Ten Thousand Years will not Suffice

by Agape4Rivendell

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26. Third Age - 3018 

1.

“The wizard has left.”

Denethor’s hairs stood on end. “Did he say aught to any of what he found? Of where he was going?”

“Nay. I thought,” Húrin’s look of puzzlement grew, “that he would fare you well. He did not?”

“Nay.” Denethor sat back in his chair, fingers steepled, brow furrowed. What was the old wizard up to? What had he found? And where had he gotten himself off to? Was he with Faramir? His brow crinkled. Faramir had spent weeks sequestered with Mithrandir in the vaults of the Great Library. Neither gave hint as to what was looked at. Or what age was looked at for that matter. A chill ran down Denethor’s spine. ‘What secret thing have you discovered, Mithrandir, for you would not leave us so abruptly if you had found naught. What are you hiding from me?’ He stood and walked quickly to his desk. Writing the first missive, he sealed it and then began a second, which took a bit longer than the first, and sealed that one. “Send for Faramir and have this given to him.” He gave Húrin the first of the missives. Húrin nodded. “Send Hirgon. I want to ensure the missive is delivered.”

“It will be done.”

“Send for Boromir also. Have this missive delivered to him.” He gave Húrin the second missive. “I would speak with him. He has been gone too long, though he is much needed upon the borders. The Enemy has decided to give us no rest. Ithilien is Orc-infested and the northern plains are filled with Easterlings. Haradrim run wild and unchecked in the south.” He shook his head in dismay. “Glad am I that the feasting for Mettarë is over and done with.”

“Mithrandir joined in the festivities, Denethor. At that time, did he say he was leaving?”

“He did not. He found something, Húrin. Something of value. I would discover what it is. And I think Faramir will be able to help me.”

Húrin shuddered. Denethor’s tone was formidable.

~*~

Mettarë passed as well as Yestarë. Boromir soon despaired of ever meeting with Faramir. Attacks had been so frequent upon all outposts of Gondor that he rode between garrisons until he thought he would fall from his horse. Exhaustion, the like of which he had never known, slammed into his body each evening and he would find himself asleep before he barely had his boots off. Beregond was beginning to show the strain, too. His usually unflappable aide was caught snipping at the cooks!

At last, Boromir knew they must return to the City, if only for a fortnight. His thought was confirmed when an errand-rider brought a missive from Denethor. When Beregond heard the news, the light in his eye was such that his captain had to smile. “Do you have a woman waiting for you that I do not know about?” he teased.

“Only the one who has suffered as my companion and helpmate these last twenty some years. I doubt she will remember who I am; my son will have found another to call ‘father.’”

“I am sorry, Beregond. I had never thought we would be gone this long. I can find another aide, for a time, if you would stay with your family for a while?”

“Nay. I am a soldier and Aerin is a soldier’s wife. There is naught for it. Separations are part of the duty. What of your brother? Have you heard aught from him these past months? I have seen no missives.”

“I have not. I receive word from father now and again. His missives have dealt with where the enemy is attacking next and how I best be there before he does!” He chuckled dryly. “I do not know how he knows, but have we not seen evidence of his great foresight? The enemy is always there, a few days after we arrive, and we are thus able to battle them effectively. I wonder if he will tell me the secret some day? As Captain-General,” his tone took on the familiar bitter quality to it that Beregond had listened to these past four months, “I should at least have a tenth of the knowledge the Steward has.”

“When the time is right, your father will give you all the knowledge you will need. Suffice it to say now that we are sore pressed enough with the little knowledge we have to effectively fight the enemy. Boromir,” he sat on the end of his captain’s cot, “we need more men.”

“That we do, but where we will obtain them, I know not. The coin that the lords pledged has hardly matched our needs. I wonder how the reinforcing of the Rammas goes?”

“And the road from Pelargir. It still needed patching.”

“Yes. That it did.”

“I think…” The cup of tea he held in his hand stayed. Boromir slept. Beregond knelt and pulled the covers over his captain and blew out the lantern.

‘I wonder how Faramir fares?’

~*~

Henneth-Annûn was bitterly cold this time of year. Faramir rued the fact that he had not brought the warm winter cloak that his uncle had given him two Mettarë’s ago. Though the clime in Belfalas was warmer than Ithilien’s, the sea-going winds that blew a man about on the forecastle of one of Imrahil’s ships could be as cold as the winds that now rushed through the cave. He pulled the cloak about him, blew on his hands for warmth, and continued writing his latest report.

A gentle cough stayed him. “Damrod! Enter. What news?”

“Another line of Haradric warriors wends northward. There are at least two hundred men.”

“Any mûmak?”

“Nay. Archers and lancers, besides their swordsmen. They wear warpaint too. The likes of which I have not seen before.”

“Father’s last missive stated they were coming. How does he know, Damrod? The scouts further south cannot be that expert. He knows the number and their direction and whether they have eaten that day.” He laughed deprecatingly.

“It does seem he knows much. Does he not tell you nor Boromir?”

“Nay. At least, he does not tell me. I think… Yes, I think Boromir would tell me if he knew father’s secrets. Of course, that is why they are called secrets as my old nanny used to say.”

“Listöwel, was it not?”

“It was. Did you know her?”

“All knew her husband, Amdir. A good warrior.”

“Father’s trusted friend and advisor.”

“Not oft is one gifted with such a friend.”

“I am, Damrod. And I thank you for that gift.”

Damrod blushed red. “I only obey orders.”

Faramir laughed at that. “No one ordered you to take a knife for me at Dol Amroth.”

“I stepped into it.”

Both men bellowed their laughter. The morning noises in the cavern quieted and then laughter joined theirs. “I believe the men would like to join in our conversation. I have only a few more lines to write, then I can send this to father and be done with another week’s report. Have an errand-rider stand by, Damrod. I would like this out before noontime. After that, we will discuss the upcoming battle. We must stop this latest group from reaching the Black Gate.” Damrod nodded and left him.

A moment later, there was a shout. “An errand-rider from Osgiliath.”

Faramir stepped from behind the curtain that covered his little alcove. He finished putting on his tunic and wrapped his cloak about him. “Bring him here, Mablung.”

“My lord,” the rider saluted and handed Faramir the parchment.

“You are Hirgon?”

“Yes, my Lord Faramir.”

“Then the missive is from the Steward.” He fingered the seal. Nodding his dismissal, he walked back into the alcove.

Hesitantly, as he always did upon receiving a missive from Denethor, he took a deep breath. Someday, he would have to ask his father to put some sign on the front of a missive that carried grave news. A sob escaped him. ‘If aught ever happened to Boromir…’

~*~

“Did you speak with Gandalf before you left for Henneth-Annûn, Faramir?”

It was not the greeting Faramir had expected. Boromir looked at their father in surprise.

“Did you speak with Gandalf, Faramir? It is a simple enough question.”

“I did. We spent much time in the Great Library whilst I healed. Towards the end, right before I was appointed to Henneth-Annûn, he had found a scroll of unimaginable age. Though kept in one of the sealed pots, it was very dry and fragile. He spent long hours pouring over it.”

“What did it say?”

“It was in ancient Quenya. I could read some of it. Gandalf thought it was written by Isildur.”

Denethor’s brow rose.

“It seemed not to contain much of import. He told me a little about the Battle of the Dagorlad, about Isildur’s giving the Southern Kingdom to his brother, and about the provisioning of Isildur’s troop for the march North. It was one of the larger scrolls; there were many others in the same jar. When last I saw him, he was still pouring over them. Is aught amiss?”

“He is gone. With nary a word of farewell nor a thank you for the free room and half board.”

“He did not tell me of what he found, Father. Mayhap if I had stayed with him.” His brow furrowed in concentration.

Denethor bowed his own head. “I will accompany you to the Great Library. You will show me the jar and the scrolls.”

“Yes, Father. Now?”

There was no answer; Denethor was already leaving his study. Faramir and Boromir quickly followed.

“You did not return as quickly as I had thought,” Denethor said as they walked down to the library. “What kept you from obeying my orders?”

“The Haradrim, Father. There was a full two hundred men that we needed to stop before I came. You sent the missive with the details. My scouts found them and we attacked. I could not leave that number unassailed. I thought that is what you wished. If I had known you wanted me here immediately, I would have come.”

Denethor’s lips pursed. “The missive stated I wanted you here. Did I need to give you a timeframe? Could not one of your captains have been placed in charge of the battle?”

“If I had known…”

“I am surprised at you, Faramir. And yet, more and more I find you chose your own council over mine.”

Faramir shuddered. Boromir held his tongue.

Faramir led them to the third level of the library. One of the archivists fetched the key and opened the door for them. The stench of dust and long neglect hung in the air. Denethor choked and steadied himself. There was evidence of recent activity.

“We sat here at this table,” Faramir pointed. “The scrolls Mithrandir was interested in were along this wall. You can see the ones he had opened. Did he find something, Father? He had not yet, not by the time I left for Henneth-Annûn. Was it important?”

Denethor did not speak but summoned the Chief Archivist. Within moments, the man appeared. “My Lord Denethor. I have not seen you here in ages. Is there aught I can do for you?”

“I would have you reopen the scrolls that Mithrandir studied.”

The archivist nodded and pulled down five large jars. He broke the thick wax seal that stopped them. “Would you like them brought to the upper study rooms?”

“Nay. Leave us now. When I am finished, you may reseal them.”

The man nodded and left them.

Denethor motioned and Faramir pulled scrolls from the pot that he last saw Mithrandir studying. “Here is one of the scrolls that might be Isildur’s. Do you recognize the writing, Father? Is it truly the old king’s?”

“I have studied only copies of these originals. I am not familiar with Isildur’s hand. The writing is indeed old Quenya. It would take more time than I have today to translate them.” He bent his head over the old parchment. “We will have the archivist put scribes to that task. Bring me that one,” he pointed to the largest jar. When Faramir unrolled the scroll, Denethor leaned over it, running his finger lightly over the lines until, with a gasp, he pointed. “I do not know this tongue.” He shivered as he ran his hand over the lines. “Yet the very sight of them turns my blood cold.” An odd thought crossed his mind. “Can you read them, Faramir?”

“I cannot, Father. I did not see this scroll opened whilst I was here. Obviously, from the markings on the jar, it indeed has been opened recently. It must be Mithrandir’s work.”

Another shiver ran down Denethor’s spine. “I have seen this writing somewhere. I do not know recall where.” His brow furrowed into deep wrinkles. A shudder of great strength ran through him as he realized where he had seen writing like this before. When he had looked into Mordor. “Let us be away from here,” he whispered hoarsely. “Have the archivists bring these to my personal study and set five archivists upon them. I want them translated before Tuilérë.”

~*~

A/N – 1) 3017 - Gandalf visits Minas Tirith and reads the scroll of Isildur. ROTK, Appendix B, The Tale of Years: The Third Age. 2) The Great Library must have been huge and contained over 3000 years’ worth of scrolls and such. Pelargir founded SA 2350; Gondor founded SA 3320. 3) Denethor tells Gandalf, “If indeed you look only... for records of ancient days, and the beginnings of the City, read on!” 4) I’m using these thoughts and quotes as the basis for my belief that Denethor might very well have looked, after Gandalf departed, for the scrolls that held such import for Gandalf. 5) It seems to me that Tolkien believed the scrolls were still readable, even though they were centuries old. I figure they were in SEALED JARS like the Dead Sea scrolls… Resealed after Gandalf was done with them…. but again - it was written in ancient Quenya - so perhaps Faramir could not read it all AND he might not have been able to read THE line about the One Ring because that was written in the Black Speech. Though I personally don’t think Gandalf would have shared the contents of THE scroll with Faramir. 6) On room and (half) board – I researched this for I did not want to use the phrase if it was too ‘modern.’ However, I found this… “Food served at the table; daily meals provided in a lodging or boarding-house according to stipulation; the supply of daily provisions; entertainment. Often joined with ‘bed’ or ‘lodging’. c1386 CHAUCER . . . Sche wolde suffre him no thing for to pay For bord ne clothing. 1465 MARG. PASTON ‘Lett’. . . . He payth for hys borde wykely . . .” The OED says this sense of “board” developed from the sense of a table used for meals. It doesn't give an example with the exact wording “room and board.” http://www.phrases.org.uk/bulletin_board/15/messages/521.html http://search.oed.com. 7) Tuilérë – spring festival – March 23rd.


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 2.

The errand-rider stood before him, bloodied. "Húrin. Send for a healer. Come man," Denethor turned to the rider. "Sit here. Drink this." He quickly poured some whiskey. He waited until the man finished the glass, then sat behind his desk.

"I have no written missive, my Lord. I was sent in haste. Osgiliath is under attack. We battled fiercely but the losses are many. The city is held."

"Is there news from Cair Andros?" He turned towards his Warden.

"There is none. Should I send a rider?"

"Nay," he was interrupted by the healer's entry. "Exam this man." The healer nodded and began.

"Húrin. Stay with the rider. I want to send…."

Again, the healer interrupted. "My Lord, he should be in the Houses. The shoulder wound needs stitches."

"Very well. As soon as he is able to return to duty, send word to Captain Hirgon. Soldier," Denethor turned towards the man. "You did well. I must needs speak with you again; I will send for you."

The soldier saluted and left with the healer.

"I will return, Húrin. I will send for you when I am ready."

"My Lord, we must discuss our defenses."

"I will send for you when I am ready." His voice was hard and cold.

Húrin nodded and left.

Denethor wrapped his cloak about him and headed up the stairs. The room waited. It waited. He unlocked the door, took a deep breath, and went in. The globe answered immediately. He looked eastward. Osgiliath was still burning. The forge! He groaned as he saw the remains. There were bodies still lying about, smithies and workers and such, but the forge itself was totally destroyed. Not one stone, it seemed, stood upon another. He looked towards the bridge. It was filled with dead warriors. He watched as those left alive tended to the wounded. They would need a few more healers; he must remember to send more. He gasped as he watched bodies floating down the Anduin. There were few, too few of the enemy and too many of Gondor's finest. He flinched at the spectacle. 'Dead. So many dead.' He sent his sight further east and saw no activity. His gaze turned northward. There was desolation all around Cair Andros. They had been attacked! A vile curse crossed his lips. Men lay dead everywhere. He scanned quickly for life, but found none. His breath held, he looked across the River towards Ithilien. There were no signs of men nor Orcs. Looking west, he at last spotted a contingent of men heading towards Amon Dín. He watched in wonder. 'Sending for help?' He moved back towards the island garrison. At last, after making the stone bring the image ever closer, he saw movement. There were men alive, but so few. He shuddered.

