Ten Thousand Years will not Suffice

by Agape4Rivendell

11  12  13  14  15

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 

11.

March 9, 3019

Denethor heard the horn winding from the Tower Room and pulled himself away from the globe. He had failed; the Halfling and Saruman were lost somewhere in the wilds. Even if he had ten thousand more men to scour the borders, the Wizard’s magic would keep them hidden. He shook in frustration; what further could he do to save Gondor?

So - Boromir had died for naught; as well, Théodred; and now, Gondor would fall. Isildur’s Bain would be placed in the Nameless One’s hand. Sobs tore through the Steward’s broken heart as he watched the blackness of Mordor, coursed through with the blood red of the spewing mountain. How had it come to this? He had asked himself this, it seemed, since the very day he had been born. No matter what he did, no matter what sacrifice he made, it all came down to the fact that he was but a man against a force that even the Elves could not vanquish.

He let the globe go and walked to the window, holding tightly onto the sill, trying to find the courage to leave the Room and face his men, rally them to another level of bravery, when, in fact, he knew all was lost. As his sightless eyes looked out upon the Pelennor, the sun caught the top of the Dome of Stars in the midst of decimated Osgiliath, and Denethor thought of Faramir, ruing the fact that his son knew, in the very depths of his heart, that his father had lost all hope. How could his son battle without hope?

Another blast of the horn and Denethor’s grief-fogged mind realized it was the signal that Mithrandir approached the City. His eyes turned towards the North Gate, but he could not see. He placed the cloth over the stone and walked from the Room, locking it after him. He walked slowly down the stairs, wondering why the Wizard had come. The last Denethor had seen him, he had been riding next to Théoden and Thorongil on the plains of Rohan. Had Théoden triumphed at Helm’s Deep? It seemed inconceivable!

He turned and ran up the stairs, unlocked the door and pulled the cloth off the globe, letting it fall to the floor. He sent his mind towards Helm’s Deep and saw only a small contingent guarding the battlement. His mouth opened in wonder. There were no signs of burial grounds. No, there were, but so few. The guards watched the walls in silence, and in victory! Rohan had won. Somehow, Rohan had won. He caught no sight of Théoden nor of Thorongil. Where were they then? Had they died in the battle and another led Rohan’s forces? Would it be Éomer? Too young.

Another horn blast. This time from the Third Level. The Wizard was almost to the Citadel. Denethor looked once more, towards Edoras, but saw naught. He bit his lip. ‘Where are Rohan’s forces?’ He could find no answer. He shook his head in consternation. How could he face the Wizard with such little information? He took a deep breath and left the Room, the cloth placed, before he left, with reverence upon the globe.

As he walked from the Tower into the Great Hall, he heard the shouts of his men, crying out the Wizard’s name, and his heart stopped. Their cries were of despair. The Wizard brought horror and despair with him. He gritted his teeth as anger replaced his own despair. His men needed to be strong now, stronger than ever they had been before and this… this Wizard rides into His City with despair as his cloak!

He pulled his guards from the paved passage that the Wizard would walk, and entered the Great Hall. He knew Mithrandir would understand the gesture: that Denethor had no fear of the Wizard. He called to the Chamberlain to have the horn brought to him, both pieces, and his Rod. He strode towards the Chair without a look, neither left nor right, of the kings that lined the Hall. He had no time to even consider what they might think. If he could have, if he had been free, he would have spat at the feet of each one, reminding them of their dereliction to their people and to their City. How they had failed Gondor. He would not. Until his last breath, he vowed, he would fight, even though Gondor had already lost.

He thought again upon Isildur’s Bain as Boromir’s horn was placed in his lap. Lovingly, with gentle touches, he stroked it, waiting for the announcement that the Wizard was at his door. He needed to let his grief free, he needed to beguile Mithrandir and discover what part the Wizard played in Boromir’s death.

Húrin ran into the Hall and to the Chair. “A Halfling rides with the Wizard.”

Denethor clenched the horn tighter. A flare of hope engulfed him in its fire. ‘Does he carry Isildur’s Bain? Does he have this thing with him?’ A small whimper of excitement escaped his throat. ‘Does he bring it to me?’ He kept his head bowed, trying mightily to keep any thoughts away from the Wizard. He heard the great metal door open and he tensed, waiting for the battle to begin.

"Hail, Lord and Steward of Minas Tirith, Denethor son of Ecthelion! I am come with counsel and tidings in this dark hour." *

The Steward of Gondor looked up, his eye immediately drawn to the little creature that walked beside Mithrandir. His skin crawled at the manifestation of countless legends, and Faramir’s dream. For a moment, he swore he ‘knew’ this creature, but that was impossible. ‘Ah! The Halfling in the Palantír!’ This was the little creature he had seen just a few short days ago, being tormented by the Witch-king. He kept himself in check.

Denethor could not remember the words he spoke, but the Wizard introduced the Halfling to him. In the midst of the introduction, Mithrandir let slip that Théoden yet lived, but Denethor, so used to hiding his very spirit these many long years, never flinched, but stored the information for later use.

The next thing he knew, he was in a verbal battle with the Wizard over Faramir! How he should have known; Mithrandir still considered himself the better and dared to malign Boromir. His Boromir. Who had given his very life... He chided himself for not realizing the Wizard would use the same tactics with him that he had used with Ecthelion. In the depths of his abused heart, he cursed Faramir and the Wizard and this Halfling that witnessed his son’s death and yet lived.

At last, he lifted the horn, at the Wizard’s questions, and showed it to him, and was astounded when the little creature shouted. "That is the horn that Boromir always wore!" In response, he reeled off the history of the horn and the fact that he had heard it before. Oh, how his heart hurt when the Halfling agreed with the time of its winding. He spoke viciously, and regretted it, but he wanted to hear how this little helpless creature could have survived the attack that took his stalwart son, the Captain-General of Gondor! As he listened to the tale, short though it was, a small glimmer of esteem came into his heart for this little one that had stood by his son’s side. In fealty. And love. Then he found himself being looked upon with no little pride.

"Little service, no doubt, will so great a lord of Men think to find in a hobbit, a Halfling from the northern Shire; yet such as it is, I will offer it, in payment of my debt."

The Steward of Gondor watched as the Halfling flung aside his gray cloak; the creature drew forth his small sword and laid it at Denethor's feet. He began to smile, but something about the Halfling caught Denethor’s eye and he looked upon him in wonder. ‘Amdir!’ his mind shouted. The little creature had Amdir’s sweet, kind eyes. ‘How could this be?’ Already, he had felt some comfort, knowing that such a friend stood at Boromir’s side in the last hours of his life, and now, now he felt the comfort of Amdir surround his heart. His friend had promised to always be at his side. How this feeling was possible, Denethor did not know, but he grasped it and held it close. He smiled, bent his head and held out his hand, laying the shards of the horn aside. "Give me the weapon!" he said.

When he held it in his hand, Denethor listened to the tale of how it had come to the little one. His wonder, and respect, grew. At last, he drew himself up and said, “I accept your service. For you are not daunted by words; and you have courteous speech, strange though the sound of it may be to us in the South. And we shall have need of all folk of courtesy, be they great or small, in the days to come. Swear to me now!”

“Take the hilt,” said Gandalf, “and speak after the Lord, if you are resolved on this.”

“I am,” said the Halfling.

Denethor laid the sword along his lap, and the little one put his hand to the hilt, and said the oath, slowly after Denethor, and then Denethor said his part. Another small smile graced his lips. Stalwart indeed. He gave back the sword and the Halfling sheathed it. Denethor bid him sit, ordered food to be brought, and commanded the Halfling to tell him everything. Every moment of what he could remember of his son. For a moment, he wished mightily that Faramir were with him. That the boy could hear this tale and be comforted by the friendship obvious between this one and Boromir.

Before the little one… before Peregrin, son of Paladin began to speak, Mithrandir interrupted. With fury Denethor listened to the whining of the Wizard. He took some perverse joy in discomfiting the one who had spent so many years extolling Thorongil’s virtues to Ecthelion. He did not want to reveal too much, yet the Wizard’s barbs of Gondor’s ignorance rankled him and he spoke. “Yea,” he said; “for though the Stones be lost, they say, still the lords of Gondor have keener sight than lesser men, and many messages come to them.” In the end, Denethor relented and turned his attention back to the Halfling. “But sit now!” He noted Peregrin twitched when he spoke of the stone and realized he had, in truth, been correct. This one had dared to touch the Palantír and live. His regard grew. “Now tell me your tale, my liege,” said Denethor, half kindly; half mockingly. “For the words of one whom my son so befriended will be welcome indeed.”

For over an hour, Denethor sat and listened, questioned the Halfling, and watched, with no small delight, as Mithrandir fumed and raged at being ignored. But Denethor did not ignore him. He watched every nuance, every twitch, every growl that escaped the Wizard’s lips. Try as he might, though he questioned long and hard, he did naught to harm the Halfling, just extracted every piece of information from the guileless little thing.

At last, he relented and released the Halfling, reminding him of his oath, and ordering him to present himself later in the day, but Mithrandir would not leave with his thoughts unspoken and Denethor lost his temper and reminded the Wizard of the one thing that galled the Steward of Gondor the most. His secrecy!

“If you understand it, then be content,” returned Denethor. “Pride would be folly that disdained help and counsel at need; but you deal out such gifts according to your own designs. Yet the Lord of Gondor is not to be made the tool of other men's purposes, however worthy. And to him there is no purpose higher in the world as it now stands than the good of Gondor; and the rule of Gondor, my lord, is mine and no other man's, unless the king should come again.”

Another sharp word and Denethor watched as the Wizard left in a fury, the Halfling desperately running to keep up with Mithrandir’s long strides. If Denethor had not been so angry, he would have laughed at the sight. But again, he chaffed at the silence of the Wizard upon the things that mattered most to him – the weal of Gondor. How he hated the machinations and schemes of this being.

When he had rung the gong, the servants came and one tried valiantly to lead Mithrandir, but he also could not keep up with the Wizard. Denethor looked away, suddenly exhausted. It had been a battle, as he had envisioned, but he had not dared to think he would engender such information. If it had been the Wizard he had to question, he would never have learned what he did. And for that, he was most grateful. He felt a deep sorrow for the Halfling. He had endured much. He promised himself he would be kind to Peregrin, son of Paladin.

~*~

A/N – 1) "Mithrandir! Mithrandir!" men cried. "Now we know that the storm is indeed nigh!" "It is upon you," said Gandalf. "I have ridden on its wings. Let me pass! I must come to your Lord Denethor, while his stewardship lasts. Whatever betide, you have come to the end of the Gondor that you have known. Let me pass!" RotK: Book V: Chapter 1: Minas Tirith. 2) From this point on, there will be many ‘passages’ taken directly from RotK. They will be noted here, but not in the body of the text. It is not an effort to make it seem these are MY words, but to keep the flow of the tale moving. For those who are familiar with this book, you will know. Those who are not familiar really, really should read the Book – it is a treasure, a blessing, a gift. It is precious.

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12.

Denethor sat on the great Chair in the Great Hall in the great City of Minas Tirith and waited for his stomach to settle and his head to stop spinning. The incongruity of it all bemused him. He was Steward and yet… his brow rose… still a boy to the Wizard. His stomach would not cease its roiling; much as he willed himself to calm, his body still shook, trembled, in fact, by what had just transpired.

A battle he had called it. A battle already lost. The Wizard had always had the upper hand; there was no denying it. Yet, someway, somewhere, Denethor had hoped he might somehow win. This day, his very bones told him all was lost. Had been lost since Thorongil had entered the Great Gate as an unkempt ranger who soon commanded Ecthelion’s army.

Ecthelion was dead. He had listened to the Wizard, took his counsel, and thrust his own son aside for the love of the Northerner. Thorongil was Ecthelion’s son, had been since he arrived in Minas Tirith. No matter what Denethor did, Thorongil did better.

Finduilas was dead. He had not won over her decline into despair. No matter what he had done, she left him. She only looked to the mountain, let its evil sink into her spirit and darken it, and lost all hope.

