair, bent and kissed his head. “I will miss you terribly. Remember that.”
top

VII

The sun caught and held him as they passed the Causeway Forts. It had remained hidden behind the Ephel Dúath since before they began their journey. Now, Denethor was heartened to see it. He looked towards Indis. Her smile told him its affect upon her was the same. Much as he loved Minas Tirith, he knew he belonged in Ithilien. His heart always lifted when he crossed the Anduin. This day, he would stay on the west side of the river. His Captains, those from East and West Osgiliath, from Cair Andros, the northern fortress of Henneth Annûn, and the southern fortress of Henneth Amrûn, all gathered. His heart lifted. Brave and stalwart men were these, the best of Númenor. Indis sat near his right. When the dining hall quieted, he stood.

“There have been numerous attacks, as of late, upon the lands of Gondor and of Rohan. Théoden King says they are sore-pressed. They will not be able to protect our western border as we would like. That is all well and good… and I suppose to be expected. Ever it seems our allies are sore-pressed.” Quiet laughter greeted this statement. “Prince Adrahil,” he used the title though it stuck in his craw to give the man any measure of respect, “reports the same problems in Belfalas. Thankfully,” he smiled, “we have our own men at Pelargir. I deemed it wise to keep Captain Gwinhir there, instead of ordering him here. The Haradrim devils have been too quiet of late. I do not trust them.” Murmuring assent greeted this statement. “I want the garrisons here in Osgiliath reinforced. The Rammas Echor has been rebuilt this past summer and raised by 10 handbreadths. It will protect Minas Tirith, to a degree.” Mutters greeted this pronouncement; most agreed. Denethor raised his hand for silence.

Captain Durahil stood. Denethor nodded to the warrior from Cair Andros and sat down. ‘Twas better to let them speak, think they had some say in what was to happen to them. He would suffer the Captain this small amount of time and then do what needed to be done.

“My Lord Steward, I deem it wise to withdraw our people from the farmlands north and east of Amon Dîn. We cannot protect them.”

Denethor, not expecting such a statement, began to rise, thinking furiously of the implications of the man’s suggestion. However, Indis stood first and spoke.

“The men of Cair Andros are known for their courage and sensibility. Food, however, is desperately needed for that garrison and the garrison at Henneth Annûn. If the lands you speak of are abandoned, from where will you receive food?”

“More supply wains can be sent from Minas Tirith. The farmlands of Lebennin and Lossarnach will furnish all our needs.”

“Lebennin and Lossarnach supply the entire southern part of Gondor, along with Minas Tirith and Osgiliath. The supply wains are already spread too thin. They take supplies from the southern fiefdoms to the garrisons near the beacon-hills. They cannot possibly add your garrisons to their routes.”

“What of Rohan? Cannot they supply the garrisons east of Edoras?” Captain Amlach asked. “Mayhap they cannot supply men, but food?”

“Rohan is recovering from a drought. Their fields have not produced their normal yield. They will not be able to help us,” Denethor said quietly. “We will not abandon these farmlands. Not yet. But we will draft as many men as possible. I want the conscript age lowered to sixteen. Do not, however, leave the farmers with too few men to work the fields.” He turned towards Durahil. “I will expect weekly reports from your garrison, Captain Durahil.”

The Captain knew he had best sit. The look on Denethor’s face brooked no further arguments.

“Weapons are another difficulty. The forges of Minas Tirith are being run day and night as it is, and still we need more. It is time to build a forge here in Osgiliath. I have already commissioned one for Pelargir. Our workmen cannot keep up with the demand. A call must be sent out to find smithies to man these new works.”

Captain Gelmir stood. “There are many young men in southern Ithilien whose mothers refuse to allow them to join Gondor’s armies. Let me speak in the villages, my lord, and recruit these men for this duty. It is not dangerous and their milk-mothers can rest at ease, thinking their sons are protected.” He spat as he spoke of the cowardly women of the southern fiefdoms. Shouts of approval rang out. “I will conscript as many as possible and send them to the smithies of Minas Tirith. They should be trained and ready for the new steel works in three month’s time. Granted, they will not have the skill that those who forge swords for the garrisons of Minas Tirith, but almost any sword can kill an Orc, if it be wielded by a stout and courageous warrior of Gondor.” A roar of approval greeted this pronouncement.