Stepping back for a moment, he took two or three deep breaths. Then, he placed his hands back upon the globe. He moved his vision south towards Pelargir. All seemed quiet. Life moved normally, even at this early hour. At some whim, he turned his sight towards the road from Dol Amroth. There was much activity. Companies of Swan Knights marched eastward. He brought his sight further up the road.

A trumpet's blast brought his head up. He left the stone and went to the window. It was the call of the Prince of Dol Amroth; he was here at the Great Gate. Denethor turned back to the stone. It would be at least an hour before Imrahil entered the Hall. He looked back again and swept the southern fiefdoms. Nothing. A moment later, he gasped. Linhir was decimated. They must have come across Lebennin and entered the city at night. He swore prolifically. 'That is why Imrahil is here,' he thought. 'Good man. Comes to warn me.' He covered the stone and left the room, hurrying down the stairs.

He barked to the guard at the Great Hall's door, "Send Prince Imrahil to my private study as soon as he arrives. And have Húrin join us." The guard nodded and Denethor continued on his way. He reached his own chambers, ran into his dressing room, flung off his cloak, tore off his tunic and shirt, laved his face, and pulled on a new shirt and tunic. By the time he reached his outer room, the guard was knocking. "Enter."

"Prince Imrahil is here."

"Send him in." He strode towards the bellpull but stopped halfway there. Belegorn had entered.

"I heard the commotion. What would you have of me?"

"Send for food and wine and then send for Captain Hirgon.” He paused as the Swan Prince entered the room. “Imrahil!" he shouted and hugged the man tightly. "You bring grave news."

The Prince's eyebrow lifted. "I do. Linhir was attacked three nights ago. I was on a fishing trip on the Gilrain with my sons when the news came, hence my timely arrival here. The losses were many. There was no warning.'

"I should have known. I am sorry. I would have sent word if I had heard of the enemy's approach."

"I do not fault you, Brother. I came only to warn you and to ask for your help. It has been many long years since that city was attacked. Before my father's time, even. I would have troops follow the culprits, they must be Corsairs, and slaughter them, but I cannot step onto Lebennin's territory without your permission."

"I will not give it." He held up his hand to stay what he knew would be Imrahil's furious rejoinder. "I will send my own troops. They will leave before noon. I will also send riders to Pelargir. The garrison there will send four companies, a battalion, to scour the river area. They will be found and destroyed, I promise you." Denethor walked to his desk and began writing. In a few moments, he had sealed three missives. "You must be weary, Imrahil. I have a meal waiting. Would you break your fast with me? Are you sons with you?"

Imrahil shook his head in frustration. "I will obey your wishes. I will keep my knights in Belfalas." He walked into Denethor's dining chamber and sat heavily upon one of the oaken chairs. "I was foolish to even ask for permission."

As they were near finishing their meal, Húrin entered and Denethor bid him sit.

"Lord Tarcil," the Steward continued, "would not have been pleased to see your troops on his land. And rightly so."

"Forgive me."

"Nay. You have ridden all night. Your sons are here?" he asked again.

"They are. I sent them to my house on the Sixth Level. They are weary from the ride."

"I would see them, before you leave."

"Of course. Thank you for the meal. I will return at the sixth hour?"

"Please."

Húrin waited patiently. He knew his Steward would explain what he missed. The coffee was good and hot and strong. He waited.

Denethor sat, after escorting his brother-in-law from the room. "Osgiliath has been attacked." He paused, his brow furrowed. "Cair Andros and Linhir also."

"Is it the beginning? You have always said there would be a final attack, one which we would be sore-pressed to win. Is that time now?"

"I think not. Though there have been heavy casualties and much damage, I think these are mere sorties to test our strength. I am saddened that the forge has been destroyed. Of all times, this is when it will be needed most. It seems we lost many of the workers too, those experienced in the making of steel and weapons. They are difficult to replace."

"Where do we begin our counter-attack?"

"The Orcs and Corsairs have left the area. I will be surprised if they return."

Hirgon entered. "My Lord. You sent for me?"

"How many errand-riders have we?"

"Only a company, my Lord Steward. The roads west are treacherous. We lose a rider a month."

"Húrin. Rouse Boromir and ask him to come here, and take his guard. He was once an errand-rider. We will need him. Hirgon, I have three missives that I need sent immediately. One to Osgiliath, one to Cair Andros, and one to Linhir. There will be more. Have your riders rested and ready. Hopefully, the Enemy has withdrawn for a time."

Hirgon took the missives, saluted and left.

~*~

Boromir woke with a start. Hard pounding on his door meant it was not his guard. As he pulled his leggings on, he tripped towards the door.

"My Lord, Boromir," Húrin was panting from running up the stairs as Boromir opened the door. "An attack upon Osgiliath."

Boromir dragged the man into his bedchamber. "Continue," he barked as he fetched a shirt and tunic.

"In the city itself. Many are dead. The forge is destroyed."

"How many?"

"At least two hundred and Captain Oromendil."

"Captain Faramir?" His voice broke as he asked.

"He was on his way to Henneth-Annun. There has been no report."

Several curses greeted the unwanted news. After a moment of pacing, Boromir bent and pulled on his boots while he tried to quell the fear that rose in his heart and his gut. "Where is my father?"

"He awaits you in his private study. Prince Imrahil is with him. He arrived late last night. There was an attack upon Linhir three days ago."

Boromir grasped his sword and scabbard and his horn, and ran into the hall. "Where is my guard?" he asked, irritated.

"I sent him to your father. Errand-riders are needed; he was one before he was stationed here; we have not enough riders."

"So I lose my personal guard," Boromir said wearily. "The new recruits from Lossarnach have yet to arrive?"

"They have not and there has been no missive."

Nodding, Boromir buckled his scabbard on, sheathed his sword, and flung his horn over his shoulder. He could hear Húrin breathing hard as the Warden tried to keep up, tried to follow him down the stairs, but Boromir's entire being was focused on the why of it, for it was not often the Warden of the Keys was sent to wake him. Something more was about than a simple attack.

“Uncle!” He had to stop himself from running into the Swan Prince who was hurriedly leaving Denethor’s study. “I heard you were here. It is good to see you. Are Elphir, Erchirion and Amrothos with you?”

“They are. Please stop by our home if you have a moment. They would be very sorry to have missed this opportunity to see one of their favorite cousins.”

“How fare you?”

“Well and so does your aunt. However, Gondor does not; your father will explain. For now, my orders are to get some rest. I hope to return to Dol Amroth tomorrow morning. Please visit us before then, if you are able?”

“I will give you my whole afternoon, if I am allowed.” He hugged his uncle tightly then turned and entered the room. He found it crowded. Lords of Gondor, along with captains and soldiers, all filled the room with voices raised in fear. "Boromir!" he heard his father's voice above the din. He stepped into the room and waited. All had turned towards him, it seemed, in expectant hope. "My Lord Steward." He strode forward and the shouting quieted.

"Boromir. Gondor has been attacked."

Boromir took his father in his arms. Denethor tensed in surprise. "I would know what you know." His whispered voice was hard. "Where is Faramir?"

~*~

Faramir and his Rangers approached the city warily. The smoke could be seen for miles and the stench now filled their nostrils. Sadly, there was only silence, which meant the battle was done and those who had been wounded were probably dead, if they had not been picked up by their comrades. Buzzards flew high, diving now and again. The Rangers were too far away to see their target, but it was not hard to imagine. Another sign that they were probably too late. He sighed. If only they had seen the smoke earlier, but the attack was done at night, he was sure. 'Is that not the way of the Enemy? Use the fear of darkness to aid them.'

"There, Captain," Damrod pointed. "It is not the eastern city."

Faramir stopped in horror. Long had it been since any had attacked West Osgiliath. It could not have been a full attack but a sortie in the dark. Yet, the smoke was intense. "Send three patrols. Stagger them. Have one come from the east. Too hard is this to believe. That the enemy should be so bold. How did they cross the River?"

"It will be done." Damrod saluted and went to do his captain's bidding. Mablung stepped up next to him. "If the city is indeed breeched then we are in grave danger. Should the men wait for the patrols to return?"

"Nay. The birds would not be about if the battle was still underway. Let us hurry ourselves."

They approached the eastern city and found it to be deserted. Orcs, though, lay dead hither and thither. 'Must have been wounded in the battle and retreated; only to find their wounds too grievous to continue.' Now and again he heard a scream as a live Orc was found and dispatched. He shuddered. The patrols returned with news that, indeed, East Osgiliath was totally deserted, the bridge was still intact, and West Osgiliath reeled from a night attack of great magnitude.

Faramir drew his captains to him. "I believe the battle for Osgiliath is over, but I want caution, nonetheless. We will cross the bridge in groups. The first group will reconnoiter then give the all-clear signal; then the second group will cross and so on. I want the bridge emptied for at least fifteen minutes between groups unless we are approached by the forces stationed there."

He did not need to tell them to keep silent, nor to watch their backs, nor a thousand things that they had learned over the years. He did, however, tell them: "You are Rangers. The best of Gondor. Our comrades in the city are depending upon us to help them. I know you will not fail them, nor me."

They nodded and left. The men moved forward just as Faramir had instructed them. Damrod stayed at Faramir's side whilst Mablung relayed reports between the front companies and Faramir. Within moments, the Steward's youngest learned that East Osgiliath was quiet. He ordered the men across the River as one.

"Captain Faramir!" the heartfelt cry and warm hug of welcome from Captain Isilmo was accepted. "As you can see by the carnage on the bridge, you have come too late. We were attacked in the night by at least two hundred Uruks. They were cunning and quiet. They killed the sentries easily and destroyed the forge. It seems to have been their target. We lost many."

Faramir nodded. "Where is Captain Oromendil?"

“Dead. I am acting captain. I await your orders."

"The defenses. What are they?"

"We have moved all those able to hold a sword to the River. The bridge, as you can see, is now well-guarded."

"The wounded?"

"Have all been moved to the garrison buildings. It will take many days to move the dead. They are spread out across the city."

"How many healers have you?"

"Too few for too many wounded."

"Send a rider to the Houses and request at least five more. Then, see to yourself. You look haggard. Get some sleep. My men will spell some of yours. I will make up the rosters."

"I can do that, Captain Faramir," Captain Isilmo protested.

"Get some rest. Five hours. Then meet with me at the mess."

The man saluted and left. Faramir looked about him in dismay.

 
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3.

“Then that explains the precision of these latest attacks,” Húrin watched the Steward.

“Sit, Boromir.” Denethor motioned and two servants brought forth strong, Haradric coffee, fruits from Lebennin, and cheeses from Lossarnach. “Though the news I have to impart is not conducive to good digestion, I bid you all eat. We will be here for a very long time. We have much to plan.”

While they ate, the Steward told them of the latest attacks. Many had fork halfway to mouth and then sat in stunned silence as the magnitude of the attacks was revealed.

At last, Denethor sat at his desk. “The Enemy has discerned that we are weak indeed. Though Faramir received pledges of more men and coin from you and my other fief lords, yet both are slow in coming. I pulled errand-riders from my own and my son’s guard to use in this crisis.” His voice was low and soft, but all in the room heard the menace. Boromir heard the despair.

“If Gondor falls, the onus will be on each one of you.” The Steward did not need to point; they understood. “I want your promised men here in one week’s time. I want your coin today.” He motioned and his aide stepped to his side. “Belegorn, bring my maps.” He turned to the captains and lords assembled. “Follow me.”

As they entered the dining chamber, the servants were clearing off the table. Belegorn placed one of the maps on the table and unrolled it. The men crowded about. It was a detailed map of Osgiliath, both east and west. They spent the next four hours pouring over many maps, not only of Osgiliath, but of Cair Andros and the area around Linhir.

They finally stopped for nuncheon. Boromir bided his time and Denethor gazed at his son with unfeigned regard and humor. The boy was clearly angry and frustrated. A light tingling sensation told him someone else observed. Turning his head, he tried to find the one who watched him! ‘Imrahil.’

The Prince had just entered, a sad, half-smile on his face. “You did not stop to see the boys. Nor did Boromir.”

Denethor ushered him into his study, motioning to Boromir to join him. He offered brandy, but Imrahil declined. Denethor noted the Prince’s clenched teeth and taut jaw line. “I spent the morning in conference. I had hoped to see you and my nephews,” he emphasized nephews, “but the gravity of the attacks…”

“I understand, but the boys have not seen you for well over a year. I had hoped. And if not you, then Boromir.”

“My love for my cousins is great, Uncle, but my love for Faramir is greater.” He turned towards Denethor, his face livid. “Where is Faramir?”

Imrahil drew in a breath. “He is missing?”

“Nay, nay,” Denethor held up his hands. “He is stationed at Henneth-Annûn. I expect he is still there.” He turned with slight scorn towards Boromir. “I have received no report stating otherwise.”

Boromir took in a long, shuddering breath. “Forgive me, Uncle.” He turned fully towards Denethor. “I know you know beyond the norm. I know you see things, Father. Do you see him?” His voice broke. “Does he yet live?”

“Boromir! If I had report of him, you would know.”

“But you see things!”

“If I could see your brother, I would,” the Steward’s own frustration rang in his voice. “I do not see him, Boromir. I am waiting for his weekly report. I have not yet received it.”

“Then, may I go to Ithilien? To Henneth-Annûn?”

“Boromir, your concern for Faramir outweighs your sense! Osgiliath has been attacked; Cair Andros has been attacked. You think one man can ride in without being discovered?”

“More than one would bring scrutiny. I will be back before the week’s end.”

“I will not send you.”

“You have no need of me here. You are Captain-General, not I.” His anger and frustration finally exploded.

Imrahil strode towards his nephew. “Boromir, hold your tongue.”

Boromir looked at his uncle and swallowed hard. He bowed to Denethor and then left.

The Steward sat heavily upon his settle; Imrahil joined him. “The boy is correct, Denethor.”

