Ten Thousand Years will not Suffice

by Agape4Rivendell

41  42   43  44  45  46  47  48  49  50 
Parts 41 - 50

25. 
Third Age - 3017 


41.

Boromir stood next to the Chair where his father sat. Both men wore their court attire. Faramir stood behind Boromir, as attendant for his brother. They waited. And still she did not come. Those in attendance in the Great Hall began to stir. Boromir had to bite his lip to keep from laughing. How could he not expect her to be late? She was willful and headstrong. If she wanted to make a grand entrance, then what was it to him? He could not even remember what she looked like. Of course, he knew she had the black hair and grey eyes of those of Númenor, but he could not recall how tall she was; if she was thin or heavy; if she had a long or stubbly nose; or if she was plain or pretty. It did not matter much, he supposed. But he should be able to recognize her. Another laugh had to be stifled. She probably did not remember him. She had other… things on her mind at the time: his brother, his inheritance, his title. He swallowed hard.

The music began. He watched Imrahil and Nerdanel being seated in the front. After them came Míriel, flanked by her father and mother. Her siblings had been seated many moments ago. ‘Ah! She is fair to look at,’ he thought, ‘and not too thin nor too heavy. Her nose is good. Her chin,’ he again had to stifle a laugh. ‘is pointed and proud. Why am I not surprised that she holds it up and out. Stiff and cold.’ He swallowed again. ‘Time to smile, I suppose.’ He bowed to his father and walked forward. He bowed to Galador who handed over Míriel’s hand. Boromir placed it in the crook of his arm and turned towards Denethor. They bowed in unison. Denethor stood, his eyes moist, and addressed the company.

“Here stands Boromir of Gondor, son of Denethor, of the line of the House of Húrin. As his father, I, Denethor, son of Ecthelion, approve this union. Are you prepared, Lord Boromir, to plight thy troth to this woman?”

“I do pledge my troth to her.”

“Here stands Míriel of Dol Amroth, daughter of Galador, of the line of the House of Imrazor. As her father, do you approve this union?”

Galador stepped forward, nodded, then stepped back.

“Then so be it. Let us begin the ceremony.”

Boromir and Míriel exchanged words promising the union of the two families and objects were passed from hand to hand to symbolize the transfer of possessions: the giving of a ring to Míriel by Boromir; the giving of a coin of the realm to Boromir from Míriel to signify her dowry. Miriel’s mother then stepped forward and untied Míriel’s hair; Imrahil stepped forward as her liege lord and joined their hands to show his approval. After Denethor spoke the words of binding, Nerdanel, taking the part of Finduilas, crowned the couple with garlands. At last, they shared a kiss. The ceremony was over; only one thing remained - the sharing of a goblet of wine ‘in the name of marriage’ to seal the espousal.

Faramir stepped in front of Denethor and offered the goblet to Míriel who took it, smiling sweetly and blinking her long eyelashes at Faramir as she tilted the cup to her lips. Suddenly, he realized what she had been about all these many weeks. He blushed furiously and turned to Boromir, a look of horror in his eyes.

Boromir smiled and put his hand on Faramir’s shoulder. “I know and trust you, Faramir. Do not be concerned,” he whispered.

Faramir nodded, though pain flashed in his eyes. He took the goblet from Míriel, and offered it to Boromir. Their hands touched and Faramir held Boromir’s for an instant. “Forgive me,” he whispered. “I did not know.”

Boromir drank deeply of the cup and returned it to Faramir, a wide smile on his face. “Thank you, little brother.”

He stepped up to Denethor to receive the traditional hug. “There, Father. It is done, as you have asked.”

~*~

The dance was almost over, the guests were beginning to leave, and still, Boromir had not danced with his intended, ‘cept for the first dance of the evening. Most of the night, she spent in Faramir’s arms, pushed there by Boromir, as he had no intention of exacerbating his wound with strenuous exercise. However, he was surprised and pleased when Nerdanel came to him, looked deep into his eyes, and asked him to dance with her. Boromir nodded, putting on a smile, and took her hand in his.

After a few moments, she steered him to the door leading onto Merethrond’s balcony. She found a settee and sat on it, beckoning for Boromir to join her. After he was seated, she held him close. “You are sad for such an evening?”

“Only tired. I should have asked father’s permission to retire an hour past. The wound…”

“Is fine. What ails thee?”

Boromir took Nerdanel’s hand and gently kissed it. “I heard.”

“Wha…? Oh! Dearest Boromir. Not in the garden?”

“Aye. I have tried to decide, since yesterday, which hurts more – the wound or the words.”

“My beloved nephew. She knows not of what she speaks. Her mother is a caddish woman and taught her daughter only greed and selfishness. But she is young,” her eyebrow raised, “and I have made a vow. She will change. She will be kind and good and faithful. I promise, Boromir. In your mother’s name, I promise.”

“Oh, Aunt. You can make no such promise. Changing a person. It cannot be done. I will live with her, when I am not away on campaigns, and I will give her everything she wants, but Faramir.” He swallowed. “And I will give Gondor an heir.” He smiled his dazzling smile. “I will bring her to Dol Amroth once a year, and you and I will dance away the nights. What say you to that, beloved aunt?”

She leaned her head against his shoulder and let her tears fall. “I tried to warn Imrahil. He would not listen. She has a pretty face and he is a man and the father of daughters. Perhaps he considers her a daughter too. He does not see her as she is.”

“Then I will not see her as she is.” He held her close. “I will remember my mother and how she was. I will bring Míriel what happiness I can. Do not look so sad. It is she who will suffer, for she will be alone. I will be out in the field with my men doing the things I love to do. Her only companion will be the child, but the child will be raised by nannies. She will have naught to do. I do not envy her.”

Nerdanel wept. “I will beseech the Valar and ask that you be given an heir soon, dearest Boromir. I will love him as my own. As will your uncle.”

“And Faramir. I believe the child will be spoiled silly,” he laughed quietly. “I assure you, Míriel will not care for him. Only the best and finest woman in Gondor will raise him. I will find her and entrust my son to her. Mayhap it should be Ioreth? Though she is old.”

“Anairë!”

Boromir looked at her in confusion.

“Your father had a woman from Dol Amroth as your nanny.”

“Listöwel,” Boromir choked. “Beloved. I had forgotten. So dear.” Tears spilled.

“Anairë is of our house. A cousin many times removed. Her blood is not pure, but she is a beautiful girl. She would be perfect. I will begin to prepare her. When you have a son, I will send her. She is young and malleable.” Nerdanel smiled to herself. “This will be perfect.”

Boromir hugged her to him. “Wondrous aunt! Thank you. You ease my heart.”




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42.


The Citadel was empty except for the guard. A sliver of moon hung in the sky; a faint hint of pink peaked over the mountains. Denethor walked quietly to the keel, placed his hands on the parapet’s wall, and looked out upon the Pelennor. A light here and there shone. Farmhands were waking to prepare for the day. He had not slept, for great was his discontent.

He bit his lip. He would not cry. He could not remember the last time he had cried. But his heart ached as fiercely as if she had died this very night. He clenched the wall until his hands burned, but nothing would stay the tears. In deep shame, he let them fall. “Finduilas,” he brokenly whispered. “Would that you were here to see your son…” He hated the woman! Oh how he hated this little snip that would hold his Boromir in contempt! His sobs turned into groans. ‘And so, father, it is done as you asked.’ He shook; he had enslaved his son to a selfish tramp for the sake of Gondor. He was not a fool; he had seen the eyes she made at Faramir. There was no curse foul enough to use as he contemplated this harlot.

“Finduilas,” he called again, softly into the night. “I have never asked you to turn your face from the happiness of your new state; I would leave you in peace, but I cannot. If there is some way that you can make right what I have done, do it, my love, for the sake of our son.”

Ecthelion stood before him. “All for Gondor, Denethor. Have you forgotten? Is that not our creed, our word, for those of the House of Húrin?” His snarled derision bore through Denethor’s heart, as it always had, leaving a gaping hole. “ Now you would denigrate our line by taking back your word? You would ‘save’ Boromir by treachery? I had always thought it possible. I knew your weakness. Ever did I know you. Your heart lacked resolve. Weak I deem you. Nay, I name you coward!”

He almost fell in horror. He was in the Tower, with no memory of walking the stairs, nor opening the door into the chamber. In the Palantír, his father stood in fury, hatred shining from the black eyes that oft looked with contempt upon his son. Denethor clenched his eyes shut, trying desperately to not see that visage in front of him. Still the mocking voice taunted him, reviled him. He tried to pull his hands away from the suddenly hated stone, but they would not obey him. He could not use his full powers to pull away for his heart condemned him, and he must punish himself for what he had done over the years, the times he had failed his father and all of Gondor. And so he let the fear, grief, horror, and guilt wash over him in ever-stronger strokes. He let his father lash him with words that cut into his very being. Words he had heard every time he had stood before the Chair.

He heard a gentle laugh and looked deeper into the stone. His skin prickled and the hairs on the back of his neck rose. He shuddered and took a deep breath. “Curunír? What do you here?”

“I have missed you, son of Ecthelion. Where have you been? What mischief have you been up to? Have you been to the library? I have waited for you. Ah, I see you would dismiss me as inconsequential? That is to my favor. If you think so little of me, you give me leeway to do great damage. You think I am your foe? If you had treated me with respect, had listened to my words, you would be great. You would command all of Gondor and Mordor. I would have helped you. I saw the lonely boy and only tried to give him comfort. Now I will give you pain.”

“Nay! You speak lies. You twist me with cunning. I will not listen. Never again will I listen to you.”

“You will listen to that nothing? To Mithrandir? He is the one you should fear. Did he not try to put that usurper on the throne? I kept him away. For Gondor. For you. Yet, you think me the foe. I am now. Fear me, Denethor. Fear me and do not cross me.”

Denethor shut his eyes, willing the voice away. Too unbearable, that voice. It had sent him into nightmares as a boy and, he realized, he was still not free of the wizards wiles.

At last, too weary to stand, he crumpled at the base of the plinth, the globe still held in his hands. His mind left him and he wandered in lands he did not know. Lands of blessed peace and fair winds, lands filled with flowers, sweet scented and abundant. None walked these plains and mountains. Only he. ‘Is this Valinor? Or mayhap I stand on the island of Númenor?’

She came to him, then. Her black hair shone as it hung full to her waist. Her great gray eyes looked upon him with pity. Never had he seen her so beautiful, never so sad. “I cannot help,” she said, tears falling from those great wondrous beloved eyes. “There is no hope for him. You have seen him, have you not, lying dead in a slip of a boat, crashing over the falls.”

He screamed as the boat hovered at the lip of Rauros. He held his hands up to hold it back, push it to the shore, and save his son. But his arms were not long enough. They could not reach Boromir. The boat tipped crazily and he hoped, Valar how he hoped that it would not fall, but it did. A never-ending fall. But it did end, the fall ended on the rocks at the base of the falls and the boat split apart and Boromir’s body lay broken on a boulder. Boromir was lost. His son was dead.

He woke and found the globe lay next to him, calmed and still for the moment. He looked at it in dismay. “Do you speak the truth? Is what I see real? Or only a shadow of what might be? Tell me!” he screamed, “Tell me!”

Great sobs shook him. “I must trust it. It is a gift from the Elves.” His chin shook. “A gift from the Elves for the Faithful. Am I not faithful? Have I not given all? Is not duty my only hope?” He bowed his head as anguish filled him. At last, he swallowed, drew in a deep breath, and picked up the stone. Slowly, reverently, he placed it back on the pedestal and covered it. “I know what I must do.”

~*~

“I leave for the southern fiefdoms on the morrow.”

“I would that I were traveling with you.”

“I know. You will be heading north soon?”

Boromir nodded. “Cair Andros and beyond.”

“I would that I were traveling with you.”

“Take care, little brother.”

Faramir swallowed. “I go not into danger.”

“I will be careful,” Boromir’s smile was quick and brilliant. “Though, of late I think we both have not been as careful as we might have been.”

“Boromir?” Faramir hesitated. “I love you.”

Another brilliant smile and a hug answered him. “I will fare you well in the morning. Do not leave until I arrive. We will meet at the stables?”

“Yes. At the stables.”

“Damrod accompanies you?”