Denethor smiled himself. “When you return to your garrison, send out two of your aides. I cannot have you hopping about from village to village. You are a little more important than that.”

Gelmir bowed. “Thank you, my Lord Steward.”

“We are in agreement then? The draft age will be lowered; the farmlands will be scoured to bolster our garrisons, and two forges will be built and manned,” he smiled warmly at Captain Gelmir, “by the sons of the mothers of Southern Ithilien.”

Laughter greeted the decree. Denethor rued the fact that he had waited so long for this meeting. ‘Well,’ he thought, ‘it could not be helped what with Boromir’s ceremony.’ The cooks opened the shutters for the serving area and the men pounced on the food set before them. Denethor smiled at Indis. “Thank you. That was quick thinking.” She smiled back and offered him her hand. He took it and led her to their table.

~*~

The sea stretched out before them – calm, grey with the sky greying itself and touching the sea, making the line between sky and water indistinguishable except for a few touches of pink interspersed throughout. One large patch of washed out pink showed where the sun would touch the sea and disappear. Boromir stood on his Naneth’s balcony, his eyes straining, dry and burning, looking for the ship. It was past due and worry prodded at the corners of his mind. Faramir sat next to him, fast asleep, his head leaning against Boromir’s leg. Adar had promised, in his last letter, that he would come to Dol Amroth and bring Boromir and Faramir back to Minas Tirith with him. Denethor had told his son to watch the waters; he would come from Pelargir. Two months had passed since his Uncle Imrahil had given him the letter. He breathed a sigh of relief; he was most grateful that he had said no word of Denethor’s promise to Faramir. A tear rolled down his cheek. His uncle had told him how his Naneth would stand on this very balcony, watching the sun set. He missed her terribly. The flowers in the garden that spread below him filled the air with the same fragrance that encompassed her. The sun inched closer to the sea; he wanted to turn and go to his adadhron’s hall. There was another celebration there tonight. He knew he and Faramir were expected, but he could not pull himself away. He rubbed his hands over the teak balcony, knowing his Naneth's own hand had touched this very wood, that she had rubbed her hands along it, just as he was doing, as she watched the sun set. His heart broke. Where was Adar? Why did he not come?

His adadhron, Prince Adrahil, had been more than kind as were all his relatives, but the family was busy with the ceremonies associated with the new prince’s birth and to the care of Prince Imrahil’s firstborn, Elphir, who was a handful by himself. Boromir felt lost, at times, in the whirlwind of activities that abounded in the royal family’s home. He needed Denethor. A fortnight ago, they had been taken to Finduilas’ crypt, buried deep in the bowels of the palace. Someone thought it would be good for the boys to visit it. But Faramir had cried for hours afterwards, and Boromir found the child in his bed every night since. Listowel, had she been about, would have been furious, but she had gone to visit her own family in one of the little towns that flanked Dol Amroth.

“Boromir,” the whispered voice caught him by surprise, making him turn quickly. Faramir’s head slid down and bumped the floor. The boy’s eyes opened in shock; he began to cry, very quietly. “Faramir!” Boromir knelt next to his little brother and took him in his arms. “I am sorry!” He stroked his brother’s hair and kissed him gently on his forehead. “Please forgive me?” Faramir looked up and tried to smile, but the tears made the grimace look ludicrous. “I am sorry, Faramir,” Boromir repeated.

Prince Imrahil moved from the doorway and sat next to them. “Nay, Faramir. ‘Twas my fault. I startled your brother. I am the one to ask for forgiveness. I was concerned. The banquet has started and neither of you were in your appointed seats. So I came to find you.”

“Then ‘tis truly my fault, Uncle, for I wanted to see the sun set from Naneth’s balcony and lost track of time.”

