Ten Thousand Years will not Suffice

by Agape4Rivendell

2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10 

Parts 1 - 10

25. 
Third Age - 3017 

“Thorongil!” he hissed. ‘It cannot be.’ He brought his face closer to the shimmering globe. ‘In the Dead Marshes. What is he doing there? I have not seen him before. Where has he been? Ah! He is searching, searching for something.’ Moving his gaze northward, Denethor saw nothing. He brought the vision back to Thorongil and then searched westward, eastward, and finally looked to the south. ‘Nothing!’ He should have been surprised to have even found the man in the midst of the smoke and flames. Yet, there he was. He heaved a sigh. ‘It is getting late; Boromir is due home soon. I cannot stay here, but I cannot leave until I discover what he is doing!’

He stepped back for a moment. It was easier and easier to control the thing. Long hours had he spent since… Prickles ran through his mind as he contemplated the bits and pieces of evidence against Grima… Arciryas, almost beaten down when seeing his beloved Indis dead, had intimated that other than flux caused her death. He spent the year listening to all who would tell him what had happened, studying various poisons, and trying to discover why she had succumbed when Rohan’s leeches were well-versed in the care of those stricken by this disease. Then, late last year, Denethor’s Master Healer and friend had died, the grief and guilt too much for him.

Denethor had bent his will towards Rohan, towards that slimy creature, towards even Isengard. He still had no answers; but Théoden was failing, and quickly. Did Grima have the temerity to poison his own king? He had seen Théoden send Théodred off to the west and Éomer off to the east, leaving him quite alone with… Wormtongue? Is that what Faramir had said his name was? Suitable. He scowled. ‘Did you murder my sister, you snake?’ His lips curled in anger and frustration. He put his hands to his face and tried to rub away the sight of the tower of Orthanc, his people’s tower, now held by the wizard.

But, no. There were more important things to focus on for the moment. Thorongil! And Boromir? Nay! Boromir was indeed returning from a patrol of the Cormallen. And Thorongil was only miles from him in the Dead Marshes. Denethor’s brow furrowed. Had they met? Was there a rendezvous planned? Could he not trust… ‘Nay! I will not think that.’ He grit his teeth and once again held the Palantír. “Boromir is true to me and to Gondor. It is a lie.’ But his hands shook as he watched his foe walking slowly across the marshes.

Finally, the man bedded down for the night. Denethor breathed a sigh of relief. Whatever it was the man looked for, it had yet to be found. Denethor pulled away from the globe and walked slowly down the steps. Boromir met him on the landing before Denethor’s own chambers. He wondered if his own face shown with delight, as Boromir’s now did. Striding forward, he grasped his eldest in a fierce embrace, shame for his earlier thoughts lending strength to the hug. Boromir returned it.

“I was concerned that you had left the City,” Boromir said, brow furrowed. “None seemed to know of your whereabouts.”

“If I had left,” Denethor smiled, “all would know. It has been quite some time…” His own brow furrowed. He would like to go to the Anduin, but the memory was too painful. To Belfalas, but that way led to more painful memories. To Rohan - no longer welcome. He had nowhere to go. He shook his head, smiled at Boromir and said, “You must be hungry. Go. Wash yourself and return to my chambers. I will have supper waiting.”

“Faramir, Father? Is he in the City?”

“He is not. He is still in Pelargir. I would speak with you concerning him. But, go now. It will wait.”

“He is well?”

Denethor smiled indulgently at the concern in Boromir’s voice. “He is well.”

Boromir hugged his father once again and left. Denethor entered his chambers, nodding to the guard who opened the door for him. He pulled the rope and, moments later, his manservant appeared. “Help me out of this.” The coat and tunic were easily removed; at last, the heavy mail was lifted over his head. Denethor stretched.

“Boromir will be joining me shortly. I imagine him famished. Please have some food and wine brought up. Then return.” He strode towards his bedchamber as the man turned and left.

Denethor went to the washbasin, took off his undergarments, and sponged himself down. Drying himself off with a heavy towel, he walked towards his bed, grateful to see clean clothes laid out. Dressing quickly, he moved into his study. He pulled a map from the wall behind him and spread it on his desk. There! There were the Dead Marshes. He chided himself for looking, but he had to. There also was the Cormallen. Not many leagues apart. His brow furrowed. Just then, the servant entered the room, carrying the mail with him.

“I…” he stopped.

Denethor looked up. “What is it?”

“Nothing, my Lord.”

A slight smile lifted the corners of Denethor’s mouth. “You wish I would not wear it? Does it disturb you?”

“Aye and nay,’ the man said shortly. “A rest from it may do your body good. You appear over tired this evening.”

“My body is fine as it is. Besides protection, it keeps me strong. I am stronger than I was seven years ago, when first I started wearing it all day.”

“But now you wear it at night, my Lord. Surely you would sleep better were you not to wear it in bed.” He helped slide it over Denethor’s head.

Long ago, when Denethor would put it on, a feeling of exhilaration would fill him. Now, he only felt the weight of it, crushing against the bones in his shoulders, preventing him from taking the long strides he once loved, preventing deep breaths, and keeping him from sound sleep in the night. But it was worth it, all worth it, for did not he need to protect himself, to strengthen himself against Gondor’s enemies?

“You speak out of turn. Is the food ready?”

“It is, my Lord. I set it up in the parlour.”

“Thank you. You may go now. I will not need you further.”

The man stared at him for a moment, as if he would speak again, sighed gently, bowed and left.

“Father?” He heard the call just as the man left. “Where are you?”

Boromir strode into the study and Denethor’s heart leapt. “My son!” he cried, “It is so good to have you home again.”

Boromir’s glance told Denethor that his son was surprised by the warmth of the greeting, but his heart had been heavy since leaving the Tower and now it was lightened. “Come. Let us eat. Then we will talk. I am famished.”

Fingering the goblet after they had supped, Denethor looked up and found Boromir staring at him. He smiled. “You know me too well, my son. If I had left the goblet sitting in peace in my hand, you would not now be concerned.” He sat forward, all pretense of serenity gone from his face. “I had hoped to bring this up when peace had settled upon our land. But things grow worse instead of better. As your reports aptly describe.” He stood and Boromir sat straighter.

“I was late in marrying myself,” he began and stopped as Boromir stood. “Nay, my son. Sit and give me the grace of your attention.” He strode towards the fire, the goblet still in his hand. He looked at it as if at a strange devise. His face saddened. “Théoden King thought that Éowyn might hold your interest. But that was many years ago.” He turned back towards Boromir. “I have seen the king of the Mark stumble.” He walked back towards the settle and stood before his eldest. “When the king comes. You know that saying well, my son. If there were a king, if he came, you could marry at will. For the blood of the Steward need not be as pure as the blood of the king.” He sat and put his hand on Boromir’s shoulder. “You have read the accounts of the Kin-strife and understand what caused it. You know the devastation, for every time you are sent to Osgiliath you walk in the blood of your forefathers. Until the king comes, you cannot marry other than pure Númenórean. Is your heart set upon Éowyn, my son?” His smile faltered.

Boromir lowered his eyes. “Éowyn was a child when last I saw her, Father. She holds no sway over me or my heart,” and Boromir paused for a long time. “I would wed, if that is your will. However, I do not think this is the right time. As you have said, the enemy has grown strong and our battles are many.” He smiled. “There is hardly time to woo someone.”

Denethor leaned back against the settle and closed his eyes. “I cannot have another child. First, because of the honour I hold for your mother, but secondly, my body is growing old, even by the standards of Westernesse, and I am too tired to even attempt such a thing. You are the heir. If… if fate would have it so, and you passed without a son… There is always Faramir, I suppose.”

Boromir gave a short laugh. “You speak of him as if he is a last choice, Father. Someone you have to ‘settle’ for. His blood is purer than mine.” He held up a hand to stop his father’s rebuttal. “You know it, Father. You can see it in his eyes; his mind is sharper than mine, on a par with yours.” Boromir shrugged. “I am the warrior, Father. Your bloodline should be continued through Faramir.”

“I will not have that. Oh, I would have Faramir wed and with children. No man should be without children. But you are the heir. Is there any other who has caught your eye?”

“I cannot sway you, can I, Father? Well, if that is as you wish, there are none. I bow to your will, find her and I will wed her. The acceptable time is one year prior to commitment. I will wed next summer, if that is what you wish.”

Denethor raised his glass. Boromir responded. “To my son’s child,” Denethor said quietly. Neither spoke after that. A few moments later, Boromir, stood, kissed Denethor on the brow and walked out of the room.

~*~

He had meant to speak with Boromir about so many things that night. But the subject they did discuss weighed heavy upon both men and Denethor thought it prudent to wait a day or two before discussing his other concerns.

The Council meetings were becoming more bitter, the discussions more heated. The lords of Gondor no longer wanted the blood of their sons spilled upon the land, and Denethor could not blame them. Though this was nothing new, the vehemence with which the lords spoke against conscription had increased. Denethor sat silent and listened.

Boromir, being home on leave, was left by his father to defend Gondor’s cause within the chambers. Denethor watched with pride as Boromir’s passion pushed him from his chair to place Gondor’s case before the lords of the Council. He walked avidly back and forth, gesturing occasionally, his voice strong and firm. Many a lord felt Boromir’s keen love for Gondor, remembered that love from their youth – for were not all the lords former warriors of Gondor – and once again rallied to the cause. Men were pledged for the spring offense and funds were pledged for repairs to the southern roads. The road to Pelargir especially had become a gaping hole from the winter storms; the sea’s salts dumped upon them had eaten away what little covering they had.

Denethor watched. To see the light that Boromir kindled in these men’s eyes sent his spirits rising.

~*~

At last, on the third day since Denethor had first espied Thorongil upon the marshes, he found him again. His brow furrowed in confusion. It looked as though Thorongil had acquired some animal as a traveling companion. A short, gangly creature walked behind the man. Try as he might, Denethor could not make out what kind of creature it was. And why did it walk behind the man? It seemed there was a rope or some such tied around the animal’s neck and Thorongil held the other end. Swearing softly, Denethor let go of the globe and rubbed his hands over his eyes. Looking once again, he realized Thorongil was nearing the Emyn Muil. He stepped away from the Palantír. Boromir was waiting and Thorongil would be many days in the hills; he would not lose him.

His heart grew heavy. What next he had to discuss with Boromir was grave – Faramir. His eldest would be angered at Denethor’s next plan of action, but it must be done. A sob stole from his throat, but he quickly stifled it and grit his teeth and walked down the Tower’s steps. He had only a little more to give to Gondor – but he would give it.

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2.


Boromir walked slowly up the long stairwell towards Denethor’s private quarters. He had been summoned to dinner, but not in the family’s dining hall. His brow furrowed as he looked, once again, at the missive. The tone was stilted, formal, and boded ill for Faramir, in Boromir’s mind. His father had hinted at some dire pronouncement for Faramir, the last time Boromir had met with him, but what it could be, Boromir had not a clue.

Reports from Pelargir confirmed that the garrison was well-run and that the city thrived. So Father’s call could not be about the garrison, or could it? Had others reported problems? ‘Nay!’ he thought emphatically, ‘As Captain-General, I would have received copies of such reports.’ He paused his upward movement. ‘Unless Father has someone watching Faramir, someone who only reports to him? Something I would not be surprised about. But that would hurt. Not because of Faramir, but because it would mean Father did not trust me. Nay! That is not possible.’ He started forward again; he did not want to irk his father by being late.

He stopped for another moment at one of the stairwell’s windows, and looked, unseeing, at the landscape before him. Blinking a few times, he opened himself to the scene before him - the shoulder of Mindolluin. Tears filled his eyes; many the times, he and Faramir had climbed up this very side of the mountain, laughing in the joy of being together and away from the confines of duty.

‘Their love has changed,’ he thought miserably. ‘Nay. Not so much their love, but their trust. Faramir has proved himself a dolt too many times when it comes to his mouth. He is ever the diplomat in the Council chambers, but when he is with Father, it seems he loses all caution.’ He smiled. ‘He does lose all caution; he knows Father will listen to his words. But as soon as he brings up anything to do with Mithrandir, Father bristles. I do not understand why Faramir does not take my warning words to heart on this one issue.

‘I miss him. He has been gone too long from the City. And when he is gone, I cannot protect him.’ He sat heavily on a cold marble step. ‘I cannot protect him anyhow. I cannot even protect my own men.’ He swore quietly, then pounded his fist against the stairwell’s wall. Even with his eyes open, he could see his dead men lying about him.

They had been traveling through the Nindalf, close to the bottom of the Rauras Falls, when Orcs had struck. He had lost sixty-seven men. Sixty-seven strong doughty men of Gondor. He checked himself. Sixty-three, in truth, for they did not find the bodies of the other four until a fortnight after the battle. He had turned his three companies towards home, camping near the borders of North Ithilien. There, hanging from trees, were the bodies of his missing men. They had been not been eaten, a surprise, but had been gutted and hung. The carrion crows had ravaged their remains. When they cut them down, Boromir and his healer inspected them. Their tongues had been cut out, their finger and toenails pulled out, their… He shook his head, not wishing to think further.

