Ten Thousand Years will not Suffice

by Agape4Rivendell

11  12  13  14  15  16  17  18  19  20

Parts 11 - 20

25. 
Third Age - 3017 

11.

“So, Cousin, what think you of your new duties? Are they agreeable to you?”

Húrin smiled. “My Lord Denethor, I am enjoying myself immeasurably. It is good to be here in the City. Long has it been since I’ve slept on a bed as comfortable as the one in my new quarters.”

“Is that the extent of your duties?”

Húrin looked across the goblet of wine he held in his hand; a slight shiver ran down his arms. Denethor’s facial expression had not changed, but Húrin felt a certain contempt issuing from his Steward. “Cousin,” he said quietly, “you know that is not. Since we are in your private chambers, and you have shared the daymeal with me, I had thought the banter would be light. Thus my response. Forgive my misstep.”

Denethor stood and walked to the window overlooking the Court of the Fountain. “Light no longer comes to Gondor, Warden. It left a long time ago. Banter is no longer appropriate; not whilst the enemy lies yonder.”

Chills ran through Húrin. “I stand corrected, my Lord Steward. My duties are beyond what I had thought, when first you approached me with your offer. Warden of the Keys. I had not known nor realized the scope of this position.”

“You are next in line to my sons. Was that not explained to you?”

Again, Húrin shivered. “I have known that that is so, but never has the Warden been given that duty. Always, we have our Steward.”

“Always is no longer valid.” He turned upon his Warden, his face aflame, and Húrin leaned back on the settle just a bit. “You captained Osgiliath for many a year. You know the dangers; you know the strength of the enemy. Would you think that we are in an age like unto any before us?”

“Nay, my Lord Steward,” Húrin managed to say with some force. “You are of Númenor and in good health. Your sons are both strong and wise. I have commanded Boromir; he is close to indestructible. As for Faramir, you keep him from the more dangerous outposts; he is safe.”

“No longer. He will captain Osgiliath when he returns.”

Húrin’s face went white. “Osgiliath is not as well protected as it was when I was captain. Do you think it wise to send him there?”

Denethor’s back stiffened and Húrin wondered if he would live through this night.

“I am returning the garrison to a full battalion. Faramir has been ordered to use his captains and his men well. He will not leave the stronghold.”

Húrin bit his tongue to keep from speaking. He was surprised the Steward trusted Faramir not to lead sorties from the garrison. He dared not voice that opinion. “A battalion is a wise choice.”

“I did not make you Warden to flatter me!”

Húrin again sat back, forcefully, in the settle. “My Lord Steward, I speak only confirmation of your decision. Long have you known me; it is not my way to agree with you for ego’s sake or for position. You have already given me a higher position than anyone, except Boromir, as your Warden of the Keys.”

Denethor walked to the settle and sat. “You were my captain a very long time ago. I heeded your words then. Have you lost your wisdom, your sharp tongue? Will you keep me honorable?”

Húrin had to blink in surprise and wonder. “You will always be honorable, my Lord Steward. I am more than honoured that you consider me worthy to be Warden of the Keys. I will do everything in my power to prove you right in this appointment.”

“As I said, you are next in line after my sons. This cannot be allowed. Therefore, we must speak of Boromir and his bride.”

Húrin choked on the last mouthful of wine. “His bride?”

“One must be found, and quickly. He is still young and I would give him more time, but he must have an heir. I have poured over the family lineage from Emyn Arnen and there is no one I consider suitable. Is there any you know of?”

Húrin was still trying to come to terms with the idea of looking for a bride for Boromir. “There are the daughters of Lord Turambar. He is a direct descendant of the line of Húrin, but his daughters are sheltered. Neither would do honour to the position of wife of the heir.”

“Their names?”

“One is Lindorië and the other is Firiel.”

“Ah yes. Lindorië is beautiful, as her name suggests, but she is weak-minded. She would crumble at the first altercation between ladies of the Court. If ever a Court is convened again.”

“When the King comes,” Húrin said softly.

Denethor dismissed the thought with a wave of his hand. “None other?”

“There is… Nay! The problem, my Lord Steward, is that most of the women of Gondor have not been raised in court. They know naught of the intrigues nor the duties of the consort of the Heir.”

“Dol Amroth.”

“Aye. That is a thought. Adrahil was more lenient with women…” He blushed and quickly shut his mouth.

“More lenient.” Denethor took a deep breath.

“Women have more freedom in Dol Amroth than those in Minas Tirith, my Lord. It is our custom. It is a good custom but hampers our present need.”

Denethor turned towards his cousin. “I appreciate your candor. It seems a foolish custom now, does it not? Finduilas,” another deep breath, “was raised in the courts of her father. Aye. A bride from Belfalas would be appropriate. Not of course from Imrahil’s house, but a cousin.”

“There is Míriel, daughter of Galador, a fourth cousin of Imrahil, and Lalaith, daughter of Inziladûn, third cousin of Imrahil. I have heard both are bright, outgoing, and yet obsequious. Boromir could not do better with either woman.”

“Indeed? Míriel. Jewel Lady. Is she? And Lalaith. Laughter. Hm. Is she flighty? Do you know them?”

“I do not, but it is easy enough to invite them, both of them, for the feast of Loëndë.”

“Too late. We must do this quickly. Boromir must make his choice soon so that arrangements may be made. I want him wed by next summer.”

Húrin looked up in surprise. “Then invite them to the feast of Tuilérë? We will have to work quickly. I will use all my resources to research these women, arrange for their arrival in Minas Tirith, and begin preparations for the agreement.”

“Now, Cousin, we may speak of Faramir and Osgiliath. Think you he is ready for such an assignment? Boromir does not.” Denethor poured them both more wine.

Húrin finally sat back, comfortably, in the settle, on surer ground now. “Boromir is afraid for his brother. It is a small failing of his.” He paused for a moment, noting Denethor did not smile. “It is wise that you have never stationed them together. I am afraid Boromir would take an arrow in his back to save his brother. Though that is not wrong, he needs to focus on his entire company.”

Denethor nodded in agreement.

“As for Faramir, at one time he would not venture forth without asking his brother’s opinion – Nay! Permission. Has he come into his own?”

“Faramir still asks Boromir’s opinion and mine – but I have noted he does not always follow the advice given.”

“That is good. It makes my heart more at ease with his appointment to Osgiliath. He needs to think for himself, make his own decisions.”

Denethor’s face turned grim. “Too often does he make his own decisions.”

Húrin thought it best not to reply. After a few moments, he asked, “Why have you decided to send him to Osgiliath?”

“I lose captains as a child loses toys! I need someone strong in Osgiliath. The reports of Faramir’s activities and success in Pelargir forced the decision.”

“Is Boromir talking to you?”

A barely audible sigh was the only reply he received.

“What is Boromir’s next assignment?” Húrin asked.

“He will go to the fiefdoms and procure men and funds for this year’s campaign.”

“He has a gift with persuasion.”

“He does. Though I would have him here as councilor. That, Cousin, is now your position.”

“How does one counsel Denethor?”

The Steward stared at him. “With caution.”

Húrin’s arms again prickled. “Aye, my Lord Steward.”

~*~

Boromir chafed at the delay. He wanted to be at the secret stronghold in two days time but the weather had conspired against him. He swore softly as his horse picked carefully through the rocks of the riverbed they were crossing. Rain began to fall as soon as they crossed the border into Northern Ithilien and the river was close to raging. He looked about him and noted that his men were taking as much time as he was to cross. He bit his lip, trying to contain his impatience so that he did not kill himself, his horse, or his men.

He had had a strong sense of urgency about their return to Minas Tirith. Almost, he had changed their course to head to the City, but common sense won out and he kept the men heading towards Henneth-Annûn. Not oft did such feelings assail him; he seemed impervious to the foresight of his father and his brother, but now and again, it weighed upon him. How Denethor and Faramir ever stood such assault, he did not know.

Sitting on the south bank, he waited, eyes straining southward towards the secret garrison. For two days now, they had ridden hard through deep cloying forests. Boromir shook his head. ‘Why ever Faramir is enamoured of this land, I do not know. It is too dark and dense for me. Give me the plains and hills of the Pelennor, Lossarnach and Lebennin. I need speed, not this interminable trot that we must hold to.’

“Captain,” Derufin interrupted his thoughts. “The men have all crossed. It is almost dark. Shall I give the order to make camp?”

“A little longer, Derufin. I would have us closer.”

“Of course.” His aide turned and motioned and the reformed column urged their horses forward.

The supply wagons slowly crossed the second rain-swollen river in their journey, tilting and hitching against the rocks. He heard a cry as a wagon tipped precariously to the side. He rode forward, grasped the seat, and swung himself into it. He took the reins from the startled driver and urged the horses forward, clucking and encouraging them. The wagon righted itself in a moment and soon they were across. He whistled and his mount rode up next to the wagon. “Next time, be more patient with them. Horses frighten easily. You did well, up to a point.”

The driver’s eyes widened. “Thank you, Captain.”

Boromir nodded and jumped upon his horse. He pulled the reins to the side and nudged the horse forward, towards the south. Impatience exploded within him. Another wagon tipped and then righted itself. He was pushing them too hard. He motioned and Derufin joined him. “You spoke well. We must camp for the night. Give the command and set out the pickets.”

Derufin saluted and left him. Within moments, the camp was fully assembled, his tent up. Boromir smiled. The fire was already started and a pot of water began to simmer. A soldier stepped forward and offered to take his reins. Boromir nodded as fatigue settled over him. He dismounted and passed the reins to the man, thanking him before entering his tent. Derufin waited. Boromir sat and started to take off his boots. Derufin stopped him, kneeling in front of him, and removed them.

“The meal will be ready shortly. I will call you when it is.”

“Thank you, Derufin. I am tired beyond words.” He pinched his eyes closed.

“Captain?”

“What is it?”

“Is there aught the matter?”

“Faramir has been heavy upon my heart this day, though he is safe in the Citadel with father. I know not why my heart misspeaks me.”

“You drive yourself and the men hard, Captain. It is only fatigue. Rest now. I will call you when the meal is ready.”

Boromir sprawled upon the cot, his mind too tried to even respond. Within moments, he was asleep.

He woke shivering and found Derufin standing over him. A shudder ran through him. “Has there been any news from Henneth-Annûn?” he asked as he swung his feet over the side of the cot. Derufin quickly helped him with his boots. “Or from Faramir or the Steward?”

“None, Captain,” the man said with sympathy. “You still worry about Faramir?”

“I had a dream or a nightmare or a suspicion, nothing I can quite recall, but a sense of doom lays about my heart. Is the daymeal ready?”

“It is and your captains await your pleasure.”

“Then let us go and get this interminable night over with,” he muttered darkly.

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12.

After Húrin had been dismissed, Denethor left his rooms and went to the long stairs that led to the uppermost part of the Tower. He opened the door and looked in. He paused; his heart was not ready for this. Yet, Boromir was in battle and he must try to see the outcome. He stepped into the room, lifted the cover, and took the globe into his hands. Immediately, colours sprang forth and a misty shadow swirled about inside the thing. He bent his will to it; after a moment, he found himself looking upon the Wetwang. Here and there were signs of a great battle, but he could see no men, no bodies, no indication of which way the battle went. At last, he looked further northeast. “Ah!” he cried aloud. The Easterlings were scurrying back towards their homeland. “Boromir has won the victory! He is on his way home. I will prepare a feast. How long before he arrives? Another four days perhaps. I knew he would not fail me. Beloved son.”

He scoured the path to Cair Andros and then to Amon Dîn, but there was no sign of his son and his army. He turned his eyes towards Osgiliath. ‘Mayhap, I will see something of Faramir.’ The outpost was nearly empty and he wondered. His eyes scanned the road from Osgiliath to the Crossroads, but again, there was naught to see. Now he turned northward and followed the Harad Road. Gasping, he clutched the Palantír tightly. Bodies were strewn upon the road, Orcs and men - men of Gondor! He paled. ‘Where is Faramir?’ But there was nothing. No sign of his youngest.

For a moment, the Palantír grew warm in his hands; he grasped it even more tightly. A mist shrouded his vision. He was in the White Tower and a bed lay upon the chamber floor. Upon the bed lay a young warrior thrashing about in fever. Denethor walked forward in fear. Slowly, he knelt by the soldier. He grabbed the side of the bed as the fever-ridden body turned towards him. “Faramir! Faramir, my son!” At the sound of his voice, the body on the bed became rigid and ceased all movement. Denethor screamed and fell backwards, dropping the globe. He clutched at his eyes and screamed for an eternity.

~*~

Boromir woke well before dawn. He found and roused Arthad. “Raise the camp and let us be on our way. I will brook no more delay.” Then he turned back to his own tent, did his morning ablution and dressed. He went to the mess tent to break his fast and found no one about. He swore quietly. After a moment, the cook ran in with a cup of tea in one hand and biscuits in another. “My Lord, I will bring the rest of your meal in a moment.”

Hador and Guilin joined him before he finished his tea. “We leave early, then?” Guilin asked. Boromir nodded. “Will we be able to see the path?”

“I know the path by heart. Send out the scouts as soon as they have broken their fast. I want to be on the road before dawn.”

Guilin nodded and left the tent. After a few moments, he returned with forty men. “I deemed it proper to send out four patrols?”

The cooks were busily running back and forth with great trays of biscuits, cheeses and fruit. Hot pots of tea and cups were placed before all.

“Good,” Boromir said quietly. “Men, eat and be away as quickly as you may. We will take the Harad Road from now on; we should reach it within the hour. Two patrols will work the foothills while another two will ride the west side of the road. Send reports to me every hour.” The men nodded, finished their meal, and left.

“We are going to Henneth-Annûn,” Boromir confided to his captains. “Not many know of the secret stronghold so our men will camp above it. I will go forth with Arthad and get their captain’s report. I am hoping that there are no more Easterlings about, that all were with the main body at the Wetwang. Since we have seen no others, I believe they are all gone. But Orcs may be about. I am surprised at the level of activity we are seeing. It has been long since those of the east came forth and attacked us. Once I have ascertained all is well with our troops at Henneth- Annûn, we will continue on to Osgiliath.”

Arthad entered; Boromir gestured to him to be seated. After he had been served, Boromir’s aide said, “The men are ready; it should only take another half hour at the most before we can pull out.”

“Good. Then we will away.” He nodded and Guilin and Hador left them. His brow furrowed for a moment. “Have we received any missives from anyone as of late?”

“Nay,” Arthad answered. “Though none know we have taken the road to Ithilien.”

Boromir blushed. Denethor had not told him how to return, nor even when, but he knew that his father had intended for him to return the way he had come. But Boromir needed to assure himself of Faramir’s safety. Mablung and Damrod were with him, of that he was certain, but his heart had been heavy since the night before.

“It is two days now since we left the battle sight. My riders will not yet have reached Minas Tirith with their reports. Father will not expect a report for another three days, at least. I had expected to receive something from him before we left the Wetwang, some news of happenings in Gondor.”

“News of Faramir?” Arthad asked kindly.

Abruptly, Boromir stood. “Of course. Let us go and harry the men. We must be away.”

Arthad held the tent flap back and watched as Boromir, fierce Captain-general of Gondor, was laid low by concern for his brother.

They rode another full day and near to evening reached the river that ran to the fortress. Boromir called a halt at the pool. The men set up their camp, but Boromir was too distraught to stay. He called Arthad to his side. “We will leave within the hour, you and I, and go to Henneth-Annûn. We will spend the night there, though I would be gone now and headed to Osgiliath, if I could. Glad I am that we have found none of the enemy about. Call Captains Guilin and Hador to me.”

“Where is your tent, Captain?” Hador wondered as he approached his captain. “Has Arthad left you to your own resources?”

“He is about my business. I am not camping here this night.” He held up a hand to stay the questions he saw in their eyes. “We must be away to Osgiliath as quickly as possible. I go to Henneth-Annûn this night and will return in the morning. Have the men up and ready by the third bell. We will leave as soon as I return.”