Amdir was dead. Fighting for him. All that mattered to his dearest friend was that Denethor suffered grief and Amdir came to his aid. And because of that, when the Orcs attacked, Amdir protected him with his very life.

Indis was dead. Probably poisoned. He loved her with his every thought. She had been mother, sister, friend, confidant – everything. He had accepted all she gave him as if it were his due, and he failed her. Murder unavenged.

Boromir was dead. Sent off on some foolish quest that should have been Faramir’s. Faramir would have known how to deal with Elves. Cunning, conniving creatures. Boromir was as a babe sent into the lion’s den. A warrior in a bramble patch. The stone had not lied; no matter what Denethor tried to do, Boromir died.

Faramir –

“My Lord,” Húrin stood before him, touching his knee and looking at him as if he were some strange beast. “My Lord. Are you well?”

“What need have you?” Denethor pulled himself from the mire of grief.

“Your captains are assembled. Would you meet with them here?”

“I did not hear the bell.”

“It rang the third hour from sun’s rise.”

“Come with me, then. It is time to order the evacuation.” He handed the Rod and the broken pieces of Boromir’s Horn to the Chamberlain.

Húrin nodded and followed his lord, saying naught.

When they came into Denethor’s study, the chief captains, their aides, and those in charge of the evacuation saluted and moved aside for him. He returned their salutes and stood at his desk. He motioned and they sat in various chairs settled about the large room, their aides standing behind them. The fire was not lit, as the morning was already grown warm. Denethor had his great cloak still wrapped about him.

“It is time. You have your assignments for this day’s work. The people have already assembled at their waiting points. We must begin the evacuation.”

They all nodded. “Then, are there questions?”

“The wains from the Fourth Circle are greater than we expected,” Captain Mardil said. “I have put another company on detail to help them.”

“How could this be? The plans have been set since last year.”

“The refugees from the Pelennor, my Lord, and Anórien,” Húrin interposed. “They have swelled our ranks. Even with that, all is proceeding as planned.” Gondor’s Warden of the Keys stopped as Mithrandir entered the chamber.

Denethor watched as the grizzled old man took a pipe from his mouth and blew smoke into the air. His skin prickled, wondering what new devilry the Wizard was about. Silently he screamed his frustration, but none could see it in his physical form. “Lord Mithrandir.” He motioned for the Wizard to take a seat to the right of him. He watched as Mithrandir walked steadily forward and sat. ‘White?’ Denethor chided himself; he had not noted that the Wizard’s garb was different. ‘As is his hair and beard. What betook him to evidence such changes?’

“The North Gate is just now being strengthened?” The Wizard’s voice was smooth, non-committal, but Denethor felt its chiding.

“The last of the fortifications to be done.” How the Steward hated the fact that he was explaining himself. “The Rammas has been raised. As you well know.”

The Wizard nodded and continued to smoke.

“The evacuation will begin.” Denethor stopped himself. He would not further enlighten this one, for he sensed Mithrandir already knew all his plans. “Those of you who are in charge of the evacuation, leave us now. The road must be cleared for a league before the noon hour, for we need it open for those who come to our aid from the South.” Seven men stood, saluted, and left the chamber. Denethor pulled forth a scroll and unrolled it. “Here is the Enemy, as far as reports can tell.”

His chief captains stood and moved toward the map, murmuring to each other as they came forward.

Mithrandir never moved, but Denethor knew the Wizard could see clearly enough from his seat next to the desk. None of the soldiers moved close enough to hinder his sight. Denethor bit the inside of his cheek.

A rider entered. “My Lord Steward.” He bowed and offered a missive.

Denethor took it, read it quickly, and handed it to the Wizard who nodded as if he expected what he read. Once again, Denethor’s aggravation at Mithrandir’s penchant of hiding all knowledge from him grew. He turned to his captains. “The darkening spreads. It now covers the Ephel Dúath.” His skin prickled as he spoke. ‘How could the Enemy control the very skies?’

He watched as several of his captains blanched. Others stood stalwart, hands on the hilts of their swords. ‘These are the ones I can trust,’ he thought. “Come. Let us continue.” He turned his back on the window, tempted as he was to look out and see for himself the progress of the darkness, but instead, poured over his maps once again.

“They will bring siege weapons. We must ensure our trebuchets target these first.” He looked up and was heartened to see the calm courage covering the faces of his captains.

“Will they dig trenches, my Lord?”

“They will. I would have them stopped before that, but, though the range of our weapons is great, they will dig, hide, then dig some more. Ever moving forward. That is when we must have our archers ready.”

He heard an aide ask his captain, “Can they not dig under the walls and enter?”

“We have flooded the lower caves, the dungeons, and the sewers. None can enter below.” Denethor motioned, and the captain ordered his aide gone. “Any other questions?” He was gratified to see the remaining aides shuffle and bow their heads. ‘Another Faramir,’ he thought bitterly, ‘questioning what he does not know!’

Well into the day’s planning, Denethor looked towards the Wizard and paused. Mithrandir’s eyes were wide, the hand holding the pipe stilled in mid-air, and his head was cocked towards the window. ‘What now, Wizard? What do you hear or see in the depths of your cold heart? But no, you will not share it; ever is your purpose kept unto yourself. Even if said purpose may have some small impact upon Gondor’s safety, yet you would keep all to yourself.’

Another messenger entered, panting, eyes wild. “There has been a sighting, my Lord. Some strange creature riding in the sky. Its fell voice frightens even the horses.”

Denethor stared at Mithrandir. The Wizard, after another moment, seemed to pull himself together, bringing the pipe to his lips, sucking the hideous thing, and releasing dense, foul smelling smoke. For one moment, Denethor remembered the smell that lingered upon Thorongil’s clothing and missed his once-friend. With an infinitesimal shake of his head, he turned back to the maps.

At last, the noon bells rang and Denethor straightened. “We now are as well prepared as possible, until we know the number of those who come from the south to our aid. Take this time to rest and refresh yourselves. I would have you return here after the daymeal.” He stepped away from the desk and walked to the window. Finally, he looked upon the sight that skewered his back these last three hours.

“So the darkening begins.” The Wizard spoke as if he were commenting upon the quality of Denethor’s wine.

“You did not see it?”

“I was here with you, Lord Denethor. The darkening had not begun when first I entered Minas Tirith.”

“Well, then, come join me and look upon it. And if you may, tell me your thoughts.”

The Wizard stood and moved towards the window, standing next to Denethor. “It is still far enough away.”

“That it is. I wonder when it will encompass the entire sky? Tell me, Mithrandir, does it have purpose?”

“You know as well as I, Lord Denethor. Terror is the Enemy’s main weapon. He uses it well.”

“You felt the creature?”

“I did. I have felt it before, upon the plains of Rohan.”

“And what can you tell me of it? What defense might we use against it?”

“I am told an Elf took one such with only one arrow.”

Denethor choked on laughter. “How many Elves do you imagine I have in Gondor’s army?”

The Wizard, to his credit, chuckled. “If an Elf can take one down, so can a man. The archers of Gondor are well known and prized for their skill.”

Denethor looked once more upon the graying sky and turned away. “Would you join me for nuncheon?”

“Yes.”

For a brief moment, Denethor looked upon the Pelennor and wondered where Faramir was and how he fared; then he turned and led the Wizard towards his dining chambers.

~*~

Denethor stood up and went to his window, opened it, and sighed in deep gratitude as the air was filled with shouting, dust and huzzahs. ‘The men of the South are come to Gondor’s aid.’ As he waited for Húrin to bring the report of their numbers, their equipment, and their horses, he poured himself wine. The Wizard left him an hour before, and he did not care to know where he had gone. He felt safe and strong, now that Mithrandir was away from him; sometimes, when the Wizard was about, Denethor felt more like the scorned captain of his father’s time. Though he expected the Wizard to return for the daymeal, he took great comfort in being alone for the nonce. He returned to the window and drank in the sound of his people as they shouted out what he presumed were the names and fiefdoms of those who marched in through the Great Gate; he was too far to hear anything but joy-filled noise. He sat on the window’s ledge and quaffed his wine.

After many long hours, Húrin entered and found his lord back at his desk pouring over reports. “Forlong the Fat, my Lord, of Lossarnach,” Húrin began, “brings two hundreds, horsed.” He blanched at Denethor’s look. “They are well armed,” he explained. “Their battles axes shine.”

“I had expected ten times that number. The black fleet proves deadly and it has not yet touched the Harlond.”

“Lord Dervorin’s son,” Hurin continued, “and the men of Ringló Vale striding on foot are three hundreds. Morthond’s lord, Duinhir with his sons, Duilin and Derufin, come with five hundred bowmen. From the Anfalas, Lord Golasgil brings a long line of men of many sorts, hunters and herdsmen and men of little villages, though scantily equipped. From Lamedon, a few hillmen come without a captain, along with fisher-folk of the Ethir, some hundred or more spared from the ships. Hirluin the Fair of the Green Hills from Pinnath Gelin with three hundreds of gallant green-clad men.”

Denethor’s deep sigh echoed through the chamber. “Imrahil?” he asked, his voice heavy with apprehension.

“Imrahil, Prince of Dol Amroth, kinsman of my Lord, with gilded banners bearing his token of the Ship and the Silver Swan, and a company of knights in full harness riding gray horses are come, and behind them seven hundreds of men at arms.”

“I suppose they were singing?”

Húrin smiled. “You know the men of Belfalas.”

“We of Minas Tirith should be singing a dirge. Less than three thousands. My people are not fools, Húrin. They know full well it should have been at least ten thousands. At least.” He bit his lip. “We cannot allow despair to fill our City.”

Húrin nodded, unsure of what reply his cousin and Steward would have him make.

“Lamedon came not, as I expected. They will come once the ships have passed by.” Another sigh passed the Steward’s lips. “It is dusk, Húrin, and these men must be billeted.”

“It is as has been arranged. The lords and captains will meet with you at the beginning of First Watch.”

“Make sure the men are well fed. We begin rationing tomorrow.” His brow furrowed. “Though the need will not be as great, what with the lesser numbers of men. Will you join me for the daymeal? No. I am sorry. You should not. Go to your wife and son.”

“My wife was in the wains that left for Tumladen. My son eats with his friends and the esquires left in the Tower. I would be pleased to join you.” He did not ask about the Wizard. After all these years, though Húrin knew he was not as quick-witted as his cousin, he knew enough not to bring the Wizard into any conversation if he could possibly help it.

“Mithrandir will be joining us, as will Imrahil and the other lords.”

“I will arrange the meal then?”

“Yes. Ask Belegorn to join us.”

Húrin nodded and left the room.

Denethor heard the trumpet for the closing of the Gate and waited. A bitter smile swept across his face as the sundown-bells tolled. He could not see, but knew the lights in the quarters of those left in the City were being lit. Faintly, he could hear the sound of song as the men of arms of his beloved Gondor, and those few women who helped in the Houses, filled the air and wafted up to the Tower. Night dropped like a cloak about him and the sky was black, compounded by his order to dim the lights and cover the windows. Not a star broke through the blackening.

Mithrandir entered upon his order and walked to the fireplace, the ever-present pipe securely held between teeth almost as white as the Wizard’s hair. Denethor had not asked and Mithrandir did not tell what happenstance had made his visage change. The Wizard had the grace to bow and Denethor motioned for him to sit. He half-smiled as Mithrandir took the most comfortable chair in the study. They played one game of ‘Stewards and Kings.’

~*~

Mithlond was well appointed this night. The hall was full as Denethor walked through the large doors. They stood and saluted. A faint memory, of one of his father’s council meetings, where none rose when he entered, sent shivers up his spine. He acknowledged their obeisance and sat.

He did not speak but motioned for the repast to begin. Servers ran forward with great decanters of wine, others brought out covered bowls with all sorts of breads filling them, while others brought great casks filled with ale and placed them on the sideboards. The lords began their meal.

Imrahil sat at Denethor’s left with Mithrandir at his right. The Prince of Dol Amroth took the proffered wine from a servan’s hand without looking. His focus was on his brother by law. “Denethor,” he said at last, “Where is Faramir?”

