Ten Thousand Years will not Suffice
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Parts 21 - 30
25. Third Age - 3017
“There.” Imrahil signed the last piece
parchment and set the quill down. He sat back and breathed a sigh of
contentment. “It is well and good. Everything done that needs must be
done. Now, when the betrothal takes place, there will be no legal
matters to cause delay.”
“Thank you, brother. Húrin,” Denethor turned to his Warden,
these papers and put them in a safe place. You will bring them out and
hand them over to the Chamberlain the day of the betrothal.”
“Aye, my Lord Steward. Now, do you have a moment to go over these final
plans for the feasting tonight?”
“I leave the feast in your hands, Húrin.” The Warden looked at
in surprise, but nodded his assent. “I have something of great import
that I must needs be about.” He dismissed his cousin and turned to
Imrahil. “I will see you on the morrow to discuss those boats.”
“Stay a moment, brother,” Imrahil moved to the settle and sat,
motioning for Denethor to join him. He handed him a goblet of wine, but
Denethor declined. “Boromir suggested you take some care of yourself. I
would not be a good uncle if I did not watch over you whilst he is
Denethor chuckled. He sat back and took the proffered cup. Closing
his eyes, he felt his body sink slowly into the deep leather. It
soothed him somehow. He gulped. “There really is no time for this,” he
“Nay. Stay but a moment. Gondor will not fall at this precise moment.”
Imrahil relaxed himself. They had been so very busy these past weeks.
The weeks to come would prove as stress-filled. Any moment snatched for
respite had to be grabbed and held tightly. He heard a noise and looked
towards Denethor. A tear ran down the Steward’s cheek. One lone tear.
“I am tired. Will you visit Faramir this noontime? I will be busy for
most of the afternoon and would not see him alone so soon after his
Imrahil nodded. He suddenly and deeply missed Finduilas. He
remembered sitting in this very settle, with Denethor on his right and
Finduilas sitting next to the Steward, holding his hand and smiling
gently. His heart ached for his friend.
“You dwell on the past, Imrahil,” Denethor said quietly. It pained him
to see Imrahil start at his words. Sometimes, his gift for seeing
others’ thoughts was painful. He stood and left his study.
‘I am leaving a little too quickly, but I must see northward. I should
have done this last evening, when I heard of the treachery.
be put out, but the people do not need me to carouse.’ He took the
steps two at a time, despite the heavy hauberk. He had worn it so long
now that its weight was hardly noticed.
When he reached the uppermost room, he paused and looked through
the tower's window. The Pelennor sprawled before him, its spring green
not quite as vibrant as it should be. Denethor remembered Boromir’s
comment concerning the rain in Ithilien. He knew his son wondered if
the One they do not name was responsible. As far as Denethor was
concerned, anything was possible, the rains that flooded Ithilien and
the drought that assailed the Pelennor. Both could be the work of the
occupant of Barad-dûr. ‘Is there aught I can do about this? Nay.
can fight his evil whispers; I can save my warriors.’
Stepping through the door, he walked slowly towards the table,
gathering his thoughts and energies. He took the cloth from the stone
and placed his hands on it, one on either side. Soon, swirls lit up the
inner recesses of the Palantír and Denethor drew in a sharp
it had done this past year, the smooth ball whispered to him, but he
concentrated on where he wanted to look and not on the stone’s desires.
The Entwash spread before him. He could see the fingers of the Mouths
spread out from the east and flow towards the west and the Mering.
Somewhere along that route was Éomer. He would find him for
send an errand-rider with specific directions.
What he found instead was a patrol being decimated by a large band
of Orcs; the banner was that of Cair Andros. ‘The fools,’ Denethor
thought, ‘Why are they in that area. Does not our treaty with Rohan
state that is Rohirric territory? Had I not sent warnings to leave that
area for the Rohirrim?’
This was the third such attack in less than a fortnight. Boromir had
been correct; Denethor had kept these reports to himself. ‘That fool of
a captain, Hador, is sacrificing his men for naught! They cannot hope
to stop these raids without help.’ He turned away, no longer wishing to
watch the slaughter. Besides which, there was nothing he could do.
Looking further north, he found no signs of Rohirrim. Turning his eyes
westward, he traveled for many miles until he spied clouds of dust
further east, directly north of the Mering. ‘A large contingent of men,
perhaps even an éored,’ he thought. At last, after many moments
increased focus, he saw the banner. ‘Eomer’s!’ The band was heading
southward, obviously for the garrison at the Mering. He breathed a
heavy sigh of relief.
‘It will take Boromir a week to reach there, a few days to discuss and
resolve this issue and any other problems, and then another week to
return. He has eighteen days before his betrothal; I fear my timing is
wretched.’ He bowed his head in bitterness and that is when he felt it,
a cold, dark fury reaching out to him, out from the Palantír.
He tried to pull himself away, but found his hands tightened to the
stone. His vision was taken from fair, clean, bright Rohan and across
the Anduin to the Ephel Dúath. His sight diminished as the walls
Tower room seemed to enfold upon him. The air became stifling. He was
pulled towards a valley that led eastward. Immediately, he knew where
he was being drawn – Minas Ithil no longer, but Minas Morgul. He had
not been close to that dark fortress since he was a boy. In fact, he
had never actually seen the walls and tower. Tales told of a once
beautiful place, wreathed in the hallow of the hills, moonlight
streaming from it, moonlight, in fact, welling up through the marble
walls. He shuddered. Marble such as Minas Tirith was built of. Was this
really Minas Morgul he was seeing or was it the future and what Minas
Tirith was destined to become?
A voice came, soft and gentle, filling his head and causing his
knees to buckle. He gripped the globe tighter, refusing to be cowed.
Cocking his head sideways, he listened, sure he would not succumb. Had
not he met the Nameless One himself in this very orb and survived! The
voice was not the same, so he relaxed a bit, enough to let down a small
portion of his defenses, enough to let in the Witch-king. His eyes
widened as he saw before him a being, black-robed and black masked.
“You know me well, Denethor,” the mocking voice sneered. “I am the Lord
of Morgul, the Black Captain, and you will do well to hear me. All is
lost. You wait for a king. I have one, Eärnur by name. Perhaps you
remember him. He came to me and still lives by my power. So the king
you wait for,” the sneer deepened, “has been here all along. Shall I
return him to you?”
Denethor shivered. It was not true. Mayhap the voice was not even
real. Mayhap it was his own fear that sounded in his heart. Quelling
his fear, he listened on.
“I will bring him myself. Would you like that?”
A roiling laugh filled the Tower room, growing and building, echoing
off the walls and cascading down upon Denethor, filling him with a
terror the likes of which he had never felt before. His knees buckled
again, but he bit his lip hard enough to draw blood and stood once
again, firm. He was the Steward of Gondor, a son of Númenor, an
the Faithful, of the House of Húrin, son of Ecthelion. He would
succumb. He swallowed, his throat so tight it hurt. The taste of blood
in his mouth wakened him, strengthened him; he pulled back a little way
from the globe and sighed. “Be gone, spawn of Morgoth. I will not
listen to your lies.”
The orb glowed and mists flowed through it. Denethor stared at the
mists as they seemed to cover his very hands. He did not loose his
grip. ‘Faramir! Boromir!’ He saw again Faramir on the cot, deadly white
and still. He saw Boromir, lying in a strange craft, his arms folded,
much as he had been that dreadful day Finduilas and he thought they had
lost him in the little creek by the walls of Minas Tirith. But now,
Boromir was full-grown and his face was still. Denethor groaned and
fell; the Palantír dropped with a resounding thud that
his ears; it rolled from his hands to hit with a loud thump against the
wall where it finally stopped. Quiet filled the chamber.
Denethor’s chin shook as tears welled and spilled. He sobbed; his
throat so tight he thought he would die. ‘Boromir, my beloved, what
have I done?’ His son could not be dead, his child, his own! Gasping
for breath, he leaned against the cold marble wall and willed himself
to be strong. His hands grasped the mail shirt and the feel of the cold
hauberk steadied him. ‘It is the future,’ he told himself grimly. ‘Just
as the sight of Faramir dead on the cot was the future, so is this. He
is not dead. And he will not die, nor will Faramir. I will… What?’ What
could he do? The warriors of Gondor died on a daily basis, sometimes a
hundredfold in one day’s time. That Boromir and Faramir, and even
himself, would die defending Gondor he had known since they were born.
Yet, always, hope had covered his heart. He strove to discover how he
could save them, but he knew he could not. He could not save Finduilas,
nor Indis. Great sobs racked his body until he fell asleep on the cold,
hard, marble floor with the Palantir across from him, swirling in
malevolence. A hard laugh echoed off the walls and was gone.
Boromir sat in Guilin’s chair and waited for the captain to return.
He had been angered by the order, Boromir felt the heat of the
captain’s anger, and he had tried to assuage the captain's fears. He
would only take two companies with him, the garrison could afford two
companies, and it was for only a short time, a little over a fortnight.
If he understood the reports that Guilin had shown him, though, the
captain had every right to be angry. The garrison could ill afford the
loss of two companies with the level and strength of attacks that had
assailed the fort at Amon Dîn. Silently, Boromir cursed his
not being more forthright in communicating the scope of attacks to the
northern border of Gondor.
It was imperative that he found Éomer, and quickly. First,
the rumours of discord and division, mayhap even treason, but mostly,
because of the need for strengthened guards along Rohan’s northern
borders. If Gondor was being attacked, so must Rohan. He would wait the
night here, gather the best warriors from the garrison, wait for the
promised missive from Denethor, and then ride to Rohan.
Guilin stepped through the door, his boots heavy on the floor as if the
captain filled his steps with the anger that flooded him. “I found the
books you asked for. These are my finest riders.” He pointed to a
column of names. “They will be ready at first light. I assume you will
leave at first light?” A hint of mockery was in the strong voice.
Boromir leaned forward and took the book in his hands. “Sit, Captain. I
would speak with you a moment. Have you wine or ale?”
Guilin walked to the sideboard and poured two mugs of ale, then sat in
a chair in front of his desk. He handed the ale to Boromir. “Two
companies, you say?”
“Enough of that for the moment. How was your trip back from Osgiliath?
Did you sight any of the enemy?”
“We did not,” Guilin sighed. “All was quiet. I had hoped it meant a
quiet spring, but I fear now we will be under attack until the next
snows.” The captain bit his lip.
“I believe the same. That is why I must take your men, for this short
span of time, and give the alarm to Rohan. If they take care of their
northern borders, the burden will be lessened for you. Do you not see
“Of course I see it,” Guilin’s tone was dangerously close to
insubordination. “Still, if we are attacked, with one hundred forty men
missing from our ranks, and with the losses we incurred at the Nindalf,
I see not how we will survive.”
“You will. They have not dared to attack this garrison. You are too
close to Minas Tirith.”
“That does not stop them from there constant raids upon Eastern
Osgiliath,” the captain interrupted.
Boromir snorted. “Osgiliath is vulnerable. Amon Dîn, I tell you,
not. Not yet. However, if we do not receive help from the Rohirrim,
that day that you fear may come. I cannot do this without your men,
Guilin rubbed his hands over his forehead. “I understand,
Captain-General. It will be as you wish. I will hold the garrison for
your return. Now, I will muster those on the list so that you might
Boromir nodded. The captain left the small room and Boromir took a
great, gulping breath as he leaned back. His eyes widened and he jumped
from his chair. Running to the door, he opened it and called loudly,
“Captain Guilin!” The man was halfway across the compound; he turned
and looked. Boromir motioned and the man turned and came towards him.
Boromir returned to the chair and waited. When Guilin entered, he
motioned for him to sit. The captain did so, puzzlement plainly writ
across his face.
“Have you had recent dealings with the Rohirrim?”
“Aye. They come across the border now and then to trade for
supplies. The garrison at the Mering Stream is quite some ways from the
furthest eastern reaches of their border. A troop came through here a
“How did you find them?”
“My Lord, I do not understand.”
“Were they friendly? Were they open? Were they distant? Were they
“Brash, Captain-General. I wanted to take their captain and spit in his
Boromir sat back in surprise at the vehemence in the man’s voice. “How
did you treat them?”
“With diffidence. Giving them the respect of one ally to another.”
Guilin looked at him, questions spilling from his eyes. “Was I to do
other than that?”
“Nay. And I am glad, profoundly glad, that you kept your temper. Have
you reason for their demeanor?”
“I do not. For the last year… Nay, since the beginning of this
year, their bearing has been changed. Has some event caused this?”
“Aye,” Boromir whispered, but kept his thoughts to himself. “You
did well, Captain Guilin. Now, please bring the men to me. Mayhap
and I can change this behavior on the part of the Rohirrim. Do not, and
this is an order from the Steward himself, do not treat them other than
as trusted allies.”
“Aye, Captain-General.” Guilin looked at him quizzically and left the
Boromir swore. “By every Vala known, the Enemy tears us asunder.
And we go willingly, as lambs to the slaughter!” He downed the warm ale
and closed his eyes, preparing for the next part of his journey.
Denethor opened his eyes, straining to
about him, to find where he was. His mind reeled; the pain so fierce,
he knew not if he would survive. Closing them did naught but make the
pain sharper. He gritted his teeth to quell the throbbing, but that
motion only sent him over the edge and he screamed. Blood filled his
mouth; the scream silenced by the biting of the soft inner skin.
Slowly, inexorably, the pain lessened, the throbbing dulled to a quiet
roar, the wound quickly closed. His lips shook as he tightened them.
His fingers trembled as he frantically pulled his cloak tighter about
him. The marble had turned to ice, his body burnt by its freezing
An hour passed, maybe more. He did not believe he survived the
onslaught of such agony, but he had, and a grim smile flitted briefly
across his face. He was still alive; he was still sane; he was still in
control; he was still his own lord. The smile grew into a hideous grin
and he screamed his defiance. ‘You will never have me! You will never
have my sons!’ His head fell back against the wall and his body swayed
and fell to the side. A low, deep moan swelled from his gut and passed
his lips ere darkness once again took him.
The guard, two flights down, ran up the stairs as the cries echoed
through the stairwell and out into the night. Desperately, he tugged at
the handle but it would not turn. He heard the moan and grew frantic.