The Lord of the City sighed. “I have not enough men, Imrahil. If I did, the Captain-General would be here in the Citadel as my counselor and my right hand. It is what I wished for Boromir. However, and you know this well, my captains are the first slain in battle. I have had need of him on the northern borders. Though I rue the loss and the added burden to myself, I cannot use him as I will, nor as he would.”

“He grows frustrated. He is your heir.”

“Imrahil,” Denethor’s voice rang sharp. He gentled it. “If my will was my own, he would be in Minas Tirith. The Enemy allows me no such favor.”

Imrahil nodded. “I would speak with him, if you would allow it?”

“Of course. He is needed here, but I think it best if you take him to your sons. Let him have a moment’s peace; remember what we fight for.”

The Prince nodded his head, stood and left. Denethor sat in silence for many moments, then returned to the dining chamber and the clatter of dishes and hearty appetites. He almost retched at the sound of the lords filling their faces whilst he offered his son as sacrifice.

~*~

“I have held my tongue since I was ten, since Naneth passed,” Boromir reiterated to his uncle as they walked towards the Sixth Level. “I will hold it no longer. I only hold the title. He keeps information from me; I think he listens to my suggestions, but then he does not act on them; he does not let me command my men. If he did not want nor need a Captain-General, why did he fill the post?"

“Because he respects you. However, I believe his insight is greater than yours.”

“I am at my wit's end. I have beseeched before; I have told him I know not what happens in the army I am called Captain-General of. I have fought on the northern borders for over a year now, yet I know nothing of Belfalas, Lebennin, Pelargir. The farmers of the realm know more than the Captain-General of Gondor’s army.”

“Whilst you are on the borders, he cannot send errand-riders to you with reports. You know that, Boromir. What has made you so frustrated? He fully expects to share the last months’ reports with you. He always does.”

Boromir turned towards him. “The war goes ill for Gondor, Uncle. I see it every day. I cannot envisage how we will ever win against the Enemy, not without some great weapon. And there is none to be had.”

“There is, Boromir. There is always hope. You must believe that your father does all in his power to save Gondor… and his sons.”

“Where is Faramir? He says he does not know. And yet, he knows how many hairs are on an Easterling that attacks me. I begin to wonder at his veracity.”

Imrahil stopped and turned Boromir towards him. “The men of Gondor never lie, Boromir. Remember that.”

Boromir embraced his uncle. “You speak the truth, Uncle. I am sore-pressed at the death I see about me. I have lost so many men, I cannot remember the count. I see a new man enter my service and try not to remember his name, knowing full well he will probably be dead on the morrow.”

Imrahil held him tight. “I will ask your father to keep you in Minas Tirith for awhile, Boromir. Spend some time in the Houses, helping the soldiers who recover. You need to see there is hope.”

“Boromir!” the shout of greeting surprised them both. Neither had realized they had reached Imrahil’s house.

“Amrothos!” Boromir looked the young man up and down. “It is good to see you. How you have grown!”

“I am twenty-four and captain of my own ship.”

Boromir shuddered, but hid it, the best he could. “Captain. And what is your ship’s name?”

“Limlug. It is a fair ship. I would love to have you sail with me one day, as you did with Elphir.”

“I do not think I could manage the riggings anymore. I have lost my sea legs.”

Amrothos smiled broadly. “They come back right quickly, especially when a Corsair ship appears on the horizon.”

“Have you had battle then?” Boromir looked at his young nephew in surprise.

The Swan hung his head. “Not yet. But I imagine any day now.”

“Who trained you?” Boromir asked as they went into Imrahil’s home.

Shouts of joy covered the answer. He turned and looked to Elphir and Erchirion. “Glad am I to see you both. I had thought we would have to wait till the summer festival. How fare you?”

Imrahil watched in joy as his sons and Boromir walked into the atrium. All four were now men, full grown. It was difficult to remember when this had happened. He walked into his own study, sat with his head between his hands, and silently lifted petition for them to the Valar.

The hour before sunset, Boromir and Imrahil left for the Citadel.

They found Denethor alone in his dining chambers, maps strewn all about. “It is good you have returned,” he said without looking up. “I have need of my captains.”

Neither spoke.

“I have another great need."

“From me?” Boromir asked.

“I require a captain for Osgiliath. Our need has now become desperate. I will take you from the northern borders and place you as captain there. I know you will hold it for me.”

~*~

A/N – 1) Sauron is surprised at the strength of Denethor’s defenses when he attacks the bridge in June, 3019. The little test that Sauron uses against Gondor in these chapters, in my mind’s eye, caused Denethor to refortify many of his outposts, thus explaining why Gondor was strong in June, 3019. 2) Tolkien states that Denethor was lord of his own actions. He listened to his counselors and such, but then did what he willed anyhow. It has always seemed to me that a man so strong and brilliant would be hard-pressed to let Boromir have total control of the Army of Gondor. To that end, I think Boromir would have been highly frustrated. I could be wrong. 3) Limlug is Sindarin for Sea-Serpent http://www.uib.no/people/hnohf/vocab.htm#Sindarin. 4) It is next to impossible to find information regarding what is termed watches in the military. I finally found this site that has naval watches – so I’m using that, in lieu of losing my mind with further research. Also, Tolkien does mention the use of bells to keep time in the City, and bells are another naval tradition. I really have to giggle over that, for I have made one of Denethor's unfulfilled dreams be of commanding a ship in Gondor's army. It never came to pass... sadly. Maybe if he had had one dream filled, he would have been able to... ah! but that is just conjecture.... http://www.awm.gov.au/atwar/structure/ran_stations.asp

Time Name
Noon to 4 pm Afternoon watch
4 pm to 6 pm First dog watch
6 pm to 8 pm Second dog watch
8 pm to midnight First watch
Midnight to 4 am Middle watch
4 am to 8 am Morning watch
8 am to noon Forenoon watch

Characters (so far):
Aerin – wife to Beregond and mother of Bergil
Belegorn – aide to Denethor
Beregond – aide to Boromir
Isilmo – acting Captain of Osgiliath
Oromendil† – Captain of Osgiliath
Tarcil – Lord of Lebennin

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4.

There was nothing Faramir could do in Osgiliath. All that remained was burial for the dead. Every fiber of his being wanted to run back into the high country, the foothills of the Ephel Dúath, and kill anything and everything that walked on two legs. He took a few deep breaths; how could he think such a thing? He was more tired than he thought; more disheartened by the death that he had walked through to get to the garrison’s office. It would take days before all the dead would be buried. He would leave his men here to help.

He would go to Minas Tirith, speak with Boromir if he could, and regroup. He knew riders had already been sent. His shoulders shook in helpless, bitter laughter. Denethor did not need riders! His father knew; his father knew everything! Denethor might want… ‘Might what?’ he thought miserably. The last time he had been home, his father’s tongue had been acid-filled. Denethor was sure that Faramir knew what the wizard had found and was keeping it from him. His heart ached at the thought.

He wondered if the scrolls had given their secrets up. ‘Mayhap, if father has some sign as to what Mithrandir had found, mayhap he would be disinclined to look at me with less anger, more with love.’ He leaned his elbows on the captain’s desk and held his fingers against the inner corners of his eyes to stay the tears that threatened. ‘Morgoth’s breath! I am beyond tired. I know father loves me as I love him. If only there was some way we could go beyond the wizard. If only he would accept me as I am.’

“Captain Faramir?”

“Damrod,” he swallowed convulsively and controlled himself as he motioned for his aide to enter.

“I have ordered the men to help with burial. Do you have further orders?”

“Nay. I will go to Minas Tirith and meet with the Steward.” He sighed. “I will not ride alone, will I?”

Damrod smiled.

“All right then. Meet me in one hour’s time at the gate. And ask Captain Isilmo to attend me.”

“Your horse will be ready. The captain will be with you in a moment. After he leaves, Faramir,” the soldier’s voice took on a tone of concern, “I would hope you would sleep?”

“I will. I can hardly hold my head up. You will do the same, once the orders are given. I do not want you falling off your horse as we travel home.”

“It is not I that usually falls from his horse, if memory serves me.” He ducked as the tankard missed his head by a fraction and left the room, reveling in the laughter that followed him.

Damrod ran into the garrison’s acting captain and kept the door open for him. He spoke a word to him, then ushered him into the room. “Captain Faramir, Captain Isilmo.” He saluted and left.

“Captain.” Faramir stood. “I am leaving my men with you to help with the burials. Mablung will stand in my stead. If there is anything you need my men to do, they are yours to command.”

“Thank you, Captain. Have you broken your fast?”

Faramir chuckled. “I have not. Have you?”

“Nay. The kitchens are finally up and running. I have asked for food sent here. Enough for the both of us. Would you join me?”

“I would and I thank you.”

“After we are finished, your second suggests I leave you to rest.”

“I think I shall kill my second.”

Isilmo laughed. “He is a good man.”

“Too good for me,” Faramir whispered.

“I think not a man in your father’s service would say or think such a thing, Lord Faramir.”

“Pay no heed to me. I am weary.”

”You have ridden long and hard to Osgiliath’s defense. We are grateful. The men, when your company came across the bridge, cheered. Did you hear?”

Faramir shook his head. “I did not. I only heard the cries of the dying. Too late we came, I am sorry to say.”

“You came and that is the important thing. The living know of your valor in coming to aid us. I need the men I have left to feel hope, and you, my Lord Faramir, have brought them that hope.”

Faramir shook his head. “They are good men. Make me a list of those who appointed themselves well during the battle. Bring it to me before I leave. When I return, I am sure I will bring commendations from the Steward.”

A knock and their food arrived. Both men ate silently. At last, Isilmo rose. “I will leave you to your rest, Captain” He saluted and left the room. Faramir silently went to the cot, laid himself down, and slept. Once again, as after last year’s battle, Damrod stole into the room, removed his captain’s boots, covered him with a blanket, and stood sentry by the door.

~*~

“Make certain the beacons are ready, repair the Rammas Echor, repair and raise the Steward’s banners every morning, create new ones (for Osgiliath too), set the smithies to work day and night preparing new weapons, sharpening old ones, have the trebuchets inspected, set up scheduled practice runs for their crews, go over the evacuation plans for the women and children one more time, make preparations for defense against siege towers, check the water and food supplies, coin, men.” He sat back, looking at the list. Putting two fingers to the furrows between his eyebrows, Denethor rubbed vigorously. The pain did not go away. “I forgot. Show Húrin the tunnels to Mindolluin.”

“My lord, am I interrupting?”

“Come in, Imrahil. I need a respite from these wretched lists.”

“Why cannot Húrin take care of them?”

“He already has much on his plate. I expect him to resign soon,” Denethor smiled. “Nay. He is a good man and puts up with me.”

“Where is Boromir?”

“He is resting. I am sending him to captain Osgiliath. He will leave before cock’s crow in the morning. Once I finish these curséd lists, I must look over some maps and things that he will carry with him.”

“Have you heard aught of Faramir?”

“I have not. If he has seen the smoke from Osgiliath, I would venture to say he is headed that way. He will send a rider, when he has a moment.”

“Why is Boromir so sure Faramir is in danger?”

Denethor stood and walked to the window. The night was almost upon them, but there was a bit of light still about; torches were being lit on the escarpment. “Look!” he pointed and Imrahil joined him. Boromir sat with someone on the battlement.

“Who is he with?”

“Faramir,” Denethor whispered. “He must have just arrived.”

Imrahil looked down and almost choked in grief. Boromir had his arm tightly about his brother. Their heads were bent as if in deep conversation. Once in awhile, Boromir would point towards Osgiliath and Faramir would nod. Imrahil cursed a particularly vile curse and leaned against the sil. “Why is Boromir so sure Faramir is in danger?” he demanded.

“I am not certain.”

“Does Boromir have the Sight?”

Denethor looked at him. “If either of my sons has the Sight, it would be Faramir, but I have not seen it in him. Except for his dreams. I tell you this though, Imrahil, ever since Finduilas died, Boromir has been protective of his brother. I think it has become an obsession with him. He cannot let go.”

“One of them will fall?” Imrahil stifled a sob.

“I fear so.”

“You have the sight, I think, my brother. Which one?”

Denethor shuddered. “I know not.”

Imrahil clenched his teeth, put his hand on his sword. “It is our duty to protect them.”

“There is none left to protect any of us, Imrahil. The Valar have abandoned men. We will fight, even without hope; I will not go gently, nor will my sons.”

“Look,” Imrahil pointed. “Elphir and Erchirion. I am glad to see them.” The sons of Imrahil strode across the parapet and joined Faramir and Boromir. Though they could not hear, they knew there was much laughter and backslapping as the boys greeted each other. Amrothos ran up a moment later and was brought into the circle of love and friendship.

Denethor leaned forward, as if he could gain some measure of joy from their camaraderie. “I will call them up. I have not spoken to your sons yet. I would hear their laughter.” A note of envy crept into his voice.

“They have looked forward to seeing you again. They do love you, brother.”

“As I love them.”

“I am glad they have each other. It could have been otherwise.” Imrahil’s brow furrowed.

“It would have been, if your father had not finally come to his senses.”

Imrahil smiled and took Denethor’s hand in his own. “He said the same about you.”

Denethor looked at him in amaze. He shivered. “His daughter’s death was a harsh thing. He rued the day she met me.”

“He had some difficulty accepting you, and yet, he grew to love you.”

“Until she died,” Denethor whispered.

The Swan Prince said naught.

“Enough of that. You will leave on the morrow?”

“I will. I must return to Linhir. After that, I will go home and prepare the men I will bring with me to Minas Tirith, when you call.”

“You think I will call this year?”

“If not this year, then certainly next. I can see it in your eyes, Denethor. The end is near.”

Denethor swallowed. “It is.”


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Part 5

The Citadel was quiet, too quiet. Faramir and Boromir, Imrahil and his sons, all had left early this morning. He had not felt such oppressive silence in a very long time. Perhaps it was the night of laughter and sharing just passed with the young ones that gave the silence such terrible weight. He always reveled in the times spent with his own sons, but Imrahil's sons' presence had put both his own sons at ease. Boromir lost the frustration that continued to grow within his heart, and Faramir abandoned, for the nonce, the sorrow of the men lost.