Drawing in a breath, the Steward said, “He will be here by morning, at the latest.”

“Good. I wish to see him. How fares he with the news of B…? I am sorry.”

“He does not sit idly while Ithilien is overrun, Imrahil. He does what he must. He comes when he may.”

“Denethor, well I know that, but he belongs here this night, with the lords of the land, to discuss the war plans. He is your heir.”

Denethor all but hissed. Those seated nearby looked away, wondering at Imrahil’s temerity. The Wizard smiled, which only exacerbated Denethor’s deep loathing.

Quaffing his wine, Denethor put down the glass and turned to Imrahil, his face white. “Faramir is well-loved by you and your wife.”

Imrahil shrugged. “As was Boromir.”

“I think not. Your deference has always been upon my youngest. Boromir knew it.”

“My Lord,” Imrahil said, his voice deep and quiet, “Your deference was always upon your eldest.”

Denethor pushed his chair back and stood. He motioned and turned, striding quickly from the room. Imrahil followed him into the Steward’s study.

“You would chide me now! While Boromir lies dead in some swamp!”

“I loved Boromir with my whole heart, Denethor. He knew it well. He knew I gave an added portion of love and affection to Faramir to counter your cold-heartedness. He was grateful, not envious!”

Denethor grappled with sanity. His whole being poised as if to pounce while his hand clenched and unclenched the sword hilt at his side. “Does my youngest whine when he is with you? Does he complain of my treatment? Does he show you bruises?”

Imrahil turned away in disgust. It was a mistake.

Denethor grabbed him by the shoulder and flung him around. “Do not turn your back on me!” A dagger pointed at Imrahil’s throat.

“Denethor.” Imrahil’s voice was low but steady. “What is this about? Why are you angry with me? We are brothers.” His voice faltered and his brow knit. “Do you doubt my loyalty? My love? Did I not come when you called? Did I not bring my Swan Knights with me?”

The Steward of Gondor swallowed visibly. He dropped his weaponed hand to his side and moved away from Imrahil. “All night, I have been accosted by visions of my father. Council meetings, practice sessions, nights in his study with the Wizard and…. And Thorongil. I am shaken.” His face blazed.

“You have never drawn a weapon against me before, brother,” Imrahil said. “Why tonight?”

“I fear I am encompassed about by enemies.”

“Your lords are not your enemies, Denethor. They obeyed you quickly enough, even sending their own sons to battle for you. The Enemy is across the Ephel Dúath. Not in Minas Tirith. Have you slept?”

“Little.”

“I thought as much. Lie on the settle, here in your own study, and rest for but a moment. I will sit with you and guard the door so that you be not disturbed. The night will be long, brother. You know that. Each lord will want his own say in where his men are dispersed. The arguing will go on into the dawn. Rest now.”

“I---”

“Speak not, brother. I know your heart. Rest.”

Denethor nodded; his head felt as if a Mûmak stood upon his neck, crushing him. He moved to the settle and lay upon it. Fidgeting with a throw, he grunted, then smiled as Imrahil took the unruly thing and draped it over him. “Thank you,” he said and immediately slept.

Imrahil sat in a nearby chair and wept.

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13. 

10 March 3019
: Part I

Dark covered the Tower room as Denethor pulled his hands from the Palantír. Though the days were become warmer, the nights were still cold, and dawn was yet upon the City. He pulled his heavy cloak about him as he stepped back from the plinth. He could hardly remember walking up the stairs – so heavy was his heart.

The meeting with the lords the previous night had been as fruitless and frustrating as he had imagined. They quibbled long into the night. It sickened him as many of them vied for postings where the fighting would not be fierce. Duinhir, Hurluin, and Imrahil said naught, leaving the placement of their men up to the Steward of Gondor. ‘If only more lords were like these three,’ he thought. At last, holding his anger as a slithering snake, he dismissed them and proceeded to the Tower room.

The Lord of Gondor spent the night there in another kind of battle; it waged long into the night. Despair clawed at his shoulders as he put the cloth back upon the now-silent stone and returned to the Great Hall. As he walked along between the statues of the kings, a great lassitude filled him. He sat and accepted the Rod from his waiting Chamberlain. Soon the Hall would fill – for now, he took some comfort in the quiet, willing himself to fight the Palantír-induced ache in his head. It slowly subsided.

A few minutes later, Denethor found himself strangely pleased when the Halfling entered with Mithrandir. His heart lifted and, though he did not at first acknowledge the small one, he watched him from the corner of his eye, smiling to himself as Peregrin fidgeted, shifting from one hair-covered, shoeless foot to the other. But at last, Denethor felt the little one could bear the wait no longer. The Steward of Gondor turned and asked of his day, noting with pleasure the Halfling’s surprise at his mention of the scarcity of food for the breaking of the day’s fast. ‘This one was so very easy to read.’ Denethor breathed a bit deeper to keep from laughing aloud at Peregrin’s obvious discomfiture.

However, the weight of the day returned with the appearance of four or five lords at the Door. “I understand Master Peregrin,” Denethor began, determined to let them wait, “that my soldiers think less of me for the lateness of the lighting of the beacons?” The Halfling started in surprise, but said not a word. The thought of soldiers filled Denethor with a deep sadness. He suddenly wished for a song, like unto the ones he and his company oft sang on a long march. He had not thought of his old days in a long time – his days with Amdir and stalwart men like Duilin and Derufin. He vowed to meet with the sons of Duinhir before the battle began. For a brief moment, his thoughts strayed further, wondering upon Faramir and where his youngest – his only son – now rode.

Denethor steeled himself, as he learned to do when he was but twelve, and knew, not even the Wizard, for all his wiles, could sense the longing in his heart for simpler times: with his soldiers as a young, almost care-free lieutenant, with his beloved Finduilas as they rode out upon the Pelennor, with Boromir… His jaw clenched imperceptibly. He had, under his father’s hard hand, become adept at presenting an emotionless exterior to the world.

The Steward of Gondor finally took pity upon Peregrin, sending him off to the armories, for he found he could not bear the sight of the ragged, homespun clothes and travel-stained cloak that covered the Halfling. He stifled another smile as the little thing ran from the room – and was surprised to find the same such urge for escape in his own heart. To be carefree!

Imrahil entered without announcement as the Halfling ran past him. The Prince of Dol Amroth was followed closely by Húrin. Denethor’s Warden of the Keys brought with him Forlong and Dervorin. The Chamberlain stepped forward and announced the other five lords who stood now in apparent impatience. Denethor beckoned and they came forward. The Lord of Lossarnach sat with a belch.

Denethor turned to him as Imrahil and the other lords sat. “I see you had sufficient food for the breaking of your fast.”

Forlong squirmed, trying to settle himself comfortably on the chairs set up in front of Denethor’s Chair. At last he gave up the attempt. “Lord Chamberlain,” he called, forgetting Denethor in his discomfort. “Bring me a larger chair, will you? This seat is not fit for a warrior such as myself.” He grumbled loudly. “Could hardly fit my wife.” Remembering that Denethor had questioned him, he stood and faced the Steward. “Brought my own meals, knowing we are probably in for a long siege. Though we have paid extra taxes these past three years to furnish supplies for just such an inevitability, I thought Minas Tirith might yet be pressed to provide the meals I need to keep up my strength. No offense meant.” He muttered again under his breath, though loud enough in the acoustically fine Hall for all to hear him, “Though I noticed from the scant dole Dervorin received for his portion, that I was more than right in providing my own. Not enough for a proper mouse.” He sat upon the larger, stuffed chair that a servant had brought while he was speaking. “This is much better.” Another belch echoed through the Hall.

At that moment, Peregrin, in full livery, returned. Denethor, however, did not note it. The Steward’s eyes filled with fury at Forlong’s insult. “My men ate what all in the City ate.” His voice, though low and quiet, barely hid his anger. “Perhaps if the taxes agreed upon had been paid…” A barely noticeable shiver ran through him; Faramir had almost died on that march for the lords’ promised coin. His son still suffered from bouts of the fever that had raked his body last year. Controlling himself, he turned to Imrahil. “Is there a possibility you brought trained trebuchet men with you?”

Imrahil looked up in surprise. He had been clutching the hilt of his sword as Forlong spoke. The Lord of Lossarnach was a good leader, valiant warrior, and loyal fief lord, but his avarice for food and coin, though legend, was ill suited for this grave hour. “Forgive me, my Lord.” He stood but immediately sat at Denethor’s motion. “I have brought a half company. I am sorry it is not more. My own keep must be protected with so many of my Knights here.”

“They are experienced?”

“The youngest has ten years under his belt.”

Denethor nodded. Imrahil never failed him. “Húrin, have them sent to Captain Ragnor. Tell him to take first pick and then send the others off to the other stations.” He turned again to Imrahil. “Those of your men who are horsed will be stationed in the First Circle. In case a sortie must be sent out upon the Pelennor. The others I would place at the Second and Third Gates. None have ever breached Minas Tirith, but I will not tempt fate.”

Imrahil saluted. “I will command my Knights.”

“I would have you here at my side. I value your counsel.”

“It will be so.”

“Dervorin…” Denethor stopped as Mithrandir stood, gave him a stiff bow and left the room. Striving mightily to keep from calling the Wizard back, Denethor continued with the placement of Dervorin’s men.

The morning went on. None of the lords received the postings they had so fought for the night before. At last, the Chamberlain stepped forward. Denethor nodded and the man announced nuncheon. The lords filed out of the Hall to Merethrond, their discourse none to gentle.

Peregrin looked about him. Denethor smiled. “That livery fits you well. Go with Húrin and see that the men are fed. After they are done, you may eat. Go.” With alacrity, the little one left him. Denethor held Imrahil back with a look. “Come with me,” he said and left the Hall through the back door. They walked along the cold inside corridor until they reached Denethor’s private chambers. The guard saluted and opened the door. “Have nuncheon brought here,” the Steward ordered then closed the door behind him.

“Will not the other lords be affronted?”

“Húrin will see that they are well fed and the wine flows – for today. “

Imrahil sat and accepted a glass of wine. Denethor sat opposite him. A fire crackled in the brazier. “I cannot seem to rid myself of this chill.” Denethor sighed. “I hope it is not too warm for you?”

“No. Are you not well, Denethor?”

“Well enough. Just chilled. The Hall is cold, even on the warmest of days, and today is not one of those.”

The food came; two men stayed and served them. They ate in silence. When finished, Denethor sat back. The servants stepped forward, removed the platters, dishes, linen and such and left. The silence stretched until it became uncomfortable.

“If you wait for an apology,” Imrahil began but stopped when Denethor rose; the high-backed chair fell back with a deafening thud.

“Morgoth take you,” the Steward whispered. Pain-filled eyes skirted across Imrahil’s face and then quickly turned away.

The Prince of Dol Amroth stood, strode to Denethor’s side, and took his arms. “Denethor!” Concern skittered across his proud, Elven face. “You are ill!”

“No. Tired. Beyond tired, my brother.” He leaned into Imrahil’s hands and cursed himself for this show of weakness. “I have not slept the night since Boromir left us.”

Imrahil pulled him quietly to the settle in front of the brazier, took his wine glass, and replaced it with a shot glass filled with whiskey. “Drink this.”

Denethor accepted it gratefully and downed it quickly. A hot fire filled his stomach. He laid is head back against the settle and closed his eyes.

“You did not sleep last night?”

“When? Gondor’s business does not end when a Council meeting does.”

Imrahil sat on a chair at Denethor’s left. He waited.

“It is I who must apologize,” Denethor said, his voice tired and low. “I know you love Boromir. Loved.” He nearly choked. “I held his Horn and tears will not come. My mind tells me he is dead but my heart refuses to believe it. How Faramir endures this, I cannot say. He doted upon Boromir. I pray he does nothing foolish in the midst of his grief. I can ill afford to lose him.”

“He is a good son - and captain.”

“If I could, I would keep him here, but I could not do that, even for Boromir. Imrahil,” Denethor leaned forward, “Faramir should be here shortly. After he finishes giving report, will you not go to him, spend some time with him? I cannot. There will be another Council meeting where I will share the news he brings.”