“Aye, Captain,” both men said and saluted, though Boromir noted the wonder and concern in their eyes.

Arthad returned, leading Boromir’s horse. “He is fed and watered, Captain. How long before we reach the fortress?”

“Three hours at the least. It will be dark before then; I know the way fairly well, but its guards will meet us within moments after we leave here. We need not fear finding our way.”

He mounted and they rode off. As Boromir had surmised, Rangers quickly met and escorted them. There was no speech between them; the Rangers led and Boromir and Arthad followed. Glad was Arthad that they were thus escorted, Boromir noted, as he looked towards his right and saw the deep gorge next to them. Any who did not know the way would risk falling into it and find a quick death.

Captain Amlach greeted them warmly once they had entered the cave. Calling for wine and seats to be prepared, he hugged Boromir and nodded, smiling, to Arthad. “It is good to see you both. I am a little nonplused though. Why have you come? I received no notice, no missive in regards to a visit from our Captain-general.” He was all smiles.

Boromir, however, stood rigid. “Did not you lose a patrol less than a fortnight ago?”

Amlach paled. “We did lose a patrol. How came you by this knowledge? Our errand-rider could not have reached Minas Tirith and you have reached here in such a short time.”

“The Steward saw.”

That was enough for Amlach. “As I said, we did lose a hunting patrol. But nothing else untoward has happened since. Why are you here?”

“Denethor sent an errand-rider asking for details.”

“None arrived,” Amlach blanched at the news. “None of our patrols nor scouts have seen any further sign of the Enemy. In fact, all has been quiet.”

“I cannot understand that. Easterlings camped upon the Wetwang. You have seen nor heard nothing?”

“Nay, Captain.” Amlach motioned for food to be brought. “Please, eat and rest. It is late; on the morrow, I will send out more patrols-“

“Tonight, Captain. Send out patrols tonight – but send them southward. We came from the north and there is no sign of the Enemy there.”

~*~

Denethor sat in silence. He held his goblet tightly, willing his sorrow and anger to flow out of him and into the cup. Slowly, his anger ebbed; his sorrow still cut him as a knife. At last, he took a deep breath, flung the cup into the fire, and watched the results. The smoke, sputtering embers, and hiss of evaporating wine eased him.

‘My anger should be burnt away, for it will do me no good. Now, to think with composure. Faramir is not dead, cannot be dead. I will think on that no more. But the stone does not lie? It is the future it shows me. Well, I will change that future; he will not die. What must I do? First, attend to the Council. Why does the Council believe me soft? They would not have insulted my son so, if there were respect. When did I lose their respect? Did I ever have it? Do I reap the scorn Ecthelion sowed? I must regain their respect. Nay! I will gain their fear. They will not thwart me. There must be changes. We will refortify the Rammas. We will add men to Osgiliath. We will take their coin and their sons and save Gondor.’ He paused for a moment, shuddered, and thought, ‘and Faramir.’

He felt the anger begin to rise again. ‘Húrin! Flippant at the sacrifice of my sons!’ Another deep breath and he willed himself calm. ‘There is no excuse for my Warden. Though long has he served Gondor, yet he disparages me and mine. Does he think fate is kind? Does he truly believe my sons are indestructible? Would that they were! They are not, as I am not. The Warden must take his duties seriously, else I must find another. Nay! I misjudge him.’

He stood and walked to the fireplace. ‘I did not misjudge him! His eyes shine with contentment. Now that he is away from the battlefield, he thinks he can rest. I must help him see that the battle is here! Against the Council and those who would let Gondor sit, protected only by the blood of my sons. I will not allow it!’

He leaned his arm against the mantel, lowering his head till he felt the warmth of the fire on his face. ‘If there were some way to burn Sauron in the flames of Orodruin.’ He sighed. A tear fell. ‘But rather, it will be Minas Tirith that burns. Have not I seen it with my very eyes?’ A strangled sob escaped. ‘And Faramir – brought from Osgiliath with the black breath upon him. Laying at my feet, dead. How to thwart this?’ He fell to his knees in agony, clutching his arms, as a heart-breaking wail echoed through the room. Sorrow filled him and his heart burned as with a blade in it.

He heard the door open; he was too helpless to do anything but rock back and forth. The guard was at his side in an instant, wildly slapping at Denethor’s robe. Vaguely, the Steward realized his robe had brushed against the fire’s embers and ignited. He allowed the guard to strip him of the robe and lead him to the settle. He sat back, exhausted.

Húrin’s voice pulled him from the darkness. “My Lord Steward,” the man said in obvious distress, “the guard rang the Warden’s bell. Tell me what you need.” He motioned for wine; the guard brought it. Taking the cup from his hand, he waved the soldier away, but the man would not leave. Húrin ignored him and lifted the cup to Denethor’s lips; after a moment, the Steward took a sip. The guard took the cup. Húrin strode to Denethor’s bedchamber and returned with a new robe, gently helping Denethor into it. After a few more moments, he sat next to his Steward. “My Lord, forgive me. I was impudent.”

Denethor did not respond, just continued to stare into the fire. The soldier offered the cup, but Denethor shook his head. Húrin raised an eyebrow when he saw a goblet slowly melting in the furious flames. The soldier stepped back and waited.

“I have seen…”

When Denethor did not continue, Húrin said, “Aye, my Lord. All Gondor knows of your foresight. Tell me, my Lord, what you have seen that I may understand and better serve you.”

Denethor blinked once, twice, three times. His jaw tightened. “Do they think I make requests to fill my own fancies? Do they think I want their sons killed? Do they think I would bleed their treasuries, and mine, dry to satisfy some fleeting need for power? Do they not know me by now?”

“The Council, my Lord?”

“Would as many of their men now live if I kept Boromir at home, safe in the Citadel? He is the greatest warrior Gondor has seen since his namesake. It is by his valour and battle-sense that we are not e’en now o’ertaken. Yet, I would keep him at my side, here.” He patted the settle. “Know they not that every time I send him forth, my very being quails at the thought that he may not return.”

Denethor took a shuddering breath. “And Faramir, e’en now I send my youngest, the most frail, to command the most dangerous outpost in all the land. He serves by the very lands that would devour us, under the very breath of the Nameless One. And yet, they moan and wail and go off and mock me.”

Húrin swallowed. “None mock you, my Lord.”

“They mock me – and my sons.” Denethor grabbed his Warden’s shoulder and held it tight. Húrin did not flinch, even as the nails dug into his shoulder.

“Obey me,” Denethor whispered. “Trust that I see what others cannot. I will spill my own blood, before I see Gondor fall.”

~*~
Author’s Note:
To explain Denethor’s seeing Faramir with the Black Breath and KNOWING what it is… and deepest thanks to Linaewen for finding this quote for me. I truly believe Denethor was well versed in lore and would know of the rhymes of which the Warden of the Houses of Healing spoke of to Aragorn.
"Your pardon lord!" said the man. "I see you are a lore-master, not merely a captain of war. But alas! sir, we do not keep this thing in the Houses of Healing, where only the gravely hurt or sick are tended. For it has no virtue that we know of, save perhaps to sweeten a fouled air, or to drive away some passing heaviness. Unless, of course, you give heed to rhymes of old days which women such as our good Ioreth still repeat without understanding.
‘When the black breath blows
and death's shadow grows
and all lights pass,
Come athelas! Come athelas!
Life to the dying
In the king's hand lying!’
It is but a doggerel, I fear, garbled in the memory of old wives. Its meaning I leave to your judgment, if indeed it has any. But old folk still use an infusion of the herb for…” ROTK


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13.

Damrod pulled his horse up next to his fallen captain, jumped off, and ran to Faramir’s side. He smiled in relief as his Faramir’s eyes opened.

“I seem to have fallen off my horse. Do not tell Father,” he whispered. Then a cough shook him and a faint trickle of blood ran from his mouth.

Damrod clenched his teeth to prevent Faramir’s noting how badly his aide thought him wounded. “All will be well. And your father will hear naught of this from my lips. But we must ride on, Captain. The Orcs do not leave us in peace.”

Mablung was at his side before Faramir could respond. “Mount, Damrod!” the Ranger cried. “I will pass Faramir to you.”

“I must break the shafts else they be driven further in.”

Mablung nodded and watched. Faramir took his friend’s arm and smiled. “Do what you must.” As Damrod gripped the shaft, Faramir grimaced, tight shutting his eyes.

Within moments, Damrod was on his horse. Mablung passed the once again unconscious Faramir to his waiting arms. Damrod noted with grim satisfaction that he now was surrounded by warriors; the column had stopped and regrouped to protect their captain. As soon as Damrod held Faramir securely, he shouted to the men to follow, then rode forward with Mablung at his side.

The Orcs had continued following and harrying them; now they were close enough for their arrows to reach the Gondorian warriors. Some archers turned back, held their ground, and launched a deadly onslaught. The Orcs, surprised at the fury of the attack, stopped. After another round, the archers rejoined the column. An hour later, they reached the Crossroads and turned west. Damrod shouted for a rider to go ahead towards Osgiliath and sound the alarm.

Half of what was left of the regiment rode before them; the other half followed. Damrod signaled to Mablung. “He is grievous wounded. I fear a lung has been pierced. Where is the healer?”

“Dead. Almost from the beginning. A good man. Dismounted and helped one of the wounded and got his throat cut.”

“Did he have a helper? An apprentice?”

“There were two in the wagon at the back of the column, but the way the Orcs attacked, spilling down from all sides of the hills…” He did not continue.

“All dead?”

“Aye. And the wagons o’erturned. We have no supplies, Damrod.”

“We have Ithilien itself. The land will help us. Have scouts sent out behind us, try to discover what the Enemy is doing, then send other scouts to the north and south, and forward also. I will not be surprised again. Have four in each party – one is to return with a report every quarter hour.”

Mablung saluted and left. Damrod caught Faramir as the man started to slide off their horse. As he pulled away his hand, he gasped. It was covered with blood. ‘We must stop, and soon, else we will lose him.’

A quarter hour later, the first of the scouts appeared. None of the Enemy were seen anywhere. The scouts surmised that the Orcs that attacked them must have headed back into the Ephel Dúath. Damrod called a halt. Mablung pulled up his own horse and quickly dismounted. Damrod passed Faramir down to him. Other men cleared a sight and laid blankets down. Mablung gently placed the fallen warrior on the make-shift bed.

The two Rangers quickly, but gently, relieved Faramir of his armour, tunic and mail shirt. Then, slowly, Damrod cut the linen shirt from him. Turning Faramir slightly to the side, he traced the wounds with his finger. “This one is not deep. I will cut the arrow and clean the wound, but this one, this is the one that looks to have pierced the lung.”

“Dare you remove it?”

Damrod shook his head. “I would not, but I must. The extent of the damage must be known. If the lung collapses, all will be lost.”

“It does not look deep; mayhap it has only nicked it?” Mablung asked hopefully.

“That may well be, but I dare not chance it.” He swore quietly. “There is not much I can do.”

“Let me go back to the wagons. Mayhap, I will find some medicaments not destroyed. And bandages and cleaning solutions.”

“Nay. ‘Tis too dangerous.”

By this time, the second wave of scouts entered the camp. Once again, there was no movement to report on any front.

“We have some time, it seems. I will cut the arrow out. But first, I will need some herbs from the land to clean the wound. You know the look of them, Mablung. Take a sortie and bring them to me.”

“I will be back before the next relay of scouts.”

‘Dare we a fire? We must. Clean, hot water is needed. By the Valar, I hope there is no poison.’

A captain came to him, reporting that more scouts had returned. They had found the remains of a patrol of Rangers just west of the Harad Road. “Since the Orcs seem to have fled, may we send men to retrieve the bodies of our own dead?”

“They are Orc food now,” Damrod said quietly. “If any were left alive, they are now dead or prisoners. I hope they obeyed their Captain-general and slit their own throats. Better to die by one’s own hand than to be fodder for Orcs.”

The man shuddered and began to walk away. Damrod stopped him. “Have a fire lit and boil water as quickly as possible. Then cool it and bring it to me.”

The man nodded and left.

‘I should have learned these men’s names ere we left Osgiliath, but I suppose there was no time. Would that Captain Amlach were with us, he would know where the best herbs are.’

Mablung returned in a short time and immediately went to the fire. He threw the herbs he had collected into a pot and swirled them about – within moments, all knew he had found Valerian root for the smell was pungent.

He brought the pot to Damrod. “There is foxtail here. I had not thought to find it so easily. The wounds bleed?”

“They do. Foxtail is fine. But first, something to clean them with.”

“I have ground mistltan and mixed it with the hot water.”

Damrod tore off a piece of his shirt and dipped it in the mixture. Squeezing the cloth, the drops fell onto the wounds. After a moment, he unsheathed his knife, took a deep breath, and sliced next to the first arrow. As blood flowed, he quickly dug until the arrow itself was easily pulled out. Blessedly, Faramir did not wake. Mablung stepped forward, rinsed the wound with more mistletan, and laid a poultice on it. Damrod smelt the yarrow, foxtail and honey. “This will surely help stop the bleeding,” he said. “Good work, Mablung!”

“The other? Are you going to attempt to remove it?”

“I must.” He lowered his head. “I must.” He leaned over Faramir’s back and once again dripped the mistltan mixture upon the wound. “Hope, Mablung, hope it is only in the muscle.” Mablung nodded. Damrod repeated what he had done on the first arrow, and after a few moments, sighed heavily. “The lung has not been punctured. Look! The arrow is out.” Tears fell as Mablung once again cleansed the wound and then slathered it with another healing poultice.

A soldier stepped forward. “The tea is ready, Captain.”

Mablung nodded his thanks, took the cup, and handed it to Damrod. Faramir had begun to stir just moments before. Damrod lifted the cup to his captain’s mouth and let a few drops fall. The tea slid off his mouth. None was swallowed.

“Captain. You are weary. Let me hold him and try further. Rest for a moment or two.” Mablung gently took Faramir from his friend.

Damrod collapsed on the ground and the soldier who had brought the tea quickly swooped down and held him. “He only sleeps,” he said with surprise.

“I do not think he has slept since we left Minas Tirith.”

~*~

Amlach watched as his Captain-general paced in the confines of their cave. “‘Tis almost morning, Boromir, and you have slept not at all. Where does your mind wander?”

Boromir looked up and the eyes that met Amlach’s were filled with pain and sorrow. “I know not. My heart is heavy.” He looked out upon the waters of the fall, but only darkness stared back at him. Dawn had not yet come.

“There is tea made. Mayhap the sharing of your load would help ease your mind.”

“Speech is useless when the nature of the unease is not known.”

“Speech may ease the mind enough for it to grasp the reason for the unease.” Amlach motioned to his quarters behind the curtain. “Join me?”

Boromir left the falls begrudgingly and followed the captain. He smiled at Arthad, who, he noted, slept not. “Go, lie down and rest for we leave shortly.” Arthad nodded.

Upon entering Amlach’s recess, he sat on the captain’s cot and took the proffered cup. “I know not what it is,” he began with no preamble. “Nay. I know what it is, rather whom, but I know not why. Faramir is in Minas Tirith. If aught is wrong with him, then Minas Tirith itself is not safe.” He chuckled grimly. “If aught is wrong with Minas Tirith then I should be away this moment.”

“As I said,” Amlach apologized, “There have been no missives from Minas Tirith. If aught were wrong, would not a rider have been sent forth?”

Boromir frowned. “A rider was sent. I do not understand how he has yet to arrive.” Prickles of fear ran down his arms. “The rider was waylaid. That is the only explanation. How far south do your patrols go?”

“To Emyn Arnen. But not this week. This week, the patrols only go to the Crossroads. We also have patrols towards Cair Andros and the Cormallen. One of these would have brought back news if Minas Tirith was besieged.”

“Have they returned?”

“Those from Cormallen. I expect the others in another day. If, as you think, the errand-rider has been waylaid, then my southern patrol is also in danger.”

“Aye. I will need an escort back to my men. I would leave now.”

Amlach nodded. “Aye, Captain. I will rouse them. I will send another patrol through the woods while we wait.”