Denethor was well aware of the barbarism of their foes, Boromir knew, had seen it too many times imaginable. Denethor knew of the exquisite tortures that Orcs, when not eating their captives, visited upon them. How many times their father had warned Boromir and Faramir not to be caught alive. No matter what happened, to cut their own wrists before allowing themselves to be captured.

Boromir had given the same instructions to all his men. Not for Gondor’s weal – the men did not know enough of Gondor’s secrets to be of any use and the enemy knew that. But for their own sakes. Orcs held no mercy for their foe, had no compunction to let a captive free. Captivity was for torture, mocking, and entertainment for the Orcs. And eventually death - mindless, hopeless, long-suffering, pain-filled death. For Orcs did not kill their captives easily. They would cut out a tongue and wait a few days. Break their arms and legs another day. Then pull the nails from… Then more days and more torture.

Even after all these years, Boromir was still not able to see the evidence of such torture without retching. They had quickly buried his men and turned south. As they rode, Boromir again demanded death from his men, demanded that they remember what they had just seen, and remember to take their own lives if it appeared they would be captured.

He had had to go to each one of his men’s homes, those he had lost, and speak with their wives, their children, their mothers and fathers. How many years had his father done the same duty? How had he not succumbed to grief and bitterness? And Boromir had lied. ‘Your son was killed in battle. Your husband fought well and died well.’ Boromir screamed aloud in helpless frustration and pain, and the sound echoed through the stairwell.

Denethor stepped out of his room and looked down upon his son. “Come, Boromir,” he said gently. He turned back into his room so as to give Boromir time to wipe the tears from his eyes.

When Boromir finally entered the room, his father offered him a goblet. “Some of the finest from Lebennin,” he said, turned and walked to the fireplace. “Sit, please,” he said without turning.

He waited for a quarter of an hour. The bells sounded. He turned. “The battle was hard?”

“It was no more nor less than others,” Boromir stated firmly.

“But something about it has harmed you,” Denethor was matter-of-fact. “Tortures?”

“Aye! Four men captured, four men tortured, four men hanged.” Boromir sat for another moment, then stood and walked to his father’s side. Placing his hand upon Denethor’s shoulder, he gently turned him to face him. “How many hundreds, Father, have you seen?”

Denethor’s smile was bitter. “I lost count after your mother passed.” His eyes were far from Minas Tirith.

“And you still stand firm?”

“How can I not? Who will take care of Gondor?” Denethor motioned towards the settle and they sat. “I do not believe your grandfather suffered such things during his time. Oh yes, there was death and battle. My uncle was a great warrior, killed before his time. He and all his men were killed in battle. I remember his funeral well.

“I do not think there was as much, or as many killed during Ecthelion’s time. And I do not recall such tortures as now are visited upon our men. Your great-grandfather, Turgon, was the lucky one. Fate, or whatever it is that punishes us, was kind to him. There was peace, for a time, upon our land.

“But come, my son. I have not seen your face so cheerless. The battle was many days past. What brings it to your mind now?”

“Faramir.”

“Ah.” Denethor took a long deep breath. “Faramir indeed.”

They sat again. At last, a knock on the door roused them. “Come,” Denethor called.

“My Lord,” his manservant asked, “dinner is getting cold. I will send for more.”

“I am sorry. I forgot it was ready.” He turned towards his son. “Boromir, forgive me. You must be hungry and I have forgotten.”

“I am not hungry, Father. I would discuss what was hinted at in your invitation. I cannot eat until we have finished that, if that meets your approval?”

“Aye.” He turned towards the servant. “Bring food in an hour and tell the kitchen I am most sorry for the waste.”

The man bowed, turned and left. They heard the clinking of dishes in the outer chamber. Denethor smiled, for he knew the noises were made loud to remind Denethor of his servant’s long-suffering. He began to chortle and Boromir joined him. After a moment, they quieted.

“Faramir has excelled at Pelargir. The garrison is better than even when I was there. The reports I receive swell with praise for him. The city is more prosperous than ever and there have been no attacks against it or the surrounding countryside. I am most proud of him, Boromir. I have sent a missive to him, carried by Captain Angbor recalling him. Angbor is from Lamedon and will be grateful to be stationed nearer to home. He only has another two years in service to Gondor’s army. This will suffice.”

“Why do you recall Faramir, then, if he captains Pelargir well?”

“I… I have need of him closer to home.”

“Osgiliath!” Boromir almost spat the name.

“Aye, Boromir. Osgiliath.”

“Father-“

“I know what you would say, Boromir, and it pains my heart to do this. However, his own renown has earned him this. I could not keep it from him, if I wanted to.”

“Earned?” Boromir cried. “Condemned, rather. Do not do this, Father. Please.” Boromir knelt at Denethor’s feet and took his hands into his own. “It is a death sentence. The captains of Osgiliath die within the year of their stationing there. Please, Father,” he begged again.

“Not every one dies, Boromir. You exaggerate.” He stood and lifted his eldest to his feet. “Do not speak this way.”

“How else am I to speak when my heart twists within me, when my gut retches at the very thought?”

“Listen to me, Boromir. I will not send him to Osgiliath garrisoned the way it is now. I plan to expand the stronghold. Return it to a full battalion’s strength. And I will forbid him to lead any patrols or sorties. His captains will do that. He will be… administrator of the garrison. I need him there; I need his wisdom and his knowledge of battle,” Denethor emphasized the word need with his teeth clenched. “If we lose Osgiliath wholly, we lose Gondor.”

Boromir sat still. “He will not stay administrator,” he said quietly. “You know him, Father. Even if you order it so, he will find some excuse to venture forth. And then he will be killed. Are we so strapped that we must e’en sacrifice my brother?”

Denethor stood and walked towards the fire. Leaning against the mantle, he sighed. Tears filled his eyes. “E’en my son, Boromir. E’en both my sons.”

“I would gladly die for Gondor, Father. You know that well. But Faramir.”

“Would he have it any other way, Boromir? Would he allow you to be sacrificed and not him?”

“Will you station me with him?”

Denethor’s face quirked into a mirthless smile. “I cannot. You are needed elsewhere.”

Boromir stood and walked to the door. “If you do not mind, Father. I will leave you now. I have much to think about.”

Denethor turned in surprise. “I have not dismissed you.”

“I will say things I do not think you want to hear, if I stay, Father.”

Denethor noted Boromir’s jaw was tight and that his hand clutched at the pommel of his sword. “I have said the same things to myself, Boromir. Do you not know that? Do you think I receive pleasure in sending him there? Please,” he motioned to the settle. “Please sit.”

Boromir took his hand from the door and straightened his shoulders. He walked to the sideboard and poured himself more wine, then he stood next to his father. “I do not question you, Father.” He smiled sadly. “Not as Faramir questions you. However, I do not agree. I am selfish, I know. Is it right that you send another man there to die instead of my brother? That Faramir and I receive assignments that are not as dangerous as others receive?” He again turned Denethor to face him. “We are sent to dangerous assignments. We are sent to die. As are all the warriors of Gondor. But Osgiliath, Father, Osgiliath is ever in the enemy’s mind. If you send him there, you will condemn him to death. The One we do not name will know he is there. He dogs our every step. Will he not be tempted beyond endurance once he knows that Faramir is there? Will he not send army after army against the fallen city in order to capture Faramir? I cannot let that happen.” Boromir’s hands tightened painfully around Denethor’s shoulders. “I cannot let him die. Send me instead, Father.”

“I cannot. We need more men, Boromir. And you are adept in persuading our fief lords to send them. You must be about that work. I will do everything I can to protect Faramir. I know of what you speak regarding the enemy. He will not prevail. And I will send my most experienced captains with him.”

The manservant stepped into the room and announced the meal was ready.

“Come, let us eat.” He took Boromir’s hand and led him into the outer chamber.

A table had been set, Boromir had not noted when first he had entered. “When will Faramir arrive, Father?”

“Probably tomorrow or the next day.”

“So this decision has been made since before I returned?”

“It was.”

“Because the latest captain of Osgiliath is dead?”

Denethor blushed, but said nothing.

Boromir stabbed at his food, his anger simmering. At last he sighed. “I cannot agree, Father, but I cannot gainsay you. I will support you, but let Faramir stay in the City for a few weeks at least. We have time for that, do we not?”

Denethor heard the longing in his son’s voice. “Of course we do. And there are preparations that you can help Faramir with. Preparations that will shore up Osgiliath’s defenses. We will meet once a day to discuss our objective. I say ‘our,’ Boromir, for I know what your objective is.” He smiled warmly. “With the sons of Gondor busily preparing, the enemy will be thwarted. Trust me, Boromir. I will not, willingly, send either of my sons to their deaths. How could you even think this of me?”

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3.


Faramir returned from Pelargir the very next day and the Hall rang out with the joyful shouts of brother greeting brother. Denethor watched them and a smile played upon his lips. Only, when his sons were with him, did he smile.

Faramir turned from Boromir's arms and stepped forward. "Forgive me, Father, but the great brute would not let me pass him without his strangling me." Faramir's laughter rang out and warmed the columns lining the hall. He stepped before the Chair, bowed low, then saluted the Steward. "The Captain of Pelargir wishes to report to his Steward."

Denethor accepted the salute with a nod of his head. "I will listen to your report when the full Council convenes two days from now. Come with me to my chambers. I have nuncheon ordered." He led the way from the Chair towards the back of the Hall and then up the stairs to his private quarters. When they entered the room, he gestured to them to sit and went to the fireplace, poured the wine, and returned. After giving each a goblet, he sat in a chair opposite the settle. "Your brother has missed you."

Faramir's eyes grew warm with tears. "I have missed him too, Father." He struggled not to say more, for, of late, the Steward preferred to be more formal in his dealings with his son. "I hope the reports you have received from Pelargir have been satisfactory?"

Denethor's eyes pierced his. "I see you are ever aware of my plots, Faramir." He waited a moment. "Aye, I have had you watched." Another pause.

Faramir did not stir nor flinch, but Boromir squirmed in his seat as if he were once again a child. "I think I hate the both of you!" he exploded.

Denethor raised an eyebrow; Faramir flinched.

"We have no one left. It is only we three. And yet the two of you speak as if stranger's. I will put up with this behavior no longer. Kiss and make up, if you must, but do something to make me believe I have a father and a brother!"

Denethor began to laugh. "It is better that Faramir attends the Council meetings, Boromir. Your eloquence and fervor always win over those who would oppose us, but you cannot keep a civil tongue. Nor know your place." His laughter stopped. "Faramir is mine to deal with. He knows I love him. I do what I must for Gondor."

"You do not have someone watching over me, do you?" Boromir asked incredulously.

"Of course not. First, they would not be able to find you. No matter where I send you, I suddenly receive a missive from another part of Gondor saying you have strayed from your course. Secondly, I know you..."

"What, Father?" Faramir asked quietly.

"I know he can take care of himself, not be swayed by others, obeys me." Denethor's lips had pursed.

"I can take care of myself, Father."

Denethor stared long and hard at his youngest. "Perhaps."

"You and Boromir have taught me everything I know, Father. Do you not know that, when I make a decision, I weigh your counsel, even if I cannot ask it. I know you, Father. I know you well. I believe I know what you would do in most of the situations I must deal with. Yet, you do not trust me?"

"You listen to the wizard. I know he was in Pelargir only a month ago. I received no report of his visit."

"He did not come on state business, Father. He came as friend. We sat and talked about music."

Denethor made no sound, but his eyes flamed. Boromir put his hand on Faramir's arm. "Music? What sort of music, Faramir?"

"The kind Elves make. He taught me a few of their songs as we watched the stars. He said Elvish music must be sung under the stars. It was a pleasant evening. But only one, Father. I swear, we spoke of naught else." He watched Denethor closely then shivered. "You look at me as if I were one of the lords on your Council."

"You are a Lord of Gondor. I am disappointed. I would say that I have not made my wishes clear, but I have, countless times. I do not trust wizards, Faramir. I especially do not trust this one, though I have had few dealings with him."

"If you spent some time with him, Father. He thinks you are a great and wise man. He has told me numerous times."

Boromir bit his lip, swearing to himself. 'I cannot believe you, Faramir. You dig the knife in deeper every time you open your mouth.' He stood up. "Father, let us invite the wizard here. You say you do not know him; you need to spend time with him. He is alleged to be mighty. He could become Gondor's friend. And, barring that, if he be Gondor's enemy - one should keep one's enemies close, should one not?"

"He is not an enemy!" Faramir stood also. "He is a friend who speaks highly of the Steward of Gondor."

Denethor motioned for both men to sit. "Faramir. You will contact Mithrandir and ask him to attend us."

"I... I am not sure when he might be available, Father. He is headed towards Mirkwood. To the realm of Thranduil."

"Ah!" Denethor took a deep breath. "To the Elves."