“Then come with me now. Your adadhron has refused to begin until you are both seated.” He picked Faramir up. Looking down at Boromir, he saw pain etched into the lad’s face. Grief lay as a burden on the lad’s body. He took Boromir’s hand and walked out of the chambers. Boromir heaved a sigh and left the beloved room.

~*~

“We should never have gone to Cair Andros,” Denethor stated bitterly. “I had promised Boromir I would be in Dol Amroth over two months ago. He hissed. “I seem to be spending my time breaking promises to those boys.”

“I too am anxious to see them again; however, the boat will go no faster than the winds that fill the sails.” Indis had to bite her tongue to keep from lecturing Denethor. Three months it had been since last he had touched the Stone. He had become himself again, and for that she was grateful. His return to his old impatience wore her thin, though.

He stood on the deck and watched the land go by as the boat swept out into the Bay of Belfalas. They had embarked on the schooner at Harlond. Denethor had made his wishes about speed known to the Captain, but there was naught the man could do. There was no wind. They had been on the river too long; the winds had failed them and the Captain had been forced to use oars. The trip south had been tedious and boring. Indis and Denethor had spent most nights perusing their handiwork on the newest maps. The roads between Osgiliath, Henneth Annûn, and Cair Andros were perfect. Every river, every hillock, every ruin had been painstakingly added to the existing maps. A copy had been made and sent to the cartographers. Whatever happened after this, at least the Captains of Gondor would know where they were at any given moment. The winds had finally picked up, coming from the north at about twenty knots, according to the Captain, as they entered the Ethir Anduin. It had taken them only a half-day to reach the bay. He could see Tolfalas before them. ‘At last,’ he thought, ‘we are truly on our way.

He smiled ruefully. He should be enjoying this trip. How often had he wished to make the same, but as Captain of his own vessel! Never had the dream been fulfilled. It never would be. Mayhap someday Boromir…. No, his son would be too great a Captain to confine to one ship. Faramir? Denethor had to laugh. ‘I cannot even imagine that,’ he smiled. ‘Though the boy tries to be courageous, I think the first great wave that hit his ship would cause him to run in terror.’ Suddenly, his brow furrowed. He knew that Faramir oft ran to his brother’s room after a nightmare or during one of the monstrous storms that assailed the mountain city on occasion. How to break him of this habit? He could not, in good conscience, do what his own father had done. He could not. A slight shudder swept over him. ‘The wind,’ he thought, but his heart cried, ‘thy father.’ He turned away and went below deck.

~*~

Prince Adrahil watched as the children of Denethor entered the dining hall. He rose and greeted them personally. “We have been waiting,” he chastised Boromir gently. “Would you sit now?”

Boromir’s face burnt with embarrassment. “I am sorry Adadhron,” but Faramir interrupted him. “We were watching the sun set from Naneth’s window. I fell asleep,” the boy lowered his head and Adrahil had to bite his lip to keep from laughing.

“I can understand that, my lad, the sea breeze weaves magic upon those who watch from that window.”

Faramir’s eyes opened wide. “Ada said the same thing a long time ago,” he breathed quietly. “He saw an Elf from that very window.” The boy’s voice had raised almost an octave as he said the word ‘elf.’

Adrahil stepped backwards. Quickly regaining his composure, he indicated where the boys were to sit. Then, he cast a sharp look at his son. Prince Imrahil only shrugged. He had heard no story of such an event himself, he quietly told his father. ‘But,’ he thought to himself, ‘I will learn more from Faramir before the night is o’er.’
top

VIII.

When the Steward reached the quay, Prince Adrahil himself was there to greet him. A Swan Knight offered his hand to help Denethor out of the skiff. The Steward forced the laugh that threatened to engulf him back. He knew his way about boats and how to disembark from one. Had not Adrahil himself taught him many long years ago! He motioned for the man to help Indis. Of course, she needed no help herself, but Denethor knew she would be gracious and accept the offer. The lines had already been tied off to the pilings; the boat stood still, and he stepped up onto the dock.

