Ten Thousand Years will not Suffice

by Agape4Rivendell

 9  10  11  12  13  14  15 

9. 
Third Age - 2948

IX.

'How do I say this without you thinking me mad?’ he said to the still figure on the bed. ‘How do I say this and retain your friendship, your love. You will hear it and only hear the words - not what my heart is speaking, but I must say it, if only in the hope that one meaning will seep through the words, the hurt.'

He had begun to weep openly. 'Amdir, my friend, my brother. You must not die. You must not. Gondor has need of you, of your courage, your goodness, if only to tame me, to keep me in check, my pride, my stubbornness, my anger. You know of what I speak. Ever have you been the gentling agent in this mass that sits here before you. I ask not for myself, that you live, but for Gondor, for it is my fate that I will one day rule Gondor as her Steward. I see things before me that terrify me. Things that I will do if you are not with me.'

He could hardly speak for the sobs that wracked his body. 'If all else fails, I will fail. I can see it, Amdir, in my mind's eye.' Fear constricted his throat. He found it painful to continue speaking, but he pushed through the pain. 'I fear Isildur's Bain.' There! He had said it. 'Is it real? Is it in the hands of our enemies; is it as terrible a weapon as I imagine it? Will Gondor fall because of it?'

He wet his lips. 'There is a presence in Mordor, I can feel it. It is thoroughly evil. It will destroy Gondor and I know of no way to stop it. Yet, left unhindered as it now is, it will only grow and feed on us. And it feeds on my fears. Amdir, I want desperately to have you live for me, for our friendship, for our love. But it has gone beyond that now. You are Gondor's hope - not I. I will be the one who sits on the Steward's Chair, but you will be the one behind me, guiding me, controlling me, softening what I do so that I will rule in wisdom, not in frailty. I know my faults. I know they are many and I will fail without you. Amdir, you must not die.' He buried his head in the blankets that covered his friend, sobbing uncontrollably, fatigue and fear overcoming him, until sleep took him.


Ecthelion sat alone in his study. The words of the Healer burnt him. His face was flushed though he had laved it as soon as he had come into the room. I am at a loss, he thought. I have tried every conceivable approach to change Turgon’s mind. Yet all for naught. Our defenses are useless; our men die upon the battlefield; our people suffer daily. None of this has changed his mind. He seems to live in a dream world. And his counselors with him. I have just reprimanded Húrin for his disobedience. Disobedience, no matter by what disguise or name I would use, would still be disobedience. But I must to do something. Mordor – there is now an evil presence there. Denethor had told him such and he knew the gift that Denethor had been given – some sense of events unknown to other men, some sense of the future. How am I to defend Gondor while not Steward? And now my men look askance at me, those in authority distrust me, and I sit, weak and incapable of doing what must be done.

Indis had quietly entered the room. ‘My Lord,’ she said, ‘is there ought I can do to help? I notice you are disquiet.’

He stood and walked towards her. Fiercely he took her into his arms and hugged her. ‘I am most in need of your comfort, your support.’ A chill ran through her. ‘Nay, Denethor is healing. I have heard no news of Amdir as of this morning. It is Turgon who causes me this pain. Well you know his state of mind. You have become my helper, my right hand in the affairs of Gondor, unbeknownst to others, and I have need of your counsel. I believe the time has come for drastic measures, measures which some would say were treasonable. Yet, where Gondor’s weal is involved, I must consider all alternatives. I will call my Captains to me. We will meet in secret. But where? Osgiliath.’ He gave her no opportunity for comment. ‘Will you come with me and act as servant, listening to all that is spoken of?’

‘Of course, my Lord. Will you send missives today? When do you propose this meeting? I would spend some time with Denethor before we leave, if that is possible? As it concerns him, will Denethor be one of those commanded to attend? He is only a lieutenant, but he is your heir.’


Firieth heard the cries of the Steward's Heir and ran to find the Healer. Adanedhel knocked gently on the door. When there was no answer, he pushed it open and found Denethor slumped over the foot of the bed. At last he sleeps, he thought, at last. He moved towards Amdir and noted the pale, glossy skin, the shallow breathing. His forehead was hot to the touch. He understood why Denethor had cried out. Amdir was failing. It had been four days since the company had returned from Ithilien. Adanedhel had seen signs of recovery and been heartened by them. Now, all seemed lost. He sent for Arciryas and unguents, teas and fresh bandages. And Thengel. He had been sleeping in a room nearby and was with him in an instant.

'Thengel, help me move Denethor - but gently. I do not want him to wake. If I am correct, this is the first time he has slept since your return.'

'Aye,' Thengel shook his head. 'I have never seen anyone with such will. He would not leave Amdir's side.'

'We will place him on this cot. Then you must help me with Amdir. Fever has taken his body. We have a new enemy to fight, besides the burns.'

Quickly and quietly the two men undid Amdir's bandages. The sight of the ruined back once again made Thengel ill. 'Be strong, Captain! I have need of you. Breath through your mouth. That will help. You cannot tell, but the burns are indeed healing. One of the three most severe has changed for the better. I had truly hoped we were well on the path to recovery. '

Seeing his men injured was difficult, painful for Thengel, but to see his friend like this took everything out of him. Flashes of memories of other warriors brought low by the evil that surrounded Gondor caused him to lower his head in grief. He marveled at Adanedhel and said so aloud.