“I cannot rid myself of the man. He made some kind of an oath to a certain Captain-General.”

Boromir laughed. “And he best keep it.”

“Now, go, get you some rest. Father has asked that I join him. Probably a few last minute words.” Faramir’s smile was genuine. “He still does not trust me. He thinks me a young whelp, not yet ready for battle.”

“I wish you were not,” Boromir said quietly. “I wish you were still ten and hiding in the library, reading your books.”

“I do not! I am glad I am able to help you and father defend Gondor. All the wishing in the world will not give us peace, much as we both would wish it.” Faramir sighed. “I have not picked up mother’s harp in an age. I fear I have lost the calluses on my fingers. I probably could not play it for more than a few minutes before my hands would hurt.”

“And that is to Gondor’s shame.”

“Nay, it is the way of things for now. Soon,” and Faramir’s brow rose, “we will have peace. Father plans for it.” He laughed. “And he is not one to be scorned nor trifled with.”

Boromir let out a great laugh. “Nor crossed!” He hugged Faramir close. “Go to him before he sends someone after you. I hate that most of all, the ignominy of an escort. As if we do not know our way about the Citadel.” Another hearty laugh. “I wonder he has not put a collar on us.”

Faramir laughed in glee. “Do not even let him hear that. You will give him ideas. I am off. I promise, I will not leave until you bid me farewell.”

“Thank you and good night.”

Faramir watched as Boromir walked the steps of the Tower. He closed his eyes for a moment, realizing that his words were half in truth. He feared his father did not trust him. Well, there was naught he could do about that now.

He strode purposefully to his father’s study, knocked on the heavy oak door, and entered upon command. Denethor stood at his desk, papers strewn about, a decanter of wine and four used glasses at the end, precariously sitting on a silver tray. Faramir stepped forward and moved it to the sideboard.

Denethor looked up. “I am glad to see you prompt.”

Faramir waited.

“I have letters here for all the lords of the fiefdoms you will visit. Here is a map that shows the towns I want you to stop at. I have a purse here,” he opened a drawer and pulled out a heavy leather purse and placed it next to the rolled maps. “There is enough to keep you till Dol Amroth. Adrahil will give you more for your return trip. Get yourself a new horse while you are there. His are rugged little creatures with great stamina. You will need it; for once you return, I want you stationed at Henneth-Annun. A smaller horse, not that great stallion you ride, will be more appropriate for the hill country. Take your sword and your horn.”

Faramir listened as Denethor rambled on. He did not understand the small details that Denethor laid upon him. They had already discussed his route, the horse, the maps. He knew enough to take his sword and horn. Still, his father seemed to need to list these things.

At last, Denethor looked him full in the face. “I do not send you easily. You have only recently recovered from your wounds. If I did not deem the mission of such import, you would stay here. As would your brother. In fact, I must keep him here for at least another month, to let the wound heal. But it will not be healed in time. He will still carry it into duty and battle. I think you will not. I… I hope our southern realm will remain quiet for many years to come.”

“With the men you have trained, and Belfalas behind us, the southern fiefdoms will be spared.”

Denethor’s eyes searched his. “You will… Ah, Faramir. I am concerned. I rue the day…”

“Father. I will do you proud. I promise. I will bring trust to our men and to those of the fiefdoms. The lords will respond to your call. Men will be sent, and coin. I will not disappoint you.”

“Nay, you will not. I expect you back before Mettarrë. Míriel and her entourage will be here. As will your uncle. Boromir will also be here for the festival. It is part of the agreement with Galador.”

Faramir nodded. “Father,” he hesitated a moment. “When Mithrandir comes, would you treat him civilly?”

Some sense of rebellion stirred in Denethor’s heart. “I will, Faramir. In fact, I intend to listen quite closely to all he might say.”

Faramir’s face lit in wonder. “I would hope he will still be here when I return?”

“I will try to hold him for a time. Mayhap if I tell him you will return he will wait.”

“Mayhap, but I am of no consequence to him.”

“I think all of the House of Húrin are of consequence to him, Faramir. I will not see you away on the morrow. There is a Council. Come, farewell me now.”

Faramir stepped into Denethor’s arms. He felt the embrace and wondered.

“Hurry home and with good news, my son.”

~*~

“It is already warm enough to melt stone,” Boromir complained heartily. “Would that I were going with you. The sea air will be cool. And the women will be beautiful.”

Faramir laughed aloud. “You already have one woman waiting for you, Boromir. Would you have them all?”

Boromir sobered.

“I am sorry,” Faramir breathed heartily. “I did not mean… I will stay away from her, I promise.”

“Faramir, Faramir. Do not be concerned. Aunt Nerdanel has promised she will watch over her like a hawk. Miriel will not dare to come near you. I think even her father has been warned.”

Faramir’s brow was creased.

“Faramir! Do not be concerned. I know you. I know your heart. You are purity itself. I think you must have received this gift from mother.”

“I do not remember her.”

“I do. As I have always told you, you are made in her likeness. Sweet and gentle, kind and good of heart. Do not let that woman get her nails into you. She would use you.”

“I told you – I intend to stay far away from her.”

“But whilst you are in Dol Amroth, have some fun. There will be none here until you return. I would like that image in my mind’s eye. Of you enjoying yourself on this trip. Would you do that for me, Faramir? Would you enjoy yourself?”

“I will try,” Faramir laughed.

“I have something for you.” Boromir turned and pulled a package from the stall behind them. “It should make the nights seem less dark.”

The paper fell and Faramir’s hands shook as he beheld the traveler’s harp. “Boromir!” He swallowed hard. “It is beautiful.” He grabbed his brother in a fierce hug. “Thank you!” He hung it, using the silk baldric that wrapped around its neck, jumped upon his horse, and saluted. He could hardly stay the tears. “Thank you,” he whispered as tears glistened; he rode away.

Boromir waved, but Faramir did not look back. Smiling, Boromir walked towards the Tower.


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43.

He sat with Faramir’s report splayed across his knees. No one could call his youngest son long-winded, for his reports were concise - but the detail! If any other had submitted this report, it would have filled one page, at the most, two. But Faramir. Denethor smiled. He counted the pages once again. Six. He sighed and began to read. A light knock on his door. He hardly looked up so absorbed was he. Arthad coughed. Denethor looked up.

“Boromir is here to see you.”

“Send him in! Send him in!” He took the reports and pushed the pages together. Placing it on the desk before him, he stood and hugged his eldest. “I was nigh unto faint with hunger, waiting for you to come. Arthad!” he called, “Have the meal served now.” He walked Boromir through the door into his dining area.

“Have you heard from Faramir?”

“I have. The report sits on my desk. We will read it together.”

They passed the meal pleasantly, as was their wont. The breaking of their fast together had become a daily ritual after Faramir went south. Long discussions, mostly about defenses, allies, and battle strategy, filled the two hours Denethor had allotted for them. After the repast, they retired to Denethor’s private study. He poured them both brandy, then offered Boromir Faramir’s report.

“Read it aloud, please.”

“My Lord Steward,” Boromir began, a wry smile upon his face.

After an hour of reading, being interrupted, answering questions, and throwing out thoughts in response to the report, Boromir finished. Denethor sat back and Boromir smiled. He had sat on the edge of his seat as he read and he noted his father had also. “Faramir’s reports are not dull.” He burst out laughing.

Denethor smiled and took a sip of his drink. “They are not. Nor are they short. But he has told me all I need to know. I look forward to his report on Dol Amroth.”

“Father. I would be away. I feel strong. I am chaffing at the bit. As are my men. I need action.”

“Argon has not given his permission.” Denethor did not want these mornings to end. He had forgotten how much he enjoyed Boromir’s company. After all these years, he respected his son and he knew his son respected him. None other spoke to him so plainly.

“Arthad,” the man entered. “Ask the Master Healer to attend me.” The man nodded and left.

“Thank you, Father.”

Silence attended the room. Boromir thought of Faramir and how much he missed him; Denethor thought of Boromir and how much he would miss him.

“Has aught been heard of the wizard?”

Denethor’s head snapped up. “Are you waiting for him? I did not know you looked forward to his visit.”

“I do. I cannot remember the last time he was here. He travels in far wider circles than we. Last time he was here, he told Faramir and me about an…”

“Go on.”

“An Elven stronghold far west of Rohan, by the sea. How many Elves do you think still live in Middle-earth, Father? There cannot be many. None are ever seen.”

“I would think I was talking to Faramir. When have Elves been of concern to you?”

“Mother was of Elven-kind, was she not?”

“You have been thinking of your mother?” Denethor asked quietly.

“Aunt Nerdanel and I spoke of her at the betrothal ball. I do not usually give much thought to her anymore, I am sorry to say.”

Denethor stood and walked to the fire, looked at the portrait above the mantel, and sighed. “She was a lovely woman.” He began to smile, and the smile turned to a small chuckle. “Your adadhron did not much care for Elves. It was difficult persuading him to allow the marriage. Thoron…” He stopped, clenching his teeth.

“Thoron?”

Denethor swallowed the last of the brandy and put the glass down. “Thorongil. I am sure you have heard of his exploits?”

“I have. Most warriors of Gondor have been taught his battle strategies.”

Denethor looked up in surprise. “Battle strategies?”

“Yes. Ones for the defense of Osgiliath. Mostly, we are taught what he did to the Corsairs.”

Denethor laughed bitterly “Of course.”

“You must have known him, Father. What was he really like?”

“I must be speaking with Faramir. These are questions he might ask.”

Boromir stopped and bit his lip. The tone was one he was well familiar with. Naught further would he hear about Captain Thorongil. “Are there many Elves left?”

“Do you want to see one?”

Boromir had the grace to blush. “Ever since Faramir saw the one at Edhellond. It would be interesting. Might Faramir see another whilst he is in Dol Amroth?”

“Did he say he was going west from there?” At Boromir’s nod, Denethor shrugged. “Then he very well might. If he passes through Edhellond.”

Silence again.

“I heard there are Elves on the road to Dale.”

“You have heard the stories, Boromir. I do not deem it a place you would wish to find yourself. I suggest, when you are guarding our northern border, that you stay away from there.”

Boromir smiled. “I think my duties will be such that I will find no time for such a sortie.”

“There is much to be done…” The alarm horns interrupted him.

A knock and Arthad entered. “A missive from the Tower Watch, my Lord.”

Denethor nodded and opened it. “Smoke to the north of us. Beyond Forannest.” He turned to Arthad. “Is this the only missive you have?”

“It is, my Lord Steward.”

“Then we will go to my public study. If any bring word here, have them directed there. Boromir,” his son stood, “Go to my study and wait for me. I must do something first.” Boromir nodded and left, tucking a sweet roll or two into his pockets from their leftover meal.

Denethor quickly climbed the stairs. There had been no movement in the last few weeks. Could this fire be a natural occurrence? Had a farmer let a fire grow out of hand? He locked the door behind him and pulled the sheath. No time to prepare himself. He took a deep breath and placed his hands on either side; the globe wakened.

Fire! He wanted to cry at the destruction. Their desperately needed fields of grain were ablaze. One. Two. Six. Six fields lost! How could… He saw them as they lumbered back towards the Emyn Muil. They were driving horses and livestock before them. Orcs! Not a large band either, but large enough to do serious damage to Gondor’s winter food supply. The new storage buildings would not be filled this year. ‘May Morgoth rot in the Void!’ He turned his eyes back to the flaming fields. As he narrowed his vision, he could see the dead bodies littering entranceways and the ground around the farms. ‘Not only our precious grain, but men I had hoped to have as reserve for my army. A doubly hard blow this day!’ He searched further north, then west and east, but there was naught to be seen. He covered the stone and walked slowly down the steps. ‘How many women and children?’

As he entered his study, Boromir stepped forward with three missives in his hand. “You probably know already, Father. Six farms attacked. There were no survivors. May I follow those who did this? At least, have Gondor’s revenge if naught else?”

“Yes. Take the three companies you have prepared. I will write to the captains at Amon Dîn and Cair Andros. They are to give you more men from their garrisons, if the need arises.”

“I would travel with as few as possible, Father. Too many and I lose speed. Orcs travel slowly. We might be able to catch them.”