He crashed his shoulder against the door, but it was built to keep out
the Enemy; it would not budge. He called again and again, “My Lord
Denethor! Steward! Open the door! My Lord?” But there was no answer.
Only one thing to do. He ran down to the very bottom of the Tower,
crying, as he exited, for the Warden of the Keys. The cry went up in
the High Court. At last, Húrin was found and brought to him.
crowded around them, straining to hear what had caused such chaos.
“What? What has occurred that I have been brought from my bed this late
at night? Are we under attack? Where is Lord Denethor?” The Warden's
words, in the terror that filled the Steward’s stronghold, cut through
the desperation of the guard.
“The Steward, Lord Denethor, is locked in the Tower room and he is hurt
or ill. Something has assailed him. I know not what.” The warrior’s
eyes were wild with grief and fear. “I heard his screams. Never, even
in battle, have I heard such screams. Do you have the key?” He clutched
the Warden’s cloak and tried to steady himself.
“I have no key for that room. Bring a timber and men. We will open it
The guard gave a short, choked laugh. “Nothing will open that door but
the key. All is lost. Our Lord is dead.”
The wind swirled across the Citadel, the moon’s light darkened by a
black, scudding cloud bank. All who saw it shivered; some cried out in
fear. ‘The Enemy nears! He has killed the Steward! We are lost!”
Imrahil, running from his chambers in the guest hall, shouted above the
furor. “The Steward lives! We will rescue him. Be still while we go to
him.” He dragged the guard with him as he ran towards the Tower. “Bring
the men and the timber. We will do what we can.” He motioned and
Six men followed the Prince of Dol Amroth; Húrin brought up the
fingering the keys upon his belt in helpless frustration. Imrahil heard
him muttering to himself, but could not make out the words. He turned
his attention from him and ran up the Tower stairs, two at a time.
‘Why do I not have a key for that room? When this is over,’ the Warden
vowed, ‘I will have a key made, whether the Steward wills it or no!’
They reached the topmost room. No light shown under the door, only
silence greeted them. Imrahil motioned for quiet. Gently, he knocked on
the door. “Denethor? It is your brother. Please open the door.” He
leaned his ear against the door, but heard nothing. Knocking more
loudly, he called again. “Denethor! It is Imrahil, Prince of Dol
Amroth. Open the door!”
There was no response. The guard moaned as Húrin took the keys
them to the lock hole. Imrahil nodded in approval. The Warden tried
each key, but attempt after attempt failed. At last, Denethor’s cousin
looked at the Prince in despair. “None fit,” he whispered, “It is as I
Imrahil shook his head. “Bring the timber.” The warriors brought it
forward. In the close confines of the winding stairwell, it was
hopeless. They could not even manage enough room for the men to stand
never mind have room to wield a piece of wood. The timber itself was
too long; there was no room to position it. If they had a shorter one,
he thought, it would break in the onslaught against the heavy oak door.
Imrahil stood, undecided. “A fire! Bring hot coals, oil, kindling, and
small pieces of wood. We will burn the door down!”
The guards ran back down the stairs as Húrin’s eyes filled. “How
you think upon that?” Imrahil saw the hope in the Warden’s eyes and
wished he had as much in his heart. These doors were heavy and thick.
It would take hours to burn through.
“It will work; it must!” the Warden cried.
Imrahil nodded, his own eyes blurred by tears. Only moments later, the
guards returned with a pail full of red, hot coals. Kindling was placed
on the floor along with bits of old parchment. Then, they soaked it all
in the oil and the coals were poured over the mixture. Swiftly it
caught; the soldiers carefully laid the pieces of wood, one by one,
upon the flames. The red tendrils rose, engulfing the door more quickly
than any had expected. They stepped back to escape the deadly heat. It
would be but mere minutes, Imrahil realized, before the door went fully
up in flames. There was hope!
By the time Boromir finished inspecting the men he would take with him,
night had descended. He dismissed them, then walked slowly back towards
the garrison’s office. Wearily, he pushed open the door and was greeted
by the warmth of a blazing fire. He walked to it and took his gloves
off. The cold of what was turning into a bitter spring had crept
through the leather and into his fingers, making them stiff and sore.
He flexed them and heard a slight cough. Turning, he found Captain
Guilin looking at him. “Aye?”
“Are the men satisfactory, Captain-General?”
“They are. I… I see you gave me your finest.”
The man shrugged and Boromir smiled. “Would you like to come with me?”
“To Rohan?” The startled expression seemed filled with longing.
“Aye. You have not been to Rohan, have you?”
“I have not, my Captain.”
“Then, as you will continue to deal with the Rohirrim in your capacity
as captain of Amon Dîn, I think it only fitting that you set foot
their land. It is in the touch of the land that one knows her people
and the Rohirrim love Calenardhon. How could they not, was it not once
Gondor’s soil.” He laughed at the joke of it.
Guilin swallowed dryly. “But, who will you leave in charge of the
garrison? It is a dangerous time, my Lord.”
“Who do you suggest?”
“The best would be Baranor, my aide. He has been here since before my
time. The men trust him.”
“Beregond’s father is here?”
“You know him?”
“Not well, but I have served with his sons. Both of them are considered
friends. They are now stationed at Osgiliath. Bring him to me.”
The captain nodded and left. Within moments, a huge man entered the
room. His shoulders were broad and his hair black and straight and
long; arms, covered in mail, showed scars running from the hands on up.
The soldier’s crooked smile mirrored both of his sons’ crooked smiles.
Boromir grinned. The man saluted and waited.
“It is good to see you again, Baranor. I cannot even remember the
last time you visited our home. Please, sit,” Boromir offered him a
chair at the captain’s table. “Captain Guilin, your hospitality has
been outstanding, but I fear I worked through the daymeal. Is any food
“Of course,” Boromir noted the man’s look of chagrin. “Forgive me,
Captain-General. I should have noted it. There will be food in but a
“Have enough brought for both Baranor and you.” He sat at the tale with
the old warrior and smiled. “You have been in my family’s service for a
very long time. Father told me you were a comfort to him when his
friend, Amdir, died.”
“We were close, your father and I. I have incurred his displeasure.”
“Why say you that?”
“It is long since I have been stationed in the City. I deem, if not
disfavoured, then forgotten.”
Boromir’s eyes watered. “If all I know of Amdir is true, his loss was
beyond sorrow to my father. Mayhap he recalls the grief when you are
“Two days after your sweet mother passed,” Baranor reminded him. “Aye.
I have thought that the reason for my banishment.”
“If you deem it banishment, I will go to father immediately and have
“I am overly dramatic. If my Lord Steward needs me away from him, then
I am glad to be of such service.”
“Nay. It is not right. Long have you fought for Gondor; now is the time
to return to her City and savour your reward.” He beamed as the soldier
bowed his head. “I know your sons. I spent time with them just a few
short weeks ago in Osgiliath. Beregond guards the Causeway Forts and
Iorlas the bridge. They are good men and true. You have much to be
proud of.” The old warrior’s huge grin delighted Boromir. “They are
also quite good at Kings and Stewards. I have lost to them a time or
two. But now, I have a task for you. Will you stay here and command
Amon Dîn until your captain returns? It should be less than a
“I will, Captain-General.”
“Then it is settled.” He stood and helped move maps and books and such
off the table as Guilin and some aides brought in trays of food.
They sat and talked for most of the night, for Boromir was not
concerned. The road to the Mering was straight and well-kept. It would
be an easy ride. Baranor regaled him with tales of his father and
Boromir learned much that night, much that furthered his respect and
love for the Steward, his father.
If there was ever a time Faramir needed his strength, it was now, and
now it had failed him. He had gone to the stables, it had been too
long, and began grooming his mare. But within a very short time, he
found himself weaker than a babe. The groomsman had had to come and
help him to his rooms. Now, he lay on his bed contemplating his future.
The shoulder was beyond sore. True, there had been poison in the
arrows, but he thought he would have been further along in healing. He
fell into a deep sleep, aided by the healing tea left him. The
despicable groomsman, once he had seen him on his bed, had sent for a
healer. He didn’t want his father to know he was still so weak. ‘There
is so much to do before I journey south. I need to go to Osgiliath, at
least to start what Boromir has planned for its defense.’ But sleep
came and quickly.
The conflagration at the door quickly died as the greedy flames ate
through the old oak. Imrahil jumped through the last of the fire and
ran to Denethor’s side, but the Steward opened his eyes, pushed him
away and crawled towards the other end of the room. Imrahil sat back in
utter astonishment. After a moment, he ran after him. Denethor was
wrapping his cloak around an object; Imrahil could not make out what it
was. In a moment, Denethor leaned back against the wall and took a deep
“Leave me be. I am well.”
“You are not, brother,” Imrahil said gently. “We will take you to your
room. Húrin,” he motioned to the Warden, “Let us help him
The healer made to examine Denethor, but Imrahil stopped him with a
shake of his head. “Leave him till we reach his chambers. He is surly
now and will not agree to such help.”
Denethor growled and shoved him. Imrahil raised his eyebrows in
surprise. ‘So much strength still here!’ The Steward made to stand, but
his legs refused. Imrahil took one arm and Húrin the other.
the Prince noted, had decided to allow their help. They started toward
the door. Denethor stopped and looked at the burned entrance. “This
must be replaced immediately,” his voice still rang clear.
“Aye, my Lord Steward,” one of the guards said. The healer who had
come with them said naught and followed them down the stairs. One of
the guards ran ahead to call for servants to prepare Denethor’s
Once they reached the Steward’s private quarters, Húrin sent the
guards, but one, away. The healer took his place at Denethor’s side and
together, Imrahil and he walked the weakened man to his bed. By this
time, the Steward’s own chamberlain had arrived and quickly took over.
He gently sat Denethor on the bed and began to undress him.
“Leave me be. I am well. Just tired.”
“We will be in your out chambers. When you are ready to speak, send for
us.” Imrahil saluted and left with Húrin close behind.
The two men walked to Denethor’s private study, leaving the healer
behind to fight with the Steward over his care. Húrin sat
the settle before the fire while Imrahil stood at the window, looking
out upon the Pelennor. Slowly, he turned, his face drawn and white.
“He… I have never seen him like this. His face has aged ten years.
His hair is more white than black. I cannot understand this. What evil
lurks in that room? What has he been doing?” Tears streamed down the
young Prince’s face. “It is unbearable to see him thus.”
“Aye. There was horror in that room.” The Warden looked up and
grimaced. “The common people say the Lord Steward wrestles with the
Enemy in that room. Is that possible?”
“Anything is possible,” Imrahil spat in his anger and frustration.
“He has great powers; that he can use them so far from Barad-dûr
hard to believe, but my eyes do not deceive me with the change that has
come over Denethor. He looks to have faced death.”
Húrin nodded in misery. “Aye.”
Imrahil entered Denethor’s bedchambers
waited. The healer had gone, as well as Denethor’s manservant. The
Steward did not open his eyes, so Imrahil crossed the room, moved a
chair from near the fireplace, placed it next to the bed, and sat. He
waited, for he knew that, though the Steward seemed to sleep, he had
been the one who called him here. It was almost the mid night hour. ‘A
very long day,’ Imrahil thought grimly.
The Prince of Dol Amroth almost wept as he saw the devastation upon his
friend’s face. Pain, grief, fear… Was fear there also? He was
surprised. When he had been a young soldier and served under Denethor,
he thought he would never see fear upon the great warrior’s face, but
now, it was definitely fear. “What have you seen, brother?” he asked
“Death,” the voice was strong and the eyes that quickly opened were
clear. “I have seen it all my long life, but never in this fashion.”
Denethor’s head tilted slightly. “I thought mayhap I was accustomed to
it, but I am not.”
Imrahil leaned closer, resting his hand upon Denethor’s arm. “We have
both seen much death.”
“Not like this, Imrahil. I,” he shuddered. “None other is to know this,
especially my sons, do I make myself clear?” He continued upon
Imrahil’s acceptance of the command. “I saw Boromir dead in a boat on
the Anduin and Faramir dead on a cot in the Tower.” The Steward’s mouth
was held in a tight, straight line. No emotion was in his words nor in
Imrahil clutched Denethor’s arm tightly. “It is a lie,” he hissed.
“Like unto the lies he told in Númenor and before that. It is
those that turned the Elves from Valinor. Listen not to him, Denethor.
I will support you in all you need to do to protect them. I swear on
the grave of my sister, my father and my mother!”
“As do I, but it will be for naught.” He waived his arm as Imrahil
attempted to protest. “Nay. I know it is lies, but the images, the
sounds, the feel…” He shuddered. “Lies or no. It is possible, Imrahil,
and we must do everything in our power to stay such horror.” He paused
for another moment. “None know this either, my brother, and none ever
will, but I have seen the Pelennor covered with the armies of the
Nameless One. Their war machines were many; they drove before them
Mûmakil and other beasts; Uruk-hai led the battle, too numerous
count. Imrahil!” Denethor took the Prince’s hand and held it tightly,
“I could not see the green of the land beneath their feet, there were
so many!” He lay back, exhausted.
“Do you know when?”
“Nay.” The Steward whispered. “That is the rub, is it not? But
soon. The landscape of the Pelennor was not much changed. I noted some
trees I am familiar with; they are about the same size. It will be
within five years at the most.”
Imrahil dared not ask how the Steward knew.
“Go now and rest yourself, Imrahil. Tomorrow, we begin towards the
“Nay. Towards the beginning of a new day for Gondor, Denethor. I
promise. The men of Gondor are doughty. We will not fall. Minas Tirith
will not fall.” He lowered his voice, released the strong hold he had
on Denethor’s arm, changed it into a light touch and said, “Rest well.
I do not want to have to answer to Boromir when he returns!” He smiled
down at his friend. Denethor’s eyes were closed. Imrahil turned and
left the room.
“How fares he?” Húrin stood, strode forward and asked as soon as
the Prince came out of the bedchambers.
“He carries a heavy burden. I see hope in his eyes though. He
continues to do battle, and we must stand beside him with swords drawn,
Húrin. Else Gondor will fall.” He bid the Warden good night and
slowly back to his own quarters.