'Nay, my Lord, I do nothing special. I have a talent for healing and must use it, just as you have a talent for leading men. You would not be happy doing anything else, as I would not.' The gentle words of the Healer, Thengel discovered, helped give him the strength to continue aiding him. Arciryas had come into the room and moved swiftly towards the unguents set by Firieth on the sideboard, mixing them with honey, dissolving herbs in hot water, and preparing a tea. All the while, Adanedhel spoke of bravery and duty and men. He had long ago discovered that words could also be used for healing and some sense told him Thengel needed healing at this moment. As soon as the last bandage was removed, Arciryas scooped the unguent and lavished it upon the burns.

'There is fever,' Thengel heard the Healer tell Arciryas and noted the grave looks that passed between them. 'It is time for harsher measures.’

Arciryas nodded and left the room. He soon returned with drudges carrying a large tub. Others followed carrying buckets of water. The tub was placed in the center of the room and filled with the water and Thengel wondered what the old man was doing. Next, buckets of ice from the ice chests in the kitchen were brought in and dumped into the water. The drudges left. Adanedhel wrapped a sheet of cloth around Amdir and he and Arciryas started to lift him from the bed. Thengel quickly stepped in to help, but, as they started to lower Amdir into the tub, he cried out in concern.

'Hush!' Adanedhel whispered. 'The fever will kill him. We must needs stop it. This will reduce the fever quickly. It is a harsh treatment, for other risks become involved, but it must be done.'

It seemed only a moment that they left Amdir in the frigid water, and then quickly they stripped the wet cloth off him, and wrapped him in a blanket made of soft fleece. They laid him in the bed and Adanedhel felt his forehead.

'A little cooler,' he said with satisfaction. 'We will wait a quarter hour. If the fever rises, we will do the same again. If not, there is possibility for recovery.'

Arciryas took the tea he had prepared, checked to ensure it was cool, and sat with Amdir, gently forcing drops into the cracked lips. The silence in the room was oppressive – Denethor, making no sound in a sleep of exhaustion and Amdir, making no sound, his breath so shallow none could hear it. The vigil continued.


‘If we are not allowed to visit, at least they must tell us what is happening,’ Elleth hissed between clenched teeth. ‘I will go mad with this silence.’

Listöwel looked at her in amaze. None of the women had been told of the progress of Amdir. Twice Thengel had come and spoken with them, saying all would be well, but there was an undercurrent in his speech that did not assuage their fears. They were gathered in Morwen’s residence, trying to sew, trying to uplift each other, but as the days passed, fear gripped them. Denethor was well on the way to recovery, according to Thengel, but the Healer had forbidden them to visit either men. Their only contact was through Thengel and his guarded tongue did them no good.

‘Where is Indis?’ Morwen asked. ‘I have not seen her since we broke fast this morning. She could go to her father and demand that we be allowed to visit the Houses of Healing. I was under the impression that we were to help in the care of our men?’ Her embroidery sat in her lap, untouched for the last hour.

‘She was going to Ecthelion. She said she would plead our case before him, but she has not returned,’ Elleth said. ‘If he had not allowed her an audience, she would have returned by now. Her absence gives me hope.’

‘She has changed this last year. Have you not noticed? She seems stronger and yet more distant, as if she knows things she will not share with us,’ Morwen whispered. ‘I miss our times of laughter and ... silliness. She does not laugh as often nor as warmly as was her wont. What do you suppose has happened, Elleth?’

‘She spends more time with Ecthelion than she used to. I do not think she is any longer taking care of the physical work as Lady of Gondor, but more she spends her time with him. I find it strange. He will not give his time to Denethor, yet he will to Indis.’

‘That is because she is a strong and wise woman and besides, Denethor is off with his company. He has other duties that take him away from Minas Tirith. There is no opportunity for him to spend time with Ecthelion,’ Morwen stated.

‘If Ecthelion wished it, Denethor would be stationed here in the City learning what he must as future Steward. Has there been some disagreement between the two?’ Elleth asked.

‘I think that is not our concern,’ Morwen said flatly, then smiled. ‘The plotting of the Steward’s family are legend. Has been for eons. There is nothing we can do, dear friend, to... What are you doing?’ she asked, her eyes wide as Listöwel took up Thengel’s practice sword.

‘It is heavy, heavier than I thought,’ she giggled nervously. ‘Do you honestly think, if the battle comes to Minas Tirith, that we will be allowed to stay?’

Silence greeted her. Morwen and Elleth looked at each other. Indis had come in and they rushed to her side.

‘Nay, sisters. I want to hear further of what Listöwel is asking.’

Listöwel flushed. ‘Do you seriously believe that I will leave Amdir?’ She looked pointedly at Indis, a challenge in her eyes. ‘If he lives,’ she faltered.

‘He lives,’ Indis said, ‘though the battle being waged is deadly. His friends are at his side. So – you would let us leave Minas Tirith and you would stay?’