"Nuncheon is ready, my Lord."

Denethor looked up. The door to his study was open and the servant waited. He stood; his sons followed him.

"So," Denethor began after they had eaten. "You are going to take the captaincy of Osgiliath."

Faramir beamed. "Thank you, Father. I am looking forward to it."

Denethor's eyes grew thoughtful. "As a child, I was oft there. Well," he paused and his brow furrowed. "For a few short years, I was allowed to visit my uncle. We would play..." He looked up. They watched him quietly, expectantly. "I have not told you, but I loved 'Kings and Stewards.' Your great-uncle, Húrin, taught me. We would play all day. The game took many months to finish as I only was allowed one day in Osgiliath. Training and other duties were deemed more important by my father. I loved Osgiliath, though one of my greatest shames came from a visit there." A smile crossed his face and was gone as quickly as it formed.

"You will love Osgiliath, Faramir. You can smell the forests and fields of Ithilien from there. The spices are incredible. There was such game - rabbit, pheasant, duck, partridge, qual, deer, turkey... Though, of course, the number of wild has diminished as of late. Boromir has been going over the city's plans, devising better uses of the men and weapons. You will spend the next few weeks with him, if that is amenable to you," and the Steward smiled, "I will be giving you a full battallion. In your grandfather's day, the garrison was always full-stocked. It will be again."

He looked down at his hands. "Your sword and bow are needed in Osgiliath, Faramir. But more importantly, your battle knowledge. I have been pleasantly surprised at your grasp of the needs of Pelargir. I expect the same for Osgiliath."

Faramir nodded, but remained silent; the unexpected compliment caused a slight blush.

"When I was stationed there, we devised a... Well, that will not be feasible now. East Osgiliath must remain in our hands. Though I will not station any men there. But it must be watched closely, Faramir. If the enemy gets a foothold there, it will be easy enough to spill into West Osgiliath. Once they are over the river, and Osgiliath is the only feasible place to cross south of Cair Andros, they will be free to run rampant over the Pelennor. I cannot impress strongly enough our need."

"I understand, Father. We will hold Osgiliath. All of Osgiliath. Give Boromir and me time to formulate a plan, then we will bring it before you."

"Good. That is all I can ask." Denethor took a deep breath. "The Council will meet in two days. Your Pelargir report will be given then. We will not speak of Osgiliath at that time. I want everything in place before I bring this to the Council. Now, be off with the both of you. Spend some time together on Mindolluin, but," and he looked warningly at Faramir, "I do not want any more falls. Climb with leisure." He smiled and rose.

Boromir hugged Denethor, then the Steward turned to Faramir. "Welcome back, my son,” and hugged him warmly.
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4.


"What have you got there?" Boromir asked as they approached the guard of Rath Dínen .

"Flowers." Faramir's sad smile surprised his brother.

"Who for?"

"Amma."

"Oh!" Boromir stopped. "Are there enough for me?"

Faramir chuckled. "Of course. She will know you meant to bring some. It was thoughtless of me to not tell you that I planned stopping at her bier on the way."

"My thoughts were on other things, but that does not excuse me."

"I know. You are not happy with my captaincy."

"That is not true, Faramir. I am happy for you."

"Then what is it?"

The guard saluted, opened the door for them as they acknowledged his greeting, and let them pass into the Hallows.

"You are all I have, Faramir.” Boromir’s voice dropped to a whisper in deference to the inhabitants of the place. “All I have of mother, of Amma... I rely upon you for so many things, things you do not even know about."

Faramir looked at him questioningly and so Boromir continued. "Father would have me perform feats of wizardry and save all of Gondor... Nay! All of Middle-earth. And I would do it, Faramir. But I cannot. But I would save you!"

"Boromir," Faramir looked kindly at his brother. "You do not have to save me. As I told Father, and you both refuse to acknowledge it, I can take care of myself. I am not being cocky, as the look upon your face would say, and I do know that the forces that assail us are greater than you and I, but I know when to duck," he smiled. "You taught me that. And I will duck when need arises. I cannot hide away in Osgiliath, Boromir, though that is what you would wish me to do. I must lead my men in the way I deem fit. But I promise you, big brother," the smile lit his face, "That I will be careful, for myself and for my men."

"I wish there were some other way, Faramir." He stopped before the tomb that held Indis, daughter of Ecthelion, and put his hand on the cold marble. "I wish so many things. One of which is that she was still with us." He bit his lip. "I still cannot believe she is gone. Did you know she was the first to teach me to hold a sword? Do not tell Father."

Faramir's eyebrow lifted and he smiled. "The same here."

"Father had promised and promised and still I did not have one. So, she took me to the armoury, found an old beaten down little thing, and we went to the dungeons." He smiled broadly. "She learned her own swordcraft in the dungeons with Listöwel and Morwen Steelsheen. She talked the whole time, which was unusual for her. But I think the memories flowed through the room and tugged at her heart. I wish she were here."

"You see, Boromir," Faramir said as he laid the bouquet upon the crypt, "She would have tried to save us too, but she could not even save herself."

Boromir brushed away the tears. "Nay! And Father could not even save her, with all his knowledge and wisdom."

They stood for more than a few moments, listening to the quiet, remembering their beloved aunt, rejoicing in the moments spent together. At last, Boromir turned. "Let us be away from here, Faramir. My heart will grow weary if we stay. And we have so little time."
They turned, gave the tomb one last pat, and walked towards the back of the street.

The guard saluted and unlocked the further door for them. "You know the signal for this week?"

Boromir nodded and walked through the door onto the vast mountain. Faramir followed.

~*~

He was surprised, extremely surprised, but incredibly happy. He saw them, saw them in the Palantír as they climbed Mindolluin. Now, at last, his heart could be at peace; he could watch over them. He began to pull away, look towards the north, towards where he had last spotted Thorongil, but ever he came back to the sight of his sons enjoying each other’s company.

They had lain down on the grass… ‘Grass? It is early spring; the mountain should be covered in snow.’ His brow furrowed as he wondered what wizardry this was. Another moment and he saw Faramir crashing down slowly and inexorably towards the sharp pikes laid out from the bottom of where the mountain and the city walls conjoined.

“Ah,” he cried as horror and finally understanding enveloped him. ‘This is the past. This is the day Faramir almost killed himself – how many years ago? And yet, this thing shows me the past!’ He could not take his eyes from the sight, watching Faramir fall closer and closer to the pikes. He shuddered. Knowing that Boromir saved him did nothing to ameliorate the fear that wrenched at his gut. At last, the last possible moment it seemed to Denethor, Boromir reached out and grabbed his brother’s hand. Breath drawn raggedly through clenched teeth, Denethor blinked hard. Neither son had told him that death had been so near.

He let go the globe and walked to the tower’s window. Staring unseeingly towards the Pelennor, he sobbed. “I cannot lose another. I will go mad.” The words echoed through the chamber and soft laughter filled the room. Denethor looked up in surprise. Prickling skin told him he had not imagined it. He quickly stepped into the outside corridor. No one was there. He moved back into the room. It was a small apartment with no doors but one, no windows but one, and no closets nor furniture to hide in. The only thing in the room was the obelisk upon which sat the swirling stone.

He shook his head. He was not touching the stone and yet it swirled; a faint glow flowed from it. He stepped closer, cautiously. No further sound came. He touched it again. The stone was showing the mountains of the Ephel Dúath. His gaze was drawn further east, towards Mount Orodruin. Its mouth spurt smoke, flame and ash. His brow furrowed; he was not controlling the orb; it was controlling him! He tried to pull back and found he could not. Now, it directed his sight south of the mountain towards Barad-dúr! He stilled his breath and clenched his teeth. Pulling his hands slowly back towards his body, he felt the globe stick to his fingers, but he was not of the line of Mardil Voronwë for naught. He fought it and was finally free. Taking a step backward, he laughed. “You will not ensnare me. I know you.”

He took the globe in his hands again and forced his mind to quiet. A sudden hope had filled him. If he could see Boromir and Faramir in the past, what could prevent him from seeing her! A shudder ran through him. The globe responded to his thoughts and, in a moment, he was in Dol Amroth. She stood before him, the wind whipping the hair around her as she stood on her balcony. He swore he could smell the sea breeze and hear her laughter. Choking back tears, he followed her every move. She was young, perhaps twenty-three. None were about her, but she had a letter clenched in her hand and her face was bright with joy. He recognized it. One he had sent; a small locket had fallen from it. She bent to retrieve it, then cried out in joy as she opened it. He had placed a small portrait of himself in it. He blushed now at his temerity in offering such a thing.

He fell in love with her again. Her smile, her raven hair, her slim waist, her delicate skin. He cried as his fingers clutched the globe, trying to reach out and touch her. But she could not be held, nor spoken to, nor kissed. Sobs wracked his body as he watched her grow, exchange vows with him, birth Boromir and then Faramir.

Her illness came upon her; he noted now how slowly and how inexorably it had attacked her. He saw the mountain’s hold upon her; the fear it engendered in her. How could he have been so blind? How could he not have whisked her from Minas Tirith? He could have made Dol Amroth the capital of Gondor and moved his little family; any price would have been worth her life.

To touch her one more time. His heart ached. He watched her, on the road to Belfalas, watched the cart slow and then stop. Watched Listöwel step from the cart and speak with the guard. Watched the guard blanch, then sob. Watched him get back on his horse and turn towards Minas Tirith. Watched as the carriage turned back.

He pulled away; he could look no longer.

~*~

“If we can, I would like to visit Uncle Imrahil.”

“Faramir! We have only a month together. It would take almost that to get there and back again.”

“But we would have the ride together and could also visit.”

Boromir shook his head. He too loved his uncle, but there were so many things to prepare, not only for Faramir’s posting, but for Boromir’s next trip. “I wish we could, little brother, but it is folly.”

“It is not.” Faramir was vehement, then changed his mind. “I suppose it is. Do not you miss mother’s people?”

“Mother’s people are here, Faramir,” he gently chided.

“Of course, but she grew up there, Boromir. The people of Dol Amroth live differently than we do. I feel free when I am there. And it has been so long!”

Boromir smiled. “I feel free there as well, Faramir. But I feel disloyal to Gondor when I am there. We are so beset, Faramir. Forgive me for being dour, but it is true. I travel the countryside and see the needs of our people, the needs of our land, and any time taken away from them seems to be an indulgence. I cannot leave now. Mayhap, when summer comes, we can visit then. You will have been settled in Osgiliath and I can make that my southern sweep. Will that suffice, Faramir?”

What could Faramir say or do, it was Boromir asking. He smiled. “Of course. Now, we best return. We are very late.” Their shadows indeed indicated that it was well past the evening mealtime. They hurried.

~*~

They had missed supper and knew their father would be put out. Faramir knew he would be more than put out, yet Boromir guffawed when he shared that sentiment. The chamberlain at the Great Hall said he had not seen Lord Denethor all afternoon. The boys went to his private quarters. The guard there said that Lord Denethor had left shortly after they did and had not returned. Boromir’s brow furrowed and Faramir bit his lower lip. They walked to the first floor of the Tower; the guard there stated that he had not seen the Steward at all this day. Tension began to build as brother looked at brother in dismay.

“Where can he be?” Boromir asked gruffly.

“Perhaps at the stables? Or in the buttery? The Council meets tomorrow. Perhaps he has gone to Merethrond to discuss dinner arrangements?”

“Where is his aide?”

They walked slowly down the corridor into the Great Hall. The chamberlain hurried forward. “Does anyone know of Lord Denethor’s whereabouts?” the man asked “I have some important missives for him. We still have not gone over plans for tomorrow’s Council.” The man looked very flustered and both boys were not surprised. Usually, the day before a Council meeting, Denethor was furiously scripting the agenda, ordering underlings about, and generally causing an uproar.

“We will find him. Give the missives to me. I will take them to the Steward’s private study. He will read them tonight, I am sure.” Boromir took the papers and strode from the room. Faramir followed.

“I cannot understand this and I am beginning to be concerned. Mayhap Father left a missive on his desk.” He took the stairs two at a time, closely followed by Faramir. The guard saluted them and let them in. Boromir walked quickly into Denethor’s study. Searching furiously through the neat stacks, he found nothing that helped him in finding the Steward. He swore quietly and sat in the leather chair. Drumming his fingers upon the table, he looked about, helplessly. “I am concerned, little brother. I have not seen his aide, there is no message here, nor with any who should know his whereabouts, and there is no sign of him anywhere. I dread calling out the guard, but I am afraid we should. After the attack just a few short years ago, I would deem this grave indeed.”

“As do I.” Faramir rubbed his face. A look of hope filled him. “Since the aide is not at his post, nor with his company, let us find his home and see if he is there.”

“A good idea. But we will send a guard. In case Father returns. It would not do to have him embarrassed by us running through the streets of Minas Tirith shouting his name out like a lost child.”

Faramir smiled. “Nay. Embarrassing, indeed.”