Húrin sat upon the settle once again, his hand held a goblet of
wine. He had decided to keep watch, but only a moment had passed when
Denethor’s cry rang out. He jumped from the settle and ran into the
“I must have an errand-rider. Boromir awaits my missive. He must ride
Húrin tried to calm the Steward, but nothing but a promise to
one immediately calmed the man. Húrin ran to the door and
guard. He then ordered him, loud enough for Denethor to hear, to fetch
an errand-rider. The man saluted and left.
Denethor lay back in the bed and sighed. “I need writing paper.”
Húrin ran to the study and brought a writing board, parchment, a
quill and ink to the bed. Denethor took it and began writing furiously.
By the time he had finished, the errand-rider knocked on the door. At
Denethor’s bidding, Húrin found the seal and the wax, warmed it
handed it to Denethor, who sealed the note and handed it to the rider.
“Take this to Amon Dîn immediately. Let no one stop you and
hand it to Captain-General Boromir.”
The rider saluted, took the proffered note, turned and left. Denethor
lay back against the pillow, his face white as marble. “Thank you,
Húrin. I will sleep now, I promise.” The shadow of a smile
Húrin, thoroughly flustered, went back to the settle and poured
himself a large goblet of wine. He sat and shook his head. ‘This is
going to be a long night!’
Denethor pushed the covers back and stood. He walked to the window
and looked out upon his beloved land. He clenched his teeth as the
vision shown him in the orb threatened to overwhelm him, and then bent
over to mitigate the pain that shot through his mind. ‘Too long did I
look; I will not do that again,’ he thought miserably. The White Tree
stood in the Courtyard. Not a leaf clung to it, but was not that the
way it had looked all his life?
Yet, the Pelennor beyond was green in the flush of springtime, albeit a
dry one. He watched as the land undulated in a slow drop to the river.
It took his breath away, as always. A few lights twinkled in the dark
to mark a farmhouse, a vineyard, or the occasional hostelry. He could
not remember the last time he had ridden out and felt the clean wind on
his face, the feel of his mount under him, and the smell of the rich
soil of the farmlands. His head dropped in inconsolable grief. If this
fell, if this fair land was trampled and ruined by the Enemy, could he
yet live? He bit his lip and turned from the window.
The Pelennor was not the only target for the Enemy. He quickly dressed.
‘Where is my hauberk?’ he thought in irritation. ‘They have taken it
away; that wretched servant of mine finally has his way and removed it
from me.’ But no, a moment later he found it and put it on, then his
tunic. He found his belt, scabbard and sword and quickly finished. At
last, he found his overcoat, the fur-lined one that warmed almost any
night on the parapet. He put it on and walked out the door.
He stopped as suddenly as he had started. Húrin sat by the fire.
swore under his breath, but then smiled grimly. The man was sound
asleep; the goblet had fallen to the floor. Denethor squirmed at the
thought of his faithful cousin. He should send him off to Belfalas or
somewhere to lead a life of ease. Yet, here he had charged him with one
of the most grievous duties in the realm, Warden of the Keys. He
touched the man’s forehead in love as he passed.
The guard’s face openly showed complete surprise. Some part of Denethor
wryly thought of the confusion of the guard: should he stop his Steward
and send for aid or should he let him pass? ‘Well, I have no time for
that now,’ Denethor thought, and barely nodded as he passed the man by.
He knew, if he was quick and firm in his step that the guard would be
nonplussed enough not to venture any action. He was right.
He walked the two flights up and found the door unlocked. He walked
into the outer chamber and saw the fire was near spent. The room was
cold and Denethor wrapped his coat closely about him. He walked through
the outer doors and into the bedchamber. The fire here burned even
lower. He put a few logs onto it and looked for a chair. One stood near
the window. He brought it to the bed and sat down. A smell assailed
him, familiar and unpleasant. ‘Ah, valerian tea. But why? What need has
Faramir for this?’
He looked more closely at his son. Faramir did not stir. A slight
sheen of sweet covered the boy’s forehead. His face looked as it did in
the vision. Fear drove him to touch the boy’s chest. The slow, steady,
though shallow rhythm eased his concern. Denethor swallowed as tears
stung his eyes. He vowed, in the Tower room, that he would not cry
again. Never would he be pathetic enough to allow the Enemy to do what
he had done this night, find him weak and easily o’ercome. Never again.
A cock crowed somewhere in the vast expanse of Minas Tirith and
Denethor stirred. ‘I should be away before he wakes, else he be
concerned.’ But he had been too late in the thought; Faramir’s eyes
looked at him quizzically.
“Ada… Father,” he noted the boy corrected himself. A shaft of pain
pricked his heart.
“I was on my way to the Great Hall and decided to look in on you,” he
lied fluidly. “Are you well? I see the tea?”
“I am weak,” Faramir’s voice spoke volumes. Dejection and frustration
vied for control.
“It is the poison. One arrow laced thus would kill many a man, my son,
yet you have taken two such hits. It is not unexpected, though
Faramir looked up in surprise. “It is frustrating! I went to groom
my horse and had to be nigh carried back here.” A scowl lit his face
and Denethor quelled a laugh.
“I understand such frustration.”
Faramir smiled tiredly, “I am sorry, Father, of course you do. Above
all other men in Gondor, you know frustration. I seem to be a large
part of it, of late.”
“Nay,” Denethor took Faramir’s hand and held it. “You are a large
part of my life, that I will attest to, but not my frustration. This is
a hard time for a soldier, Faramir, to be laid low, knowing there is
much that needs your attention. Gondor will wait for your recovery.”
Faramir smiled, closed his eyes and slept again. Denethor stood,
kissed his brow, and left the room. The walk to his own study on the
first floor lasted a year at least, he thought miserably. ‘I am as weak
as Faramir.’ He paused with his hand on the door, changed his mind and
walked out onto the Courtyard. Passing through the tunnel, he entered
the Sixth Circle and turned left. The training grounds lay before him.
He walked into the building and found the armoury.
After a moment’s work, he was fully equipped; he walked into the sandy
circle and faced the padded practice pole. He raised his word, swung it
time and time again, and grimaced as the thuds reverberated through his
body. He could feel his frustration leave him and a sense of calm
finally returned. He would beat the Enemy as he beat this pole. No harm
would come to his sons. ‘No harm will come to Boromir. No harm will
come to Faramir. The Pelennor will remain clean and beautiful. Minas
Tirith will stand till Arda itself falls.’ Over and over he chanted
these words until his breath came in short gasps and his arms felt like
An arm grabbed him as he pitched forward. “Brother,” Imrahil’s quiet
voice pervaded the haze of exhaustion. “Brother,” he replied. “How kind
of you to rescue me, again.” He heard Imrahil chuckle as darkness
Riding slowly out of the garrison at Amon Din
with Captain Guilin beside him, Boromir mused on the cryptic message
from his father. True, the direction he needed was contained in the
missive, but naught else: no greeting, no small scribble about Faramir
and wedding plans, no fare well. Not oft did his father write so
blandly and that worried Boromir. Trying to read behind the lines was
useless – there were no lines to read! He swore under his breath and
his brow furrowed even deeper. His horse, noting the disquiet of her
master, took to snorting and pulling at the reins. Boromir had to shush
her a number of times.
“She will not quiet until you do, Captain-General.” Guilin spoke low so none other could hear.
“I am tempted to return to Minas Tirith.”
Guilin looked at him in surprise. “Something in the Steward’s missive gives you concern?”
“There is naught in the missive but where Marshal Éomer is and that
is enough to concern me. If our mission were not so vital, I would turn
around right now.” He shook his head and bit his lower lip. “I do not
“You sent a rider to Captain Faramir this morning, right after you
received the missive. There should be a reply within days. Cannot you
wait until then?”
“I must.” He heaved a sigh. His father had not looked well the last
time Boromir had seen him, and though he had begged Imrahil to watch
over him, Boromir was not sure if any could stop the Steward from doing
anything that his father deemed necessary, no matter the hour or the
danger. After listening to Beregond’s tales last night, and some of the
hasty, yes that was the word, hasty actions of his father when he was a
youth, Boromir was not certain that flair for adventure and danger did
not still linger in his father’s mind. Would he in actuality go to
Osgiliath himself? He had been headed that way after Faramir’s
wounding. ‘Nay! He has more sense.’
“We could return to Amon Dîn and wait for your brother’s reply. We are only gone an hour.”
“Nay.” Another deep sigh. “We will ride at an easy pace. We might
have a reply before we break camp tomorrow morning. I would that were
so. But now, let us speak of Éomer and the Rohirrim.”
They rode with only three breaks, once in the morning and
afternoon, and once for nuncheon. At last, as Anor set behind the
mountains, they pulled up to the garrison of Eilenach. The men camped
outside while Boromir was given the captain’s own quarters. Food and
drink were rationed, as the winter had been hard. The men of this
outpost were grateful for the oranges from Lebennin that Boromir
brought with him. But more, they seemed awed that their Captain-General
should deem fit to visit them. That same Captain-General found himself
ruing the fact that he had not been to the Beacon Hills for a very long
time. As soon as was possible, which meant near to the mid night hour,
Boromir took himself away from the main gathering and went to bed. He
fingered his father’s missive as he closed his eyes.
He had not been asleep more than an hour when there was a furious
knocking on the door. He sat up and called ‘enter’ whilst wrapping a
robe about him. ‘The errand-rider,’ he sighed as the man stood before
him. He took the missive, thanked and dismissed the man.
I have not seen Father all day. Uncle Imrahil states he is well, but I
understand your misgivings and have tried diligently to ask towards
father’s welfare. None gave it, until late this afternoon. Hence, the
delay in the messenger’s arrival.
He is not well, Boromir. I feigned a relapse so that he would come
to me. When he did not, I took myself to his chambers. Húrin sat in the
parlour and barred my way. After a small bit of shouting, of which I am
not proud, Uncle entered the room from father’s bedchambers. He saw I
would not be swayed in my endeavor to speak with father, so he let me
The paper looked crumpled and Boromir spent a moment smoothing it out.
At least, that is what he told himself; in fact, he needed a moment to
steel himself before reading further.
I know not what has befallen him,
Boromir. I would have sobbed if not for the look in his eyes, as if he
dared me to show weakness. I pulled myself straight and saluted. Eru
forgive me, I wanted to fall at his side and weep as a babe.
He spoke calmly and chastised me for causing an uproar, for my
disrespect of his Warden, and for many other things. I was… surprised
by his vehemence. But I will forgive that, I already have. It is the
state of his body that causes me alarm. I cannot even describe it to
you, Boromir. It is as if our grandfather stood before me – not our
father. He has aged by ten years at least since last night.
I spoke of mundane things, Boromir. He knows I saw the betrayal of his
body. To speak of it in the open would have been futile. I suggested I
might go to Osgiliath and begin the work you planned for the garrison.
He agreed immediately and told me to leave on the morrow.
Boromir shook his head in surprise!
He knows I have no strength. He was
with me last night. I did have a small relapse. Nothing to be concerned
about, brother, for it is only the weakness of the poison. It has not
quite washed completely from my body, but I am well enough. But not
well enough to go across the Pelennor. I only tell you this so you will
understand my concern… nay! My alarm over his condition.
Do your best to complete your mission as quickly as possible and return
to Minas Tirith. I leave for Osgiliath on the morrow. I promise, and at this Boromir smiled, to ride slowly.
Boromir crawled back into bed, pulled the covers over him, and shook.
The Enemy had somehow reached Denethor. The lies were not enough. How
could he have entered the Citadel? When he returned, he vowed, he would
place extra guards in Denethor’s detail, he would search the Tower
itself for secret passages, and he would set his own guard upon his
father, one who would only report to him. His anger flared. ‘We will
leave for Rohan at first light. We will stay only long enough to
discuss the lies of the Enemy, then I will return home and make some
sense of what is happening. Enough of this madness!’
Faramir lay back, exhausted. His walk to his father’s chambers was
not, however, the reason. His mind reeled once again as he thought of
the sight that had greeted him upon entry to his father’s bedchamber.
As he had written Boromir, it seemed Ecthelion stared back at him. His
father’s breathing was soft, but strong; yet, Faramir noted a slight
trembling in Denethor’s hands. His face was waxen and covered with a
slight sheen of sweat. His hair was more silver than black and deep
furrows creased his brow accompanied by deep wrinkles along his eyes
and mouth. Imrahil was wiping the sweat when Denethor batted his hand
away. He had seen Faramir enter the room and wanted no show of weakness
for his son. ‘Too late,’ thought Faramir. ‘He is beyond weak. What has
caused this?’ He dared not ask.
“Father. I believe you have disobeyed Boromir.”
Denethor’s eyes steeled.
“Uncle Imrahil,” the Steward’s son turned to the Prince. “I see you are caring for my father as my brother asked?”
The hint of anger in his nephew’s voice stung. “I am, Faramir. As well as I am able.”
Faramir nodded, a half smile graced his face. “Mayhap I should let you rest and take your watch?”
“I need no watchers!” Denethor spat furiously. A touch of his old
vigour helped him push himself up on his arms to sit up in the bed. “I
need no nursemaid!” Then, much to his dismay, his arms gave way and he
fell backwards into the pillows. “Wizard’s pus!”
Faramir laughed out loud. “Father. I do not believe wizard’s have pus.”
Denethor drew in a deep breath. “They certainly do, for every time
I find myself in their presence, I find myself wiping spittle and pus
from my mind!”
“Oh! I like that phrase, Father. May I use it when next I write to Mithrandir?”
At once, Faramir realized he had taken the jibe too far. His
father’s experiences with Saruman flashed across Denethor’s face and
Faramir knelt by his bed. “Forgive me, Father. I jest about something
that causes you discomfort.”
“Get off your knees!” the Steward whispered, hoarsely.
Faramir stood. “May I sit with you for awhile? In all earnestness?”
“Aye. If you bring some tea with you. I am parched.”
Imrahil nodded and walked out of the room as Faramir sat in the
chair by the bed. He bit his lip in faint imitation of his brother and
Denethor could not help but smile.
“Tell me what happened, Father.”
“I stayed up too late. In fact, I do not believe I slept. I wanted to
expunge some anger I was feeling and went to the training grounds. I
spent some time hitting the practice pole. I went too far. Imrahil
helped me save face by letting me collect myself before I walked back
here. The people did not see it.”