“Nay. The fires are burnt low. They attacked before dawn, as is their way. They are almost to the Emyn Muil. But they will return. You will have time, once you reach Cair Andros, to plan. I will do everything I can to watch for you, but even I cannot watch constantly, as evidenced by today’s attack.”

He sat heavily at his desk. “Ask Húrin to come to me. And an errand-rider.” He waited a moment. “Boromir, I must speak with Argon. I cannot let you go if you are not healed.”

“Father.” Boromir took a deep breath. “I have been injured before, as have you. I know my own body. It is ready. Another week before we ride out from Cair Andros on patrol and I will be ready. I have been training and my arm is near as strong as before my wounding.” He smiled. “I would say do not concern yourself, though I know you will. But I will be ready by the time I take my men into the field.”

“Very well. You will be gone for at least three months. I had hoped to have you return to the City at Loëndë, but it would be impractical. I do not want you riding unnecessarily. At your last examination, Argon thought you would be fully healed by that time, but I would not strain a stomach wound. They can be delicate. Go. I must spend time with Húrin. A patrol must be sent to bury our dead. Boromir,” he stood and hugged his son, “Take care.”

Boromir returned the hug but did not leave. “One more thing, Father? I would take Arthad with me. He was my aide before you stole him from me.”

Denethor smiled and nodded as the errand-rider entered. Boromir saluted and left. Denethor quickly wrote his missive, sealed it and sent the errand-rider to the Causeway Forts. When he was once again alone, he closed his eyes, but only a moment later, Húrin knocked and entered.

“Sit.”

Húrin nodded and took the proffered drink. When Denethor had finished describing the latest attack, he asked, “How many companies should I send? Those who bury the dead will need protection. Which captain will you send?”

“I have sent for Lieutenant Hirgon from the Causeway Forts. By the time the burial detail is ready, he should be here. He will take the detail. Our need for captains outweighs our supply. He will take a company or two of our knights from Amon Dîn for protection. With Boromir’s troops riding in the same direction, the Orcs will stay away. Also, daylight protects our men, for the nonce.”

Húrin understood. “They will be finished in one day’s time?”

“I believe so. Only six farms after all. How many would that be? The farmer and his wife and their children, plus a few helpers. Probably only eight or so per farm, if that. The graves will be common ones. There is no time for individual burial.”

“Of course,” Húrin shuddered.

“Now, we must speak of Amon Dîn. This is the closest attack we have had in my memory. Therefore, I must deploy more men to that garrison. With the men lost at the Firien, the garrison is vulnerable. It is a hard blow, knowing Guilin is dead. Baranor is stationed there, is he not?”

“He is, my Lord.” Húrin coughed in distress.

“What?”

“He has served many years, my Lord. In normal times, he would have been long retired.”

Denethor grimaced. “Yes. Long retired. His son is stationed at the Causeway Forts, is he not?”

“He is. A lieutenant also in that company.”

“I will promote him and send him to Amon Dîn. If he is anything like his father he will do well. Bring Baranor home. Give him his rest. Mayhap, he can train some of the squires.”

“It will be done. Beregond will be made captain of Amon Dîn.”

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44.

Denethor began to put the ‘Stewards and Kings’ pieces away. “It will be long before I will play this again.”

“I know the game.”

Denethor stopped. He looked at the wizard in surprise. “So, they play this where you are from?”

“It goes by other names, but it is played in many places. A good game to learn strategy – battle and otherwise.”

Denethor nodded and put the pieces back on the board. “Both Boromir and Faramir enjoy the game. For different reasons. Obviously.”

Mithrandir smiled. “Indeed.” He held his pipe before him. “May I?”

Denethor nodded. “Your ‘indeed’ – you find their playing styles different? Or them?”

Mithrandir chuckled. “You know the answer to that question.”

“I did not know you know Boromir.”

“I keep my eyes open.”

Denethor’s smile was taut. “I have noted.”

Mithrandir chuckled again. “As do you.”

This time, Denethor’s smile was more genuine. “Why did you come back?”

“Why did you send for me?”

Denethor took a deep breath, walked to the sideboard, and poured two glasses. He turned and offered one to the wizard, then took a sip. “Cherry brandy from Lebennin, as yet untouched by the blight.”

“The blight?”

Denethor sat at his desk. He unrolled a map and motioned for the wizard to join him.

Mithrandir lit his pipe and then carried his glass with him.

“When I was in Ithilien, back in ’39, there was a blight upon many of the plants. Faramir reports that it is now spread from a few to almost all. There was a particular iris field that I was fond of. In ’39, the blight only touched the outer plants. This past year, the field was gone. Wiped out. I gave Faramir specific directions. It was not that he could not find the field or the plants; they were gone. Reports now come to me that plants in Lebennin and Lossarnach have been like infected. Have you noted this elsewhere?”

“You call me to Minas Tirith to discuss plants?” Mithrandir’s voice was low but light.

“It is not natural. I have never seen its like. My archivists have searched the Great Library and find no mention of such a blight. It is not only confined to one form of plant; it affects all. It seems to have no favorites. And yet, you look at me askance. As if I waste your time upon a triviality. This affects our food crops also.”

“Denethor. That is well and good, but it is not the reason you asked me here.” He walked back to the settle, relit his pipe, and took another sip of the brandy. “It is very good.”

Denethor stood in stony silence. At last, he said, “‘Twill probably be the last bottle.” He walked over and sat in the chair on Mithrandir’s right. “When last you were here, you spent much time in the archives. Did you find aught of value?”

“I always find things of interest in the Great Library.”

“I have spent much time there myself, especially as of late. I have found the scrolls of the kings particularly… interesting.”

Mithrandir took a puff but did not respond.

“I followed both lines.”

Still silence. By this time, Denethor was beginning to tire of the game. A small smile. “I have other duties that I must now attend to. Would you join me for a game of ‘Stewards and Kings’ after the daymeal?”

Mithrandir nodded, finished his drink and left.

Denethor sat back, his fingers steepled, a small smile upon his face.

A knock on the door and he stood and walked back to his desk. He called enter whilst folding the map. “Húrin! Have you found anything out?”

“My Lord Steward. It seems indeed to be treachery. I cannot believe it would be Arthad though.”

“Ah, tell me what you have found.”

“The riders received their missives from Arthad, then took them to their former lieutenant. Wait. Let me begin with him. Tarostar is a lieutenant in the Errand-Riders Company. He was in charge of missives until he was injured in a questionable accident. Arthad, after he finished preparations for Boromir’s betrothal, needed something to keep him busy. I have not seen many with such drive, except perhaps, Boromir. Well, be that as it may, the men did not readily accept Arthad. Nevertheless, the man took great diligence in discharging his duties, as I have seen him do in all he deems necessary. The men took their missives from Arthad, took them to Tarostar who approved them and then sent the riders on their way. The same thing happened with missives coming into Minas Tirith. They gave them to Tarostar, who passed them on to Arthad.”

Denethor scowled. “Have you found anything… different about Tarostar and his relationships with his men?”

“There are rumors, Denethor. Nasty rumors, but I could not verify them.”

“Rumors?”

“Threats that seem to have been carried through upon the men…” Húrin squirmed, “and upon their families.”

“How long now?”

“At least a year, perhaps a little more. Tarostar has been in charge of missives for two years.”

Denethor took a last swig of the brandy. “Forgive me. Would you like some?”

“If I may. I find this distressing.”

Denethor motioned and Húrin went to the sideboard, pouring himself a full glass. He turned to Denethor and brought the bottle with him. He poured Denethor more. He put his hand on Denethor’s shoulder. “I do not like this one bit. I do not know how it happened that none knew of this.”

“Where does Arthad come into this and why are the missives missing?”

“Because Tarostar thought Arthad had permanently taken his position, if my guess is right, and was trying to discredit him.”

Denethor drank the contents of the glass. “Treachery indeed. He cared not about his fellow soldiers? Put them at peril by withholding information?”

“It seems so.”

Denethor’s face blazed. “Arthad is now with Boromir. Who is in charge of the missives?”

“Tarostar.”

“And none are now missing.”

“None.”

“What punishment do you deem appropriate?”

“Drum him out of the service of Gondor.”

“I think more is needed.”

Húrin paled. “Hanging?”

“It would seem so.”

“My Lord Denethor,” Húrin tried to clear his throat. “I know what he… It is fair.”

“Mayhap, Húrin, Boromir would not have been attacked if such missives had not gone astray. I must have proof though. I will not hang a man without proof.”

“I will obtain it, my Lord.” He swallowed the rest of his drink, saluted and left.

Denethor sat heavily in his chair. ‘It is the lies again. Do I hang a man for listening to the lies of the Enemy?” He put his head in his hands and massaged his temples. ‘I will wait for proof. Then, I must. I must.’

After an hour, he walked to the parapet and looked northward. ‘Boromir,’ he thought. ‘How fare you this day? I have seen things. War is coming to you. How do I ensure that you will get the missive? Ah! Hirgon.’ He turned and walked back to the Tower. His aide stepped forward. “I need a rider sent to the Causeway Forts with new orders for Lieutenant Hirgon. Follow me.” He wrote the orders in his study and handed them to Amlaith. “Make sure these are sent. Watch until the rider leaves the Citadel.”

“It will be done, my Lord Steward.”

“Just a moment. Send for the Warden of the Keys.”

The man saluted and left. The door remained open and Denethor scowled.

After only a short time, Húrin looked through the door. “It remains open?”

“My aide.” He grimaced. “Húrin. Boromir is not happy with the aides I have had these past three years. Since I let Berelach… since I promoted Berelach, I am at a loss. Amlaith is my third in these three years. Is there any that you would suggest?”

“Belegorn, my Lord,” Húrin said quickly. “A good man. From the line of Húrin, but long has the family lived in Lindir. The boy became a knight about three years ago. He is stationed at Amon Anwar. I have heard only good reports of him, for someone stationed at such a distant outpost.”

“Bring him to me. His father. What is his name?”

Húrin blushed. “Gwathmor.”

“Why?”

“He was born lame, my Lord Steward. He never served.”

“How did his son…?”

“Prince Adrahil loved his father. I know not how they met.”

“I see. If Adrahil thought well of his father, then who am I to question that. Send him to me. But first, there is a band of Easterlings headed west. Right into Boromir’s path. Begin the process of finding men for me, Húrin. I must send a battalion, at least.”

Húrin nodded and left.

Denethor sat once more and poured another glass of brandy. Anor was close to setting and he had accomplished nothing this day. He twirled the glass in his hand. ‘I wonder what father would have done if I had been born lame? Or the wizard, would he have put Thorongil on the throne… Why did Thorongil leave when he had Ecthelion in the palm of his hand? And where is he now? Long lost. I had him in my sights at the beginning of this year, and lo, the year is almost ended.’ He put down the glass and rubbed his forehead again. A nasty head ache loomed. He closed his eyes and yearned for Boromir to return. ‘Morgoth’s breath!’ he swore, ‘I must send a battalion north. But where will I get the men?”

Denethor walked the stairs to the Tower room. The Palantír waited for him. He had just looked this morning. He opened his mind to it again and discovered the Easterlings he had seen had not traveled far. A large contingent. He furrowed his brow. They are headed towards the Emyn Muil. Towards Boromir. ‘I was right. There will be another battle and soon. I must gather my forces and send them north to Boromir. He will know what to do.’ He looked towards the Emyn Muil, but found no movement. Slowly, he worked the stone back south towards Ithilien. There was no activity there either. It had only been eight months since the last battle. Winter would be upon the Emyn Muil in six short weeks. The Enemy must think them weak indeed if He sent another sortie against them. ‘But of course, He thinks us weak. And we are.’ He put the globe down and walked back to his study. Mithrandir stood outside the door. Denethor silently sighed.


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45.

Arthad thought how good it was to be riding once again at Boromir’s side. Though their mission was grave, Boromir’s mood infected the entire troop. He was definitely happy to be once again heading towards battle. They stopped at Amon Dîn for the night; Boromir wanted to inspect the damage to Anórien, but he would not disobey his father. The next morning, he led his men across the Anduin and onto the island of Cair Andros. As he swung down from his saddle, he grinned. “Captain Hador! It is good to see you again. I am most grateful you and your men made it back after our last sortie.”

“As am I to see you, Captain Boromir. How fares your brother?”

