Ten Thousand Years will not Suffice

by Agape4Rivendell

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For the years prior (from Denethor's birth in 2930 through 3018) - you may also see the beta'd chapters here:
 http://www.henneth-annun.net/stories/chapter.cfm?stid=4756


27.
Third Age - 3019 

1.

“The winter winds seem colder, sharper this year, do they not?” Denethor pulled his cloak tightly about him. “There has been no word from Boromir. No word at all. Rumors have started; my people are not fools. If a missive had come, all would know – reports, even those deemed secret, have a way of becoming general knowledge.” Denethor’s gray eyes searched northward, but of course – he saw naught. After an hour, he walked slowly back to the Hall, followed by his Warden of the Keys. As they approached the guard, Húrin snapped his fingers; a cloak was given to him, and he placed it around his master’s back. “Warmed by a fire,” Denethor said gratefully as he let it fall over his shoulders in replacement of the half-frozen one.

“The winter,” Faramir mused, “seems long, cold and dismal – more than any I have ever remembered.” Húrin could scarce control the laugh that tried to escape; he had just heard almost the same words come from Denethor’s mouth just the night before.

A wan smile quirked the left side of Faramir’s mouth. “It has taken a heavy toll on my father.” Húrin knew a reply was not expected, for any could see that the Steward of Gondor looked agéd beyond the years of a man with the blood of Númenor. A grim man, many had called him after Finduilas had passed, but if he had appeared grim before, Denethor was now bleak. “Is it the fact that there has been no word from, nor about Boromir that causes the gray in my father’s hair?”

Húrin wondered if it best to tell Faramir of the long nights Denethor spent in the Tower room, but thought better of it. If Denethor had wanted his youngest to know what he did up in that accurséd room, then it was Denethor’s purview to tell his son.

Faramir shifted his weight as he stood in the room off Denethor’s study, with the Warden of the Keys, waiting now for over an hour for his father. “Is it ill of me,” Faramir asked Húrin, “to wish Father would share this unknown burden? Not,” Faramir chuckled dryly, “that I am completely unburdened myself.” Húrin knew, though Denethor’s son had been stationed at Henneth Annûn since Boromir had been sent north, that Captain Faramir found himself more and more called back to the City – called to attend Council meetings, assign the roster of the troops, and even such mundane tasks as seeing that Gondor’s army was fed! “You will not tell me? Do you think I do not hear the rumors? What does he in the uppermost room of the Tower? I only heard again this morning, that the Lord of the Tower of Guard battles the Lord of Barad-dûr.” Faramir shivered.

The Chamberlain, just entering, asked if his lord needed the fire stoked, or perhaps a cup of tea.

Faramir thanked the man and dismissed him as Denethor entered.

“Your journey was not difficult?” The Steward nodded, acknowledging the presence of his Warden of the Keys, but directed all his attention upon his son.

“Nay, Father. There is a strange quiet in Ithilien.”

“You sense something? Your skin prickles?”

Faramir smiled and nodded.

“It is the same here.” Denethor looked off into the distance, seeing what, Faramir did not know. He held his tongue.

“There is still no word of Boromir.”

“I asked Warden Húrin.”

“I knew you would. Barad-dûr prepares for an attack.”

Faramir nodded, knowing full well that Denethor knew Faramir had seen Easterlings, Haradrim and other troops amassing by the thousands.

The Chamberlain stepped through the door and waited. After a moment, Denethor nodded to him. The man left. Denethor heaved a sigh. “It is time,” he said unnecessarily. Faramir helped his father don his heavy, black cloak, then placed the circlet upon Denethor’s brow. Denethor fidgeted with his ring and Faramir’s eyes misted at the sight of the bony finger the ring now tried to perch upon. Húrin shrugged at the question in the young lad’s eyes. Denethor did not miss either gesture though. “I must have this sized. It has always been too large.”

Neither man responded.

Denethor looked long into Faramir’s eyes, then embraced his youngest. Stepping back, the Steward cleared his throat. “At least…”

“Boromir yet lives,” Faramir broke in. “We do not remember him on this Memorial Day.”

Swallowing hard, Denethor clasped Faramir’s arm. “Indeed, we do not. In fact, none of the House of Húrin fell this past year. It is fortunate that Damrod and Mablung were at your side when the bridge fell, else their names would be on today’s roster. Come.” He led Faramir from the room, across the long entrance hall, and into the Great Hall. Húrin left and entered the Hall from the rear.

The Chamberlain struck his staff against the hard Mindolluin marble floor. The echoes of the massive strokes filled the Hall, reverberating to the ceiling, and causing all within the Hall, lords, ladies, warriors, and knights, to instant silence.

The Steward of Gondor, flanked by his youngest and the Chamberlain, walked down the center aisle to the Chair. Stepping up the three stairs, his gaze caught hold of the Throne and he stopped. ‘Thorongil!’ he thought wildly, ‘if you had been here, would my son now be off on this fool’s errand?’ The touch of Faramir’s hand upon his arm pulled him from the heartache that assailed him. He turned and stood before the Chair. Faramir stepped to his left, his accustomed spot, while Húrin took Boromir’s place on Denethor’s right. A servant stood behind the Warden of the Keys holding a large, oval, mithril plate.

Again the Chamberlain struck the floor three times - all sat, except the Steward of Gondor, his youngest, and his Warden of the Keys. The Chamberlain turned and handed the Rod of Gondor to its Steward.

“My people,” Denethor began, “We have come to the beginning of the new year, one that some believe will be fraught with danger. However, an augury, a sign, a portent has been given to us, first through Faramir, my son, and then through others. Boromir, my Heir, was the last to receive this dream. Upon careful consideration by your Steward and your Council, it has been discerned to be a sign of hope for Gondor. Thus, I have sent my Heir, my eldest, northward to the Elves of Rivendell.” He stopped speaking as the quell of excitement exploded into loud murmuring amongst those in attendance. Denethor knew his words would evoke such a response. Most knew Boromir had been sent forth, most knew of the dream, but for these things to be acknowledged by the Steward, Denethor knew, was unprecedented. However, Gondor’s Steward knew his people would have need of hope if they were to survive this year. Every fiber in the Steward’s body told him, this was the year that Gondor would either stand or fall. The mere mention of Elves as allies was a potent image of hope for his people. Faramir never moved, and for that, Denethor was grateful.

The Chamberlain rapped the floor once more and after the ensuing echo died down, the Steward found the Hall was silent. He continued. “Rohan is ever faithful. Her king, Théoden, son of our beloved friend Thengel, readies to answer our call, should we need to send one. Prince Imrahil,” he motioned to Belfalas’ lord who nodded his head in acknowledgement, “prepares fresh troops for our aid, as do all the fief lords of Gondor. Ships lay in Dol Amroth’s harbor, as an impediment against a southern attack. Pelargir has been refortified with men of Ethir Anduin and Lebennin, as well as men from Minas Tirith. You have all been witnesses to the great strides made upon the Rammas Echor. Gondor is ready.”

Most in the assemblage, Denethor knew, would not be fooled by their Steward’s words of boldness, for these lords and warriors knew the might of the Enemy more than most; yet, they would be heartened, for the nonce, by his words and thus able to face the coming commemoration ceremony with some small hope.

Denethor sat, motioned, and the minstrels began to strum their harps, sound their crumhorns, and strike their instruments of percussion. A slow swelling of voices sang the song of mourning. When the dirge was finished, the Chamberlain stepped forward, again commanding attention with another thump of his staff upon the marble floor. He called forth the name, Hador, and Dúinhir the Tall, moved forward, carrying a parchment in his hand. He walked up the center aisle and stopped before the Chair, passing the parchment to Faramir, who gave it to his father. Denethor rolled the parchment open, silently read the names upon it, then handed it to Húrin, who placed it upon the mithril plate. The Lord of the House of Hador saluted the Steward, turned and left as the Chamberlain struck the floor again and called out the name, Haleth.

Another lord strode forward, this time Angbor of the House of Haleth; he approached the Chair and offered Faramir his parchment. It was taken by the Steward’s youngest and handed over to Denethor who unrolled it and read the names, then handed it to Húrin. Angbor saluted and returned to his seat.

Thus went the roll call of the dead; two hours the ceremony lasted and two hours Denethor stood, receiving the Scrolls of the Dead. Daily, the roll had been called, as Anor set behind the splendor of Mindolluin, but today, though not individually named, each fallen warrior was remembered and mourned.

Usually, the House of Húrin, the Stewards’ own House, was the last to be called. Amazingly, none from the House of Húrin had fallen, so the last House called was the House of Imrazôr, Dol Amroth’s own. Prince Imrahil stepped forward and held out the parchment. Denethor took it himself, discomfiting Faramir, and unrolled it. It was long. The Steward looked up in surprise.

“A late attack upon Ras Morthill. Just as the year ended.” The Swan Prince pointed to a name.

Faramir blanched.

“Miriel’s father,” Denethor whispered. Denethor looked up, “Her mother?”

“She threw herself from the cliffs when brought the news.”

Denethor’s head turned only a measure and looked upon his son, noting the tears in the lad’s eyes. “It is a sad ending for a once noble house,” he said when he returned his gaze to Imrahil. The Prince of Dol Amroth saluted and returned to his seat. After handing the parchment to Húrin, the Steward of Gondor faced his people. He looked out upon the assembly that, upon the staff’s imperious command, called them to stand. He felt the grief of his people. Perhaps he should have held his words of hope, addressed them now instead of at the beginning of the ceremony? ‘Nay. Nothing should detract from this memorial. Those who died protecting Gondor should have their full measure of honor. And though grief is the order of the day, honor is the word.’ Denethor turned to Faramir. “It is time.”

Faramir nodded and stepped forward. He waited while the chamberlain again struck his staff. The crowd settled into their seats.

“Men of Gondor,” Denethor’s youngest began, “Tradition has been served again this day, a tradition established by Elendil himself long ago. Ever has Gondor stood firm against its enemies - by the blood of these warriors memorialized today, and the blood of their fathers’ fathers. When Elendil landed upon these shores and claimed the land for his people, he brought strength, courage and hope out of disaster and despair. Our homeland had been drowned to punish those who would trifle with the command of the Valar, turn their backs upon the One, and enslave and sacrifice those who were named Faithful.

“We are the Faithful, kept so by the blood of our brothers. The soil of Gondor cries out in sorrow, yet takes our blood to nourish it. Gondor remains strong because of the blood of those we have lost this past year. Raise your voices with mine as we remember them. Call out their names and renew your vows to Gondor and to her people. Shout your defiance of all those who would dare to assail us. Let this Hall ring with our fallen warriors’ names and let all who hear the thunder of it, wonder. Let our enemies hear it and quake.”

The youngest son of Denethor unsheathed his sword and held it high. “For Gondor!”

The Hall erupted in the shouts of the people of Gondor. It rang with the sound of hundreds of swords being unsheathed. The voices of those present shouted out the names of their beloved dead, then quickly the cacophony swelled and joined as one voice, “For Gondor! For Gondor!” Trumpets sang forth in the Great Hall, joined moments later by the trumpets of each level until the City fairly shook with the noise.

Denethor slipped from the Hall and strode to the Tower, needing confirmation that the Enemy heard and was afraid.

~*~

A/N – The Lords of Gondor are not all mentioned in Tolkien’s books. The Southern Fiefs, though there are ten mentioned, only have names for the lords of seven. Also, no ‘House’ names are listed for these lords, so I’ve taken the liberty of ‘sub-creating’ my own, based upon the Three Houses of the Edain from the First Age.

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2.

“I remember the times at the Memorial Ceremony when we would read each name,” Húrin mused as he stared into the goblet. “There are too many now.”

“They are noted at the end of each day,” Damrod said tersely. “At least they are remembered.”

“What mean you by that?” Húrin wondered.

“The women and children left homeless, widows, orphans. The boys who are stolen from their villages and made to shift oars on Haradric vessels. The farmers killed in their fields. None of these are listed in the daily roll. Nor in the yearly log.”