‘I would not stop you and I would stay, but I would stay with a sword in my hand. I have discovered a secret, Morwen,’ she looked hard at her friend, ‘Your maidservant is from Rohan and knows how to wield a sword. One word from you and she will teach me. What say you?’

Morwen’s mouth opened in surprise. ‘Yes, she is from Rohan, a sister of one of Thengel’s friends, but I know nothing of her training.’

‘She said she was trained as a shieldmaiden. What is that?’

Morwen blanched. ‘It is a name for a woman who has renounced relations with men to become a warrior for her people. Shieldmaidens are specially trained in the art of self-defense and war.’ A gleam shone in Morwen’s eye. ‘If only I were not with child...’

‘Morwen!’ Elleth cried. ‘How can you say such a thing?’

‘Because I can see it in your eyes. You are all lusting after such training. Therefore, I will be sent from Gondor with the other useless women and children and you will stay and fight for Gondor.’


At last, Adanedhel could contain his anger no longer. 'Why does not Ecthelion give Denethor some task to keep him busy. I have told him of Denethor's recovery. Light duty would not harm him. But this vigil is killing his spirit. He needs to be elsewhere for a part of the day. Yes, his mind will be here, but activity is needed - some surcease from the fear that is tormenting him. I did not know the two were so close - almost as brothers.'

Thengel looked up in surprise. He had almost been asleep himself in the quiet of the room. 'Aye, they have been like brothers for a long time. And they have fought together, even as young as they are, and seen friends die on the battlefield. But this was a different kind of battle. It had already been waged and lost by the time our company arrived.'

He thought of the babes and children's bodies strewn upon the ground, the half-eaten... No, he pushed the memory from his mind and started pacing the floor. 'These two are hardened soldiers, even at their young age. They have battled the enemy for many a year. And yet, any hardened soldier would need healing from the memory of the sights we saw that day. You are correct, Adanedhel. Denethor needs to be doing something to take his mind off that carnage and the desperate illness that now assails his friend. I will speak with Ecthelion himself. But not until Amdir passes this crisis.'

'That might be quite some time. Come,' Adanedhel sighed, 'we must needs try the remedy again. The fever returns.'
top

X.

'According to Adanedhel, you will be fit and able to join the company shortly. You must be tired of the honeysuckle mist. Granted, it smells lovely, but to have to breath it every day to clear the lungs? Pure torture. I myself was very glad when that part of my treatment was done with.' Denethor smiled as Amdir groaned at the thought. 'Thengel and I have become tired of waiting for you to join us. We have missed you. I believe you linger here in the Houses to be nearer to Listöwel.' Denethor shook his head. 'I do not understand how being with her could possibly cause such a rapid recovery. Is it perhaps the thought of your troth taking?'

Amdir blushed furiously. 'She comes only once a day…'

'And stays all day. Thengel and I never have time alone with you anymore. What you speak of during such long visits, I cannot imagine.'

Amdir's blush turned a brighter red. 'Just things. Plans. Hopes and dreams. Just things.'

Denethor walked towards the window. He did not understand this whole process. Women were meant to take care of the home, the children, the affairs of their men while they were away at war. Or if called to service, then work in the Houses of Healing, or the kitchens, or the shops. What was there to speak of? And yet many a night he had seen Thengel and Morwen sitting by the parapet in deep conversation. Now Amdir and Listöwel did the same thing in the gardens adjacent to the Houses. It made him nervous. He had his friends to share with, his sister, when she had a moment. Why would he want to share with anyone else?

'How are your hands?' Amdir asked, mistaking the uncertainty in his friend's face.

'I am frustrated! I still have trouble grasping my sword. Arciryas says the strength will return in time.' He shook his head. 'I do the exercises every day, yet the hand seems slow to heal. My left one has no difficulty holding the shield, which I should be grateful for. The fire caused more damage than I thought.'

'You have had too many brushes with fire, my friend. I am starting to think fire is Denethor's Bane,' Amdir laughed as he gently hit Denethor's arm.

'Nay, it is not,' Denethor snarled. 'Twice now, it has tried to engulf me and twice now I have won over it. I will not die in fire.' Again his thoughts flew to Curunír's words the last time they had met.

Immediately, Amdir regretted his words. 'What causes you to such anger over such a little jest, my friend?'

Had he never told Amdir of that meeting? The skin pr ickled on his arms. He tried to quell the fear and nausea that assailed his stomach. It was – what? Only a year ago. When Amdir and Thengel were in Dol Amroth. The same year Amdir had met Listöwel. That is why he had never discussed it with his friend. Amdir had returned from Dol Amroth a changed man. All he talked of was this vision of charm that he had met. How he wanted her to be his forever. Denethor had given up trying to talk with him about anything that mattered.

To Amdir's credit, Denethor himself had been caught up in trying to find Henneth Annûn at the time. It had been early spring; he had returned from Ithilien. He had returned to the City very much ashamed. Húrin had surprised him in the forest and Denethor was still smarting from the chastisement in front of Osgiliath’s battalion. He needed to find the old manuscripts; he needed more definite direction as to where the cave lay. He had gone to the Great Library, the first time since Thengel's troth pledging. He had heard no word that the wizard was in Gondor, so he had steeled himself and gone, for great was his sense of urgency. He found the manuscripts almost immediately and should have brought them with him to his room, but he had been fascinated by the very first passage he read and had sat down oblivious to everything around him.