“I deem that unwise, Amlach. I have brought a strong force with me from a battle in the Wetwang. They wait for me at the pool near the Harad. If there is foul play, as I suspect, a greater force will be needed. If you wish, you may accompany me?”

“I will. And some of my men also.”

“Then do it.” Boromir stood and walked towards the falls. The gentle cascade of them gave his heart a moment’s rest while all about him chaos reigned. The garrison came awake, the alarm being given. As he stood there, he noted a lightening in the sky - Boromir walked closer to the edge. ‘Morning comes and how fares my brother?’ He grimaced as a sharp pain filled his heart. At it, he turned and fled back into the cave. “Now!” he shouted wildly, “We must be away now!” and ran to the stairwell. Climbing quickly, he found his horse saddled and ready at the cave’s entrance. He mounted and held tightly to the reins. His horse sensed his master’s tension and skittered about. Boromir welcomed the distraction; if he dwelt too long on why his heart hurt, he would lose his mind.

Amlach came through the entrance and joined him. Within moments, Arthad was at his side, along with a dozen Rangers. “Send Rangers with Arthad with speed to greet my men,” Boromir said quietly. “Then they will be ready when we arrive and we need not tarry.”

“Why send Arthad?”

“Guilin will not let your men enter the camp without the password, which Arthad knows. More importantly, he will not muster the army without certain knowledge that the order comes from me. Arthad will be that knowledge.”

Amlach nodded and sent the men off after Boromir quickly whispered a command to his aide. “They are to mounted and ready when we come, do you understand, Arthad? I want all haste. The wagons will be left behind with a small guard. I want nothing to hamper a quick ride.”

“It will be done, Captain.”

After the small group left them, Boromir let Amlach take the lead; the warriors rode east.


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14.


“I am sorry I must wake you, but Faramir…”

Damrod stood up immediately. “He worsens?”

“He does. We must return to Osgiliath as quickly as possible.” He led Damrod forward as he spoke.

“We will, Mablung. I will saddle my horse--“

“It is already done. I have checked Faramir’s bandages and they are dry. He is ready.”

“Thank you,” Damrod said as he quickly downed some water from Mablung’s proffered skin. By this time, they had reached Faramir. Damrod bent over his captain and removed the bandages. He shuddered at the look of them and heard Mablung take in a breath. “Definitely poison. Do I dare take him to Osgiliath or should we go directly to Minas Tirith?”

“He will not last the ride to Minas Tirith. Stop the night in Osgiliath, let the healers there look at him, and then take him to the City.”

“We must take time to prepare another two poultices. I cannot take him this way.”

“We have put out the fire,” Mablung said in confusion.

Damrod looked at Faramir. The poison was working its way into his system; the man was beginning to thrash about. “The ride will be at least five hours. I cannot leave the wound that long. We must start another fire, make the poultices; then, we can leave.”

Mablung turned and started barking orders. Within moments, the fire was lit and the herbs prepared. Mablung walked back with the poultices.

After securing them to the wounds and then covering them, Damrod knelt back on his heels. “This should help, at least for a time. Come, I am ready. Lift him to me.” He mounted his horse and held out his arms.

Mablung lifted Faramir, mounted his own horse and the column rode forward.

~*~

It was well into the night before they saw the torches of eastern Osgiliath. Damrod sighed. Faramir’s breathing had become ragged and it was all the Ranger could do to hold him in the saddle.

“We can camp on this side of the bridge, if needs be?” Mablung asked quietly.

“Nay! I must change the bandages again. He must be in the healer’s barracks, not in the open.”

They rode on and eventually crossed the bridge. Guards shouted welcome and grabbed the horses’ reins, leading them across the main courtyard and towards the captain’s quarters. Gelmir strode out of his own quarters and ran to Damrod’s side. “Captain Faramir?”

“Aye. Wounded, but not fatally, unless we cannot remove the poison from his body.”

Another soldier stepped forward. “There are cots waiting for your wounded. Give him to me and I will take him.”

“You are?”

“Dirhavel, healer.”

“It is poison,” Damrod said as he lowered Faramir’s body into the outstretched arms. “And it is Denethor’s son that you attend.”

Wide-eyed, Dirhavel nodded and walked slowly towards his own quarters, shouting orders to the men who had accompanied him.

“I will need a report; I must send an errand-rider to the Lord Steward,” Gelmir said as he led Damrod to his quarters. Mablung had followed the healer.

“I would not. He knows nothing of what has happened. I would keep it that way until I bring his son back to him, whole.”

“That is not possible. Denethor is long-sighted. All know it.”

“Well I know it! Even further reason to return to Minas Tirith as quickly as possible.”

“You cannot. He must rest and heal.”

“Have you ever served under Denethor?”

“I have not.” Gelmir shivered.

“I have. It is best to move before he even knows of it. His eye is long, aye, but his retribution, if I do not return his son quickly, would be terrible.”

“At least stay the night. I will not send a rider, though I think I risk my own neck.”

“I will. As for reports, get them from your other captains. Mablung and I must rest whilst we can for tomorrow we ride as hard as we are able to Minas Tirith.” He saluted, turned and left the room, smirking at the look of shock on the captain’s face.

A soldier greeted him as he stepped into the courtyard.

“Take me to the healer.”

They strode quickly across the encampment and into the healer’s barracks. Looking quickly about, they did not see their quarry. Damrod grabbed an attendant’s arm as he passed by. “Where have they taken Lord Faramir?”

“To Dirhavel’s quarters. The healer is with him now.”

Snorting in exasperation, Damrod asked, “Where is that?”

Seeing the look in the warrior’s eyes, the attendant moved Damrod’s hand from his own arm and took the Ranger by his arm. “I will take you.”

It only took but a moment to be escorted into the quarters, once he received the welcome. Damrod strode forward and knelt at the side of the bed where Faramir lay. Mablung stood behind him.

“How fares he?”

“How long has it been since he was wounded?” the healer countered.

“Around noon today.”

“Who made the poultices?”

“I did. Foxtail, yarrow and honey.” The Ranger’s face reddened.

“What did you use to cleanse it?”

“Mistletan.”

“Ah, that explains it,” the healer said and rose. Damrod followed. “The mistletan cleaned much of the poison, yet some remains. He must needs rest for at least a fortnight.”

“We leave for Minas Tirith in the morning.”

“You cannot,” Dirhavel spun around and held Damrod’s arms. “He needs rest.”

“He needs to be in the Houses of Healing. I dare not leave him here, else my life be forfeit.”

“Your life?”

“I told you – this is Denethor’s son. What if something untoward happens here, what if the poison is slow working, what if he dies in Osgiliath? We ride for Minas Tirith at first light!”

“He will not die, but he will be worse the wear for a long ride such as that.”

“Better worse the wear than dead.”

“Then let him rest for the morning. I should be able to get some food and teas into him. Leave at noon, please.”

Mablung whispered in Damrod’s ear. “We will do as you ask. Have you an extra cot?”

“Whatever for?”

“I do not leave his side,” Damrod said between clenched teeth. “If there is no cot, I will sleep on the floor.”

“Do not absurd. Sleep in a comfortable bed in the barracks.”

“I do not leave his side.”

“Very well,” Dirhavel said, angrily. “I will send for one.”

“I will return with food,” Mablung said and left the room.


~*~

Morning came and it seemed to Damrod that Faramir thrashed even more, that the brow was warmer to the touch than last night. He turned as the healer entered the room. “He grows feverish.”

“It is to be expected.”

“It is not to be expected in the son of Denethor when in the care of a healer!” he shouted. The Ranger stilled himself, held his hands clenched at his side to keep from hitting the man’s smug face.

“Then leave now.”

“We will. As soon as I speak with your captain. Mablung,” he bellowed, and his friend quickly entered the room. “Stay with Captain Faramir and do not let this man touch him!”

Mablung’s eyes widened, but he saluted and nodded. The healer strode from the room and slammed the door after him.

“He is an incompetent. I chafe at leaving our wounded here in his charge, but we must be off, and quickly, Mablung. I am going to Gelmir. When I return, I will bring food and teas and some poultices, two for now and two for the road.”

“I will stay with Faramir.”

“Thank you.” He was near to tears, so he turned and left the room more hurriedly than was his wont.

~*~

Gelmir gasped as his door was flung open and the wild-eyed Ranger stepped through it. “What is the matter?”

“Where did you get that healer from? He is worthless!”

“He comes with the highest regard from the Houses.”

“Has he served before on the field of battle?”

“I think not.”

“Then that is the problem. I will have him recalled, when I return to the City, and have someone better suited for Osgiliath’s needs sent. As for now, I will be taking Captain Faramir with me as soon as I procure supplies. Do you have any reports you need taken to the Lord Steward?”

“Nay. I am sorry about the healer. I have only been here three months myself. Nay. There is no excuse. What supplies do you need? I will get them myself.”

“We need food to break the fast; then, we will need some packed for the journey. We will ride slowly; it will probably take all day. Also, I will need a packhorse. I want the supplies put on them instead of on our horses. I will carry Captain Faramir with me. It should be safer. He thrashes from the fever and I would hold him. I am going to the hospice to make some poultices and teas. Have the food for breakfast taken to the healer’s quarters. Mablung is there with Captain Faramir.”

“I will see to it. And to your horses and the packhorse. How many men will you take with you?”

“Only a company. We have naught to fear on the journey, but I deem it wise to have at least some sort of escort for Denethor’s son. This will be our farewell.”

“Aye, Captain. All will be ready in the courtyard, as you asked.”

Damrod saluted and ran to the hospice. The healer, Dirhavel, was off to his left as he entered, but he barely noted the man and walked towards the apothecary’s stand. He rummaged through the assorted herbs and found what he needed. He took a bowl, put them into it, and began to crush them. Then, he poured boiling water over them. Giving the mixture only a moment to cool, he poured the water off. The farmacist watched in fascination. Then Damrod took a ladle of honey from a huge jar nearby and poured it over the crushed herbs.

He looked around and saw strips of bandages on another table. He took his mixture, divided it, and placed it into the center of four swaths; then, he folded them into themselves. Damrod turned to the fireplace and found the tea that his nose had told him simmered by the fire. Looking about in frustration, he saw a wineskin lying about. He dumped the contents out as men yelled, then filled it with the tea. He took the skin and the four poultices and quickly left the room. Again, a smile flitted across his face. He was certainly going to leave a lot of chatter behind him!

Within moments, he was back in Dirhavel’s quarters. Mablung held his finger to his lips. “He rests.”

“Did he eat aught?”

“Nay.”

“He must and then he must drink this. Faramir,” he knelt by the man on the bed. “You must wake and eat. We have a long journey ahead of us. Faramir?”

Faramir stirred on the cot and the eyes opened; Damrod sighed in relief. “My Lord,” he paused, “Captain, you must eat before we leave. I have some porridge here. And then some tea for the journey?”

Faramir’s eyes were glazed but he nodded in understanding. Damrod helped spoon the meal into Faramir’s mouth. A half an hour passed as Faramir stopped many times in pain and exhaustion. At last, he finished to Damrod’s satisfaction. Damrod held the cup of tea to his captain’s mouth and Faramir grimaced at the smell. “It is Valerian tea and the only thing that will help on the journey. You must drink it.”

Faramir nodded and opened his mouth. When he was finished, Damrod lifted him, as if he was a child, walked through the door and into the garrison’s courtyard. Mablung took Faramir, waited until Damrod mounted, then passed his captain up into the warrior’s waiting arms. Mounting himself, Mablung sighed and motioned for the company to move forward.

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15.

Denethor rested most of the day; then, he called for Húrin to join him for the daymeal. After they finished, he found himself pacing, waiting for the Warden to continue his thoughts on the evacuation.

“The people will want to hide or bury their valuables. We must take that into consideration, my Lord. Even if given not the time to do so, they will risk their lives to save their treasures.”

Denethor stopped his pacing. Húrin spoke truly. “They will believe they can return, once the battle is o’er. Blind fools. If the Enemy succeeds, as I fear he must, then there will be no City to return to. They will be forced to hide in the mountains, else they will all perish.”

“Is that where you wish me to send them, my Lord, once the evacuation begins?” He shivered at the thought. To be sitting here, in Denethor’s study with a fire burning brightly and their stomachs full after a sumptuous dinner, discussing the overthrow of Minas Tirith seemed incongruous.

“Nay. Not to Mindolluin. We will send them off to Lamedon, Belfalas, and Anfalas. ‘Tis best to be as far from Minas Tirith as possible. Though we know not how much time they will have, our refugees,” Denethor choked on the word, “but they must not be near the City. The Enemy will have free reign o’er the rest of Gondor and will, after his initial gloating, burn the City and kill all who are still alive within her walls. Then, he will turn towards the fiefdoms. I do not think he will consider taking hostages, nor slaves. His purpose is to rid himself of those he has hated since the days of Húrin the Tall, when Men first loved Elves and followed them blindly.”

“Where will you and your sons go into hiding?”

Denethor looked at the man in amaze. “Doest thou think that my sons and I wilt be allowed to live, if by some chance we art not killed in the battle?”

Húrin paused as Denethor spoke in Sindarin. The horror of the evacuation weighed heavier upon the Steward than Húrin had first thought. He answered in like manner, “Thy men wilt protect thee, my Lord, until the bitter end. Thou mayest indeed escape into the mountains. Thou knowest well the hidden places in Mindolluin.”

“Doest thou think I wouldst leave Minas Tirith?” His breath caught; he could scarce breathe, so harsh was the thought, so pain-filled. “I wilt die here, in the flames of my City. My sons wilt already be dead, either on the Pelennor or on some other Valar-forsaken field, their blood spilled for those who would run with no thought for Gondor.”

Húrin shuddered. “Hast thou seen this?”

Denethor stood as one already dead; the memory of the sight of Faramir, dead on a pallet, engulfed him.

Húrin waited. Never had he seen his lord this troubled. He took a step forward and rested a hand upon Denethor’s arm. The Steward did not move. After many moments, the Warden walked to the fireplace and stirred the logs, hoping the noise would wake Denethor. Naught happened. Tears filled his eyes. They were doomed, then. If Denethor himself could not bear to look at their fate, then how could any stand? He walked to the window and looked out upon the Pelennor, noting the lights in the dark from the homesteads. He squared his shoulders and turned back to Denethor.

“My Lord. Minas Tirith will not fall, though all the hordes of the Enemy come against her. Look! The Pelennor. See! Your people have yet to be driven from their homes. They are strong and valiant. They look to you, my Lord, and rightly so. Your wisdom and strength give us all courage. We will not fail. As we take courage from you, my Lord, take courage from your people. They love you and will follow you to the ends of Middle-earth. But it need not be that way. Many times has the Enemy tried, since you became Steward, and every time! Every time, my Lord, you have devised strategies to thwart him. We will plan this evacuation, for it is wise to be prepared for the worst, but it will not come to pass, my Lord.”

Denethor’s eyes finally focused upon his Warden. “We will fight to the end, Húrin, my sons and me. We will die fighting, e’en after all hope is gone.”

“My Lord, you are not alone. Gondor is not alone. We have friends and fiefdoms.”

“We have fiefdoms and their lords constantly dispute my plans. But in the end, they will know that I have seen rightly. As for friends, I do not know.”

Unbidden came the sight he had of Théoden in the Palantír, withered and old beyond his years – a dotard. ‘We will not have Rohan to help us, if Théoden remains under the thrall of that worm.’ He shook his head. ‘Mayhap Théodred will answer our call, when the time comes. I do not see Théoden living many more years. How he has changed. What has caused this? Thengel did not waste away as Théoden does. Is he being poisoned as Arciryas believed Indis was?’

Turning towards Húrin, the Steward placed his hand upon his Warden’s shoulder. “We must discuss how to feed the men who stay behind.” Húrin sat at Denethor’s command. They filled the long night with talk of new silos built and extra crops planted; of appointed stations for each House to gather when the order to leave the City was given; of carts being apportioned to the lame and infirm, the women and children.