“He is well and on a mission to the southern fiefs. Come; let us discuss your garrison. I have read the daily reports. All seems well here.”

They entered the captain’s quarters and Boromir sat in his old chair. Hador brought out goblets and filled them with wine. “I expect you are parched?”

“I am. Thank you.” He sighed heavily as he sat back, then grimaced in pain.

“So,” Hador said quietly. “The reports are true. You were injured.”

“Not in Ithilien. In the Firien Woods near Rohan. Orcs. I am almost mended.”

“Yet your father sends you out, wounded? The need must be great. Is there another foray by the enemy into our lands?”

“There has been. Did you see the smoke yesterday morn?”

“We all did. And wondered.”

“Orcs attacked six farms, destroyed the fields and took the horses and livestock.”

Hador sat heavily in his own chair and downed the wine. “I was afraid it was something like that. Too much smoke for a swithen fire gone astray. When do we follow them?”

Boromir smiled. “You are a man after my own heart. However, our orders are not to follow them, but to wait for their return. Which means patrols. I have three companies with me. Only the best men. Some Rangers even. I will send each company out towards our border. I will command one. Arthad will command another. And Anborn will lead the Rangers.”

“I stay behind?”

“I am afraid so.”

“I do not know this man, Anborn.”

“He is a Ranger from Henneth-Annûn. Faramir thinks he has promise and asked me to watch o’er him whilst he is gone.”

“You begin the patrols on the morrow?”

“Nay. Now. My men are ready. I have maps of Ithilien, the Nindalf and the northern borders. We will set up a permanent camp by the outpost at the base of Rauros. We will then split up and patrol Gondor’s border.”

“So be it. But first, you must eat. It will only take a few moments. Nuncheon is prepared.”

The meal was halfway complete when Arthad knocked and asked for entry. Hador granted it.

“The men are saddled and ready, Captain. They have eaten.” He looked at Boromir and smiled. “Would it be best if we waited a bit?”

“Nay!” Boromir laughed. “I can eat whilst riding. You know me better. Let us away.” He bid Hador farewell and mounted. A smile lit his face and his men were heartened, though they knew they would live in peril for the next few months. A warrior started a song and the rest of Boromir’s company quickly joined in.

Hador smiled and saluted.

~*~

“Faramir!” Imrahil’s warm embrace heartened him. “It is good to see you again. I had given up hope.”

“You? Never, Uncle.”

“Are you well? Should you have taken this trip?”

“Denethor has allotted a goodly amount of time, therefore, we have progressed slowly. According to Agron, I am healed.”

“I will believe that once my own healers examine you.”

“They will not. I admit I am tired. But we have come a long distance.”

“Then come with me. I have a meal ready. My guard, as ever, found it extremely easy to note your progress.”

Faramir laughed. “Uncle,” he turned and moved Damrod forward. “This is my aide, Damrod. I believe you met him in Minas Tirith. Would you see that he has quarters near mine?”

“The wet nurse Boromir gave you,” Imrahil whispered.

“Yes.” Faramir smiled. “The same. Though he is become a good friend and companion. If I do not have him quartered near me, he will sleep on the floor in front of my door.”

Imrahil raised an eyebrow.

“It is true. He did it in Osgiliath.”

Imrahil shook his head. “Well, let us to your rooms so you can refresh yourselves. I expect to see you for the daymeal.”

“We will be there. Uncle,” Faramir paused. “Are… may I visit mother’s garden?”

“You never have to ask, Faramir. The flowers trip over each other, they grow so abundantly. I believe there is Elven magic in that place. I will not require you this afternoon.”

“Thank you.”

He was indeed very tired. In fact, he had not told his uncle that he was recovering from a fever. The company had had to stop in Tarnost for a week whilst he fought it. Damrod had been close to ending their mission, but the fever had finally passed. He bathed and rested but an hour. He needed to spend time on her terrace overlooking the Bay.

The garden was indeed beautiful. A small smile graced his face. ‘I know you are not here, Nana, but I wanted to present myself well.’ A soft, gentle breeze lifted the unruly hair that always fell upon his brow. The bench he chose looked out upon the sea. He took in a few deep breaths and then began to hum one of her lullabies. Boromir had sung them oft enough, when first they found themselves alone. Father could not, or would not spend much time with them, those first years. He felt a light, gentle hand on his shoulder and held his breath, hoping beyond hope that it was some manifestation of his naneth. Shivering slightly, he called out, “Nana.” A faint laugh. “Ah, Nana, you tease me.”

“I had not meant to tease, more to seduce.”

He jumped to his feet and almost stumbled in his haste to move away from her. “Míriel! What are…? Why are…? How…?”

She laughed lightly. “I am very glad to see my presence affects you so greatly.” She moved forward.

He jumped back, three paces. “I have… An illness… Just getting over a fever…”

She laughed again, this time low and lustful. “You are most welcome to come to my home. I have some wonderful treatments that would strengthen you, heal you, with just a touch.” The last words were spoken in a whisper.

He shook his head. “No need. Prince Imrahil… his healer will look after me.”

She stepped closer; he fell over the bench. She giggled and knelt beside him. “You realize there are not many I would sacrifice my beautiful dress for. The grass will stain it. But that is of no consequence.” She tried to run her hand through his hair, but he jerked his head aside, and hit it on the base of the bench. “Oh, my poor, handsome Faramir. You are all awash at seeing me again, are you not? Well, we will spend our time together and you will become accustomed to my flirtations.”

“Lord Faramir!”

A vicious curse crossed her lips, then she purred. “I will see you later tonight? You know where my father’s manor is.” She bent lower and kissed his lips. He pulled away, but she tangled her fingers in his hair and pulled him closer. He shuddered and pulled further back. She laughed and stood.

“He is here, soldier. I will leave him to you.”

Damrod watched her walk away and noted how her hips swung, tantalizingly. “Wench,” he whispered, then ran to Faramir’s side.

“Ouch!”

“Where are you hurt? What did she do?”

“I tried to get away from her and fell and bashed my head into the bench.” Faramir pulled his bloodied hand away and sighed. “Now I really must see uncle’s healer.”

~*~

Imrahil’s anger was palpable. Never had he given permission for her to visit that wing of the palace. And for her to sully his sister’s garden. He paced his study, waiting for the healer’s report.

“It is nothing,” Faramir strode into his uncle’s study, Damrod close behind. “Just a scratch. Head wounds tend to bleed freely. I am well,” he answered his uncle’s unasked question. “I am sorry this happened here. By rights, I should have spoken to her myself, ended it in Minas Tirith.”

“I spoke with her father,” Imrahil’s brow rose. “I spoke quite pointedly. He will hear of this and he will be reprimanded. A father is culpable for his daughter!”

“She is very young and was not asked.”

“It makes no difference. She is a Swan. I will banish the whole family to Ras Morthil, to the town of Athrad. If we are fortunate, she will become food for the Woses who still dwell in that land!”

Faramir smiled. “Uncle, I think that a little rash. She is impetuous.”

“She is a strumpet, a harlot!”

“She is a young girl who found herself in a place not of her choosing with a man who frightens her. Obviously, she felt no fear with me.”

Imrahil took Faramir’s arm and led him to a chair. He motioned for Damrod to sit also, but the Ranger shook his head, positioning himself directly behind Faramir. “Take this,” he offered a glass of wine, “it will help settle you.”

Faramir smiled warmly. He did not quite think he needed anything to settle him, but if his uncle needed to offer something, then he would accept. He reached for the proffered glass, but before he could take it, Galador stormed into the room. Imrahil looked up in surprise. Galador’s look was fey. His eyes swung wildly about the room, then rested upon Faramir. The Swan Lord strode swiftly towards Denethor’s son. At the last moment, he drew a dirk and lunged forward.

~*~

A/N – 1) A swithen is the old Norse name for swidden – a cultivation process used to clear land of vegetation, sometimes for deforestation, sometimes for crops. Produces ash that raises Ph in the soil. Though both uses found at dictionary.com are nouns, I have found the word used as an adjective. http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/swidden
2) The town of Athrad on the River Lefnui in Ras Morthil is from the Sindarin for crossing. Tolkien did not give a name for a town in that area of Middle-earth. http://home.netcom.com/~heensle/lang/elvish/sindarin/engsind.html In fact, the place was pretty much desolate… “The Men of Gondor did not make any settlements in Druwaith Iaur, although they did maintain beacons and a coast guard at the end of Andrast.” http://www.tuckborough.net/lands.html#Druwaith-Iaur Also, There was a Sarn Athrad in Beleriand too, and in his appendix to The Silmarillion Christopher Tolkien glossed the first member of the name thus: "sarn '(small) stone' in Sarn Athrad . . . ; also in Sarn Gebir ('stone-spikes': ceber, plural cebir 'stakes'), rapids in the river Anduin." http://www.forodrim.org/daeron/md_plur.html


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46.

They sat, nearly silent, for three hours. The wizard’s smoke, though the casements had been thrown open, still covered the high ceiling, as if some mighty cloud were in the room.

At last, Denethor called, “Check.”

Mithrandir smiled. “It appears that the loss of my Steward has put my King in jeopardy.”

Denethor’s lips tightened. “It is a move that bears remembering.”

The wizard blew another circle of smoke and watched it waft to the ceiling. He moved his castle and Denethor breathed out. One small move, one knight shifted, and Denethor had him, “Checkmate.”

“So it is. Well,” Mithrandir started to stand, “a thoroughly pleasant evening.”

“Stay,” Denethor forced himself to say.

Mithrandir looked up, his brows sticking out as they shot into the air. “The hour is late.”

“I am delighted you noticed. Morgoth’s breath!” he swore. “Where were you during the Battle of the Dagorlad?”

Mithrandir’s bristly brows lifted further.

“Did you have a hand in it?”

“Do you think my hand reached that far?”

“I believe it can reach where you will.”

“Indeed.”

“You seem fond of that word.”

The wizard said naught.

“If you were at the Dagorlad, which side would you have been on – the side of the servant of your own? Or the side of Elves and Men?”

“Little you know me, Lord Denethor,” the wizard said evenly.

“Mayhap if I sent for Faramir, you would reveal the answer.”

Mithrandir leaned forward with quiet vehemence. “The lad has a good head on his shoulders. He listens and learns. His mind is open to all possibilities. He has his mother’s heart.”

Denethor stood and walked firmly to the sideboard and poured himself more brandy.

“The last of the cherry brandy?”

“So, you were listening this afternoon?”

The wizard again remained silent.

Denethor brought the carafe and poured a little more for Mithrandir. “May I be forthright?”

“It is, for the moment, your Citadel.”

Denethor clenched his hand around the glass, which promptly shattered. He looked down in surprise. His servant stepped forward, cleaned him quickly, and took the broken glass away, replacing it with another. Denethor sat, twirling the new glass. “Where have you been these past years?” he asked, his tone conversational.

Mithrandir chuckled. “In a place safe from flying glass.”

“Safe from everything?” Denethor challenged.

“You do not wear your victory well, Lord Denethor.”

“What mean you?” he asked in consternation.

“Our game, ‘Stewards and Kings.’ You won handily and yet you snarl as if you had lost.”

“I believe I have lost. At least, it would appear so.” He sighed wearily. “Faramir will return for Mettarë. He asked that you delay your departure until he returns.”

“I would like that.”

Denethor stood. “Then, I will send for you when he returns. You will spend your time in my library?”

Mithrandir stood and nodded. “Mayhap, the next time we meet, we might be forthright again. I hope it will be before Mettarë.”

Denethor stood silent, waited till the wizard left, then flung his glass against the door. His servant stood and waited.

~*~

As quick as lightening, Damrod stepped into the blade, a small grunt forced from him at the impact. He stumbled against Faramir, but grit his teeth and forced himself to remain standing, protecting his lord with his body, hoping Imrahil would be able to subdue the man. Galador fell back in disbelief. Imrahil shouted for his guards and grabbed Galador’s arms, pinning them to his side. The man did not struggle; in fact, with a sob, he crumpled into Imrahil’s arms.

Faramir turned and held Damrod to him. “Do not even think of leaving me,” he whispered through tear-trembling lips. “Boromir will kill us both.” Damrod attempted a smile; then collapsed. Faramir, brought to his knees by the dead weight of his friend, sobbed.