'My Lord Denether,' the whispered voice caused Denethor to jump from his chair and face the wizard. 'You are studying late tonight.' Denethor looked at the candles; they had burnt down almost to their ends. He started gathering up the material around him and tried to head for the door. The wizard stood in front of him – Denethor could not recall him moving. 'I understand you have been allowed to run free through the fields of Ithilien?' His voice dripped with scorn. 'What have you found there, my friend?'

His tongue stuck to the roof of his mouth. Finally he was able to squeak out, 'I found nothing but herbs and soldiers.'

'Ah, but that is not what you went looking for, was it?' The wizard moved towards him. 'You were looking for things that do not concern you. There is another who is close to becoming Lord of Ithilien; One whom you would do well not to cross. I would warn you to stay away, but you are yet headstrong and proud. That pride will cause you great sorrow in the future. It might even cause your death?' He paused, turned and moved away. After a moment, he turned back towards Denethor. He held out his hand and there was a ball in it, round and obsidian black, yet beautiful, dark and baffling. It seemed to shimmer as if it had a life of its own. Denethor felt strangely called to it. 'Perhaps you should be looking for other things. Tools that will help you know what people refuse to tell you. You might even be able to see into their hearts.'

'I see just fine now,' Denethor was able to blurt out.

'Yes, and so you do. I have noted the gifts of Númenor that have been given to you. You might consider developing them further, just as you have developed your military skills. There are things available from the ancient ones that are your right as future Steward to use.'

'Is that... Is that a palantir?' Denethor asked in amaze. Fear was gone and intense curiosity filled him.

The globe vanished. 'I know not of what you speak, my Lord,' Curunír smiled.

Denethor suddenly felt weak. He knew he had been tricked. 'You see much, Wizard,' he snarled and was surprised at his tone. 'What do you know of me? Of my fate?'

The wizard laughed, loud and long. 'What is your fate? I see fire and ash and soldiers with flames mirrored in their helms. I see a man lying on a byre with a dead black stone in his hands, flames licking those hands, that stone. I see despair and death.'

'Denethor?' Amdir asked for the third time. 'Are you well?'

Denethor smiled bleakly, rubbing the sweat from his forehead. At least after this last encounter, he had not hidden under his bed! 'Of course I am well. It is just... I do not like to think about that fire.'


However the rest of Minas Tirith might have felt, there was one who was terrified. And that one was Morwen of Lossarnach. When first she suspected, she went to Adanedhel and tried to explain her fears to him. He waved them aside, telling her she was strong and young and built to bear children. She next turned to Indis, but Indis was totally taken in the affairs of state – Ecthelion leaned more and more upon her for counsel.

She was afraid to go to Thengel. She remembered his white face as he stood beside her during the long wait for Hild’s birth. Besides, there was no use in speaking with Thengel. He and Denethor spent most of their time in the Houses of Healing with Amdir, or planning which rooms to move the ever-increasing family into, what toys needed to be made. Morwen felt miserable, frightened and alone.

As she sat in the garden of the Houses, Morwen came to her. She was startled. She had not seen Denethor’s older sister for some months. When she had, the woman had quietly glided past with only a nod of her head. Thengel had told her that Morwen spent all of her time caring for the old Steward.

‘My Lady,’ Denethor’s sister started to speak. ‘Forgive me. You do not look well. Is there ought I may do for you?’

Morwen looked at the kind face and burst into tears. ‘I am frightened, my Lady Morwen. I...’

‘Please, call me Wen, it is the name my brother uses when speaking to me and I hold its sound tenderly in my heart. If we are going to share as friends, we should address each other as such. Now - what frightens you, Morwen?’

The tone of the voice, the kind hand gently laid upon hers, all lent strength to the words of friendship and Morwen found herself pouring out her heart, her fears, her foibles to the calm woman beside her. ‘I feel so very foolish. I am no longer a child, but I would cower under my covers if I might. Mayhap if life had moved in a different path, I would not now be so fearful. To lose my child at the Crossings broke my heart. And the pain... I could barely stand it. Then Hild was not an easy child to birth. The pain and fear of her coming are still branded into my mind and my stomach. I do not want to go through that again. I have spoken with Adanedhel and he bids me be quiet. As if I am a wayward child.’ She wiped the tears from her eyes. ‘I feel like a wayward child. Lost and alone. Forgive me, My... Wen, I am whining. I am wife to the Horse Captain who is confidant to the Steward’s Heir. How do I learn courage? How do I learn patience?’