This morning, Boromir once again fairly bristled as he farewell'd Denethor. Until Denethor ordered him to return, once a week, to discuss Gondor's defenses. A smile finally broke and Boromir had hugged him fiercely. Faramir's eyes were again haunted as Denethor embraced him. They had said not a word of the wizard. "There is still hope," Denethor whispered to his youngest. Faramir nodded and mounted. Denethor knew his sons would spend a day together in Osgiliath before Faramir went on to Henneth-Annûn. Probably, Faramir would help Boromir distribute the medals of commendation for those who had proved themselves valiant in the latest battle.

Imrahil and his sons farewell’d the brothers and watched them leave, then the Prince turned towards Denethor. “I would stay for the Council, but the destruction you told me of last night precludes me dawdling here. Give my regards to the lords and tell them I will see them at Tuilérë, if you will? I am astounded by your own scouts reports. None of mine told of such devastation.”

Denethor embraced Imrahil. “Naught matters but that Linhir be rebuilt and refortified. Imrahil, there was the small garrison on one of the islands near the mouth of the Anduin. Have you heard aught of its men?”

“I have not. I sent a scout a fortnight ago, but have not heard back. I hope to have a missive when I return home. I will send a message to you.”

“Please. I have heard naught of that troop and that disturbs me much.”

“If you know naught of our little band there, then there must be something wrong.”

“That is as I fear. Send me a message soon.”

“I will.” Imrahil kissed Denethor’s cheek. “Continue to hope. Belfalas stands behind you.”

Denethor returned the kiss and then embraced his nephews. He watched sadly as the little band rode off, then looked upon the Pelennor and saw, in the distance, Boromir and Faramir riding towards Osgiliath.

Another sigh escaped him. In a few moments, he would meet with the Council. He did not look forward to this session. Besides the latest attacks, his list was added to the agenda. The Lords of Gondor would not be happy. Yet again, mayhap the recent attacks would validate his list of Gondor's needs and they would listen more attentively. He grimaced. Lord Hundor would sleep most of the session. Lord Brodda would fidget till Denethor would be tempted to draw his sword and cut off the offending tapping fingers. Lord Avranc's disdain had always irked him. Though the Belfalas lord's breeding was less than most of those who sat at table with him, the fact that he was of the line of Imrazôr and descended from Elves kept his chin tilted so high, he could not see about him. Lord Tarcil was clearly disturbed about something, but would not say what. The only lords who gave him any peace, any respite, any support were Angbor and Forlong. These two stood firm and strong. How he wished his entire Council consisted of men such as these!

Good, doughty men were dying as the Council met and yet Denethor knew the Council members cared more for their own fortunes than for those who defended those very fortunes. 'I will quickly end this meeting and spend time with Húrin. With their approval or no, the list will be attended to.' At least he had coin enough for some of the tasks. The lords had taken his threats to heart and, yester eve, he had received eighty percent of what they had pledged. He would remind them again this morning of the remaining twenty percent and of their promise of men.

A peregrine's screech brought him from his sour thoughts. He looked up towards the bird and spied the Tower window. 'I must also spend some time there,' he thought with some longing. 'Not once yesterday did I look.' From the moment he had seen the attack upon Osgiliath the night before last, his time had been taken in thoughts and actions towards Gondor's defense.

He pulled his shoulders back, adjusted his mail shirt, and walked purposefully into the Great Hall. The Chamberlain rapped his rod against the marble floor and all stood. He made his way to the Chair and sat. The next six hours were grueling. The topic mainly revolved around the Rammas. The southern lords, of course, wanted the wall by the Harlond fortified first, whilst the northern lords wanted the North Gate and the wall by it fortified first. There was none to speak for lowly Ithilien. Faramir was away and the fief lords of that land were weak and helpless. No property to use as leverage.

When they finally broke for a late nuncheon, Denethor felt drained. He made his excuses to the lords, but knew they would not miss him, as long as they were dined and wine flowed freely. His stomach churned. Lately, he had found he could barely contain the bile that rose as the Council fought him. Fought Gondor.

Húrin followed after him. "Lord Denethor. The Council members are concerned. You do not eat with them?"

"I cannot, cousin. My stomach turns at their apathy, their ineptitude, their avarice. I cannot look upon them without wanting to retch."

"What would you have me do?"

"Stay with them. Keep them content, for the nonce. We will meet again in two hours time. Then, I will send them back to their fiefdoms and their comfortable lives, and their disregard for Gondor. You and I, Húrin, we will go over the list this evening and we will decide what is most needed. The pledged coin has almost all been given; the men are due here next week. We will do what we can until Tuilérë, when the Council meets again."

Húrin nodded and left Denethor on the steps to the Tower. Denethor looked upwards and decided he did not have enough time to go to the Tower room. He would spend his time in his own chambers and try to quell the fury that recently engulfed him after every Council meeting.

Once he was in his own chambers, he sat at his desk, fingers steepled, brow furrowed. A heavy sigh escaped him and he chuckled. ‘I need something to take my mind off this… loneliness.’ He choked. He had not felt so alone since Finduilas had left him. ‘By the Valar,’ he suddenly sobbed, ‘I am grown weak.’ He pushed himself away from the desk and strode towards the window. Naught he looked upon gave him surcease from the restlessness that assailed him, the loneliness that gripped his heart, the utter despair that washed over him.

He found his pencils in the cupboard and a few pieces of parchment specifically made for drawing. He pulled them out and sat again. His mind was blank, but he moved his hand nonetheless and the pencil drew a blank banner. He smiled. The White Tree flowed freely into the open space in the banner. A few more quick strokes and Boromir’s face shone out at him, superimposed over the Tree. He sighed again, but this time with joy. ‘Well, this will never do. I cannot put Boromir’s face on the Citadel banner.’ He laughed aloud. He drew another banner and then Faramir’s face filled the open spot. His brow crinkled. ‘A good son, but why…? No sense in questioning. He thinks as I would. Why should he not? But what has the wizard found and how does Faramir not know it?’

He relaxed the hand that had clenched and broken the pencil. He pulled another. He drew a few more designs for banners and found his whole body relaxed. I should draw…’ A bell rang the hour. ‘Never enough time.’ He straightened the parchments and put the pencils into their box, then left for the Great Hall and the Council.

Húrin met him at the entrance. “They await you. The wine flowed freely. I am not sure how much sense many of them will make. Especially Lord Hundor.”

“The man’s seat is wasted. He slept the morning session away.”

“I saw. As did others. There is naught that can be done though. He has a fiefdom, little though it is, and he is due a seat.”

“Is his son any better?”

“The son serves at Nardol. I have heard naught either good or bad about him.”

“Let us go in then and get this over with.”

Another two hours of agony followed. At last, Denethor thanked them all. They dispersed slowly.

“We have not discussed the road leading from Pelargir, my Lord Steward,” Lord Tarcil queried. “It is close to Linhir and has need of refurbishment.”

“Linhir is destroyed and will take some time to rebuild. The road from Minas Tirith to Pelargir is in good repair. The road from Linhir to Pelargir will be discussed once the Enemy ceases his attacks. I cannot spend coin nor release men to work on a road that is not needed at present.”

“I would have the Council discuss it, at least!”

“I have put it on the agenda for Tuilérë’s Council meeting.”

Lord Tarcil replied testily, “It would seem to me that a good road is much needed to help bring supplies and such for the repair of the city.”

“I believe Prince Imrahil addresses the problem of repairing Linhir. Mayhap you would like to discuss this with him. He regretted not being able to attend today’s meeting but thought it more important to return to Linhir himself. To ascertain Linhir’s needs. I will not o’erstep his authority. I am surprised that you would bring this to me.”

The lord blushed. “I agree with the Prince, of course. I will speak with him.”

“Good. Then it is settled. I will see you on Tuilérë.”

As he watched the lord bow and leave, he snickered. “Little upstart. I would love to see what Imrahil says to him when he speaks of the road. All, of course, fully governed by his great concern for Linhir. Sot! He cares because Linhir is across the Serni from his own fiefdom and he would love to have the road developed to his city. A great opportunity, he thinks, to steer goods and trade from Linhir.” He turned in disgust and left the Great Hall.

Húrin followed behind. “My Lord Steward, it is possible that Linhir will not be functioning for some time. Mayhap the road could be bettered between Pelargir and Tarcil’s city?”

“I will not let the greed of one of my people harm another’s whose city has been decimated. Linhir suffers already; why should it lose the trade it now enjoys? Nay. I will not refurbish Tarcil’s road.”

“Very well. I have a list of the trebuchets. The crews have been picked. Would you like to go over that listing?”

“Nay. I am tired and have… As a matter of fact, I have some new banners that I would like made and flown.” They walked into his study.

Húrin smiled as he looked at the pile. “Boromir and Faramir. Hmmm. Do you think we should hang one on either side of the Great Hall?”

Denethor laughed aloud. “My hand wandered. But these others. Take these to the banner makers and have them made. I want new ones sent to all the garrisons, the larger ones. I have noticed some of our banners are bedraggled. I want the Enemy to know we care even about such little things. It should send a message.”

Húrin nodded. “I believe it will. What else would you have of me?”

“Naught. Spend some time with your family. I have some things I must attend.”

“Will you join my family for the daymeal?”

“Nay, but thank you. Give my regards to Beldis. Tell her I will sit at her table again soon.”

“Thank you, my Lord. She will be most pleased.”

He watched as Húrin left him, then pulled out his cloak from the cupboard, wrapped it around him, and left for the Tower room.

~*~

A/N on hope: 1) "What hope have we?" said Faramir. "It is long since we had any hope. The sword of Elendil, if it returns indeed, may rekindle it, but I do not think that it will do more than put off the evil day, unless other help unlooked- for also comes, from elves or men. For the Enemy increases and we decrease. We are a failing people, a springless autumn." (The Window on the West).
2) "It is a hard doom and a hopeless errand, Frodo son of Drogo. I do not hope to see you again on any other day under this Sun. But you shall go now with my blessing upon you, and upon all your people." (The Forbidden Pool).



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Part 6

Tuilérë came and went. The Council met again and was as fractious as ever. After listening for two days, Denethor's patience wore out. He summarily dismissed them. He felt their anger, their bitterness, but naught that he said could pull their clenched fingers from their heavy purse strings. Men had been sent, but so many less than promised. If he could have taken each member of the Council to the Tower room and shown them what he saw, then, they would blanch in fear, swoon in terror, and not gainsay him the pittance that he asked from them.

The winter passes were still closed to Rohan, but spring already graced fair Ithilien with its beauty. Denethor stood by the Tower window and looked eastward, remembering his love for that land, how Amdir and he had oft rode there just for a brief moment's respite. But respite was no longer allowed him. He was consigned to the Tower for hours upon end, ever watching, for the Enemy moved its forces about, unrelenting, unaware that the fairest season of all was upon them. His chin shook for a moment, before he hardened himself. No time for weeping, nor for comfort, nor for love. He had troops to move again. Ever countering the Enemy's movements, but never an offense.

He knew Boromir chafed at his tactics. The boy wanted to lead a party to Minas Morgul's door and challenge the black things that lived there. As if he were Eärnur! If he could have, he would have taken his oldest and shaken him, tried to imbue some of Faramir's sense into him! As it was, Boromir stayed as he was bid, in Osgiliath, and prevented the Enemy from making any headway further into Gondor.

Boromir's last missive said he would return at Loëndë, but Denethor knew he must send for his heir shortly. The movement he saw in the globe could not be disputed. The Enemy was readying itself to once again attack Gondor. Great forces from Rhûn labored towards the Black Gate. Others from Harondor and South Harad were marching steadily northward. Men from Near Harad and Umbar even strode forward with beasts of all kinds, including the great Mûmakil.

Yes, it was time Boromir came home and they discussed how to destroy the bridge.

Only a fortnight later, Boromir stood before him, hand held carelessly on the pommel of his sword, legs spread in easy stance, face bedecked with a wide smile. "So you can hardly rule the land without me," he laughed.

Tears stung the Steward's eyes at the easy grace of his firstborn. The frustration that Denethor had noted in late winter had left him: Boromir's eyes were bright, his face sun-darkened from long hours on patrol, his form a little more sculpted. He did so revel in combat. 'Well,' Denethor thought sadly, 'he will have more than enough of it soon.' He motioned for him to sit after they embraced. "Brandy?"

"Nay, my tastes have changed this last year. Ale would be fine. It is all the men have and I would hate to lose my fondness for the drink."

Denethor nodded and rang. Belegorn entered and greeted Boromir warmly. "It is good to see you, Captain. How fares Osgiliath?"

"As well as can be expected. I am sure you have listened as father read my reports?"

"I have. A grave time indeed for all of Gondor."

"Father," his son turned to him, "how fare the northern reaches? Have the attacks subsided at all? I fear for the men I left there."

"The attacks have been sporadic, but I have watched closely and sent warnings to them, when I was able. Your men fare well, though I am sure they miss you." His voice dropped as he turned away, "Who would not?"

"Sorry, Father?"

"Naught. Naught at all. I have been tempted to show you something, my son, but I think the time is not quite right yet. Mayhap after autumn, when the Enemy usually rests. Yes, I think I will show It to you then. You will need to… Well, that will be for then." He sat across from Boromir. "Now, the Enemy is calling more and more Southrons, Easterlings, and others to him. I expect an attack within the month. I know we are better prepared than we were this winter; however, I am concerned with Osgiliath. The attack on the forge was unprecedented. Does that mean he will attack West Osgiliath again? Yes, I believe so. Therefore, I think you should strengthen your forces in East Osgiliath. I would hate to lose that half of the city again. Though abandoned, it is strategic."

Boromir nodded as he drank his ale. Belegorn stood behind him. "I agree, Father. It is easier to defend walls than to defend forests and fields such as Ithilien has. I would very much rue the day we lost East Osgiliath."

"Sad as I am to consider it, Boromir, with the forces I see pouring into Mordor every day, I deem it a distinct possibility. Therefore, we must consider the bridge over the Anduin. If the east is taken, we cannot let them swarm across the bridge and take West Osgiliath. If we lose that part of the city, we face extreme danger."

"I will further fortify the eastern city. It will mean lessening those forces on the west and at the Causeway, but it must be. How fares Cair Andros? Did you receive enough men to swell its ranks?"