Four guards jostled their way into the room. One, seeing blood on Damrod’s back and Faramir’s hands, shouted commands and shoved one of the other guards out the study’s door with orders to return with Dol Amroth’s healer. Imrahil handed Galador over to two guards, whilst the third ran to Faramir’s side, thinking the prince of Gondor was hurt. Faramir looked up. “It is Damrod. Help me lay him down.” Instead, the knight picked the wounded warrior up and placed him gently on Imrahil’s settle. Faramir knelt at his side. He moved Damrod’s body and found the dirk still imbedded in the warrior’s back. The blade effectively stopped the flow of blood.

“We will leave the dirk in until the healer arrives,” the knight said.

Faramir nodded, still stunned, perplexed, and heart-broken by what had occurred.

Imrahil insisted that Galador remain. The guards seated him and tied him to the chair; they stationed themselves on either side. The Swan Prince wanted the man to see the injury and damage that his deed had caused. For one very brief moment, he looked at the lord in wonder; then quickly strode to Faramir’s side. “How fares he?”

“The wound is deep. I know not what hurt has been done.”

At that moment, the healer entered the room and walked, at Imrahil’s command, to Damrod’s side. He did a quick assessment of the wound; then sighed. “He will be well.” An assistant stepped into the room carrying a satchel. He knelt at the healer’s side and opened the bag; then he went to the fire, took the hot water boiling there for tea, and poured it into a bowl. He brought it to the healer’s side.

“Lord Faramir, I believe?” At Faramir’s nod, the healer continued, “The wound is deep but has missed any vital parts. He has hardly bled. I will clean and stitch him now. If you would move and give me a little room?”

Faramir swallowed hard, squeezed the unconscious Damrod’s hand, stood and walked to Imrahil’s side. The prince took his arm and forced him to finally sit. Pouring them both brandy, he sat next to his nephew. “My healer is very good, Faramir. Trained in Minas Tirith under Arciryas.”

Faramir nodded, his eyes never leaving Damrod’s body.

Damrod’s eyes fluttered; a moan left him as he tried to move. Faramir was instantly at his side. “Be strong, Damrod. The healer is almost finished. Just a few more stitches.”

Damrod clutched Faramir’s hand, his panicked eyes devouring Faramir. “Are you safe?” he croaked.

Faramir smiled at his friend. “Again, because of you! Your medal lust knows no bounds, Damrod. The other soldiers will be vexed at the ease with which you earn them. They will think we are in collusion.” He broke down and sobbed, feeling Damrod’s hand crush his own.

The healer sped his work and quickly finished. He motioned and a litter appeared in the doorway. Damrod’s eyes widened. “Nay! I cannot leave my lord!”

“It is imperative that you rest. The wound was deep, never the mind that you escaped alive!”

Damrod still shook his head. “Nay! I will not leave.”

He struggled against the healer’s hands until Faramir grabbed his once again. “You will lay here quietly. I will not make you break your vow to Boromir.”

The healer’s eyes widened in understanding. “I will leave my assistant with you. When you deign to return to your rooms, avail yourself of the litter, Lord Damrod. I beg you.”

“He will.” Faramir’s tone was firm and Damrod lay back quietly.

The healer left whilst his assistant brought tea and helped Damrod drink. Faramir stood and found that he was shaking. He looked helplessly at Imrahil who took him in his arms and walked him to a chair by the fire. He called and the assistant came to him. “Faramir’s head wound is bleeding again. Will you look at it?” Faramir, soaked in sorrow, lowered his head and succumbed to the assistant’s ministrations.

“There is enough tea for you, my Lord Faramir. Please, stay seated and drink it. The wound has re-opened. I must send for the healer.”

Faramir groaned in frustration. At the noise, Galador looked, the first movement he had made since being secured to the chair. His eyes widened, but he said naught.

Soon, the healer returned and placed a few more stitches in Faramir’s wound. “Stay still yourself, my Lord. Do not push beyond your body’s endurance. You have a good blow to the head; it must be allowed to heal.” The assistant put fresh bandages on it. The healer handed Faramir the tea. “If you would, please drink this.” The Steward’s son sipped it. “Good. I have decided, Prince Imrahil, that my presence might still be needed here.”

Imrahil nodded in agreement and motioned for the man to take a seat. The healer sat next to Faramir, whilst his assistant sat next to Damrod.

Silence filled the room. Imrahil stood at the fireplace, his hand resting upon the mantle. ‘Denethor said Gondor is under attack from within. I did not believe it this serious. Lies and deceit. I see now how Númenor fell. The same could happen here, if we are not diligent, if we do not fight against it.’ He turned his back to those in the room and let his tears fall. That his own beloved nephew, whom he swore to protect, should be attacked in his palace!

Nerdanel entered, assessed the room, and walked to his side. “My husband.” Her tone carried warmth, love, courage and strength.

He took her in his arms. “Thank you for coming! Faramir needs you now. His wound is not grave, but Damrod’s is serious.”

“I know not of what you speak, Imrahil. I came because I heard the news of Míriel’s death. What else has occurred?”

He held her away from him. “Míriel’s death?” he whispered. He heard Faramir’s gasp. “What say you?” He turned towards Galador. “What is this news?”

Galador hung his head and wept.

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47.

“Hirgon. Well met. I needs must ask you one question before we continue. How many missives did you receive asking you to report to me?”

The lieutenant looked wonderingly at his Steward. “One, my Lord. I received it today, left the Causeway in charge of one of my men, and came here straight away. I suppose it was nigh unto four hours ago.”

Húrin nodded. Denethor motioned for the lieutenant to sit. “I need a captain for my errand-riders. Húrin has shown your records to me. Coupled with your fine showing when I visited Captain Faramir, I have decided to make you captain. I have a missive of the utmost importance for Captain-General Boromir, one that I will only send with someone I trust. He is stationed at Cair Andros. You will leave within the hour.”

Hirgon saluted, took the missive, and left the room.

Húrin laughed loudly. “Focused that one is.”

Denethor sighed. “Tarostar?”

“He is a traitor, my Lord, as you surmised. I have signed statements from his men. He deliberately sabotaged Arthad’s governance of the riders. I have since found that four of his own men, over the past two years, were found murdered: two the first year, one at the beginning of this year, and one when Arthad took over his duties. Long hours have I spent investigating these accusations. The evidence is irrefutable. He personally executed each one of them.” The former captain of Osgiliath spat. “I cannot believe any would wound us so deeply.”

Denethor read the statements. “Give the order. Have the military tribunal meet today. If they find him guilty, and I do not doubt it, I want him executed before morning.”

“It will be done. My Lord, I have five companies from the Tower Guard and three from the Third Company prepared and ready to join Boromir against the Easterlings. Shall I send them forth?”

“Send them now. I want them in Cair Andros tomorrow morning. I want them fully outfitted, Húrin. I know not how long they will be away.” Their luck, if one would call it such, had Boromir winning his battles quickly and decisively. “The Dagorlad lasted seven years. I will not have that happen now. Unless Mordor sends out His beasts from ****, we should prevail.”

Húrin nodded. “My Lord, all know of your foresight. Do you think… are the enemy’s forces such that Boromir will be so tested?”

“I think not. I am sending my best men. What disturbs me, makes me reconsider the battle before Boromir, is the fact that the Easterlings just launched a full-scale attack this spring. It is not their way to fight like this. Not time after time. They should still be in Rhûn licking their wounds. It is as if they are totally under the thrall of the One we do not name. Their subjugation must be stronger than I imagined. And that does not bode well for Boromir nor Gondor.

“Give the men marching orders for ten hours a day. They should make Cair Andros by tomorrow evening if they hurry. They will not wait for their supply wagons. Order full battle gear and extra weapons. Who do you have as their captain?”

“Ragorn. He has served under Boromir before; in fact, they battled a mûmak together.”

“Good.”

~*~

The errand-rider reached Boromir almost five days later. After reading the missive, Boromir motioned for Arthad and Anborn to join him. He read the note aloud, then said, “The Easterlings will be upon us shortly. I deem our forces too small to battle them here. I will call a retreat. We will head back to Cair Andros for more men. Denethor is sending a battalion and then some. We will meet them there.” His shoulders hunched in defeat. “If only we had known sooner!”

“I have another missive,” Captain Hirgon said. “It is from Captain Hador.”

Boromir took the missive and read it. “Hador has ordered three companies from Amon Dîn and three from Cair Andros to join with the Steward’s men. That will make our army two battalions strong. Denethor states there are at least that many Easterlings. It will be a battle to remember.”

“Are not they all,” Arthad murmured.

~*~

Imrahil knelt before Galador. He tried to take the man’s hands in his, but Galador drew back with a sharp hiss. “What tale is this, Galador? Nerdanel, tell me what you know.”

“I know very little, my Prince. A rider came from Galador’s home with a missive. The rider was distraught. The missive was open. I read it. It only said that Míriel was dead.”

“Galador,” Imrahil tried again. “Tell me what has happened.”

The man tried to stand, fury contorting his face, but the bonds held and he fell back – defeated. He screamed, then pointed a finger at Faramir. “He did it! The one who would steal his own brother’s wife. He killed her!”

Imrahil looked in wonder at Faramir whose eyes held only puzzlement and pain.

“He has been here all day,” Imrahil gently spoke to Galador. “Was Míriel murdered?”

Faramir gasped and made to stand. Nerdanel went to his side, put her hand on his shoulder, and bid him sit.

“She fell,” the whispered words made no sense to Imrahil.

“I do not understand, Galador. How, where, when?”

“She was wild. She said he promised to come to her tonight. When he did not, she stamped… her little… foot,” the man sobbed brokenly. “When he did not, she rode out across the cliffs.” The man stared at the floor for a moment. “I followed her, but she has always been a better rider than I. I could not catch up with her. She was headed here. To confront him!” A shaking finger pointed again towards Faramir.

“Then what happened, Galador?” Imrahil asked quietly, soothingly.

“She fell. One moment she was in front of me, the next she and her horse were gone. My soldiers caught up with me and we searched the cliffs. There was no sign of her. At last, I heard a shout and I knew. I knew I had lost her, lost the love of my life, my own, my precious daughter. They brought her to me, laid her sweet body in my arms. It was broken.” Sobs pierced the room. “She did not wake. I called her.” He raised his eyes to Imrahil. “I have lost the only thing I have ever loved.” He slumped in the chair, bereft of the comfort of hiding his face with his hands, and sobbed.

Imrahil sat back on his heels. “Bring the errand-rider from Galador’s company to me.”

The guard nodded and left. The room fell silent. Nerdanel held Faramir’s hand. He wept. The rider entered. Imrahil stood and took him to a far corner, spoke with him for a few moments, then dismissed him. He walked to Faramir’s side. “It is as Galador stated. She is dead. They have taken her to her mother.”

Faramir nodded; grief overwhelmed him and he leaned into his aunt, burying his head in Nerdanel’s skirts.

“Lord Galador,” Imrahil pulled a chair in front of his councilor. “As your liege lord, I need you to listen to me.”

Galador looked up. He blinked a few times, then straightened himself in his chair.

Imrahil continued. “You must listen to me. Your oath requires it. You know I do not lie.” He raised a hand to stay Galador’s response. “In Minas Tirith, Míriel behaved abominably. She let all who would listen know that she was most unhappy with Captain-General Boromir as her spouse. Even he, to her shame, heard her ask what would happen if he died. Could she have Faramir in his stead? I did not tell you, the shame for me was so great. Faramir did naught to garner such thoughts from her. Nerdanel or I were always with her during her visit. Faramir conducted himself as a brother, never giving Míriel cause to think that he had affection for her other than as his brother’s wife nor did he have designs upon her. I had warned you at that time of her behavior and forbade her to approach Faramir. You agreed.

“However, when Faramir arrived here just this afternoon, she accosted him in my sister’s personal garden.” He noted Galador listened and raised an eyebrow when he mentioned her trespass. “As your liege lord, I will tell you what happened here today. There were witnesses.” Galador swallowed hard. “They had not met whilst he made his way to Dol Amroth. She breached my sister’s personal garden and accosted Faramir,” Imrahil reiterated. “In his attempts to distance himself from her, he sustained a head wound. She left and he was taken to my healer for stitches. He has been there until just an hour ago, when his aide brought him to me.” Imrahil sat back in his chair.