Faramir had to blink back tears. “I am grateful for my uncle’s care. I think I have an apology to tender.”
“We do not deserve his love, nor his friendship.”
Smiling, Faramir took Denethor’s hand and winced at the paper-thin feel
of the skin. “You are worth ever bit of love and friendship any have to
give, Father. You do not stint yourself in your love for Gondor. Who
cannot admire that? Who cannot love you?”
Denethor closed his eyes at the unexpected tribute. “I would rest, Faramir. You will leave for Osgiliath tomorrow?”
Faramir started in surprise. “If that is your command, Father.”
“It is. Your brother’s plans are on the desk in my private study.
Take them with you and begin the process of rebuilding the garrison.”
“Aye, Father. I will return in time for the betrothal?”
Denethor did not answer. Faramir stood, gazing one last time on his
father, then turned, shoulders hunched, and left the room. He passed
Imrahil in the outer chamber without a word.
Six days later, the warriors of Gondor reached the Mering Stream. It
was nigh unto dark, yet they were challenged. Boromir nodded his head
in approval. However, approval turned to anger when his request to pass
into Rohan was denied without a thought. He bit his lower lip and
counted to ten in Quenya.
“I am the son of Denethor, Captain-General of Gondor. I would see Marshal Éomer.”
“He is not here,” the guard said disdainfully. “He was been summoned
back to Edoras. Now be off with you, unless you have a writ of entry
from Théoden King.”
Boromir clenched his hand on the pommel of his sword. “Did Marshal Éomer leave word as to when he would return?”
“I am not privy to his comings and goings. He is the nephew of the
king and under no duty to tell me. Go back to Mundberg. You are not
Boromir could take no more. He swung his horse around and rode back to his men.
Guilin, having noted the angry gestures of the guard and his captain, spoke not.
“We camp here for the night,” Boromir said without further word.
Guilin ordered the preparations and sent out the pickets. He shook
his head; they had not brought tents for they had planned on staying at
garrisons along the way, which they had, and then the hospitality of
the Rohirrim. He grimaced in a small moment of delight. ‘Now, Captain
Boromir sees what we have endured these past months!’
‘I have four days,’ Boromir thought as his mind whirled at this
turn of events, ‘before I must return to the City. I must wait and hope
that Éomer returns quickly. And I must keep my temper else I ask one of
my archers to shoot that pretentious guard!’
When morning came, while his men gathered what little supplies they
had in preparation for breaking the fast, Boromir wandered away from
the camp and found himself by the Mering. The river ran higher than
normal, for the winter snows were melting off the White Mountains. A
picket stood close by; he nodded, and continued. Stopping by the
stream, he picked up a stone, fingered it and thought long and hard. He
tossed the stone down and walked a little further. His mind was not on
Rohan, but Minas Tirith and his father and brother. How weak was
Faramir, he worried, and what had happened to his father? Where was his
uncle? Imrahil had promised he would watch over Denethor. Of course, he
couldn’t let his father know he had set his uncle as a nursemaid over
the Steward, but if Denethor could not take care of himself in the
small things, like eating, then what recourse did he have?
He sighed heavily and picked up another stone. This one was small and
smooth to the touch. He smiled and pitched it across the water. Though
the current was strong, the stone skipped four times. He laughed out
loud and heard an answering snicker across the stream. Looking up
quickly in alarm, he saw a Rohir standing on the opposite side. He took
a breath. “Care to join in a contest?”
The horse-lord smiled and nodded. He held up both hands. Boromir
looked around for ten stones. Within moments, he had his arsenal ready.
At a nod, the Rohir went first. His stone hit the water smoothly and
skipped three times. He bowed and Boromir took his first stone, rubbed
it for a moment, then flung it sideways. It skipped four times, as his
first had done. He smiled and returned the bow. For many moments, both
men were consumed with the contest. Boromir was in the lead, but only
by one skip. The Rohir had one stone left. Boromir was the last to
The Rohir’s stone hit seven times, easily skimming the stream. Boromir
raised an eyebrow. ‘Good throw!’ He saw the grin split the man’s face
and smiled. His last stone – and only three skips. He bowed in defeat.
The horse-lord smiled warmly, then turned and left. Boromir was once
again alone, all his previous concern washing over him stronger than
before the brief respite.
When he returned to camp, food was laid out. Yesterday’s bread and some
cheese. He snorted in disgust as the smell of bacon wafted across the
Mering. The Rohirrim were eating in style! His anger flared again.
“Guilin!” he called and the man was at his side in an instant. “I
am going for a ride into the Firien and then, perhaps, to our outpost
at Amon Anwar. We should have camped there last night. At least we
would have a passing meal this morning. I will return in time for the
Guilin laughed in outright shock! “You would leave without an escort?”
“We are hemmed in by the Rohirrim on our West and our outpost on the North. I will be fine.”
“And I will be dead if I allow this,” the captain said, his face
turning furious. “To allow the Captain-General and heir to traipse
about without a guard is treason!”
Boromir looked at the man in surprise, his quick retort quelled by
the last word. In truth, he could understand the man’s fear. “Very
well, we will take the whole company. We will spend the night at the
outpost. I will send a rider in the morning to watch for Éomer.”
Guilin relaxed as Boromir squatted by the fire and took the
proffered meager meal. As he bit into the hard crust, he muttered
curses. While he ate, Guilin saddled his horse, then ordered the men to
“Have you lost your mind,” Imrahil hissed between clenched teeth, his hand painfully digging into Faramir's arm.
Faramir turned Steelsheen's head around and stopped, well away from the
supply caravan heading for Osgiliath. “What do you know of loyalty and
obedience?” he snapped, fatigue overwhelming him. “I am bid hasten to
the garrison by my Steward; therefore I am as you find me.”
“You are not yet recovered from your wounds.” Imrahil let the harshness of his nephew’s words pass over.
“The wounds are healed. The poison will work its way out in time. I am not helpless.”
“Faramir,” Imrahil clenched his hands on his reins. “You should
have told your father of the weakness of your body. He is not himself
these days. He is not thinking clearly.”
“It is not that difficult a ride, Uncle,” Faramir smiled, moistness
filling his eyes at his uncle’s concern. “I must do as father asks. It
was not an order, not in the usual sense, but he needs me there. Do you
not understand that? Whether he is himself or no, I owe him my
allegiance. I am well enough to travel at the pace the caravan sets.
Will you stay with me when we stop for nuncheon?”
Imrahil shook his head. “I cannot understand either one of you. At
least Boromir is straightforward. He does not play games with me or
“So you would that I be more like Boromir?”
The Prince fumed. “That is not what I meant. I would that you would
stand up for yourself, at least in circumstances such as these.”
“As I said, I am not helpless. Perhaps weak, but that will pass.
There is much to be done, Uncle. I want to be back home for Boromir's
betrothal. I want to meet the lady.” Faramir smiled.
Imrahil returned the smile. “Since your companions set an easy pace, I
must be content with your decision. Remember this, Faramir, you are not
readily expendable. You are needed and most important to Gondor and to
your father. Do not sell yourself short.”
“Let us continue this journey then. Tell me more about Míriel. Was
she raised in Dol Amroth itself or is she from the lands nearby?”
“She has lived in Dol Amroth her entire life. Her father is on my
council. Her mother is one of the social gadflys that love to stick
their noses in everyone's business. Míriel is, fortunately, more like
her father than her mother, else I would not have suggested her to
Denethor. I like her. You will too, I am sure. As for Boromir,” Imrahil
shook his head, “I do not believe there is a woman alive who can take
his heart from Minas Tirith. She has a daunting task ahead of her. But
I think she is ready for it. Court life in your city is not as
convoluted as in mine. I think Indis had great bearing on that. She
kept the intrigue to a minimum. Would not tolerate any. That was a
blessing for Denethor. It was a grievous day, when she passed.”
“He misses her terribly. I think he has no one he trusts as he did his sister. I am told she was councilor to Ecthelion also?”
“That she was. Before my time. He turns to no one?”
“He listens to his Council, but usually," and Faramir's smile
turned bitter, “Usually he does what he had planned before he even
spoke with them. They grow frustrated. And bitter.”
“I can understand that. His spies and the other tools he uses to
dredge information are unique. I cannot keep up with his thoughts
myself. It must be very frustrating to not have the information he does
and have to council him. I do not envy these lords.”
“Nor I. I know Boromir is becoming frustrated. He needs must have
the reports father has, but father does not share them all. Boromir's
hands are tied. At least now, I think, father has agreed to send all
army related reports to Boromir. Father seems to know the enemies
movements, but does not tell Boromir. How does one plan a campaign if
one is blind?”
“Mayhap I can do something about that. When I return, if your father has recovered fully, I will discuss this matter.”
“Thank you, Uncle.”
The caravan pulled up and Faramir and Imrahil sat with the men and
shared a cold meal and warm ale. Then, they broke camp and continued
their journey to Osgiliath.
Imrahil hugged Faramir warmly before helping his nephew mount his
horse. “I am still gravely concerned for your welfare. Boromir will be
angry at your actions, you know.”
Faramir chuckled. “He will indeed. I have already sent a missive to
him, so he will return to Minas Tirith, ready to tear me to shreds!"
“Return quickly, Faramir. Set the plans in motion and return to your
warm bed. You will be needed for the betrothal, by me, if not by your
Faramir waved and set off after the supply wagons. Imrahil looked
on, concern filling him. ‘I know not how to protect either man,
Denethor nor Faramir. They are both stubborn. Mayhap, when Boromir
returns, we can talk sense into these two!’ He shrugged and headed back
to the city.
Derufin was delighted to see Faramir, then quickly frowned. “You are not well?”
“I am fine. Just a little weak. We have much work to do.” Faramir stumbled; Derufin caught him.
“A little more than weak, I think. Exhausted is more like it. Why are you here?”
“I am taking a short leave. I came to Osgiliath for its healing properties,” Faramir laughed roundly.
“‘Tis not a laughing matter. Are you taking over captaincy?”
“Nay! No such thing. I have plans that Boromir wants implemented. I
will only spend a few days here. I hope this is not an inconvenience?"
“The only inconvenience is if you fall off your horse and crack your
skull open. Which, from the state I see you in now, was a possibility
on your long ride.”
“Damrod would not allow it,” Faramir smiled at the shadow behind him.
“Then come. Stay in my rooms. The bed is passable. Have you eaten?”
“We have. I would most appreciate a moment's rest.”
“More than a moment, Captain. We will discuss Boromir's plans in
the morning, after you have had a good night's sleep and broken your
fast.” He held up a hand to stay Faramir's response. “If you are
stationed here for a year or a few days, you are under my command. And
my orders are for you to retire to your quarters. I will not speak with
you until the morrow.” The captain walked away.
Faramir did not miss Damrod's smug look. “So I am still to be treated as a babe.”
“If you act like one,” the Ranger said quietly.
“You wish Imrahil had talked me into returning to the City?”
“I do. This is... not my place to comment. I will order food for the
daymeal when that time comes. I will be standing here if you need me.”
“Find quarters for yourself for the night. I refuse... " He swore
loudly and a few of the men standing about looked at him questioningly.
“Boromir will not let you find quarters, will he?”
“I think not, my Captain." Damrod smiled. “I am not going to share
your room this time. I do not think you need a nursemaid any longer. I
will be on guard in front of your quarters, if you need me.”
“Damrod,” frustration colored Faramir's mien, “I cannot have you
standing outside of my quarters until we leave Osgiliath. You need your
rest and your privacy, too. Please, find yourself a billet and stand
guard when you feel you must, but then leave me. Please.”
“Aye, Captain. I think you are well guarded here. But I will remain
at your side during the day. I wonder where Mablung is billeted.
Mayhap, he will share a room with me.”
“Go and find him. I am going to sleep.” They had reached the captain's quarters by this time.
Damrod saluted and watched Faramir enter the building. He waited a
few moments, then entered the room. It was as he expected; Faramir was
asleep on the bed, uncovered, his boots and sword still on him. The
Ranger shook his head, removed the sword, scabbard and boots, and
covered his captain. He then left the room to find Mablung. He had
promised Faramir he would not stand guard both day and night, but he
had already decided he would watch during the day and Mablung would
guard their captain at night. Boromir would be pleased.
The sun was well on her way to setting before Faramir woke. His body
ached, not just his shoulder, but he put the pain aside when he noted
the shadows in the room. Anger, frustration, and exhaustion took turns
pummeling his thoughts. ‘There is so much to do,’ he moaned. He swung
his legs over the side of the bed and tried to stand, but the room
began to sway. He caught himself before he fell and lay back on the
bed, cursing quietly.
“Captain?” Damrod opened the door. “Are you ready to break your fast?”
“I think five times over. I cannot get up,” he said, shamefacedly.
“I am not surprised. Almost six hours in the saddle and no dinner last
night, no food yet today. I will return in a moment. Please, do not try
to stand. Please,” and Faramir nodded.
“Thank you. I will return with a meal.” The soldier stepped back out the door as quickly as he had entered.
Faramir did not move. His mind screamed at him to stand, to not lie
about, but his body had other ideas. He could not believe he had slept
a full night and a day. He took a few short gulps of air, closed his
eyes, and drifted off to sleep. When Damrod returned, he smiled and
turned to Mablung, who had followed him from the dining room. “Almost
time for you to guard him. If he wakes, he will be furious, just to let
Mablung frowned. “We only do our duty. He does the same. He will
not be angry. At least,” and the frown turned to a smile, “not when I
tell him Boromir would gut us both if anything else happened to him!”
Damrod laughed quietly.
“Will he recover his full strength?”
“He will, Mablung. Potent are the poisons of the Enemy, but the
healers assure Lord Denethor he will recover, and none would dare lie
to the Steward.”
“Aye. I will stand watch. The meal is all cold stuffs. I will keep
it here in case he wakes before morning. Will you report to Captain
“I will. Do you suppose I should send a missive to Lord Denethor?”
“Hmmm. That might be a good idea. Not mention Captain Faramir's weakness, but to...”
“To what? If I send a missive without mention of the captain's
state, he will wonder why his son did not send a missive himself. If I
send one and tell of the captain's weakness... I do not want to do
“Have Captain Derufin send one. As part of his usual garrison
report. That way,” Mablung shrugged, “The Steward will be none the
wiser and we have saved Captain Faramir shame.”