“There will be no men to drive the wagons, Húrin.” Denethor said after a long silence. “They will be here in the City defending her. So now we must teach the women and the young ones to drive the carts.”

Húrin put up a hand. “My Lord Steward, ‘tis very late. Let us to bed for a few hours sleep. We both must needs be fresh else our plans be waylaid by fatigue.”

Denethor looked up in surprise. The moon was filling the sky. He called to his guard. When the man entered, Denethor waved him forward. “Has there been no news of Boromir?”

“Nay, my Lord. None at all.”

“Faramir?”

“Nothing my Lord. As I reported this morning, word was received that Captain Faramir was on the Harad Road, heading towards Henneth-Annûn.”

Denethor, barely able to rise his anger so awful, turned to the guard. “There should have been further word by now. Was no rider sent to Osgiliath?”

“Nay, my Lord. We wait for the rider to return.”

“But none have come. Would you wait to send another rider,” he turned once again upon the guard, his fury as palpable as waves of heat, “if Orcs were at the Great Gate?”

“You were with the Warden, my Lord. You said you wanted no interruptions.”

“Leave me!”

“Denethor, you did order that we not be disturbed. Leave him, my Lord.” Húrin motioned and the guard fled the room.

“You o’erstep your bounds,” Denethor whispered after the guard had left them.

“You are distraught, my Lord, and tired. I will send errand-riders north and to Osgiliath. As soon as they return, I will bring their reports to you. Please, my Lord Steward, rest now?”

“Do it then,” and Denethor flung the bedchamber’s doors open and left the Warden alone with his thoughts.

~*~

Pounding had awakened him, in the middle of the night, and he had flown to the Houses upon word that Faramir had been brought back from Osgiliath, wounded and poisoned.

Denethor sat on the bed; he held Faramir’s hand, watched as he thrashed about, and remembered the times, after Finduilas passed, when the man as a child was sick… His breath caught as he pondered the fact that Faramir was, indeed, a man. When had it happened? While away at Pelargir, no doubt. How many years now since he had gone to the city by the bay? He knew Faramir had been home many times during his most recent tour of duty, but Denethor barely remembered those visits. He cursed himself roundly, but silently. Finduilas would have had him strung from the nearest gibbet. Nay. What she thought mattered no longer; he cursed himself for his own neglect, his thoughtlessness. If it had been Boromir come home to visit… His cheeks flamed red in shame.

He should be wondering how the battalion was caught so unawares? Where the patrols were? How Faramir had ever let himself be so soundly beaten? But his eyes could not leave the face of his son, his body spread out upon the bed, arms flung akimbo in the throes of the fever. He had learned to steel himself after the first bout of sickness had taken the lad, just a month after his mother… ‘By the Orcs and Dragons of Morgoth,’ his mind shouted, ‘I should not have been left alone to tend them! I had no experience. I… had only love. And love does nothing to stay a fever nor mend a broken bone.’

Damrod’s snores roused him. The Ranger had deep circles under his eyes as he dozed, sprawled out upon a chair in a corner of the room. He had obviously not slept in sometime. Denethor had been furious when the man had refused to leave Faramir’s side. The Ranger had carried him from his horse and directly into the Houses, letting none touch the Steward’s son. Denethor reached the front door just as Damrod did. He tried to take the boy, but the man had looked at him with glazed eyes, and refused to allow it. Denethor, recognizing the fatigue of battle upon the Ranger, decided it best, for Faramir, to let the man take him into the Houses. He chided himself for not asking for a report from Damrod. ‘Well, now is as good a time as any.’ But the tired soldier slept on and Denethor had not the heart to wake him.

Faramir’s movements slowed and suddenly stilled. Denethor looked up in fright, but smiled when a pair of sea-grey eyes looked back at him in confusion. “Be still, Faramir. You have been wounded, my son; the arrows were poisoned. The healers have taken good care of you and now you recover.”

“My men?” Faramir croaked.

“As many as came back are well.”

“How many did I lose?”

The look in his son’s eyes almost broke Denethor, but he steeled himself. Perhaps, as Boromir thought, the boy was not ready for such a command as Osgiliath. “I have not yet availed myself of the numbers. You were my first concern,” he hedged. “You are going to need some time to recover, Faramir. The wounds on your back will prevent you from effectively wielding a sword, at least for some months, and a bow is out of the question. I cannot afford such a captain for Osgiliath.”

Faramir lowered his head. “I am sorry, Father.”

“Nay. It is the way of life at times. I myself have… Well, never the mind.” A look of hurt flashed swiftly across Faramir’s face and Denethor started. “I did not say I cannot afford you, Faramir. I cannot afford a wounded man as captain. And I cannot afford Osgiliath captain-less.” He squeezed his son’s hand to take the sting from his words.

“I understand, Father. What would you have me do?”

“I was going to send Boromir to the fiefdoms to request more men and coin, especially for your plans to raise the Rammas. Now, I think it would be best if I sent you. Since the Council was not o'rjoyed by your proposal, it is only fitting that you should suffer the repercussions when you go to their own lands.”

Faramir grimaced at the thought. Then, “Boromir is forceful.”

“That he is; however, your time in Pelargir has honed your diplomatic skills. I know there are many cultures that pass through that port; you have handled yourself well with them. I believe this training will help you succeed. And,” he looked long and hard at his youngest, “Gondor’s needs are great. You know them. I deem that enough to goad you to success in this endeavor.”

He heard a loud harrumph behind him and turned to see the Master Healer glaring at him. “I will speak with you further on this, Faramir. I leave you now to your rest.” He bent to kiss his son on the forehead, but thought better of it. Instead, he bowed, then turned and left the room. The healer followed close behind. Damrod had awakened at the sounds of concern that the healer had made and quickly followed behind Denethor.

After some moments, Damrod walked back through the door. “Captain,” the man fell to one knee. “Forgive me. I lost your back.”

“We lost more than my back, Damrod. I thank you though; it is by your efforts that I lie here – alive. How long have I been here?”

“Since late last evening, Captain. It is almost time for the daymeal.”

Even as he spoke, one of the healer’s assistants brought in food and drink. He sat at the side of Faramir’s bed and proceeded to push a spoon filled with broth towards him.

Faramir grimaced. “It smells foul.”

“There are herbs in it to give you strength,” the assistant said quietly. “The Master Healer requires you finish it all.”

“Of course he does. Has he eaten any of it?”

The assistant looked at him in horror. “It is very good.”

“Have you tasted any?”

“Here!” Damrod interrupted. “Let me feed Captain Faramir. You may return to your duties.”

“My duty is to see he finishes it all.”

“He will. You have the promise of a Ranger of Gondor.”

“If you insist,” the man said, perturbed. “The Master Healer will hold you responsible. Do not eat it yourself!”

Damrod’s look of shock sent Faramir into gales of laughter, which caused him to hiss in pain.

“I will get the healer,” the assistant cried.

“Do not!” Faramir said through clenched teeth. “It is not the wounds; it is the laughter. Now, leave me be. I promise I will drink all the broth and the tea.”

“Very well.” The man left in a huff.

It took quite some time for Faramir to finish the soup. At last, he lay back upon the plumped pillows and held the cup of tea in his hand. The smell was noxious; his stomach roiled at the thought of drinking it, but drink it he must.

“Where were the scouts?” Faramir asked quietly.

“A new captain misunderstood the reports he received. He was counseled to return and tell the column to halt while the patrol investigated a feeling of unease one of our best scouts had. The captain took the message as an all clear and let the column proceed. The patrol leader was correct, as we now know. Orcs were in hiding.”

“Damrod, the Steward refuses to tell me. I must rely upon you. How many men did we lose?”

“At least half the battalion. I brought you straight here, so I know not the total figure. Your wounds were not severe, but the poison set in quickly – fever and chills. I had to bring you, my Lord, else I feared you would succumb.”

“What day is it?”

“A night and a day after the ambush.”

Faramir grimaced as he tried to rise from the bed.

Damrod gently held him down. “Not yet, my Lord, please.”

“I must to my men, Damrod. They are lost and leaderless.”

“They are not, Captain. Lord Denethor himself is riding to Osgiliath. He told me just now.”

At that, Faramir flung the bedclothes off and attempted to stand. Damrod tried to force him back, but Faramir swore a particularly foul Sindarin word or two about the Ranger’s mother and Damrod stepped back.

“My clothes!” he ordered and Damrod left, returning a few moments later. Faramir put on his leggings and stood, pulling them up about him. He swayed, bit his lip, and sat back down. Damrod knelt and helped him with his boots.

“Guards!”

Faramir turned as the Master Healer came through the door, bellowing for the guards.

“By order of the Steward, you are not to leave here!” Denethor’s own guard appeared at the door, swords drawn.

Faramir sat back upon the bed. “Damrod,” he cried, “You must go to Osgiliath with him!”

“I have sworn an oath to Captain Boromir, my Lord!”

“I am safe and in good hands. I promise you, I will not leave these Houses until you return.”

Damrod saluted, turned and left. Faramir sagged back against the pillows and wept.

~*~

Denethor heard the hail whilst only halfway to the Great Gate. It was Damrod. He pulled up on his horse and waited. “Is aught wrong with Faramir?”

“Nay, my Lord Steward,” Damrod saluted as he stopped his own horse. “He bids me accompany you.”

“I recall an oath?”

“If it is your will to captain the men of Osgiliath, then Faramir commands I accompany you.”

“Commands?”

“Aye, my Lord Steward.”

Denethor smiled. “Who is the captain there?”

“Gelmir, my Lord.”

“He has been there only three months, if my memory does not fail me.”

“He has, my Lord.”

“Where, before that?”

“With Captain Guilin at Amon Dîn; I believe Pelargir with Captain Faramir before that.”

“Ah, yes. Since Faramir was ready to leave his sick bed, he has no confidence in the man?”

“When Mablung brought me nuncheon today, he said Captain Derufin arrived from Cair Andros only a few hours ago.”

“Derufin? He is Boromir’s aide, is he not?”

“He is, my Lord, and well-respected by the Captain-General. You could send him to Osgiliath.”

“Why did he not come to me with his report?”

“You have been with Faramir almost the whole day, my Lord Steward.”

“Let us back to the Hall. Find this Derufin and bring him to me!”

Denethor turned his horse and rode slowly up the road to the Citadel. ‘Where is Boromir and why is his aide returned without him?’

He dismounted at the Sixth Circle and gave the reins to a groom. Walking swiftly towards the Hall, he stopped and looked northward. ‘Where is Boromir?’ he thought again. His feet turned towards the Tower. ‘I can take but a moment and look for him. Nay! I must take care of Osgiliath first.’ He strode briskly into the Hall instead.

As he sat on the Chair, the chamberlain came forth. “You have a visitor, my Lord Steward.”

“I have not time now to see anyone but a Ranger named Damrod and Captain Boromir’s aide, Derufin.”

“As you wish, my Lord Steward. But the man says you wished to see him.”

“Who is it?”

“Prince Imrahil.”

“Imrahil!” Denethor was on his feet and striding towards the doors as the prince entered. Warmly hugging him, he turned him towards the vestibule. “Tell Damrod to bring Derufin to my study,” he called over his shoulder to his Chamberlain. “And bring some wine and food!”

Imrahil smiled. “So you have forgiven me the fact that I did not support you at the Council meeting?”

“Of course. You understand Gondor’s needs; Dol Amroth’s needs are as dire. You have sent the men you can; your funds are marked for the building of ships. Continue that and I will be glad. Why did you stay in Minas Tirith? I thought you left after the Council meeting?”

“The Warden came to me with questions regarding certain of my kin.”

Denethor looked at him in wonder.

“Certain female cousins?”

“Oh!” Denethor smiled. “I had forgotten. So much has happened.”

“Is it true? Is Faramir wounded?”

“He is, but recovering in the Houses.”

“Might I see him?”

“Of course. I must meet with two of my men; they should be along presently. Then, I hope we might speak of the cousins. After you have seen Faramir, perhaps you would join me for the daymeal?”

“Aye. I will to Faramir now, if it pleases you, then I will return.”

Denethor hugged him warmly.

He turned and discovered Damrod and Mablung waiting for him. His guard opened the door to his study. Entering, he bid them follow. The Chamberlain came before the door even closed and brought servants with food and wine. It was laid upon the desk. Denethor thanked them and waived their dismissal. He sat down and bid his visitors sit.

“Thank you for coming. Derufin, I understand you just arrived in Minas Tirith? Where is Boromir and why have you come without him?”

Derufin told of the battle and Boromir’s orders. Denethor relaxed and sat back in his seat. “So all is well with the Captain-General?”

“It is my Lord Steward. I return to prepare for his next sortie.”

“I have other business that I must send you on. I am sorry. You will not be returning home just yet. I am placing Boromir in charge of Osgiliath. Faramir’s wounds will prevent him from serving in that capacity. He will be sent on the foray to the fiefdoms instead.”

Denethor waived towards the food. “Please, eat as we talk, for we have not much time.”

Derufin lifted an eyebrow, but Damrod filled his plate. Derufin followed his example and began to eat.

After the two had cleared their plates and were beginning to fill them again, Denethor spoke. “I am sending you to Osgiliath, Captain Derufin, to command the garrison until Boromir returns.”

“Gelmir captains Osgiliath, my Lord Steward.”

“I know that. However, you will now captain it; Damrod and Mablung will accompany you.”

“My Lord Steward!” Damrod jumped up. “I have an oath yet to fulfill.”

“You were going to break it.”

“Only because there was no one else to send. I cannot leave now. You have Derufin. I must stay!”

Denethor’s brow furrowed. “I will send Mablung with you, Captain Derufin. Damrod has an oath.”

“Thank you, my Lord Steward.” Damrod stood, saluted, and ran out the door.

“Well, then, Derufin, it is up to you to hold Osgiliath ‘till Boromir returns.”

“What of the Orcs who ambushed Faramir?”

“Boromir has a large troop with him. Damrod said many of the Orcs were killed in the ambush and most have fled to the mountains?”

“Aye.”

“Then I deem my son will not be taken unawares.”

“Aye, my Lord Steward. By your leave, I will go now. I would like to reach the garrison before nightfall.”

“Go then.” He stood and saluted. The captain left.

Slowly, he sat down at his desk once more, held his head in his hands, and wept bitterly.

When the guard announced Prince Imrahil an hour later, Denethor waived the man away. “Give him my regrets; tell him I will see him on the morrow.”


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16.

Before the sun rose, Denethor found himself in his study, looking over his full calendar. He had not met with his Council for their weekly meeting; he had not met with his Chamberlain; he had not met with his Warden. He had, however, visited his son, broke the fast with him, and then left him to rest.

“I will return, Faramir. But later this evening. If you need anything…”

Faramir finished the last of his tea and put the cup down. “I know, Father. And thank you.”

Denethor’s heart pulled at him, cajoled him to stay as he watched the fever-ridden eyes of his son try to hold his own. “Would you prefer I stay?”

“Father. I know your duties. You have been at my side two nights and a day already. When you are with me, I force myself to stay awake. Mayhap a full day’s rest would be best.”

Denethor smiled. “Always the wise one? Aye. It is true. And I put aside my own duties to sit with you. I will away from you until the daymeal. Would you wait for me? Share yours with me?”

Faramir did not answer. Denethor watched the poison-ravaged face rest. He bent over, kissed his son’s brow, and walked from the room.

Damrod waited outside the door.

“Still here?”

“Where else, my Lord Steward?” the Ranger asked with a smile.

“He sleeps now. Keep him well, I will not return till this evening. If aught occurs… Or if he needs me. Send for me. Immediately.”

“I will, my Lord Steward.”

Denethor sighed and watched Damrod enter his son’s room. Then, he turned and walked towards the Tower. Imrahil would be waiting; already, he was an hour behind on his meetings. His Chamberlain would be waiting, probably tapping his foot in frustration.

Imrahil indeed waited for him. Denethor blushed in shame. The guard had refused to let him into Denethor’s study, so the Prince had waited at the door.

“Forgive me!” Denethor rushed forward and embraced his wife’s brother. “Come. Have you broken your fast yet?”