“Of course it is a sad thing, but they are not soldiers.”

“What were you thinking upon, Damrod?” Faramir asked, wondering what had come over his friend and aide. “What you speak of is as it always has been.”

“Galador dies and it is noted. But what of his wife? Faramir, I never even knew her name!”

“It was Meldis.” Faramir refilled his goblet, turned and topped off Húrin’s and Damrod’s also. “I did not know her. I only met her once or twice. They were of a lesser family. That is, Míriel’s mother’s family was from a lesser line. Galador, of course, was a close cousin of Prince Imrahil’s.”

“She was passionate, if she drove her husband to try to kill you. And then, she jumps off a cliff at his death…”

Faramir sat quietly. The fire crackled, the wind blew outside, and yet, Denethor did not return. His youngest’ shivered. “Húrin, Father has yet to return?”

“He will probably not come down till the morning. That is his way.”

“He is passionate. Most do not see that,” Damrod considered. “I knew it not myself until last year. When he thought… Forgive me, Faramir, but I believe he cares deeply for you; I do not think he knows how to show it.”

His friend nodded. “He cares.” A smile lifted the corners of Faramir’s mouth. “Both he and Boromir are passionate.”

“So are you, Faramir” Húrin said, puzzled by the turn of conversation. “I have seen it in your eyes when your men have suffered a defeat. Nay, even when you have won a battle but have lost men. You are like unto your father.”

Faramir’s brow knotted. “I suppose I am. Just not as verbose.”

The men sat in companionable silence, waiting for their Steward to return.

It was nigh unto the wee hours of the morning when Denethor entered the study, scarcely noticing them. He went to the sideboard and poured a large whiskey. As he turned, he noted them. “Faramir,” he said quietly and his tone, he noted sourly, made Faramir cringe. “When last did you see the Wizard?”

“The last time he was in Minas Tirith, Father,” the boy replied, puzzled.

“Then you know not that he was in Rohan months after your brother left here?”

“I did not, Father. Should I have?”

‘Oh! The sarcasm in that voice,’ Denethor thought, his fury mounting. “Know you not where he traveled too?”

He noted Faramir’s deep sigh and lashed out, “I will have not have you hiding things from me – especially anything to do with the Wizard!”

Faramir struggled, Denethor could see it, before the boy replied. “If it is now your will that I tell you the comings and the goings of the Wizard, then I will purchase a crystal ball and find him.”

Denethor’s face went white and Damrod stood up. “Mayhap it is time for us to return to Henneth Annûn, Faramir. The Council has been adjourned; we are free to go.”

Faramir spoke not a word.

“It is truly time for you to return to Ithilien, Faramir.” Denethor put down his glass and turned away from his son. “I need reports on a small band of Orcs that are moving northward. By the time you reach Osgiliath, they should be at the Crossings. Make sure they are done away with.”

Faramir nodded, hesitated for a moment, then strode to his father and embraced him. “I will see you at the next Council meeting?”

“If there is one.”

Faramir held the shiver, as his father did not return the embrace, then saluted, nodded to Húrin and left, closely followed by Damrod.

“We must evacuate Anórien,” Denethor began without preamble. “The fields must be abandoned.”

“Cannot we wait until the spring crop is planted?”

“Nay. It must be done now. The Rammas by the North Gate, Húrin; we have not yet fortified it nor raised it?”

“We have not.”

“Then order it so,” Denethor sighed. “Put extra men on the detail, if you must. Have Ingold take charge. He is dependable and not easily frightened."

“Is there aught to be frightened of at the North Gate, Denethor?”

“There probably will be,” he said quietly. Then he paced in front of his desk. “Solitary errand-riders may no longer be dispatched. Make the order that they must travel in threes. The garrisons of Amon Dîn and Cair Andros must have another two companies each stationed there.” He watched as Húrin’s eyebrows rose, but was grateful that his Warden did not question him further. “And raise the number for a company to one hundred men at Osgiliath, Cair Andros, and Amon Dîn.” The Steward poured himself another glass. He had not sat since he entered the study.

Húrin pulled the rope and Denethor’s aide entered. “Order some food for the Steward” Belegorn nodded and left the room.

“I am not drunk,” Denethor stated icily, “though it probably would be better, making such changes as these.” He looked at his Warden. “You did not ask where we are to put the farmers and their wives.”

“I will procure accommodations for them. The Fourth Circle is almost vacant. More than one family can live in some of the abandoned mansions there.”

“Good.”

“If you raise the number of men in a company to one hundred, will you lower the number at garrisons less threatened? Perhaps to fifty men?”

“Nay. We will take the needed men from the Third Company, here at the Citadel.” His brow furrowed. “Double the guards at the granaries. We will probably have to ration, but not yet.”

“The water supply?”

“It is safe, for the nonce, unless the enemy climbs to the top of Mindolluin and dams the rivers. I cannot imagine that.”

“This year?”

Denethor knew his Warden wondered if the attack would be this year. “Soon,” he whispered, “soon.” He took another drink of the whiskey. “Another thing. All travel is banned without a pass. Any travel in Ithilien and Anórien is punishable by death.”

“My Lord?”

“We are at war, Húrin,” Denethor said tersely, “By death.”

“At least, signs could be posted.”

“Then do so.”

“Hirgon has requested an appointment.”

“Do you know what my Captain of the Errand-riders wants?” He waved away the servant who had brought a light repast.

Húrin grimaced at the refused food and said naught but “Nay.”

“His mother is all right?”

“As far as I know, she is.”

“Then tell him this forenoon, after nuncheon.”

“Thank you, my Lord. Is there aught else?”

Denethor had finally sat; his huge right hand covered his forehead and right eye. “I must rest for an hour. We will meet again at dawn and break our fast together.”

Húrin saluted, stared for a moment at his Steward, then left.

Once his Warden was gone, Denethor stood again and walked to the stairs. Climbing slowly, he at last reached the suite before his own quarters. A long time ago, Thengel and Morwen with their children had lived in these rooms. Denethor leaned his head against the door in silent memory and was startled to have it open before him. ‘Must have the latch fixed,’ he thought absently as he entered the outer chamber. A lump formed in his throat and his eyes misted. “Well, my friend,” he said softly, “I wonder if you see what has happened to your son?”

He walked towards Thengel’s study and opened the door. It was almost heart breaking to see the top of the desk stark and empty. Denethor smiled as he remembered the clutter that had been its natural state, when Thengel commanded the Tower Guard. Though the Riddermark was no longer the province of the Steward of Gondor, the Palantír still thought it a territory of Gondor, for seeing old Calenardhon through the stone was easy enough. Denethor had looked long into it this night, noting Théodred and Elfhelm assembled with their men near the Fords of Isen. He had also seen Éomer and his éored encamped near Aldburg. But most of all, his sight and his thoughts had been upon Théoden.

Denethor had looked westward often since Boromir’s departure. Every time Denethor looked, it seemed as if Théoden had aged another ten years. This night, Denethor had gasped at the sight of his friend’s heir, for Théoden looked as one of the mummified remains in the House of the Stewards. He sighed as he sat in Thengel’s chair. “It would seem there will be no help from Rohan.” Then he remembered Thengel’s vow, repeated by the Horse Lord’s son when Théoden was crowned King of the Mark. “When the time comes, I will still send the Red Arrow. And hope it will be answered.”

He looked up and saw the portrait of Morwen Steelsheen as it hung above the fireplace opposite the huge oak desk. He was so tired, he could not stop the tears that fell. “So many dead,” he whispered. “You, my friend, your lovely bride, Amdir, Listöwel, Arciryas, Indis.” He swallowed convulsively as he thought of Finduilas. “And this year, will my own sons follow? It would seem to be inevitable. Would that they fall in battle.”

~*~

Hirgon entered upon Denethor’s command. He saluted, then stood in front of his Steward.

“What is it you wish to see me about, Captain?”

“My Lord Steward, the roads have become more treacherous this past winter. I have lost many riders. There are only eight left. I must ask for more.”

“Have you spoken with my Warden?”

“I have. He suggested I use the esquires, but they are hardly fit for such dangerous duty. Cannot some men be recruited from the Tower’s own companies?”

“Nay. I agree with Lord Húrin. Take twenty-three from the ranks of those in their last year of training. I have ordered that the riders be sent out in threes. That should lesson the danger. Have one seasoned rider with two esquires.”

“As you wish, my Lord.”

“How is your mother?”

“She is poorly, my Lord. She had a fever this winter and it has left her weak. She sends her regards and fond thoughts, however.”

“She has mine, Captain. Do you still farm your father’s land on the Pelennor?”

“I have workers there, my Lord.”

“I am evacuating Anórien. The Warden suggests that they be settled into houses in the Fourth Circle. These are farmers, Hirgon. They will not be happy living in the City. Are there places on the Pelennor, on the farms, where I may send them instead?”

“I would be grateful to have experienced farmers on my land. I cannot afford to pay, though.”

“Nay. Gondor will pay for their food and such. You would give them shelter and work for their hands.”

“There are many soldiers with farms on the Pelennor who are in the same circumstances that I find myself in. They would gladly accept such help.”

“Good. Once I have the count, I will ask you to work with Húrin to settle these exiles. I am sorry to place another burden upon you, but you have appointed yourself well in such things these last years and I know you are capable.”

“Thank you, my Lord. It would give me great honor to do this.”

“Good then. Húrin will call you when he is ready to discuss the farmers.” Denethor dismissed him, then sat at his own desk. He wrote his fourteenth missive to Théoden, requesting news about Boromir. None had been returned. He bit his lip.

~*~

A/N – It is said in LotR that Anórien was deserted by the time of the War of the Ring. It was also said that Pippin was surprised at the knowledge Denethor had of all that transpired in Rohan. That is the premise I used to decide to have Denethor be able to ‘see’ into the Mark. Again, regarding Boromir – it ever seems strange to me that Denethor did not ‘see’ Boromir. Not during his time before he passed out of the Mark, nor once the Fellowship reached the lands of Gondor at Parth Galen, for that territory belonged to Gondor.



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3.

It was now late February and still there was no word of Boromir. Húrin had sent a rider – not to Edoras – to the garrison at Amon Anwar at the beginning of December, to see if any saw or heard of the Heir’s passage to Rohan. When the rider returned, he brought stark news. None had seen Boromir. Denethor pondered the report. ‘Why did not Boromir stop over at the garrison? Why had he ridden on to Rohan with no pause to see his men? After all, Boromir was Captain-General.’ Denethor had thought the boy would stop and do a cursory inspection if naught else. The Steward instructed his Warden to send out another rider, this time to each of the northern beacon hills to inquire if Boromir had stopped at any along the way. The rider came back with strange news: Boromir had not been seen at any of the garrisons. That meant the boy did not change horses; Denethor’s brow furrowed in dismay. What had come upon his son to not change horses, stop for replenishment of supplies, inspect his men? His head hurt from the struggle to understand this strange behavior.

When Húrin and he spoke, once the rider had reported and been dismissed, his Warden was at a loss also. But Faramir, who had been in the City for Mettarë, suggested the seriousness of the mission with which Denethor had imparted upon his son was the cause of Boromir’s rush to complete it. Denethor had to accept that explanation, but not gladly. Always, Boromir had been rigorous in his attentions to his men; to have him chose to lose the opportunity to meet with them seemed incongruous.

Denethor finally put those thoughts aside and concentrated on Faramir. The boy, Denethor knew from his missives, was under attack almost daily. Or leading attacks, for ever did Denethor send his son missives of the enemies’ movements in Ithilien and ever did Faramir obey his father. Which behavior stuck in Denethor’s craw. It should have made the Steward glad, the docile obedience of his son, but this behavior worried him. Faramir, of late, had appeared somehow resigned to all his father’s directives. Even the death sentence for trespassers. ‘Mayhap, ‘tis his concern for Boromir,’ Faramir’s father thought unhappily. ‘I must go back to the stone and see what I may. I do not understand this. And Théoden still refuses to reply to my inquiries. Boromir must be at Imladris by now. In fact, he should be returned to us by now.’ A low sob tore at him.