“Aye. I will speak with Captain Derufin now. A good solution,” the
Ranger sighed, but before he could leave, Faramir opened his eyes.
“Mablung, Damrod. It is good to see you both. Forgive me. I need to relieve myself.” He blushed furiously. “I will need help.”
Damrod strode quickly to the bed and helped Faramir stand. Then,
holding his arm, he walked him out the door and to the privy. He left
him standing before it and stepped out of the door, waiting. After a
few moments, Faramir called him. He walked back in and helped Faramir
back to the captain's quarters. A few men stopped and looked as they
crossed the compound, but none said a word. Damrod hoped Faramir had
“Thank you,” Faramir said, his voice almost a whisper. “If I had the strength, I would curse every Orc in Middle-earth.”
“There is food, Captain,” Damrod said and held a plate before him. “And ale.”
“Thank you. I will sit at the table. I am beginning to hate that
bed almost as much as the one in the Houses.” He smiled, daunted.
Damrod and Mablung stood by the door. “Nay! Please, sit with me. There
is too much food anyhow. I would ask that you would share this meal
with me. I am not used to eating alone.”
The two men looked at each other in consternation. Shrugging, they
sat. “Thank you,” their captain said. “And thank you for not cutting
this,” and he held up a piece of cold meat, “for not cutting this into
little pieces as if I was a child.”
The Rangers laughed. “Boromir did not tell us that we had that duty also!” Mablung said with glee.
“Good. And do not tell him that either,” Faramir said. After the
first few bites, his head had stopped spinning. He took a gulp of the
ale and sat back. “Where is Captain Derufin?”
“He took a patrol out this morning. He should return shortly. I think they were headed south, towards Emyn Arnen.”
“Hmmm. Where are the maps and documents I brought with me?”
“Here,” and Mablung stood and walked to the captain's desk. “All laid out and ready for you.”
“Would you tell the captain I wish to meet with him this evening?”
“Aye. As soon as he returns.”
“Has there been any word from Boromir or the Steward?”
“None, Captain. Would you wish to send a missive to the Steward?” Damrod asked furtively.
“Aye. I would. I think I can make it to the desk by myself.” He
turned towards Damrod. “I am surly, at times, and do not know enough to
thank those who help me. I am sorry.”
Damrod lowered his eyes. “There is no need for thanks.”
“Here. Come look at this with me. Especially you, Mablung. You have
been in Osgiliath for the last few days. I am sure Boromir asked you to
look around and see what changes might be needed.”
“He did.” Mablung stood up and stepped behind the chair where
Faramir sat. “He was particularly concerned with the docks. They make
it too easy for the Enemy to land his troops. He suggested we use
timber and concrete from the destroyed buildings to block them. There
are enough ruins nearby that it should not be a difficult task. We will
need fulcrums and levers and such, but it can be done. Especially since
the Lord Denethor has restored the garrison to full strength.”
A horn was heard and Faramir motioned. Mablung ran from the room
and after a few moments, Derufin entered with the Ranger. “Captain
Faramir. It is good to see you up and about.”
“Thank you, Derufin. Are you ready to take over your own quarters again?”
“Not until you leave. Do not ask again. I have found a nice little
billet away from the dust and the noise of the compound, and not many
can find me.”
Faramir burst into laughter. “So that is why you have given me your quarters – to hide?”
“Aye. And it has worked quite well. Now, I will find some food and return. You have orders for me, I believe?”
“I do. But Mablung will bring you food. We just finished our meal.
Unfortunately, my hunger got the better of me and there is none left.”
Mablung saluted and left as Derufin sat at the desk alongside
Faramir. “These are very good maps,” he said, wonder filling his voice.
“Where did you get them?”
“The Steward made them some years ago. I believe not much has changed?”
“Nay. Though some of the buildings have crumpled even further.
Still, the docks and the bridge and the defenses are the same. This is
incredible. A copy should be left here at the garrison.”
“Aye. I will see it is done when I return to Minas Tirith. Now,
eat,” he smiled as Mablung walked in with a large bowl of stew and
thick slices of bread.
The winds on the parapet blew colder than they
had this past fortnight and Denethor wondered once again regarding the
Enemy's hold on the weather. 'Is He that powerful? Can He tame the
elements, bind them to His will?'
A hand lightly touched his arm. “My Captain,” Húrin said quietly, “You are troubled?”
“'Twas kind of you not to say outright, 'I was able to come upon your
back unawares!’” Denethor turned to face his cousin. “When a soldier
leaves the battlefield for the final time, he loses a part of himself.”
“Are you lost, my Lord?”
Denethor's breath hitched, but his reply was strong and his Warden
missed the catch. “Lost in thought only, Húrin. Do you need something?”
“You asked me to apprise you when a messenger from Amon Din arrived. Boromir has begun his journey to Rohan.”
“Did you meet with the builders? Have you set a date yet for when they will start?”
“We met, my Lord. My estimate and young Faramir's were off by a
wide mark. The builders believe it will take nigh unto ten years to
heighten the Rammas.”
Denethor said not a word, but this time, Húrin did note a straightening
of the broad shoulders of his Steward. “I still think it is best that
we begin the project at the Causeway Forts. In two days time, I will
ride to Harlond and survey the Rammas there. Then I will decide.”
“Faramir thought that the North Gate should be the next place to rebuild.”
“Nay. The North Gate will be the last. Our allies from Rohan help
us guard the north. Preparations,” Denethor changed the subject, “for
new silos and granaries are under way?”
“They are, my Lord. I am planning on building two granaries and one silo this year.”
They both turned as Imrahil walked towards them.
“Good morrow, brother - Húrin,” the Prince smiled warmly.
“Imrahil! I had forgotten our meeting. Have you broken your fast yet?”
“I have not. And you? Though that question seems to be moot. I am sure you have not.”
“And you would be correct in this, at least. Húrin, let us take our
stalwart Prince to the dinner hall. I would the men see their Steward
still lives, and,” he put his hand on Imrahil's shoulder, “that Dol
Amroth's most beloved Swan Knight still graces Minas Tirith with his
Imrahil smiled gently. “I must return to my city when Miriel's cortege leaves.”
“You will be missed. Of all the lords of Gondor, your friendship and wisdom I prize the most.”
As they entered the hall, the soldiers all rose in unison. Cries of
“Huzzah!” rang through the hall. Denethor beamed and saluted them. One
of the servers ran to Denethor and offered a table. Another brought a
tray of pastries and hot teas.
Denethor whispered to Húrin who left them. Imrahil and Denethor sat.
The Prince watched as Húrin went from captain to captain. One at a
time, the captains came forward to approach Denethor's table. He asked
each to sit and questioned them about their duties, their men and their
After an hour and with scarce a sip of his tea or a bit of pastry,
Denethor was satisfied. He had interrogated, praised and exhorted all
the captains present in the hall. A warm glow hung over the men. When
he stood to take his leave, the soldiers rose again and cheered him
wildly. He saluted, then Imrahil, Húrin and he left.
“You must be exhausted?” Húrin wondered.
“I am exhilarated. They are good men, what few there are left. They
know their duty, could you not feel it? They will fight till the end.”
“And you will collapse,” Imrahil gently chided him, “as will I if I do not get some real food into me.”
Denethor nodded and the three walked to the Steward's quarters.
Denethor rang for a meal while Húrin and Imrahil settled themselves in
deep leather chairs in the study. When Denethor joined them, Imrahil
asked, “You were discussing granaries for food storage when I came upon
you on the parapet?”
“You have many great houses that lay empty and boarded. Instead of
building new granaries, would it not be more frugal and quicker to turn
a few of these into storage?”
Denethor nodded in surprise. “What think you of that, Húrin?”
“An excellent idea. As Steward, you can acquire empty homes in the
name of Gondor. I will do a survey these next few days and attempt to
discern which houses would best be suited for this need.”
“There are three problems, Imrahil, with your idea,” Denethor
stated as he finished his tea. “Fire, mold and vermin. The upper
portion of the houses would have to be sealed. We would have to use the
largest homes, ones that had great ballrooms or great foyers. Because
of the threat of fire, there could be no lit fires inside and the
vermin would surely find their way in and eat what we have endeavoured
“The major problem, as I see it, is keeping the grain dry and mold
free.” Imrahil stood and began pacing across the study, his face lit in
excitement. “I propose using the spill drains that lie under most of
the houses. Seal them off and then fill them with hot water. Of course,
fires would have to be built on the outside to heat the water. But the
cost would be much less than building new granaries. And the houses are
already empty! You already have drain pipes running under the larger
ones to take the spill from Mindolluin away from the City and to
prevent flooding in the spring. Chose two houses that are directly over
some of these spillways. The houses chosen should be far enough apart
to prevent flooding. Stopper the ends of the drains, set fire near the
top stopper for heating water, then flood the pipes with the heated
water. Every morning, have the bottom stopper removed and the cooled
water flushed out. Then – repeat the process.”
“Men would have to shift the grain at least twice a day to kept it from molding,” Húrin interjected.
“Aye. Twice a day they could move the grain from one end of the
ballrooms or whatever to the other end. The casements would be left
open to allow air to flow freely.”
“And,” Denethor stated wryly, “the cats of the City would be most
pleased to prowl the perimeters to keep the vermin down.” Denethor
stood and walked to the window. After a long moment, he turned and
looked at his friends. “It is a good plan. Húrin, find the drawings for
the sewers and locate the best houses. We will begin immediately. The
Council will be furious; already the Lords of the Building Trades were
rubbing their hands in anticipation of the stipends they would have
received for building these granaries. Imrahil’s plan is much better,
and,” he turned towards the Prince, “infinitely more economical. Gondor
thanks you.” He pulled the man up from the settle and hugged him
warmly. “I have said before, and I will say it again, you will be
sorely missed when you return to Dol Amroth.”
Imrahil and Húrin spent the rest of the day in the archives while
Denethor prepared for the next day’s Council meeting. As he had feared,
many of the Council members were furious at the change of plans.
Denethor could easily read their hearts. Yet, he listened attentively
to their complaints, their counter suggestions and their outright fury
at their loss of coin. In the end, he thanked and dismissed them.
Grumbling could be heard well after he left the Council chambers.
Returning to his private study, he was not surprised to find
Imrahil there and waiting for him. Before Denethor even sat down,
Imrahil raged. “They are glad we are at war! Their eyes are filled with
visions of wealth. Have they not lost sons in these years past? Do they
not know the horror of war? How can they put their greed above the
welfare of our people?”
Denethor held his hand up to stop Imrahil’s tirade, but it did
little good, for in strode Húrin, his face filled with the same anger
Denethor saw in Imrahil’s.
“How dare Lord Ohtar claim the houses we picked as his? His relation to
the former owners is tenuous at best. At most, he is a twentieth cousin
removed. The owners of these houses have been long dead and none have
claimed them before this! The buildings have been left to rot. But now
that he sees he might blackmail you into paying for their use… Argh!”
the Warden snorted in derision and sat heavily on the settle next to
Denethor poured goblets of wine and passed them to his friends. His
face, however, was as grim as theirs were angry. “I have already made
my decision. We will go ahead with the plans and turn the houses into
granaries. Ohtar can bring a formal complaint if he wills, but as I
judge complaints…” A taut smile crossed his face for a moment. “And if
he continues his complaint, I will have him thrown in the dungeons.”
Húrin’s face fell. “You would not?”
“Of course I would not.”
“But it felt good saying it, didn’t it?” Imrahil laughed. “Eased my
anger too. Let us eat and prepare for tomorrow’s trip to the Harlond.”
The servants had entered by this time and served the daymeal to the
Though the day dawned dark and miserable with the threat of rain
from the east o’erhanging Minas Tirith, Denethor could not help but
have a small moment of ease at the thought of leaving the City. He had
not ridden in months; too many affairs of state lay before him and he
had found every time he attempted to mount his horse, someone or
something interrupted and he was forced to cancel his outing. Húrin had
promised he would let nothing stop the Steward from his inspection of
Imrahil noted the rare good mood that engulfed Denethor and smiled warmly. “Your mount looks as happy as you do.”
Denethor took in a quick breath and relished the feel of Minas Tirith
in his nostrils. Some thought his City smelt of age and neglect and
refuse, but to Denethor, the City smelt of life, pure and clean, sharp
as steel and bright as silver. His arms prickled with the feel of it,
the joy of it. He had forgotten. He swallowed the tightness in his
throat and urged his horse into a gentle walk.
“Why do we really go to the Harlond, Denethor? Húrin could have gone, would have at but your word.”
“I need to be seen. The people know of the threat from o’er the
mountains and I would assure them their Steward has everything in hand.
Just as I did with the soldiers in the dining hall. A captain must let
his men see his strength, else they become anxious. The same is true
with my people. I have too long kept in the confines of the City. True,
I send Boromir and Faramir, but that is different. I am their Steward.
I am their guardian.” His head raised a fraction and his back
straightened. “They need a strong guardian, especially at this time, as
strong as the Rammas Echor.” He gave a small grunt. “As strong as it
will be once we finish the refortifications. I should have begun them
long ago. Without Faramir’s urging, we might have been found wanting,
Imrahil nodded. “I like the bent of his mind. He seems silent,
perhaps withdrawn, but he thinks on his feet, and has a good grasp of
lore. As do you, brother.”
“He is too much like me. Gondor needs more like Boromir, quick with
a sword and a shield, ready to leap into battle without a thought,
afraid of nothing.” His face beamed with pride. “He is Gondor, Imrahil.
Have you watched him? No hesitation. His men know it too and follow him
into the most loathsome situations. They care not. As long as Boromir
leads them, they know they are in for an adventure. The lad relishes
battle. I think he would be lost if there was peace.” Denethor’s voice
dropped in wonder.
“Peace is a good thing.”
“Of course it is,” Denethor said testily, “and Boromir will rein
himself in, when the time comes, and govern Gondor well. But for now, I
am most grateful that he rides into battle as his namesake did, with
fury and strength.”
“And he is grateful that he has the love and wisdom of his brother
to council him, when he becomes Steward. Though I would not talk of
that time now. He will have time to ‘rein in’ his battle lust long
before you pass the Rod to him.”