Denethor offered the Gondorian salute and Adrahil accepted it. He motioned for Denethor to walk ahead of him on the slim dock. When Denethor reached the end of the pier, he stopped and waited for his father-in-law.

“It is good to have you back in Dol Amroth, Denethor. It has been too long.”

Denethor bit his tongue to keep the hot retort back.

Indis joined them. The Prince smiled and took her in his arms, his eyes wet with unshed tears. “My daughter spoke often of your friendship and what it meant to her; your kindness to her from her first moment in Minas Tirith. I thank you.”

She returned the hug, tears spilling from her own eyes. “I loved your daughter from the very beginning because of my brother’s love for her,” she felt the Prince tense and continued, “but I soon grew to love her for who she was. We became the best of friends. Nay, more than that even, for we called each other sister-friend.”

“I know.” He let his grip loosen and stepped back “Oft she wrote of your adventures together. Though you never did convince her to lift a sword.”

Indis laughed. “She would rather we buried them in the ground than wield them, but she never spoke a word against our practice.”

Denethor stood looking at the sea in front of him, the white and grey clouds scudding across the sky. He bit the inside of his cheek to keep from sobbing. He had not spoken nor heard her name spoken by another in many years. The pain cut through him like a knife. Would this wound never be healed?

Indis turned towards him, ever aware of her brother’s moods. “Will we go directly to the palace, my Lord?” she asked Prince Imrahil.

“I have a carriage waiting.” He started forward, but was stopped by a hand on his arm.

“Would you excuse me? I would find my sons. Are they playing at the beach?”

Adrahil started. “They are not, my Lord Steward. Nor are they at the castle of Dol Amroth. They are,” he paused for a moment, “they are on an adventure with their Uncle Imrahil.”

Denethor’s eyes stormed, but he kept his voice low. “Why did you allow this when you knew I would be arriving today?”

“I knew no such thing, Denethor.” He forced himself to speak calmly, but abandoned the Steward’s title. “We have had no missive from you for two months. I know how your duty to Gondor has delayed you in the past.” The hint of anger rang in his voice. “I supposed your neglect of your wife had spilled over to neglect for your sons.”

Denethor’s hand flew to his sword, his face grew livid red and his breath came in short gasps.

Indis held his arm tighter and pulled him, as well as she was able, away from Adrahil. She turned a withering glance upon the Prince. “That was totally uncalled for, my Lord Prince,” she said with as much dignity as she could muster. “If you will excuse us, I believe the Lord Steward and I will stay here in town this night. Mayhap your manners will have returned on the morrow.”

Adrahil turned on his heel and strode towards the carriage. Entering it, he shouted to the driver to move on.

Denethor bent over, his hands on his knees, trying to calm himself. He felt run through by a sword. Tears ran down his face. Indis rubbed his back and waited.

At last, Denethor straightened. “If it had been my daughter, I would feel the same.” He put his arm around Indis’ shoulders and steered her towards the quay. As they walked, he felt his heart slow and a greater, deeper grief reach into him. He gulped back the sobs that threatened him. When they were near the dock, he stepped down onto a walkway and helped Indis down. They walked along the beach; he held her tightly to him.

“You are too magnanimous, my brother,” Indis finally spoke.

“Nay. My pain must be like unto his. His daughter was given to my care and now she is dead. What have tongues been saying to him? What rumours of her treatment at my hands has he heard? Did I even come to bury her? To offer my sympathy? Did he ever hear from my lips the circumstances that led to her death?” He choked back another sob. “Nay! I was remiss. I should have come.” He looked deep into Indis’ eyes. “I have never been to her tomb,” he whispered. “I still do not think I can go there.”

She held him for a moment. “Listöwel was with her body when Finduilas was brought to Dol Amroth. She told Adrahil of Finduilas’ last days. She would have said nothing to him that was untrue. Where he gets this notion that you neglected his daughter, I cannot say. But he is wrong, Denethor. You know it in your heart. Let not grief and false guilt assail you.”