“I will go to him.”

Denethor leaned back, his shoulders slumping. “It is time to return to the Hall.”

The Steward motioned to Húrin as he entered the Hall and his Warden came soundlessly to his side. “I know the love Boromir had for Beregond, and that Faramir now holds for the guard,” he began slowly, “but the man speaks treason. Take him aside, then report back to me.”

Húrin’s mouth hung agape. “He is as loyal to the House of Stewards as any soldier I have ever known, my Lord. Who speaks ill of him?”

“I saw it in the Halfling’s eyes. Doubt has been sewn there – and not by the Wizard. Peregrin spent the day in Beregond’s company. His captain told me there are reports of a loose tongue. The guard questions me – the lighting of the beacons, the shoring of the North Gate, the…”

“But my Lord, he knows not that the Rohirrim were in battle and could not possibly come! That we still are not sure if Théoden King lives. That the North Gate was left till last, due to our trust in our Rohirric ally.”

“Do you question me, Húrin?”

“My Lord. You know I do not. I trust you.”

“Ah ha! Therein lies the rub. I strove to earn my men’s trust. And in most, I deem I have it. And loyalty! Yet, thee will always be ones like Beregond…” A voice whispered, ‘And Faramir.’ He pulled his cloak tighter, “who believe they know better.”

“But not Beregond, my Lord. Boromir trusted him, completely.”

“Beregond does not trust me. I should have banished him when I discovered his disobedience two years ago, but I let Boromir dissuade me and had the man only reduced in rank!”

Húrin bit his lip – obedience and loyalty had always been of paramount importance to his cousin.

“Keep him under watch, Húrin, and report to me any further transgressions.”

“I will, my Lord, though he is away from the city on errand to the Guard Towers upon the Causeway. With Hirgon and two other riders away, I had to send him. He will not return before sun sets. Nuncheon is over. Would you have me call the lords together?”

“No. Let me have a moment’s rest; we will meet again at the ninth hour.”

Peregrin came into the Hall, ran forward when Denethor beckoned, and stood slightly behind and to the left of Denethor’s Chair. After a little less than an hour, Denethor motioned the Halfling forward. Putting the maps aside, he said, “Though you have told me something of Boromir’s death, I know naught of your times together on the journey here. We have one hour.” He hesitated. “Ingold told me he saved your life?”

The Halfling sat on the bottom step, much to Denethor’s surprise, and began. Denethor listened to the account of near-death on Caradhras. At Denethor’s encouragment, Peregrin launched into the tale of his first meeting with Boromir and how much he had liked him – lordly and kind.

“The other man who helped my son carry your party from the blizzard, did he have a name?”

“Strider,” Peregrin said without hesitation. “We met him in Bree. We’d have never reached Rivendell if not for Strider.”

The bell rang for the ninth hour. Denethor looked up towards the entrance and noted Húrin stood waiting. “We must leave further tales aside for now. And even thought of song.” The Steward stifled a smile at Peregrin’s obvious look of horror. Denethor had noted the little one’s shiver when first he had mentioned it earlier in the day. Peregrin stood and moved to his place near the Chair. Denethor motioned and the lords came forth, occupying their former places.

At the eleventh hour, Denethor released them and the Halfling. As the lords passed by, the Chamberlain strode forward and whispered in Húrin’s ear. The Warden came back through the metal doors and strode back to the Chair. “Beregond returns.”

“Do as I asked after you have refreshed yourself.”

Húrin paused. “The darkness grows.”

Denethor, nodded, turned and left the Hall.


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13.

11 March, Third Age 3019

Disclaimer: As always, controversy surrounds Tolkien’s writings. Many chronologies show that Cair Andros was attacked on 10 March. Yet, if one does a day-by-day study of the book itself, Denethor specifically states that he knew of the fall on the night of the 11th. Therefore, I am placing the attack on the 11th – though the forces left the Black Gate on the 10th. Please see author notes below.

Denethor returned to his chambers from the Tower Room. The day’s trumpets would soon call, but the Lord of Gondor had been awake for hours, watching the progress of the forces coming from the north and the other from the south. He knew, deep in his heart, that the attack would come from East Osgiliath, but as yet there was no activity. He had searched the night for Théoden and the Rohirric army. The Wizard swore that the King of Rohan lived and would soon wend his way towards Minas Tirith, but Denethor could find no sign of him. With the Great West Road blocked, he knew not how an army that size could find its way into the City.

The Steward of Gondor exuded anger; he was filled with the bitterest wrath he could ever remember. He clenched his teeth as he tried to walk down the stairs. ‘Too weak,’ he thought tiredly. He would have to send men to Osgiliath; there was no other choice, no other action he could take. And – he would have to send someone to captain them. He shivered halfway down, pausing on one of the cold marble steps to catch himself before he fell, so violent did the shaking assail him. Faramir would have to go. Faramir would have to captain this last sortie. For all his long years, Denethor had hoped and planned, connived – and in the end, it was all for naught, useless. He had already lost Boromir. Now, if he were not careful, he would lose Faramir.

Yet, what recourse did he have? The Enemy had to be slowed. None with sane thought could think Gondor could stop Him, but He had to be slowed long enough to give Théoden or whoever commanded Rohan, the chance, the time, to come to Gondor’s aid. Denethor could not do it alone; he knew that in the depths of his very being. Who could he trust to understand and to take the challenge, if not Faramir? His mind groped for any shred of hope, but he could find none. Men must be sacrificed. He leaned against the curved wall and held his hands to his face. He would not weep.

A few deep breaths and he began walking down the final stairs before the entrance into the family’s quarters. He snorted in disgust. He could not remember when last he had thought of them as family. When Finduilas died, she had taken their family to the grave with her. It was his fault, if any fault need be laid. He could not breathe without her. In retrospect, he had discovered that his sons too could not breathe without her. And so the family had gasped out its last breaths and each had drawn into themselves until there was no family left. Yet, he still called them his sons. They still called him Father. ‘He,’ Denethor thought bitterly, ‘he still calls me Father.’ He would not walk down that path. He had done and been what Gondor needed. Boromir had understood; Faramir – Faramir was different. Denethor shook his head. He never had understood his youngest. Yet – he loved him with every fiber of his being. Differently than Boromir. Boromir understood that too. A soft moan issued from his very depths. Faramir would understand, too. One day when Faramir became Steward, he would understand.

Denethor pulled himself together. He would prepare cavalry; they would wait until his signal and then – then they would ride to Faramir’s aid when the retreat began. For there would be a retreat. Faramir could not hold the Enemy at bay for long; even Boromir would not have been able to do so, after what Denethor saw in the Palantír. But if his son could hold out till the last moment, give Rohan another few hours, then perhaps Gondor could…

The Steward remembered his vision – the Pelennor overrun with a host greater than the sands of the beaches of Dol Amroth. He recalled the beasts waiting to attack, the siege engines, the tents along the Rammas, the great fires, and lastly, the long, snake-like ditches that gutted his Pelennor, the farmlands in waste and fire and mûmak dung. He clenched his teeth to keep from wailing aloud. It would not be a suicide mission! He vowed that. He would save what men he could, along with his son, but they must go and fight and harry the Enemy until Rohan’s forces came. Or until Faramir decided to end the fight and retreat.

Faramir would know the hour. Would give Gondor the needed time. This one time – this one moment – Faramir’s penchant for putting his own counsel before Denethor’s – that is what would be needed. Faramir would have to make the decision himself, when to call the retreat. Denethor would be ready, watching the signs and the plain, and sending the sortie out to rescue the last remaining men of Osgiliath and the Causeway Fort. Perilous? – Yes! Necessary? – More so!

Standing still upon the last of the Tower stairs, Denethor breathed deeply. If Indis were alive, he would leave the defense of the City in her hands. If Amdir were alive, he would ride with him to Osgiliath. If Boromir, his jaw tightened, were alive, he would stand next to him on the remnants of the bridge and face their enemy. If… His eyes stung and his breath caught. His teeth clenched and he found his hand gripping the pommel of his sword. Pulling himself together, he shook his head, trying to clear it of the despair that threatened him. He was alone. That was the beginning and the end of it. He was alone and he would do what had to be done. He would send Faramir. And hope that his son would return. Alive.

Denethor reached his own chambers firmly resolved. After he ate a few pieces of cheese and drank a quick draught of wine, he called Húrin to his side and ordered the summoning of his chief Captains. He was in a foul mood and he knew it. What he had seen had only confirmed his deepest fears; fears that his Captains and his Counselors would, no doubt, deride. Before the others responded to his summons, Denethor ordered Húrin to begin the rationing of food.

His Warden turned to him in surprise. “We have prepared for this for many years, Denethor. The storerooms are full. Why would you ration food now?”

The Steward of Gondor turned to his cousin and sighed. “We have much. We have done what we could, but Húrin, the siege may last long, perhaps a year or more. Water is abundant, but even with the preparations and the silos, even with our women and children gone from the City, yet Rohan will need supplies. If I expect Théoden to arrive with speed, then he must ride light. He knows that and will not carry supplies with him for the siege, only enough for the journey. We also have the forces from the south. These men will need provisioning. Not many brought more than their armor and swords. Though my planning and your work these past years have been more than adequate, I cannot chance the lack of food. I will not have Minas Tirith fall because of ill planning. Hence, the rationing.”

Húrin’s brow furrowed. “I thought we had enough. The granaries are full. Even the tunnels…”

“The tunnels have been flooded. I had the provisions moved to the Fourth Circle.”

Nodding his head, Húrin turned and walked towards the door. “I will do as you command.”

Denethor watched his friend and cousin leave, then he walked swiftly to his bedchamber and undressed, did a quick wash and called for his manservant. “Help me dress,” he called and walked to the cupboard. Within moments, he felt refreshed and clean. The hauberk of mail pulled on his shoulders as his man adjusted it, but Denethor hardly noticed the pain. His eyes were upon the window and the Pelennor before him. The darkness was complete. He could barely see the lit watchtower at the halfway point between Minas Tirith and the Causeway.

Taking a piece of bread and a leg of chicken, he carried it with him to the Great Hall, eating on the way. His Captains had not yet arrived, but Faramir was there. Denethor acknowledge his son’s presence and wondered if he should tell him of his plans, but decided against it. Perhaps he would be wrong about his Counselors and his Captains; perhaps they would agree to his plans. He snorted in disgust. They would not, of that he was sure. His opinion of them lessoned as each day passed, and by now, the Lord of Gondor was thoroughly disgusted with all those about him.

Faramir stood next to him as he sat in the Chair. “Father, has Hirgon returned?”

Denethor looked up in surprise. “He has not. I expect him today, perhaps tonight.”

“Mithrandir,” Faramir stopped as Denethor drew in a deep breath, but then continued. “He believes that Théoden will come. He believes he is alive.” As the silence that greeted his statement continued, Faramir had a hard time not to shuffle his feet.

He bit his lip in consternation and Denethor, seeing a remembrance of the boy’s childhood custom, caught himself before shouting at his son to stop and stand up straight. He almost laughed at the absurdity of it.

The other Captains arrived and with them, his friend, his one resolute friend. He acknowledged his brother by law with a nod and gestured for the Prince of Dol Amroth to sit at his side. The others sat in front of him. Forlong, of course, sat chewing on a large shank of lamb and belching at every opportunity.

“Is there a Captain…?” he almost said, but bit his tongue. The Steward of Gondor knew, in the depths of his heart that Faramir was a better warrior than he. Not quite as good as Boromir, but a great warrior nonetheless. Denethor knew his son’s weaknesses, but Faramir had courage, of that he had no doubt. However, Boromir would not be standing here in the Hall waiting for an order; he would be on his horse and riding for Osgiliath, with a band of stalwart men enthusiastically riding with him. There was never a question of what to do with Boromir; he understood the perils about them, the needs of Gondor, and the sacrifices that must be made. Faramir deliberated too long, let his heart guide him, and listened to the Wizard. The hairs on the back of Denethor’s neck bristled. Mithrandir.