“I have, my Lord.”

“None of that. We are in my private quarters. Brother you would call me at best or else Denethor.”

“Brother it is then.”

“Come. Come. Sit here.” Denethor pulled the Warden’s cord and his aide’s cord. Within moments, his aide stepped through the door. “Have tea brought and sweetbreads. And some wine from my cellar. Have the Chamberlain pick the wine.”

Imrahil laughed quietly. “I need naught. ‘Tis good to be with you again and not in the Council chambers.”

“I am tired of those chambers myself. Too many days I spend there and naught to show for it but a blistered backside.”

Imrahil roared. “I note you take the most comfortable seat here.”

“I do. Steward’s prerogative. Now, how fares Dol Amroth? I know the report you gave to the Council, but give to me your full report. Your sons; training – how goes it? Are they quick to learn? Is their Sindarin flawless yet? Have you started their Quenya lessons? Have they made their first voyages?”

Laughing again, Imrahil held up his hand. “They have done all that and more, Denethor. They are grown men. They send their love to their favorite uncle.”

Denethor looked puzzled. “Grown?” A light came into his eyes again and Imrahil shivered. “Of course. And Lothíriel? Has any asked for her hand? She is now all of nineteen years, is she not?”

“She is. But I came not to speak about her.”

“Nay. We wait until my Warden arrives. This will only be a preliminary meeting, Imrahil. Boromir must be part of this.”

“I agree.”

A moment later, Húrin was announced. Once he was seated with a glass of wine in one hand and a raisin’d cake in the other, Denethor spoke. “Húrin has told me that you have two cousins. One named Míriel and the other Lalaith. You know Gondor’s need. Which would you prefer as your nephew’s wife?”

“Direct and to the point, I see.” Imrahil frowned, deep in thought. “Lalaith is as sunny as her name warrants, but I fear she would…” His brow furrowed.

“She would succumb, as did your sister, to the desolation that Minas Tirith has now become?” Denethor’s voice was low, but his pain pierced the room.

“She is a gentle thing. Mayhap for Faramir?”

“We do not discuss Faramir,” Denethor said with a heavy sigh. “What of Miriel?”

“I like the woman: strong, unafraid, knows Haradric even. She would be a boon to him, when peace comes to Gondor.”

Húrin looked up in surprise at the Prince of Dol Amroth and waited for Denethor’s sharp rebuke. It never came.

“Her dowry?”

“She is fourth cousin. It will be smaller than Lalaith’s.”

“Her father?”

“He is smaller than Lalaith.”

Denethor snorted. “I seem to remember him.” A frown crossed his eyes. “He is small. Is he truly of Númenórean descent? How strong is it?”

“His line is as pure as mine, though why his stature is so small, I know not. She does not take after him, nor have any of his children. She is as tall as Lothíriel; her hair is black and long, her limbs are straight, her mind is quick.”

“So Boromir will have his hands full?”

Imrahil smiled; then, he lowered his eyes. “She will not fade.”

~*~

“My Lord Boromir!”

The shout caused all in the party to look towards the rider coming down the path in a fury of dust and thrumming hooves.

Boromir held his hand up and the Rangers stopped. The rider approached. Boromir noted the man spoke with no thought of saluting him. ‘The news must be bad indeed,’ he thought as fear prickled behind his neck.

“Speak.”

“Their has been a battle ahead. Orcs from the Ephel Dúath, I think. There are… They attacked a large body of men from Gondor, my Lord. Many dead lie strewn about the road. It would seem the battle went ill for our warriors. None live.”

Boromir’s lips tightened as he held back curses. “How long ago?”

“The bodies are cold and carrion have had their way with them. At least two days, mayhap more.”

Boromir called to Amlach. “We ride in haste; now. Tell your men. Do not spare the horses!”

Amlach nodded and signaled. The Rangers understood as Boromir urged his horse forward. Within an hour, they had reached his soldiers. Arthad rode up to him and saluted. “I sent the rider as soon as we received the news from your scouts, Captain. It is another two days march at least, with the army.”

Boromir shook his head. “We take fresh horses, you and I, Hador and Amlach and his Rangers. Guilin,” he shouted and the captain rode to his side. “Bring the men behind us; I will not wait for them. I must see for myself.”

“It will be past the mid night hour when you arrive at the ambush sight, Captain. You cannot ride at night. Orcs--”

“I leave now!”

~*~

Too many men would give them away; too few could mean their doom. Using horses was, perhaps, foolish, but they would reach the battle scene quicker, and could bid a hasty retreat, if need be. Traveling at night – he may as well ask his men to kill themselves.

Boromir settled for a half company, and all volunteers. Arthad rode next to him; many aides had Boromir over the years, but this one, he thought wryly, had already proved the best. He wondered if the man could read his thoughts or, mayhap, have some foresight. His aide was, by the look of him, pure Númenórean. Amlach and Hador rode behind him, he noted, and he was glad. Amlach had an easy confidence about him that Boromir appreciated.

“My Lord, we are almost there.”

“Leave the horses and go on foot?” Amlach asked.

“Nay! If Orcs are still about, we may need to flee and quickly.

“Scouts?”

“My best are already out.” At that moment, a Ranger on foot stepped from the trees. “Captain, it is a stone’s throw from here. Perhaps you wish to dismount? Our patrols show no enemy about. We have lit torches.”

Boromir dismounted and strode forward. Immediately, he had to cover his mouth and nose. The stench was putrid. He clenched his teeth and moved forward and right into the middle of the road. The dead, and there were many, lay scattered about. Some, he noted, had not the time to unsheath their swords. Tears filled his eyes. ‘No warning!’

Arthad put his hand on Boromir’s arm. “What would you have me do?”

“You know,” Boromir whispered.

Arthad nodded and moved quickly forward, taking ten men with him. Boromir continued to walk through the carnage. Now and again, a familiar face lay before him. He would curse quietly and walk on. Amlach stayed at his side.

After an hour’s search, Arthad returned. “He is not among the dead.”

Boromir nodded. “We ride to Osgiliath.”

~*~

As soon as the Ranger saw his Captain-General crossing the bridge into Osgiliath, Mablung ran across the courtyard to greet him. Boromir shook as Mablung told him of Faramir's condition. He needed to be in Minas Tirith right now, needed to be at the Houses, for fear gripped him and would not let him breath, nor think, nor live sanely until he knew Faramir was alive and healing. The sense of doom that had been with him for days now overwhelmed him.

Mablung took his arm as he stumbled. "My Lord! The wounds were not deep. The healers have the medicine to make the poison less potent. Faramir will be well. Here is the captain’s quarters.” He led Boromir in, making sure he sat. Arthad followed closely behind.

Boromir clenched his hands about the sides of the table. He steadied himself. "Send the captain of Osgiliath here to me. Then, tell the other captains to be ready for my summons. Damrod is with him?"

Mablung nodded, knowing Boromir was once again focused on his brother. "Damrod saved him; put aside his own safety and rescued him. Then he tended the wounds, once we were able to stop. Others counseled him to stay in Osgiliath and let the garrison's healers care for Lord Faramir, but he would not listen."

"As soon as I am finished here, I will follow them. Have my horse ready, Mablung."

The soldier nodded, but no more than five minutes later, he returned, bearing a tray laden with food and drink. Boromir scowled, then broke into a smile. "Best I eat, else I fall off my horse on the way home."

"Aye, Captain. You have been known to do that. I was forewarned."

Boromir burst into laughter. "No doubt my brother." His face fell. "Did you see him, Mablung? Were you with him?"

"I was, Captain."

"Tell me all. I have not had the time to hear any of it 'cept that he was wounded." He offered a stool.

"You should have all been killed," Boromir whispered upon completion of the tale.

"Aye, Captain. Faramir kept his head and wheeled us about before he was struck. If we had not been riding, and that was Faramir's idea too, we would all have been cut down."

"Who captains Osgiliath now? Gelmir? Why is he not here yet?"

"Our captain is with the healers. He watches over the wounded." Mablung thought it wise not to mention the changes that Denethor had ordered. At least not for the moment.

Boromir lowered his gaze and wolfed down some of his meal. "I cannot remember the last time I ate. He does well, this captain of yours. Give me another moment and I will join him."

Mablung stood, but Boromir took his arm and pulled him back onto the stool. "When was the last time you ate?"

"I do not know."

"Just as I thought. There is enough stew for the three of us." He found forks in the captain's drawer and pulled them out, wiping them on his breeches. "Here." He motioned for Arthad to join them.

Silence filled the captain's quarters as the men ate, all deep in thought.

Another few moments passed and Boromir stood up. "Go and find some rest. I will not need you for at least another two hours. You also, Arthad." His men saluted and turned to leave. "Do not forget my horse."

"I will leave orders at the stable. It will be ready at the ninth hour."

Boromir nodded.

The healers' barracks were on the other side of the garrison. As Boromir walked towards them, he was greeted with exclamations of concern for Faramir. His eyes grew moist; however, he merely smiled, nodded in acknowledgement and continued on his way.

The captain of Osgiliath was leaning over a cot, pulling the covers over a warrior's head. Boromir stood back and waited a moment, hushing the aide who wished to announce him.

"My Lord Boromir!" Derufin stood, saw him and exclaimed. "What do you need?"

"Derufin – what do you here? I sent you to Minas Tirith!”

“And the Lord Steward sent me here.”

"I should have known you would be with the wounded. Most of these men are new to the garrison, are they not?"

"They were. But I have found that one day here is like a thousand elsewhere. Time is known to be short; we became friends immediately."

Boromir's face grew red. "I... The Steward knows of your sacrifice."

"Not only mine, my Lord, but these men."

Boromir walked with the captain to the next cot.

"You will be going home soon," he heard the captain tell the wounded man.

"To what life without a leg?" The man's voice was hard and bitter.

"Gondor still needs you, if you are willing," Boromir stated.

The man looked up in surprise. "My Lord, I did not see you."

"But I have seen you and know of your courage. Will you serve Gondor in the Citadel?"

"Oh my! Yes, my Lord!"

"Of course, we will let you heal first, in the comfort of your home. Come to the Tower Guard when you feel well enough to begin your duties there."

"I will, my Lord." The warrior saluted and Boromir returned it.

"Good. Captain, follow me."

"I did not know Gondor would use those thus wounded." Derufin said as they left the confines of the building.

Boromir took a deep breath and turned towards him. "Gone are the days when Gondor could afford to let the injured retire. Besides, I deem it cruel to throw a man away because he has lost a limb. Do you not?"

"What use will he be if Minas Tirith is attacked?"

"He will do what he can. Did not you see his eyes? That man is a warrior; he will continue to be one, though his duties be light. I am using your quarters, Derufin; please come as soon as you have washed up. I need to hear your report. Likewise, the reports of those under you; Denethor will expect it. I want to be away by the ninth hour.”

"Aye, Captain."

Derufin left him and walked back into the garrison's hospice. Boromir, his heart still torn, walked through the courtyard, into the captain’s quarters. ‘I must be away soon.’

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17.


“Where do you think you are going?”

“Boromir!” Faramir rose from his bed and fell into his brother’s arms.

Brother hugged brother. Then, Boromir gently seated Faramir on the side of the bed and turned to Damrod. “I will expect a full report from you, once we reach Osgiliath.”

“Osgiliath? Boromir, are you leaving now and yet just arrived?”

“Nay, Faramir. Father has given me this night to spend with you; then I ride out. Damrod, now that he has completed his assignment, though not as well as I had hoped, will come with me. Now, I hear foolish tales of you wanting to run off in your underwear and save Osgiliath?”

Faramir’s blush reddened his pale face. Boromir clasped his hand.

“Captain-General?” Damrod still stood by the door.

Boromir looked at the Ranger, quizzically.

“Permission to speak?” Boromir nodded and Damrod continued. “May I stay with Captain Faramir? The Lord Steward is sending him on a sortie to Gondor’s fiefdoms. I would go with him.”

The look of devotion in the warrior’s eyes surprised him, but, upon further reflection, Boromir understood. Faramir bore himself well, responded well to the soldiers of Gondor, and quickly earned their respect. That is why he had excelled at Pelargir. “Very well. If Faramir agrees.”

“I do. But Boromir, I must needs speak with you alone.”

Damrod saluted and left. Boromir knelt and pulled off Faramir’s boots, then helped pull off his breeches. He repositioned the sleeping gown and laid Faramir back on the bed. “The fever is still in your eyes, brother. Do not try to get up again without the healer’s permission.”

“Is that an order, Captain-General?” Faramir’s eyes closed. “I could not let Father go to Osgiliath.”

“I understand and agree. But there are others we could have sent. I cannot lose you, little brother; I have told you that before.”

Faramir nodded and Boromir noted the sheen of sweat upon his brother’s brow. “Tell me what happened, Faramir. I was nigh unto mad with fear when I saw the sight.”

“Why are you here?” Faramir suddenly realized that Boromir had been sent to the Wetwang.

“The battle was swift. Once over, I decided it best to come to Minas Tirith through Ithilien, see if there were other Easterling patrols still about. Now, tell me what happened.”

Faramir squirmed. “Mistakes,” he berated himself openly. “Scouts’ reports misunderstood, green troops, and a foolish captain who should have known better!”

“Speak you of yourself?”

“I do and not.” A heavy sigh accompanied the pained words. “I did not know the men, and sent the wrong one. One who had not experience in the field. I am as much a fool as he was. The rats of Osgiliath have more sense than I do.”

Boromir kept silent.

Faramir opened his eyes. “I lost half my men at least, Boromir. I sent out patrols, but the message I received back was that all was clear.”

“So you accepted the report and moved accordingly?”

“It is not that easy,” Faramir whispered. “I sent my men to their death.”

“Would I have done differently?”

“Aye. You would have listened to more than one report.”

“I think not, Faramir. I spoke with Mablung and Damrod. They, too, accepted the report.”

Faramir chewed his lip. “Father thinks you do not trust me.”

Boromir smiled. “I trust you, Faramir. I do not trust father. I believe he would send the both of us into the very fires of Orodruin, if need be. In fact, I know he would do that. So I use deceit to keep you safe. Forgive me.”

“Deceit? How?”

“I let him think your experience in the field is not…”

“Boromir!” The hurt in Faramir’s voice cut him.

“I will not have you die for naught, Faramir. I do not care what father thinks. When the time comes, when the need is greatest, we will both be in the forefront of battle. But until that day comes, Faramir, I will protect you.” His voice dropped to a whisper. “As I always have.”

“So I have you to thank for father’s disdain?”

“It is not disdain; it is reluctance to use you when another, seemingly more qualified, can be sent.”

“Disdain.”

Faramir’s distress was too much for Boromir to endure. “I praise your wisdom, your battle tactics, your book learning to him. I only hide your skill in battle. Do not hate me, brother.”

“I am tired. I would sleep now.” Faramir lay back on the bed and turned on his side, away from Boromir.

Boromir knelt at the side of the bed and pulled Faramir to him. “I warned father not to send you to Osgiliath and look what happened. You were almost killed. Tell me I was wrong, Faramir! Tell me I should let you die!” He choked and sobs racked him.

Faramir closed his eyes and returned the embrace. “Your love means more to me than father’s disdain, Boromir.”

They held each other close.

~*~

When Faramir finally slept, Boromir left the room. Damrod stepped forward. “Stay with him. I will return; I must meet with father over my new orders.”

“I will, my Lord. And thank you, my Lord, for letting me accompany Faramir.”

“Only because he lives. You almost lost him, Damrod.”

“I know, my Lord. And I will make it up. Naught shall touch him again, whilst I live.”

“Good.” Boromir sighed. “If he asks for me, tell him I will return shortly.”

Damrod saluted and Boromir walked heavily down the hall to the gardens of the Houses. He sat for a moment and looked eastward. The mountain flamed and rumbled, though not that it could be felt in the City. ‘You will kill us all, someday, will you not?’ At length, he stood and walked up the Circle to the Seventh Gate, through the tunnel and onto the parapet as he was ordered. Denethor waited for him by the escarpment.