Wen moved closer to her. ‘You are most courageous, my dear Morwen. Everyday you take up the challenge of living in Gondor, when you could have stayed in Lossarnach with the green fields all about you and peace and soft rains and joy. Yet, you follow your Lord and live in this City – a City some love with a passion, but a City nonetheless, dirty, smelly, noisy, with untended gardens and abandoned homes looking out at us. You do it for love of your Lord. You will birth this child in the same way. Do not be ashamed of these feelings. It is good to share them – bring them out into the open where we may dispel them. Adanedhel is old and has forgotten the ways of women. He is now ever consumed with tending battle wounds. His duties have changed from physician to surgeon. The women of Gondor rarely give birth. Those in the lower halls use midwives and those in these halls... Do you not notice that it is only your babe that runs through the halls of the Citadel? Gondor is failing. Her men look to creating statues in remembrance of themselves before they have even passed beyond; they think not of creating children. The women are left to their own devices.’ Her face turned hard as she spoke. ‘It is now the custom of the men of Gondor to wait until they are well into their prime before they even consider taking a wife. By that time, the women are weak and spent and have lost all hope. Nay, my sweet Lady, you are most courageous. I am proud to know you.’

Morwen burst into tears. ‘You are too kind. You know not what you speak of. I am...’

‘You are the beloved of the next King of Rohan!’ Wen chided her. ‘You will remember Gondor and make certain that Rohan and Gondor are always joined in friendship and fealty.’

‘Yes, My Lady, my friend. I will remember your words and your kindness and the kindness that we have ever felt here in Minas Tirith. Thengel will not leave Gondor, even when his father passes beyond. His love and loyalty to Denethor run deep in his heart. So you will not be rid of me soon, Wen.’ She smiled. ‘And for that I am grateful.’

She leaned her head against Wen’s shoulder and sighed. ‘Thank you. I am no longer afraid. What were you doing here in the Houses of Healing? I have not seen you here before.’

‘My grandfather, Turin, has a slight chill and I had come for a remedy. Now, I see I had other reasons for coming. I am pleased that I was here at this moment. The Valar protect us in our needs.’

Morwen sighed and closed her eyes. Gently, Wen kissed her forehead as the dark haired woman fell into sleep. ‘Tears often cause fatigue. I must speak with Arciryas. He will be able to help her.’


'Three months and still the sword feels foreign in my hand. My knitting needles fit better.'

'Ah, perhaps that is our problem, Listöwel. Perhaps we should go to the armourer and request swords made that fit us?' Elleth wondered.

'If we go to the armourer, questions will be asked. And how do we respond? Well... I need a sword for slicing the turkey. I need a sword for cutting my thread. I need a sword...'

'Be still,' Morwen laughed. 'Someone will hear our giggles and inquire as to why.'

'We have giggled so much this past month, ever since Amdir started to recover, that I doubt anyone has any questions left for us. And it has been most good to laugh, has it not?' Elleth asked. 'By the way, where is Indis? Did not she say would meet us here at this hour?'

'She did and she is not here, which means she is probably with Ecthelion – again,' Morwen sighed. 'I miss her. Have I said that before?'

'Yes, you have. But I wonder where our Shieldmaiden is? I am ready to begin practice. We have such little time for this. Morwen, should you really be lifting that sword in your condition?'

'I spoke with Arciryas,' she blushed. None had known she had gone to him, pushed towards him by Wen and he had helped her. Helped mitigate her fear. She could not share this with her friends; they thought her strong. ‘He said he will advice me as to when I should stop doing this.’

‘You told him?’ Listöwel almost shrieked in alarm.

‘Of course I told him. Did you think I would enter upon such an undertaking, something that might harm my child, without counsel?’

Eledhwen strolled into the courtyard, her sword swinging back and forth in front of her. Slowly at first, and then faster, and the women gaped.

'I believe I have been lax in your training. You still hold your swords like women,' the Shieldmaiden sneered. 'And where is your erstwhile Captain. Does she think she is ready for what lies ahead?'
top

XI.

She was delirious with joy. Arciryas had watched over her like a pelican with her brood; Morwen felt well and rested and calm. This birth would be different; she felt it. She had given up training a week ago, but the sinews in her arms and legs felt strong and ready for any battle. She would still train with her sister-friends, but without sword. Arciryas had been adamant; Morwen had been respectful, and they had come to an understanding. She would obey his wishes and not use the sword, but he would allow her to continue the less strenuous fighting exercises that Eledhwen was teaching them. She would dearly miss the feel of the sword in her hand, but she would at least be able to hear the clashing of sword upon sword as Elleth, Indis and Listöwel battled each other. A smile lit her already luminous face as she thought of Thengel. She did not know what he would think. Nay, she knew. He would be angry - and concerned. How could she train thusly and carrying a child? She giggled guiltily at the thought. How wonderful it had been for her to pick up the sword. Eledhwen had said that she had a gift for it. She knew not if it was gift or no, but she relished every aspect of the training. It had been difficult, at first, for the women to train in secret. Thengel's company was still recovering from the sortie to Emyn Arnen and so, left the City rarely. Thankfully, Morwen and the others used the excuse of wedding preparations to cover their long absences. Indis had secured an old chamber in the very depths of the Citadel for their practice. None ever came so deep of late.