But there was no thought of embarrassment when the guard returned with Denethor’s aide. “He sent me away. Said he had things that he needed to do. He did not tell me where he was going.” The man’s face bespoke fear and confusion.

Boromir’s face was livid. “How could you leave him alone when just seven years ago we almost lost him to an assassin!”

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5.

Denethor looked up in surprise. Sunshine crept slowly down the opposite wall. He grimaced in pain as he tried to stand. Never before had he felt the pains from his old wounds. He lifted his tunic; there was no blood, yet the wound felt as though he had just been cut. ‘Cair Andros – that is where I received this one,’ he thought, ‘many long years ago.’ He rubbed his hand across his forehead for a moment. ‘What is happening to me?’ Leaning his head against the wall, he took a few deep breaths, steeled himself and finally stood. The pain lessened. He covered the Palantír and went to his chambers.

Faramir stood with the guard. “Father?”

“Step inside.” Denethor and Faramir entered the front room, then Denethor led his son into his study. “What do you need?” he asked wearily.

“We were concerned. The chamberlain said you had not met last night to go over tomorrow’s Council arrangements.”

“Tomorrow,” he sighed.

“Might I pour you some wine, Father?”

Denethor looked up in confusion. “Your nana loved you very much.”

Faramir had to grasp the carafe with both hands, else it would have fallen. He said nothing, but swallowed furiously. Turning to his father, he offered the goblet. He sat then, hoping Denethor would do the same. “Boromir is searching for you. May I tell the guard to send for him?”

Denethor looked at him quizzically. “Why is Boromir looking for me?”

“You missed your meeting with the chamberlain, you did not sleep in your bed, no one has seen you since yesterday morning, and we were supposed to sup together last night. You did not meet us.”

Denethor’s eyes flashed brilliant and cold for a moment; Faramir found himself shivering.

“Send for him and for food. I have not yet broken my fast.”

“May I join you?” he asked when he returned.

Denethor nodded, then held out the goblet. “Another.”

Faramir kept all his senses in check, nodded, stood and filled the goblet. He decided to sway Denethor’s mind from thoughts of Finduilas. “Father, I will leave for Osgiliath in a fortnight. The maps I have been given are out of date. I know you made maps some time ago. May I see yours? May I have them copied so I may take them with me?”

“You look like her.”

The hairs on the back of Faramir’s neck stood straight up. He did not understand what his father spoke of this day. He stood abruptly and walked to the windows; his mind awhirl. ‘What has happened to him? Why does he speak of mother and then of other things of no consequence? He appears older and sadder. His eyes seem wild.’ He drew a breath and turned back.

“My maps are in those tubes by that bookshelf.” Denethor pointed.

Faramir swallowed again. He walked to the bookcase and pulled the leather tubes out. There were at least fourteen. He laid them on Denethor’s desk. His father still sat on the settle, fingering his drink.

“Father,” Faramir sat next to him. “Have you had ill news?”

Raising his eyes, he took Faramir’s face into his hands. He ran his finger under Faramir’s chin. Tears ran down his face.

Faramir stayed as still as granite.

“Father!”

Denethor started. “Boromir!”

“Might I join you? I have not yet broken my fast and your meal seems to have arrived with me.” Boromir shot a look of confusion towards Faramir, but his brother just shrugged.

Denethor’s face brightened. He shook, as if to rid himself of something, then stood and hugged Boromir. “It has been sometime since last we broke our fast together.” He smiled, grabbed both boys by the arm, and marched them into the outer room where their meal waited.

~*~

“What was that about, Faramir?” Boromir sat in Faramir’s chair by the fire.

“What?” Faramir offered his brother a goblet of wine.

“Father! When I walked into the room. He was… and he was…”

“I do not know. He was strange the whole time I was there alone with him. Once you entered, he seemed to come to his senses.”

“Did he say where he had been?”

“Nay.” Faramir bit his lip. “I do not understand him some days.”

Boromir smiled. “Neither do I. At least he promised he was going to bed once we left.”

“He did. Boromir? He has changed. I have been gone only a short time, and I find him very changed.”

“As do I. His shoulders slump a bit. Never had I thought to see him slump. And his hair is grayer, much grayer than last I remember.”

Faramir sighed. “Is there naught we can do for him?”

Boromir stood and walked to Faramir’s desk where his brother was sitting rummaging through papers. “Obey him. Trust him. Give him our loyalty?”

Faramir looked up in consternation. “I will not sever my relations with Mithrandir. Father misunderstands.”

“Nevertheless, if it was me, I would sever the friendship.”

Dismay filled Faramir’s face. “You would. But I deem it foolish, Boromir. Mithrandir is wise and sees beyond Gondor’s needs. We cannot live just for Gondor, Boromir.”

Boromir’s eyes grew cold as steel and his hands clenched at his sides. Faramir stood and walked around the desk, taking Boromir’s arms in his hands and holding him close. “Do not be angry with me, Boromir. If Gondor falls, the world as we know it will fall, but if other lands fall, Boromir, how do we accept that?”

Boromir pulled himself away. “We do not accept it. We fight for Gondor. And when we fight for Gondor, other lands will be saved. Do not you see that?” The anger in Boromir’s face drained. “Faramir. It is by our blood that the lands around us are saved. Do not look to other lands now. The need is too great to look elsewhere. Keep your focus on Gondor, Faramir, else it fall and all we do be in vain.”

“Look.” He pulled out the maps Faramir was looking at. “Look at this. This is Gondor. This is Rohan and Belfalas and even the northern lands of legend. WE stand between them and Mordor. WE are the Citadel that protects them. WE are the blood-givers, the oath takers, the protectors of these other lands. If WE fail, Faramir, all is lost. Concentrate on Gondor and its needs.”

Faramir looked down upon the maps. “Are we alone in this?”

Boromir looked at him in confusion. “Who else comes to our aid? Have you seen an army that I have not, coming to help us? Have you seen warriors spilling through the Great Gate in support of Gondor? Have you seen any but our father striving to prepare Gondor for the battle ahead? No wonder he wanders. He is alone. And sometimes, he thinks his sons consider him less.” Boromir whispered the last words. “Are you prepared, little brother, to cause the fall of our father? The fall of the Steward of Gondor? Do you see a king coming to save us? Mayhap I have missed him in my travels.” Boromir realized his words were bitter, but he felt a knife through him as if Faramir had put it there.

“Bitter are your words, Boromir. Mithrandir says-“

“Hang Mithrandir!” Boromir shouted. “What does a wizard know that father does not?” He bowed his head, put his hands to his face and began to weep.

“Boromir!” Instantly, Faramir was at his side. “What ails thee?” He slipped into his mother’s tongue, unaware.

Boromir looked up in surprise. “I am tired. I am weary of worry. I would ride through the Pelennor and not consider the needs for fortification. I would walk the embrasure and not contemplate the need for further arms for the trebuchets. I would sit on the heights of Mindolluin and hope that my brother would not fall off.” He smiled at the last. “Forgive me. I speak out of hand. I know you understand. I… I trust you, Faramir. If you deem your alliance with the wizard of import, then I will respect that. I do not think father ever will. I hope, nay, I pray to the Valar that that friendship does not sever you from father.”

“As do I, Boromir. I do everything in my power to show him my respect, my love and my allegiance. Someday, I hope he will understand that.”

“Come, let us look at these maps and try to decide where you should place your men.”

~*~

Boromir stood at the end of the Hall watching his father as he sat on the Steward’s Chair. Many milled about him, lords of Gondor, traders from other lands, even an Easterling or two, all looking for the Steward of Gondor to help them, to give them what they needed. ‘Hanged be what Gondor needs,’ Boromir thought bitterly. Since his disagreement with Faramir, he had walked the halls contemplating his own vision of Gondor. It was not the same as Faramir’s, he now realized that. Faramir loved Gondor, of that Boromir was sure, but his focus was too broad, too overall for these times. Gondor and Minas Tirith were where their focus must now lie. He felt more than saw Faramir come up behind him. His brother laid a hand on his shoulder and Boromir turned, trying to shake the anger from him.

“You are still upset with me?”

Boromir’s eyes filled with tears. “Look at him.” He pointed to their father. “He sits on a plain chair at the bottom of the steps. He has no crown. He has no throne. He has no scepter. Our mother,” at this Boromir choked. “Our mother had not even a chair to sit beside him. He is bereft of any comfort.” He shook and knew that Faramir felt it.

“Even a man of lesser birth, lesser nobility is called king. Théoden. Even his spouse had a chair at his side, held the title queen.” Again, Boromir choked. “His sons are called princes. How much must a man give before he is deemed worthy enough to be called king?” Boromir’s chin trembled.

“Is that what you want, Boromir? To be called a prince?”

His brother whirled on him, batting the hand from his shoulder. “Do not speak to me of what I want!” he hissed. “I want my father king. I care not what happens to me. Nor to you.” He stopped as he saw the pain flit across his brother’s face. Grabbing him in a fierce hug, he cried, “It is not true. I care what happens to you. You are graced enough to be called prince, though I am not.”

“Stop it!” Faramir shouted and people turned to look at the sons of Denethor. Faramir pulled him away from the door and through into one of the inner chambers that lined the entrance hall. “I will not hear you speak such words as those again. You should listen more to our father. You are the one who is worthy here. You are the heir. You are held in high esteem.”

“I am not blind, Faramir. I see you as you are, not as others see you. Nay. Father sees you too. Though you turn towards music and art and scholarly reading, I know you. I know your quick wit and your wisdom. It surpasses mine in a thousand ways. I do not deprecate myself, little brother,” and at this, he smiled, “but I know where my worth lies. You, when I am Steward, will be my advisor. I will make another Captain-general, for I would be lost without your counsel.”

Faramir smiled. “So you will be around long enough to become Steward?”

“You will not be rid of me easily, little brother. And remember that – you are the little brother. And when I ask your opinion, I expect you to give it civilly and with respect.” He punched Faramir in the stomach, not enough to hurt, but to take away his breath for a moment.

Faramir grappled him to the ground. They tussled for many moments. At last, Faramir cried, “I yield!” and Boromir let him go. “I will remember to respect you, Prince Boromir!”

Boromir growled and lunged again, knocking Faramir, who had just regained his feet, to the floor again. A gentle cough stopped his pummeling of his brother’s arm. He looked up. “What?”

Húrin, Warden of the Keys, smiled. “Your father calls for you both.”

Faramir cried, holding his hand out to their long-time friend, “Help me, Húrin. I am besieged.”

Húrin only shook his head and left them.

“When did he become father’s errand-boy?” Boromir asked in surprise.

“If he heard you call him that, dear brother, you would be on guard duty for the rest of your life, Captain-general or no!”

Boromir stood and offered a hand up.

Faramir grabbed it and pulled Boromir down. The eldest was quickly turned over and his head pushed into the carpet. “Yield?” Faramir asked with a snicker.

“I would not yield to you if you were the last man in Gondor, nay, in all Middle-earth!” and with that, he deftly maneuvered Faramir onto his back. Faramir’s eyes widened. Cursing loudly he yielded. “Your strength always surprises me. Do you lift kine in your spare time?”

Boromir laughed and helped his brother up. “Kine, dragons and mûmakil, little brother, so do not think that you will ever supplant me.”

They left the room laughing and entered the hall, arm around one another’s shoulder as they walked forward.

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6.

Boromir and Faramir sauntered forward, their arms still wrapped around each others' shoulders; Denethor had to call up every ounce of control, else all would see his joy in these two. Thus would end the career of the Terror of the Tower. Mirth bubbled through him at the thought. He must send these two off again; they were corrupting him!

Boromir flourished a bow; Faramir saluted. “You require our presence?” Boromir asked for them both.

“Tomorrow,” Denethor said with as straight a face as he could muster, “is the Council meeting. Have you discussed your plans for Faramir’s next assignment? I have placed it on the agenda.”

“We have, Father. We still have some maps to go over, but we planned on doing that this evening. Would you care to join us?”

Denethor’s half-smile left him. “I needs must meet with the chamberlain. For some reason, preparations are not yet finalized for the meeting, nor for the activities, nor for the…”

“Why cannot I take care of that, Father?” Faramir interrupted.

Denethor looked at him in surprise.

“Have I not attended a number of these meetings? I know what is needed. So do your people, Father. All in the kitchen are well aware of your wants, as are the chambermaids, the horsemen, the entertainers – all have been well trained by you.. Might I please do this for Gondor?”

Denethor’s eyebrow shot up. “For Gondor?”

Boromir stifled a groan. Faramir never flinched. “For Gondor, Father.”

He leaned back in the Steward’s Chair with his hand upon the arm. The other held the Rod. Denethor gave a quick look to Boromir, who smiled. “Very well. I will meet with the chamberlain regarding the seating arrangements…”

“Father, I beg your pardon, but the chamberlain knows the seating arrangements by heart. Let him do it.”

Again, Denethor raised an eyebrow. “What would you have me do, Lord Faramir?”

Boromir snorted.

“Meet with Boromir and me regarding the maps,” Faramir said quietly. “I have great need of your wisdom in this matter. Boromir does not know the region as you do. If anyone were to be missing from this meeting tonight, better it would be Boromir.”