The fire sputtered and one of the guards put another log on it. Faramir remained seated, but another guard pulled a chair up next to him and Nerdanel sat. Tears coursed down her face as she held her nephew’s hand.

“I did not know,” the Swan whispered. “She said he promised, told her that he loved her, would take her from Boromir, would…” He choked.

Imrahil let him ponder his words. At last, he leaned forward again. “Boromir and Faramir are Knights of Gondor. Is this the behavior of a knight? What she told you? They are sons of the Steward. Do you imagine that either would incur the wrath of Denethor by shaming him in this way? He signed the betrothal agreement himself. Would Faramir dare aggrieve his father in this manner? Would he dare disobey the Steward?”

Another long silence filled the room.

“What will you do with me?” Galador asked, his voice thick with tears.

Imrahil stood and walked to the fireplace. “It is not my place to deal out judgment. You have impugned the loyalty of Lord Faramir. You have impugned the Steward, intimating that he does not command his sons’ loyalty nor abides by his agreements. Lastly, you would murder a Knight of Gondor. The son of the Steward. I must return you to Minas Tirith. Hand you over to Denethor for sentencing and punishment.”

“Then I go to my death.”

Imrahil nodded.

“Nay!” Faramir stood. “The guilt is mine also.” Nerdanel took his arm and tried to force him to sit, but Faramir gently loosed her hold and stood next to Imrahil. “She was young and infatuated. I should have seen it. I did not know, not until the betrothal ceremony. I tried to befriend her; she misunderstood. I cannot let her father die because I did not stand firm.”

“Faramir. Her father knew, was ordered to keep her from you. When she returned to her home this afternoon, he should have severely chastised her for her stupidity and willfulness, ordered her to her rooms and locked the doors. He is culpable, not you.”

Faramir knelt before Galador. “My Lord, I am sorry. I would that I lay at the bottom of the cliff, if that would have saved her.”

Galador stared at the Steward’s son. “My Prince rightly speaks. It is my shame that I now bear. I loved her so.” He choked. “I knew she was willful. I knew she wanted you, not Boromir. How could I see my only daughter unhappy? I am to blame.” He looked up at Imrahil. “When will you send me to Denethor? I would fare well my wife.”

“Uncle,” Faramir cried, “Banish him! You spoke of it before. Send him to Athrad.”

Galador’s eyes widened. “Nay! I would rather death!”

Imrahil’s brow furrowed. “All your long life, Galador, you have served Belfalas and the Swans, my father first, and now me. Faithfully. A madness came upon you for one moment, spurred by a father’s grief. Should you die for that one moment? Still, the Steward should judge you.”

“If you send him to father,” Faramir interrupted, “he will be hanged.”

Imrahil rubbed his forehead with his fingers. The creases in it were deep. “I cannot release him.”

“Nay. Just wait. Hold him here. I will return to father and beg his case.”

“It will be done. Damrod needs at least a few days to recover from his wounds.” Imrahil suddenly stopped. “What do we do for her funeral? Her father cannot attend. You, Faramir, you could not. There might be a scene. Her mother will undoubtedly be distraught. I cannot attend, if it is known that I hold her father under arrest.”

“I could go in your stead,” Nerdanel spoke quietly.

“Our family does not have public interments, Prince Imrahil,” Galador said apologetically. “Yet, I would attend. She is my only daughter.”

“She is the Heir’s intended. She should be embalmed and a state funeral held. I do not know how we will manage this.”

“Damrod will attend as Denethor’s representative,” Nerdanel offered. “Faramir has a head wound. He cannot attend.”

“Galador,” Imrahil motioned for the man’s hands to be unbound, “you will be allowed to attend but only with guards surrounding you. I will have the interment here in Dol Amroth, so that none of your knights feel compelled to exact revenge or try to free you, but it will be private, as your family requests.”


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48.

The battle was not going well. They had fought into the night and still neither side prevailed. As the moon rose, both sides paused to regroup and claim their dead. Boromir sat in his tent, his head in his hands, weeping silently. He had lost another mount, but he was becoming accustomed to that misfortune. He had not allowed himself to love a horse in a very long time. His father had warned him and he, foolish child that he had been many long years ago, did not believe him. After the loss of Tarannon, he had found another stallion, one with fire in his hooves and great battle sense. Boromir had loved it dearly. He could not now remember which battle he had lost it at. A succession of horses quickly followed.

Nay, this time the loss was more profound. A sob tore from him and he bit his lower lip to stifle it. His men did not need to know his grief; they needed him strong. He swallowed as Egalmoth, his newest aide, entered.

“The pickets are set and the men rest. Is there aught you need before I find my own bed?”

Boromir smiled at the weariness in the man’s voice. “Nay. Sleep now. Wake me before dawn. We must needs discuss some of your duties before we return to the battlefield.”

The man saluted and left; Boromir stood and left his tent. He walked slowly amidst the camp, noting how his soldiers slept, how the cooks even now were beginning to prepare for the breaking of the fast, how the horses, what were left of them, nickered and whinnied as they tried to settle their nerves for the night. He walked over to the hobbled horses, rubbed their noses, and spoke gently to them. At last, he found Arthad’s and laid his head upon the horse’s shoulder. He wept bitterly.

Presently, morning birds began to sing; he patted the horse on its hindquarters and walked back to his tent. There was no sign of Egalmoth and Boromir grimaced. He drew fresh water and washed his face and neck and pitched the dirtied water outside his tent. He took off his shirt and put on a new one and still Egalmoth did not come. He heard the noises of the camp rising and pursed his lips. He walked slowly towards the dining tent, greeting awakening soldiers on his way. The cooks scrambled to bring food to him as he sat near the large tent’s flap. He wanted his men to see him as they entered, to gain confidence from the fact that he was with them in all things. But he found himself tired beyond belief. He loved a battle, loved the sounds and smells of battle, but could never reconcile himself to the losses. He would hold in his anguish until they returned to Minas Tirith; there, in the dark recesses of the Tower, he would hide and grieve.

Egalmoth ran into the tent a quarter of an hour later, just as Boromir was finishing his morning tea. In his panic, he did not note Boromir’s presence. He ran to Captain Hador who was standing in the mess line waiting for his dish to be filled. “Captain Boromir is missing. His tent is empty. He has not slept in his cot.” His voice rang loud throughout the tent and soldiers looked up in alarm.

Hador looked straight at Boromir and grimaced. “Captain Boromir,” he said loudly, “seems to have done well without your attention. He sits yonder, already finished breaking his fast. Personally, I would not break my own fast until I had at least acknowledged his presence.”

Egalmoth’s face reddened. He turned in the direction Hador pointed, discovered where Boromir sat, squared his shoulders, and walked to his captain. “Forgive me, Captain Boromir. I o’erslept.”

“Indeed you did and if you had slept any longer,” Guilin said through clenched teeth, “you would have slept through the battle itself.”

Boromir put his hand on Guilin’s shoulder and the captain quieted. “Get some food and eat. I will see you in my tent in a quarter hour.” He waved the man away. “Guilin. He is young and tired. We do not know how the fighting in his part of the battle went. We will give him the benefit of the doubt and hope he was sore-pressed to stay alive and is just exhausted, not addled.”

Guilin chuckled dryly. “I would not be so tolerant, Boromir. He will cost you your life if he is so inattentive on his first day of duty! I remember when first I became an aide. I did not sleep for three days. My captain finally had to order me to rest.”

Boromir gently chided the captain. “You did not become on aide on the battlefield. He will learn.” He finished his food and rose. “I will meet with you and Hador when you are finished.”

“We will be there shortly, Captain. I see you did not sleep.”

“Not today. Today we will crush them and then, I will sleep.”

Guilin nodded.

Boromir walked back to his tent and laid himself down on his cot. Putting his arm over his eyes, he fell asleep.

~*~

Denethor paced the parapet. Naught was going well this day. He had seen a funeral cortege leading from Galador’s home to Dol Amroth. This did not portend well. If Galador was dead, he would have to postpone the wedding. He would wait until his errand-rider arrived. He should receive word within the week of what was happening in Dol Amroth. Faramir was due to return shortly. He hoped the lad would bring him a full report. He smiled, despite himself. The report would probably be twenty pages long.

As for the Nindalf… The battle had been joined, of that he was certain. The last time the globe would let him see that part of his lands, the Easterlings were still camped. The lack of any further viewing only meant that Boromir and his troops were now on hand and probably battling them. Did he send enough men? Was Boromir rested from his dealings with Orcs from the Emyn Muil? Were there enough supplies to sustain a longer battle, if one occurred?

Húrin was at his side at his motion. “My Lord?”

“Send another two supply wagons to Boromir.”

“Yes, my Lord.”

The man turned and ran off as Denethor strode towards the Great Hall. He sat in his chair and waited. His hands were tied; he could do no more until he knew more. Hirgon entered and Denethor motioned him forward. ‘Where is the Chamberlain?’ he wondered.

“My Lord Steward. There have been no reports from Boromir nor Faramir in the last two days. Shall I send riders?”

“You take your duties seriously, Hirgon. I am impressed. Yes, send riders to Dol Amroth and Cair Andros. Do not go yourself. I would speak with you, once the riders are sent.”

“Yes, my Lord.” Hirgon saluted and left him.

The never-ending queue of supplicants, sycophants, and scroungers came forward, one by one. He dealt with them, hating every moment wasted here while Gondor suffered grievous injury in the north. If ever he wished he were once again only the son, not the Steward, it was at times like this. He wanted to be at Boromir’s side. He wanted to wield his sword again in mindless combat, feel a horse under him, relish the wind in his face. Now, all he felt was disdain for the people who stood before him. They had fallen so far, so very far.

Baranor stepped forward, last but one in the line of supplicants. Denethor leaned towards him, immediately sensing the man’s inherent goodness. He motioned and Baranor came even closer to the Chair. “Speak, Captain. What is your need?”

Baranor saluted. “You honor me greatly by entrusting your esquires to my care. I would do my best for them, my Lord Steward.”

“I expect only that.”

“I would not bring this matter to you, my Lord Steward, unless I deemed it important. The esquires’ armory needs replenishment. The swords the esquires receive at their commissioning are not of the best quality. I would ask your benevolence upon these men as they go out to serve Gondor. Some parents cannot afford a good blade or strong armor to gift their sons.”

Denethor looked upon the man, stalwart and brave in all his long years of service to Gondor, and he would have smiled, if he did not fear losing his people’s esteem. It was refreshing to find a man concerned for Gondor and not himself. ‘Too rare nowadays,’ he thought ruefully.

“Chamberlain,” he called and the man came forward. Húrin entered the Hall at the same time and Denethor motioned him forward. “Húrin, swords and armor are needed for our esquires. The foundries in Osgiliath are producing quite a number of good pieces. Procure enough to suite Baranor.” The swords and armor made in the City were of the finest quality and only to be given to those who had earned such weapons. Húrin nodded, took Baranor by the arm and led him from the Hall, their heads bent in deep discussion.

A woman stood before him, head bowed low. The Chamberlain looked guiltily at Denethor. “She has waited for almost a week, my Lord Steward. I have told her over and over that you will not see her.”

“Who is she?”

“Mother of Tarostar.”

“He has been hanged?”

“A week ago.”

Denethor looked long and hard at the woman before him. Finally, pity stayed him and he motioned her forward.

“You have a complaint?” he asked his tone low.

“Nay, my Lord Steward,” the woman cried as she spoke but did not wipe the tears away. “My son was a traitor, as all now know, though I myself and his brother did not. His punishment was right and just. I only ask a small favor.” She continued in a rush. “The law states his family must be banished. My other son is loyal to Gondor, my Lord Steward,” she gulped frantically. “I will leave, if that is your will, but please, his life is serving you, serving Gondor. Please let him stay.”

Denethor turned to the Chamberlain. “Who is his brother?”

“Hirgon, my Lord Steward.”

Denethor raised his eyes in surprise. “I gave Hirgon his brother’s post?”

“Yes.”

“Come with me, gentle lady.” He held his hand out and she, with eyes dazed, took it.

“Chamberlain. We are done for the day. Dismiss the people.”

The Chamberlain bowed. “My Lord Steward.”