As he turned the corner towards the stairwell on the way to the Tower room, Húrin ran into him. “My Lord,” the Warden apologized profusely. “There is a delegation here from Forlong. He asks that his men be relieved and sent back for the planting of crops.”

‘I cannot see them now. Tell them nay!” Fury stung his words as he thought of his own son, missing, perhaps lost. “Give them a missive for their lord, a missive stating I expect more men by the beginning of March.” He turned and almost ran up the stairs. “I will not return today,” he growled back.

Hirgon blocked his way as he attempted to pass his own quarters. Denethor stopped at the man’s look and sighed. “Come. You wish to speak with me?”

Hirgon nodded. “There are some problems with the errand-riders, my Lord.” He followed Denethor into the Steward’s study. “The esquires are afraid. My seasoned riders balk at having to train them, and there are still not enough for all the missives that are being sent.”

“I will not hear of frightened children or stubborn riders. Hirgon,” he paused. Something in the demeanor of his captain caused him to stop, then draw in a short breath. “Your mother?”

“She died a fortnight ago.” Hirgon’s voice caught.

“I am sorry.” Denethor sat heavily in a chair across from the settle. “Sit. Tell me.”

“There is naught to tell, in truth. I was gone. They had buried her, by the time I had returned.”

Denethor hung his head in sorrow. “I am sorry. Is there aught…? Do you need aught?”

“Nay.”

‘Stoic, stalwart as ever. Just like his father,’ Denethor thought sadly. “The farmers? Are they in established farms?”

“They are, my Lord. Each family has been able to stay together. The farmers of the Pelennor are grateful for free, experienced labor.” Hirgon smiled tiredly.

‘I am sure they are. Your riders? Would you wish me to speak with them?”

“Nay, my Lord. They are so few, they are concerned.”

“Of course they are. Men of Gondor are not simpletons. They know what they face, but they must use the esquires. It is the only way, for the nonce.”

“I will make them understand that, my Lord Steward.”

Denethor smiled, stood, and embraced the man. “I loved your father dearly. I am saddened to know your mother is now gone. We can hope that they will be together.”

Hirgon stiffened for a moment, then returned the embrace. “Thank you, my Lord. The errand-riders will do you proud.”

“I know they will. As you have, Hirgon. Soon, I will have one important task for you. Send others, for the nonce, on the routine errands. Save yourself for my use.”

The captain saluted and left him. Denethor pursed his lips hard. ‘Morgoth’s breath,’ he thought sourly, ‘they will all be dead before this is over.’ He turned and ran from the room.

Though not as young as he once was, and now encumbered by a heavy fighting sword and mail, he still smiled as he easily made it to the top of the Tower. The smile disappeared as soon as he opened the room’s door. He was becoming angry at the stone. Much as he had control and dominion over it for other places and other people, he still could not make the globe show him his own sons. Swearing raggedly, he tore the covering off the Palantír, grasped it firmly, faced north, and began his search.

‘February 25th and still no sign of Boromir, no sign of Elves,’ he thought ruefully. The Steward could not see beyond the borders of Gondor, even the ancient ones, and yet he tortured himself by looking, first towards the Anduin. Boromir would surely come that way if he did not come by way of Rohan. He scoured the path of the River until his eyes burned. No sign of anything but a small movement of Orcs running eastward towards Amon Hen. ‘Where are the beasts coming from?’ he wondered, but quickly put that thought aside. He was looking for Boromir. He growled for probably the hundredth time and turned his eyes, and thus the Palantír, upon the Mark.

Nothing anywhere near the base of Mindolluin and the Entwash. Struggling against fatigue, he looked further west. Edoras seemed calm and quiet; he did not look to see Théoden; he could not bear the sight of the weakened and useless king. ‘King!’ he scoffed. ‘King in name only. Who heads your country, Théoden? Who have you given your throne to? Not your son!’

When last he had looked, at least a fortnight ago, Théodred had taken a Muster from Edoras and headed westward. Denethor was grateful that both Théodred and Éomer had accepted a trade of armor for horses last spring. The men under both Marshals were at least properly armored! He would look to Théodred. Perhaps his Boromir, knowing fully the danger of the land he traversed, would head south to Rohan, and thus return to Gondor from that quarter.

The Fords of Isen were crowded with men. All along the south of it, and some to the east and the north, stood ready for battle. Denethor drew his gaze closer and watched. ‘Ah!’ he sighed, ‘Young Théodred and his éored. And it appears more than his own. I think that is Erkenbrand holds the Keep? Elfhelm marches from Edoras and nears Theoden’s son. I wonder why they are massed thus?’ He thought upon it for a moment and looked south, to the mountains. ‘Perhaps there are Orcs attacking?’ But there were none. Still, Théodred and his riders seemed to be in battle stance. Denethor’s brow furrowed. He looked northward and the breath was stolen from him. Two large bands of Uruks, Orcs, men and Wolf-riders were coming down from Isengard. “Isengard!” he screamed in fury. ‘The wizard shows his true colors!’

The enemy was lined on either side of the Isen, as far as the eye could see. They were headed towards the Fords and Théodred. “If only the stone could speak, could shout,” he sobbed aloud. “I could warn him. He will lose the Fords and die as it is o’ertaken.” Théodred and his éored, though they were many and clothed in Gondorian army, stood little chance. Denethor watched as the battle raged on and was puzzled by the wizard’s tactics. Ever it seemed his underlings turned away from what would be victory, only to follow… He screamed again at the enormity of it. “Théodred! He means to kill Théodred! Erkenbrand, Théodred! Send for Erkenbrand.” Though the army that marched forward from the wizard’s Tower was vast, still, with the skill of the Rohirrim and the armor of Gondor, and the men of Erkenbrand to uphold him, yet might young Théodred live.

It was not to be. Denethor watched into the afternoon as more and more of Théodred’s forces were cut down. A small group of archers had been sent to one end of the eyot, but Théodred himself had been forced back to the little island in the middle of the river. Hope sprang, for a moment, into Denethor’s eyes, as mounted troops rode forward, very close to hand, but just as their horses’ hooves touched the pebbled beach of the island, he saw a great orc-man. It stepped forward, axe held high, and cleaved Théodred’s skull before the lad even saw it.

Denethor fell to his knees in horror.
~*~

A/N – 1) Théodred and the Muster of Edoras. When the war with Saruman began Theodred without orders assumed general command. He summoned a muster of Edoras, and drew away a large part of its Riders, under Elfhelm, to strengthen the Muster of Westfold and help it to resist the invasion. Unfinished Tales, Part 3, Ch 5, The Battles of the Fords of Isen 2) Rohan being clothed in Gondorian armor. “The Rohirrim had the advantage in being supplied [with body-armor] by the metalworkers of Gondor. ...” [Author's note.] Unfinished Tales, Part 3, Ch 5, The Battles of the Fords of Isen: Notes.


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4.

Húrin hovered over his Steward, anxious as ever; Denethor could feel his Warden’s eyes on his back and in his very bones, but there was naught any could do to assuage the Steward’s grief. Once Denethor caught his breath, once he could stay the trembling in his legs, he would go to the practice yard and let the wooden dummy feel his fury over young Théodred’s death. For the nonce, he sat in front of a roaring fire and stared blankly into it. A corner of his mind watched as Húrin left the room, but Denethor had not the strength to explain. Nor could he. It would betray the tool he used and, though he thought Húrin and perhaps Faramir, knew what it was, he still wished to keep it secret. The key to the Tower room was ever on his body; none had a duplicate, and he was not about to let his son look. The price was too great. He groaned in agony as his head pounded. It had been hours since he had looked, but the pain felt as strong as when he left the Tower room. He looked at his hands, old and grizzled with age spots. He chuckled dryly. ‘I am not old enough for hands like these.’ His hips hurt, his lungs… He needed to go to the practice yard. His body could not fail him now. ‘Not while Boromir yet lives.’

Beregond entered and saluted. “My Lord Steward, Prince Imrahil has come. He requests a moment?”

‘Imrahil,’ Denethor thought wildly. Why would the Prince of Dol Amroth be here? The Swan was here for the Mettarë council. ‘I did not expect him back for another month.’ He stood and motioned for Beregond to wait, strode to his bedchamber and rang the bell. When the servant entered, he requested food and wine set up in his dining room, and then proceeded to disrobe. He could not remember when last he had changed clothes. Yesterday, the day before? The servant helped wash him down, then offered a new set of garments. Denethor let himself be dressed, especially with the mail, then turned and left the room, dragging his wet hair back away from his face.

“Ask Prince Imrahil to enter, Beregond. And send for Húrin.” The knight nodded; a moment later, Imrahil stood before the Steward of Gondor. Denethor stepped forward and embraced him. “My old friend,” he said. “It is good to see you again. Come. I have food prepared. Join me. I have yet to break my fast.” He nodded as his Warden entered. “You too, Húrin, eat with us.”

“I have come directly from the Harlond, Denethor.” Imrahil began. “I have much to speak with you. May we not repair to your study?”

Denethor motioned and the servant quickly gathered up the plates of cheeses, fruit, and meats, and walked behind the three into Denethor’s study. The Steward waited until the platters were arranged and the servant had left them.

“There have been rumors, Denethor. I do not yet know who spreads them, but they speak of defeat, within days.”

“Ah,” Denethor breathed a deep sigh. “So you have come to tell me Belfalas will not send troops when Gondor calls?”

Imrahil threw his gloves into a chair. “Morgoth’s breath, Denethor, I have pledged myself and my knights to you. What further must I do?” Dispiritedly, the Prince of Dol Amroth picked up his gloves and sat. “That is not what I am saying. I am asking, are we under attack?”

Handing a goblet of deepest red wine to his friend and then to Húrin, Denethor sat himself and drank it down. “Théodred is dead.”

“By the Valar! It cannot be. How, Denethor? When?” Both men spoke almost in unison.

“Yesterday, sometime in the evening. Orcs and men – a large contingent from the north. Yet, and this I do not understand, his foe withdrew after he was murdered; they did not stay to finish off Théodred’s troops. Though I suppose that is the crux of the matter. I believe they were bound and determined to kill Theoden’s son. Ordered to assassinate Theoden’s heir. Once the boy was dead, why should they stay? Yet it seems odd to me.” His brow furrowed, grief forgotten in the puzzle.

Imrahil gulped his wine, stood and refilled his glass and Denethor’s. Then he sat. “He was a fine boy.”

“I must discover where they have gone.”

“Who?”

“The enemy. They left after Théodred was murdered. Where did they go? Why did they not attack Edoras? Or Helm’s Deep?”

“Or are they headed towards Gondor?” Húrin asked softly.

“Nay. They would be fools to do that. There is much yet to be won in Rohan. Besides, Sauron himself watches over us.”

Imrahil shivered at the tone in Denethor’s voice, unnatural.

“Is Faramir here yet?”

Denethor’s change of subject nonplussed Húrin, but he quickly recovered and answered, “I am told he left Osgiliath this morning. He should be here in a few hours.”

“I want him at my side when he is told the news.”

“Of course.” Húrin stood and rang the bell. Beregond entered. “Tell the watch to send Lord Faramir here as soon as he enters Minas Tirith.” The guard nodded, saluted, and left.

Imrahil looked down at his hands. “Théodred was a good man. I had thoughts for my daughter.”

“Yes. I could see that.”

“Has there been no word of Boromir?”

“None. Tell me, Imrahil, have you no idea where these rumors sprang from – that Minas Tirith would fall in days?”

“Nay. Whispers. That is all we ever have, Denethor. Whispers of war and defeat and horror. It is not spies from Harad, that I can say for sure, but mayhap from… ”

“It is said that there have been whispers since before the Elves themselves were first found. It is the enemy’s way, Imrahil. The enemy’s way and we listen.”

~*~

Faramir entered the room just as nuncheon was being served. His smile broadened when he saw Imrahil. “Uncle!” He embraced the Swan warmly. “It is good to see you. Might Elphir be here?”