Denethor did not doubt that Faramir and the Wizard spent the night together. They both had bloodshot eyes this morn, and there was that air of deference that the boy always exhibited when he was near Mithrandir. It grated on Denethor’s nerves. He could see the boy casting furtive glances towards the Wizard and he wanted to shake him, scream at him to be his own man, and to renounce Mithrandir. But he bit his tongue again and listened to his Captains and Lords whine about the plans the Steward placed before them.

They would not counsel, each said when his turn to speak came, riding forth to battle. No, no. They preferred to sit here in the Hall, with their goblets of wine in their hands, and wait it out. Wait until Rohan came. ‘As if Rohan will come.’ Denethor near choked in his despair!

“Let us man the walls and watch.”

“We are too weak.”

“The forces of the South are approaching.”

“Let us see what they do.”

The Steward of Gondor clenched his teeth further as he listened to them and a quiet fury grew in his heart. He would not bow to these pompous fools, too concerned with their own safety to see that the Pelennor had to be held at least for a few more days so that Rohan might come. ‘Rohan might come.’ His head throbbed as the words echoed through it. Rohan might come. There was still hope. Rohan might come.

He stood and their whining silenced. He began by telling them he would not abandon the outer defenses; that Boromir had held Osgiliath and it must still be held; that the crossings at Cair Andros and Lebennin were too difficult for the enemy to cross; that… He was interrupted by Faramir. The words his son used were fair and thoughtful, but the boy did not understand. Imrahil joined in opposition. But Denethor would not be swayed. Cair Andros would have to do with the men it had. Lebennin would probably be lost too. Osgiliath… that is where the attack would come.

Anger, still simmering in the dark recesses of his mind, again flared. “Much must be risked in war,” said Denethor. “Cair Andros is manned and no more can be sent so far. But I will not yield the River and the Pelennor unfought - not if there is a Captain here who has still the courage to do his lord's will.” *

His heart stopped as silence filled the Great Hall. None spoke. Was he surprised? He supposed not. He sat back in his Chair and waited. Faramir moved forward. He was not startled at this show of courage and strength. The boy, when he put his mind to it, understood well the sacrifice.

Their parting was not as Denethor wished it though. Ever the streak of insolence ran through Faramir’s words. Once again, he was not content with a simple, ‘I will go, Father.’ No. He had to dig viciously, using Denethor’s grief over Boromir to wound him to the quick. He responded in like manner and then rued the words spoken. ‘The manner of your return.’ How could he have said such a thing? Even if the boy returned with his tail between his legs and crawling on all fours, Denethor would welcome him for this sacrifice. He must prepare the sortie.

Turning away from the rest of his Councilors and Captains, he motioned to Húrin, who dismissed them. He pulled a map from the clutter laying about his Chair and opened it. Osgiliath spread before him. He took in a short breath and furrowed his brow. Had they sealed all the openings to the river? The inns and docks and pleasure boat piers? If not, the Enemy would find it easy enough to enter the city. Faramir and his men had been working on those weak spots for months now. He could only hope the boy had secured the areas.

He looked up at a noise and discovered Imrahil had not left the Hall. “Is there aught you need, Brother?”

“I… Faramir… You could have spoken better.”

Denethor’s cheeks blazed. “I would remind you that I have already ordered the sortie to stand ready.”

“I meant that jibe about the manner of his return.”

“Plunge the dagger deeper,” Denethor whispered. “I am a fool and have always been a fool.”

“You are not and that is what makes this so distressing. Twice now you have wounded your son to the quick. What causes this?”

Denethor remained silent, not wishing to divulge his jealousy of Mithrandir. That he should be so incensed by the Wizard’s machinations… No, that was not what bothered him. He was steeling his heart in the event Faramir did not return. Boromir’s death was a blow he would never recover from. How could he endure… After Finduilas and Indis. The list grew too long. Too long. “I will speak with him when he returns.”

They were interrupted by two errand-riders. The Chamberlain held them back but at the Steward’s command they strode swiftly forward. The senior of them saluted and spoke. “The West Road to Minas Tirith is now blocked, my Lord. The enemy’s forces cannot be breached. They came down the Entwash. Rohan cannot reach us. The North Gate will be under siege ere long.”

“Cair Andros?”

“It still stands as of this morning.”

Denethor nodded and turned to the second rider. “Report.”

“Corsairs have attacked the South Road.”

“That is not news, man! We already knew Pelargir has fallen. Why bring you this report?”

“The Corsairs now hold the Road to the River Erui. They will be here within days.”

The Steward of Gondor pondered this. “Their ships. Where are their ships?”

“They are still docked in the harbor of Pelargir, my Lord. They dawdle.”

“Of course they do. Why should they not? There are riches in the city. The warehouses were full. How many of our people were able to escape before they landed, I know not. That means the despoiling of our women. They will take the children for chattel and worse. They will not leave for another two or three days, perhaps more. They are not as easily ruled by the Enemy as others of his minions.”

Imrahil stood as if to leave. “Stay, Brother.” Denethor motioned and the riders left them. “Join me for nuncheon.” The Steward turned and left by the rear door, the one that led up the stairs to his private quarters.

When Imrahil joined him, Denethor poured wine and offered a goblet to the prince. “Speak now, truly, of what you wish to say.”

“I wish to say,” and the Prince of Dol Amroth waved away the proffered wine, “that your son needs you. It is as simple as that.”

“As I need him. As Gondor needs him. I send him not out on a fool’s errand, not like that fool of a Wizard.”

“That fool of a Wizard holds you in deep regard. I heard him tell Faramir to have hope for your love.”

Denethor’s jaw clenched. “It is the Wizard who steals his love from me!”

“None can steal that which is not given.”

“Imrahil. You go too far. We have spoken of this before. The boy knows his value to me.”

“Value!” Imrahil stood and paced in front of the fireplace. “Value – as if he is some piece of armor or a horse! Denethor, not oft do I say such things, but today I will, after what I saw in the Hall. You are a fool. I have never known you to be one, but today you…”

He stopped as Denethor raised a hand in warning. “I will take much from you because of the love I have for you, Brother, but you go too far.”

“Denethor,” Imrahil tried a different tack, “I know you love him. What causes this aberrant behavior? Why do you show your back to him? Tell me, Brother. And I do not use that term in contempt as you just did.”

“The mission to Osgiliath,” Denethor began, his voice so low Imrahil had to strain to hear it. “I know not if he will return. I know not if he has the wisdom to see when the time for retreat is needed. I know not if he has the courage to face me, defeated by the Enemy.” Denethor sat, hands clenched in front of him, as he leaned his head forward. “I cannot bear the thought, Imrahil, of his not returning. I will surely die.”

“Nay, Brother. You are stronger than that. But he will return and he has the wisdom to call for retreat. Believe me. He will return and with glory and honor.”

“Not like Boromir.” Denethor clenched his teeth.

“I did not say that. The rumors of Boromir’s duplicity are only that. Mithrandir speaks glowingly of his time with the Fellowship. The Halfling speaks with a fair bit of awe… and sorrow at his last hours. Boromir died a hero, of that I am sure.”

Denethor stood and walked to the window, grimacing at the dark skies overhead. ‘When will this interminable day end?’ He turned. “Imrahil. I value your friendship. Let us leave it at that. Now, leave me. I must prepare for Rohan’s arrival.”

“You think Théoden will come?”

“My esquire believes it.” Denethor gave a small smirk. “As does the Wizard. We will see.”

He turned and Imrahil realized he was dismissed. The Swan Prince shook his head and left the room.

Denethor stood over the maps for another hour, then laved his face, put on a fresh tunic, and wrapped his cloak about him. He trudged up the stairs and opened the door. A sigh passed his lips, more silent than the sound of a dove’s wings. He was tired beyond endurance, but the stone called to him.

He did not know how long he stayed, but the mountains rumble tore him from the globe. The very earth rocked. Denethor ran to the window and looked eastward. The sun, what there had been of it, was now totally gone and the darkness was complete. A great red flash tore through the sky, beyond the Mountains of Shadow. “Orodruin!” he whispered. “You are alive.” Thunder rumbled, faint but clear. Denethor swallowed convulsively. “It begins.” As if in answer, vivid lightning, a whole cascade of lightning, flooded the firmament above the region that held Minas Morgul. Blue flame flew up and shimmered against the black, cloud-filled sky. Denethor, compelled to cower, fought the feeling, knew it somehow came from the dark stone that glared at him from the plinth. He would not give in. He would not!

At last, his heart slowed. His fingers let go the sill. He stumbled backwards and, in the deep darkness of the Tower, found his way to the stone. Orodruin filled the sky with blazing red light. Molten rock flowed through deep crevices. Almost, he could feel the heat. There was no one there. Nothing to explain why the mountain had once again actively spewed its filth. Denethor shook his head and turned his attention to the Morgul Vale. He had been correct in his deduction; the blue flame came from Minas Morgul. ‘What power, what force, makes such flame that can be seen even from my City?’

He pulled himself away and walked slowly down the stairs. He could hear cries of terror in the night. Though the women and children were gone, his men feared. ‘They have every right. Who could envision such a sky as this?’ His heart sank further, wondering what Faramir saw and heard from his vantage point in Ithilien. His men must be cowering. Nay. Faramir must be in Osgiliath now. He would have a clear view of the fireworks of Minas Morgul from there.

“My Lord,” Húrin met him as he descended the stairs. “Did you hear? Did you feel it? The mountain shook? We were just beginning the daymeal.” Other lords stood about, along with a fair number of soldiers. However, as Denethor looked towards the escarpment, he noted it was filled with soldiers, looking eastward.

“Bring them away from there, Húrin. Send them to their barracks. It does no good to have them wandering about, worrying themselves over things we have no control over.”

“Yes, my Lord.” Húrin scrambled towards the wall, shouting all the while to disperse. The men seemed not to hear. He shouted louder, grabbed the arm of one of the Captains, and ordered the man to help him disperse the crowd.

Denethor could watch the fiasco no longer. He turned and went into the Great Hall. There, Imrahil, his Captains, and the Lords of his Council greeted him. He waved them to silence and walked to the Chair. The Chamberlain scurried in and passed the Rod to Denethor. With his back to those in the Hall, Denethor sighed, took the Rod, and sat upon the Chair. A brief moment’s thought: ‘I wonder, if I were King instead of Steward, if their faces would show such alarm?’ But the moment passed and he motioned.

Imrahil strode forward. “We seem to be experiencing a quake of the earth. I cannot quite understand the spectacle in the sky. Mayhap the Evil Lord has decided to grace us with a bit of light, to compensate for the darkness he allows to cover our lands.”

Denethor smiled. “You, my Brother, are a great comfort.”

Imrahil bowed. “I am here to serve you, my Lord.” He stood next to the Chair and whispered, “Do you know aught of this?”

Denethor sat back in the Chair. “My Captains. It seems the Dark Lord has decided, as Prince Imrahil suggests, to grace us with light. Pretty, is it not?”

The Captains chuckled, but Baranor strode forward. “This is not a laughing matter, my Lord. What can be done about it?”

“You do not have earth quakes in your fiefdom, Lord Baranor? It is a pity. Long have we endured such things, while your lands lie safe and quiet. Lord Forlong, do you not feel the earth’s trembles upon occasion?”

“Not often, my Lord Steward. But we are closer to the White Mountains than the people of Lebennin.”

“You are correct, of course. Well, Lord Baranor. I think it time you enjoyed the further pastimes of Minas Tirith.”

Imrahil put his hand on Denethor’s arm and whispered, “Now is not the time to deride your Lords, my Brother.”

“Do you not give a thought to those of Gondor’s Knights stationed in Osgiliath, Lord Baranor? Do you not suppose their fear is less than yours? Would you send your men to help them endure this?”

Baranor’s deep intake of breath was heard by all. “If it would help, I would send my men to Osgiliath.”

“Thank you,” Denethor said, a hint of respect in his eyes. “It may come to that. For now, return to your meal, all of you. When the report comes, I will call for you.” He turned towards Imrahil and Húrin motioned for the Lords and Captains to leave.