Morwen giggled as she raced towards the Citadel. Gondor's weal was not the only matter on Indis' mind these days. She did a little leap of joy as she remembered coming upon them unawares in the garden outside the Houses of Healing. Arciryas must have forgotten her appointment with him for there he sat, holding Indis' hand and speaking quietly to her. Indis had dismissed Morwen's queries with a wave of her hand, but Morwen had seen the light in her eyes, the flush of her cheek, and heard the faltering speech of Arciryas as she greeted them. She had told no one, for her friend's privacy was most important to her, but she wanted to shout it to the whole of Middle Earth. No – she wanted to share it with her friend, this special time, but, until Indis was ready, she would remain quiet, hoping her friend would one day trust her and come to her. A small sigh, half happy, half sad, escaped her lips.


‘We will meet at ‘The Three Fishermen’ at the setting of the sun. I will bring Amdir with me. I will feign a sadness, and as ever, he will suggest that we go and I will go – reluctantly.’ Denethor laughed. ‘What a night this will be. But remember,’ he turned serious for a moment, ‘we may be late. Amdir still does not have his full strength back. I will have to walk at his pace.’

Thengel smiled. ‘But he is healing well. I could not deny him by putting off his troth pledge any longer.’

‘Have we orders yet?’ Denethor asked. ‘It has been six months since we left Ithilien unguarded. My father shares none of his plans with me,’ he said bitterly, ‘mayhap he has said something to you?’

‘Nay, he has not.’ Thengel sat next to his friend and laid a hand on Denethor’s knee. ‘I understand your frustration for I myself feel it. It would have been easy enough for Inlach’s men to be stationed at Henneth Annûn or at least sent to swell the ranks in Cair Andros. He was not happy when we brought Findegon’s Rangers with us, yet, now he waits. Is Turgon still the problem?’

‘I have not seen the Steward in months, but I do not believe my father goes to him any longer. I think Turgon is Steward in name only.’ He stood up, strode back and forth, gripping the pommel of his sword in anger.

Thengel stood up and advanced upon him, clutching his arm and forcing him to stop and look at him. ‘You are still young, my friend. Do not take this to heart nor as a sign of disrespect. Your father loves you and values your counsel.’

‘Hah!’ Denethor laughed bitterly. ‘Little do you know.’ He sat again; his shoulders slumped. ‘I feel as if I am trapped on a child’s seesaw. One moment he listens, even seems to want my views, and then he changes and keeps me away, turns to ice! I do not understand any of this.’

‘That is not all that is causing you distress, my friend. What else is there?’ He sat down again next to Denethor.

Denethor took in a deep, slow breath. ‘It is the ceremony.’

‘What ceremony?’

‘The ceremony! My coming of age. It is in two years time.’ He stopped. ‘The only ceremony he has EVER held was the giving of the Horn at my seventh year. I want this ceremony. I need this ceremony. Every Steward has held it since the line of the Steward’s began. And the Kings of Númenor before that held it with their sons. I fear that he will again disregard tradition. But more than that, this ceremony is the most important, more so than even the conferring of the Stewardship, for it signifies the heir. With this ceremony, I will receive my final sword; I will receive the Horn of Gondor; I will receive instruction into the ways of Gondor and the secrets of Númenor. Without it, I am nothing.’

‘Feign sadness!’ Thengel laughed warmly. ‘You do not need to feign it; it fairly leaks from you!’

Denethor looked up in surprise. ‘Verily, you speak the truth. I... I am sorry.’

‘Nay, friend, I am glad you shared this with me. Would you tell me more of this ceremony? Why is it so crucial?’

‘It started when my people first came to this land as fugitives. All we loved and cherished had been lost. The very land even, disappeared from under our feet. If Elendil had not been aware of what Ar-Pharazôn’s sailing westward meant, if he had not prepared the fleet, Gondor would not be as you see it now and only a few Númenóreans would still live in this land. The rest would all be at the bottom of the sea.’

‘How is that possible?’

‘The Valar had gifted us with the island of Westernesse with one restriction – we must never sail to the Undying Lands. My people lived there – free from fear, protected, and happy. But the Dark Lord was brought, as prisoner, to our land. Slowly he twisted the mind of the kings and pride engulfed them. Then the King, spurred on by the Dark Lord, took the fleet westward and broke the Ban. As Ar-Pharazôn’s fleet headed west, Elendil boarded ships on the easternmost side of the island and waited. After more than thirty days, the mountain exploded, the wind roared, the waves grew to great heights – higher than mountains – and all in our boats were afraid. Would Ulmo himself come against us? Those who looked behind saw unspeakable horror. Our homeland, our cherished island, sank before our very eyes and was lost forever. Ever eastward our little fleet was thrown, struggling against the wrath of the Valar.’ Denethor started to sob.

Thengel sat – stunned. ‘You speak as if you yourself were there!’

‘Nay, I was not,’ Denethor took a shuddering breath. ‘I have read many accounts of that time, written in pain and sorrow and tears. The message has been branded, white-hot, upon my heart. The saddest time in our history – though I fear worse is yet to come. Will we again lose our adopted homeland? The evil that encompasses us seems of the same ilk as that which assailed Númenor. Do you not see why, do you not understand the terror I feel from the east?’