“Nay. I came myself and will leave on the morrow. There were things that needed discussion.”

Faramir smiled. “Am I interrupting? Are your discussions finished? Might I spend some time with my father?”

“Time to report, Faramir?” Denethor watched closely. Faramir had dark shadows under his eyes and the gleam of his smile was not as bright as was the boy’s wont. His heart was aggrieved; they had last parted in anger. ‘Nay,’ he thought, ‘I refused his embrace.’ He pulled Faramir to him. “You are in need of rest and a bath. The ride is long and dusty. Go; I will hold nuncheon until you return.”

Nonplussed, Faramir returned the embrace. “I should return to Henneth Annûn as soon as I give my report, Father. There is much activity in Ithilien, as you well know.”

“I would have you here for a few days, at the least. Húrin has finished the plans for the raising of the Rammas by the North Gate. I thought you might be interested in seeing the plans?”

“Yes, Father. I would. Now, I will avail myself of a bath. I will return -- ” His head turned northward and all color left his face. “The Horn,” he whispered.

Denethor’s face turned white, as did Imrahil’s and Húrin’s. The Steward dropped his goblet and ran from the room, up the stairs, two steps at a time, fumbling for the key as he ran. Into the room, throwing off the cloth, he faced it and turned northward.

Though he could not see him, his eldest, his Heir, his life, Denethor knew Boromir was on Gondorian soil. Somewhere. By the Valar, how he searched! His body knew no rest. He grasped the stone till the muscles in his fingers and palms ached, yet, he would not let it go. He scoured the lands of the Rohirrim, up to the Fords of Isen, over towards Fangorn and Isengard, across the plains of northern Rohan, even unto The Wold, the Downs and the East Emnet.

Finally, collapsing in exhaustion, Denethor scrunched on the floor, his back to the wall, and wailed in despair. The Horn had sounded plaintive, desperate, and, in the end, weak. “Valar!” he wailed aloud. “Let him live. Please let him live. He is my all. All I have left. Please. Oh please, let him live.”

~*~

A/N - - Feb. 26th - “I (Denethor) heard it blowing dim upon the northern marches thirteen days ago, and the River brought it to me, broken: it will wind no more.” as told to Pippin on March 9th LotR: RotK: Minas Tirith, pg. 25-26.



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5.

26 Feb.

The three sat or paced in Denethor’s study for over three hours, waiting for the Steward to return. Faramir, as Denethor had run from the room, suggested a sortie northward and was immediately rebuffed by the Warden.

“How goes Rohan?” Faramir asked after another hour had passed.

Imrahil looked at Húrin and shrugged. The Warden of the Keys turned from his Steward’s son.

‘What ill news do you keep from me?”

“Your father has asked… The tidings from Rohan can wait.”

Faramir smiled. “The tidings from Rohan? Either Théoden is dead or… Oh by the Valar,” he exclaimed in sudden horror, “It is Théodred!”

Awkwardly the Prince of Dol Amroth took Faramir’s hand. “It is as you say.”

“Théodred cannot be dead.” Faramir knew the Rohir’s death was more than possible, but the Prince of Rohan had been close to both Gondorian brothers. Faramir’s tears fell; he felt the loss keenly. Each of them, Boromir, Faramir, Théodred and Éomer, knew in their heart of hearts that death would be theirs, and probably in battle. Yet, Faramir had never imagined that Théodred could possibly die. His memories of the Rohir were vivid: strong, stalwart, brave, fleet of foot, blade of steel… After a few moments remembrance, his thoughts took a new path and he wondered aloud, “How does Father know this? A rider could not possibly have come from Rohan in such a short time.”

“It is possible, if the rider is strong, to arrive from the Mering in one full circuit of both sun and moon.”

“Tell me how he died? Does Boromir…” Faramir looked at both men with tears in his eyes. “I was going to ask if Boromir knows.” His mouth grew dry.

Imrahil placed a hand on his nephew’s shoulder. “A fair question, Faramir. You always turned to your brother and he to you, sharing in everything, even sorrow. It is not irrational to wonder if Boromir knows a thing of such import.”

“But not possible this day,” Faramir said and walked to the fireplace, his hands clenched upon the mantel’s piece. “It is not folly then, dearest uncle, for me to miss my brother, even in such times?”

“Théodred died in battle!” interrupted Húrin, his voice burning with warrior pride. “He will go to his ancestors with honor. Who could ask for a better death?” The retired Captain of Gondor roared, “I would take such a death with joy!”

“And Boromir winds his horn in the north.” Faramir turned from the fireplace, his eyes wet, but not from the smoke of the fire. Imrahil stood by the window, looking out at what, Húrin could not tell.

The room quieted again and only the soft footsteps of the youngest son of Denethor broke the silence.

“I think it is not possible.” Húrin finally spoke again.

“So you said four hours ago, Húrin, but the sound of the Horn means Boromir is on Gondorian soil! It came from the north and that means somewhere beyond Amon Dîn and probably before Rauros. You have heard its call as often as I have. It was faint, which means it comes from afar.”

“Which is why a sortie is not possible.” Húrin stood up and went to the fireplace. Boromir’s cousin clutched the oaken mantelpiece and bowed his head. Any lower and his hair would have singed. “Boromir is not near enough for our aid. Even sending errand-riders north would not help. The call, as you note, was from afar indeed. It would take days for a rider to find him.” He did not add, ‘or his body.’

Imrahil pulled himself from his own dark thoughts, and knelt, one- knee’d, at Faramir’s side. “I have never heard the Horn in such distress. I have been at Boromir’s side, in the midst of battle when he has winded it to bring help. Not like what we heard, Faramir. I am sorely afraid for my nephew.”

Faramir’s eyes misted. “He is alive.”

“Of course he is,” Denethor bellowed as he came into the room. “I have sent a sortie northward. I believe that is where the call came from. They should reach him in two days time. Less than that if Hirgon has his way.”

“You sent Hirgon?”

“Who better? Did I not use him these past three years, ferrying missives between Boromir’s troops in the Nindalf and Minas Tirith? He knows the terrain well. Besides that, he has been ordered to stop at Amon Dîn and pick up a company of men to help with the search. The men at the outpost at the base of Rauros have probably already gone to Boromir’s aid, if he is that far north.”

“I would take some men from Henneth Annun? We could search the eastern side of the Nindalf.” Denethor looked at his son in exasperation. Faramir blushed. “I cannot sit here doing nothing.”

“You will go back to Osgiliath tomorrow. Do not look so dismayed. Do you think I will not send word when Boromir is found? Am I considered that cruel?”

Faramir blushed again. “I will go to Osgiliath and wait.”

“You will do more than wait, Faramir. I need the garrison at Osgiliath aware that the attack will come soon.”

“How do you know this?” Imrahil asked, astonishment writ across the Swan’s face.

“Yesterday, Théodred was murdered. Today, though I know Boromir lives, I believe an attempt was made upon his life. Rohan is besieged on its western borders and Faramir tells me, along with others, that the Enemy sits in readiness. We will be attacked within a fortnight, if not sooner. Therefore, you will return to Dol Amroth and prepare your troops. Do I still have your word? You will bring men?”

Imrahil blushed. “Lord Denethor, a very long time ago I pledged my lands and my men to you. I do not now renounce that pledge.”

“Of course. Forgive me, brother. The southern fiefdoms are vital to Gondor’s defense, brother. I cannot fight alone.”

“You will not, unless Dol Amroth itself is under attack. Even then, I will send you what I may.”

“I hold you to that, Imrahil.”

“Then I will take my leave, brother.” The Prince of Belfalas turned to Faramir. “Hold hope in your heart. Boromir is strong; he will return. As will I.” He smiled and kissed his nephew’s forehead, then turned and grasped Denethor’s arm. “I will come.”

Denethor pulled him close. “I will be here.” Both men laughed, clapped shoulders and Imrahil left them.

“Húrin?” The Warden saluted and left the room. Denethor turned to Faramir, his head bowed, and sat heavily at his desk. “There is news from the west.”

“I surmised it.”

Denethor looked up in surprise. “So you have.” He sighed heavily. “Théodred will be sorely missed. I am afraid we have lost Rohan.”

“Théoden will honor the vow of Eorl.”

“He is weak and has no one of wisdom at his side.”

“Yet he honors his forefathers. He will come.”

“He is sorely besieged. The enemy has retreated, why, I do not know. But they will return and Rohan will be sore-pressed to guard its own people, never mind Gondor’s. We cannot help him, not now.”

“Théoden knows that, Father. He will abandon the Fords if he must and bring his forces here. We can win Edoras back; we cannot win back Gondor. He knows that.”

“What think you of Boromir’s call?”

“He is in need. Father,” Faramir knelt at Denethor’s side. “Let me go north.” His voice caught.

“I cannot. I was a fool to let Boromir go. I should have sent Húrin.”

Faramir smiled. “Húrin is old.”

“He is only a year or two older than I.”

“He does not have your blood, Father.”

“Well I know it. Faramir, I need you here, more than ever. I need… Faramir, do not fail me.”

Swallowing hard, Faramir bowed his own head. “I have not seen the Wizard in over a year.”

“I did not mean that. Ever are you willful and take your own counsel. I do not trust many, my son, but I trust you. Yet… I wonder if you trust me?”

“I do, Father. Again you focus on my decisions. I cannot be but what you have made me.”

Denethor choked. “Disobedient, willful, proud?”

“I think not. I am your son, plain and simple.”

Denethor drew in a sharp, long breath. “It is crucial that you obey me now, Faramir. We come to the end and I would have it be an ending with glory.”

“You do not foresee victory?”

“I do not. I have already planned for the evacuation of the City and the Pelennor; the storehouses are full for the upcoming siege, and the caves under the City have been flooded to prevent the enemy from burrowing under us. There will be no retreat.”

“Father, the City has never been breached.”

“It will,” Denethor whispered, “It will.”

“Then I will go to Osgiliath and do what I can.”

“Do not fall back till the last moment, Faramir. You must hold Osgiliath until the fiefdoms have sent their men. We are especially in need of the forces of Lamedon. Angbor has a great force readied to help us. After that, we will see what needs must be done.”

“I will hold Osgiliath as well as I am able.”

Denethor bit his lip. It would have sufficed Boromir to say, ‘I will hold Osgiliath.’

Faramir watched as Denethor’s face fell, not understanding his father’s sudden chill countenance. “I will leave now?”

Denethor nodded.

“You will send word?”

Anger flared. “I have already promised! Go, now, before the time is too late.”

Denethor’s son bit his lip. “At least, may we part in peace?”

The Steward of Gondor stood and walked to the front of his desk. He pulled Faramir into his arms. “Do not abandon Osgiliath. I will send word when you are to retreat.”

Faramir gasped. “Father!”

“I will send word. Do not abandon Osgiliath until you receive the order.”

The young man pulled away from his father’s embrace. Swallowing hard, he nodded. “If that is your command,” then turned and strode from the room.


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6.

30 Feb.


Hirgon waited for the Chamberlain to note his arrival. He would do anything not to be here, in the Great Hall, at this moment, with this broken symbol in his hands. His tears had flown freely, as had all who had been with him when he found it, lying in the reeds by the mouths of the Entwash. He had stopped to let his horse drink; ‘foul moment,’ his heart wailed once again as he thought upon it. His chin, even now, trembled in remembrance of the grief that had brought him to his knees. He hated its touch, what it meant, what it would do to his Lord, once the Steward’s eyes lit upon it. If he could have run – never as a soldier, a Knight of Gondor, had he ever contemplated deserting – but the long ride from the Entwash had been filled with such thoughts. Hirgon, son of Berelach and Captain of Gondor’s Errand-riders fought the urge to flee this heinous duty, but by duty was he bound. And now he stood in the Great Hall of Minas Tirith to lay the Horn of Boromir upon his lord’s lap.

The Chamberlain finally strode forward, spied the object in Hirgon’s hands, and went white. He clutched his heart and staggered. Fortunately, one of the servants saw the Chamberlain’s distress and stayed his fall.

Hirgon never moved.