“Faramir is wise in lore.” Denethor’s brow creased. “He analyzes
things overlong. A crisis comes and is passed before he takes action. I
hope his time in Osgiliath is well spent. The needs there are many.”
“Faramir will do well. He does take longer to make a decision. He
calls in his captains and asks their opinions. His men love him for
“I am well aware of the love of his men. But a captain must have more than love, he must have loyalty.”
“Faramir has the loyalty of his men.” Imrahil’s own brow creased. “Is there aught I have missed.”
“He waits for the wizard.”
“You sent for the wizard.”
“I did indeed, at Faramir’s urging.”
Imrahil stopped his horse. Denethor pulled his own mount up.
“Do you doubt Faramir’s loyalty?”
Denethor squinted across the Pelennor, wondering what Faramir was about this day. “I do not, not yet,” he sighed heavily.
“He went to Osgiliath while still suffering from the effects of the Orc poison.” Imrahil’s jaw tightened. “Is that not loyalty?”
“What mean you?” Denethor looked at the Prince in surprise. “He was
healed. He had returned to his own rooms. Had been discharged by the
Warden of the Houses!”
“He was still weak, had just had a relapse the morning before you sent him off.”
Denethor turned his horse towards Imrahil and dismounted. Imrahil
did the same. Denethor grasped the Prince by the arms and pulled him
close, nails digging into Imrahil’s arms. “What say you? He was ill
when he took the journey?”
“He was, Denethor. Did you not know?”
Lowering his head, he leaned against the Swan Knight and held him for a moment.
Imrahil felt the wavering of the Steward’s body and clasped him to his own. “He obeys you in all things,” he whispered.
“We will go to Osgiliath. I will send Húrin to the Harlond tomorrow.”
Imrahil nodded and crushed Denethor to him. “Your son will be pleased to see you.”
My deepest thanks to Rhyselle, Linaewen and Mr. Lin in regards to
the granaries and the pipes and such. We had long discussions and I
hope they are happy with the way Denethor decided to do this project!
The journey took well over four hours. In fact,
Imrahil wondered if they would ever reach the garrison, for all sorts
of folk came out when they heard the horses’ hooves. The farmers and
their children waved, joy apparent on their faces, and their wives
curtsied to their Lord. Denethor fairly beamed. He slowed the pace
every time they came near a homestead, knowing the people hungered for
his presence, his strength. And he gave it to them, as a cup
o’erflowing. At last, they stopped for nuncheon at a hostelry halfway
between Minas Tirith and the Causeway Forts. Soldiers of Gondor milled
about the entranceway. As soon as they saw who approached, some ran
into the inn while others quickly strode forward, hands to their chests
in salute, their faces plainly showing their surprise.
Denethor nodded to them and let one of them take his reins. Another
tried to give him a hand as he dismounted and he had to hold himself
still. Though his hair was whiter than ever it had been in his life, he
was not yet a dotard. Still, the soldier’s motives were pure, he felt,
so he let the man help him dismount. Imrahil was at his side in a
moment. Denethor asked the soldier his name and where he was stationed.
Then, he turned to the others who looked expectantly to him. He spent
some time with them, then, at Imrahil’s urging, he went into the inn.
The keeper was at his side in an instant, offering a table in a back
room. Denethor shook his head and insisted they be seated in the front
of the inn with the other soldiers of Gondor.
The proprietor beamed from ear to ear. ‘This is so good for business,’
he almost rubbed his hands in glee. ‘Many will come to sit at the table
that the Steward sat at. I must make a plaque or some such – I cannot
believe my good fortune!’ He hurried forward to wipe the table with his
shirtsleeve. Then, he ran to the back and brought forth two tall
flagons filled with his best ale. Rarely did he serve this ale, not to
the common soldiers of Gondor, but for the Steward, ‘only the best will
Denethor looked at the man as he set the drinks before him.
Something about the man’s curled lip, or perhaps the over brightness of
his eyes, betrayed his thoughts to the Steward. “I would drink what you
serve my men.”
The tone chilled the innkeeper to the bone. “My Lord,” he stumbled
over the words, “this is what I serve your men.” He swallowed hard and
Denethor watched the man’s throat constrict.
“This is not what you serve the warriors of Gondor. Bring me a flagon
of that. And now.” The Steward’s voice was low but Imrahil himself felt
a shudder, as of icy water, run down his back.
“Beg your pardon, my Lord Steward,” the man cringed, “I have just now
received a new shipment. Here!” he called to the girl behind the
serving table, “Clear the flagons of the soldiers of Gondor and give
them the new ale, the one that arrived just this morning.” The girl
looked at him in confusion. He turned towards her, his face contorted
in rage. “Are you dense, girl? I’ll do it myself. Clear the tables.”
She ran forward and took the flagons in front of all those in the
common room and brought them back. The innkeeper started pouring ale
into the emptied drinking vessels, then he motioned for the girl to
take them to the men.
The men cried aloud in joy and raised their flagons to their Steward.
One o’er zealous soldier stood on a table and led them in a cheer.
Three huzzahs, a salute to their Steward, and the men quaffed their
Denethor’s face never changed. He took his drink, returned the
salute and downed his own ale. Imrahil could hardly drink, Denethor
noted. The innkeeper returned. “Have you some sort of stew?”
“Lamb, my Lord Steward.” The proprietor’s diffidence troubled
Denethor. ‘Was the man hiding something else?’ He nodded and shortly
thereafter, a steaming bowl of stew was placed before Imrahil and him.
The stew was good and Denethor put aside his unease. Denethor ate
quickly and Imrahil followed suit; no words were spoken.
At last, as Denethor chewed the last bite of bread, he relaxed. Looking hard at Imrahil, he asked, “Do you remember Thorongil?”
“I was twenty and five years when he won the great battle against the Corsairs. I commanded a ship under him.”
Denethor nodded. “Of course.” Again, the Prince found himself under
close scrutiny by his uncle. After another moment, Denethor sighed
heavily. “By all rights…” he shook his head. “Nay! The people would
have crowned him, had he come back to Minas Tirith. They thought
nothing of their Steward nor of his Heir. I think that surprised my
father. He heard the calls in the street, the same calls I heard for
the Northerner to be crowned.” The eyes searched Imrahil’s face.
“I had heard rumours of… adulation,” Imrahil said quietly. “What did your father do?”
A choked laugh greeted his question. “Nothing. Thorongil left the
battle site and was not heard from again. Mithrandir left soon after.”
“Did Ecthelion have him murdered?” Imrahil whispered.
“Why did he not return to the City, take up the crown?”
“I know not. But my men would not regale me as they have today, nor
as they did in the hall two days ago, if he were still here.”
Imrahil nodded. Denethor dropped some coins on the table and left
the inn. Imrahil scrambled to follow him. By the time they reached the
Causeway Forts, it was close to nightfall. The sentries challenged them
and Denethor pulled his horse up in chagrin. “I do not know the
password. I had not planned on leaving the Pelennor. I neglected to ask
for it. Know you?”
Imrahil shook his head. “I do not.”
Denethor burst into laughter. “Then we might as well turn around and return to the City.”
“Your men will let you pass,” Imrahil said firmly.
“If they do, I will have them imprisoned.”
“You would not.”
“This time, Imrahil, I would. My orders are law. No one enters or leaves the Pelennor without the password. No one.”
The guard walked towards the riders. “The password,” then stopped
in confusion. “My Lord Steward!” he saluted. “Forgive me, my Lord, the
“I know it not.”
Turning in panic to the other guard, the first said, “The Lord Steward does not know the password.”
The second guard walked quietly towards Denethor. He drew his
sword, saluted, and paused. Taking a deep breath, he said, “By order of
the Steward of Gondor, none may pass without the password.” He bit his
lip after saying this and Denethor noted that the first guard was
almost hopping from one leg to the next. They were both clearly
“Would you send a rider for Captain Faramir? He is staying at the garrison in Osgiliath.”
“I will, my Lord Steward.” The man turned and barked an order to
another soldier standing nearby. The man ran to the stables, mounted
and rode across the Causeway towards Osgiliath.
Denethor dismounted and motioned for Imrahil to join him.
“They carry this too far, Uncle!”
“To be precise, they should hold us both as prisoners until they are
given orders as to our disposal.” Denethor had to hold back another
laugh. “I am grateful they have decided to leave us be, for the
A lieutenant strode quickly forward. Denethor knew he must have been sent for. He waited to see what would happen next.
“My Lord Steward?”
“My men say you do not know the password?”
“It is true.”
“Then I must escort you back to Minas Tirith.”
Denethor nodded. “What is your name?”
The soldier blushed, but did not retreat. “Hirgon. I am in charge of this outpost.”
“May I stay until my son is brought to me?”
Now the lieutenant looked confused. “My Lord, your rule states- “
“That none may enter or leave the Pelennor without the password. I
will not leave; I will stand here and wait for my son. You may have my
sword.” He began to unbuckle the sword belt, but the soldier hurried
forward. “It is not necessary, my Lord. I will give you one hour, then
I must escort you back to Minas Tirith.”
Denethor nodded. The lieutenant walked back to the guards. Imrahil
scowled, but Denethor had a pleased expression on his face. They waited.
The Warden of the Keys swore softly under his
breath as he stood upon the escarpment, looking out upon the fields of
the Pelennor. He could not find what he looked for, but he knew, with
the certainty of his long relationship with Denethor, that the Steward
was not where he should be. He swore again and turned towards the
Three soldiers ran from the tunnel leading to the Sixth Circle. Húrin
stopped and waited. They ran; it pleased him to see this show of duty.
Their swords hit their legs at the pace they set. Stopping before him,
they saluted. The youngest, much to Húrin’s surprise, spoke. “My Lord.
The Steward is not at the Harlond. We looked everywhere for him. At
last, due to our diligence, we discovered a man who had seen him riding
Húrin bit his lip to keep from smiling. ‘Due to our diligence!’ The
man was indeed young and obviously a proud pup. He nodded and motioned
for them to leave. The speaker moved towards him, as if to continue,
but the other soldiers took his arms and led him away. As they moved,
he heard one of the soldiers say, “Due to our diligence? What an idiot
you are. Do you not know it was our duty not our diligence. Now we look
like fools, puffing ourselves out as Haradric peacocks!” The other
cuffed the youngest on the side of his head. Húrin chuckled quietly. He
remembered a time when Denethor had done something similar and Húrin
had been the one to give him his comeuppance. His brow furrowed at the
thought of Denethor. ‘Where is he? Is he truly going to Osgiliath?
Well, wherever he is going, he is not going without an escort.’ He
walked quickly into the Tower, ordering one of the guards to bring the
Captain of the Guard to him.
As he entered his own office, he found Ragorn waiting for him. The
captain stepped forward and Húrin could see the palpable tension on the
man’s face. “Speak.”
“The Steward is not at the Harlond. Those I sent to meet him have
sent an errand-rider saying he never arrived. Do you know aught?”
“I believe he is riding to Osgiliath.”
“Alone? And with no escort?”
“Prince Imrahil rides with him.”
“But he has no escort!” The man cried in outrage. “Why was I not told?”
“I have just discovered this myself, Captain. It would be best if
you quickly assembled your company and followed him, ere he is lost in
Ragorn scowled, but saluted and ran from the room. Húrin smiled.
‘Denethor will receive a tongue-lashing for this, if I know Captain
Ragorn.’ He sat at his desk in relief, glad to know that Denethor would
be looked after. Then, he grimaced. He was to meet with the Chamberlain
to arrange the seats for the Betrothal Banquet. He held his head in his
hands and moaned. ‘Where is Indis? She did this so well.’
In the meantime, Ragorn ran to the stables in the Sixth Circle,
signaled and he and the company he had already called together rode
down the streets of Minas Tirith and out into the fields of the
Pelennor. Mile after mile passed under their horses’ hooves as Ragorn
paced them. They arrived at the inn around the sixth bell and were told
in excited tones that Denethor had indeed been there but had gone on to
Again, the company of Denethor’s personal guard rode eastward. At long
last, they reached the Forts and discovered Denethor standing under
armed guard. Ragorn jumped from his horse, his sword drawn before he
landed. His full company immediately joined him as the guard from the
Causeway ran forward. In moments, the air rang with the sounds of
swords being drawn.
Faramir stood at the end of the broken bridge, the third of its kind
that spanned the Great River. This one, though demolished, stood out
about six feet over the water. He watched as the current caught on
sunken debris and swished the river this way and that. ‘Treacherous to
swim here,’ he thought mildly and fondly remembered the times Boromir
and he had swam in the channels by Cair Andros. The water was warmer
there as the river ran lower in the summer near the island fortress. He
shook his head and pulled himself back from such reverie. He watched as
the currents flowed swiftly past certain areas near to this side of
Osgiliath and realized that the river was an ally, in places. Yet, as
he watched, he noted how easily the old wharfs and docks made it for
landings. ‘They should be torn down,’ he thought to himself, but a part
of him dreaded the thought, for tearing the city further down only
magnified the fact that Osgiliath was indeed dead and not soon to be
Damrod called to him. “Captain. I think you should see these.”
Faramir turned and left the bridge, climbing down onto the ruins and over to Damrod.
“In here,” his aide said and pointed once they had passed in through a narrow hall.
The light was diffused and dust rose and choked them at every
footfall. At last, they came to an opening where the light finally
brightened, showing them docks, long lines of docks that opened right
into the city itself. Faramir shivered. The enemy could pull their
boats up here and enter the city with nary a problem. Swallowing hard,
he walked further along. “This must have been some sort of
entertainment area or such. Look at the wine bottles. Boats must have
docked here and the people walked right into this inn. How many more
are there along the river?” Despair shook his voice.
“There cannot be many, but I think a full scale search must be
organized. Every one of these docks must be destroyed and the openings
into these buildings must be sealed.”
Faramir nodded. He took a deep breath and both men left the building.
“The sun will be down soon. We will mount an expedition tomorrow, at
least three companies, and explore this part of the river. We would be
helpless if an attack were launched now.”
Damrod agreed as they made their way to the garrison. Faramir heard
his name called and turned in surprise. It was Mablung. “The Steward
awaits you at the Causeway Forts, Captain Faramir.”
Faramir looked in surprise. “My father has left the City?”