They sat together – silent. At last, Denethor shook his head. ‘Tis a sad subject to be telling on such a momentous day.’

‘But you have told me naught of the ceremony,’ Thengel said.

‘Ah yes. When my people landed, they were disconsolate. But Elendil was resolute. ‘We will not lose our memories. Númenor will live in our hearts.’ He made it law that the King, when his heir was of age, would take him to a sacred place and there speak of Númenor, the duties of the King, and many other secret things. At this time, the keys to the Treasury, the Great Library, and other places that I do not yet know of, were given to him. Before King Eärnur left for Mordor to foolishly answer the Dark Lord’s challenge, he took the Steward, Mardil Voronwë, my ancestor, to the sacred place, gave him the keys, told him the secrets and rode away, nevermore to return. The Stewards took up the tradition.’ He looked at Thengel. ‘Perhaps Ecthelion believes the King will return? Perhaps that is why there is no mention of the ceremony? There would be no need, if the King returns? Perhaps he has some foresight in this. I do not know.’

‘My friend,’ Thengel said, ‘Why distress yourself over this? There is still time. Your father knows the importance of the ceremony. He will not break this tradition, of that I am sure.’

‘Then your surety will be mine! Let us go. I promised Amdir I would visit this morning. Listöwel is busy with the final preparations for the troth pledge.’

‘Nay, I will leave you two alone. I have errands for tonight that must be completed.’ And then Thengel, sensing the need for tradition, good-bye’d Denethor with the Gondorian hand to chest. Denethor smiled, returned it and walked away, his heart lightened.


Indis finally decided that preparation for war was needed. As she and Ecthelion poured over maps and missives from Gondor and beyond, she realized the depths of evil in their land. She glimpsed a small portion of what Denethor had spoken of all these long years, and she was finally feeling the horror that she perceived in his eyes when he left himself unguarded. Her poor brother. The gift of foresight that was growing in him was a bitter gift indeed, and coupled with his years of knowledge of their past gleaned from his many hours studying the books from the Great Library, perhaps were too much for him. She pushed that thought away, for there was naught she could do to help him. As Listöwel had said, she too did not mean to be sent off with the women and children, if the time ever came to defend Minas Tirith. She would stay and fight next to her father, her Lord. She was not as adept at the sword as Morwen was, but she was learning nonetheless. And, Arciryas would be staying and in the middle of the fray. She would want to be at his side. She sighed.


'There will be no training today,' Listöwel wailed. 'Indis has an appointment; she cannot break it, and Elleth says we must sew. The troth pledge is too close.'

Morwen laughed. 'Then come, sister-friend, and we will sew and sing and enjoy this day.'

'What has made you so happy?' Listöwel demanded and then blushed. 'Ah, the babe. Have you felt it?'

'Yes, oh yes! Many times now, Listöwel,’ Her face glowed. 'I am so happy. Would you like to feel him?'

'Him – so you are sure it is a him?'

'Yes, I know not why, but I am sure. I have more to tell, but let us wait till we reach Elleth's.'

Morwen fairly skipped as they turned towards the Sixth Level. Listöwel laughed and the women held hands and sang an old tune rejoicing in their friendship.

'Ah to be a’ walking
A’ walking in Gondor
And ah to be a’ singing
In this fair land.

Land of sweet beauty
Land of rivers flowing
Land of mountains rising high
As a’ walking we go by.

Ah to be a’ laughing
A’ laughing in Gondor
And ah to be a’ playing
A friend held hand in hand.

Sweet Minas Tirith
Slender spike of pearl
Pure and bright your tower glows
In my loving heart.'

They arrived at Elleth's breathless and laughing. She quickly ushered them into the parlour and held her fingers to her lips. 'I believe I have a secret,' she exclaimed mischievously. 'Indis is in love!'

Listöwel squealed. 'Who, what, when, where, how?'

'Hush now! I saw her with Arciryas in the garden by the Houses.' Elleth's eyes brimmed with tears. 'I have said naught of this to anyone, but my heart is so very glad for her. She knows I saw her and has said nothing. Therefore, I feel I may tell you, as her dearest friends.'

Morwen smiled. 'I have seen them too.' She started to cry. 'Isn't this most wonderful!'
top

XII.

The noise was deafening - howls of laughter, flagons clinking, chairs scraping. Denethor sat back, bemused. Life was good! He watched as his friends competed in arm wrestling, shouts of encouragement ringing in his ears. This lot of soldiers was a valiant group; he was glad to name them among his friends. Smiling, he shook his head. Soon enough they would be going out to battle, mayhap to death, but that did not deter them from encouraging Amdir in his forthcoming nuptials. Denethor laughed as he watched him, eyes slightly glazed, huge smile on his face; Amdir would have to be walked home, or mayhap, carried. Denethor himself remembered the time he had taken too much and almost burnt himself and the Steward's House down. He would not be so foolish this night. This ritual, was it brought from Númenor or adopted from the folk of these lands? His mind could not envision the Númenórean kings doing such things. He grew more thoughtful and shivered. He remembered the tales of the kings of old, the last ones before the great wave engulfed Westernesse, sacrificing their children to... to what? Some dark force. He could not remember. But he knew there had been human sacrifice. What would drive a man, nay a king, to such an action?