“‘Twas a feint by the Enemy to discover our strengths and weaknesses.”

“You have seen this?”

“I have. I wondered why so many attacks all at once. Even the area around the Poros was attacked, though by lesser numbers. He seeks to destroy us. I fear the time nears.”

“Then we can put aside any thought of marriage!”

“Nay,” and Denethor smiled. “You will meet her during the feasting of Tuilérë. I meet with Imrahil in one hour. I would have you join us.”

“Father,” Boromir said and the exasperation was strong in his voice, “I leave her up to you. I have said you are wiser-- Uncle Imrahil is still here?”

“He is and it is one of his cousins, your cousins, that we will discuss. I would have you with me.”

“Father, I have not slept since I cannot remember when. Might we put this off till the morrow? Before I leave for Osgiliath?”

“Aye. Go and sleep. I will see you at the third hour in my quarters. I will have food to break your fast. Be there promptly, Boromir.”

“One more thing, Father? Were you going to go to Osgiliath? Yourself?”

“I have not been out of the City in a very long time; I finally had an excuse.” Denethor smiled.

“Father! I am serious. Were you going to go yourself?”

“Nay. But do not tell Faramir. He thinks the better of me because of it. I was going to the Ranger’s barracks on the First Circle. I have a captain I thought might be of good use in Osgiliath. I also wanted to ride my horse, clear my head, and be away from the Hall for another few moments.”

“Thank you, Father. It would not have been wise.” Boromir accepted the warm hug but had hardly the strength to return it.

“You need your rest,” Denethor said quietly. “I will see you on the morrow.”

He walked Boromir to the Tower and left him by the doors to the Great Hall. Looking up towards the uppermost window, he pondered his next move. ‘To Faramir,’ he thought. ‘Time is too short.’ The lights were going out in the Citadel as he walked into the tunnel and then to the Houses. Faramir slept fitfully. He sat by the bed and waited.

~*~

“Father, tell me of Númenor, of its sinking.”

Startled, Denethor looked quizzically at his son. Sleep still filled the boy’s eyes but fear widened them. ‘From whence comes this question?’ He remembered, a very long time ago, telling the tale to Thorongil. ‘What have you been about, my son?’ he thought furtively. ‘I was suspicious of your brother, when I saw Thorongil walking in the Emyn Muil; is it you I should be wary of? Have you met with the man? Now that I know he walks near our borders.’ That thought caused Denethor much concern. ‘I have forgotten Thorongil and his mission. By now, he is probably gone from my sight.’ A small smile tugged at the corners of his mouth. ‘Nay. Not many may hide from my sight.’

“Father?”

“Why ask you this?”

Faramir blushed and the pallor of his skin betrayed it.

“Are there other secrets you hide from me?” Denethor asked and Faramir started.

“I keep no secrets, Father. The wizard has not contacted me.”

“No one else?”

Faramir’s eyes squinted as he tried to discern what his father was implying, but his head began to swim and he sighed heavily. “I know not of what you speak.”

“Never the mind. Have some more of the healer’s wine. It will help the pain.” Once Faramir drank and lay back down on the bed, Denethor asked, “Why do you ask of Númenor?”

“A foolish wonder, I suppose.” Faramir closed his eyes for a moment, trying to find the heart to tell his father. “I have had a dream of the land of Westernesse that foundered and of the great dark wave climbing over the green lands and above the hills, and coming on, darkness unescapable. Is that what it was like or are we fated for such an event again? The dream does not bring me peace, Father; in fact, it terrorizes me.”

“You have had it more than once?”

“I have.”

“Is it a waking dream?”

“Nay. Only when I sleep does it come.”

“It was a wave that took our homeland from us. As for what you have seen, mayhap it is Westernesse and not some untoward prophecy for Gondor. I know not if it was the Valar or some power even greater that caused the sea to swallow our land. Tales say Lord Ulmo roiled the seas so that the boats of Elendil rocked precariously. If that Vala was there, who can say the others had not a hand in it! For all their power - the wave killed those left on the island, the women and children - but not our Enemy. Somehow, Sauron escaped. And now, the bane of the Valar would engulf Gondor and I think all of Middle-earth. How can we combat him if they failed?”

Faramir shuddered from fear, sickness and the poison still in his body. His head reeled from the drugged wine. “I do not think he will triumph, Father.”

“The Last Alliance could not defeat him – they slowed his malice, but he has grown strong ever since.”

Faramir swallowed hard, then pushed onward. “Father, Mithrandir believes there is a weapon that may destroy him.”

Denethor stood so quickly in the little room that the chair flew back with a crash. The guard threw the door open, but Denethor waved him back to his post. “When did he tell you this?” Denethor fought to keep his anger hid.

“Many years ago, Father. He had been in the archives studying some scrolls, with your permission. He did not seem to know what the weapon was.”

“As usual,” Denethor muttered. “Half-baked plans and wasted words.”

“If he answers your summons before I leave, Father, might I spend some time with him? Mayhap, with the two of us looking, we might find some clue.”

“I must leave you now,” Denethor said coldly. “If you need anything further, ask the Warden.” He turned and opened the door.

“The wave, Father? Have you seen it?”

“I have not.” Denethor moved through the doorway, but paused a moment when he heard Faramir begin to speak again.

“Might I see you again, soon?”

He did not answer; he found he could not answer. He stepped into the hall and closed the door after him. Waves of nausea struck him and he scarce had time to make the gardens before retching miserably. Fear swept over him. ‘Is the wave Faramir saw water, or is it the Enemy’s hoards?’

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18.


Imrahil was waiting in his study, as was Boromir. Húrin arrived a few moments later. “We have much to discuss this morning,” Denethor began peremptorily. “Imrahil, there are two of our cousins, removed enough from Boromir to be considered as a spouse for him. What think you of them?”

Since they had discussed just this yesterday, Imrahil began confidently. “Mírial, daughter of Galador and my fourth cousin, would make the perfect mate for you, nephew. She is young, but not as young as your mother when she wed your father; she is lean, but not frail; she is wise, but not proud; she is gentle, but not one to be o’errun. There are others, but I deem her the wisest choice.”

“Do you like her?” Boromir asked quietly.

“I do,” his uncle smiled. “Very much.”

“Have I met her?” Boromir’s brow furrowed in concentration.

“You have, but many long years ago; she was just one of the many children that ran through my father’s halls.”

Boromir took a deep breath, then turned to Denethor. “Have you set a date for our betrothal?”

“Tuilérë, March 23rd. She has already been sent for.”

“Then I will leave for Osgiliath directly after my visit with Faramir. I will return the day before Tuilérë. I assume she will arrive before that?”

“She will,” Imrahil interrupted. “You will like her, Boromir.”

“Will she like Minas Tirith?”

“She does not have to like it,” Denethor said briskly. “We have learned from our mistakes, Boromir. She will be sent home for extended periods every year. That should help.”

“Only present long enough to be bred?”

“Boromir!” Imrahil stood, his face red. “I will not have you speak of your intended in that manner.”

Boromir’s face had reddened also. “I speak only the truth – for the girl and for myself.”

Denethor stood and moved towards the window. “It is not the best of circumstances for either of you, Boromir; however, it is near to the custom of our ancestors on Númenor. I would that you could spend some time with her, before next year’s Loëndë. That is the day I have ordered for your wedding.”

“Then it shall be done. She shall be staying in Minas Tirith once she arrives?”

“She will stay for a fortnight. You will come and tend to her during that time. Properly chaperoned, of course. Then, we will send her back until this year’s Loëndë. She will return for that feasting time, and you will return for another fortnight.”

“With every feast, I am to tend to her?”

“The major ones,” Denethor sighed.

“Very well, Father. Might I be excused now? I would spend as much time with Faramir as possible before I leave.”

“Boromir, he was in pain when I left him. I do not know if the medicine has addled his mind or what, but he spoke of a dream. Perhaps you can help him understand it.”

“Of what was the dream about?”

“Númenor.”

“I know so little compared to Faramir and you, Father. Did you speak with him about it?”

“I did, but not to his satisfaction. I fear I became angry.”

Boromir nodded his head in understanding. “I will return the day before Tuilérë, Father. You will receive the normal garrison reports weekly.”

“Keep me posted, Boromir, of anything untoward. I told you of my concerns.”

“Aye, my Lord Steward. Until I return.”

“Until you return.”

Boromir saluted Imrahil, who pulled him close in a hard hug. “You will like her,” he whispered.

Húrin saluted. Denethor walked Boromir to the door, walked through it into the hall, and held his son close. “I am proud of you, my son. Proud of all you do, but most proud of this.”

Boromir sighed. “Thank you, Father. I will do as you ask, as always. While I am gone and Faramir recovers, visit him, please?”

“I will and without fighting or rancor or bellicosity, I promise.”

Boromir smiled and hugged his father. “That is all I can ask. Fare thee well, Father.”

~*~

“Father says you and he had another spat?”

“Nay,” Faramir’s eyes, watery and feverish, looked up at him in dismay. “He does not understand anything I say.” Tears spilled. “Forgive me. This confounded tea and the liquor they give me for the pain makes me weak.”

“You never have to ask my forgiveness, Faramir. I have been in the same spot as you. I understand.”

“Father does not misconstrue your words, jumps up at every little thing you say, turns as if to stone by just a word…”

“Does that word happen to be Mithrandir?”

“Confound it, Boromir. You know it does.” Faramir fell back against his pillows, totally exhausted.

“I am sorry. Have you heard anything from the wizard?”

“Please, Boromir. Do not ask me that. I have heard nothing.”

Boromir held up his hands in mock surrender. “Then let us speak of other things before I must leave you.”

“You go to Osgiliath now? I wanted to spend the day with you.”

“I am sorry. I have not much time there before I must return for… I return for Tuilérë. If you are still here, then we may spend time together then. Will that do?”

“If it must. Why do you return? A council meeting? There is none scheduled till Loëndë.”

“Other matters. Has father spoken to you much?”

“He thinks I am addled from the wounds.”

“You are addled, dearest Faramir. But I deem it is the medicaments. I… I am to be betrothed at Tuilérë.”

Faramir gasped, then closed his eyes. Boromir waited. “I am sorry, Boromir. I know you had other plans,” he finally said. “Who is she?”

“A cousin of ours, Míriel. Do you remember her; I do not.”

“I do, but only vaguely, and many years ago. I dare not even tell you about her, for as much as we have changed, she has changed.”

“So, she was ugly and scrawny and quarrelsome and hateful.”

Faramir laughed, then choked in pain. After a moment, he recovered. “She was none of those things. In fact, if I recall, she was a pretty little thing. Not shy though. I think she is a favorite of Amrothos.”

“She is very young.”

“As was mother.”

“Well, then, I will treat her as I would mother. I would not have her…”

“So am I to be the groomsman?” Faramir shied from that discussion.

“Of course. Who else?” Boromir sighed.

“You could sound at least a little pleased to have me as such.”

“I have no need nor want for a wife!” Boromir exploded. “I cannot place my mind, my thoughts, my self on anything but the war. It only grows worse.”

“Because of that, Gondor needs an heir now?”

“She does. Always greedy. Have you not noticed, Faramir?”

“She is, but lovely, too. And worth all the sacrifice.”

“Of course. But I had not meant to make this sacrifice, not now, not in this way.”

“Boromir! Are you a romantic?”

His brother growled.

“I believe you are a romantic.” Faramir smiled at the thought.

“Do you remember the room father made for mother – the sea room? I always cried when we left it. Do you remember that?”

“I do not. I was saddened myself every time we left it.”

“Do you know it is no longer there? That father has obliterated it? Even boarded the door leading into it?”

Faramir’s eyes widened. “I did not.”

“In that room, Faramir, mother would stroke my hair and tell me stories of maidens and the men who watched over them. She told me I would one day be such a man. I have oft thought of that, Faramir, what kind of a man I would be for the woman given to me to protect. I cannot protect her, Faramir. I cannot protect even you.”

Faramir watched as his brother’s shoulders sagged. “You do protect me, Boromir. You sent Mablung and Damrod,” he whispered.

“I protect no one,” and the desolation in Boromir’s voice cut through to the very core of his little brother. “I protect no one.”

“I will help you protect her, Boromir. I swear it.”

Boromir raised his head. “I know you will, little brother, I know you will. I must be off now. I will visit at Tuilérë.” He hugged Faramir long and hard and left him.

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19.


Denethor stood on the parapet, resting his hands on the wall that encircled the Citadel. Imrahil stood by his side.

“It is getting late,” observed the Prince of Dol Amroth.

“He will come.”

“Of course. Unless…”

“I have received no missives; no signal fires have been lit. He will come.”

“He is a fine man. He will make a good Steward.”

Denethor did not reply.

“Húrin has many duties, as of late.”

Denethor sighed and turned towards his wife's brother. “It will probably be only months after Gondor's fall that Dol Amroth will be besieged. I do not think the Enemy will divide its forces and send armies against both cities at the same time. However, if you cannot send help when the final attack comes, I will understand.”

“Unless we are attacked at the same time, my Swan Knights will be here. Do you doubt me?”

“I do not.”

“Then why the furrowed brow? We have been at peace these many years, my brother.”

“If not for Indis' intervention, your father and I might have come to blows.”

“I am glad you interred her in the House of the Stewards. It is where she belongs.”

“She was as much a Steward as Ecthelion or myself.”

“That she was.” Imrahil remembered Indis' death and asked, "How fares Théoden King?”

Denethor looked at him for a moment, then turned away. “I have sent missives, but they have not been answered. I suppose I should be grateful they are not returned, unopened.”

“Éomer patrols the East-mark, does he not?”

“He does, but I would not put him in a position of such jeopardy, ask him to take a role that is not his to take. I will continue to write to Théoden.”

“There is an oath, Denethor; he must honour it.” Imrahil squinted, not speaking until he was sure, but nay. It was nothing. He turned towards Denethor. “Forlong of Lossarnach will send troops, probably even come himself. So will Duinhir and Golasgil. The lords of the Council will send men, when the time comes.”

“They are remarkably reluctant to send them now, as their fiefdom treaties stipulate. I hesitate to rely upon them when the real battle begins.”

“But that is why you are sending Faramir. He will persuade them. There is more than a touch of you in the lad. The lords fear you; he can use that to his advantage.”

“He will not. I have watched him in the Council meetings. He prefers to appear lordly, tries to sway them using their honour to urge them in their deeds. Yet, I know they have no honour. They care only…” He smiled ruefully and faced Imrahil. “I seem to be as a dog, chewing on the same old bone. I will speak no more of my Council's ways. I consider sending Faramir with you and Míriel when you return to Dol Amroth. What think you of that?”

“It is a good plan; it should help Míriel feel more a part of the family. Faramir and I will keep her occupied, expound the virtues of Boromir and Minas Tirith.”

Denethor leaned more wearily upon the parapet's wall. “Aye. He will start his progress in the fiefdoms near Dol Amroth and work his way north and east.”

“Is aught the matter, brother? You seem fatigued.”

“I am. I suppose it is the sitting with Faramir. It is hard to watch one's son in pain. Though,” he continued quickly, “he is healing well.”

“I was with him this afternoon. The fever seems to have lifted. He is more coherent.”

“I had some other business I was about this afternoon,” he bristled at the implied accusation in Imrahil's statement. “I am glad you were with Faramir.”

“What is this dream? He spoke of it to me but I do not understand why he dreams it now.”

“It is just that – a dream. It has no significance for us. It was in the past. Faramir, even on his sick bed, still has books brought to him. He reads too much. He should be resting.”

“There!” Denethor straightened. “A lone rider, two-thirds of the way across the Pelennor. It is Boromir!” he cried as the Horn blew.

Imrahil smiled. “He truly enjoys winding that horn. He will have the whole City awake.”

“And well she should be when her Captain-General returns!”

He turned and walked quickly towards the Great Hall. Imrahil's smile grew as he followed.

~*~

“Father.” He hugged Denethor warmly, then turned and hugged his uncle. “It is good to see you, though I should not be happy with you.”