The Chamberlain wept. “Must you show it to him?” he sputtered through his tears. “He is weak. Can you not wait another hour or two? I would have him rest. He did not sleep last night.” The voice fairly squeaked with sorrow.

Hirgon did not move nor answer, his own heart broken.

Húrin, seeing the entrance to the Hall blocked by a growing number of soldiers, left Denethor’s side and strode forward. “What is thi—?” His own face fell as recognition and horror enveloped him. “Hirgon, where did you find it?”

“By the Entwash, my Lord Húrin, six leagues south of the Rauros garrison. It was lying amongst the reeds.”

“No sign of…?”

“None. However, I went no further. The garrison’s compliment met us right afterwards. They had not seen nor heard aught of Lord Boromir.”

Húrin nodded. “Then…”

Hirgon did not speak. He clutched the Horn to his chest as great sobs engulfed him.

Húrin took his arm. “Grieve not in this Hall. Our Steward needs us strong. Wipe your tears and come forward.”

The Chamberlain offered Hirgon a handkerchief and the captain wiped his eyes. He pulled in a deep breath and nodded to Húrin, who led him forth.

Denethor’s eyes lit in joy as he caught sight of Hirgon; he stood and stepped down the stairs, ready to greet the rider with open arms. ‘At last,’ he thought, ‘he brings me news.’ His joy floundered as he recognized the thing in Hirgon’s hands. Staggering backwards, he tripped on the bottom step and fell against the foot of the Chair.

Húrin ran forward as did Belegorn. Denethor’s aide reached his lord first and knelt at his side, but Denethor brushed him away, kneeling on the cold marble floor as he tried to raise himself up. His legs would not obey him. Belegorn once again offered his hand and Denethor, his eyes not leaving Hirgon’s, took it and stood, leaning against his aide.

Hirgon knelt before Denethor. “I found it by the Entwash, my Lord Steward, not two days ago. I could not find the other half.”

Denethor stepped forward, still clinging to Belegorn’s arm. He knelt in front of the errand-rider and placed his hand gently on the broken Horn. Clenching his teeth, he fought to keep his tears at bay. “This new day, the sun not hardly o’er the mountains to our east, all ready to shine upon us, is the darkest day of my life.” He looked up into Hirgon’s brimming eyes. “No sign?”

The rider shook his head.

“The garrison at Rauros?”

“Heard naught. Nor saw aught.”

Denethor nodded. “Might I have it?”

Hirgon wept openly. “It is thine, my Lord. Come back to thee.” Gently, he opened his hands and Denethor took the cloven Horn into his own.

The Steward sat back against his heels and caressed the kine’s gift to Gondor. The Hall was as silent as Rath Dínen, though by now crowded as rumor of the dire find filled the Citadel; the barracks of Gondor’s knights emptied to spill into the Hall.

At last, Denethor stood, swaying a little. Belegorn never left his side, nor took his hand from Denethor’s arm. The Steward of the High King looked upon his men, gathered in shock and grief. “He is not dead,” he whispered. Turning towards the Chair, he disengaged his arm from Belegorn’s and strode forward, back straight and head held high. “He is not dead,” he whispered again as he bent and retrieved the Rod from where he had let it fall. “He is not dead,” he said once more as he sat in the Chair. “He is not dead.”

Hirgon motioned and the Chamberlain and guards cleared the Hall.

“What say you, Húrin? The trebuchets? Are they ready? Are their company’s now well trained?”

Hirgon looked to Húrin in confusion. The Warden spoke softly. “They are, my Lord. Though I would we had more men.”

Denethor’s sour laugh rang harshly in the Hall. “Men. Is that not what we are always in need of? Have I not even given of my sons?” His eyes misted and his voice broke as Húrin placed a hand on his arm. He moved it off, gently but firmly. “Hirgon, you still stand before us? You must be weary. Get yourself to your farm and take some rest.” He paused. “Nay. The Pelennor must be evacuated. And the livestock saved, if at all possible. Húrin, according to your last count, we have lost two of the grain storehouses?”

The Warden nodded, “Rot and vermin.” Húrin motioned for Hirgon to leave. The soldier saluted as tears streamed down his cheeks, then left the Hall.

“Naught that we have much sway over. Have the farmers bring what food they may.” Denethor’s brow furrowed. “The plans for evacuation of the City are complete?”

“They are, my Lord. All stands in readiness, but,” and Húrin paused, “never has this City been breached. Though I have prepared, as you ordered, I cannot see this being the end.”

“Then open your eyes wider, my good cousin. Unless Théoden becomes a new man, we have not much hope. In fact, I see none, but that of a warrior’s quick death. That is what you wish for, is it not, my dear Warden?”

“It is,” Húrin readily agreed. “If I might, I would like to lead my old company, when battle is upon us.”

“Granted.” At last, the Steward of Gondor closed his eyes and slumped in the Chair. “Belegorn,” he called quietly and the soldier knelt before him. He opened his eyes. “Look at this and speak of what it tells you.” He held the Horn out.

Belegorn studied it through misted eyes. “It has been cloven by an axe, possibly a sword, but large, very large if I deem the signs rightly." He shook his head in wonder. “The cut is not old. Only a few days at best.”

“As I too surmised. It does not bode well for Boromir.”

Belegorn could not speak, only shake his head.

The Steward took a deep breath. “Oft have I said I would give all to Gondor’s defense. My word now comes back to haunt me.”

A clamor arose at the entrance to the Hall and the Chamberlain ran forward. “My Lord Steward, Captain Faramir comes.”

“Oh!” Denethor sobbed. He looked down upon the Horn, then back to the Chamberlain, stricken. “Have him meet me in my private study.” He stood and left the Hall by the back corridor, carrying the Horn with him. Húrin strode as quickly as he could, hardly able to keep up with his Steward’s pace. At last they reached Denethor’s private quarters, Belegorn pushed open the door and followed his lord inside. He entered the study after Denethor and went to the cupboard, pulling out the large whiskey bottle. He poured a glass and handed it to Denethor. The Steward took it and swallowed the contents, handed it back to Belegorn, and sat on the settle across from the fireplace. Húrin placed several pieces of wood upon the embers, along with kindling, and tended the fire.

A few moments later and there was a diffident knock upon the door. Belegorn opened it and bid Faramir enter. The guard gasped at the sight of the Steward’s youngest, for the captain’s hair was disheveled and his eyes red, swollen, and dark-circled. But it was not the appearance of the Lord Faramir that broke Denethor’s aide’s heart; on the contrary, it was the sight of the other half of Boromir’s cloven Horn in the man’s hands. He cried out in grief.

~*~

A/N – ‘Then turning again to Frodo, he spoke in a quiet voice once more. "To those questions I guess that you could make some answer, Frodo son of Drogo. But not here or now. maybe. But lest you still should think my tale a vision, I will tell you this. The horn of Boromir at least returned in truth, and not in seeming. The horn came, but it was cloven in two, as it were by axe or sword. The shards came severally to shore: one was found among the reeds where watchers of Gondor lay, northwards below the infalls of the Entwash; the other was found spinning on the flood by one who had an errand in the water. Strange chances, but murder will out, ‘tis said.’ RotK: Ch. 4: Of Herbs and Stewed Rabbit.



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7.

Faramir stumbled into the room, exhaustion writ plainly upon his face. Belegorn took his arm and brought him to the settle. Faramir pulled himself up and saluted. “Captain Faramir, reporting, my Lord.”

Denethor did not look up, merely placed his hand on the empty space beside him and said, “Sit.”

Faramir looked about him in confusion. Húrin’s face was gray, as was Belegorn’s. The aide forced a glass into Faramir’s hand as he sat. He took it and swallowed the brandy in one gulp.

Denethor still stared into the fire, not speaking nor further acknowledging his son.

Faramir’s eyes reddened even more as he fought to control the tears that had accompanied him on the long road from Osgiliath. Fatigue overcame him and he leaned his head back against the leather cushion, closing his eyes in grief.

“Faramir,” the voice was low, but Faramir had difficulty recognizing it, so filled with… He did not know; in his own grief and tiredness, he could barely identify his own voice.

“Faramir, Boromir’s Horn has been returned to me.”

The man jumped up from the settle in utter bewilderment. He had not noted that his father had even looked towards him. How could he have seen the Horn that lay next to him on the settle?

“I suppose you wonder how I came by it,” the soft voice spoke again, “Hirgon brought it back from Rauros. He found it in the reeds. I… Boromir… It would seem…” The young man watched as his father’s jaw clenched. “It would seem my son has fallen. Show him, Húrin.”

Faramir looked to the Warden, questions filling his eyes; then they opened wide as he beheld the other half of Boromir’s Horn in Húrin’s hands. He clenched his teeth, as his father had done before him, and swayed a bit. Belegorn handed him another glass of brandy. Faramir declined it, then sank to his knees in front of Denethor. Leaning close, he held his half of the Horn in front of him. “Father. One of the soldiers in my company found this about three leagues north of Osgiliath.” He waited, but Denethor did not even glance at him. “Father?”

At last, Denethor’s head came up, but not far enough to look into his son’s eyes; he was stayed by the sight before him. In Faramir’s hands lay the other half of the Horn. “So we have both pieces now,” he said quietly. “It cannot be winded again, you know. We could probably have it covered in hide and it would not seem so… broken. Yet, to wind it would tear the covering and thus make it useless again.” His brow furrowed. “Useless.” He heaved a sigh. “All I do has been for naught, Húrin. Have you not noted that?” He took the Horn from Faramir and motioned to Húrin. His Warden passed him the other half. Gently, Denethor put the two pieces together. “See here, Faramir. Here is the wound that broke my son’s Horn.”

Faramir bit his lip.

“Leave us.” Húrin left and Belegorn, after handing another glass to Denethor, left also.

Denethor stared at the Horn for another few moments while Faramir knelt. “Get up, Faramir,” the Steward said gently. “Sit next to me and tell me of Boromir.”

Faramir began to quietly weep. After a moment’s grace and a nod of encouragement from his father, he spoke, “My first memory was riding upon his back in the nursery.” He paused, caught his breath and continued, “I fell off and banged my head and cried. Our nanny shouted at him and I kicked her.” A watery smile interrupted the story. “She went to hit me, but Boromir tripped her and we ran from the room. I think you let her go soon afterwards.” Faramir’s chin shook. He put his hands to his face and dug their heels into his eyes, his shoulders shaking.

“I remember his first sword practice.” The Steward swallowed the drink, then carefully put the glass on the table. “I knew he would be great. He held the blade as if he were born with it in his hands. It was heavier than the normal practice sword for the swordmaster said Boromir was large for his age and could well handle it. He was right. Boromir swung it with ease. Your mother hated that I gave him such a weapon.” He smiled, “He was only seven at the time, but I deemed it time enough, given his stature and build.”

Faramir could not add anything more. His grief, sitting at his father’s side, was finally unbound and he had all he could do not to wail aloud.

“He is not dead,” Denethor whispered.

Faramir moaned. “Father,” he laid a hand upon Denethor’s arm. “I have not told you all. I had… I saw something on the Anduin last night at the midnight hour.” His father did not speak. Faramir took a deep breath. “Sitting by the River, watching as we always do, I spotted something moving upon it. I stood and stepped into the shallows and walked northwards to see it more clearly. I needn’t have moved; it came towards me as if by command.” Faramir bit his lip. “There was a warrior in the boat, for that is what it was; a craft the like of which I have never seen.” Faramir stopped, mouth open, gasping to fill his suddenly empty lungs. “It was Boromir, Father. Even if I had not known his beloved face, I knew his gear, his cloak, his sword – it was broken, Father.” The young man shivered. “His collar of silver lay heavy on his throat. It was not a dream; a belt was about his waist, one I had never seen before. I could not have made that up.” Once again, the Steward’s youngest clenched his teeth. “I do not doubt that Boromir is dead.”

Denethor did not speak and at least an hour passed.