The look of concern on Faramir’s face grabbed at Mablung’s heart. “Naught is wrong, according to the messenger.”
Running towards the stables, Faramir called for a mounted horse. Within
moments, Mablung, Damrod and he were riding west to the Causeway.
Denethor stepped forward and raised his hand. “Cease! I am well,
Captain Ragorn. Put away your sword. Lieutenant Hirgon, tell your men
to lower their swords.”
At that very moment, Faramir pulled up, staring in horror at the
sight before him. He stayed in the background; Denethor had not seen
him, but Faramir watched in consternation as the Men of Gondor faced
off against each other. Mablung made to draw his own sword, but Faramir
held his hand. They waited at the edge of the impending conflict. Not
oft did Faramir have the opportunity to watch his father; he waited,
wondering what had caused this state of affairs and what the outcome
Ragorn looked at his Steward in alarm. “They raise their swords to you!”
“They do not,” Denethor said passionately, then lowered his voice
and sighed. “They raise them against you. Does it not seem a fairly
dangerous thing to draw your sword in the presence of the Steward? What
can the lieutenant think but that you have come armed to o’ertake me?”
His aide sputtered and fumed. “I would not raise my hand or my sword against my Steward.”
“Nor would I!” the lieutenant shouted. “We protect our liege lord!”
Denethor put his hand on the young man’s shoulder. “As does the captain of my personal guard. Know you not the livery?”
The lieutenant’s face blazed red; his breath caught. “I… I am sorry, my Lord, I did not note. I only saw their swords drawn.”
“Then put yours away.”
The lieutenant did as he was ordered, turned to his men and ordered
them to sheath their own swords. Ragorn did the same. Both men saluted
Denethor and waited.
“Have you not noted that our Enemy takes great pains to sunder us?”
the Steward spoke quietly. “Have you not watched as those who live
closest to the Ephel Dúath, those who refuse to leave their farm lands,
cheat and lie and steal. They murder their neighbors whilst they plot
against the realm.”
“That is only rumour,” Hirgon cried in protest. “None have actually seen it.”
“None have actually seen those who live in the lands east of the
Harad Road. Yet, I know they are there, that they have turned to the
Nameless One and pledged Him their fealty. His poison drifts on the
air, over the mountains and down upon Osgiliath. Nay! Upon all of
Gondor. You have now taken part in that poison.”
Both the captain and the lieutenant turned white. “Nay!”
“Aye! Any who turn a sword against me or mine, against my soldiers,
my warriors, has succumbed to the Nameless One. You may as well go and
join his leaguers in Minas Morgul.”
He watched as many of the men shivered. “Aye! You can feel him, can
you not? But take heart. You are not alone. His poison has touched
others. Yet, Gondor still stands. Imrahil and I stand in the gap.
Boromir, Faramir and Húrin. We know and we fight against even these
weapons. Will you not stand with us? Will you not fight dissension?”
Faramir strode forward and stood at his father’s right hand. His
sword was sheathed but his eyes sparkled. Denethor looked at him,
keeping the surprise from his eyes and from the men about him. “Go now
back to your duties. Remember what you have seen and heard this day.
Keep yourselves awake! Do not listen to the Enemy. Be strong together!”
The men of the Causeway saluted and walked slowly back to their
barracks, their posts, and their duties. Ragorn and his men stood back
and waited for their Steward’s next orders. Hirgon waited.
“Lieutenant. I now have the password. May I use your quarters for a half hour? I need to speak with Captain Faramir.”
“Aye, my Lord Steward. Please forgive me.” The man started mumbling and stuttering.
“There is naught to forgive. The Enemy knows our weaknesses, the
weaknesses of all men, and will use it against us. You have shown
exemplary leadership today. Continue as you have, watch for these signs
among your men, and help them to fight.”
Hirgon led them to his rooms and left them. Denethor turned to
Faramir. Gently taking him by the shoulder, he sat him on a chair.
Imrahil stood by the door. “Faramir. Why did you not tell me you were
still suffering from the poison? Why did you come here whilst still
“I am well now, Father,” Faramir protested. “I took my time on the
journey and arrived in good health, reasonably good health,” he
“Your uncle says otherwise. Am I to believe he lied?”
Faramir blushed. “Nay, but Father, you asked me to come here and I knew I was almost well. There is so much to be done.”
“Then you and I both listened to the whispers and succumbed.”
Denethor shuddered. “I count on you, when I am weak, to council me.
Will you remember that?”
“I do, Father.” Denethor watched as Faramir shook his head. “I did not think what you asked was so grievous.”
“Gondor needs her captains strong, Faramir. Remember that. Now, how fare you?”
“I am well. I was at the Northern Bridge. There are inns right
along the water, Father, with docks that open right into the city. The
defense work will be more arduous than I had thought.”
Denethor sat across from his son. “Do the best you can, whilst
taking care of yourself. Then return for the ceremony. Your brother
expects you there.” He smiled warmly. “As do I.”
“Will you come to Osgiliath, spend the night?”
“I will stay here tonight, if the lieutenant will not begrudge me a
bed, and then inspect the Rammas here and then ride back to the City.
Hurin can send inspectors to the Harlond.”
“Then I will leave you to your rest, Father.”
“Would you stay, at least for the daymeal?”
Faramir smiled. “Thank you, Father. I would like that.”
“Good.” They sat until the daymeal was brought, discussing
Boromir’s betrothal, the Rammas, Gondor’s defenses, and when they
finished their meal, they watched the stars before Faramir took his
Denethor rested well that night.
Arthad walked the Citadel, a deep frown upon
his face. He had been left behind to prepare for Boromir’s next
posting. But Denethor’s army, under Boromir’s direction, was well
oiled. In two days’ time, the Captain-General’s aide had everything
planned and ready. So instead of helping guard his captain, he was left
to walk the escarpment and wait. His warrior training accepted this;
then, on the third day, as Anor broke over the mountains turning the
sky into the most brilliant blue imaginable, he broke. He flung his
covers from his bed, dressed quickly and ran to the parapet. The
Pelennor spread before him, its green fields, little hamlets, sloping
hills, and tree-studded lanes spoke of peace and tranquility. Arthad
harrumphed. ‘Peace and tranquility! I am a warrior. I should not be
here; I should be beside my captain.’
Yet, every bit of his training rooted him to the spot. He could not
leave Minas Tirith without orders, and they would not come from
Boromir. The warrior’s eyes sparkled. ‘Mayhap I can cajole the Steward
into sending me as a messenger. Aye!’ the man fairly beamed. ‘I will
offer myself as errand-rider.’ He ran back to his rooms, made his bed,
suited himself in his livery and walked swiftly to the company’s
buttery. After eating a quick meal, he strode to the Great Hall. His
face fell as he learned that Denethor was in Osgiliath.
Making his way to the armoury, he turned a corner and smacked into Prince Imrahil. “Forgive me, my Lord. I was not watching…”
“You were a thousand leagues away,” the Prince laughed. “Who were you looking for?”
“The Steward, but I am told he is in Osgiliath.”
“He returned late last night. If you wait till the ninth bell, he
should be in the Great Hall.” Before Arthad had a moment to turn,
Imrahil took him by the arm. “You are Boromir’s aide, are you not?”
“I am. Arthad, at your service.”
“What do you here when your captain is away in Rohan?”
Arthad’s proud face fell. “I am preparing for Boromir’s trip to the North.”
“Ah, yes. To patrol the northern border?”
“Why do you seek the Steward? I am sure you are capable of making the necessary preparations without the Steward’s help?”
The man squared his shoulders. “All is prepared and has been for
over two days. I am, if I may speak forthrightly, at wit’s end.
Everything is ready. And I stand here and twiddle my thumbs.”
“Hard lot for a warrior,” the Prince smiled kindly.
The man bowed his head.
“Well, would you mind spending some of that twiddling time at the
training grounds with me? Mayhap a little sword practice would take
your mind from your troubles?”
“I would most appreciate that, my Lord.”
After an hour’s thorough battering by the Prince, Arthad was
exhausted. The man was at least twenty years older than he was and yet,
he had held his own. Arthad had to surrender. He not only had held his
own, the Prince had thoroughly beaten him too many times for Arthad to
remember. ‘Remember?’ Tales of Elves told him by Boromir ran through
his memory. If he wanted to, the warrior could say it was by that gift
that Imrahil had beaten him, but he knew it was not. Pure skill. The
warrior shook his head and offered his arm. “A good drubbing. I see
this is why I was left behind. To hone my skills.”
“Nay, Arthad. Boromir has told me of your prowess on the field of
battle. You have naught to be ashamed of. Mayhap it was my Elven
heritage that o’ercame you today?”
The twinkle in the Prince’s eye made Arthad stop and wonder if perhaps
the Prince had the same capability of mind reading that the Steward was
said to have. He saluted the Prince, took the man’s weapons and armour,
and walked to the bathing area. Depositing these accoutrements and his
own, he walked into the bath area. Steam rose; Arthad looked forward to
washing the grime of battle from him with pleasure. Though it was still
spring, the heat rose from the Pelennor to the upper levels, and had
made their practice more strenuous than during the winter months.
Imrahil followed him into the large bathing area.
Both men sat for many long minutes, silenced by the feel of the hot
water soaking their bruised bodies. At last, Arthad spoke. “It is at
least another ten days before Boromir returns. Do you think the Steward
might use me as an errand-rider whilst I wait?”
“Does he need errand-riders?”
“Always. Missives must be sent off to all corners of the kingdom. I ride well. I can protect myself if o’ertaken.”
“Then ask him today.”
The men finished their bath and walked slowly towards the Citadel. “Are you from Minas Tirith, Arthad?”
“I am, my Lord. Born and raised here, on the fourth level. My father, Tarcil, was a guard in the Sixth Company.”
“Ah. So you know Minas Tirith well?”
“I do, my Lord. Is there aught you need?”
“I would like to purchase a betrothal gift for Boromir. Might you
know of a shop where I might find something to the captain’s liking?”
The man grinned from ear to ear. “There is a set of vambraces that
has caught his eye. A leather worker on the third level has made a fine
pair, embossed with the White Tree. The man has hidden strips of steel
in them for further protection. The captain would be happy to have the
Imrahil slapped the man on the back. “Before we attend the Steward, would you show me the shop?”
Arthad laughed and turned about. Imrahil followed. The walk was not
long and soon they were standing in front of a small shop in one of the
lesser lanes of the Third Level. The smell was pungent, as it should
be, but Arthad put his hand over his nose for a moment to accustom
himself. Imrahil followed him in. After much bargaining and much
laughter, Imrahil walked from the shop with the vambraces. “This
deserves a drink,” he said and led Arthad to the Fourth Level. They sat
and drank a cup or two of Gondor’s finest.
“Boromir will be pleased. He has wanted those for nigh unto six months.
He wears his father’s, so he was honour bound to keep them, but his
heart longed for these.”
“You know your captain well. I cannot thank you enough. Boromir is
dear to me, as is his brother. I do not see them often enough.” The
Prince shook his head. “We, all of us, are duty-bound, are we not, to
leave our own thoughts and needs behind and place Gondor’s needs first?
It is a hard life that we all lead, but I deem the hardest is lived by
the son’s of Denethor.”
“Nay,” the warrior said quietly, “The hardest is lived by Gondor’s
Steward. For he must be the one to push his sons forward. That is a
hard thing, for a father to have to do.”
Imrahil looked at the soldier in surprise. “Aye. My father had to
do the same, and his father before him. I am doing the same with my own
sons.” The look of joy that had filled the Prince’s face not an hour
before had fled. “I do not envy Denethor, for I fear his sense of duty
far surpasses mine. I fear he would give everything for Gondor and I am
not quite ready to do that. My sons are precious to me.”
“His sons are precious to him,” the warrior spoke heatedly. “But
what course has he but the one he takes? Do not all the men of Gondor
give of themselves and of their sons? What recourse have we? The Enemy
breathes upon our neck.” Arthad shivered. “It is different in Dol
Amroth. You do not see that every time you look up, or out your window, or over your shoulder.”
“I do not see the mountain and what it stands for. And you are right to chide me.”
“Nay. Forgive me. Boromir would have my head if he heard me speak such to you, his favoured uncle.”
“Favoured am I?” Imrahil smiled. “He is a most favoured nephew. Well,
we best be about our business. I have much to do in preparation for
Lady Míriel’s arrival and you have a request of the Steward.”
They toasted Gondor one last time then walked to the Citadel.
It was now short of a fortnight when the Lady Míriel was expected
to arrive; the Citadel was awhirl in preparations. Húrin swore long and
often as he tried to accomplish all the details necessary for such a
large event. Not only was the betrothal ceremony to be planned and the
Great Hall bedecked in finery, Merethrond had to be decorated,
invitations were long o’erdue, meals must be planned for at least a
fortnight, perhaps two, and guests' quarters had to be prepared. Húrin
still had no idea how many were coming from Dol Amroth in Lady Míriel’s
Denethor quietly watched and finally came to a decision. Indis was
sorely missed. These were the things she did with such flourish. Never
a thing wrong, nor out of place, during her time as Steward's council.
He sighed heavily but walked away before the Warden caught sight of
him. He did not want his cousin to think he intruded, nor think the man
was not up to the task. He must find someone else to plan the betrothal
and the attendant activities concerning it. Húrin must prepare Gondor
'Perhaps Boromir was right. Perhaps we should have left this go for
another year. Preparations for war should take up all our time. But if
war comes, as I very much expect, then an heir is of the utmost
importance, if only to hide in the hills with its mother whilst Minas
Tirith falls.' He swallowed hard at the thought. 'Another thing to
prepare, hiding places for my people. Húrin has the evacuation well in
hand, but where will they go? Perhaps some shelters should be set up
along the River Gilrain. I have asked the lords of the different
fiefdoms, from Lossarnach to Anfalas, to prepare to receive our
refugees, but there is not enough room in their cities to accommodate
the vast number that will be displaced.’ He had reached the steps of
the Tower now and wondered, but good sense took over. He had not fully
recovered from his last time with the stone. He would wait another day,
perhaps two, before attempting to see what was happening in Rohan.