“Rare were her visits to his home. How was he to know how she fared? I did nothing to assuage his fears for her. I was too proud. He was too angry at my father’s disdain for the house of the Swan. As much as I have endeavored to create a bond between Gondor and Rohan, I should have done the same for Belfalas." He sat heavily on a piling sticking out of the sand. “My grief kept me from her people. Now I pay for it.”

One of Prince Imrahil’s Knights came into view. Denethor turned his back. The man stepped up to Indis and handed a note, affixed with the seal of the Swan, to her and stepped back a few paces, waiting, she noted, for a reply. She opened the missive and read it. She turned to Denethor. “Prince Adrahil sends his regrets at his behavior. He has sent another carriage for us and begs us to stay with him at the palace.” Denethor turned towards her. “That is what it says, Denethor. ‘I beg you to accept my hospitality.’ What do you think of that?” she said, her voice mirroring the amazement in her eyes.

~*~

The road to Edhellond was not well tended; therefore, the party had to ride slowly, which was better for Faramir anyhow. He wasn’t used to bumpy horses, he had told his uncle, and giggled as Imrahil laughed. “Bumpy horses, you say. I am sure you are used to the horses of the Rohirrim. Ours are not as good, I must admit, but they do love the sea smell and that is important for a Swan.”

“Why are you called Swans, Uncle?”

“I do not really know. Except that swans have always lived in Belfalas, great fleets and herds of them. Shall I call you Cygnet, Faramir?”

“That is a funny name,” Faramir giggled. “Why would you call me that?”

“Because that is the name for a baby swan.”

“I am no baby!” Faramir shouted.

Imrahil held his ear. The shout reverberated painfully.

“I am sorry, Uncle,” Faramir whispered. “I will not shout again.”

“Thank you,” Imrahil said with a slight bow of his head. “I would most appreciate that. And I was impolite to liken you to a baby swan. You are almost grown.”

Giggling louder, Faramir bent down and kissed his uncle’s hand. Then he sat up again and patted those rough hands that held the reins. “You can call me a baby if you want to, Uncle Faramir,” he said quietly. “I love you.”

A lump caught in Imrahil’s throat and he had to swallow to stifle the sob and blink to stop the tears that threatened to fall. He had missed these boys so much. Their family had been ripped asunder after his sister’s death. He knew not whom to blame: his father or Denethor. His heart ached to offset the damage done to these little ones. ‘Swans mate for life,’ he thought. ‘Yet, once the sweet Swan of Dol Amroth perished, we left these little ones at the mercy of…’ He stopped himself. He listened to often, of late, to his father’s harangues about the Steward of Gondor. He knew Denethor, had served with him, and found him honourable. And the love Denethor had for his children surpassed most that Imrahil had seen. Looking down at the ebony head that leaned against his chest, Imrahil vowed he would watch over these two, that he would do all in his power to reestablish the bonds of family broken by death, grief and pride.

~*~

Eärendil shone brightly the further from land they traveled. Denethor had not been able to sleep; thoughts of Boromir and Faramir haunted him. Their last parting had not gone well. Though Faramir seemed to understand why they were to be separated, Denethor knew the lad had not understood a thing. He had been more than brusque with his youngest. The memory of it drove him to the deck. Adrahil had been most kind to lend him this barc to take him to his sons. He had not known what had surmounted the Prince’s obvious anger at Denethor. Perhaps Indis had spoken with him. He only knew that, the morning after he had arrived in Dol Amroth, the Prince whisked him onto a boat to rendezvous with Prince Imrahil at Edhellond.

The captain had assured him they would be at the mouth of the Ringló shortly. After that, short horsebacks ride to Edhellond. “You should arrive at the Elf Haven by nuncheon, though why anyone would want to go to a ruined Elven city, I know not.”

Denethor kept his tongue. He had neither the time nor the energy to spend teaching a fool about the ancestry of the captain’s fathers. He had been surprised by the lack of knowledge of this son of Mithrellas. In fact, he had always been surprised at the utter ignorance of the people of Belfalas. Only the Prince’s family itself seemed the least bit interested in their ancestry. A cry pulled his attention away from these thoughts.