At last, Faramir overcame his grief and could speak again. “He was at peace, Father, I am sure. I felt only grief and pity as I looked upon him. He had been wounded, terribly, for the marks were upon him, but he had been lovingly placed in the boat with full honors, I would deem.”

“Full honors.” Denethor’s brow rose. “Yet, you could not stop the boat, bring his body back to me?” The suddenly harsh voice made Faramir shiver. “You let his body drift away from you, to go down the Anduin to the sea and be lost forever?” The enormity of what could possibly happen to his Heir’s body blazed through him as a flame in his spirit. Denethor’s jaw dropped and the Steward himself had to gasp to bring needed air to his suddenly starved lungs. He stood, his face livid, and pulled Faramir to his feet. “You left your brother’s body to be found by the Enemy?” The Steward’s voice was now ice, as it oft turned when he spoke to a recalcitrant lord, and Faramir flinched. “Even though dead, they will tear him from limb to limb. They will cut off his head and skewer it on a pike. They will tear out his eyes and fight over them as tasty delicacies.” Denethor fell to the floor, pulling Faramir with him. “You would let them take him!” he screamed. “Vile betrayer!”

Húrin burst through the door along with Belegorn. Both men ran to their Steward and helped him back upon the settle. Húrin moved to Faramir’s side and dragged the boy from his father’s grasp.

Faramir stood in helpless grief and horror. “I could not reach him, Father,” he wept openly. “Before I could move, the boat turned out into the open water. I could not reach him. It was as if he were in the grip of some enchantment.”

At that, Denethor looked up; his face so filled with hate that Faramir stepped back.

“Mithrandir!” he whispered. “You let the Wizard take my son!”

Slowly, the Warden maneuvered Faramir out of Denethor’s sight and into the next room. “Do not listen to him, Faramir” Húrin counseled. “He has not slept since the news of Théodred’s death. He knows not what he says.”

Faramir pulled himself up and looked coldly at the Warden. “Have you ever known my father not to know what he is saying?”

The tone was so like unto Denethor’s that Húrin gasped. Nevertheless, he thrust his own dismay aside and held onto the boy. “He has not slept in four days; I know not if he has eaten a thing. He is beyond exhausted. Do not hold him to his words nor judge him falsely.”

“Look after him, Húrin. I will return for the daymeal, if he will see me.” With that, and a final glance at the closed door to the study, Faramir, youngest son of Denethor, left his father’s quarters.

~*~

A/N – 1) But lest you still should think my tale a vision, I will tell you this. The horn of Boromir at least returned in truth, and not in seeming. The horn came, but it was cloven in two, as it were by axe or sword. The shards came severally to shore: one was found among the reeds where watchers of Gondor lay, northwards below the infalls of the Entwash; the other was found spinning on the flood by one who had an errand in the water. Strange chances, but murder will out, ‘tis said.’ RotK: Ch. 4: Of Herbs and Stewed Rabbit. 2) "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. But that night all the world slept at the midnight hour. Then I saw, or it seemed that I saw, a boat floating on the water, glimmering grey, a small boat of a strange fashion with a high prow. and there was none to row or steer it.
"An awe fell on me, for a pale light was round it. But I rose and went to the bank, and began to walk out into the stream, for I was drawn towards it. Then the boat turned towards me, and stayed its pace, and floated slowly by within my hand's reach, yet I durst not handle it. It waded deep, as if it were heavily burdened, and it seemed to me as it passed under my gaze that it was almost filled with clear water, from which came the light; and lapped in the water a warrior lay asleep.
"A broken sword was on his knee. I saw many wounds on him. It was Boromir, my brother, dead. I knew his gear, his sword, his beloved face. One thing only I missed: his horn. One thing only I knew not: a fair belt, as it were of linked golden leaves, about his waist. Boromir! I cried. Where is thy horn? Whither goest thou? O Boromir! But he was gone. The boat turned into the stream and passed glimmering on into the night. Dreamlike it was. and yet no dream, for there was no waking. And I do not doubt that he is dead and has passed down the River to the Sea." Ibid.


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8.

March 1, 3019

“Where is Faramir?” Húrin asked as they met for the breaking of their fast. “He was not at the daymeal yestereve.”

“He is in Osgiliath by now. After that, he will move deep into Ithilien. Southron forces are moving north along the road towards the Black Gate. Though he will not be able to stop them, he will be able to harry them.”

“Why, Denethor? Could you not give him one more day to grieve?”

The Steward of Gondor turned from his Warden and looked out the window. Habit, he supposed, for there was naught to see; Anor had yet to cross over the mountain to brighten the day. The fruit trees on the Pelennor, whether they could be seen or no, would be in bloom; the smell would be wondrous. He bit his lip, remembering how Ithilien would smell. How he loved that land! It had been years; he could not even remember when he had last smelt the thyme and rosemary, the roses and irises. Irises! His heart clenched in remembrance of his sister, dead these many years. And Amdir too. ‘All I have is death for remembrance. And now Boromir has joined the list.’ At the thought of his son lying dead in some forgotten glade, his heart tore open even further. He gasped and pulled at his tunic, tugging it away from his neck as he tried to catch his breath. The pain in his chest seared beyond endurance. With great effort, he strove to breathe again. After many moments, he stepped away from the window, grateful that Húrin seemed not to note his distress.

“We did not have dead from the House of Húrin to mourn this past Memorial Day, my dear cousin. Next year, if there be a Minas Tirith in which to hold such a ceremony, we will have many. The lists will be long.” He paused. “I suppose, even if we are hiding in the mountains with our tails tucked between our legs, we shall have some sort of observance. The people have needs for such rituals.”

“We should go to the Three Fishermen and get drunk.”

Denethor turned and looked at his Warden in surprise. “I did not think you ever drank to excess.”

“Not often, but today calls for some deed to allay the heart’s gloom.”

Sitting at his desk, Denethor shuffled through papers, not seeing anything before his eyes for his mind was still upon Faramir and the anger he had felt towards his remaining son. ‘Yet, if the Wizard had something to do with Boromir’s death,’ he mused, ‘would Faramir have known?’ His mind reeled with hurt and confusion.

“I said, this day calls for action.”

Denethor looked up in surprise. “What do you keep to yourself that you hint at? What is it that you needs must tell me, but are too timid?”

“There was a mishap an hour ago.”

The Steward looked up, expectantly.

“The half company on Trebuchet Seven. They had new recruits; the captain determined a practice run would be beneficial.”

Denethor sat back in his chair, the papers in his hands crumpling. “How many?”

“Fourteen.”

“Who was the captain?”

“Ragnor.”

“Did he not serve with Boromir?”

“Many years ago. He saved Boromir’s life when they fought against a Mûmak. He was raised to a captaincy two years ago and led a sortie under Boromir at the Battle of Cair Andros.”

“Yes, I remember him. Boromir thought well of him. He has experience.” Denethor stood up. “We did not lose… ?”

“Nay, my Lord, Ragnor lives. There were esquires under his command. From what I can discern, they panicked and the machine rolled back, crushing most of them against the opposite wall. A few of the more experienced tried to help and lost their lives also.”

Denethor rubbed his chin. “We cannot lose Number Seven. It faces directly eastward.”

“Nay. We will bring more esquires and give them lesser work in the company. Leave the direct operation to those who have been trained.”

“We can no longer lose one man, never mind fourteen, Húrin.”

“Well I know it, my Lord.”

“Have letters been taken to the families?”

“Not yet. I was preparing them before I joined you.”

“I would sign them.”

“Of course.”

“I spent the night in turmoil. I must needs attend something this day. Have the letters brought here at nunch-- for the daymeal. If you need me, send Berelach. He will know where I am.”

“Thank you, my Lord.” Húrin stood, saluted and left the room.

Denethor broke off a piece of bread and chewed it as he walked to his door. He put on his cloak and climbed slowly up the steps of the Citadel. When he reached the uppermost room, he unlocked the door and went in. Scarcely able to control his shuddering body, he ignored the stone and looked out the window. Anor had defeated the mountains and now shone brightly down upon the Anduin. “Faramir,” he whispered. “Come back to me whole.”

He stood there for some long time, then turned to the globe. ‘Now that Boromir is dead,’ he wondered, ‘will you, accurséd stone, show me his body?’ Taking in two deep breaths, he strode forward, took the covering off, and let it fall to the floor. He felt the darkness before the stone even opened to his mind. ‘Sauron,’ he whispered, ‘what have you for me this day? Think you I will cower? I will not. No matter the news that comes to my ears, no matter,’ he stifled the scream that tried to rise from his gorge, ‘no matter the sights before my eyes. Gondor will not fall. We will fight you to the end.’

There was no response, not even a flicker. The stone lay as dead before him. No matter what he did, it refused to open to him. He nodded, covered it, and left the room.


March 2, 3019

The next day, as red shafts from Anor’s breaking filled the sky, Denethor strode to the Tower room. The stone opened to him as soon as he put his hands on it. There before him lay Rohan with Edoras as its crown. The roof of the Golden Hall shone brightly. For a moment, Denethor did not look. He did not want to see the drooling thing that was once the stalwart King of Rohan. Instead, his gaze was drawn northwards. He drew in a shaky breath and clutched the stone harder. ‘Do my eyes deceive me? Is it the Wizard? He travels to Edoras? Is my son with him? Nay,’ he shook his head, ‘Boromir is dead. If he ever rode with Mithrandir, the Wizard deigned not to save him.’ With all his strength, he forced the stone to draw closer to the three horses riding across the grasslands towards the Golden Hall.

After an hour’s close scrutiny, he closed his eyes and took his hands from the globe. ‘I cannot be certain. It cannot be him. Why would he ride with… ?’ He opened his eyes once again and forced the stone to do his bidding. “Thorongil,” he whispered brokenly. “My friend… and traitor to Gondor. So you ride with the Wizard.” A harsh laugh broke the silence of the room. ‘I should have know.’

He watched as the three riders, nay, he corrected himself, four, two single riders and one with two ahorse, rode towards the gates of the city of Edoras. They entered, after being accosted by at least a dozen Rohirric guards, into the city itself. Denethor shook his head as anger flared through him. ‘So you open your doors to the Wizard. I should have know. He is the one who has changed you, taken the strength from your arms and legs, made you a doddering fool.’

It was difficult to see, once they entered into the darkness that served as a throne room for Théoden. Rubbing his eyes for a moment, Denethor squinted further, but could not discern what was about. At last, he gave up and returned to his rooms, ate a quick meal, and joined Húrin in a tour of Trebuchet Seven. He signed the letters the Warden had written and gave them back to Húrin, then walked back to the Tower room, hoping that whatever had transpired within the dim confines of Meduseld would now be opened to the light of day.

In his surprise at the sight that greeted him in the stone, he shouted, “Valar!” Théoden sat upon his horse in front of at least a thousand men, riding westward with the Wizard and Thorongil at his side. Denethor moaned in despair. “You travel the wrong way, Théoden,” he shouted aloud, “Turn back. Stay at Edoras until Gondor calls. It will be soon.”

But the Rohirrim rode on, heedless of the Steward’s anguish. ‘So - truly Rohan will not answer. Why goes he westward? He knows the battle lies to the east. To Gondor.’

Denethor drew away from the sight of the éoreds marching away from him and turned instead to the fords of the Isen where Théodred had been lost not seven days before. A battle was in hand. Théoden could not possibly arrive in time. Denethor shuddered as he watched the forces left there succumb to the attack of the enemy. It was a fierce battle and hard fought, but the Riders of Rohan were no match for the might that was arrayed against them. The Steward watched well into the night as the Men of the Mark were forced to retreat – to Helm’s Deep.

At last, exhaustion overcame Denethor; he dropped the cloth over the stone and walked the steps to his own rooms, falling upon his bed, sleeping almost before his head touched the pillow, tear tracks gleaming in the moonlight.

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9.

March 4, 3019

“So we have no hope from Théoden? Rohan will not come?” The news that Denethor shared this red-streaked morn, of great struggle within Rohan, caught the Warden by surprise. He knew of the battle where Théodred had lost his life, but he could not believe that all hope was lost. “They will come if they may. Théoden promised.”