"I did not. I have sent another two companies, but I had to send one to Amon Dîn and another two to Pelargir. That, unfortunately, is the extent of the men the lords of Gondor have deemed to send to us. May they rot in Mordor!"

"Father," Boromir smiled, "I do not think it quite fitting to send our allies to Mordor!"

Belegorn chuckled. "Perhaps they should be fitted with gear and sent into battle themselves."

Denethor grimaced. "What galls me the most, I think, is that most of these men had been soldiers in Gondor's service. They know what needs must be done. Yet, they seem to have forgotten what it is like when your enemy's forces outnumber your own."

"I think Belegorn's idea deserves some thought. Have them go into battle again, Father, let them see what they are missing." Boromir's smile broadened. "They would send more men to us within mere moments of the first attack they faced – and run as quickly back to their own lands as possible." Belegorn joined him in laughter.

Denethor drank his brandy quickly. "They would never assent to such a thing. And I truly would not send them. Why lesson the chances for victory with that sorry lot? Or put our own brave warriors at further risk?"

"Indeed. I wonder if any have kept to their sword practice?"

"I think not. At least none do whilst they are in Minas Tirith for the Council meetings. Mostly, I see them gallivanting between each other's houses. Most can barely walk home, so great have they imbibed. Mayhap I should place a ban on drinking whilst the Council meets?" Denethor's brow furrowed. "Then Lord Hundor would have less of an excuse to sleep through the meetings. Enough of that. We still must discuss the bridge. It will have to come down, if the Enemy regains East Osgiliath."

"I agree."

"There are a few engineers who are well versed in bridge construction. Belegorn, would you have Húrin join us? He will remember their names."

Denethor's aide nodded and left them.

"Have your scouts actually seen the enemy near East Osgiliath, Father?"

"Not yet. But their numbers increase daily. Even with all our preparations, East Osgiliath would be easy for them to retake, much as it pains me to say so. When it falls, Boromir, we must destroy the bridge."

"You built it yourself, did you not?"

"I did. It will be hard to see it fall, yet it never had the grace nor the beauty that the original bridge had. I only rebuilt a skeleton of that one, a sadly lacking reproduction. I suppose, in my heart, I always knew it would be destroyed."

"Father. Our men are strong and brave. Unless an unimaginable force attacks, I can hold East Osgiliath, I am sure."

"I would hope it would be as you say, Boromir, but the enemy has siege machines of immense size. I have never seen the like of these. One Mûmak itself could easily obliterate a whole company of even the bravest knights."

Boromir lowered his head and looked at his hands. "Then, the bridge will be destroyed." He looked up again with grim determination, "But not until the very last moment. When I feel no hope of saving it. Not before, Father, I promise."

"Do not cut the time so short that you endanger your own life, my son. That I could not endure."

Chuckling warmly, Boromir stood and grasped his father, hugging him tightly. "You have always known, or at least felt with your keen foresight, Father, that I jeopardize my life daily. As does Faramir. We have been blessed so far. I will continue to hope that someone is watching over us, over you."

"Come. I have had nuncheon set out for us. My servants will be distressed if we do not avail ourselves of at least something. Húrin should be joining us shortly. The man has not had much rest as of late; the list…"

"The blasted list," Boromir laughed. "I think it should be tattooed on every arm of the lords of your Council."

Denethor burst into laughter. "Indeed. It would serve them right!"

Húrin entered a few moments later, sitting at Denethor's motion. "An errand-rider brings a missive from Imrahil." He handed the parchment to Denethor.

Sighing, Denethor put down his napkin and opened it. "Just as I suspected." He looked up. "Our little outpost at the mouth of the Anduin has been destroyed. There is no sign of the men stationed there; neither Imrahil's nor our men."

Silence greeted this announcement. At last, Boromir spoke. "I am glad Elphir had taken another post. Though the men lost were good men, it would be difficult for my uncle to lose his firstborn."

"Indeed. Well, we will abandon it for the nonce. Linhir and Pelargir will have to heighten their patrols. I will ask Imrahil to send more men to Linhir, to refortify that city."

"Has it been completely rebuilt?"

"It has. And the outwalls refortified. It should hold should another attack come. Húrin, I need the names of at least two bridge engineers."

"Elatan is the best we have. He is well versed in all of the disciplines. Meneldil is another. Both are well known for their abilities. Shall I send for them?"

"I remember Elatan. I believe he helped with the building of the bridge in Osgiliath."

"You remember rightly, cousin. Elatan was young then, as were you, and just newly finished with his apprenticeship. Meneldil is younger. He has only recently become an engineer, but Elatan speaks well of him."

"Send for Elatan, Belegorn. I would speak with him as soon as possible. Have him bring the schematic of the bridge, if it was saved."

His aide nodded and complied.

"Nay," Denethor put up a hand to stay Húrin's exit. "Please, share a drink with Boromir and I. You have not stopped to rest since Tuilérë. I expect you have not seen Beldis in weeks?"

Húrin smiled. "I have been sequestered with many of the guilds. The list is long."

"Morgoth take that blasted list," Denethor fumed. "It seems under every stone lies a list!"

Boromir laughed. "I have never seen anyone with so many, Father. It would do you well to burn them all and start anew."

Denethor could not smile; the list truly haunted him. It seemed not one item had been crossed off it in months. "The Rammas has been raised by the Causeway Forts. I have ordered it raised by Harlond next."

Both Húrin and Boromir noted the strain in Denethor's voice. "Father, might we talk, for a moment, of spring? It is almost past and I doubt if you have walked Mother's garden of late." He watched in sadness as Denethor shivered. "Please, Father. Let Húrin speak with Elatan about the bridge. He knows what must be done. You and I can walk for a time. I would speak with you."

The Steward nodded; he apologized to Húrin and left with Boromir. In a matter of moments, they were opening the doors to Finduilas' garden. Both men stopped and smelt the rich fragrance of the flowers of Dol Amroth. "It is well we come here. It has been too long, Boromir. I would that Faramir were with us."

"As do I. He carries a heavy weight. His garrison has not the amenities that even Osgiliath has. Will you send for him soon? Might he take leave for a while? Come home and spend time with you and I? Mayhap at Loëndë?"

"Yes. I will so order it. We will quietly remember your mother here in her garden."

~*~

A/N – Another little thing that bothered me – the word engineer. But I looked it up and its origins stem from around 1350. Also, the term is used in the Napoleonic era, so I'm pretty comfortable with using it here. [Origin: 1350–1400; engine + -eer; r. ME engin(e)our < AF engineor OF engigneor < ML ingeniātor, equiv. to ingeniā(re) to design, devise (v. deriv. of ingenium; see engine) + L -tor -tor ] http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/engineer 2) Elatan - man of the stars (Quenya). 3) Denethor's little 'list' quote was stolen and changed from Aristophanes… 'under every stone lurks a politician.' Aristophanes, Thesmophoriazusae, 410 B.C. http://www.quotationspage.com/quotes/Aristophanes, but the 'true origin' of dratted lists comes from dear Linaewen, who has one that haunts her by day and by night! 4) [Origin: 1695–1705; < NL schématicus < Gk schématikós. See scheme, -ic] Wanted to use blueprint, but that is a modern printing method... so we'll have to endure schematic instead....

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Part 7.

Elatan brought copious maps and rolled parchments along with another engineer, Melendil. "Warden Húrin told me exactly what you need, my Lord Steward. What would you have us do? Reinforce it? It will take a few months."

Denethor looked at the man; sadness filled his eyes. Obviously, Elatan was in love with his work. It would not be pleasant to tell him what they planned.

Boromir, just returned for his weekly meeting with Denethor, stood up, motioning the engineer forward. "Bring the parchments here, Elatan." He smiled as Meneldil followed the other engineer, as a pup follows its master. The Steward's son helped the two engineers roll the schematics out on Denethor's dining table. "Here, Father. I think this is the most detailed one."

Denethor stepped closer. "Ah! I remember this one well. I helped make it." He ran his hand lovingly over the drawing. He noted the engineer's smile of approval. There was no need to draw this moment out. "We are going to destroy the bridge, Elatan. I need to know the best way to do it."

Elatan sputtered, "But, my Lord. It is good and strong. It will endure another fifty years at least."

"It will endure until we demolish it. I will not discuss why it will be destroyed, but it will be. Boromir will captain the demolition company." He moved his hand over the schematic and pointed. "I think this is the best place to weaken the struts. What think you, Elatan?"

The engineer took a deep breath and leaned forward. "The traditional way to destroy a bridge is to burn it. That is the safest way."

"There will be men on the bridge until the last moment. We cannot burn it."

"If we cannot burn it, we can cut through the struts, as you say; that will weaken it enough to cause it to fall."

"I cannot have too many struts weakened else I will lose my own men."

Meneldil looked at his teacher. "Elatan, if we cut through these two struts…" he pointed to the parchment, "to about two inches from the end here, it would weaken the whole structure enough. Only a few blows to each one would severe the connection and the bridge would fall."

"Yes, Meneldil," Denethor looked at the younger engineer with appreciation. "Those two struts are key. If the old bridge still stood, it would take at least twelve hours to heat the stones sufficient to make them weaken and collapse."

"Nevertheless, this is a well-made bridge, my Lord," Elatan said quietly. "You commissioned it?"

"I did. A very long time ago. I even helped build it. We made it strong for it had to carry men and supplies for the old garrison at East Osgiliath."

"Father," Boromir pointed. "That only takes care of the eastern end of the bridge. What about the western?"

"I do not think we need destroy both."

"As an added precaution, I think we must. The old Tower of the Stone in the middle of the Anduin will give our men a place to defend themselves once the eastern end is brought down. When the western end is close to being smashed, they can cross over it and escape. I think it wise to demolish both."

"Yes," Elatan sighed. "I agree with Boromir, my Lord. I understand, to a degree, what it is that is needed. You must destroy both ends. I will draw up an enlarged schematic of each and mark where the struts are that need to be cut. However, I would volunteer to oversee the duty, if I might? I hesitate to leave it to one who might cut the struts too deeply in the preparatory phase and endanger the lives of the warriors of Gondor."

"And I will join him," Meneldil stepped forward. "Elatan can supervise the work force on the eastern bridge, whilst I supervise the men on the western."

Boromir looked up in surprise. "I cannot allow it. Neither of you have been in battle before."

Elatan drew himself up and stared at Denethor. "We will not run nor cower in fear, I assure you, my Lord Steward."

"I accept your offer. Boromir, when you return to Osgiliath, prepare two details; one for each part of the bridge. We will begin demolition work on the first day of Lothron. That gives you a little more than a month to ensure that Henneth-Annûn and Henneth-Amrûn are well enough stocked. I will tell Faramir that Henneth-Annûn will receive its supplies from Cair Andros once the bridge is down. I am not sure where we can ship supplies for Henneth-Amrûn."

"Downstream to the river Poros, Father, and then north. It should not be too difficult. There is more enemy traffic in Northern Ithilien than Southern. With the noise the Haradric caravans make as they pass, they are easily avoided."

"Well enough. It will be done. We will begin preparations the day after tomorrow. I will ask Húrin to attend us." He turned towards the engineers. "Please hold these until three days hence. Then bring them here at the sixth hour. And make preparations to join Boromir in Osgiliath on the first of Lothron."

Elatan gave the Steward a sad look; then both engineers nodded and left.

"Father, we still have not enough warriors. Some outposts must be closed. Some men must leave their farms and serve in the army."

"And which outposts would you close, Boromir? Which lord will you tell, 'We deem your lands unworthy of Gondor's protection?' What women and children will you tell, 'We deem your lives not worthy?' I think not."

"Father, we must. The people will understand. The fields of Anórien can be tended with fewer men. The Rohirrim and our garrison at Amon Dîn can send sorties out, now and again, to make sure the farmers live. Conscribe the remaining men into our army. Bring the women and children to Minas Tirith. It will be safer for them anyhow. The same can be done in Lossarnach. We cannot do without more men at Osgiliath, Amon Dîn, and Pelargir. Not with the enemy massing as it is."

Denethor stood up and walked to his window. The Pelennor stretched out before him, as it always did, faithful and pure and green. His heart stopped for a moment as the memory of a decimated field filled his vision. He shook it away. "I will do as you ask. I cannot close any of the beacon hills. Though we rarely use Calenhad and Erelas, if war comes, I must have them manned and ready. We will close the garrison at the Mering Stream and hope that Rohan, if it deems a threat imminent, will call for the lighting of Amon Anwar. I will send an order to that outpost to acquiesce to Rohan's demands, if that should come to pass."

Boromir handed Denethor a brandy. His heart twisted as he saw mixed emotions flit across his father's face. He knew this was a most difficult task. It almost seemed a defeat to close them. He quickly downed his own glass and refilled it. "There are the southern beacons."

"Yes. Amon Baran would be the most logical, in that range, to close. Green Oromet would be another."

"The Causeway Fort could be left unmanned."

"Nay. I will not do that. Boromir," he turned and looked at his son in frustration. "We count only ten handfuls of men with the closing of these beacons. Is this wise?"

"Then tell the lords at the Council meeting that we must have more men."

"We must. I am tired, Boromir. Let us continue this after the daymeal. Would you share it with me?"

"You need not ask. Your food is much better than the buttery's, I must say. Is Faramir coming?"

Denethor smiled. "That he is. He wrote a fortnight ago, asking for permission to attend. He should be here in time for our meal. I think it is not the Council meeting that he is anxious for; he is anxious to see you again."

Boromir laughed. "And I him. I swear his is growing taller, though how that is possible, I know not."

"Mayhap it is the waters of the falls of Ithilien. Some have said they are magic."

"Magic or no, if he keeps growing he will be taller than me, and that I cannot allow." Boromir emphasized 'that' and laughed.

"Go then and leave me to some peace. When the two of you start chattering, I can barely think. I am too old."

"Nay, Father, it is not that. You are too used to the quiet. You should leave the Tower now and again and mingle." He raised his eyebrows on the word mingle and laughed again.

Denethor stood still; his skin prickled. "What know you of the Tower?"

His son looked at him in surprise. "What about the Tower, Father? I meant your rooms here in the Tower. Is there something else? Should I know of something else?” Denethor shook his head, more to clear it than respond, but Boromir accepted it as a nay. "Well then, I will see you at the daymeal. Rest some, Father. You are beginning to look bedraggled again." He smiled as he hugged Denethor, then walked quietly out the door.