“I do not know what this is, Imrahil. Never, in all my long years, and in my studies of ancient tomes, have I ever seen or heard of such a thing. The red from Orodruin is easily explained. New fissures of molten rock have been opened. The color and intensity is beyond what I would consider usual, but what astounds me is the blue flames from the Morgul Vale.” He bit his lip and sighed heavily. “Something untoward has happened. Perhaps it is some signal from Mordor to his troops at Minas Morgul. Perhaps this is the sign of the beginning of our doom.”

“Nay, not doom, Denethor, but battle, surely. May I stay with you until the errand-rider arrives?”

“I would appreciate it. And where is that Wizard? You would think he would be here gloating at our discomfiture.”

Imrahil scowled and Denethor saw it and smiled. “Let us away to my study. Húrin,” he gestured as Húrin reentered the Hall. “Come along with us. And make sure someone knows where we are. I want the rider from Osgiliath sent to me as soon as he arrives. You too, Peregrin. I want you by my side.”

Húrin whispered a word to the Chamberlain and followed his Lord.

~*~*~*~*~

More than four hours later, the horns of the City blew. The errand-rider from Osgiliath rode through the Great Gate. His horse was taken at the First Level and he was given another mount for the last miles’ ride to the Citadel. Denethor reached the Throne Room only moments before the Chamberlain led the messenger into the Hall. The man saluted and gave the missive to Húrin, who checked the seal and gave it to the Steward. The rider saluted and stood at the ready.

At that very moment, Mithrandir stepped through the door. Denethor, his head bowed as he read the missive, did not even have to look up; he knew the Wizard had entered the room. Denethor turned and whispered to Peregrin, “Ask Lord Mithrandir to step forward.”

Pippin nodded and did as he was told.

The stench of pipe smoke filled the air. “We have a missive from Faramir." After a quick cursory glance, Denethor read the missive aloud. “A great host has issued from Minas Morgul. They draw nigh to Osgiliath. Regiments from the South, Haradrim with mûmakil, have joined the Dark Lord’s forces. I cannot even tell the enemy’s number, they are so great. Though he has not been seen, Father, the Black Captain leads them, of that I am sure for I feel it in my very bones. Fear already assails my men. Even the animals are wary. Our defenses are as ready as I could make them. I thank you for the extra maps. They were helpful. May I ask you to remember me with fondness. I will do what I can.”

Imrahil stepped forward and asked for the missive. Denethor handed it to him, noting the tears in Faramir’s uncle’s eyes. “He will be well, Imrahil. The defenses are good. When the time comes, he will know to retreat. The Causeway Fort has been fortified; an extra company has been sent to help with the retreat. I hope it will be orderly.”

“Is the sortie ready?” Imrahil asked.

“It is. But not for this purpose. Faramir should not need it yet.”

“Will they wait till morning?”

“I think not.” Denethor sighed deeply. “I have errand-riders stationed at the Causeway and at the midpoint. We will hear. I think they will attack as soon as they reach the bridge.”

“But Boromir destroyed it,” Belegorn stated.

“Have we not crossed unbridged rivers? The enemy will bring anything they can use to cross the river. It is the easiest way to enter Osgiliath. They will cross, and with nary a problem. I give us perhaps four hours before we must take action. Return to your rooms, have the men ready, and rest. I will summon you when the next missive arrives.”

The Captains and Lords departed and Imrahil faced Denethor. “Can you not send him more men? I will go.”

“Dear Brother. You and your men are needed here. Faramir understands. He will hold as long as he is able and then he will retreat.”

“When will you give the order?”

“For what?”

“The retreat. You told him to wait upon your order.”

Denethor scowled. “I did. I cannot give it now. I will wait upon the reports.”

“They take long to receive, Denethor. An hour, one way or the other, could seal Faramir’s fate.”

“I have other means, besides riders. Go and get your rest. Come to me in four hours. Nothing will be known before then.”

“I will have no rest this night.” Imrahil saluted and all left, but Belegorn.

“You, too, must rest, Belegorn. I will be in the Tower if needed.” He waited until his aide left, then walked up the stairs.

“But I do not have other means,” the Steward of Gondor whispered. “It will not show me.” He shook his head and opened the Tower Room door.

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14.

March 12, Third Age 3019


A little past midnight and the first errand-rider approached the Chair. The Lords and Captains of Gondor stood about. Imrahil had his place at Denethor’s left with Húrin. Pippin stood slightly behind and to the right of Denethor.

“I have heard that some in this Hall believe there is no small hope that Faramir can hold the fords. You know I hold in my hands the missive stating the attack has begun. I believe Captain Faramir and his men will hold the ford and the bridge. I will not discuss this further. Beyond that, we must prepare ourselves. For the last five years, my Warden of the Keys and I have prepared this City for battle. And beyond. Our defenses are sound. Our food and water supply is adequate. Our men are the best trained in all of Middle-earth. And the best armored. Now it comes to us to prepare our hearts. Faramir speaks of a nameless fear assailing his men. You have seen and felt the Nazgûl as they fly overhead. Think what it feels like to have them swoop down upon you. They have remained high in the sky here, and all we hear is the echo of their terror. I would bid you prepare your men for an assault upon their senses, even before an assault upon their bodies. Rags need to be cut, dipped in wax and placed in our ears. It will not totally obstruct the sound, but it should give us another moment to regain our senses and respond. Haradrim march with the Enemy’s army. You have heard tales of the tortures placed upon their captives by these foul creatures. Command your men to hold firm, but tell them not be captured.

“I have heard murmurings. Rohan, I am assured by the Wizard, will come to our aid. Faramir is stout and true and will assuredly do his duty. Control your men. Give them work if you find their tongues wag. We have not the time nor the strength to battle rumors. The Enemy has long been known to whisper foul tidings, in order to dampen our resolve and deepen fear without our hearts. It is now your responsibility to hearten your men. Go now. You will hear the trumpets when the next errand-rider arrives. Until then, go about your duties, as I go about mine.” Denethor stood and left the Hall.

But an hour later the trumpets again sounded. Denethor had tried to sleep, but to no avail. He did not go to the Tower this day. It would not show him Faramir and, for the nonce, Faramir was the only one he wanted to see. Denethor entered the Hall and waited for the rider to be shown forth.

“The East Emnet, my lord,” this second rider of the day began, “is under attack. Orcs and others came down from Rauros Falls.”

Denethor nodded and sent the man off. Another flourish of horns and Húrin stepped forward. “One of the riders sent to Rohan has been discovered near the North Gate. They are bringing him to the Houses.”

“Hirgon?” Denethor asked, hope in his eyes.

“Nay.”

“Go to the Houses and question him. Húrin, ask of Hirgon. I would know.”

“Of course, my Lord.”

“Peregrin?”

“Yes, my Lord?”

“You met my son? Faramir, I mean.”

“I did, my Lord.”

“What think you of him? Does he compare to Boromir?”

“I wouldn’t compare either men. They’re both great and fine men.”

“Come, come. You must have some thoughts.”

“I love them both, my Lord. Boromir was a friend.”

“But Faramir has your heart.” Denethor’s words rang with surprise.

“He does, my Lord. Please don’t ask me why. I really can’t tell you.”

“And I? Nay. I will not ask. Go and break your fast. It will be at least two hours before the next rider from Osgiliath comes.” He watched as the Halfling skipped from the Hall. “Would that I had the heart to skip,” he whispered. “Would that I could love Faramir as he does.” He bit his lip. “Would that I could trust Faramir, after what he did in Ithilien.”

“What Faramir did,” the Wizard stood by his side, much to Denethor surprise, “will be heralded for ages as wise.”

“Wise!” Denethor snorted. “In just a few short hours, my son will have to retreat from Osgiliath. We will lose it again. I can assure you, this will be the last time. There will be none left to win it back. And all because of Faramir’s high-mindedness. If I had the Ring, if it was hidden in the depths of Minas Tirith, I might have hope. Faramir has stolen even the shadow of hope from Gondor.”

“You still do not understand.”

“I understand this, Lord Mithrandir. Faramir has bequeathed the weapon to our enemy as surely as if he had handed it personally to him. The Halfling has neither the wit nor the strength to hold onto it. We will die and then Belfalas, Rohan, that Shire you are so fond of… all will die.”

“I still believe Faramir did what was best.”

“I know.” Denethor’s terse smile hurt. “But all of Middle-earth will pay if you are wrong.”

The trumpets sounded once again. Denethor looked up, startled, as the rider strode forward. He sucked in his breath and waited. ‘Too soon,’ he thought. ‘Something is amiss.’

“My Lord Steward,” the man saluted. “Captain Faramir reports that Osgiliath has been overrun. He retreats to the Causeway Forts." He handed Denethor the missive.

“The Enemy came in even greater force than I first believed, my Lord, with Southrons and mûmakil. As I reported earlier, the Black Captain led them. More than half our numbers were slain before we even reached Osgiliath. I rallied my men, those with the strength and courage to stay and fight, for many ran. I cannot hold them to blame. The terror that lies upon my spirit is great.

“I left the wounded and dead lying in mounds on the Pelennor. My bravest have been left to guard them. I cannot protect the wounded for long. We ran back to the city, to hold it further, give us some degree of cover. But all was for naught. We fought in close quarters and our bows proved worthless. Only sword, spear and dagger could be used. Eventually, it came down to hand against hand as they pressed in upon us. They came in waves, Father, waves.”

Denethor stopped reading and wondered. Was Faramir’s dream coming true? Was a great wave about to engulf them? He shuddered, in the hidden depths of his being, and read on.

“The Enemy is bridging the River. Mûmakil and war machines, their size beyond description, pass over. I will hold the Causeway for as long as I am able. But know this, Father, I am ten times outnumbered. I am unable to give you the time you needed. I am sorry. Your son, Faramir.”

The messenger spoke up. “If Captain Faramir wins back at all, his enemies will still be on his heels. They have not paid as dearly as you had hoped, my Lord, for the crossing. Captain Faramir does not say it in so many words, but it is the Black Captain that defeats us.”

Mithrandir did not wait for Denethor’s reply. He stood and walked to the door. “Then I am needed there more than here.”

Denethor watched the Wizard leave. His heart jumped with hope. For Faramir. Then, he berated himself. ‘I cannot worry about one man. There are hundreds dying today. Yet, Faramir is my hope and the hope of Minas Tirith. If he falls…. Oh, if he falls…’

“Duilin and Derufin. I vowed to meet with the sons of Dúinhir before the battle began. Perhaps Húrin knows where they are stationed. Peregrin, send for the Warden and ask him to find them as quickly as possible.”

Pippin nodded and ran out of the Hall.

Within moments, Húrin was at his side. “Hirgon is dead, Denethor. The rider who brought this news is close to death himself. Theoden has the Red Arrow." Húrin waited a moment. "Duilin and Derufin will be along presently, my Lord. They were watching Prince Imrahil’s men practice at the trebuchet. They have not seen the like and are easily impressed.”

“Hirgon. Gone. it is a sad blow to all of Gondor. We dare not dwell on one death when many have shared the same fate." He paused. "The trebuchet is a mighty weapon, Húrin, and not to be taken lightly. They will be worth their weight in mithril, when the battle comes to us.”

“Yes, my Lord. Would you like to take your meal here?”

“I broke my fast hours ago.”

“It is time for nuncheon.”

“Already?” Denethor stood in alarm. “I will return. Keep Duilin and Derufin here until I return.” With that, he strode from the Hall, up the back stairs to the Tower Room. Before he would look, he had to see what he might find upon the Pelennor. His eyes could only see smoke from Osgiliath. The Causeway Forts seemed still and quiet, yet he knew Faramir battled for his life there. Swearing loudly, he walked to the plinth, viciously tore the covering from it, and grasped the stone in his hands. “Show me my son,” he screamed. “Show me my son!” He collapsed in helpless anger at the feet of the stand, his hands taut from holding the globe for well over an hour. “Why will you not show me my son,” he whimpered. A hollow laugh filled the Room. Denethor cowered under his cloak. Shivering, he took three deep breaths and stood, held the stone again, and looked eastward. The River was covered with the dead. Three bridges spanned the Anduin; all were filled with an unending sea of Orcs, Haradrim, and Southrons. Mumakil and beasts the like of which he had never seen made the bridges sag as they walked across to Osgiliath. He did not look further. He could not chance ‘seeing’ the Dark Lord.