Despair flirted with the Steward of Gondor, danced before his eyes as he remembered what the Palantír revealed in the night. Though the moon was not yet full, still Denethor could see a little as he peered, close to the midnight hour, at the road that led from Isengard to Helm Hammerhand’s stronghold. What he did see turned his heart into ice. Great torches lit up the night as a horde of evil marched towards Helm’s Deep. Théoden had not a hope, of that Denethor was sure. He turned cold eyes towards his Warden.

Húrin shuddered. He ceased his questioning. “I have received no missives from Faramir.”

“Did you know, Húrin, that Helm lost both his sons before he died? He himself froze to death.”

A fey look came into Denethor’s eyes and Húrin quickly strode to his friend and cousin, and knelt at his side. “You will not lose Faramir.”

“I have already lost part of him,” Denethor whispered, “to the Wizard.”

“No, my Lord. Faramir is his own man.”

At that, Denethor looked up, hope writ plain upon his face. “He is that. He will take no reproach from me, why should he obey a wizard?”

“He will not. Of that you can be assured.”

“Bring the plans for the evacuation.” Húrin saluted and left.

Denethor stood and walked to the fireplace. As he turned, he remembered his youngest. Faramir left two days prior, but the leaving had not been as Denethor had wanted.

“Take your rest, Faramir. Tomorrow, ere Anor breaks, I need you away to Osgiliath.”

“Is not Húrin joining us for the daymeal?”

“He will. But you are weary and need not tarry here. Order a meal brought to your rooms.” Denethor looked up from the papers he was signing. “Have you played of late?” His mirth at Faramir’s incomprehension turned quickly to sorrow as Faramir’s eyes misted. He swore at himself for the misspoken word. Faramir obviously had thought of playing with his brother. “I meant your harp. Have you played your harp of late?” he asked gently, “or did you leave it behind in Henneth Annûn?”

“I brought it home last year. Music would betray us. We sing now in whispers.”

Denethor’s brow furrowed. He remembered the sounds of singing that ghosted up from the depths of that hidden fortress, as his patrol would return by starlight. His heart saddened even further. For a Gondorian not to be able to sing with gusto… He found his mouth open as if trying to breathe. Shaking his head, he turned his attention back to his son. “Would you play for me?”

“Now?”

The note of incredulity in Faramir’s voice irked him. “There is no enemy here to prevent it.”

“I will fetch it.”

“Send Belegorn.” Turning back to his papers, Denethor signed another. Faramir pulled the bell and, when Belegorn arrived, sent him off. At last Denethor stood up, stretched and walked around the desk.

His aide entered with the small traveling harp, handed it to Faramir, and left Denethor’s study.

Faramir spent a few moments tuning the instrument, then ran a loving hand over the strings. “It has a beautiful sound; I am surprised it has survived the elements as I carried it about. It is well crafted.”

“Boromir knew quality when he saw it. He did give it to you?” At Faramir’s nod, he continued. “Beauty without strength is of little use to anyone.”

“A rose, Father?”

“It has thorns to protect it.”

“A babe?”

“It has… I fear even my sword will no longer protect the babes of Gondor.”

“When will you evacuate the City?”

Denethor walked to the sideboard and poured two glasses of wine; returning, he handed one to Faramir, then sat on the settle across from the fireplace and held the glass, twirling it absently. “Within the week.”

“Why so soon?”

Denethor’s cold stare made Faramir take in a quick breath.

‘Will the boy never stop his questioning?’ Denethor thought in fury, but his retort was stayed as Faramir began to strum the harp.

After a few moments Denethor asked, “What is that called? I know it not.”

“It is something I have been writing for a few years. It is not complete. I know not if it ever will be.”

“What do you call it?”

Faramir’s hands stayed as a deep blush spread up his neck and across his face. “The Lay of Finduilas,” he whispered.

After a long moment, Denethor said, “It has some merit. Is there more or is that all you were able to compose?”

The strings sang as Faramir answered with his harp.

Before very long, Denethor stood abruptly. “Go and rest now. Stop here on the morrow, ere you leave for Osgiliath. I will have more information for you then.” The Steward walked quickly to his desk, took up some papers, and began to read them.

Faramir slumped for a moment, then stood, harp in hand, murmured a good night and left the room.

Sometime later, Denethor put his hands to his face and thought upon his Finduilas.


Húrin entered with rolls of parchment and, once again, Steward and Warden attacked the route for Minas Tirith’s refugees.


March 5, 3019

Denethor stepped back in surprise; a low sound escaped his lips. “What is this?’ he thought wildly. ‘What do you show me?’ But it was gone when once again the Steward looked into the stone.

His eyes widened, for the evil eyes that oft stared back at him, showed a measure of panic. Denethor held back a smirk, so it would not see. No use letting the creature that battled him on a daily basis know that Denethor had seen. The globe closed and the Steward dropped his hands.

True, he could have continued to use the Palantír. He did not need the one in Minas Morgul open to see, but he needed to stop and determine what exactly he had just seen, in the Witch-king’s globe, reflected somehow into his own.

Denethor covered it and walked slowly to the window, allowing his mind to settle. The sight had only lasted for a fraction of a moment. He needed to concentrate. Unseeing eyes looked out the window. The moon shone bright and close to full.

Small hands. That was his first impression. Small hands held a stone, curly hair framed the child-like face. Bright eyes that stirred some memory deep in his spirit looked out at him in fear. But he knew it was not he that the little creature feared, but the Witch-king himself. He scoured his memory, piecing everything that he could recall from the short encounter, into one coherent thought.

At last, as the enormity of it hit him, he stepped back in horror and leaned against the wall. ‘A Halfling,’ he mind screamed. ‘A Halfling holds another Palantír. But which one? And where?’ Judging by the look of surprised shock in his enemy’s eyes, it was not in Minas Morgul? Where then?

Vaguely, he remembered reading one of the Tomes on the Palantír in the Library. There were seven, in the beginning. Only two remained, he thought. ‘Ah,’ a shiver ran down his spine. ‘Orthanc; there was a stone left in Orthanc.’ But he hought it had been lost long ago. Obviously, he was mistaken. The wizard, Saruman, had found it and learned how to use it. But it had to be by sorcery that he could wield it for the wizard had not the right, as the Steward of the High King had, to use it.

‘And now a Halfling peers through it! Why? How? Why would Saruman let another use it? Why would a Halfling even be in Orthanc? Surely not as a guest? A prisoner then? But why? What could a Halfling offer the Witch-king, let alone the wizard?’

A low groan left him as he remembered Faramir’s dream. ‘For Isildur's Bane shall waken, And the Halfling forth shall stand.’ Denethor moaned again, “By Elbereth!” Was the Halfling the carrier of the thing that caused Isildur’s downfall? Could this same Halfling have caused Boromir’s death? Denethor shook. His head reeled as grief once again assailed him. “Boromir, my Boromir!”

He quieted, after a time, and once grief was set aside, the enormity of his discovery overwhelmed him. ‘Saruman has the Halfling and the Halfling has given it, freely or forced it matters not, the Halfling has given it to the wizard.' Denethor slumped to the floor; despair gripped him. He fought it, fought it with all his being.

‘The Halfling is at Orthanc. Perhaps there is still hope.' They must bring it to the Nameless One. Saruman would come through Gondor, carrying it with him. And Denethor would be waiting. He could easily follow their progress, once they entered his realm. He would pull men away from the southern and western garrisons, cut the roster in half at the beacons, and spread them along his borders. Once he caught sight of them, he would bring his force together and attack. Then, the weapon that was so highly prized by so many would be his!

He locked the room and returned to his study, bringing Belegorn into the room with him. “Send for Húrin and my captains. And for Hirgon as well. I need them here immediately.”

“It is the middle of the night, my Lord.”

“Go!” he shouted, ran to his bedchamber and quickly disrobed, laved his face and neck, and changed his clothes. He ran his hand through his hair and returned to his study. There stood Húrin.

“My Lord?”

“Wait until the others arrive.”

Húrin watched in surprise as the Steward pulled out the parchments containing the troop rosters for the southern fiefdoms, then those for the beacon hills. They had finished apportioning men only a week ago. What could Denethor want with them now?

The captains entered and Denethor told them of his plan. Startled, they saluted and obeyed, but Húrin again wondered, for the hundredth time, how and where his Steward gleaned such incredible information.

After the captains left, Denethor turned to Hirgon. “I have a message for Faramir, but I want it delivered to him in person, by you. And I want it spoken. Remind him of my edict: none may cross Ithilien without a pass, upon pain of death. No one, Hirgon. Even though they appear small and helpless, without a pass, they must be put to death.”

Hirgon saluted. “I will speak the message to Faramir on the morrow, my Lord.”

“Return as soon as it is delivered. I may have need for you.”

~*~

A/N – 1) Faramir’s dream can be found here: FotR: Book II; Chapter 2: The Council of Elrond; 2) There is a great amount of information on the Palantír, in the Palantír chapter (go figure) of HoMe: Book 8: Part One: VI: The Palantír. Also, there is much in the Silmarillion. Two people cannot read and agree upon what the Palantír can and cannot do. Therefore, I feel a measure of freedom in this respect; 3) It seems the Palantír of Orthanc was quite powerful, per Aragorn. ‘But the Palantír of Orthanc the King will keep, to see what is passing in his realm, and what his servants are doing.’ RotK: Book VI: Chapter Six: Many Partings. 4) As to whether or not Pippin was seen by Denethor…. I have always been intrigued by this little bit in RotK – ‘Pippin sat down, but he could not take his eyes from the old lord. Was it so, or had he only imagined it, that as he spoke of the Stones a sudden gleam of his eye had glanced upon Pippin's face?’ Isn’t that a delicious quote? Doesn’t it just make you wonder? Well, I couldn’t stop wondering and finally considered that Denethor might have ‘seen’ Pippin while the Hobbit was ‘caught’ by Sauron. RotK: Book V: Chapter One: Minas Tirith; 5) And lastly, did Denethor know of the existence of the Ring or some such weapon? It seems to me he must have, if one reads the discussion between Denethor and Gandalf in RotK. One such part, as spoken by Denethor: “But most surely not for any argument would he have set this thing at a hazard beyond all but a fool's hope, risking our utter ruin, if the Enemy should recover what he lost. Nay, it should have been kept, hidden, hidden dark and deep. Not used, I say, unless at the uttermost end of need, but set beyond his grasp, save by a victory so final that what then befell would not trouble us, being dead.” RotK: Book V: Chapter Four: The Siege of Gondor.


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10.

March 8, 3019

Húrin came in, followed closely by Hirgon. The errand-rider saluted and waited.

“Hirgon. What news do you bring? Faramir should have made contact with the enemy yesternoon at the latest.”

“There was a battle in Ithilien as you foretold, my Lord Steward. Here is Captain Faramir’s missive. It was sent early this morning.”

Denethor scowled, took the parchment and waved off Hirgon. “I will send for you when I have completed my reply.” The errand-rider saluted and left. “I cannot understand why the battle should have lasted overlong.” The scowl had not left Denethor’s face. “The strategy planned should have had it done and over with in hours. What could have caused Faramir to wait so long to write?”

At Denethor’s direction, Húrin sat on the settle. “Battles are fortuitous things. They do not always do what we wish or plan. Perhaps an explanation is in the missive.” A smile graced the Warden’s face.

“Would you mock me, Húrin?”

Standing swiftly, Húrin saluted. “I would not, my Lord Steward. Never. I apologize. Profusely.”

The Steward spread the parchment open and read quietly. After a time, he raised his head. “A mûmak. I had not seen… I had no report of a mûmak. But Faramir and his men seem to have come through the battle unscathed.”

“And won?”

“How does one win against a mûmak?”

“You did, once. And so did Boromir.”

“Always by some chance. Fate stepped in and saved me. The same was true for Boromir. Now, fate shines upon my only son.” He swallowed hard. “He seems to have survived his encounter. Along with many of his men.”

“Then why do you glower?”