At that, his brother leaned forward. “Little brother,” Boromir whispered loudly, “I deem your insolence…”

“I do not deem it insolence, Lord Boromir.” Denethor stood and the Hall quieted.

“You will both meet with me for the daymeal. We will discuss that – and other matters. Be prepared.” He waved them away. The noise in the Hall immediately picked up. Lords strode forward to place their names on the lists of those who needed to speak with the Steward. Others resumed their little enclaves and spoke of matters urgent to them. Denethor did not notice; he watched as his sons departed the Hall, smiling inwardly as Boromir was obviously giving Faramir a tongue-lashing.

Once his sons had left the Hall, Denethor stood. The chamberlain rapped his staff upon the cold marble floor and all stopped their talk. "I will see you on the morrow," Denethor quietly spoke to his attendant. "Faramir will be your contact regarding the Council meeting. I will not be available for the rest of the afternoon. If you have need, turn to Boromir. Have the daymeal served in my quarters at the proper time. And make it substantial. I will not be eating nuncheon. Send for Boromir and Faramir once the meal has arrived." He turned quickly, before those in the Hall had time to bow, and left through the back passage. He walked to the tower stairs and climbed. Soon, he reached the room, unlocked the door, and strode purposefully in. 'This must be done. I must, for Faramir's sake, risk the eastern view.'

He pulled the cloth off the Palantír and took it forcefully in hand. After sometime, his brow creased, sweat beaded upon his forehead, but he held it firmly. The globe shimmered brightly, the brightest ever that Denethor had seen, but he did not let it daunt him. The ruins of Osgiliath came into view. A storm had just blown through and the streets were covered in puddles, glistening in the cold early spring sun. Dust lay dark and spattered in hallways and ruined buildings, covered from the storm's whims. He noted that men were slowly coming out from their shelters and his brow furrowed in anger. How dare they hide from a storm? How dare they leave their posts? He hissed and his arms shook with the anger that filled him.

Taking a deep breath, knowing that he must be in total control before he moved any further eastward, he closed his eyes. He heard a sound and it startled him. A whisper and his eyes flew open. ‘These are silent stones; I should hear naught.’ His skin prickled. ‘The Enemy!’ He refused the bait, refused to look further than was his wont.

Slowly, he looked towards the bridge over the Anduin. All was quiet; further along, the Morgul-road was empty. He turned his attention to Emyn Arnen; swooping down closer and closer, he saw nothing. Then he turned to South Itihilien and followed the Harad Road to the Crossings of Poros. The garrison there was busy, but only with the normal day-to-day activities of an outpost. He followed the Anduin north again, went past the Harlond and Osgiliath and ended at Cair Andros. Patrols were returning to the garrison there. Denethor knew that it was now close to sun set.

He turned his attention to the secret garrison of Henneth Annûn. There was no activity and Denethor wondered. He kept his eyes upon the area. At last, he was rewarded. A small patrol, about six men it looked like, was making its way north to the hidden cave. Their hands were full. A replenishment patrol, Denethor realized. That gave his heart some ease.

As he paused to wonder if he should continue, a small movement to the north caught his eye. Easterlings! At least a company of them and headed towards the patrol. He shouted, then cursed at the futility of it. What good was this stone if he could do naught but watch? And watch he did; the patrol was decimated within moments. The Easterlings took the provisions and turned north. Denethor looked at the twisted bodies that lay upon the pristine grass of the fields of Ithilien and wept. He would send out a rider, but it would take a full day before the garrison at Henneth Annûn would be warned. By that time, they would know their patrol was late. He rubbed his thumb over the vision of one of the bodies. 'Just a boy,' he thought, tears blinding him. ‘Mayhap sixteen at best.’ He forced himself to follow the retreating band. They did not pause, hurrying away from the kill; they had a permanent camp set up in the Wetwang! He would send a rider immediately; since they had not left the area, Henneth Annûn must be warned. He pulled himself away, covered the globe, and ran down the stairs after locking the door behind him.

A knight turned to him as he left the Tower. "Send an errand-rider to me, in my study, immediately. One who is familiar with North Ithilien.” The man bowed and ran off. Denethor walked towards his study, but was stopped by his chamberlain. The worried furrow of the man's brow brought Denethor up short. "What is the problem?"

"Faramir has the Lord of Lossarnach seated next to the Lord of Lebennin. They have been disputing their border. I think it best if they are separated, but he insists."

"If Faramir says to seat them next to each other, then do so," he said and the cold tone in his voice sent the man scurrying away. Denethor cursed loudly. A knight nearby stepped towards him in alarm, but Denethor waived him away.

He walked to his study and was relieved to find food laid out. He took a cold piece of meat and wrapped it in cheese and ate it, standing. His aide waited as Denethor quaffed some wine, then sat heavily at his desk. "Send for my sons." The aide saluted and left. After only a moment, the errand-rider entered. Denethor had written a missive. He folded it, sealed it, and gave it to the man. “To Henneth Annûn as if the very wolves of Morgoth were after you!” The man saluted and left. His aide stepped forward upon Denethor’s motion. “Prepare a company for travel to Cair Andros

Denethor sat in stony silence, berating himself for not having looked further yesterday. He would have noted the band coming from the north. Mayhaps, there would have been time to warn the patrol. But, nay, he was looking to the south, to her. He shook his head angrily. "Well, Ecthelion, I have failed again, have I not?"

"You have never failed me, Father," Boromir said gently as he strode into the room. "Nor have you failed Faramir."

Denethor watched as Faramir, following behind, nodded his agreement.

"What is the problem?"

"A large band of Easterlings have set up what looks to be a permanent camp at the Wetwang. They have massacred one of the patrols out of Henneth Annûn. We must send help."

"Of course, Father. And I will lead them."

“I heard not the call of an errand-rider arriving, Father. Who sent the message?” Faramir questioned.

Denethor stared at Faramir, then nodded to Boromir. "You must leave now. I will not send men from here. They and their mounts will be too worn and tired to be effective. Take a company with you, I have already ordered the muster, and go to Amon Dín. Take men from there; then, go on to Cair Andros and take men from their also. Do not leave these garrisons unmanned though."

"One concern, Father, with Osgiliath?"

"We will speak for but a moment, then you must be off. Faramir, how are you planning to shore up the Rammas?”

“I intend to build an additional half a fathom on top. Just by the gate itself, Father,” he quickly added as he saw the look of surprise on Denethor’s face. “On either side.”

“How far would this raised portion reach?”

“Eight furlongs. On either side.”

Denethor sputtered; his wine spilled down his tunic. His aide immediately ran forward and wiped the offending liquid off his Steward's chest.

“I think that might be excessive,” Denethor managed to say once he was cleaned. “Mayhap a half furlong on each side?”

“I told you a furlong was too much to ask for,” Boromir grinned.

“Father. There are really only three places that are open for attack. Forannest, the Causeway Forts, and the Harlond. The Rammas is not high enough.”

“So you would build it higher all along its length?”

“I would.”

“Do you know how long it took to build what we have?”

“I know, Father, but we must. CairAndros will not hold, nor will Pelargir, if there is a concerted attack. The enemy will breach the Rammas at its weakest spots and those are its weakest spots.”

“Where do I find the funds to accomplish this? Along with manning our army, feeding our people, and sending ships to Valinor?”

Boromir snorted. “Really. The two of you. It is a good plan, Father. If we start slowly, with the part that stretches from the Causeway Forts, then turn to Forannest, then to Harland, it should take close to five years. But every foot brings us more protection. I think Faramir is right. We should begin it immediately. I will endeavor to raise the funds. You have asked me to travel to the fiefdoms to request more men; I will add funds to that request. As soon as I return from Ithilien, it will be done.”

Denethor sat back in his chair. He sipped his wine and watched, appreciatively, as his sons waited for his answer. “If we had a wizard we could trust…”

“Father!” Faramir cried. “That is uncalled for.”

Denethor smiled. “It was. You still have not found your wizard, have you?”

“He is not my wizard, Father,” Faramir sighed. “I have sent a few errand-riders in different directions looking for him. I expect them back before I leave for Osgiliath.”

“You hope they return before you leave.”

“Why, truly, Father, do you want Mithrandir here?”

“Is it not what we discussed? It is time I spoke with him at length. Never, during your grandsire’s reign, did I speak personally with him. I believe now is the time.”

“Then I will send more riders.”

“Aye. Now, let us look towards Osgiliath itself.” Denethor stood and left the study. His boys followed him as he made his way to his personal quarters. Once there, he passed by the food waiting for them, walked to his desk, and spread the maps before them. “There are too many places where the enemy can land on the river’s western banks. I think we should fill those dock areas with the stone from the ruins. The bridge is ever a source of concern, but it must remain open, until the last possible moment. Patrols should continue into Ithilien. Do you not agree, Boromir?”

“I have spent little time in Ithilien, Father. You know it better than I.”

“Faramir. Ithilien’s landscape is varied. Your patrols must consist of men who are wise in each of its terrain. Find those who have patrolled on grasslands and send them south. Find those who have patrolled in forests and send them to the Emyn Arnen. Then for the mountains…”

“A good plan, Father.” Boromir pointed to the map. “And here, where the Rangers are stationed at Henneth Annûn, more men should be sent there. I have only visited it a few times; it is due for repairs, too, and should be enlarged. The attack that has occurred shows that we must better protect it.”

"Father, Faramir. I would continue this discussion with you, but I leave within the hour." He stopped his forward stride to the door. "I am sorry, Faramir. I will not be able to finish our plans for Osgiliath. Will you..." He turned to Denethor. "Will Faramir be gone when I return?"

"Aye."

"Then I bid thee farewell now, titta hánonya."

Denethor's eyes widened at the use of Quenya, but said nothing. 'How long,' he wondered, 'have my sons spoken to each other this way?'

"I wilt expect thee to visit my humble garrison from time to time, hánonya."

Denethor gasped at the phrases.

His sons hugged, then Boromir walked to Denethor and pulled his father up out of his chair, and hugged him fiercely. "I will return in victory." He smiled. "And then I will take the daymeal that you are now denying me!" He turned and walked with a flourish out of the room.

Denethor sat back down, his mouth agape. "When did you...?"

Titta hánonya: My little brother
Hánonya: My brother


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7.

“Father,” Faramir said gently. “We learnt it at our mother’s knee.”

“I know that, but had I not… You are fluent in it.”

Faramir smiled. “That is a high compliment from you. We have been told you are the best in the land with reading the old tomes.” Faramir bit his lip in thought. “Mayhap, when life becomes more pleasant, we might read a few of the ancient books together?”

Denethor looked long and hard at his youngest. “There will be no pleasant times for us, my son.”

Faramir shivered. “With Boromir as Captain-general and you as Steward, Father, there will come a time. Have hope. He will not desert you. Nor will I.”

“The Rammas,” Denethor changed the subject abruptly. “We will begin the fortifications immediately. I believe the Causeway Forts should be the first, as you suggested. We have funds enough to begin there. I will call the engineers to me tomorrow, after the Council meeting and set it in motion. I wanted to send a regiment to Osgiliath, but this changes things. I will send a battalion. The engineers will have a division for their work. The Causeway Forts must be completed quickly. I deem it wise to send out at least ten squads everyday in patrol of the areas we discussed. Do not send simple patrols, Faramir. The danger now is too great. I have… Half companies would be best.”

“Aye, Father. It will be done.”

They heard the horn and Denethor blanched. “He is away,” he whispered. He pulled himself together. “Let us eat and then drink to Boromir’s return.”

~*~

The next day’s Council meeting erupted into a melee of angry hands waving and angrier voices raised against the Steward.

“We give all we can.”

“We are not endless coffers.”

“How can you ask more?”

“We will not send more of our sons.”

“We have needs to meet, also.”

Faramir sat back against the onslaught that assailed his father. His brow furrowed in pain. He remembered Boromir’s words. ‘If father were king, they would not dare to raise their hands nor their voices,’ he thought miserably. But his father sat there as stone and listened.

Finally, nuncheon was announced. All stood as Denethor rose and led them to Merethond. The repast was substantial and hearty, but not overly extravagant. Faramir, knowing that his father desperately needed to raise funds, planned a meal accordingly, for he knew that if the food was royally laid out, the lords would groan louder than they already had. After this morning’s session, he felt vindicated.

His father nodded in approval as they approached the table. Red cheese and white breads lay with sloes and other fruits on plain silver trays. After these were cleared away, smoked salmon from Mithlond and dill tartlets were served. Creamed soups followed. The main course of lamb, from near Dol Amroth, and spinach pie lay on a bed of oranges. Appropriate wines were served for each course. Dessert consisted of berry tarts smothered with sweet cream. Coffee and teas were served along with the sweets.

Faramir sighed as the faces of the lords’ furrowed brows straightened and smiles appeared. They sat back in their chairs with their cups held in their hands and talked lightly of new lambs and green fields.