Denethor stopped in surprise; rarely did his Chamberlain stay his orders.

“There is a lieutenant here from Amon Anwar. He said he is to report to you. He is called Belegorn.”

“Ah, finally! Tell him to come to my private study after the daymeal. Now. Dismiss the people.”

The Chamberlain did as he was asked, pounded his staff upon the floor; the room quieted and Denethor left, leading the woman out the back of the Hall, down the narrow pathway to his own study.

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49.

“There are ugly rumors. I cannot even think where they come from, but they are directed mostly at the Steward.” Imrahil’s face burned with shame. The interment of Míriel had been accomplished with nary a hitch, but the aftermath of rumors and whispers filled the city.

“There is naught you can do about them, my love,” Nerdanel held his hand as they looked out over the Bay. “It is as a summer storm, swift and violent, but gone within an hour’s time. They will forget when something else comes along.”

“I would not have Denethor besmirched in this fashion. Nor Faramir.”

“I know your love for Faramir, Imrahil. He is strong and will survive this. His company leaves tomorrow?”

“At first light. I think Faramir would prefer to leave in the dead of night. The rumors are ugly.” He gritted his teeth.

“No uglier than when Finduilas died.”

“That is a harsh thing to say, my wife. Bitter was that time. Are the rumors the same? That Faramir murdered Míriel?”

“Why would they not be? Those who speak them are the very same that spoke them about Denethor. Narrow-minded, vicious people. What will you do with Galador whilst Faramir returns to Minas Tirith?”

“Faramir assures me that Denethor will allow my will to prevail. I am not so certain. Denethor was livid whilst we were in the City; her behavior was detestable. His love for his oldest is deep. If he feels this is an affront to Boromir, he will be less malleable.”

Nerdanel laughed. “I do not ever recall Denethor being malleable. Much as I love Faramir, I do not give this endeavor much likelihood for success.”

“I must hope. The man was grief stricken.”

“The man tried to kill my nephew,” Nerdanel spoke softly. Imrahil knew enough not to anger her with platitudes and excuses for the man. She stood as Faramir entered the garden.

“I am sorry to disturb you. I need to speak with you, Uncle.”

“Please, Faramir, sit.” He motioned to a small seating area and a servant brought tea.

Nerdanel poured. Faramir sat with his hands clenched. Imrahil stood and walked to the edge of the garden overlooking the water. At last, Faramir spoke. “I would ask you, Uncle, to send Galador and his family to the outpost at Ras Morthil.”

“Your reasons?”

“His wife has begun sending me notes.”

“What kind of notes?” Nerdanel asked in surprise.

“Malicious ones. Packaged with the notes have been daggers, poisons, and other… She wishes me dead; I believe she is asking me to take my own life,” he said, painfully. “I do not blame her, but once I am gone, I am afraid she will send the same to you, Uncle. Her grief is great. She will share her thoughts with others and more rumors will fly. Mayhap, she would even want your death. I would spare you this, but I cannot.” He put his elbows on the table and rubbed his fingers over his brow. “I cannot believe all this is happening.”

“Give it no further thought, Faramir,” Nerdanel said quietly. “Others have been so maligned and have survived.”

“Of whom do you speak, Aunt?”

“You know.”

Faramir shivered. “When Naneth passed, I was too young to understand things I heard. So father was smeared in this way also? Did people actually believe he would kill his wife? His beloved?”

“There are small people in this world, Faramir. No matter what the facts are, they will dispute them. In their little, ugly minds, they will twist anything to fit their small-mindedness.”

Faramir hung his head. Imrahil walked to him and placed his hand upon his most-loved nephew. “I have been maligned many times before, Faramir. It comes with my position. Fear not for me. I will, however, do as you ask. They will be sent to Arthad. I will not make the order a banishment; I will assign him to the coast guard at Andrast. When your father makes his decision… If he decides that Galador should die, I will bring him myself to Minas Tirith. If he decides to let him live, then Galador will serve Denethor at that outpost for the rest of his days.”

“There will be no state dinner for your farewell this night, Faramir,” Nerdanel sighed. “The period of mourning must be kept. However, your uncle and I wish you and Damrod would join us.”

“Thank you, Aunt Nerdanel. We will.” He stood, bent and kissed her gently, and walked away.

“I would that he not be so burdened.”

Imrahil walked to his wife’s side and took her in his arms. “As would you for our own sons. You are wise, my beloved; you know they will always be burdened in some fashion or the other. Our love will sustain Faramir. I will go to Minas Tirith for Yáviérë, if I do not need to go there for Galador. I will speak with Denethor about this unfortunate situation. I know Denethor will not hold the lad responsible.”

~*~

Denethor offered the woman a seat. She took out a handkerchief and wiped her eyes. “Forgive me, Lord, for my weakness. I have already lost my husband to war and now my youngest to his own folly. I would save my eldest.”

“The law is unequivocal. The family of a traitor must be banished. I believe my hands are tied.”

She sobbed quietly. “Hirgon loves you, my Lord. He loves Gondor. His father instilled that love into him when he was but a babe. When Tarostar was born, Berelach served you in the Great Hall. He did not have the time to raise our youngest; I raised him by myself. Tarostar was only fifteen when Berelach died and was a sickly boy. In my grief at the loss of his father, I spoiled him. I should be banished, but not my son, not my Hirgon.”

Húrin walked in after two unanswered knocks. He stood by the door and listened.

“Berelach! When did he die?”

“In the battle of Cair Andros of 3014.”

Denethor sat heavily in his chair. His eyes filled with tears. “I did not know. I… that year, my sister Indis died in Rohan. I do not even remember the battle.”

“It was while you were in Rohan, my Lord,” Húrin added the information.

“Berelach saved my life when an assassin tried to strike me down. I promoted him to captain and gave him Cair Andros.” He held his head in his hands. “I hanged his son.”

“He murdered four men and put Gondor itself at risk, Denethor!” Húrin’s voice rang hard and furious.

The room grew deathly still. Finally, the woman’s sobs began again. “Berelach would die for you again. He loved you, my Lord. I do not hold you responsible for Tarostar’s death and neither would Berelach. But have pity on Hirgon, I beg you! He knew not of his brother’s anger. Tarostar held you responsible for Berelach’s death. He was but a boy. He turned to deceit, thievery and other things, things I did not know of. I could not control him. At last, Warden Húrin came to me; he took Tarostar and made him an esquire. Soon after, I thought he had changed. He was happy and made lieutenant. But he lied to me, as always, and hid his dishonorable nature.”

“I will banish neither you nor your son. Berelach was a hero and... He was my friend. I did not know he died. I ask your forgiveness; I abandoned you and your sons.” He turned towards Húrin. “Why was I not told?”

Húrin remained still.

“Does Hirgon know…? By the Valar, does Hirgon know his brother is dead?”

“Nay, my Lord. Hirgon was riding errands. Unless his mother told him.”

“I did not. He only returned two days ago and has not yet visited me.”

“Surely he would have heard from his men.”

“They do not know him well, yet, my Lord. He was stationed at the Causeway Forts. You just promoted him and then immediately sent him out with missives for Boromir at Cair Andros. Mayhap his own men know not that they were related.”

Denethor’s jaw clenched. He turned and pulled the bellpull, ordered the guard to fetch Hirgon, and walked to the woman’s side.

“I would not have you here when I tell your son. Where…? Forgive me, my Lady, what is your name?”

“Zámin, my Lord Steward.”

“Lady Zámin, where are you living now?”

“On the Pelennor. Berelach had a small farm. I have tried to keep it.”

“Unsuccessfully, I deem. With both your sons in my service, you would be hard pressed to keep it yourself. Have you family besides Hirgon?”

“Nay, my Lord. My father was a guard. He died a long time ago. My mother died of fever. Berelach’s parents are long dead.”

“Húrin, find suitable rooms for her on the Fifth Level. Continue Berelach’s pay; send it to her.” Taking a ring from his right hand, he turned towards Zámin. “Take this. If ever you are in desperate need, send me this and I will help you. I am sorry.” He swallowed hard, took her hand in his, and led her to the door. Gently, he kissed her brow. “Your husband was beloved of me.”

She sobbed and left the room.

Denethor turned in fury towards Húrin. “Why was I not told?”

“My Lord Steward. You have the rosters.” Húrin’s face was bright red. “Would it have made a difference? Would you have done otherwise, knowing he was a murderer and a traitor?”

“You made Tarostar an esquire?”

“I saw how he was growing up. I thought that being a knight would help him. Would give him the discipline he needed. His mother smothered him. It was a mistake.”

“It was not. Forgive my displeasure. At least you tried to help him. Berelach never once mentioned that he had family.”

“He would not have, my Lord.”

“He was Thorongil’s aide. I… I was concerned when he returned alone to Minas Tirith. I watched him, for signs of disloyalty, and saw only a man of courage and honor. A stalwart knight, if ever I saw one. He was always there for me. When Boromir…” Denethor stopped and shook his head. “Boromir almost drowned when he was but five. Berelach rode to my side, helping. I must be away from here.”

He strode to the door, flung it open, and walked furiously across the Courtyard and to the parapet. He stood, leaning against the embrasure, watching the mountains in the distance as the fires of Mount Doom glowed behind them. Húrin walked up behind him. “Ever the Nameless One taunts me,” he whispered. “Ever He spreads His lies and we believe Him. My people believe Him. Mayhap He dwelt in Tarostar’s heart.”

“You give him too much credit, Denethor.”

Denethor turned and sat heavily on one of the marble benches that lined the escarpment. “I once said the same thing to Indis, but I was wrong. He sends out His lies as wisps in the wind and they settle upon weak ears. Our people grow foolish, Húrin. They once were proud and strong; now, they are easy prey.”

“You are doing all you can to combat those lies, Denethor. Did not Boromir almost lose his life to fight those lies in Rohan? Is not Faramir away from us doing the same in the southern realm? The people will listen to you. They know your strength and your worth. They will change.”

The evening bell rang.

At last, Denethor stood. “I believe my newest aide is waiting for me. Thank you, Húrin, for your words. I will heed them.”

He walked to his study and nodded to the young man standing next to his guard. “You are Belegorn from Amon Anwar?”

“I am, my Lord Steward.”

“Have you eaten yet?” At the ‘nay,’ Denethor led the man into his private dining chamber. Hot food was arrayed on the sideboard. “Help yourself.”

Belegorn shook his head. “I believe I am to be your aide?”

“Yes?”

“Then I would have you sit, my Lord Steward. I will bring your food.”

Denethor’s small smile was hidden, but his thankful sigh was heard.

~*~

Beregond, Hador and Guilin stood outside Boromir’s tent. Guilin swore quietly. “No aide in sight!”

“He left the mess tent some time ago,” Beregond shrugged. “I will find him.”

“I deem it wisest if we meet with Captain Boromir and not go scurrying about trying to find a wayward aide!” Hador said. “I would the onus fall upon Egalmoth for his dereliction of duty and not upon us for tardiness.”

Guilin laughed. “I agree. Captain Boromir,” he called quietly. There was no answer. The men looked at each other, nodded in silent agreement, and entered the tent. Boromir lay asleep on his cot. Guilin swore under his breath, “Exhausted.”

Hador strode forward and touched Boromir’s shoulder. “Captain Boromir. It is almost dawn. The battle will begin again shortly.”

Boromir was instantly awake and sat up. Beregond offered a cup of hot tea. Boromir smiled and took it. “Beregond. You are no longer an aide nor a lieutenant. You are a captain in the service of Gondor; you should not be bringing tea to your captain.”

“Noted, my Lord,” Beregond smiled. “I have still to thank you for my promotion.”

“‘Twas my father’s doing, Beregond, but well deserved. Now,” he turned and unrolled a map. “Here is where we met the enemy yesterday. The terrain is too rough. I would have our men surprise them, come over this outcropping and attack them here. Have my scouts returned from their morning surveillance?”

“They have, my Lord Boromir,” Guilin said. He pointed to the map. “The Easterlings settled for the night here. It will be easy to draw them here.” He pointed to where Boromir planned their attack. “I agree. The terrain is better suited to our way of fighting.”

“Good. Then let us away.” He stopped as he was putting on his belt and sword. “Has anyone seen my aide?”