“Land!”

~*~

Boromir ran into the ruined building with Faramir right at his heels. Imrahil was hard-pressed to keep up with the boys.

“Slow down!” he shouted. “Wait for me.”

But Boromir had seen something in the distance and was determined to get a closer look. Faramir would not be left behind. As they came closer, Boromir dug his heels in the ground, stopping so suddenly that Faramir ran into the back of him.

“Look,” he whispered. “There is an Elf.”

Faramir strained as hard as he could to see what Boromir saw, but all that lay before him was a statue. “Where?” he whispered back.

“There! Right in front of you,” Boromir’s voice rang with disappointment. It was only a statue. He was so hoping to see an Elf that his imagination ran away with him.

“It is a statue,” Faramir said.

“Aye.” Boromir would not let Faramir see that he had been fooled. “Of course it is a statue. Did you think there were real Elves left in Middle-earth?” He snorted to accentuate his derision.

Faramir whimpered.

“Oh!” Boromir turned to his little brother. “I thought it was an Elf too, Faramir. I am sorry.” He took Faramir’s hand and they walked through the building and back out into the sunlight. By this time, Imrahil had reached them.

“I would prefer, my gallant warriors, that you let your Captain lead you on this expedition.”

Faramir giggled and Boromir bowed. “Forgive us, my Captain,” Boromir stated. “We will follow you wherever you lead us.”

Imrahil returned the bow. “Thank you. I think it is time for nuncheon.”

~*~

They had landed on the western side of the Ringló and found a small garrison of Anfalas. The Swan banner that the Captain’s mate held convinced the fort’s officer that they were in the employ of the Swan Prince and therefore, respectable. However, he looked sideways at Denethor. “You are no man from Belfalas by your tongue.”

“I am not. I am a servant, however, of Prince Adrahil who has commanded me to lead this sortie up the river. May we pass?”

The man allowed it and gave them six horses for their journey after Denethor promised he would return them the next day. He said farewell to the ship’s Captain and set out with the five Knights that Prince Adrahil had sent with him.

After a long climb up the steeps slopes of the river, the land flattened out and the ride was less strenuous on the men and the horses. Denethor’s heart lightened. Though the land was quite different from that of Rohan, it reminded him of it – the wildness, the lack of habitations, the openness of it. He drew in a deep breath and realized the sea smell was definitely different from the plains of Rohan. Smiling, he urged his horse into a faster gait.

As the sun reached its zenith, he could discern ruins before him. Another hour’s ride and they arrived at Edhellond. Denethor could hardly believe his eyes. Truly, these were the ruins of an Elven kingdom. Like nothing he had ever seen before. He pulled his horse up and listened. Faintly, he heard noises in the distance. Children’s laughter! He pushed his horse faster and rounded a building to be met with the sight of Faramir rolling on the ground, laughing hysterically, while a soiled Imrahil rolled with him. Boromir stood a little to the side; his stance looking as if he was not sure whether to laugh or scold.

Some sense made Boromir look up; he saw his father and came running forward, with a cry on his lips. Denethor jumped from his horse and ran to meet Boromir. Both stopped within a hair’s breadth of the other and saluted. Then, Denethor fell on his knees, grabbed his son and hugged him tightly. “I have missed you, boy!” he said gruffly, rumpling the lad’s hair. "I thought you were going to watch for me… from your mother’s balcony?”

“Oh! Adar. I so wanted to, but when Faramir told Adadhron that you had seen an Elf at Dol Amroth, he insisted upon hearing the whole story. And then they decided, Uncle Imrahil and Adadhron, that we must find the Elves.” He stopped to catch his breath. “They said you were not coming yet.” A look of pain filled the boy’s eyes. “I waited, honestly I did, Adar. Until they said you were not coming.” He repeated the phrase that had made him leave his watch.

Denethor hugged him fiercely. “I promised, did I not?” But then, at the look in Boromir’s eyes, Denethor knew the lad understood that sometimes promises were broken. “I am sorry. I meant to come so much sooner.” He stood up and bowed. “May I have your forgiveness, my son?”