To the west, there was still no sign of Theoden. Denethor scoured the Mark for hours, but could find no sign of the Rohirric army. He did, however, find the Enemy’s troops that blocked the Great West Road. No hope that Theoden could pass through that force. Denethor pulled himself away and walked back to the Hall.

“Duilin and Derufin! It is good to see you both. How fare the trebuchets?”

“They are magnificent, Denethor. Massive. How did you ever manage it?”

“Some piece of warfare passed down from my fathers. But you, how fare you? Are you ready? Are your men?”

“We are, Denethor. Fear not for the sons of Duinhir. Our archers, though few, are ready, stationed on the First Circle. The enemy will be surprised as we hew them down.”

Denethor laughed. “As tall as the men of Blackroot Vale are, they will easily overcome any who try to battle them. I am grateful,” he placed his hands on their shoulders, “that you have answered Minas Tirith’s call.”

“Not Minis Tirith’s call, Denethor, but yours,” Derufin stated. “We would not let an adventure such as you have planned, go ahead without us.”

“Besides,” Duilin stated, “we are your friends. Is this not what friends are for? To show off their prowess?”

“Prowess indeed. Come to my studyl and we will share wine and tales from the past. I would listen to your remembrances of our times in Henneth Annun.”

“We may only stay for a short time, Denethor. Our men are not accustomed to high walls and closed byways.”

“Yes. I understand. Rationing has begun, but I have a bottle or two of Dorwinion left. I can think of no others I would wish to share it with.”

The three spent an hour reminiscing. When their time was done, Denethor was loath to let them leave. “When the battle is done, return to me. We will drink to our victory.”

Both men nodded, saluted the Steward, and left.

Denethor sat for close to an hour, holding an empty wine glass, and shuddering at the fate that awaited them all, the fate he knew would be theirs.

The night proved restless for the defenders of the great city. None slept. At least none that Denethor knew of.

--

A/N – I have tried not to stretch what Denethor is able to see in the Palantír. As far as the forces against him on this day, we read in The Siege of Gondor that Denethor knows of these events and the fall of Cair Andros before Gandalf does; 2) Denethor is not as ill-prepared as a cursory reading of the books would tell. "We have very great store long prepared," answered Hirgon (to Théoden). Ride now as light and as swift as you may!" HIRGON speaking of Denethor’s preparedness. RotK: Book V: Chapter Three: The Muster of Rohan; 3) 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’s aid; 4) “In truth Faramir did not go by his own choosing. But the Lord of the City was master of his Council, and he was in no mood that day to bow to others. Early in the morning the Council had been summoned. There all the Captains judged that because of the threat in the South their force was too weak to make any stroke of war on their own part, unless perchance the Riders of Rohan yet should come. Meanwhile they must man the walls and wait.” RotK: Book V: Ch. 4: The Siege of Gondor; 5) “It was night again ere news came. A man rode in haste from the fords, saying that a host had issued from Minas Morgul and was already drawing nigh to Osgiliath; and it had been joined by regiments from the South, Haradrim, cruel and tall. "And we have learned " said the messenger, "that the Black Captain leads them once again, and the fear of him has passed before him over the River." RotK: Book V: Ch. 4: The Siege of Gondor; 6) At that moment the rock quivered and trembled beneath them. The great rumbling noise, louder than ever before, rolled in the ground and echoed in the mountains. Then with searing suddenness there came a great red flash. Far beyond the eastern mountains it leapt into the sky and splashed the lowering clouds with crimson. In that valley of shadow and cold deathly light it seemed unbearably violent and fierce. Peaks of stone and ridges like notched knives sprang out in staring black against the uprushing flame in Gorgoroth. Then came a great crack of thunder. And Minas Morgul answered. There was a flare of livid lightnings: forks of blue flame springing up from the tower and from the encircling hills into the sullen clouds. TTT: Book IV, Chapter 8: The Stairs of Cirith Ungol.



14 March - Third Age 3019

Late into the night, Denethor held Faramir’s hand, feeling the fire that raced through his son’s body. His tears fell; he did naught to check them or to wipe them away. He deserved no such comfort. Vaguely, he was aware of the Halfling standing by the door. Often, men would come, asking for permission to speak with him. He turned a deaf ear to them. Did they not know his every thought was for his only remaining son? They would wait for his answer, and when one did not come, they would salute and leave him.

He did not know how long he sat thusly; he only knew Faramir did not stir. The Warden came in once and held a mirror before the boy’s mouth. A faint breath fogged it. The Warden checked Faramir’s eyes, pulling back a lid, then letting it drop. He bent and listened to the boy’s chest, felt his brow, and then left, shaking his head. He did not return.

Denethor wracked his brain trying to remember any passages from the books in the Great Library that spoke of this fevered state; Morgoth’s Breath or the Black Breath, he could not recall the proper name of this thing that assailed his son. A light sparked and then quickly extinguished. ‘The Hands of the King; but Gondor has no King.’ If Thorongil were King, as Denethor had deemed years ago, where was he? Why did he not return with the Wizard and claim the Throne? He could touch Faramir… In the Palantír, Denethor had seen the man riding on the plains of Rohan. Why did he not come? Did he think it would be easier to battle Sauron, once the White City fell, and then take the Crown? It made no sense. Perhaps he should call Mithrandir to his side. Nay. Mithrandir had been there, in the center of the Citadel when they brought Faramir’s body to him. He had said nothing. The Wizard knew his son was dying and that there was nothing anyone could do for the boy.

A sob broke from him, bubbling up from the depths of his very being, and he noted the Halfling took a step towards him, as if to help. The Steward waved him back. Nay. There was no hope for Faramir, just fevered torment till his body could no longer fight; then, his son would succumb and die.

Men came in again, the Halfling let them in, saying their need was great, but they frantically shouted at him. He told them to go away, to decide how they wanted to die, and then to leave him alone. As they ran from the room, failing even to salute him, a germ of an idea lifted his heart. He scanned Faramir’s face, kissed him on the forehead, then walked from the room, motioning for the Halfling to stand guard over the boy. He walked slowly up the Tower’s stairs, unlocked and opened the door, and stepped inside for the last time. He placed his hands on the globe, letting the covering fall to the floor, and looked upon the Pelennor.

If he had any strength left, he would have gasped. It was as the stone had shone him two days previously, covered with the Enemy’s army, fell beasts, and wicked machines of war. He could see naught of the fields themselves, so totally did the enemy cover the Pelennor. He gave it barely a glance, moving the stone slowly northward. ‘No sign of Théoden,’ he sighed. The great East-West Road was blocked by another part of the Enemy’s forces. Théoden could not break through such a force; Gondor was alone in this battle. He turned and pointed the globe southward and shuddered. The Anduin was filled from just a little south of the Harlond to Pelargir with Corsair ships. There black sails billowed in the wind. The ships of Dol Amroth lay beached and burning on the River’s shores. A sob escaped him as he realized the futility of Gondor’s defenses, the inevitable conclusion to the assault that now was launched against him.

Pulling himself away from that sight, he once again looked upon the Pelennor, but his sight was drawn further east. To the Tower of Cirith Ungol. There in the uppermost room, beaten and bloodied, lay the naked body of a Halfling. Denethor willed the stone to look closer, and it obeyed him, so much so that he could see the Halfling’s hands. There was no sign of a ring, no sign of the Ring, the Ring that Faramir swore the Halfling carried when his son captured and then released him in Ithilien. Orcs stood over the little creature, still whipping him brutally. For a fleeting moment, Denethor felt sad for the little thing. He turned from the sight, his overwhelming concern for the Halfling immediately usurped by the knowledge that all was indeed lost. The Enemy had the weapon Denethor had hoped to hide from Him, or else use against Him at the last possible moment. His legs buckled as the horror of Sauron possessing the Ring engulfed him. He sat on the marble floor and closed his mind.

After a time, he stirred himself, grabbed onto the plinth, pulled himself up, and walked out of the room, holding the Palantír in his hands. At last, he knew what he must do.

~*~*~*~*~

Húrin walked into the chamber, looked with deep sadness upon the countenance of Faramir, then turned to his Lord. “The Pelennor is taken, Denethor. There is not a blade of grass to be seen, so deep does the enemy cover it. Great tent camps and beasts and allies of the Nameless One.” His cousin did not stir, so the Warden continued. “They are digging trenches. Deep and out of bowshot of even the Blackroot Vale’s archers. Not even our trebuchets can reach them yet. Once dug, they set them on fire, though fed by art or devilry, I do not know. Never have I seen the like.” Denethor remained still. Húrin pressed on. “They bring siege engines.” Húrin’s brow furrowed. “Denethor?”

A messenger ran into the chamber, passed a note to the Warden, and quickly ran out. Húrin offered it to Denethor, but the Steward never moved. Opening it, Húrin read aloud, “The enemy’s catapults reach beyond the battlements and missiles are falling within the First Circle. They burst into flames as they hit the ground. Our esquires are quenching the fires, but they are growing too numerous.” Húrin bit his lip in despair. Another runner came into the room. Húrin motioned for the man to give the missive directly to Denethor, but the Steward would not accept it. In frustration, Húrin opened and read it. “By the Valar!” He clutched his chest. “Now they are casting… It is too horrible to speak of.” Yet, Denethor did not blink nor show any sign of life. “Heads, Denethor. The severed heads of those who have fallen.” He wept. “Those from Osgiliath, the Rammas, even the Pelennor, branded with the sign of the Lidless Eye.” He could not continue.

The Warden pulled on his nose to keep tears from falling. “You promised I might be in the battle. May I join the Fifth Company?” Denethor waved him away, and for that, Húrin was grateful. The Warden of the Keys looked once more upon Faramir’s face, then put his hand upon the Halfling’s shoulder and squeezed it tight, saluted his cousin and Lord, and left the room.

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15 March – Third Age 3019


Well past mid night, Peregrin shuddered. “My Lord,” he cried, “the Nazgûl! Can you hear them?” He began to shake. He stepped towards Denethor, but the Steward only looked at him with glazed eyes. “My Lord? Your men need you.”

“Nay, Master Peregrin. They have no need but to die. It is the end. All will soon lie in the dust of my City, witless, wandering in desperate fever, even as my son does now. There is no hope. My son is dying.” Tears fell in endless streams upon Denethor’s cheeks, but he did naught to wipe them away.

“Do not weep, Lord,” the Halfling stammered. “Perhaps he will get well. Have you asked Gandalf?”*

“Comfort me not with wizards!” said Denethor. “Have I not told you? The Enemy has found it. And now – all is lost. I sent my son, my Faramir, forth, unthanked, unblessed, out into needless peril, and here he lies with poison in his veins. The House of Stewards has failed. And Minas Tirith will fall.”

Urgent knocking sounded. Pippin opened the door. The shouts of men echoed in the chamber, but, when Pippin relayed their message, Denethor refused to answer them. “I will not come down. I must stay beside Faramir. He might still speak. Tell them to follow whom they will. Here I stay.”

The Steward watched his son writhe in pain, fever decimating his already too thin body. “Where is the King? The mighty King who would save Gondor? Where is he now?” Sobs racked his body. “Betrayed. We have been betrayed by all.”

There was no answer; he had not expected one. “Now is the time, Master Peregrin. It is time to bid you farewell. You have been loyal – to both me and my sons. I release you from your oath. Go – and die as you will. Send my servants to me and then go. Farewell” He was astounded when the Halfling knelt before him, refusing to bid him farewell.

Pippin then stood. “I will take your leave, but only for a moment. I want to see Gandalf, very much. We Hobbits do not give our word lightly. I do not wish to be released while you live. I want to be here, by your side, if they come to the Citadel. And perhaps earn the arms that you have given me.”