They shook their heads and he laughed. They joined him. “Well, mayhap he will show up in time for the battle. Beregond, forgive me, would you bring my horse?”

“He is tethered outside.”

Boromir threw back his head and laughed loud and long. “I wish that I could take back the promotion and have you as my aide!”

The men about the tent were smiling as Boromir came out; they had heard his laughter, Hador told him, and were heartened. He saluted them, looked up at the sun, and smiled. “A good day to finally finish this! Hoy, my lads. We go to battle and we go to win!”

The men cheered. Scurrying, they geared themselves and strode forward to battle. It was quick, this day, for Boromir’s moving them to easier terrain proved propitious for Denethor’s forces. The battle went well and swiftly. By nuncheon, the enemy was routed, what was left of them, and Boromir stood, in the midst of the carnage and smiled. “At least I did not lose my horse. Nor my aide. Balrog’s breath! Where is Egalmoth?”

Guilin strode forward, his hand held high in jubilation. “Well done, Captain-General, well done indeed. Hardly any of our men lost!”

Hador joined them. “A good battle, my Lord. Quick and deadly.”

“My Lord Boromir,” Beregond shouted. “We have found your aide.”

“Good! Bring him to me.”

“That I cannot do, my Lord. He is in the healer’s tent.”

Boromir’s face drained. “He was wounded?”

“He never made the battle,” Beregond smiled broadly. “He spent his time in a ditch being sick!”

“Is this his first battle?”

“I think so.”

Boromir put his hand to his head. “I was not very kind. Making him my aide was probably too much for the boy. Let us be away from here. Beregond, the men of Amon Dîn are good men. You will find your time there worthwhile. As your first command, if you need counsel, send a rider. I will come.”

“Thank you, my Lord,” Beregond blushed. “I will do my best. I will make you proud.”

“No need. You have already!”

top

50.

When the meal was over, Denethor insisted that Belegorn sit and eat, but the man was constant. He cleaned off the table, rang for Denethor’s manservant, and asked to be excused. A quarter of an hour later found him back at Denethor’s side with the newest dispatches from the riders. He stood at attention. At last, irritated beyond belief, Denethor insisted that the man at least stand at ease. Belegorn nodded his head and relaxed just the slightest. His Steward sighed. A moment later and there was a knock on the door. Belegorn came back from answering. “It is Captain Hirgon. He says he has an appointment?”

“He does.” Denethor shivered imperceptibly. “Give me another moment and then let him in.” Denethor walked into his bedchambers and looked out upon the Pelennor. ‘How do I tell him? How?’ Another moment passed and Denethor walked into his study and motioned for Hirgon to sit. Belegorn stood by the door. “Please leave us.”

“I cannot, my Lord.” Belegorn’s face contorted, offended. “I was told of the…”

“I said you might leave. I trust Hirgon with my life.”

Belegorn nodded and left, his hand fingering his sword hilt as he did so.

“My Lord Steward. There is naught that we could not discuss with your aide here at your side. It is his right and duty.”

“You deign to give me counsel?”

Hirgon’s face turned red. “You know I live and breathe the laws of Gondor, my Lord. That is why you gave me the captaincy of your errand-riders, is it not? By right, your aide should be at your side at all times, whether or no you trust the person you are with. I give not advice, my Lord Steward. I remind.”

Denethor would have smiled had the seriousness of the upcoming discussion not pained him so. “I deem you are correct in this; however, it is the Steward’s right to decide for himself.” He hefted a great sigh. “Hirgon, I have news to tell you that is heinous.” He carefully watched the captain’s face. “It is about your brother.”

“I have not seen him since I returned from Cair Andros. What has he done now?”

“Why do you ask?”

“He is known for his… lack of discipline.”

“Your brother was found a murderer – and a traitor.”

Hirgon’s face bled white. His mouth opened, his tongue lifted and touched the roof of his mouth. He swallowed hard. “He will be – hung?”

“I am sorry, Hirgon. I did not know he was your brother nor that you were Berelach’s sons. He was tried and hung a week ago.”

The soldier’s teeth clenched. “When will my mother and I be banished?

“Hirgon. I cannot banish the son of one of my dearest friends. I have moved your mother into a house on the Fifth Level. You will not be punished, nor your captaincy taken from you.”

“It is the law, my Lord Steward. You cannot thwart the law.” The man’s eyes appeared red. His hands shook.

“I can and I have. I want no further discussion.”

Hirgon fell to his knees. “I must once again pledge my loyalty, my Lord Steward!”

“Nay. The oath was taken upon your commissioning. I will not ask for it again. Hirgon, you have shown yourself a trusted warrior of Gondor. Do not push me on this. I have decided and made it so.”

The knight rose and saluted. “May I go to my mother?”

“Yes. My aide will tell you exactly which house is now your family’s. Hirgon, once you have visited her, come back here. I would share a… Come back here.”

“Yes, my Lord Steward. And thank you.”

Denethor waived him away. His aide entered. “I am sorry, Belegorn, there are things that must – ”

“No need, my Lord Steward. Is it time for a brandy?”

Denethor smiled. “It is.”

It was quite late when Hirgon once again stood before Denethor. The warrior knelt as soon as he was admitted and Denethor had to force him to stand.

“The house you have given my mother, my Lord Steward, it is too grand.”

“It is not. Its owner abandoned it many long ages ago. It needed someone to care for it. As for your farm on the Pelennor, I want you to know it is still yours. If you need to go there to care for it, now and again, let your captain know you have my permission.” He acknowledged Hirgon’s gratitude. “Now, will you share a glass of brandy with me?”

After they sat and drank for a bit, Denethor asked him, “My son Boromir, how fared he?”

“Well, my Lord, though he seemed angry at the contents of the missives. Nay, not angry, frustrated.”

Denethor smiled. “Of course. Did he leave for Cair Andros then?”

“He did. He sent me off with the missives I brought back and they broke camp that very day.”

“Do you know aught of his plans?”

“Nay, my Lord.”

“Tell me a little about your father. I only knew him as a warrior; I did not know he had family. Did you always live on the Pelennor?”

They talked long into the night, sharing stories of Denethor’s friend and Hirgon’s father. At last, Belegorn coughed discreetly.

Denethor smiled. “Go now, Captain Hirgon, and take a well-deserved rest. I am waiting for missives from Faramir. When they come, please bring them here, no matter the hour.”

“I will, my Lord Steward. I thank you again.”

“I will not hear it again, Captain. I owe your father my life and perhaps Boromir’s life. I have been remiss these many years. Go now.”

~*~

The Palantír was cold to his touch. It had been days since he had last looked, but he could stand the suspense no longer. The fields north of Cair Andros were clear; there were no signs of Easterlings or battle. Denethor groaned in frustration. No sign of Boromir, of course. But he had at least hoped to find something. If, however, he was ‘allowed’ to see the area of the Nindalf, then the battle was over. If Boromir had been defeated, there would have been bodies strewn about. The Easterlings would not have bothered to bury them. Unfortunately, there were no burial mounds at all. ‘Is this the present,’ Denethor had to wonder. There was almost no clear delineation between the past or the present or even the future. How was he to know what he was looking at? ‘Ah, of course,’ he sighed, ‘only by the landscape. If it is the present, I should recognize it. Before the Battle of the Dagorlad, the marshes were not so wide spread. What I see is at least…’

He moaned in frustration. He could stand it no longer. Anor was rising; she would creep over the mountains within the hour. He must get some sleep before the duties of the day began. He covered the globe and walked slowly down the stairs. Belegorn met him at his quarters, a deep scowl upon his face.

“I cannot guard you, nor aid you as I would, if you continually keep me from your side, my Lord Steward. Have pity on me, I beg you. I spent my nights here, watching and waiting, pacing your floors.”

“From now on, Belegorn, I promise, the only time you will not be at my side is when I visit the upper chamber. There, none may enter. Upon pain of death.”

Belegorn nodded. “There is a missive from Dol Amroth.”

Denethor took it from his hand and walked quickly into his study. He read it standing, for it was very short, obviously not from Faramir.

“Ask for Húrin to attend me.”

Within moments, the Warden of the Keys stood before Denethor. “Come, help me break my fast.”

Húrin grimaced. “You did not sleep again. I can see it in your eyes. What am I to tell Boromir when he returns and wishes to cut my throat?”

Denethor chuckled. “Tell him we spent the night playing Noddy or some such. I know not. Just sit, please, I have had enough strain for the nonce. I would speak of lighter things.” Denethor’s face contorted in grief. “By the all the Valar, there is hideous news from Imrahil. Míriel is dead, Damrod has been wounded, and Galador has been banished to Ras Morthil”

Húrin sat heavily in the proffered chair. “How?”

“I know not the details. Imrahil promises to send a full report immediately. He thought it imperative that I know at least a little before any rumors began. Have you heard any?”

“Nay. I have heard naught of this. I cannot take it in.”

Belegorn brought over a small glass of brandy and handed it to Húrin. The Warden looked up in surprise. “Thank you,” he said bemusedly. He turned to Denethor. “I cannot remember the last time one of your aides gave me brandy.”

“Belegorn is quite good at his duties. I think I will keep him.” The smile was strained. “I am afraid for Faramir. There must be a connection with Faramir’s visit and Míriel’s death, but for the life of me, I cannot fathom it.”

“Damrod would let naught happen to Faramir.”

Denethor bit his lip. “Perhaps that is how Damrod was wounded.” His mind whirled in a thousand directions. His aide stepped forward and refilled his glass, then stepped back.

“We must call a Council meeting. One is past due. I believe it should coincide with the feast of Yáviérë. Imrahil will come for that. If Faramir has not returned by then, I will pry the details out of the Swan Prince if I must. I do not like the brusque way it is written. There is more here than meets the eye.”

“I agree, Denethor. Would you want me to go to Dol Amroth? The feast is still a more than two months away. I can be there and back before then.”

“Nay. If there were danger to Gondor, Imrahil would have brought the missive himself, or at least instructed Faramir to return immediately. Since Faramir is not here, and neither is Imrahil, I must surmise we are not in mortal danger. Not yet.” His brow furrowed. “I need further tools. I cannot govern Gondor without knowing more.”

“None know as much as you, Denethor.”

“The Rammas. Have the reinforcements begun?”

“They have, Denethor. The Causeway should be finished by next spring, if the winter is not too harsh. I have already started plans for the Harlond. That should be next, though it is well tended. The storehouses, those homes that we altered, are still not full. The burning of the Anórien fields has greatly crippled our attempts to stock extra supplies. The people, I am afraid, may yet this winter face rationing of foodstuffs.”

“When the invitations for the Council meeting go out, make sure there is a request for an inventory of all the fiefdoms’ food supplies. Also, while we are about it, I want to know their weaponry. An inventory of those also, Húrin.”

“Good thought, my Lord.” He sighed. “I would have them list their plans for housing for the possible refugees. Though I truly dislike even thinking of an evacuation.”

“As do I, Húrin, but it must be dealt with. I agree with that listing too. I believe we should consider scheduling two days for the meeting, what think you?”

“I agree. The lords will strongly protest, but I think the agenda is already full and who knows what tidings Boromir may bring from the north.”

“Wisely said. Two days then. That means accommodations must be prepared for those lords who have no second homes here. With Arthad gone, whom will we command to handle these affairs? I do miss the man. He was an excellent organizer.”

“Boromir may return in time – early enough for Arthad to be commandeered again and used. I do like the man myself. Not many have the enthusiasm and organizational skills that he does.”

“Then it is settled. It will be held two days before Yáviérë. Sign the missive. I do not need to see it. If you find someone you think can help before Arthad returns, use him. I wish Indis were here. She would love to prepare for this.”

“She would have loved to prepare for Boromir’s wedding. I still do not understand and it troubles me greatly, Denethor, the news you have had from Belfalas.”

“Let us not be concerned with that until we learn more, Warden. Now, it is time I meet with my people. Is the Chamberlain ready?”

“He is, my Lord Steward. The Hall was filling as I came over here.”

“Then let us go.”

~*~

A/N – Noddy – a card game for 2 players. Though commonly credited to the invention of the 17th-century English poet Sir John Suckling, cribbage clearly developed from an earlier game called noddy… http://www.britannica.com/eb/topic-417074/Noddy