He heard the disturbance in the hall before he saw anyone. A young
rider. 'Ah!' he thought happily, 'A rider from Belfalas by the livery
he wears. And of the Prince's own court. He will be glad to receive
this missive.' He walked to his Chair and sat. The messenger strode
forward. "I have a missive for Imrahil, Prince of Dol Amroth," the man
“I will send--”
Imrahil ran into the Great Hall and up to Denethor. “My Lord Steward,”
he saluted, smiling cheerfully. “O’erlong is the message in coming. If
it contains what I think it should, our friend Húrin will be most
Denethor allowed the message to be given to Imrahil and waited.
“The Lady Míriel will be here by the 10th of April,” the Prince
read aloud. “Ivriniel is accompanying her, as I thought. And my beloved
is coming too.” A huge grin split Imrahil's face. “It is o'erlong since
last we were together.”
“My apologies for keeping you so long, but the journey home will be a pleasure, will it not?”
“It will indeed,” and Imrahil blushed at the knowing look Denethor gave him.
“Are your quarters sufficient for the both of you? I could move you to the third floor.”
“Nay. Sadly, we will not be spending much time in our rooms. The
festivities, along with chaperoning Lady Míriel will take much of our
time. Oh, my Lord Steward. Here is Arthad, Boromir’s aide. He begs a
boon from you.”
Arthad took a deep breath and stepped forward, saluting his
Steward. When Denethor nodded, he began. “I am left here by Captain
Boromir to prepare for his next posting. I have completed all my
tasks.” He paused and looked uncertainly towards Imrahil, who smiled
and nodded for him to continue. “I am a warrior, my Lord Steward and
chafe at this inactivity. Might I beg a posting as errand-rider until
Captain Boromir returns?”
Denethor shook his head. “The Lord Boromir will be returning
shortly. I cannot use someone who has only days to give. Though that
has given me an idea of how to repay a certain lieutenant at the Forts.
Húrin,” he motioned and the Warden was at his side in an instant.
“There is a Lieutenant Hirgon in charge of the Causeway Forts. He has
impressed me with his courage and his sense of duty. I would have him
brought back here and made an errand-rider. He has most pleased me.”
Húrin nodded and wrote the request in his book.
“As for this young man,” Denethor turned once again towards Arthad.
“I would have him be your helper for the moment. Put him in charge of
the betrothal preparations. If he has so soon prepared himself for
Boromir’s next posting, then he is adept at planning.”
Arthad stepped back in surprise and confusion. “I have not the skills, my Lord.”
“You have the skills. Preparing a battalion for war duty is more than
will ever be required of you in this posting.” A small grin battled for
prominence, but Denethor’s stern face won out. “Meet with Húrin after
nuncheon. He will begin to show you your duties.”
Arthad swallowed, saluted and left the Great Hall, his shoulders slumped in defeat.
From that moment on, planning went more smoothly. Denethor and
Hurin spent the next few days concentrating on preparations for war.
An hour after leaving the Mering, Boromir
pulled up. Guilin did the same and waited. “I think it about time that
the men have a day’s rest. The Mering is known for its fishing. Tell
the men to dismount and relax. Any who want to throw in a line is
welcome, as will their catch be welcome for nuncheon. We will resume
our way to Amon Anwar after our meal.”
“Aye, Captain. It will be done.”
Boromir dismounted and walked away from the group. The sounds of
their joy at the unexpected furlough echoed through the air. He could
not help but smile; the smile turned quickly into a frown. ‘However am
I to wed and be a husband and father? I will spend the next year on the
northern borders and only return to the City at infrequent intervals. I
will not even know the woman.’ He bit his lip. ‘Many before me have not
known their spouses until the day of the wedding feast. Why should I be
different? Though I had hoped…’ Sadness filled him. ‘I have thought of
naught but war since I was six and now I am to put that all aside and
think of home and family…’ He turned eastward. The foothills of the
White Mountain lay before him. ‘If I but look in any direction, I can
see the site of a battle long since past. Is this the legacy I want to
leave my child?’ He shuddered. ‘The self-same legacy that Faramir and I
have been gifted with? War and battle and death.’ Swallowing became
difficult. ‘Even now, Faramir may lie dead on some patch of green in
Ithilien. Do I want this for my son? How does father endure this? How
does he send us off with the knowledge that he has? He knows more than
I, sees more than I, and still he sends us out. And his people. He sees
their suffering. I can think no further on this. I know my duty. It is
the same as father’s. If I wed and have a son, I will,’ he drew a sharp
breath, ‘I will raise him as a warrior.’ He turned back to his camp. He
needed to hear the sound of soldiers.
They broke camp three hours after nuncheon. The sun had already passed
well westward and was hidden by the mountains. Darkness began to engulf
them as they entered the Firien. Light was the banter as they road
towards the beacon garrison. Boromir’s heart had lifted as soon as he
had returned to their camp. ‘My son could have no better life than
this,’ he thought. ‘If only there was no war.’ The silence of the
forest was hypnotic. ‘So peaceful, so green,’ he thought. He pulled his
horse up. Something had caught his attention, but he knew not what.
‘Silence!’ He called to Guilin, but in the moment between his thought
and his cry, the first scream rent the air. Orcs! A large number were
coming from all sides. Guilin pulled his horse up close to Boromir’s;
his drawn sword flashed in the waning sunlight. They were quickly
surrounded. Men fell before they had unsheathed their swords. Boromir
swore. ‘Where are my scouts? By the Valar, where are my scouts?’ But he
had no further time to think. They were engulfed, encompassed and
Boromir knew they were defeated. He looked about, trying to find some
way of escape. The hoard was thick. Guilin fell, a dark splash of red
quickly staining the front of his tunic. Boromir dismounted and tried
to hold the man. He reached out and killed the Orc that had attacked
him, but the Orc fell on top of him, its hard helm crashing down upon
Boromir’s unprotected head. Boromir swayed and fell forward.
‘Silence.’ Tears filled his eyes. He lay still, waiting for his senses
to return, waiting for the sword to slash through his tunic, waiting
for death to come. It did not. He heard far off grunts and wondered who
it could possibly be. He tried to open his eyes, but they were covered
in some sort of film, sticky ooze running down his face. His arms still
worked. He was surprised, for his head throbbed. He did not think any
part of his body still functioned. He brought his hand slowly and
carefully to his face and wiped away the slime. Trying to see in the
blackness that engulfed him, he blinked and tasted a bitterness. ‘Orc’s
blood; thankfully, not my own. But why does my head pound so?’ Slowly,
memory returned to him. ‘Guilin!’ The grunts he had heard must be the
Orcs. ‘But where are they?’ The noise was growing softer. ‘They are
leaving. They take me for dead and they are leaving.’ He raised himself
but found he could only move an inch or two. ‘Ah! The Orc still lies on
my body.’ He pushed with all his might and his dead enemy slid off him;
Boromir stood. ‘Ow!’ He swayed but fell to one knee and saved himself.
He waited for the dizziness to subside, noting that darkness was not
from his wound but that night had fallen.
‘Guilin. He was next to me. Where is he?’ He stood. Bodies lay all
about him. ‘The Orcs will be back to collect more food. I wonder why
they left.’ He stumbled over Guilin and heard a moan. “Guilin?” The
moan grew louder. “It is Boromir. Where are you hurt?” There was no
answer. Boromir wished with all his might that there were more light.
He remembered the slash across the captain’s chest. He touched it and
felt the blood; it was cool. He opened his tunic and tore his shirt and
stuffed it up under Guilin’s own tunic. Wildly looking about, he tried
to remember where he was, what part of the forest this was. ‘There is a
cave nearby, if I recollect rightly. It is only a furlong away to the
south.’ He pulled Guilin to a standing position. “Please, Guilin. You
must help me. Can you walk?” The man did not reply, only groaned
softly. “I will take that as an aye. Now, we are going to walk a little
way, a short distance. You can do that!” He wrapped Guilin’s left arm
about his shoulder and began walking towards what he hoped was south.
After many long moments, he felt Guilin’s body become heavier. He
stopped and waited, listening. There was still breath. He began walking
again, more slowly as the weight of his warrior increased.
After an interminable length of time, he felt the ground begin to rise.
‘We are near the foothills,’ he thought in relief. ‘The cave is here
somewhere.’ They broke out of the forest and the moon shone brightly
upon them. Boromir offered a prayer of thanks to Ithil. Nothing was
visible in front of him, but he saw a dark spot off to his left. He
turned towards it, hoping it was the cave. Only moments passed and he
reached the dark area. It was the cave. He sobbed in relief. ‘Empty,’
he prayed to the Valar, ‘please have it be uninhabited.’ He could not
lay Guilin down to explore it; he would have to trust. He stooped and
entered. The air was only slightly foul and dusty. It was empty! He
sighed as he lowered Guilin to the ground. “Stay here, my friend. I
cannot start a fire yet. The Orcs most likely are still about, but I
know a stream that runs nearby. I will bring water. Be still until I
return.” He hoped that Guilin heard and understood but he had not the
time for a reply.
Another few moments and he was back, his water skin full. He helped
Guilin to a near sitting position and offered the drink. Guilin
swallowed a bit, then his head sagged. Boromir laid him back on the
ground and took a quick swig himself. Then, he explored the cave. It
was tiny, as he remembered. A twinge of remorse tugged at his heart.
Faramir and he had played hide ‘n seek here when his father took them
hunting as children. They had scared the pants off Denethor when he
could not find them.
He knew the cave fairly well. There was a second chamber behind the
first. He could only crawl into it, the ceiling so low. Firewood and
kindling, just as he remembered. He felt it in his hands and sighed. ‘I
can start a fire here and it will not be seen from outside.’ He crawled
back into the outer chamber, put his arms under Guilin’s still form,
and pulled him into the back chamber. He started a fire. Then, he
examined Guilin. The gash was long and deep. He held the captain to him
and waited. Within the hour, Guilin died in his arms. He never woke.
For some reason, comfort for himself, he could not say, he held the man
closer. His throat tightening, he whispered, “You were a good soldier,
Guilin. I am sorry we spoke hard words to each other at Amon Dîn. You
will be missed, by your men and by me. I knew I had your loyalty, even
when you said things that you knew I did not want to hear, but needed
to hear. You were a good friend.” He choked and stopped. At last, he
pulled the body closer to him and dragged it off to the side of the
chamber. “When I return, I will bury you, I promise.”
He leaned against the side wall, next to the body of his companion, and
waited for morning. He planned to leave at first light, go further up
the mountain to the beacon garrison and bring back a contingent to find
the Orcs and destroy them, then to bury their fallen. Closing his eyes
for a moment, he relaxed. The cold of the earth about him felt good;
his head still throbbed but at least he was able to walk. His head
nodded. ‘I cannot sleep, not now.’ He could not walk in here so he
crawled through the opening into the outer chamber. As he stuck his
head through, he noted that dark had fallen. He sighed and walked to
Morning was almost upon him. Denethor put down the globe and leaned
back, wearily wiping his brow. No sign of Boromir. He walked to the
window and looked out upon the Pelennor. The stars were lost now in the
faint hue of Anor as it began its climb from behind the Ephel Dúath.
Resting his hands upon the sil, he closed his eyes. Whenever he looked
westward, he felt strong. Even if he looked into Isengard, still he was
able to watch without the horrid fatigue that assailed him when he
looked eastward. And yet, eastward was the Enemy. Waiting and watching
for him. Ready to pounce at the slightest sign of weakness. He was
tired. He had ridden late yesterday after having inspected the Rammas
by the Causeway Forts and then, against his better judgment, the Rammas
where it met the Harlond.
Faramir was right, as usual. The Rammas needed improvements by the
Forts. It should be raised at least another two feet. But the cost and
the manpower were beyond Gondor’s ability at this time. Better to
concentrate solely on the Forts and leave the Harlond for another year.
The wall was still strong by the quays; the merchants who used the
Harlond made sure of that. He remembered the vocal sessions trying to
raise the tariff on goods coming in. They screamed their fury, but his
logic had won out, that time. The Harlond was safe, for the time being.
The North Gate. He had told Húrin that could wait for another few
years, but in truth, it should be raised. Denethor shook his head. It
would not be this year, nor the next. Perhaps in three years?
He covered the stone and walked slowly down the stairs. ‘Why does it
not show me my sons? And yet, I saw them - dead.’ He shuddered; the
stone would only show them to him when they were dead. So now he had to
hope that he would never see that again. He leaned against the cold
white marble and laid his burning forehead against it. The coolness
sent a shiver through his body. It felt like the cold flesh of the
dead. He clenched his teeth, fear and agony vying to undo him. He
pushed himself away from the wall and continued to the Citadel’s floor.
Imrahil was crossing the Courtyard and waived to him. Denethor stared.
He wanted desperately to look to the past again, to find Finduilas and
revel in the sight of her. He knew he could not. The last time he had
done that, a month ago he thought, he had found it nigh unto impossible
to break away. The stone held him. Brought scene after scene to his
eyes, of her dancing, of the birth of his sons, of their times in
Rohan. The weddings. He held his breath again. He could not look upon
As he came to the Great Hall, Imrahil greeted him. “I have been
wondering where you went off to. It is almost time. Lady Míriel will
arrive soon. Arthad has been a great help. Her quarters have been aired
and cleaned. I think she will be pleased. The windows look south. Is
there a reason for that?” He put his hand gently on Denethor’s
“Not today, Imrahil,” Denethor whispered, not looking at his brother. “Not today.”
Imrahil took the man in his arms and held him. The stiff body would
not yield. “I will not press you. She is happy, wherever she is.” And
he let Denethor go and walked away.
Denethor’s knees buckled but he caught himself before he fell.
Turning swiftly to the tunnel, he walked through and to the practice
field. He spent an hour there, then refreshed himself in the baths and
returned in time to break his fast with Húrin. Another day of
preparation for war.
Boromir watched as the sky turned a lighter shade of black. The sun
would rise soon. He must get away. He returned to the inner chamber and
snuffed out what remained of his fire. He took some dried meat from his
belt and quickly ate it, followed by a slug of the water. He should
refill his skin before he left. He looked once more upon Guilin.
Saluting, he crawled back out. The outer chamber was filled with the
most hideous stench. Boromir looked up in surprise. Orcs filled the
cave. He stepped back, drawing his sword, and hesitated as the largest
of the hoard laughed, if laugh it could be called. He stood firm as his