The Steward walked to the settle and dropped into it, weary beyond thought. 'I almost gave It away, and for naught. I must go there, though, too long have I been away.' But his legs felt like lead and his head suddenly ached. He felt tears prickling his eyes. "Boromir," he whispered, "my son."

Beregond stepped into the room. "My Lord, will you be dining here tonight?"

"Yes. Boromir and Faramir will join me. Send a missive to Húrin. I would have him with us, too."

"Then I will order pheasant? It is Boromir's favorite, when he is in the City."

"Yes," Denethor smiled. "Pheasant and wild rice with some oranges from Harad, if Cook has any. And Chocolate Pecan pie for Faramir."

Beregond grinned. "I will tell the kitchen."

Denethor did not hear him leave. He was fast asleep.

A/N – 1) I decided when writing TA 2990 that there could have been a southern 'Henneth-Annûn' and I named it Henneth-Amrûn for those of you who don't quite remember that chapter. *giggles* 2) The southern beacon hills are never named, but they are there. I've 'created' the names for two of them. ROTK: Bk 5, Ch 1: Minas Tirith. 3) Pie recipe. Haven't tried it, but for some reason, the Muse wanted Chocolate Pecan Pie for Faramir! http://www.cooks.com/rec/view/0,1837,155177-250201,00.html 4) Demolition of strategically important infrastructure: As late as the sixteenth century, a raiding party that wanted to destroy a bridge, a dam, or a mill usually had to do so by means of fire or hard manual labor. For example, in January 1544 a French force raided the strategically important Po Bridge at Carignano, in the hope of destroying it and crippling the Imperialist transport network in the area. The raiders were provided with certain 'artifices of fire', which they were to attach to the bridge's posts. These gunpowder-based fireworks were supposed to ignite the bridge's posts and burn them down to the waterline. The raiders managed to surprise the guards and take the bridge. However, when the pioneers attached the fireworks to the bridge and lit them, the fireworks made a lot of noise and smoke but no apparent damage. Luckily, the French commanders, who were skeptical about these ingenious inventions, also brought with them several dozen workmen supplied with axes, hatchets and saws. Even so it took them more than four hours to accomplish the mission, and it was daylight by the time the bridge was broken. http://www.boydell.co.uk/specialopsextr.htm 5) Demolition – used around the mid 1500’s – that make sit old enough for my use. http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/demolition 6) In that siege and burning the Tower of the Stone of Osgiliath was destroyed, and the palantír was lost in the waters. LOTR; Appendix A: (iv) Gondor and the Heirs of Anárion. 7) The Tower of Stone - Between the two parts of the city was a great stone bridge with towers and houses upon it, and there were a number of lesser bridges as well. On the river banks were landings for the ships that carried people and trade goods up and down the Anduin from Wilderland in the north to the Bay of Belfalas in the south. http://www.tuckborough.net/towns.html#Osgiliath


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8.


Denethor stood in his study and watched as the two engineers poured over the schematics for the last time. They would leave within the hour, headed towards Osgiliath and their appointment with Boromir. His jaw clenched. He had spent the last month daily looking into the Palantir from soon after the daymeal ended until Anor began to lighten the eastern sky. He had seen much; the Enemy would be upon them soon. He turned as Elatan’s voice rose in frustration.

“But you cannot cut here. It will weaken the bridge intolerably and the men, and you, will be lost.”

“Nay. Look at this strut here. It bears a substantial part of the load. Once it is cut, the bridge will collapse upon itself. It should be a sight. I am glad I am partaking in this endeavor. I have never seen a bridge this size destroyed.”

The obvious delight in the younger engineer’s voice flamed the anger in the elder’s.

Denethor stepped closer. “How many bridges have you built, Meneldil?”

The younger blushed. “None.”

Denethor turned to Elatan. “You cannot expect him to mourn that which he does not know.”

The engineer bowed low. “Thank you, my Lord Steward. I will endeavor to rectify that omission when we return to Minas Tirith.”

“Good. Your preparations are complete; your plans superior; your skills proved. Boromir awaits you; the detail has been formed. I want the bridge ready by the middle of Nórui, before Yáviérë at the utmost last.”

“It will be done, my Lord Steward.” Elatan bowed as Meneldil rolled up the parchments. The younger engineer bowed and followed Elatan from the room.

Húrin sighed. “I have always loved this month. The iris’ in bloom, the fields green with promise; it is good to be alive.”

Denethor’s eyes misted. “Indeed,” he whispered, thoughts of his sons overwhelming him. “How go the fields? Were the farmers in Anórien able to plant their crops?”

“The fields of the Pelennor are planted and growing strong. The fall crop will be good. I had to send soldiers from Amon Din to help with the spring planting, but all is well and growing.”

“Good.” He heaved a sigh. “Do you know that it will be a little over a year since Boromir was betrothed to Miriel?”

“What brings that to mind, cousin?”

Húrin’s tone was worried and Denethor noted it. “Do not fear for me, cousin,” he smiled, “I only wish that now we were preparing for a wedding instead of a battle. A happy occasion would be most welcome.”

“I oft wonder, if things had been different, if they would have been happy.”

“Nay. Well, she may have been, but Boromir would not. It was a miserable match from the start. I erred dreadfully.”

“You wished another from Dol Amroth would fill the void. Finduilas,” Húrin spoke softly, “was a grace, a blessing. None live who could take her place.”

Denethor’s shoulders stiffened. “You think that is why I…” He paused to consider. “I suppose, in part, it was. I doubt Boromir remembers the date.”

~*~

Boromir remembered naught but that the Osgiliath that he had wrested from the Enemy and saved was now going to be lost again. Frustration tore through him, ravaged his heart, and unraveled his thoughts. He rode across the bridge with a small contingent of men, bent on a last reconnoiter of the area leading into the eastern city. The Harad Road was still viable, the stones laid during an age well before his father’s fathers. He stopped the men with a gesture and dismounted. Looking to his left, towards Henneth-Annûn, he weighed whether or no he should visit his brother. ‘Nay, too much to be done. Faramir will return to the City for Yáviérë; I will see him then.’ He turned towards his right and rued the fact that Henneth-Amrûn had been abandoned. But there had been no further need for men there. The small company would be better utilized in the north. It had taken Boromir all of two days to convince his father to abandon the site. Faramir had agreed with him, which made it even more difficult. Boromir cursed quietly. The rift was growing larger; he must do something to remind the two he loved above all else that they loved each other.

Beregond dismounted. “My Lord, would you have us camp here?”

“Nay. I have an appointment this afternoon. The Steward is sending engineers to look at the bridge. We must return by nuncheon.” He looked fondly at his aide. “You think me brave enough to spend the night here at the Crossroads?”

“One would wonder,” Beregond smiled, “if ‘twere bravery or something else.”

Boromir roared with laughter. “Folly. My favorite word. Yes, it would be folly to even sit here as we are doing, backs open to attack. Your wisdom is better than mine, for the nonce, Beregond. Let us mount and…”

The screams of the Orcs as they left the foothills and ran forward told Boromir the enemy was confident. Else they would have snuck up silently. ‘Yet again,’ his thoughts wandered as he quickly mounted, ‘they are stupid beasts and probably did not realize they had the benefit of surprise already. Though they began their charge too far away.’ He smiled as he drew his sword. A large number, larger than his company, but his men were on horses and on firm, flat ground. He did not pause, but called for the charge and led his men into the beasts.

A parry here a thrust there and, in little over an hour, the battle was won. Any Orcs who had turned and run as they realized they were defeated, were quickly killed. Boromir sat stiffly. “I am surprised. It is daylight. The enemy is more and more confounding me.”

“It is strange, my Lord. It is as if they were mindless; though outnumbered, they could see we were mounted and a goodly lot.”

Boromir shivered. “I oft wonder if they have brains in those skulls or if they are indeed, some kind of machine that attacks on order. I think that is the case, Beregond. I think they are like some child’s puppet on a string. The order is given to harry us and they obey, no matter the time of day, nor the odds. Father is correct; the Enemy prepares to attack. Let us back to the city and care for our wounded.”

~*~

Nuncheon came and went and yet the engineers did not come. Boromir sent a rider to the Causeway. He returned an hour later with a small group of engineers and laborers. “They walk slowly, Captain,” the rider smiled as he pulled up to Boromir. “I think the laborers are concerned, being so close to the Mountains of Shadow.”

“A good point. I will remember that as they go about their duties.” He strode towards Elatan, roughly embraced the engineer, then stepped back and smiled at Meneldil. “I am grateful that you both have come. My men will show you to your quarters and then we will meet. Have you taken nuncheon yet?”

“Nay. The men are afraid. It took a bit of convincing to make them walk at more than a crawl.” Boromir laughed loudly. “For Meneldil and myself, we look forward to this posting. It is a challenge.”

“It is that indeed, Elatan. I would hope it would be a challenge to rebuild it, once we destroy the Enemy completely.”

“You hope for that day?” Meneldil asked, incredulously.

“I do. Why? Think you that Gondor will fall? Are not her men doughty, her captains valiant, her Steward far-seeing? Gondor will be victorious.” He watched as the men about him, those standing as guard, those going to their posts or to the buttery or to their barracks at the end of their shifts, listened. He watched their shoulders straighten and their gait become purposeful. He nodded his head to those who stood close and relished the return of hope. All needed to be reminded that Gondor would prevail. He rejoiced in this opportunity to voice such thoughts to his men. After this morning’s attack, he knew they were shaken. Though Gondor had been victorious, the method of attack and during daylight caused uncertainty. “The bridge will be rebuilt,” he said as loudly as seemly, “so do not destroy it enough to make it difficult to rebuild.”

Elatan smiled. “Yes, my Lord Boromir. We have been advised so by the Steward.”

“Then go to your quarters, refresh yourselves, and return to my office. I will have nuncheon waiting.”

They turned and followed the escort. Beregond smiled. “Well said, Captain.” Boromir blushed.

~*~

“Father wants the bridge ready by Yáviérë, but I would ask for it sooner. The Enemy’s attacks are growing bolder and more frequent. We will begin tomorrow morning, if that is agreeable?”

“It is,” Elatan rolled the parchment closed. “Thank you for the meal and for the quarters. They are spacious.”

“We have not as many men here as once we did. There is ample room.”

“Ah. The Council did not apportion men?”

“What know you of the Council?”

“My brother is a member.”

“And he tells you the Council’s doings?”

Elatan blushed. “I am second to him. When he is not available, I take his place. He tells me so that I am prepared if I have to represent him.”

“Forgive me.”

“Nay. You are right to question, my Lord Boromir. But I must tell you, I am most distressed by their refusal. Can you tell me why?”

“Why they refuse to send men? Some say it is fear for their own lands, and I would be inclined to think such, if I had not attended as many meetings as I have. I believe the real reason is because they lack foresight. They think Gondor will stand forever, without their help. They have other concerns on their minds; planting their fields, tending their orchards, building their tombs, keeping as much coin in their own hands as possible.”

“Are the treasuries of Gondor empty, my lord?”

“Nay. Not yet. The years of peace under my great, great-grandfather helped keep the coffers filled. My great-grandfather did naught to decrease them, but did naught to increase them. However, Ecthelion spent much in his defense of Gondor, especially for the Battle of Umbar. That venture took a pretty coin to fulfill. Since then, expenses have mounted. My father is a good steward and watches. He eeks good from every canath. Naught is wasted.”

“Well and good then. We will waste naught in the destruction of the bridge. It will be ready in a month, at most, I promise.”

“My thanks to you, Elatan. I expect the both of you to share my table each night, when our work is done.”

“Thank you, my lord,” Elatan said, eyebrows raised in surprise and delight. “Thank you. We will away now and look at the bridge, if that is agreeable?”

“I will take you myself.”

They left the captain’s rooms and walked slowly toward the bridge. After only a few paces, Elatan stopped and gasped. “It is beautiful.”

“You have never seen the Tower of Stone before?”

“Nay. I have only heard of it and seen drawings. Nothing could have prepared me for this. The old bridge must have been magnificent to hold such a large number of edifices. I am humbled.” The engineer’s eyes were wet.

“It is a magnificent sight,” Boromir said as he continued them on their path. “I forget, now and again, to see the beauty of it, even in its present state. Let us spend today perusing the buildings and the planetarium. We can discuss its destruction tomorrow.”

Elatan merely nodded in agreement, overcome by emotion. Boromir thought how very much he liked this man. And respected him.

They walked across the bridge and to the midsection and there beheld the burnt out Tower of the Dome. Elatan walked forward and touched a piece of the masonry that still stood. His eyes misted again as he bent his head in solemn contemplation. Finally, he turned towards Boromir. “This was built by our forefathers, by the Men of Númenor. I have thought there was hope that once again such buildings could flourish, but now, I see I am mistaken. None can compete with these engineers, these masons. It is a wonder, now lost.” The man broke down and wept.

~*~

A/N – 1) “On June 20, 3018, Sauron sent the Nazgul forth from Mordor. They led an attack on Osgiliath, where Gondor had an outpost to defend against the crossing of the Anduin. Sauron's purpose was two-fold: He wanted to test Gondor's defenses and he wanted to provide cover for the Nazgul's real mission, which was to seek the Shire and the Ring.” http://www.tuckborough.net/sauron.html 2) Tharni is a Westron word. It is an older form of tharantīn, which means "quarter"… In Gondor, it was a silver coin (Sindarin canath), worth one fourth of a Kastar, or Mirian. The Peoples of Middle-earth, The Appendix on Languages, page 48. http://tolkiengateway.net/wiki/Tharni. Since I have the Steward’s family and their men speaking mostly Sindarin, I will go with the word canath for this. 3) The chief city of this southern realm was Osgiliath, through the midst of which the Great River flowed; and the Númenóreans built there a great bridge, upon which there were towers and houses of stone wonderful to behold.... The Silmarillion, Of the Rings of Power and the Third Age 1437 III, during the Kin-strife: At last [Eldacar] was besieged in Osgiliath, and held it long, until hunger and the greater forces of the rebels drove him out, leaving the city in flames. In that siege and burning the Tower of the Dome of Osgiliath was destroyed, and the palantír was lost in the waters. The Return of the King, LoTR Appendix A, Annals of the Kings and Rulers: Gondor and the Heirs of Anárion From HASA’s research library… http://www.henneth-annun.net/resources/places_view.cfm?PLID=383

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9.