Denethor stood. “There is comfort here in this room. I would, with your permission, continue our meeting whilst we finish our meal instead of returning to the Council chambers.” The nods he received affirmed his decision. He sat and spoke quietly. “The bounty we have before us is great, due to the efforts of all our people. However, I see days ahead of us that will challenge even Gondor’s bounty.” He paused as he noted the furrowed brows returning. Faramir motioned for the lords’ goblets to be filled with plum wine and Rammas Pinto port. Quickly, the servants moved about, filled the goblets, lit the candles and stoked the fire at both ends of the hall. The lords knew of their Steward’s fabled foresight and some shivered.

“We are strong and ready. However, when war is upon us, we must still meet the needs of our people. Food must be stored in preparation. If Minas Tirith is besieged, the mountain will give us water, but we must stockpile supplies. Never has Minas Tirith been breached. It will not be.” His voice rang out and he quickly lowered it again. “I propose building larger bins for storage of grains here in the City. I propose expansion of our defenses. The trebuchets must be tripled and projectiles stored near them. We only have one experienced operator. We must train at least two dozen men in how to use them. I would like to create a regiment for manning these towers.”

“I have seen raw recruits misfire and destroy one in a moment’s time by having the load land on the instrument itself.” Húrin spoke up. “Others have fired backwards instead of forwards. And the counter-weight has killed more men than I care to remember.”

“If we put them on wheels, that should help stabilize them and prevent tipping,” Faramir offered.

“A good thought,” Húrin smiled approvingly. “I believe the range would be further with such a mechanism.”

The enthusiasm of Faramir and Húrin diverted minds from thinking of why these were needed. Denethor pulled them back to Gondor’s needs. “We have the Rammas to consider also. Faramir has an idea to put before you.” He nodded and Faramir, startled, stood.

“There are three weak spots in the Rammas. I propose we raise the height—“

“The Rammas took years to build and many men.”

“Too much expense for such little return.”

“The Rammas only protects Minas Tirith.”

Denethor stood and all quieted. Some rustled in their seats and Denethor stared at them. After only a moment, the room was totally still. “I will endure your interrupting me,” he said quietly. “But I will not allow your interrupting my son.”

He sat and motioned to Faramir, who stood, visibly shaken, and began to speak again. When he had finished, he sat down. The lords waited.

“I do not have to lecture you,” Denethor began, “as to what will happen if Minas Tirith falls. You sit in your castles and halls and beg our protection, yet, when the time comes to ask for assistance, you crawl back into those same castles and halls and hide. I will not allow it.” There was no change in his voice, nor a raised eyebrow, naught to belie the calm in his demeanor, but these lords knew their Steward, knew that the voice contained a menace that none wanted to face. “You will each be visited by Boromir in the coming months. You will voice your concerns to him; he will negotiate a fair share of the burden of the refortifications and also conscript a portion of men. These men will be over and above your usual duty to Gondor.

“If Minas Tirith falls…” A hush fell over the hall as even goblets were placed back upon the table and all leaned forward in astonishment. “Húrin will be in charge of the evacuation of the women and children, the old and infirm. You will begin to make the necessary arrangements to house our people. Again, the storage of food and water for such a contingency is critical. I will not have my people starving in some gutter in your lands. I will exact such retribution, even if I be dead, if I find you have neglected this duty.” He chided himself for having leaned forward in his own chair as he spoke; he unobtrusively sat back.

“The menace I alluded to earlier, my friends, is not my imagination. You need only look across the Pelennor and see the mountain burning. Reports have come to me, as I said at this morning’s meeting, of increased activity. Boromir himself would have joined us today, but for the fact that he rode out late last night to engage our enemy in the north. The Pelargir reports tell of massive shipbuilding by our southern kin. They build not to fish, my lords; they build to attack. You may deem it wise to keep your men close to you, and mayhap that day will come, but it is not now. Therefore, go back to your homes and peruse your resources. When Boromir arrives, he will expect to go over your books and determine your portion. We will not meet again until Loëndë.”

He stood and they all scrambled to stand. Saluting them, he turned and left the hall. Faramir followed.

~*~

“They will be talking about this day for many days to come,” Denethor laughed quietly. He sat in front of the fire, holding a goblet of wine in his hand and fingering the stitching of the leather on his settle. “You did well in there. It is best not to shout when they interrupt as they did.”

“I did nothing, Father. If not for you, they would have trampled me.”

“Do you not think I know that, Faramir? They only care about their own lands, their own wealth. Sometimes, I think they do not even care about their own people. But they will care.”

He took a sip and motioned for Faramir to sit next to him. “We will discuss Osgiliath on the morrow at the ninth hour. Bring the maps here to my study. Do you want to be present when I meet with Húrin to go over the evacuation plans?” He continued when Faramir nodded. “The thought makes my skin crawl, Faramir. I can no longer believe that this is not a possibility. I must have more information.” He yawned. “Go now for I am weary.”

”Father. Will you rest yourself this night?”

Denethor smiled tiredly. “I am waiting for news of Boromir.”

“Then I would wait with you?”

“Nay. If I hear anything, I will send a messenger to you.” He smiled as he saw Faramir’s look of chagrin. “There is no need for the both of us to stay awake, Faramir. Go back to your study, analyze your maps and your options, and then get some rest. Boromir is still traveling.” He put his hand on Faramir’s shoulder. “When the wizard arrives, send news to me.”

Faramir smiled himself, stood and kissed Denethor on the brow, and said, “You will know long before I, when the wizard arrives, Father. I think you feel things in the air. How you know so much, I cannot fathom, but I am grateful. Good night.”

He watched as Faramir left, then laid his head back and sighed bitterly. ‘They are as vultures, waiting for me to fail. I have the enemy before me and my lords behind me.’ He gave a short laugh. ‘Enemies too are they for they care not if Gondor falls, if only they can be safe.’ He put the goblet down and rubbed his face with his hands. After a moment, he stood and walked out of the room and up the steps to the topmost space. It waited for him. A sudden lassitude overwhelmed him. He leaned against the wall. ‘Mayhap, I can take a moment with her?’ He shook his head. ‘I must look northward.’

Boromir was nowhere to be found, as Denethor expected when he took the Palantír in his hands. He had long since given up trying to ‘see’ his sons. The globe would not allow it. But he saw the garrison half empty at Amon Dîn and realized Boromir must have taken the men and was now headed eastward. As he looked at Cair Andros, he noted the garrison lay in sleep. Boromir had not arrived yet. The watches were set, even though another storm seemed to be bearing down upon the island fortress. ‘Is it the enemy who creates these storms?’ he wondered.

He looked towards the Easterlings encampment and breathed a sigh of relief. They were sprawled out and bedded down for the night. His vision took him southward towards Henneth Annûn. There was marked activity there. The cave opening crawled with men. He wondered why his errand-rider had not returned. ‘I must make inquiries,’ he thought wryly. Clouds covered North Ithilien and he had to concentrate more fully before he noted that the men were laughing and dancing around a fire a little distance from the entrance. ‘What folly is this? Have they gone mad?’ He drew in a sharp breath. ‘The messenger did not arrive!’ He began to shake as fatigue overcame him. The moon shone bright on this side of the Anduin and he realized he had stayed longer than he planned. He put the globe back on its pedestal and covered it.

Running down the stairs, he motioned to the guard standing on the next level. “Send an errand-rider to my private study and ask Faramir to join me there.” The guard nodded and left him and Denethor continued down to his chambers.


~^~
Notes - Lamb recipe from the New Zealand Beef and Lamb Marketing Bureau. I couldn’t resist!!!!

http://ohioline.osu.edu/sc156/sc156_43.html - as for winter lambs, I got the information from here – they would have been born in December and ready for the table by February if I gage correctly.

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8.


Boromir and company rode hard and long into the night. None wore their armour, just hauberks of mail. Speed was of the utmost import, if his father was correct, which there could be no doubt in Boromir's mind. The stop at Amon Dîn had lasted only four hours, though the ride in the dark from the Great Gate had taken almost six hours. They left just as pre-dawn touched the sky. He was assured that three companies would ride out and meet him in Cair Andros. There was no time to wait for them. The warriors would travel slower than his own band; he must reach Cair Andros before the day ended.

Traveling towards the Anduin, Boromir plotted and prepared for battle, as did the men about him. By early afternoon, Boromir sat in Captain Hador’s quarters, a cold mug of ale in his hand and his feet propped against the cabin's center pole. The brazier burned bright. In the warmth and peace of the moment, Boromir closed his eyes, spent the next hour contemplating his choices and going over the plans he had already made. Already he had had to change them and the thought of it made him growl. His aide, Derufin of Blackroot Vale, stood quietly by, knowing it was best not to disturb him.

‘Six companies, a little more than four hundred men, against at least five hundred.’ He sighed in dismay. When he had arrived in Cair Andros, he discovered Captain Hador had sent three full companies to the west side of the Emyn Muil in search of a reported band of Orcs. Boromir would only be able to take two companies from the island fortress, else he leave it without defense.

'Well,' he thought grimly, 'I have had worse odds.' But he hated fighting Easterlings. Their armour was nigh on impenetrable and not many of the soldiers he would command had experience with this kind of fighting. He had planned on attacking at dawn on the morrow. By that time the heavily-armoured troops from Amon Dîn would have arrived. 'That,' he thought gratefully, 'will give me time for a quick training session this afternoon.' His aide, at Boromir's request, went in search of the captain of Cair Andros and, within moments, returned with him.

"Do you have any of the Easterlings’ armour here? Any captured?"

"We do, my Lord Boromir."

"Bring it to me."

The captain left. Derufin stepped forward. "My Lord? You have not yet eaten."

"That is why I have you," Boromir smiled wearily. "Bring it and break your fast with me."

The man turned and left. Within moments, Captain Hador returned with four men carrying various pieces of the Wild Men’s armour. Boromir shook his head in dismay. “Is this all you have?”

“It is, Captain. We do not usually bother, but some were taken as weregild for friends and families.”

“I understand,” Boromir said wearily. “It will have to serve. Have the men assemble at six bells. Fully armoured, Captain.”

“Aye, sir.” The men saluted and left.

Boromir listened as the brazier crackled. ‘Will Faramir take them?’ he wondered, Faramir never far from his thoughts.

~*~

Faramir heard the racket before the door even opened. His father appeared, faintly wild-eyed, and Faramir jumped from the table, running quickly to his side. “Boromir?”

Denethor shook his head. “He should arrive in Cair Andros soon. It is Henneth-Annûn. They have not received my missive. You,” he held Faramir’s shoulder tightly, “You must go. You cannot hope to reach them in time, but at least you will be able to kill their murderers. Fly to Osgiliath, take a regiment with you, and destroy them.” His breath hitched. “I should have sent a regiment instead of a rider.”

Faramir walked him to the settle opposite his desk and reached for the carafe of wine.

“Nay,” Denethor stated flatly. “There is no time, Faramir. Believe me. They will be attacked ere morning comes and they are none the wiser for it.”

“Father. One moment please. They have scouts; they will not be caught unawares. Besides that, Boromir will have launched an attack against their camp well before I even reach the fortress.”

“They are sending…” He stopped. ‘What did I see? Rather, when did I see? Is it tonight? Or was the attack yesterday’s?’ He rubbed his eyes wearily. ‘The stone is trying to take me, trying to confuse me, make me see things and understand them not. I must clear my head.’

Faramir sat opposite him, waiting. At last, as Denethor rubbed his eyes, Faramir spoke. “Father. You said our patrol was attacked and then the Easterlings left the area. You said they have pitched camp. Are you sure of your information? Mayhap the report you received of a new attack was from yesterday?”

“It must be. I will question the report further, Faramir. But still, go to Henneth-Annûn tonight. Take a regiment with you. If the garrison is safe, then turn northward and help Boromir.”

“I will, Father. Take some rest. It has been a trying few days. As soon as I reach Osgiliath, I will have the signal master light the fire noting my arrival. I will not be able to leave for Henneth- Annûn till morning. It will take that long to muster the regiment, but we will ride fast and hard and make Henneth-Annûn by mid-morning at the latest. When do you think Boromir will attack the Easterlings?”

“It is as you said, he will attack on the morrow, at first light. Would that I was with him.”

“As do I, Father. I take my leave with your permission?”

“Go. Spare not your steed. Take only a small guard with you. When you reach Osgiliath, muster the regiment and fly as fast as the eagles to Henneth-Annûn. They know not what danger is on their doorstep.”

“Aye, Father.” Faramir stood uncertainly. “If the wizard should come…”

Denethor looked in amaze at his son. “I will deal with the wizard, Faramir. Your concern is Henneth-Annûn, is it not?”

Faramir’s cheeks blazed. “I know my duty, Father.”

“Then do it.”