“My life is ended. I have naught to live for. My City will fall. And my son will die. Do what you will, Master Halfling, but send for my servants as you leave.” He turned and walked to Faramir’s side. He could hardly move; his legs refused to hold him. He cast about, looking for something, and spied his father’s old staff, sitting in a corner where it had been left years ago. Briefly, he wondered why it had not been removed, upon his father’s death. He took it, nonetheless, and was disheartened when he felt no kinship to it. It was but a staff.

He did not hear the door close behind Pippin. The servants came soon after, and Pippin with them. They trembled before him and he sorrowed. Keeping his voice low, he bade them lay warm coverlets on Faramir's bed and take it up. They did so, and lifting up the bed they bore it from the chamber. Slowly the company walked, keeping their pace even to trouble the fevered man as little as might be, and Denethor, now bending on the staff, followed them; and last came Pippin.

Darkness covered the land, but Denethor did not note it. He kept his head bowed, his shoulders slumped. A faint red light flickered, but none in the group looked to see where it came from. Softly they walked across the Courtyard of the Fountain. Denethor called to them to halt by the White Tree. All was silent. The water dripped sadly from the dead branches of the tree into the dark pool. He remembered, as a child, wondering why no one had dug the old tree out and put a new one in. He remembered the feeling of desolation that overcame him when he later discovered the Tree’s history and significance. He stared at it and wept. Finally, he signaled and the entourage went on through the Sixth Gate. Beregond, standing at attention at his post, stared at them in wonder and dismay. Turning, they passed the Houses of Healing, and went through the door in the rearward wall of the Sixth Circle. The door to Fen Hollen. Walking steadily, they entered the winding road that descended. A porter guarded the door. At Denethor’s command, he unlocked it, swung it back, and watched as they walked past him, down to Rath Dínen, the Silent Street. At last, they entered the House of the Stewards and set down their burden.

One table near at hand stood broad and bare. Denethor looked upon it. Cold and hard. ‘So this will be our bed, Faramir’s and mine. I suppose it is only fitting. I have been cold to him, these last years. But he, he does not deserve…’ he chuckled dryly. ‘It will soon be very warm indeed. No need to be concerned.’ He motioned and the servants laid Faramir upon it, then they helped Denethor climb up. ‘Here we lie,’ he thought. ‘How strange that we should be joined at last, but in such a manner…’ The servants covered them with one covering, and stood then with bowed heads as mourners beside a bed of death. Then Denethor spoke in a low voice.

“Here we will wait, until the appointed time,” he said. “Send not for the embalmers. Bring the wood and oil that I commanded be stored here, and lay it about us, and beneath. Pour the oil upon it. When I bid you, thrust in a torch. Do this and speak no more to me. Farewell!”

“By your leave, Lord!” he heard Pippin cry, but he gave it no thought as the Halfling fled from the Houses.

He lay there, waiting. He wondered for what. Was he waiting for Théoden to come? Was he waiting for Thorongil? Perhaps the Wizard? Nay. He waited for the courage to do the deed.

“What is that noise?” he shouted. The sounds of clanging swords cut through the silence of the House. “Who is there?”

His servants, all but Belegorn, ran to the door. “It is Beregond!” one shouted. “He seeks to stay your hand.”

“Light the fire! Light the oil!” Denethor screamed but the servants had left him, gone to battle the traitorous soldier. “Belegorn. Light the oil.”

“Wait, my Lord, please. Let us see what causes Beregond to leave his post and enter here. Mayhap Rohan has come.”

“Traitor!” Denethor heard his servants shout. “Outlaw!”

“Two of your servants are slain, my Lord,” Belegorn reported, his own sword drawn. He stood by the foot of the table and waited. “It is no good news that causes Beregond’s treachery. I cannot fathom his disobedience. He is a good soldier.”

“Ever has he been a traitor. I should have had him hanged!” Denethor spat. The taste of oil coated his tongue as he spoke.

“Haste, haste! Do as I have bidden! Slay me this renegade! Or must I do so myself?” Denethor crawled from the table, ran to the door, and drew his own sword, standing next to Belegorn.

A bright white light filled the room as Mithrandir opened the door Deep anger covered the Wizard’s face. He lifted up his hand, and in the very stroke, the sword of Denethor flew up and left his grasp and fell behind him in the shadows of the House. Denethor stepped backward before Gandalf as one amazed. Belegorn too retreated.

“What is this, my lord?” said the Wizard. “The houses of the dead are no places for the living. And why do men fight here in the Hallows when there is war enough before the Gate? Or has our Enemy come even to Rath Dínen?”

“Since when has the Lord of Gondor been answerable to thee?” said Denethor. “Or may I not command my own servants?”

“You may,” said Gandalf. “But others may contest your will, when it is turned to madness and evil. Where is your son, Faramir?”

“He lies within,” said Denethor, “burning, already burning. They have set a fire in his flesh. But soon all shall be burned. The West has failed. It shall all go up in a great fire, and all shall be ended. Ash! Ash and smoke blown away on the wind!”

The Wizard pushed the Steward aside, as if he had been but a fallen leaf on a log, and ran into the room and to the table that still held Faramir. Beregond and Pippin ran in behind him.

Denethor made to swing at the soldier, but stayed his hand. The Halfling had stepped into his sword’s path. The grief-stricken father stood beside his son. “See! He is burning, consumed by the fever. Stop!” he screamed as the Wizard leapt up onto the muumuu, picked Faramir up as if he were a feather, and sprang down again. He strode towards the door.

“Father,” Faramir called out in his delirium.

A gut-wrenching moan tore from Denethor’s lips as the madness left him. He wept. “Do not take my son from me! He calls for me.”

“He calls,” said Gandalf, “but you cannot come to him yet. For he must seek healing on the threshold of death, and maybe find it not. Whereas your part is to go out to the battle of your City, where maybe death awaits you. This you know in your heart.”

“He will not wake again,” said Denethor. “Battle is vain. Why should we wish to live longer? Why should we not go to death side by side? Give me my son.”

Passing through the door, Mithrandir took Faramir from the deadly House and laid him on the bier on which he had been brought, and which had now been set in the porch. Denethor followed him, and stood trembling, looking with longing on the face of his son. And for a moment, while all were silent and still, watching the Lord in his throes, he wavered.

“Come, Lord Denethor!” said Gandalf. “We are needed. There is much that you can yet do.”

Denethor backed away in horror. A laugh was wrenched from his throat. He stood tall and proud again, He walked back to the table, lifted the pillow, pulling an object from under it. He came to the doorway and stood next to the Wizard, drew aside the covering and triumphantly held the Palantír in front of the Wizard’s nose. It began to glow; fire filled it. Denethor’s face reflected the red hue. The hard edges of the Steward’s face were cast against black shadows, noble, proud, and terrible. His eyes glittered in the light.

“Pride and despair!” he cried. “Didst thou think that the eyes of the White Tower were blind? Nay, I have seen more than thou knowest, Grey Fool. For thy hope is but ignorance. Go then and labor in healing! Go forth and fight! Vanity. For a little space you may triumph on the field, for a day. But against the Power that now arises there is no victory. To this City only the first finger of its hand has yet been stretched. All the East is moving. And even now the wind of thy hope cheats thee and wafts up Anduin a fleet with black sails. The West has failed. It is time for all to depart who would not be slaves.”

“Such counsels will make the Enemy’s victory certain indeed,” said Gandalf.

“Hope on then!” laughed Denethor. “Do I not know thee, Mithrandir? Thy hope is to rule in my stead, to stand behind every throne, north, south, or west. I have read thy mind and its policies. Do I not know that you commanded this Halfling here to keep silence? That you brought him hither to be a spy within my very chamber? And yet in our speech together I have learned the names and purpose of all thy companions. So! With the left hand thou wouldst use me for a little while as a shield against Mordor, and with the right bring up this Ranger of the North to supplant me.

“But I say to thee, Gandalf Mithrandir, I will not be thy tool! I am Steward of the House of Anárion. I will not step down to be the dotard chamberlain of an upstart. Even were his claim proved to me, still he comes but of the line of Isildur. I will not bow to such a one, last of a ragged house long bereft of lordship and dignity.”

“What then would you have,” said Gandalf, “if your will could have its way?”

“I would have things as they were in all the days of my life,” answered Denethor, “and in the days of my longfathers before me: to be the Lord of this City in peace, and leave my Chair to a son after me, who would be his own master and no Wizard's pupil. But if doom denies this to me, then I will have naught: neither life diminished, nor love halved, nor honor abated.”

“To me it would not seem that a Steward who faithfully surrenders his charge is diminished in love or in honor,” said Gandalf. “And at the least you shall not rob your son of his choice while his death is still in doubt.”

At those words Denethor’s eyes flamed again, and taking the Stone under his arm he drew a knife and strode towards the bier. But Beregond sprang forward and set himself before Faramir.

“So!” cried Denethor. “Thou hadst already stolen half my son's love. Now thou stealest the hearts of my Knights also, so that they rob me wholly of my son at the last. But in this at least thou shalt not defy my will: to rule my own end.”

“Come hither!” he cried to his servants. “Come, if you are not all recreant!” Then two of them ran up the steps to him. Swiftly he snatched a torch from the hand of one and sprang back into the house. Before Gandalf could hinder him he thrust the brand amid the fuel, and at once it crackled and roared into flame.

“We will be waiting for you,” Denethor heard Belegorn shout and watched as the soldier sliced the throats of the servants standing nearby. One fled and the soldier whipped his dirk from his boot. It planted deep into the servants back. Then, Denethor’s aide saluted and slit his own throat. The Steward wept.

Looking about him, he sighed deeply. Denethor of Gondor leapt upon the table, holding the Rod in his hands, the stone still tucked under his arm. “None left. None to give it to. Boromir is dead. Faramir taken from me, but he will not live long. He will not wield it. If he live, though I think it not possible, he would be a servant of him and I will not let it be held by that upstart.” Wreathed in flames, he took the Rod and clasped it to his breast for a moment, one long moment as the history, the significance of the emblem of his family’s Stewardship, the White Rod, ran through his mind. He took a long and deep breath, as was his wont when an action of gravity was required of him, put it over his knee – and broke it in half. The pieces he flung upon the flames as they crackled higher and higher.

He bowed and lay down upon the table, holding the Palantír clasped tightly to his chest. He would not look into it, never again, but he would not let any other have it. As Steward, it had been entrusted to his care. He would not leave it behind to be fondled by that upstart. He closed his eyes and held his breath. He heard the great door close behind the Wizard. One moment he was bereft of all hope. The next – he saw Boromir! Boromir stood before him, his face filled with sadness as tears flowed down the beloved cheeks. “Boromir,” he whispered. Hope rekindled. He must live. He must go to his son. “Mithrandir! Save me!” But the words were choked by the smoke and flames that rose about him. “Save me,” he whispered once again as the heat became unbearable. The image of Boromir faded. Denethor’s fingers began to tingle; the Palantír remained cool. He felt the flames licking at his slippers and his elbows. He pulled his arms tighter to his body. The Palantír turned red hot. His fingers, his palms began to melt onto the stone. He stared in disbelief; he was becoming one with it. A sudden laugh filled the chamber. The Enemy! And then Denethor’s hair began to smoke and melt. The heavy mail turned to fire, searing his body, link by link. The flames wholly engulfed him. He screamed in horror and pain and, as he did, his lungs took in the fire and drowned him.

Thus ended the life of Denethor II, son of Ecthelion II, Twenty-Sixth Ruling Steward of Gondor, of the House of Húrin.

~*~*~*~*~

A/N - These last moments of Denethor’s life (the early morning hours of 15 March) were a challenge, in that the discourse between Gandalf and him, as they stood by the door of the Houses, Faramir already whisked away to safety, could not be totally paraphrased or copied or deleted – or not used. Therefore, though I have rarely done so, I decided to keep the original ‘Tolkien’ text in many places. From the (*) in the above entry onward, there are instances where I literally followed the book word for word. However, intermixed are my own interpretations of Denethor’s thoughts, feelings, and actions. The power of Tolkien’s words here could not be trifled with – IMHO. (PS – I researched how long and how horrible being burned at the stake was, and used the information for Denethor’s own death.)