“And why is that?” Imrahil chuckled. “It is not my fault that your father deems you old enough to be wed.”

“She is not here yet?”

“Not until the eighth of April, at the earliest. Are you anxious to meet her?”

“Just anxious,” Denethor interrupted and laughed. “Come, Boromir. Let us go to my study. You would have need of drink after that long dusty ride. The rains seem to have failed us so far this spring.”

“It is always raining in Ithilien, Father.” And his brow furrowed as he spoke the words.

They walked quietly down the long hall, into the passageway, and to Denethor's study. The Chamberlain ran quickly to Denethor, saying all was ready. Denethor nodded, thanked the man, and asked him to send Húrin to him.

The fire was lit, though the day was turning warmer, and plates filled with fruits, cheeses and breads were on the sideboard to the left of Denethor's desk. The desk itself held a carafe of wine with four glasses set about it.

After he had poured the wine, he sat in front of the fire and motioned for Boromir and Imrahil to join him.

“You are anxious, I see, Boromir, but not about the coming announcement. What disturbs you?”

“There are reports that you have not shared with me, my Lord Steward.”

Denethor's eyes widened. “There are many reports I do not share with you.”

“These reports impact me and the men under me. Though I am stationed at Osgiliath, as Captain-General, I should have these reports sent to me.”

“Which ones in particular do we discuss?”

“The reports from Cair Andros!” Boromir stood, frustration eeking from him. “There have been further attacks and I know naught of them!”

“There have been some attacks.”

“Father.” Boromir sat again. “Forgive me. But what is the use of me being Captain-General of all the armies of Gondor if I have no knowledge of what happens to my armies?”

“I agree.” Denethor sat for a few moments in silence. During that time, Húrin arrived, poured himself a glass of wine, and noted that all was not well in the room. He took a chair away from the three and waited.

“I cannot keep you here, which would be optimal. I need a strong captain for Osgiliath. I also need a strong captain at Cair Andros and one at Pelargir and one at… You know what I need, Boromir.”

“Hador is a strong captain, as is Gelmir. Derufin would make a fine captain for Osgiliath, though I would that he could return to his father. Amlach, at Henneth-Annûn, has my respect. Pelargir is well tended.”

“The attacks seem to be focused on the north, Boromir. Though there was the one attack in Ithilien and the small one near Pelargir, I think it was a testing, no more. You have fought two major battles near the Wetwang just this past month. I believe the Easterlings are not ready to concede defeat. And Hador reports that Orcs are still entering Gondor in large numbers by the mouths of the Entwash and in Anórien.”

“Then I will leave Osgiliath in Derufin's hands and go to Amon Dîn. I will use it as my base; I will not take the captaincy from Guilin. A battalion?”

“Aye. It would seem to me at least that, perhaps even a regiment, but where we will procure the men, I do not know. The fields of Anórien are paramount in keeping Minas Tirith fed. I have ordered larger crops sown.”

“For stockpiling?”

“Aye.” Denethor cursed loudly. “Not enough soldiers, not enough farmers.” He bit his lip. He was exhausted. The time with the Palantír today had been extremely tiring. Yet, he had learned so much.

“Húrin. How go the plans for the evacuation?”

“I have already designated the gathering points and which families go where. I have started the list of who will be in charge of each post. As for building the silos, I have contacted the various guilds. We meet in two days.”

“Good. Imrahil, we must have more ships. I need to have the coast protected, when the surge comes. They may think Belfalas and the other fiefdoms weak when the battle begins and be tempted to launch small attacks to strike your forces.”

“We will be ready. Yet, that will not prevent me from sending troops here. I have already promised.”

“Father? May we put this marriage aside for the moment? There is no time to even begin a courtship.”

“Time will be made,” Denethor said quietly. “If we save our City, if we save Gondor, we must have an heir. Someone must sit on the Steward's Chair. And I prefer it be one from the long unbroken line of Mardil, of the House of Húrin. In that line there is strength.”

“Faramir will ride with Míriel when she returns to Dol Amroth, Boromir,” Imrahil said quietly. “He will help her become accustomed to the ways of Minas Tirith and the court. She is a sharp woman; it will not take her long.”

“If that is your will, Father, I will not speak of it again. When may I leave for Amon Dîn?”

“The announcement will be tomorrow. She will arrive on the eighth and I will perform the betrothal ceremony on the tenth. You may leave on the eleventh.”

Boromir shook his head in frustration. “Then let me return to Osgiliath after tomorrow's announcement. I would spend some time with Derufin. I know you wanted the wharfs and the docks blocked. The work has not been started on that yet. Also, I would speak with him…. Well, there are other needs.”

“Aye. I wanted you to stay here until Míriel arrives, but I deem it more important that you take care of those other matters. It will only strengthen Osgiliath. There were bunkers along the road once one passed the bridge. Are they still there? Are they being used?”

“They will be, Father. Part of my plan to shore up the defenses. I will return on the seventh?”

“Aye. I will send the daily reports to you. Thank you, Boromir.” He stood and hugged him. “Go now and rest. I will see you on the morrow.”

“I visit Faramir first.”

“Of course.”

Húrin stood and saluted him as Imrahil walked him to the door. “It is a hard time for us all, Boromir,” Imrahil said quietly. “Yet, Míriel is up to the challenge. Do not be concerned for her.”

“Thank you, Uncle. I count on her fortitude. Have you visited Faramir?”

“I have and he is well. The fever left him this morning.”

“Thank you!” A quick hug and he was gone.

“He is a great man, Denethor.” Imrahil took his seat again. “I look forward to working more closely with him.”

“We have other concerns at the moment. I am considering putting an outpost by the Ethir. I know the land there is swampy, but I deem it important to have an outpost closer to Harondor. I will need another captain.”

“I could send Elphir.”

“Then send him with two companies, if you can spare them. I will send two companies of Gondor's Knights.”

“Nay, my Lord Steward. I will send four companies. It would be best if we did not mix our men.” His face turned red.

“They have all trained under Gondor's standard?”

“It is better for men to fight as a unit, Denethor. I deem it best that they all come from Belfalas.”

“If that is your wish.”

“I will send a missive today. Are there any specific orders you wish conveyed?”

“Nay. Elphir has commanded before. It is only an outpost. Will he feel slighted?”

“He will not. And I will not keep him there long. Once the outpost is established, I will have Elphir appoint another captain. Will that suffice?”

“It will.”

“My Lord Steward. This does not meet your needs?”

“It does. I am concerned. You speak of not having my men serve along yours? Is there a particular reason? Given that we will all be upon the same battlefield against the Enemy in the days ahead, does not it seem worthwhile to have our men serve together?”

“It does. May I speak plainly?”

“Of course.”

“The Knights of Gondor have a tendency to look down upon those of Dol Amroth.” He quickly held up a hand to stay Denethor's response. “The same is true for the Swan Knights. I know not when this discord arose, but it has. I am working to ameliorate this rift.”

“I have not heard of this before.” Denethor's eyes stormed.

“It is only recent. There seem to be rumours of ill-will amongst the men. I know not where it comes from.”

“The Enemy,” Denethor stated quietly, but firmly.

Imrahil's breath caught. “How?”

“Are not lies and rumours what caused Númenor's fall?” Denethor's brow furrowed. “Húrin, send for Boromir.”

“Aye, my Lord Steward.” The Warden walked to the door and summoned the guard who saluted and left.

“This is grievous news you bring, Imrahil. I should have been notified immediately. Who noted it?”

“Elphir. He was on patrol and ran into one of your patrols. The exchange was heated. Elphir returned to Dol Amroth with his report. This happened in the first month of this year.”

“Which of my companies was it?”

“I know not. I could not quite believe it true.”

“That is not the only instance?”

“Nay. One of Erchirion's patrols encountered the same contempt.”

“We cannot survive if we fight amongst ourselves. This must be stopped. It seems to be the southern forces; I have heard naught from our northern army. Nor have any reports come of such incidents from Rohan. Yet, as you know, my communications with Rohan are non-existent. I will send Boromir to Éomer. Faramir will not go to the fiefdoms, though the need is great; he will go to the garrisons in the south, speak with their commanders, and quell this rebellion. For that is what I deem it: rebellion.”

“I have started to do the same, my Lord Steward,” Imrahil replied.

“Then I deem it unwise to keep our men apart at the new outpost. Dividing our men only furthers the lies. Elphir is a strong captain; he will be able to thwart this behavior and help the men accept and respect each other. This cannot be allowed to continue.”

“I will order it so.” Imrahil stood. “Have you eaten, brother?”

Denethor looked up in surprise. “Nay, I do not seem to have the stomach for it tonight.”

Imrahil walked to the sideboard, picked up a plate, and put a small portion of the lighter cheeses and soft breads on it. He cut up some melons and added them to the plate. “Here,” he said firmly, “The wine only fills you; it does naught to hearten you. I deem tonight’s work will be long. You must eat something.”

“You sound like Indis.”

“Then I am in good company,” Imrahil said as he sat back down.

At that moment, Boromir entered the room.

“Have you eaten, my son?” As Boromir shook his head, Denethor offered the plate Imrahil had prepared. “Here; sit and eat. We have more to discuss.”

Imrahil laughed, stood, and took the plate from Boromir. “This is your father’s. I will fix you your own plate.” And he gave Denethor a stern look and handed the plate back to the Steward.

Denethor scowled.

Boromir smiled and sat. “Not eating again, Father? You look like a scarecrow. I would wage you cannot even lift your sword.”

“I can not only lift it, I can teach a young whelp to respect his father.” But Denethor’s eyes twinkled such as Boromir had not seen in a long while.

“Father,” Boromir put his hand on Denethor’s leg, “In truth, you look tired. Are you well? Forgive me for not asking before.”

“I am well, just weary. I do not like visiting the Houses.”

“So you have been visiting Faramir! Thank you. I only made it to my rooms to change before I was ordered back here.” Boromir turned and accepted the plate Imrahil offered. “Thank you, Uncle. Nothing has happened to Míriel’s entourage, I hope?”

“Are you being serious?” Imrahil teased.

“Uncle. I would never, for any reason, wish ill on anyone. You should know that.”

“He was teasing, Boromir. Let us get to the problem at hand. Boromir, have you heard of dissension among the ranks? Not inside the ranks, but between those, say from Lamedon, or Lossarnach or Belfalas?”

“Not among my men. But I did note a few altercations this past week in Osgiliath. I put it down to the horror of the recent attack and men’s nerves stretched too far.”

Denethor quickly explained what Imrahil had told him. “Were the altercations based on something such as this?”

Boromir sat back and cursed roundly. “Son of a sea dragon! That is exactly what it was about. The fools! They fall prey to whispers! I will go back and throttle them all!”

“Nay, Boromir. The problem is larger than one or two garrisons. I am not sending you back to Osgiliath. I will send a missive to Derufin to root out this evil and deal quickly and harshly with those who would spread it. But for you, I am sending you to Éomer. As one of Théoden’s Marshal’s, he will know if the perfidy spreads. He must know of Gondor’s need for Rohan’s loyalty. Remind him of the oath Théoden and I renewed when he was crowned king.”

“Would not it be better to go directly to Meduseld and speak with Théoden himself?”

“If would, if terms were better between us. Go to Éomer with an order for horses. That way, we spare Éomer from any retribution for speaking without his uncle’s approval.”

“Has it come to that?”

“It has.”

“Then I will leave in the morning.” Boromir turned to Imrahil. “Uncle, what steps are you taking?”

“I had not realized the scope of the problem. I will send errand-riders to my captains. This rebellion, as your father names it, must be stopped.”

The four men sat in silence for some moments.

At last, Boromir spoke. “I believe I should stay and keep vigil by your bedside instead of Faramir’s, Father. You look terrible. Please take care of yourself while I am away. I am not ready to be Steward yet.”

Denethor grimaced. “I will, son.”

They told Boromir of the plans for the outpost at the Ethir, which he praised highly; and the plans for the evacuation of Minas Tirith. Boromir applauded Húrin’s efforts thus far. The night closed about them.

Finally, Boromir stood and stretched. “Thank you for the meal, Uncle,” he smiled. “I go to Faramir now and then to my bed.”

“Good night,” they called as he left the room.

Denethor stood and quickly, Imrahil and Húrin did the same. “Good night to you as well, Húrin, Imrahil. I must listen to my son and take me off to bed, else he chastise me in the morning.”

Both men laughed; Imrahil hugged Denethor and left. Denethor put his hand on Húrin’s shoulder. “You have done well, Warden. Accept my thanks.”

Húrin blushed, nodded and left the room. Denethor walked slowly to his quarters in the Tower.

~*~

“Faramir?” Boromir peaked through the half-opened door. Silence. “Orc dung,” he swore quietly.

“Is that you, Boromir?”

Boromir smiled widely and entered the room. “I was afraid you were asleep. In fact, you should be asleep and the Warden of the Houses will have my head for keeping you up.”

“I waited. I heard your Horn and I waited. Though I admit I fell asleep until I heard your footsteps. You walk like a mûmak!”

“Do not.”

“Do too!”

“If that is so, I will remember that when I am wed and must needs quietly enter our bedchamber in the wee hours of the morning.”

Faramir smiled. “So you plan to carouse even after you are wed.”

“Nay. I meant coming in late from a patrol or some such.”

Both men burst into laughter.

“I am tired. You must be too.”

“I can hardly sleep here another night. And the meals are awful. I think the Warden puts medicaments even in the food! I need to be away from here.” Faramir's eyes suddenly lit up. “You could help me to my rooms?”

Boromir smiled. “I could, if properly bribed.”

“What price, my Captain?”

“The wine Uncle Imrahil brought for you. His house wine. I saw four bottles in father's study. I will take two. They are definitely for you – to help you in your recovery.”

“They could be for you – in honour of your bretrothal?”

“Ah! I had not thought of that.”

Faramir grieved to see the slumping of Boromir's shoulder at the mention. “You are right though; it is probably for me. Help me out of here, Boromir.”

Slyly, his brother smiled. “Guard,” Boromir called through the open door. The man stepped into the room. Boromir looked at the soldier in surprise. “You are called Ragnor, are you not?” The man blushed and nodded. “We fought a mûmak together in Emyn Arnen?” The man’s blush deepened as he nodded again. “Congratulations! I did not remember you had been promoted to the Steward’s personal guard.”

“Thank you, Captain-General. It was because of your commendation after the battle.”

Boromir waved his hand in embarrassment. “It was well deserved! Ragnor, Captain Faramir is being moved to my quarters. Find his clothing and bring it here.” The man saluted and left.

“Your quarters? Why?”

“Because my bed is better, because they will look for you in your rooms and drag you back here, and because I said so. Is not that enough?”

“Wise as an owl,” Faramir chortled. “Thank you!” he said with passion. “Now, help me get this nightshirt off. I still cannot move the wretched arm up too high.”

Boromir stopped and looked at Faramir. “Are you truly well enough to leave here?”

“I am. The fever has been gone since before nuncheon; my stomach only roils when I see what they bring for me to drink; and I will go mad if I spend another night here. Are those reasons enough?”

Pulling off the shirt, Boromir sighed. “There will be no reasons enough once father hears of this. We will be in as much trouble as when we poured the water from your bedchamber’s window upon our friends and hit Uncle Adrahil instead.”

“Ouch! You had to remind me of that?”

“Here,” Boromir took the clothing from the returned guard. “Let us get these on and leave here before someone hears the racket your making.” Quickly, Faramir was dressed. The guard followed them as they walked quietly through the Houses. The torches had been extinguished and only tapers lit the corridors. At last, they were outside.

Faramir stopped. “I am sorry, Boromir. I am weaker than I thought.”

“You have not moved from that bed in close to a fortnight. Of course you are tired. Let me help you.” He put an arm under Faramir's right side and started to walk towards the tunnel.

“The way is longer than I remember," Faramir whispered as they came out onto the Seventh Circle.

“Halt!” The gate's guard flushed when he saw Boromir. “Forgive me, sir. I did not realize it was you.”