His son saluted, picked up his travel bag, and left. Denethor stood as if to follow, then checked himself, and sat once again upon the settle. He looked about Faramir’s study. There were maps still spread upon the desk, a plate of half-finished venison, and a glass of wine. The walls were covered in the tapestries that his mother was so fond of. Bright, colorful ones from Dol Amroth. A crumhorn sat in a chair by the fireplace. Denethor stood and walked towards the fire. He had not noticed before, but, and the sight of it took his breath away, her harp stood next to the chair. His own cheeks blazed. He had not even noticed when it had left her rooms. He ran his finger lightly over the strings. It was tuned. Faramir must have cared for it. He ran from the room.

~*~

As Faramir left the Tower, two men stepped up and saluted him. Looking up in surprise, he moved back.

“There is naught to fear, my Lord,” the taller of the men said in Sindarin. “The Captain-general asked us to meet with you.”

“Boromir?”

“Aye, sir. We are to accompany you wherever you go.”

Faramir smiled and blushed slightly. ‘So, dear brother, you guard me even when you are not by my side.’ He saluted them back. “May I know your names?”

“I am Damrod and this is Mablung. We are Rangers of Henneth-Annûn, on leave for the past month. We were to return in another fortnight, but the Captain-general issued new orders. I served under the Captain-general in Osgiliath many years ago and know the old city well.”

“Then I will gladly accept your service, Damrod. And yours too, Mablung. We leave tonight for Osgiliath. Have you supped yet?”

“We have not, my Lord.”

“Enough of the titles. I am Faramir.”

“Aye, my Lord.” The Ranger did not cringe.

“If you insist on a title, then at least use Captain.”

“Aye, Captain.” The Ranger’s grin split his face.

Faramir smiled broadly in return. “Then we must to the buttery and then to the stables. We travel light, my friends.”

“We will have our kit sent on the supply wagons.”

“Good. Then let us go.”

He stopped as his name was called out. Denethor was walking swiftly towards him. “Go without me. I will meet you in the buttery of the Third Company. Know you where it is?”

“We do, my… We do, Captain.” They saluted and left him.

He strode back towards Denethor, his face contorted in grief at their parting. Denethor stopped and waited. Faramir approached him, slowing his steps the last few paces.
Denethor took a long, deep breath. “I seem to be the fool these last days. More so than even my Council.” He blushed faintly but Faramir saw it and wondered. “You have trained well, Faramir. I know that Boromir is concerned with your appointment as Captain of Osgiliath, but I have every faith in you. Know you that, before you leave here.”

“Thank you, Father.” Faramir stood still, his mind furiously trying to discern Denethor’s meaning.

“I saw your mother’s harp in your room.” He took Faramir’s arm and walked him towards the parapet. “Do you play it?”

Again, concern washed over Faramir. Was his father going back into the confusion of last evening? “I do, Father, when I am home.”

“You do not take it with you on assignments?”

“Nay, Father. It is a fragile instrument. I would not see it damaged in transit.”

“Of course.” They had reached the end of the parapet, the finger pointing towards the black mountains to the east. Denethor looked forward and frowned. “I… all reports regarding you have been stellar, you know. I am pleased. And proud. You do not bear yourself as does Boromir, but you have strength in you, my son. Remember that when you captain Osgiliath. Let none look down at you. Remember you are a son of Númenor.”

“Nay, Father. I will remember I am your son.”

~*~

Well before dawn, they set out. Six companies marching on foot with only their captains horsed. Boromir led them and the men walked proud and defiant. ‘How dare Easterlings cross our border and make camp on the land of Gondor?’ Boromir had rallied them, held them in his sway, and used his words to enflame their hearts. They followed him without question though they knew they would be close to the gates of Barad-dûr. Their lips were tightened and their hands clung sweatily to their spears, but they walked with purpose and fervor. Four hours later, as the sun rose, it shone upon their pikes, their armour, and their helmets. Boromir stopped; the company halted. A whispered word followed to Derufin who rode back to Captain Hador. The captain spoke to his captains and the men received their orders. After a short time, the sun no longer gave them away. Helmets, spikes, spears, and armour, dulled by layers of mud, no longer carried his light. Boromir moved them forward.

It was almost the third hour; the scouts had returned. Derufin set up a table and laid a map upon it. The captains crowded round. Boromir strode through them and looked. His eyebrow raised. “We are close. Closer than I had hoped. The Easterlings are busy with their own affairs. They do not appear to be planning any sorties today. We cannot hope to surprise them. The open land between them and us will not hide us. With stealth, we will move as close as is possible. But then, we must strike hard and fast. The pace has not been difficult this morning; our men should still be rested. Go amongst them now and remind them of what they learned during drill yesterday. How to fight and to kill our enemy. Let them break their fast now, but quickly, then we begin the final march.” He waved them off.

Derufin offered a stool and Boromir gratefully accepted it along with a flagon of warm ale. As he sat, he stared at the map. A plate of cheeses and breads appeared before him. “Thank you, Derufin. Will you ride next to me in the battle?”

“If it is your will, my Captain, I will gladly serve wherever you want.”

Boromir smiled warmly. “Father oft told me of how important his aides were to him, how he learned to trust them, how they oft sacrificed themselves for him. I know you would do the same, but, Derufin, your father will have much need of you shortly. You will return to him after this campaign. Do you understand?”

“I do. But I disagree.”

His Captain-general looked up at him, surprised. “You disagree.”

“I do, Captain. You will be sent to many lands after this, if I remember your musings the other night. I would go with you. When your duty leads you to my homeland, then I will join my father; then I will leave you.”

Boromir laughed. “Very well, Derufin. It makes me glad to hear that. Now, enough of this. Let us be away. We have much fighting to do and I grow restless.”

“You sword hand itches?” Derufin laughed at the old joke.

“It does! And your’s better, too!”

The company formed and marched forward. Some began to sing a battle song and Boromir joined them. No need for quiet for at least another hour. It felt good to sing again while marching to battle.


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9.

As they rode towards Osgiliath, Faramir constantly rehashed statements that his father had made these past days, all the while shaking his head in wonder. Every day, Denethor had been gone from them for at least half the day, and Faramir wondered who or what had kept him so busy. He had asked Denethor’s aide, before he left, where his father spent his time, but the aide said each day he was dismissed for a time. He had no idea where Denethor was during those hours. He had been told to leave him, and leave him he did. Faramir had been deeply disturbed. His father’s aide seemed to have no loyalty for him, no concern, no… ‘I will speak with Boromir about this when we return. There must be someone we can replace that man with. I do not like him, nor do I trust him.’

“The password, Captain? Do you have it?” Damrod asked. “We are coming to the Causeway Forts; the sentries will want the password.”

Faramir nodded.

They pulled their horses up as they came to the guardhouse. Two uniformed men strode forward, shields raised, swords pulled and at the ready. One recognized Faramir. “My Lord Faramir. You have returned from Pelargir?”

“I have and you were to be assigned as Guard of the Citadel. What keeps you here?”

“My brother’s son is stationed here. I asked for this posting.”

“Beregond, Boromir spoke highly of you and requested you be stationed in Minas Tirith. Does he know you are here instead?”

“Aye, Captain. He was… not happy with my decision, but he understood family concerns and allowed it.”

“Of course he did. When I return, I will see if we can station you both in the City, though it will be a blow to me not to have you at my side.”

“You are to captain Osgiliath?”

“I am. But first, I have an errand for the Steward and must be on my way. The password is ‘trebuchet’ – let me pass.”

Beregond saluted and let the company pass. At a trot, Faramir led them to the garrison of Osgiliath. After once again giving the sentries the password, they rode into camp. Those men awake shouted welcome as they recognized the Steward’s youngest. The acting commander of the garrison, Gelmir, quickly pulling his clothing about him as he wiped sleep from his eyes, greeted him warmly and helped him dismount. Then he gave him a long hug. “We have been sore-pressed, Captain Faramir. Notice of your orders was received this morning. I have your quarters prepared and ready. Reports and maps are waiting upon your desk.”

“Hold a moment!” Faramir laughed, hand held to stop the torrent of words from his new aide. “It is good to see you again. How many years…? Never mind. I am glad to have you with me.” Then his brow creased and he spoke quietly. “My orders have been changed as of this night. I need at least two companies for a foray into Ithilien… Nay! Three companies, on horse. We must travel quickly. I will leave you here to guard the stronghold. We leave in two hours.”

Gelmir smiled. “Of course, my Lord. The men will be mounted and ready. I might offer a thought?”

“Of course,” Faramir stopped and looked at him.

“The terrain is treacherous in Ithilien. Orcs will still be about. I would suggest you wait until at least an hour before sun’s rise.”

“Our errand is grievous.”

“I understand, Captain, but if you fall and break a leg or are carried off by Orcs, your mission will be unfulfilled.”

Faramir smiled. “I agree. Muster the men, fed and ready to ride, at the first hour.”

“How long will the campaign last? Provisions must be made.”

“At least a week. I would have the men pack lightly though. Haste is vital. Provide them with enough to last four days; we will live off the land after that.” Faramir looked around hesitatingly. “Where are my quarters?”

Gelmir motioned. Once he saw Faramir to his quarters, he left him to begin preparations for the movement of his troops. A small smile filled his face. He had heard good reports of the Steward’s youngest's stint in Pelargir and felt confident in his ability to man the garrison well. ‘It is about time,’ he thought wryly.

Night had closed upon them well before Faramir had even left Minas Tirith. It was well past midnight when he had arrived at the garrison of Osgiliath. Damrod followed him into his quarters. Mablung stood outside as guard. Faramir smiled. He now felt he had two nursemaids about him. ‘Well, nothing can be done about that. Gelmir will think I don’t trust him, but if this is Boromir’s wish, then I will not gainsay him.’ Turning to Damrod, he offered a chair.

“I believe it would be best, Captain, if you rested. Time is over for talking. We can plan as we ride in the morning.”

“And what will you be doing?”

“Guarding your back.”

“You… you plan on staying here in my room?” Faramir asked incredulously.

“I only follow orders. Until the Captain-general tells me I can let you out of my sight, then I remain at your side.”

Faramir’s anger rose. “I will not have you standing about whilst I sleep!”

“I will not be standing about, Captain. I will be sitting here, with a poker to keep the fire going, it is still chilly, and with my sword at the ready. You can either accept my presence and sleep, or not. It is your choice.”

Faramir muttered under his breath, quickly undressed, and fell into his bed. He would give Boromir such a talking to when next they met.

~*~

Dust rose from the north and Boromir stood in his saddle, covered his brow with his hand, and squinted against the sun. It was almost noon and they were, at the most, an hour from the Enemy’s camp.

“Scouts,” Derufin said softly.

Boromir raised his hand and the company halted. Captains Hador and Guilin from Amon Din joined him. The scouts’ breakneck pace told Boromir their foe was on the march. As they approached, they saluted and cried, “Captain Boromir!” He nodded and they brought their horses next to his. “Your news?”

“The enemy is only a league away, Captain. They should be upon us within the hour.”

“And the number?”

“At least five hundred. They have covered wains also. We could not see if they were loaded, but they rode heavy and slow behind the troops.”

“Then we will assume there are men hidden in them,” Boromir said quietly. “Pull to the supply wagon and refresh yourselves; then, join me here.” He turned to his captains. “We turn north. Have the men remove the mud from their shields, spears and such and clean them well. Then, assemble them in three lines with the archers in front. They will stand one-quarter yard from each other. The second and third lines will stand one-quarter yard behind the line in front. The archers will loose their arrows upon my command. Three times they will do this and then they will step back behind the infantry. Upon my command, Captains.”

They nodded.

“Have the men wait for my signal before charging. Go now and may the Valar be with us.”

The invocation sounded false. He wondered if the Valar even knew children of Ilúvatar still lived in this forsaken land. He shook his head. ‘I sound like my father.’ The captains had turned and Boromir heard his orders echo down the line. At last, the men were ready. The lines formed as Boromir had instructed and the men faced north towards their Enemy. The scouts returned to Boromir’s side. He sent them off again, one to the east and one to the west of the Enemy’s position.

Boromir placed his hand on the hilt of his sword and looked down the line approvingly. Then, he nodded his head and the three columns moved forward. Derufin rode to Boromir’s left. Hador and Guilin rode behind him.

Soon, great clouds of dust could be seen. Boromir smiled and fingered the hilt of his sword. The skin on his forearms prickled. His mouth grew dry. ‘Any moment now,’ his heart thumped, ‘any moment now.’ There! There! They were only a hundred yards in front of them; the great dust cloud had hidden them. Time for his archers. He raised his arm and grinned as he saw them, his archers, raise their bows and nock their arrows. He waited another moment. Then he dropped his arm and the arrows flew straight and true. He had held his breath, not in anticipation of failure, but it always amazed and exhilarated him to see the spectacle of arrows in flight. He was such a poor archer that he had given any serious training up long ago. Faramir would have enjoyed this. He missed him. Dearly. Twice more he raised and lowered his arm and twice more his archers loosed their arrows. Dead Easterlings fell in quick succession. Boromir motioned and the archers stepped behind the third line of warriors.