The bridge work was completed, as Elatan promised, by the beginning of Nórui. Denethor came to Osgiliath to inspect the work and to visit his sons. Faramir had been invited to spend two days with his father and brother. The garrison was in an uproar for a week before the arrival of the Steward. Boromir was bent on having the outpost in spit and polish shape. He worked the men mercilessly, but none complained. The last visit from the Steward had been sixteen years prior. Some of the men stationed at the garrison had not even been born.

As Denethor rode into the compound, all stood in readiness, the men in their dress uniforms, the horses with shining armor, the area swept. Boromir called the men to attention and watched as his father dismounted. Denethor returned his Captain-General’s salute, then walked in front of the columns of men, giving a quick but thorough inspection. When the Steward was finished, Boromir dismissed them.

After the daymeal, the three men of the House of Húrin sat in comfortable silence. The bridge was ready, Gondor was ready, and her people would be protected. At least, that is what the three hoped. At last, Faramir cleared his throat. Denethor smiled. “What would you say?”

“That the people need to know that we strive only for their good. That they must partake of this battle. That it is not our battle alone, but the whole of Gondor’s. Nay! The whole of Middle-earth’s. Father. Have an assemblage in the Citadel. Invite the people there. Not just the lords and the members of the Council, but the little people. Bring them before you and tell them of your efforts, let them see what you have done; challenge them to become part of this. If Gondor falls, they fall. They must see this. They are not foolish children, Father. They are of the blood of Númenor. They will understand and become part of this fight. We cannot win without them. For all our warriors, if the people do not stand behind us, protect their own lands, farm the land and give the harvest to those in need and to the army, and raise their sons and daughters with the conviction that we must all work together to save our land…” He stopped and looked at his father with concern. “Forgive me, Father. The battle is not yours alone. Please, help our people see that. Challenge them to be the best of the blood.”

“A pretty speech. Would you give it yourself to this assemblage?”

“Father!” Boromir stood in anger. “Speak not in jest nor mockery. What Faramir says is right. You have striven your whole life to save our people and our land. But the battle is not yours alone. Nor Faramir’s. Nor mine.”

“Have you both been speaking to the wizard? Is this his counsel? Do I hand over leadership to farmers and herdsmen? Or perhaps some usurper? Is that what you wish?”

Faramir put his hand on Boromir’s arm and gently pushed him to sit once again. Then he faced the Steward. “I have spoken with the wizard on occasion. As did your father. He valued Mithrandir’s wisdom.” He knelt in front of Denethor. “I do not mimic his words. I have given thought to his counsel, as I have given thought to yours. Wise words from wise men whom I value. You look with scorn upon them, Father, and yet, they are of the blood of Westernesse. They have their own wisdom too. Not just of the affairs of crops and sheep, but of the land and what must be done to save it. Listen to them also, Father. Let them speak to you.”

“When they come before me, you have both seen it, they bring complaints, petty arguments against their neighbor. They have lost the purity of their blood.” Denethor’s voice was harsh and angry. “These are not the men of Númenor who now live within the borders of Gondor. They are lesser men. I will not curry their favor, nor beg their advice.”

“I would not presume to ask you to beg,” Faramir said stiffly.

“Good. Let us leave this discussion.”

“Father,” Faramir began diffidently, “Henneth-Annûn needs men.”

“As does Osgiliath, Amon Din, Pelargir, Cair Andros… I have not enough fingers nor toes to count all the garrisons that have such need.”

Boromir chuckled at the old expression. “I remember Naneth counting on Faramir’s fingers and toes. Never enough, she would say.”

“Doest thou speak truly?” Faramir looked at his brother in surprise. “What wast it that she counted?”

“Thy qualities,” Denethor mumbled, falling into Sindarin along with his sons.

Faramir pulled himself from the familiar use. “Then they were not as few as they are now.”

“Still as many,” Denethor’s eyes misted. “But sprinkled with a few…”

“I must be who I am,” his youngest stated quietly.

“Even if it means going against your father’s will?”

“What ill have I now done?”

“You have sent Rangers south. I closed Henneth-Amrûn. I wanted no more men wasted in the southern regions of Ithilien. You knew that.”

“There were reports of activity. I wished to ascertain their veracity.”

“From whom did these reports come?”

“Captain Gelmir sent them whilst Boromir was in Minas Tirith for the latest Council meeting.”

“Do I not send you reports?”

Faramir looked abashed. “You do, Father; however, I had received none from you in three days. I mistakenly believed… I should have waited.”

“What matters it if he sent men south, Father?”

Faramir stood and walked to the door. He opened it and leaned against the doorpost. “I lost a company,” he whispered.

“Haradrim?” Boromir asked.

“Nay. Variags. Men of Khand. Only two of my men survived to return. They ran them down with their horses. My men stood no chance.”

“I have lost more than one company,” Boromir protested, “as have you, Father.”

“Never before has Gondor ‘enjoyed’ the means that we now have of ferreting out information and passing it along. I have endeavored, my entire Stewardship, to hone the tools that keep you and your men alive. Spies, patrols, additional small garrisons, and other things; these are methods I have used. What sense is there in this network I have created if we do not use it? I know of the forces, but their path did not yet tell if they were going towards Osgiliath or Henneth-Annûn. You needlessly lost these men.”

Faramir turned back to the table. “I did.”

“And what did you learn from this?”

“To wait upon orders from you.”

“Nay!” Denethor slammed his open palm against the table. “To trust me!”

Boromir sat silent, waiting for the table to steady. “When was the last time you went on patrol, Father?”

Denethor looked upon his eldest in surprise. “How dare you?”

“I only asked a simple question.”

“Boromir,” Faramir strode forward, his tone placating.

“I only asked a simple question,” Boromir reiterated. “Mayhap Father has forgotten the need for quick action in the face of reported movements of the Enemy.”

“There was no attack, Boromir. Though I thank you for your defense of me. I could have waited. Father sends missives on a regular basis. I should have waited.”

“Mayhap Captain Gelmir is to blame?”

Denethor at last chuckled. “Only in your brother’s defense do you ever lay the blame on another, Boromir!”

“It is true, Boromir,” Faramir smiled. “However, I am at fault, not Gelmir. A good captain always questions all reports, even Father’s. I did not question.” He turned towards Denethor. “I did not agree with your decision to close the southern garrison.”

“Insubordination?”

“Nay, Father. Pure frustration!”

Denethor sat back and smiled. “I know frustration well, my son. It sleeps and wakes with me.”

“And now I add to your frustration.”

“Nay.” Denethor steepled his fingers. “The lack of men adds to it. In these times, every man lost is like losing a company. I cannot ask the lords for more. We are bleeding them dry.”

“Father, mayhap if we could improve our tactics in some way?”

Faramir clapped Boromir on the shoulder. “Yes! If we look to the ancient scrolls, mayhap there is strategy there that we have missed.”

“I think not. All my life I have studied them, as has Boromir. As have you. The battles have been closely scrutinized. There is naught there to learn.”

Faramir once again sat at the table. “Send riders north to Dale and Arnor, asking for help.”

Denethor chuckled dryly. “The men of Dale have their own troubles. I had thought to ask Beorn. He has been a friend to Gondor for as long as I can remember; yet, I fear Orcs and Goblins harass his people, too. They are great warriors, though. As for the people of Arnor… In your Adadhron’s time, northerners swelled our ranks. Since Thorongil left us…”

“He captained the attack against the Corsairs. Is there aught that might be learned from his other campaigns?”

Denethor stood, dismally failing to hide a scowl. “He spent his days at my Adar’s side, counseling him, along with Mithrandir.” The bitterness that spilled forth with his words surprised even him. “Though I am sure the great Thorongil… Never the mind.” He took a deep breath. “I can send you no more men, Faramir. Pull in some of your northern patrols. I will keep closer watch on the Morannon. Cair Andros can pick up some of the slack, though they are sore-pressed with the ambushes and sorties that spill from the Emyn Muil.” He sat back and downed his glass of ale. “When the attack against Osgiliath comes, I will have to recall you and your men. They will be needed here with Boromir. Come. It has been a long day and Faramir must leave by first light.”

His youngest nodded. “I will do what I can with the men on hand, Father. And I will wait for your reports.”

“Nay, Faramir,” Denethor’s tone was rife with frustration. “I trust you and your judgment. I ask only that you obey the orders I do give you. Beyond that, you must battle the Enemy as you see fit.”

“Will I see you before I leave?”

“Yes. Come here and break your fast with your brother and me.”

“Thank you, Father.”

Denethor stood and received his son’s embrace. Boromir rose to follow his brother. “Stay, Boromir. I would speak further with you.”

Boromir nodded, then embraced Faramir. “I will see you on the morrow, my brother.”

Faramir smiled, saluted, and left them. Boromir sat back down.

“When the bridge falls, make sure you are well off it. We are cutting the time short. Do not send heavy carts across it any more. The cuts are deep. It will fall easily, when the time comes.”

“I will make sure our men are off it.”

“And you also, Boromir. It would be a waste if you fell needlessly.”

Boromir looked at him in surprise, then laughed. “I pray to the Valar that my death will not be needless, Father.”

Denethor did not smile, for the remembrance of the sight in the Palantír still shook him. “When the attack comes,” he said at last, “be prepared for anything. Mûmakil, Uruks, fell beasts that even I know naught of. When it comes, it will be the beginning. Hold Osgiliath as long as you are able, then destroy the bridge and hold the western city. At that time, I will send as many men as I can. When you can no longer hold the city, fall back to the Causeway and the Rammas.”

“I understand, Father. I will hold it as long as I can, lose what I must, and finally retreat to Minas Tirith. It will come to that, will it not?”

“It will.” Denethor paused. “I have seen the White City encompassed about. Great hordes of men laying siege to her gates. We cannot win this, Boromir, not without some mighty weapon. Even if Rohan and the Elves join us, I cannot see victory. Remember the accounts of the Dagorlad?” At Boromir’s nod, he continued. “The Enemy was not stopped after those long years of battle, as evidenced by our situation today. He was only thwarted for a time. I do not think any alliance today would have the strength of those who battled Him there.”

“Father, there is always hope. Ever have you safeguarded Gondor. You will continue to do so, despite whatever He sends against us. And,” the eldest son of Denethor smiled wickedly, “you have Faramir and me.”

Denethor rose, as did Boromir. “Go now, proud child of mine, and get you some rest. I will fare you well in the morning.”

~*~

A/N – 1) Variags - Khand was the name of a land which lay to the south-east of Mordor and to the east of Near Harad. The Men of Khand were called Variags. Little is known about Khand or its people, but it appears to have been much like Rohan; the Variags were a people of riders. http://tolkiengateway.net/wiki/Khand; 2) Network - [Origin: 1550–60] I am always stunned when I find a word that I think is as modern as today and it turns out to be older than the hills!


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10.


Not thirty days later, Denethor noted the movement and his body reacted with violent shaking. ‘It is begun,’ he thought frantically. ‘The Enemy has at last deemed the time has come to descend upon us. I must get word to Boromir.’

It was early morning; dawn had not yet come. He flew down the steps. The guard at the bottom, startled by the clatter of the Steward’s sword against its sheath, drew his own sword. “My Lord?”

“Call Húrin, Hirgon, and Belegorn. Have them meet me in my study immediately.”

The guard saluted and ran. Denethor went through the entry into the Great Hall, motioned for the Chamberlain, and canceled the morning’s session. Then, he went to his study, and wrote furiously until Húrin and Belegorn appeared.

“Sit. Both of you.” He shuddered once again.

“The attack begins?” Húrin asked.

“It will. Probably within a fortnight, if not sooner. They spill from the Morgul Pass, the Southbound Road and the Harad Road. Not thousands, and for that I wonder, but hundreds from each way.”

“Mûmakil?”

“Nay. No word of any beasts. Hirgon!” He pulled the captain to him as the man entered the room. “I need missives sent immediately to Cair Andros, Henneth-Annûn, Amon Dîn, Pelargir, and Osgiliath. Have you the riders?”

“I have a dozen ready, my Lord.”

“Then we will only send two each to Pelargir, Amon Dîn and Osgiliath. Send three to Cair Andros and three to Henneth-Annûn. I want you to go, personally, to Henneth-Annûn. You know the road well and the hiding places of the Orcs. I need Captain Faramir to have this message immediately. They must pull out. Do you understand the urgency?”

“I do, my Lord. It will be done.”

“Here,” Denethor handed the missives to the captain. “Speed be with you.”

Hirgon saluted and left. Denethor sat, at last, at his desk. “I have no date, but never have I seen a three-headed arrow pointed in the direction of Osgiliath. They will attack the eastern city, of that I am sure.”

“Yet you warn the other garrisons?”

“I do. They will send men to Osgiliath. I hope they arrive in time.” He bit his lip. “I would be with my sons when the attack comes.”

“But you will not,” Húrin stated flatly.

“I will not.” He rummaged through the maps on his desk, finally opening one. “Here is where the enemy is now.” Both men stood and moved to the front of the desk. “Here is where the Easterlings and Variags are now; here is where the men of Harad and Khand are; and here is where the Orcs are.”

“So close,” Belegorn’s intake of breath echoed through the room.

“Yes. But still, they are a fair number and it will take them time to reach Osgiliath. The men from Henneth-Annûn and Cair Andros can be there in days. Morgoth’s breath, I wish I had noted them earlier, but they were hidden along the roads.”

“Your spies did well, Denethor. Do not chide yourself. We have time.”

“I think so, Húrin. Now, both of you go and rest. Once the enemy gets closer to the city, I want you here at my side.”

“Rest yourself, my Lord. I note you did not sleep this night. You will be sorely needed.” Belegorn saluted. “I will have my replacement at your door in a moment.”

Denethor nodded as the guard left. “Húrin, it has begun. Are we ready? Do I order the evacuation?”

“Not yet, my Lord. Mayhap their target is only Osgiliath, for the nonce.”

“Then I will wait. I will sleep on the settle in the back room. I have not slept for two days.” He began to mumble, “I had thought I saw something, but foolishly, I did not act. I hope I have not killed my sons.”