“You stop everyone and anyone who passes through this gate. Even the Steward,” Boromir said firmly. “And you ask for the password. Do you understand?”

“Yes, Captain-General.”

“Well?”

The man looked thoroughly flustered. “What? Oh! The password, sir. I must have the password.”

“Ecthelion.”

“Thank you, sir. You may pass.”

By this time, Boromir could feel that Faramir's weight was increasing. The walk was too far. “Ragnor, give Faramir your hand also.”

The guard did as he was ordered and the walk was quicker as Faramir was almost carried to the Tower. Within moments, they were at Boromir's quarters. “Stay outside the door and let none pass, Ragnor. And thank you for your help.”

The guard pushed the door open and Boromir led Faramir in. He sat him on one of the chairs in the antechamber and quickly walked to his bedchambers. He stoked the fire, turned down the bed, and went to get Faramir. After he had him settled, he offered him some wine. “This should take the edge off the pain, Faramir. I do not think I should have allowed you this freedom; not because of the Warden, but I deem you sicker and weaker than I had thought.” He shook his head in consternation.

“Never the mind. I had forgotten how comfortable your bed is. Thank you, Boromir.” And he slipped into sleep.

Boromir covered him, then walked to a chair, moved it next to the bed, and sat upon it, resting his feet on the bed near Faramir's feet. He sighed as sadness engulfed him. First, father and now Faramir. Neither of them taking care of themselves. In a moment, he was asleep.

~*~

‘Pounding on the door. Always, there is pounding on the door. How am I to sleep with this every night!’

“My Lord Steward,” he heard Húrin's voice crying as the Warden banged on his bedchamber's door; he called for him to enter. “Well?”

“My Lord Steward. Faramir is missing. He is no longer in the Houses, his guard has disappeared, and we have searched his quarters. He is nowhere to be found. Before I rouse the entire Citadel, I thought it best to report to you.”

“It is. Go to Boromir's rooms. I believe you will find him there. If not, return to me.”

‘And I will kill him in the morning,’ Denethor thought as he turned over in his bed.


top
20.

The morning came and Denethor decided he would not kill Boromir this day. He looked upon his eldest with love. “When you decided to remove Faramir from his sick bed, it would have helped if you had notified someone, anyone. Did you not think they would miss him?”

Boromir smiled as he finished the last of the sausages. “You knew where he could be found.”

“That is not the same. You tell me I must rest, and when I do, they come pounding on my door because of some of your antics!”

“I am sorry, Father. I will instruct Húrin to stay away from your quarters during the night.”

“That will work quite well when we are attacked on our borders. By morning, all of Gondor could be lost.”

Boromir smiled evilly. “Then, I would not have to wed.”

Denethor’s mouth dropped. He took a long deep breath and Boromir held up his hands in mock surrender. “I am sorry, Father, truly I am. I am looking forward to meeting Míriel. And Faramir was asleep when I left. The fever left him yesterday. He is very weak.”

“Then he will not be expected at today’s ceremony. Boromir, I want you in your best uniform, with all your accoutrements. This is a very important day.”

“Very well, Father. I best be gone then. It will take some time to prepare myself. Five layers of clothing, you know!”

Denethor smiled. “I know, and six for me.”

Boromir laughed. “I will meet you in the Great Hall at the third bell?”

“Aye. Now go and tend to yourself and let me dress in peace.”

Boromir laughed and left the room.

Denethor sat in silence, his brow furrowed. He raised his head at the knock on the door. Calling ‘enter,’ he sat back in his chair and schooled his face to calm.

“Brother.”

“Imrahil. You look splendid. A true prince of the realm. I am glad you are here. I would have you stand in for your cousin on this day.”

“I thought as much. I dressed accordingly and you are not dressed.”

“I still have an hour. My manservant will help me.”

“Might I have the honour?”

Denethor held himself still. His hands trembled slightly. “You would ask this?”

“I would. It is a great honour for me to have a close kin betrothed to my nephew. Father would have been glad. And honoured.”

“The House of the Swans are and have always been true friends of Minas Tirith.”

“I know, brother. Can you not see Finduilas’ smile? She would be happy.”

Denethor took a deep breath. He had found not thinking of her kept the tears away. He bit his lip and took another breath. “She would have been. And Boromir, her heart would sing to see him grown as he has.”

“Both your sons are a credit to you and to her.”

“Aye.” Denethor shook his head to prevent the tears from forming. “I must begin to dress. Come with me into my dressing room.”

Denethor stood behind a screen and removed his nightshirt and his hauberk, hastily donning clean under garments. He stepped in front of the screen and held up a hand. “The silk shirt first and the leggings,” he laughed, as Imrahil held out his tunic.

“Of course. The shirt, then the leggings, then the underrobe, then the tunic, then the mantle.”

Denethor stopped the litany. “Now that I have the shirt and leggings on, I put on the undertunic, then the hauberk and the surcoat, then the mantle.”

“A hauberk?”

“Aye.”

“If you prefer.”

“I do.”

A half an hour later, Denethor was clad in his Steward’s clothing, slippers upon his feet. He strapped his belt on, then hitched his scabbard to it. Finally, Imrahil offered him his sword. He placed it in the scabbard and walked to his study. Fiddling in the drawer for a moment, he pulled out the Steward’s Ring. “Now, I am ready. Let us be off.”

They walked slowly down the stairs and into the Great Hall. It was already filled. The Chamberlain held up his hand and stopped them. He stepped forward and tapped his staff loudly on the marble floor. It echoed for a moment, then he spoke, “My lords and ladies. The Twenty-sixth Ruling Steward of Gondor, son of Ecthelion of the House of Húrin, Lord Denethor.”

The hall grew quiet as Denethor walked forward. Imrahil lagged behind a step, but Denethor would not allow it, and waited until Imrahil came even with him. They began to walk together towards the Chair. The Chamberlain followed behind holding the rod of the Steward’s office. Denethor sat and motioned for Imrahil to stand on his right. The Chamberlain bowed and offered the White Rod; Denethor accepted it.

As the invited people of Gondor moved forward, Denethor waited. Within moments, the crowd parted and murmurs of approval could be heard. Boromir, dressed in a surcoat of dark blue, embroidered with the White Tree, with gold stars hemming it, and a cloak of deepest blue leather trimmed in sable, black leggings and polished boots, his sword at his side and the Horn of Gondor slung carefully across his back, walked forward. As he approached the Chair, he smiled broadly at Imrahil, then bowed to his father.

Denethor stood. The Hall once again quieted.

“People of Gondor. I come before you today as your Steward, but more importantly, as father to Boromir.” He motioned and Imrahil stepped forward and stood next to Boromir. “My people, Imrahil, Prince of Dol Amroth, brings suit to us in the name of his cousin, Miriel, daughter of Galador, of the House of Imrazôr. We have accepted such suit on behalf of our son, Boromir. Let it be known that on the tenth day of April, the betrothal ceremony will take place here in the Great Hall of the City of Minas Tirith of the great realm of Gondor.”

Murmurs of appreciation rose. Heads nodded and women sighed. Some gentle sobs were heard and dainty handkerchiefs were evident. Denethor sat.

Imrahil bowed to Denethor and offered the contract. The dowry would be presented at the betrothal itself. Denethor took it and handed it to his Chamberlain. Imrahil turned to Boromir and embraced him. The people cheered.

When the noise had quieted down, Denethor stood once again.

“Today also, we come to give honour to my son.”

Boromir looked at him in astonishment and Denethor hid his smile. Not oft could he surprise his son. This day was turning out much better than he could have hoped. “I now confer upon Boromir, as High Warden of the White Tower, Captain-General of the Armies, Prince of the City that Elendil founded, Captain of the White Tower, and Lord of Gondor, the highest military decoration that I may bestow for extraordinary heroism in battle, not once but twice near the Nindalf. There, he and his men met the enemy who proved more numerous and fierce than our reports had told; there did he do much damage and thwarted the Enemy’s plan to conquer Gondor; there did he bring his warriors through in triumph. There was never a consideration that he would not personally lead his troops into battle. He did not sit upon his mount on a hillock overlooking battle and watch as his men encountered the Enemy. Nay! He led them, rode his horse before them, and gave them such courage to overcome superior forces. Come forward, Boromir, valiant Son of Gondor.”

Boromir swallowed and knelt at his father’s feet.

“Nay! Stand, Captain, and receive this collar of silver as token of our gratitude and the gratitude of your people.” Boromir turned; Denethor put the collar around his neck, lifted Boromir’s hair, and fastened it in the back. A single white stone, the purest white opal from the mines of South Harad, shone in its setting on the collar. “Your name and the names of the battles have been engraved on the back. Wear this in pride and with the profound thanks of all of Gondor.”

The crowd erupted into a roar of approval. Boromir blushed as Denethor embraced him. “I am most proud of you, my son,” he whispered.

Denethor turned him towards the people and the swell of acclamation rose. Denethor let them reward Boromir with their cries. After many moments, the Chamberlain motioned and the crowd slowly quieted.

“We have another honour to confer today. Would Damrod of Ithilien step forward?”

There was a commotion towards the front of the hall near the doors and the crowd slowly parted. The Ranger strode forward; a look of total confusion covered his face. When he reached the step, he bowed low.

“Damrod of Ithilien, your captain, Faramir of Gondor, has recommended you for the Soldier’s Medal for distinguished service to Gondor and for acts of heroism in the face of terrible odds. During the ambush in Ithilien, you saw your captain felled by arrows, and, though the Enemy continued its attack, you put your own life in jeopardy to save his life. For meritorious service to Gondor and its people, I hereby award you the Soldier’s Medal.”

Damrod stepped up and Denethor pinned the ribboned badge embossed with the White Tree upon the Ranger’s tunic. Then, he embraced the man. As Damrod stepped down onto the main floor, Boromir strode forward and embraced the man also. “Thank you again,” he whispered. “Thank you!”

The Chamberlain struck the floor again and announced that refreshments would be served in Merethond. Denethor and Imrahil walked through the open doors, followed closely by Boromir and Damrod. The crowd quickly dissipated; excitement filled the air. Boromir was forced to stand in a receiving line at the front of the hall. He had already eaten and did not much care that the food was quickly disappearing. His main thought had been regret that Faramir had not been present. He wondered if his brother was awake yet and if Ragnor had remembered to send for food so that Faramir could break the fast in comfort in Boromir’s bed. He looked over and smiled at Damrod who seemed as a fish out of water, receiving congratulations and hearty slaps on his shoulders.

“‘Twill be over quickly. The lords and ladies are in shock. I am surprised father was able to keep the betrothal a secret. By the looks on some of their faces, they had hopes for a different future for me.” He laughed quietly and Damrod, smarting from another well-wisher’s blow, laughed with him.

“I wish Captain Faramir had been here,” the Ranger moaned. “He it is that should have received an award. We all would have been dead, if not for him.”

Boromir frowned. “Awards are flighty. Sometimes given when least deserved, and sometimes, like in your instance, Damrod, when they are well-deserved.”

Damrod blushed. “Thank you, Captain-General.”

Soon, the congratulators slowly thinned. “Come,” Boromir took Damrod by the shoulder, “at least there are some schoons left.”

“And honey!”

They walked to the tables and began filling their plates. Denethor and Imrahil joined them. “So, did I surprise you?” Denethor asked needlessly.

“You did. I am grateful, Father. I will wear it with pride. My only wish is that Faramir could have stood by my side.”

Denethor’s brow furrowed. “I did not want the people to remember the ignominy of that attack.”

“Ignominy or no, Father, Faramir should have… It is good that Damrod received the badge. Well deserved.”

“Indeed it was.” Denethor let Boromir’s statement lay. He knew what his son wanted to say, what the regiment wanted to say, and what Damrod in particular wanted to say, but the defeat was catastrophic whether or not Faramir saved more men than thought possible.

“Shall we visit him together?” Boromir asked. “And you too, Damrod. He would want to see your badge.” Damrod again blushed and Boromir found he liked the man more and more.

Imrahil came with them and thus it was that four lords and one Ranger of Gondor walked in just as Faramir was stepping from his bath. He found the towel laid out for him and quickly wrapped it around his torso. “I did not expect visitors.” His face, still quite ashen, betrayed his discomfiture by a most rosy blush.

“We brought food, Faramir.” Boromir didn’t even notice his brother’s state of attire. “Schoons and honey.”

“I brought sausages,” Damrod exclaimed.

“And I brought your uncle,” Denethor chortled.

Boromir pulled on the cord and a servant entered immediately. “Wine from the Steward’s cellars, please.”

Denethor grimaced. “Not the Dorwinian bottles!”

The servant nodded and left.

Faramir, with Boromir’s help, quickly dressed and ran his fingers through his hair. Boromir led him to a chair in Faramir’s study. Denethor and Imrahil sat on the settle and Boromir sat on the floor in front of Faramir’s chair. Damrod sat on the window’s sill.

Silence followed as all finally took a moment for a bite to eat, washed down by a fine few bottles of good wine, though not the Dorwinian brand.

At last, Boromir leaned back against his brother’s chair. “We have been quite busy today, Faramir.”

“How did the ceremony go? Uncle, did you serve as Míriel’s father?”

“I did. And it went quite well, though the sound of major sniffing and snuffling and handkerchiefs flowing from maidens who had hoped to gain the Steward’s heir’s hand… It was a sad sight, was it not, my Lord Denethor?”

Denethor smiled. “I have many apologies to make to certain lords. Some had already purchased gowns for their daughters.”

Faramir began to laugh and Boromir joined him. “Would that I was there,” he said with enthusiasm.

“I missed you, brother,” Boromir said with all seriousness. “Father decorated me with the collar of silver!” he said, his voice hushed in awe. “Would you see it?”

“Oh! Boromir! Well-deserved.” Boromir had unclasped the collar and handed it to Faramir, who looked at it as if at the finest mithril in all the land. “It is beautiful.” He swallowed, trying to stem the tears. “Well-deserved.”

Boromir stood, pulled Faramir up, and hugged him. “Thank you! I wanted so much for you to be there. To share my joy!”

“I share it now. It is better in private.”

“Damrod also has received an award,” Boromir stepped back and made Damrod stand. “Look! The Soldier’s Medal.”

“Father!” Faramir turned to Denethor. “Thank you. I had not heard if my petition was accepted or not.” He turned towards Damrod. “Well-deserved, Damrod. I am forever grateful to you.”

Damrod blushed and quickly sat down.

Imrahil spoke for them all. “I cannot tell you how much your deed has meant to the House of Húrin and of the House of Imrazôr.”

Silence filled the room as these stalwart men considered the action of one that saved one so dear to them all.

At last, the time had come for Boromir to leave. “Damrod, will you help Faramir to his own rooms? And Father, please take no action against Ragnor in the displacement of the Warden’s patient. He only followed orders.”

“You still need to be punished for what you put both my Warden of the Houses and my Warden of the Keys through. I doubt they will willingly care for any from our house again.” Denethor’s face broke into a smile. “So that means you must take extra care of yourself whilst in Osgiliath these next few days.”

Boromir grinned. “I will, Father.” He handled the collar. “And thank you again. I am too filled with joy to speak further.” He hugged Denethor, Imrahil and then Faramir. Before he left the room, he saluted Damrod. “Take care of him. Remember your oath.”

Damrod began to protest, but Boromir was out the door before a word left the Ranger’s mouth.

Faramir grimaced in mock horror. “Does this mean you are still my nursemaid?”

“I fear it is so,” Damrod replied.

“Now,” Denethor said, “it is time Imrahil and I met with Húrin. The Warden still has to draw up the papers for the betrothal.”

Imrahil took Faramir in his arms and hugged him. “It is good to see you up and about.”

The Horn blew and all stood, transfixed.

~*~

There is one line of description in FOTR where Tolkien mentions a collar of silver that Boromir wore. It has always intrigued me. It couldn't have been something that Finduilas wore... too large... so I finally decided, since he wore the thing for 110 days on a very difficult journey, that it had special significance. I hope you like the idea of it being an award for valour. Seems only fitting.