“Firstly, the battle was yesterday. Yet, he does not send a missive until now?” Denethor shook his head. “Something in what he writes gives me cause for concern. I cannot grasp what it is, but all is not as he notes.”

“Shall I send another rider? Would you have me recall him?”

“Nay. Neither.” A heavy sigh sounded as Denethor rubbed his forehead with his fingers.

Belegorn entered with a servant and began helping to spread out the nuncheon meal.

After both men removed themselves from the room, Denethor moved to the table, urging Húrin to join him. “The list,” Denethor said.

“Might we not eat before discussing it? I have a weak stomach.”

“Denethor grimaced. “Weak indeed. I have seen you eat… We both know a soldier would die of starvation with a weak stomach. All we see and do, and yet we must stop, forget it, and take our daymeal else the others eat it.”

Húrin chuckled. “Yes. A laggard would starve in Gondor’s army.”

“Any army,” Denethor barely smiled. “We will leave the list till after nuncheon. By the by, have you heard aught of the farmers we brought from Anórien?”

“According to Hirgon, all is well. The summer crops are planted.” A sharp hiss from Denethor, and Húrin ceased speaking. “My Lord?”

“Nothing.” But it was not nothing. Denethor’s mind reeled as he recalled his vision of a pants and pillaged Pelennor. There would be no crop left to harvest. He wondered if he should say something, tell Húrin what he had seen. At last, he continued with his meal.

When they were finished, Denethor retired to his study. Húrin, ordered to bring the latest list, returned within a short time. Denethor rolled open the first parchment and heaved a sigh. “It is as if we run circles around ourselves, chasing after our tales as dogs do, and yet, not one item on this list is completed.”

“Most are nearly complete. We cannot do further on some things. The evacuation for example,” Húrin ventured to say. “The road has been divided into three parts: one for carts, one for wagons and one for horses. The staging areas are set, and all know where they are to report. I think, Denethor, that we can cross this off.”

“Then the Rammas by the North Gate. Is that near to completion?”

“Ingold and his men are working on it. He is competent. It will be done.”

“The water supply on the first level. Is it sufficient?”

“If the enemy uses fire--”

“Not if,” Denethor interrupted him. “He will use it. He will use catapults to fling fireballs over our walls and we must have enough water for the crews to quench them before we lose the city to fire.”

“Tubs have been set up all along the wall, just as you instructed, every one hundred yards. The young boys who will be staying will be used as runners and will watch for fires. They will sound the alarm. We have sufficient water ready.”

“How many boys?”

“At least thirty. I would more, for that means each boy must watch over one hundred yards. If possible, I would prefer ninety, but I will not know until the evacuation is complete and we see who remains.”

“That is a questionable strategy; we cannot leave that part of our defense unknown. Conscript the boys. And make it at least one hundred. We must needs have replacements for those who fall.”

Húrin shuddered at the thought. The women would be wild. So many of Gondor’s young boys were already in the esquires. Now Denethor would take even more away from their mothers. Yet, what could they do? He resigned himself to it. “I will conscript one hundred and thirty. That way, each boy will cover one rod with ten more boys for substitutes and ten for running errands and missives. That would leave thirty for whatever comes along.”

“My esquire has requested permission to join the main guard. I think it best if we use the esquires for more important duties than standing by their lords’ sides. Send them all off and use the boys you conscript as esquires.”

“It will be done.”

“I would inspect the First Level and the trebuchet stations. When is the next practice run for the trebuchet?”

“First bell. Before the daymeal.”

“Good then let us go and watch Number Seven. I would see what Ragnor does with what men he has left.”

~*~

Before they were even returned to the Citadel, Hirgon found him. “My Lord Steward,” the captain saluted, “an errand-rider awaits in the Great Hall.”

“From?”

“The South. Pelargir.”

Denethor’s face went white. He had been so fixed on the doings to the North and the West, that he had neglected the South these past two days. He walked swiftly to the Tower and entered. The Chamberlain greeted him at the door.

“My Lord, the rider from Pelargir was wounded and near-spent. His horse died ere he reached the Great Gate. One of your personal guards brought him hither. Forgive my presumption, but I sent him to your study.”

Denethor’s eyes widened. “Grave news then.” He turned and ran to his study, flung open the door, and stopped. The rider sat, bent over in one of the great stuffed chairs that adorned Denethor’s room, blood showing through this leather armor. His shoulders shook and Denethor had to calm himself before he walked to the sideboard and poured whiskey into a glass, then offered it to the man. The soldier tried to stand, but Denethor stayed him with a hand. “Drink this,” he commanded, then sat at his desk.

The soldier gulped the spirits down, then sat looking forlornly at the glass. Denethor watched, knowing full well the news the rider brought.

“Pelargir has fallen, my Lord,” the soldier finally stood. Denethor noted his legs wobbled. He took the proffered pouch and opened it. He recognized the firm handwriting of Captain Gelmir. He looked up.

“Captain Gelmir’s head is on a pike in the center of the city.”

Denethor lowered his head and continued reading.

“Forgive me, my Lord. They were upon us in the night. Though there is no excuse for my failure. There were too many and they had strange fire weapons, balls that opened and shout out fire and death. Beware of them! I have not seen the like before. The city itself has fallen; I hold the fort, but not for long. They have surrounded it. A battering beast pounds the gate even as I write this missive. It will not stand. Forgive me. Your servant, Gelmir, Captain.”

Denethor sat back for perhaps a quarter of an hour. The rider had returned to his seat, his head in his hands. “Go to your captain and report, then take yourself to the Houses and have that wound looked after. Tell Hirgon you are relieved for the rest of the day.” The soldier saluted and left. Denethor pulled on the handbell and heard it ring somewhere off in the distance. Belegorn entered and stood, waiting. “Send for Hirgon.”

After a half hour, the Captain of the Errand-riders stood before his Steward. “Hirgon, has there been any word from Lamedon, from Angbor?”

“Nay, my Lord. I will send a rider.”

He wrote a quick note, folded it, and handed it to his captain. “Give this to another. Stay near. I will need you soon.”

Hirgon turned to leave. “Wait! The rider from Pelargir. How fares he?”

“He is dead, my Lord.” Denethor nodded and Hirgon saluted and left.

Húrin entered but a few moments later. “Your Chamberlain sent for me.”

“The man has wit. Pelargir has been taken. Captain Gelmir is dead.”

“The Corsairs sail to Minas Tirith?”

“Not yet. They will ransack the city, spend a few days, at the least, pants and pillaging, taking the spoils of my people. They will probably be at the Harland in less than a week. Though, to our advantage, the wind is against them, for the nonce.”

“Angbor will not come?”

“No, he will not. He must stand and protect his own lands and people. If I know him, he will send a force to the Gilrain and fight there. It might slow the ships a bit.”

“That is a dire blow.”

“It is. It means we must rely on Théoden and we both know he has his own troubles. If Helm’s Deep is encircled, he could be imprisoned there for months. Though, I doubt the Enemy would let him stop his progress thusly. Nay, I think Théoden dead.” He closed his eyes, remembering the sight of Thorongil riding next to the King of Rohan. ‘He is probably dead also. I suppose that thought should fill me with delight, though the friendship the Northerner and I once shared is gone, I loved him, at the time.’

“Should I send further men to the Harland?”

“Nay. We have none to spare. Húrin, send the order to light the beacon at nightfall. Use the white smoke. All the beacons are to be lit.”

Húrin fell into a nearby chair. “My Lord,” he groaned.

“I relied upon the strength of Lamedon. We are now bereft of Angbor’s forces. Send the order and have Captain Hirgon sent to me.”

Húrin nodded, opened the door and spoke to Belegorn. He turned then, with tears in his eyes, and stared long and hard at his cousin, his friend, his Lord. “I will order the beacons lit.” Saluting, he left the room.

Denethor stood and walked to the window that overlooked the Courtyard. He watched as the dead branches of the White Tree swayed in the strong north winds. Shaking his head, he moved to a cupboard on the near wall and pulled out a lebethron box. He blew the dust from its lid and opened it. The stench of long-trapped air caused him to hold the box away from him for a moment, then he pulled back the black covering and looked down upon the Red Arrow.

It stared back at him, seeming as impotent as the Stone at rest, but Denethor knew when this simple token was placed in Theoden’s hand, if the King of Rohan yet lived, the man would stumble at the thought of its import.

What number of men Rohan would be able to muster after the devastation of the battles at the Fords and the Deep, Denethor could not even fathom, but he was desperate, now that he had lost Pelargir and the promise of Angbor’s men. ‘If I had known, I would have lit the fires earlier. Yet, what good with Theoden fighting his own battles.”

When Hirgon entered, he found Denethor sitting at his desk. “My Lord?”

“Your last missive, Hirgon, then I will keep you by my side. You have been valiant and true. I could not have asked for a better captain. I know the missives I send are received, because of the faith and the duty your men feel towards you. I am sorry I have been lax in the friendship that belongs to you from your father. I would have it another way, but…”

“My Lord,” Hirgon interrupted. “I owe my allegiance to you. I owe my life to you. Know my men serve at your pleasure, not mine. It is you they revere. As do I. Ask what you will of us, we will obey.”

“Then take this to Rohan, Hirgon,” he held the Red Arrow before him and watched as his captain swayed at the sight and all but fell. “I know not if Théoden King yet lives, but take it to Edoras and give it to whomever is in charge.”

“My Lord,” the young captain sputtered, “I will see it done.” He groped for words, but none would come. There were no words to express his sorrow. And his great pride for being given such an errand. “If you do not object, I will not take esquires with me on this ride; I will take my best riders.”

“That is as it should be. Put someone you trust in command whilst you are gone. Then, when you receive Rohan’s answer, come swiftly back. I will be waiting.”

Hirgon saluted, turned to leave, then turned back to his Steward. “Thank you, my Lord,” he whispered in deep appreciation. “Thank you.”

Denethor rounded the desk and took the man in his arms. “Take care and return. I owe your father that much – to see that his son lives.”

Hirgon nodded and returned the embrace. “I will return in two days time.”

~*~

A/N – 1) ‘But soon Pippin saw that all was in fact well-ordered: the wains were moving in three lines, one swifter drawn by horses; another slower, great waggons with fair housings of many colours, drawn by oxen; and along the west rim of the road many smaller carts hauled by trudging men.’ RotK: Book V: Chapter 1: Minas Tirith; 2) According to Michael Perry in his ‘Untangling Tolkien,’ Théoden traveled as hidden as possible, to prevent the Enemy from seeing his troops and guessing they were going to Gondor’s aid. Unfortunately, this also meant Denethor probably could not see that the Rohirric army was, in fact, coming to Gondor; 3) The girth of Minas Tirith around the city at the First Level measured around 9,000 feet – almost 2 miles (or almost 2 furlongs or 80 rods or 300 yards depending upon what measurement you are using - Tolkien used rods and furlongs and such). According to Karen Wynn Fonstad’s Atlas of Middle-earth. That equates to about twenty-five football fields (US) long. A lot of territory to cover!!! {Measurements - 1 league = 3 miles; 1 mile =8 furlongs; 1 furlong = 40 rods; 1 rod = 6 paces (which in later days to provide consistency among surveyors was quantified as 5-1/2 yards); 1 pace = the length of a grown man's stride} (PS – a hearty thank you to Helmsdaughter for verifying my math on the placement of the boys around the inner wall of the City): 4) I won’t even go into the bells; they are insane, but you can find information on how they are used by googling for ship’s bells (which is the system I believe Tolkien used.); 5) Aragorn sees the Corsairs, in the Palantir, approaching Gondor on March 6th - It takes an errand-rider about 20 hours to make it from Pelargir to Minas Tirith. On March 13, Aragorn reached Pelargir, and the Dead swept over the Corsairs' ships and captured the fleet. http://www.tuckborough.net/towns.html#Pelargir; 6) Lebethron – Faramir states it is a precious wood of Gondor. RotK: Book IV: Chapter Six: The Forbidden Pool; 7) Meaning of import: Archaic. to be of consequence or importance to; concern. http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/import