“Boromir is invincible; he will guard Faramir’s back. Rest, my Lord. I will return in two hours’ time.”

Denethor nodded, went through the door, and lay down upon the settle. His mind whirled. Cursing quietly, he again berated himself. “I should have sent messengers yestereve. But I had hoped I was wrong.” At last, sleep overcame his dismay and guilt.

~*~

“Today is the twentieth of June. I believe I was espoused sometime around this date last year. In fact,” Boromir smiled, “I was to be wed in two days time. No Loëndë celebration this year!” He chuckled dryly.

“How can you speak of celebrations when we will be under attack, if Father’s missive is accurate?”

“Father’s missive is correct. I have had reports from the pickets at the Crossing. The troops stationed there have been crushed. Those left alive, returned. The city will be attacked tonight, if the Orcs use their usual tactics. So what would you have me speak of Faramir? That we are all going to die before this night is over with?”

Faramir stood up. “Sometimes, your lack of fear is off-putting.”

“It is not lack of fear, Faramir. You should know me by now. But hysteria will not avail us now. We are prepared, as well as we can be. Now, what would I speak of besides celebrations, you ask. I suppose we could rehash our plans for the city’s defense, but Father has already given us our orders and set the battle plan, as much as one can foretell which path a battle will take. I will not speak of these things; we are ready as ever we will be, given the resources we have.”

Boromir sat back on the porch’s chair and looked out across the compound. Everywhere, men were polishing their armor, chatting quietly by campfires, taking down the last of their laundry, and generally going about the mundane tasks of life to keep their thoughts from the upcoming battle.

“I would speak words of encouragement, but we both know we may not survive this first assault. I would have you stay here, guarding the western city,” he held up his hand to stay Faramir’s protest, “but, that is not part of Father’s plan, nor should it be part of mine. I would have you stay next to me, not just so I might guard your back, but that you would guard mine. That also is not part of Father’s plan. I will say this – when the time comes, you must promise me that you and your men will fall back. Do not suffer death for naught. We know the eastern city will be taken; do not give your life needlessly. When the battle turns against us, I will position myself by the bridge, as Father ordered; when you fall back, come to my side. We will hold the bridge as long as we are able, then we will cross it, and I will give the order to Elatan to destroy it. Keep Mablung and Damrod by your side; they are fierce warriors and little troubled by fear.”

Faramir nodded. “Since you are not going to speak of battle strategy…”

Boromir laughed loudly. Most of the men in the compound looked over, relief apparent on their faces. “They are thinking, ‘Boromir the valiant will lead us. There is naught to fear.’ But we will lose many men this night, Faramir.” Their Captain-General waved to them and the men returned to their preparations.

Bells rang and the garrison came to life. Men put down their weapons, their laundry and such, and filed towards the mess hall. “‘Tis time for the daymeal,” Faramir stood. “Will you give a speech?”

“Have I ever gone into battle and not given a speech?”

His brother laughed. “Never.”

For a moment, Boromir blushed.

“What is it?” Faramir asked in some alarm.

“Father wrote one and gave it to me before I left Minas Tirith.”

“In truth?”

“Yea.”

“It is not to your liking.”

Boromir looked to the Ephel Dúath, then down at his hands. “It is grim. He speaks of defeat and retreat. I would not burden our men with such statements.”

“You would raise their hope where there is none?”

“Húrin told me Captain Thorongil’s most favored expression was, ‘There is always hope.’ I think not many believed he could overcome the Corsairs. Yet, he not only overcame them, he triumphed. I have thought of that phrase many times, before I entered into battle. Is it not strange that the words of a captain probably long-dead should give me comfort?”

Faramir sat in silence.

“I will give that message to our warriors today, but I would give it to you also. You and your men will be in the forefront of the battle tonight, Faramir. No matter what you see, or the strength that comes to assail you, remember, there is always hope.” He held Faramir’s shoulder tightly. “I will hold the bridge until you and your Rangers cross it. Do not delay, Faramir, for I will hope for your coming.”

“I will be there, Boromir.”

“That is all I can ask.”

Dusk finally came; Faramir and his men moved out across the bridge. They were dressed in their Ranger browns and greens, bows and quivers of arrows strung across their backs, staffs and spears in their hands. They quickly disappeared into the abandoned eastern city.

Boromir watched them leave, waited a half hour’s time, then moved his knights forward. The garrison was more than half-emptied. Captain Hador followed with his men from Cair Andros, while Captain Galdor brought up the rear with his men from Amon Dîn. All told, well over two thousand men filed across the river to the defense of the eastern city. Dark had settled before the last man crossed the bridge. Slowly, each company took its place along the outskirts of the ruined city. Faramir’s Rangers could not be seen, for they had blended into the forest that hemmed in the city. Boromir took up his position at the front of their forces. Captains Hador and Galdor had suggested he make his command post closer to the bridge, but that was not Boromir’s way of fighting.

They could hear and smell the Enemy’s forces before they could see them. The men tensed; Boromir rode the line exhorting them to courage, hope, and deeds of renown. His mail shone in the full moon’s light and Faramir told him later that the men thought he looked as the Vala, Tulkas, might look. His face shone with the joy of battle, for though he lived with fear, as did any sensible soldier, as soon as they had crossed the bridge, the battle lust consumed him. He was ready; his men were ready. He unsheathed his sword.

But none were ready for what came out of the eerie mist that suddenly filled the land. A band of horsemen, some afterwards said at least twenty, but others counted nearer to nine. Only those far from the line had the time to count, for those in front were assailed by such fear and despair that many turned and ran. A wail went up from the shadow riders, a wail that tore through the ears and cut across Boromir’s mind in such hope-swallowing despair, that he found himself hard put to stay seated. As it was, Celebrin reared and neighed in terror. Boromir watched in horror as his men threw down their weapons and ran. Gathering his own courage, he screamed into the night to hold their positions. Most heard and obeyed.

Behind the horsemen came the Enemy’s full force. Orcs and Easterlings, men of Khand and Rhûn, Corsairs, all spilled from the forest against Boromir’s near-broken line. He called to Captains Hador and Galdor, who blessedly had not been so terror-numbed to have turned and run. As it was, the brave captains, having lost their own mounts, strove to bring order from the terror-induced chaos about them. As Boromir looked from his left to his right, he was astounded to see that the dark horsemen had vanished. He rubbed his eyes and looked again, then cursed loudly. “They have broken through. They will attack the bridge.” He motioned and a full company of mounted knights broke from the line and followed him as he rode for the bridge. Off in the distance, he saw the Black Riders. They were far ahead and almost to the bridge. Riding furiously, he called a warning, even knowing the guard could not possibly hear him at this distance. He watched in horror as the men on the bridge jumped into the swiftly flowing waters of the Anduin. “Do not destroy the bridge,” he muttered. “Not yet. Not yet. Wait. Wait.” The Black Riders shrieks could be heard and felt even at this distance. The bridge had been crossed, but not destroyed. He breathed a sigh of relief. By the time he crossed it himself, the shadow riders were gone.

Captain Isilmo ran towards him. “What were they?” he cried in alarm.

Boromir jumped from his horse and grabbed the soldier’s shoulder. “Where are they? Which direction did they take?”

“North,” Isilmo sobbed. “They headed north. They killed none. They just rode through the garrison and turned north before the Causeway.”

“Send errand-riders to the Steward and Cair Andros.” He swore, “Egalmoth is in command at Cair Andros whilst Hador is here. The fool will surely lose the garrison!” He turned towards Celebrin, put his foot in the stirrup, and stopped. “I know not who or what they were, Isilmo, but I have no time now to puzzle out the answer. If they come back, send for me immediately.” Beregond handed him his reins. They turned and rode back to the bridge and the Enemy.

The battle was fierce; his men already had given up most of the eastern city by the time Boromir returned to the front line, now dangerously close to the bridge. In the distance, he made out the Rangers in their dark garb. He breathed a sigh of relief, ‘Faramir has retreated.’ He called his captains and one by one companies crossed the bridge into western Osgiliath. At last, only he and his mounted company, along with Faramir and a dozen Rangers, including Damrod and Mablung, remained on the eastern side.

“Retreat!” Boromir bellowed. “Cross the bridge.” He watched as the men obeyed and began crossing the expanse. As the last knight left the soil of the eastern city, Faramir and he followed. He gave the order, as they stood on the island that held the old Hall of Kings where Anárion and Isildur had once sat, and watched as the eastern portion of the bridge collapsed. He patted Elatan on the back as the engineer scrambled from his post to take a stand by the western portion of the bridge. Smiling, Boromir rejoiced in the one small victory; however, it was short-lived as the Enemy’s archers cut down twenty of his own men. He shouted for them to retreat to western Osgiliath. The men began to move across the bridge. His legs felt Celebrin shudder under him before his mind registered that the bridge was giving way. He shouted a warning, but it was too late. The bridge was collapsing from the western end and the knights’ horses plummeted into the Anduin. Within moments, the men’s mail-clad bodies were drawn under. The bridge continued to collapse, slowly eastward. He screamed as Faramir and his men fell. His own horse stumbled backwards in alarm towards the island, but it was too late. They were too far out onto the bridge. Slowly, he watched as the planks before him fell into the River. Stunned, he saw the boards under Celebrin’s hooves gently angle forward, then break. He found himself weightless; his horse fell from under him. He let the reins go and kicked against Celebrin’s withers in an attempt to push himself away from the horse. If Celebrin fell on top of him, once they hit the water, he would die instantly. Once away, and still falling in what seemed an interminable amount of time, he looked up and watched as Elatan, clinging to the last of the boards, lost his hold, fell, and crashed upon the rocks below. Boromir cried out in sorrow, then was engulfed in the waters of the Anduin. For a moment, he was too shocked to react; then, sense came back to him and he struggled to reach the surface. As soon as his face broke through the waters of the River, he screamed, “Faramir!” but there was no answer.

~*~

A/N – VERY sorry for the copious notes, but the Battle of the Bridge is a difficult thing to research. Tolkien himself seems to have gone from one idea to another on it. You, of course, do not have to read these - but if you are inclined, I've tried to include every reference to this battle.
1) "Yet that hour, maybe, is not now far away. The Nameless Enemy has arisen again. Smoke rises once more from Orodruin that we call Mount Doom. The power of the Black Land grows and we are hard beset. When the Enemy returned our folk were driven from Ithilien, our fair domain east of the River, though we kept a foothold there and strength of arms. But this very year, in the days of June, sudden war came upon us out of Mordor, and we were swept away. We were outnumbered, for Mordor has allied itself with the Easterlings and the cruel Haradrim; but it was not by numbers that we were defeated. A power was there that we have not felt before.
"Some said that it could be seen, like a great black horseman, a dark shadow under the moon. Wherever he came a madness filled our foes, but fear fell on our boldest, so that horse and man gave way and fled. Only a remnant of our eastern force came back, destroying the last bridge that still stood amid the ruins of Osgiliath.
"I was in the company that held the bridge, until it was cast down behind us. Four only were saved by swimming: my brother and myself and two others. But still we fight on, holding all the west shores of Anduin; and those who shelter behind us give us praise, if ever they hear our name: much praise but little help. Only from Rohan now will any men ride to us when we call. FOTR: Book Two – Chapter Two: The Council of Elrond.
2) So it was that Sauron prepared two strokes – in which many saw the beginnings of the War of the Ring. They were made together. The Orcs assailed the realm of Thranduil, with orders to recapture Gollum; and the Lord of Morgul was sent forth openly to battle against Gondor. These things were done towards the end of June 3018. Thus Sauron tested the strength and preparedness of Denethor, and found them more than he had hoped. But that troubled him little, since be had used little force in the assault, and his chief purpose was that the coming forth of the Nazgûl should appear only as part of his policy of war against Gondor.
Therefore when Osgiliath was taken and the bridge broken Sauron stayed the assault, and the Nazgûl were ordered to begin the search for the Ring. But Sauron did not underesteem the powers and vigilance of the Wise, and the Nazgûl were commanded to act as secretly as they could. Now at that time the Chieftain of the Ringwraiths dwelt in Minas Morgul with six companions, while the second to the Chief, Khamûl the Shadow of the East, abode in Dol Guldur as Sauron's lieutenant, with one other as his messenger. 1 Unfinished Tales: Chapter IV (i): The Hunt for the Ring.
3) Sauron must then have been filled with anger and alarm. He resolved to use the Ringwraiths as soon as he could, for speed rather than secrecy was now important. Hoping to alarm his enemies and disturb their counsels with the fear of war (which he did not intend to make for some time), he attacked Thranduil and Gondor at about the same time. 7 He had these two additional objects: to capture or kill Gollum, or at least to deprive his enemies of him; and to force the passage of the bridge of Osgiliath, so that the Nazgûl could cross, while testing the strength of Gondor.
In the event, Gollum escaped. But the passage of the bridge was effected. The forces there used were probably much less than men in Gondor thought. In the panic of the first assault, when the Witch-king was allowed to reveal himself briefly in his full terror, 8 the Nazgûl crossed the bridge at night and dispersed northwards. Without belittling the valour of Gondor, which indeed Sauron found greater far than he had hoped, it is clear that Boromir and Faramir were able to drive back the enemy and destroy the bridge, only because the attack had now served main purpose. 7 Both here and in the Tale of Years the assault on Osgiliath is dated the 20th of June. Unfinished Tales: Chapter IV (ii): The Hunt for the Ring.
4) 8 This statement no doubt relates to Boromir's account of the battle at Osgiliath which he gave to the Council of Elrond: "A power was there that we have not felt before. Some said that it could be seen, like a great black horseman, a dark shadow under the moon." Unfinished Tales: Notes.
5) "I sat at night by the waters of Anduin, in the grey dark under the young pale moon, watching the ever-moving stream; and the sad reeds were rustling. So do we ever watch the shores nigh Osgiliath, which our enemies now partly hold, and issue from it to harry our lands…” The Two Towers: Book IV - Chapter Five: The Windows on the West.
6) “And the Fell Riders, less than a year ago they won back the crossings, and many of our best men were slain. Boromir it was that drove the enemy at last back from this western shore, and we hold still the near half of Osgiliath. For a little while. But we await now a new onslaught there. Maybe the chief onslaught of the war that comes." The Return of the King: Book V – Chapter One: Minas Tirith.