“Oh, Adar!” Boromir sighed. “Of course. If I break a promise, will you forgive me?”

“As long as you do not break your vows to Gondor nor to me, nor lose your honour, I will forgive you.” He smiled and took Boromir’s hand. Together they walked towards Faramir.

“Ada!” the boy screamed and Imrahil held his ears again. “Ada! You came. You came.” He ran to his father and grabbed him around the waist and hugged with all his might.

Denethor almost fell from the ferocity of the grip. “Hold, my son, you will knock me over. You are becoming quite strong.”

With that, Faramir lifted his right arm, crooked it, and held it for Denethor’s inspection.

Denethor put his hand around the little arm and gave it a small squeeze. “Yes, you are becoming quite strong.”

Faramir’s chest puffed out and he turned and looked at Imrahil. “You see, Uncle, that is why you couldn’t best me just now. I am quite strong.”

Both Imrahil and Denethor bit their lips to keep from laughing.

“Come, Denethor, we have just finished nuncheon. I am sure you and your men are hungry?”

“Aye. Thank you, Prince Imrahil.”

~*~

After nuncheon, they explored the old ruins further. Faramir did not let Denethor’s hand leave his. For hours they walked the halls and buildings, marveling at the workmanship.

“It is sad to know they are all gone,” Imrahil said quietly as they walked back to the clearing where they had eaten their repast.

“Are they really all gone?” Denethor asked. “I know, twice, that I saw an Elf at Dol Amroth.”

“If there are any left, we have neither seen nor heard of them.”

They sat on carved rocks and let the last of the sun warm their faces. After a time, most of the company fell asleep, lulled by the sound of the wind in the trees and the sense of peace and contentment that filled the land.

~*~

“Where have you been?” Denethor held back the scream. “We searched everywhere? Where have you been?” He held Faramir out in front of him, his eyes burning with fear and rage and despair.

“I went to find an Elf,” the boy said plaintively. “Is that not why we came?”

“But you should not have gone alone, Faramir,” Imrahil chided. “You could have fallen amongst the ruins and we would not have been able to find you.”

“But the Elf wouldn’t let me fall and he showed me back to where you were.”

The hairs on Denethor’s neck stood straight. Imrahil glanced over at him, mouth opened wide.

“Faramir. Do not lie to me. You did not see an Elf?”

“I did, Ada. A very tall Elf with hair the colour of… well, it was shinier than Théodred’s, but it was still golden.”

“Where?” Boromir broke in, ready to go find the Elf for himself. He could not believe his brother had seen one and he had not!

“He went away. He said he only came to see me.”

“Why would he want to see you, Faramir?” Denethor asked.

“Because of Naneth,” Faramir said, tears filling his eyes.

Imrahil drew in his breath and Denethor hugged the boy to him.
“Why because of Naneth?”

“Because the Elves always watch over the children of Mithrellas. Who was Mithrellas, Ada?”

Denethor sat on the ground, hard, and pulled Faramir to him. “Mithrellas was one of your ancestors, ion nîn,” he said softly. “She came from the far north with her friend. Somehow, they were separated. She decided to stay here and live in these woods. She is your… Oh dear, I have no idea how many names she might have,” Denethor smiled. “But she is i naneth en naneth tîn. Your mother’s mother’s mother. And farther back than that even. You could call her Nanadhril, if you wish.”

“Then that is why the Elf watches over Boromir and me. Because of Nanadhril.” Faramir began to yawn and leaned his head on Denethor’s shoulder. “I walked too far today, Ada.” He petted Denethor’s cheek, as he always did his Naneth's.

Denethor’s mouth grew dry. Never had the lad touched him in that caring way. It touched his heart near to breaking. Denethor saw Finduilas before him, on the settle in the nursery, holding Faramir as Denethor sat by them, holding Boromir. The child would stroke his mother’s cheek till he fell asleep. Denethor looked down. Faramir slept. And Denethor silently cried