The lines moved forward; the men heartened by the kill of so many by the archers. Boromir knew a quick kill was needed to sustain the hearts of his men as they marched against a greater number than their own. He saw it in their eyes; hope kindled. The Enemy was only twenty yards away by now. Boromir unsheathed his sword, raised it high, and shouted the command, “Forward, men of Gondor!” and urged his horse onward.

~*~

Denethor watched and waited. ‘Nothing.’ He swore quietly. ‘Nothing from this Valar-forsaken stone!’ He closed his eyes and tried to calm himself. It was near noon; he was beyond tired. He had not left the Tower room since Faramir left for Osgiliath; he had not eaten since then either. ‘Boromir’s attack should be over by now,’ he thought worriedly. ‘And Faramir? Where is Faramir?’ He should have reached Henneth-Annûn himself by now. He opened his eyes again and took three deep breaths. ‘If I cannot see my sons, then I will look towards the Emyn Muil. I should see the Wild Men in their retreat.’ But there was no retreat and Denethor’s heart stopped. ‘Did I see wrongly? Were there more of the foe than you showed me?’ he asked angrily. The stone still showed an open, empty plain.

He let go the globe and walked to the north-facing window. ‘To have Elven sight now,’ he thought disconsolately. He swallowed hard and stared, cursing his eyes for not revealing what he urgently needed to see, cursing the Palantír for its refusal to allow him the one sight he so desperately craved, the sight of his sons! Leaning against the sill, he looked towards Henneth-Annûn, but there was no movement that he could see. He laughed sadly. ‘Not even an Elf could see that far.’

He walked back to the Palantír and fiercely grabbed it, holding it tightly, his frustration, fear and exhaustion coalescing into deep anger. He wanted to scream at it, to throw it against the wall, but he shuddered and did the only thing that he could do – look into it. He forced his eyes to the east, to Barad-dûr. Perhaps there would be some sign of his Enemy’s plans. Arms shook, as his eyes grew wide. ‘So, you have found me,’ he cringed. ‘Finally, we see each other, eye-to-eye.’ A part of him wanted to snigger at the absurdity of it, but he was, in actuality, looking at an eye, disembodied, fiery, and yet as cold as the coldest heights of Mindolluin. He gasped and held the stone tighter, fighting the sense of being dragged into the very depths of the globe, into the very depths of that eye.

It wanted his name! He laughed outright. “You know me,” he murmured aloud. “You know me well and have fought me since I was a child. Do you think that I will now succumb? Think again, Abhorred One.” The eye faded. Denethor blinked, twice, and sobbed, then let the stone go. “I have won,” he whispered aloud. “I have beaten him. He knows he cannot subdue me to his will.” He shivered and shook for many moments. At last, he left the Tower and walked slowly down the stairs. ‘It cannot be that uncomplicated.’

Author's Notes – I know that 40 to 50 yards is probably the normal range of an accurate shot, but tests have shown that archers can hit as far away as 290+ yards and the world record is 1,000+ yards. So Boromir’s archers could, IMHO, easily hit to kill at this distance.

Abhorred One is, in actuality, the Quenya translation of Sauron.


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10.

Up before dawn, Faramir walked quietly to the stables. The stable hand awakened at the first sound of booted feet on the straw-strewn floor.

“Has a horse been picked for me?”

“It has, Captain Faramir.” The man led Faramir towards a stall at the end of the stable.

“I need one with endurance and speed.”

“Both of which this one has,” he spoke quietly as he lovingly rubbed the horse’s nose and ran his hand down the long, sleek neck.

“What is its name?”

“Steelsheen.”

Faramir looked at the horse in surprise. “You have a great name to live up to, Steelsheen.”

The horse nickered and took the piece of raw sugar that Faramir held out.

“Saddle him, then bring him to the courtyard. I leave within the hour.”

“Aye, Captain,” he said to Faramir’s back. “Not unlike his brother in patience, is he little one?”

The horse neighed.

Damrod disengaged himself from the shadows and smiled at the groomsman. “We ride to battle.”

“Ah! Forgive my sarcasm.”

“He is like his brother, and not.” Damrod quickly slipped into the shadows again and followed Faramir.

After a few moments, he felt an arm about his own, holding them down, and a dirk at his throat. He remained still.

“I did not ask you to follow me.”

“Your brother commanded me to follow you.”

“I will not endure this!”

“Then slit my throat now and be done with me.”

“Your loyalty to my brother is that strong?”

“As it is to you, Captain.”

Faramir shivered and Damrod felt it.

“Then we must make some other arrangements. I will not have you dying unnecessarily following my brother’s commands.” He lowered the dirk and released the man.

“Until I am told otherwise, I am to be your shadow. I cannot disobey.”

“Of course you cannot. But I can.”

“So you will attempt again to slip away from me?”

“I did not attempt to slip away. You slept; I had needs.”

“My need is for food if we are to continue this conversation any longer.”

Faramir laughed. “Then food it is. I will slip into the buttery and you may do whatever you want.”

“I will slip behind you, Captain, and fill your plate.”

Faramir howled. “Come then, my shadow, and let us eat.”

They strode quickly forward. “You plan on making Henneth-Annûn by this evening?”

“I do. We must. Already the garrison may be o’er run. Father’s missive told of a great body of men approaching and that was last evening. We cannot delay further.”

“The men are being roused as we speak, Captain. They will be ready before sun’s rise.”

“I would that you would ride at my side.”

Damrod smiled. “Thank you, Captain.”

As soon as they were finished breaking the fast, Faramir had them mount. They crossed the bridge; after five hours and seven leagues, and under a storm-ridden sky, they turned onto the Harad Road. They rode long and hard northward. ‘A band this large has naught to fear,’ Faramir hoped. It was dangerous, true, but the quickest way to Henneth-Annûn. With a regiment behind him, they would be safe, but he chafed at the slowness of their journey. If he had taken his men along the Anduin, though a shorter distance, it would have taken at least another six or seven hours. Or if he had disobeyed his father and taken a smaller company, they could make better time. ‘No thought of that!’ He shook his head at the image of his father’s face when he returned and told him that he had taken a company or two instead. His whole being, though, wanted to be headed further north, to the Wetwang, but he had his orders.

Less than an hour before the sun, if they could have seen it, reached its peak, they were attacked. Orcs spilled from the Ephel Dúath before the alarm could be given. Faramir drew his sword and screamed for his men to unsheath theirs. It was done before the words left his mouth. He felt, more than saw, Damrod at his back. Slashing furiously as they came forward, he wheeled his horse around to face the enemy. Damrod’s sword sang, as did his men’s. ‘There must be over a thousand. And in full daylight! How can this be?’

Screams filled the air; steel upon iron clanged, while the soft sound of sword slashing leather cut through the air. He looked about him, exhaustion near, and whitened. His men were falling and quickly. He called for a retreat, back towards the Crossings, and knew they were lost. The men pulled their mounts around and headed south, slashing as they went as Orcs scrambled to pull them off their horses.

When he looked back, he saw his men behind him, hacking with their own swords, trying to keep ahorse. More and more fell, but the Orcs could not keep up with the pace Faramir set. ‘We might yet live.’ Just then, a fire lit his shoulder blade, then another. He fell forward onto Steelsheen’s neck and held on. His sword had fallen from his hand. He heard Damrod’s cry and tried to signal that he was still alive, but the movement cost him and he fell of the horse. Silence and darkness surrounded him.

~*~

As the battle raged around him, Boromir grit his teeth and walked further into it. He had lost his horse after the first encounter. Easterlings were everywhere; to his left, his right, before him, some even behind him. He gave it no thought. He knew what needed to be done and he did it. His sword never stopped, never paused. His great arms swung it from left to right and back again. He reveled in the feel as it connected, knowing he was decimating the enemy, knowing his men, as well trained as he was, were doing the same.

Suddenly, a blow caught him from behind and he flew forward, losing the grip on his sword. Unperturbed, for it was only a flesh wound he hoped, he lay still. The Easterling moved in for the kill and Boromir thrust his dirk deep into the man’s left underarm. The black eyes looked back at him in confusion and then the body crushed him. He grunted and pulled the dirk out, pushed the body off him, wiped the dirk clean, and put it back in its sheath. Within a moment, he found his sword and once again attacked any and all who entered within the circle of its great arc.

Not three hours later, the battle was won. What was left of the Easterling army was retreating hastily across the Wetwang and towards the Noman-lands. He called for his men to stop. He would let none enter that land without scouts going first. Who knew what lay hidden in those slopes?

Derufin, Hador and Guilin approached. He smiled to see them and raised his hand in greeting. It was covered with blood, he noted. Best get someone to tend it before he bled to death. ‘What kind of a victory is that,’ he pondered, ‘to win the battle and lose one’s life? Nay. ‘Tis not possible. For did we not follow Denethor’s plan?’ He did not feel weak-kneed nor dizzy so he knew the wound was but a token of harm.

Derufin, however, noted it too and ran to his Captain’s side. “Call the healer!” he cried.

“Nay! There are others more badly injured than I, Derufin. It is but a flesh wound. Help me bandage it, then we will see to our men.”

Quickly, Derufin lifted the heavy armour off him, then the tunic and the hauberk. Last to go was his linen under shirt. The wound was not deep, as Boromir had thought, and was easily cleaned. “It does not require stitching.”

“I thought not. Thank you, Derufin. Now, help me get this back on so I may hear the reports of my captains.”

Derufin did as he was asked, then showed Boromir a tent, already quickly set up, for him to meet with his captains. Boromir, once inside, gratefully accepted the goblet of wine and drank it swiftly. Then he sat in the proffered chair. “I need my maps about me.”

“A moment, Captain. I will retrieve them.” Derufin walked out of the tent as Hador and Guilin entered.

“How did we fare?”

“Well, considering the inexperience of our men,” Captain Hador replied. “I had not thought they would do so well against this enemy.”

“They listened well during our training session, else most would now lie dead upon the field,” Boromir said. “The wounded, are they being tended?”

“They are, sir. The healers have commissioned those unharmed to help bring their supplies forward. The field hospice is running smoothly.”

“Good.” Boromir paused for a moment. “I lost my horse.”

“It is safe, Captain. We found it near the edge of battle. A small cut in its flank, but otherwise, unharmed.”

“Thank you.”

“Are we going to pursue them, Captain?” Guilin asked.

“We are not. There were not many left standing. They are no longer a threat. I would have them return to their land with tales of the fierceness of the men of Gondor. That should hold back another attack, at least for a time.”

“Here, Captain.” Derufin entered the tent. “Here are your maps.”

“Look,” Boromir said to his captains and pointed at North Ithilien. “We will turn south. It is close to twenty-three leagues from here to Henneth-Annûn. We will sweep North Ithilien for enemy patrols; we do not know if others are still about, did not return to their camp. When we reach Henneth-Annûn, we will rest a few days, then you, Captain Hador may return to Cair Andros, and you, Captain Guilin, may return to Amon Din. We leave in the morning. Tell the men to rest well and the cooks to prepare food for tomorrow’s march. We should reach the hidden garrison in three days time, barring trouble.”

“The injured, Captain?” Derufin asked.

“You, my good right hand, will stay back with two companies and escort them back to Cair Andros. Once they are settled, take those needing the Houses back to Minas Tirith.”

“I would prefer to march with you,” the man from Morthond spoke quietly.

“Nay, go back and take your well needed rest. I will return within a fortnight. We will then begin planning for Denethor’s next mission.”

His aide stifled his concern, Boromir noted, and he smiled. “Captains, will you join me for dinner in an hour’s time?”

Guilin and Hador nodded, knowing their Captain-general was dismissing them. They saluted and left. Derufin followed behind them.

”Stop, Derufin. I would speak with you.”

He stood stiff and tall and Boromir smiled. “You need not be so formal. Sit on my cot and listen to me.”

Derufin did as he was bid, but his back was still straight and rigid.

Boromir sighed. “I know you wish to continue with me. I assure you, I will be safe. I need someone who will listen to the wounded and the healers. Not many of my captains know to take the time to listen. You will. Do you understand my need?”

“I do, Captain. Forgive my annoyance. It is an honour to serve under you. I learn much. Very much,” the man’s voice dropped. “My father expects me to lead our people when he is gone. I would learn all I can before that time.”

“Your father is still young, Derufin. You have many years with him. I would have you go with Faramir, if truth be told, for his need of archers is greater than my need of a traveling companion. But it is time you returned to your homeland. I am happy with your performance of your duties. When I need you to lead our men, you do well. I have been able to trust you utterly. I now trust you to take care of my wounded and return to Minas Tirith, prepare for our travels, and wait for me.”

Derufin stood and saluted. “I will, my Lord. You leave at first light?”

“We do.”

“When you return from dinner, your bed will be made, your armour polished, and your sword sharpened. I go now to the hospice to tell the healers your command.”

“Thank you, Derufin.”

After his aide left him, Boromir lay on his cot, cradling his head in his left arm, while his right covered his eyes. A sigh escaped him. ‘That I was with Faramir now at Osgiliath, with the campfires lit, and the men singing and dancing.’