There was a hint of sorrow assailing Denethor and he was not quite sure what elicited it. They all looked the same, these comrades of his, stalwart and brave, those married and those not. There seemed to be no difference. Why would one want to pledge to a woman with all the attendant problems, when there seemed to be no difference in countenance? Yet, he knew this to be untrue for a select few. He marveled at Thengel and Morwen. They seemed uncommonly close. Spoke often together. Missed each other when they were separated. Peculiar. He wondered about Ecthelion and his mother. Were they as his friends? His father's moments of melancholy – were they to be attributed to Rían's loss? He wished, not for the first time, that he had known her. Always, Indis had been his mother, but now, with the thoughts of pledging to a woman, he wished he knew more. Once the troth pledge took place, though, he noticed ardor seemed to fade for most. Yet, not with Thengel and Morwen. Would it be the same for Amdir and Listöwel? A far corner of his mind wished it would be for them as it was for Thengel and Morwen.

His chair was knocked out from under him as one of the combatants went flying, to the uproarious laughter of the others. Denethor hailed the maid, took another mug to replace the broken one, and found a quieter corner a little further from the merriment. Just as he sat, Thengel joined him, pushed his chair slightly to the side, and straddled one across from him.

'What say you to the high spirits of the men, my friend?'

''Tis a good thing to see,' Denethor replied with a smile.

''Tis better than a good thing to see. You should be there with the wrestlers. Your arm is strong now. Get yourself up and join the battle.'

'Nay, the left arm is strong, but the right... It will be strong soon. I do not see you offering your body for torture?'

'I am Captain,' Thengel snorted. 'Do you think one of them would not let me win?'

Denethor laughed. 'Nay, it is not that you are Captain, but that you would conquer in a thrice. They may be full of ale, but they are no fools.'

Thengel started laughing in earnest. 'Look. They are now showing each other their battle scars. Should we join them? We have a few here and there.'

Just as Denethor moved to stand up, Findegon entered. Thengel's laughter caught in his throat. Here was a man who had the right to show off battles scars. His face – battle worn with tough, hardened skin, wrinkles everywhere - showed pride and courage and rock-solid strength. A doughty man. Life shone from his eyes. They did not quiver; they did not turn away. Focused and steady, they looked at Denethor and Thengel. Denethor immediately gestured for the man to join them and hailed the maid. The friends felt embarrassed at the thought of showing off of their paltry scars. The man that stood before them was scarred both mind and body. Both men stared at this soldier and realized that Findegon was a man worthy to emulate. His face still bore the sorrow of his lost family. He waved aside the ale, but Denethor insisted.

'Just one toast, my friend, before the night is o'er.'

Denethor stood, scraping the chair back in his fervor. There were things that should be said, that should have been said before the night started, but better late than never. His heart blazed within him.
Such was his presence at this moment, unbeknownst to him a shade of the kings shone in his face, and the room quieted immediately.

'My friends,' he raised his flagon, 'Today we celebrate many things, friendship, good times, and most especially, the upcoming troth pledge of our friend and comrade, Amdir. Time has been set aside later in the night to lift our cups to that event. For now, I would bid you stand and remember with me the fallen dead, our comrades who have passed. Almost, we had lost our friend that day, but others fell. Their doom was such. Not only soldiers, schooled and ready for death, nay, innocent women and children. None deserving of such a death.' There was silence. He lifted his flagon higher. 'To the fallen of Gondor!' he raised and emptied his cup and all the men with him.

Hard enough to put aside such thoughts, but another day would be upon them, while this day was a day for celebration. 'Now,' Denethor bellowed, 'let us sing of Gondor!'

Flagons were filled again and cups and voices lifted in the ancient song.

'Hail, Gondor!
Beloved land we sing
Realms bright honour
Cherished soil, to thee we cling.

Hail, Dome of Stars
Osgiliath the fair
Jewel of this realm of ours
Watched o'er with loving care.

Minas Ithil, Hail the strong
All salute her blazen'd sky
Her banners ever unfurled long
Among the crags so high.

Hail, Minas Arnor
Fortress mountain-hewn
Clothed in marble armour
Spike'd tower shining in the moon.

Hail, Gondor!
Beloved land we sing
Realms bright honour
Cherished soil, to thee we cling.

Hail, Gondor! Hail, Gondor! Hail, Gondor evermore!’

At long last, they all sat, tears in the eyes of some, pride shining forth. Quietly, Amdir walked to Denethor's table and began to sing another tune, long and low.

’When I return

I will find her
I will hold her ever close
In her ears I much prefer
To whisper sweet and tender prose.

She is precious, oh most cherished
To no other love I’ll turn
I will love her till I perish
For her alone my being yearns.

Nevermore will I leave her
Nor forsake her nevermore.

How I ache to touch her raven hair
How I long to see her face
In the light of the fire’s glare
Full of beauty and of grace.

As the battle rages round me
Still I hear her gentle voice
She would comfort and console me
At her touch I would rejoice.

Nevermore will I leave her
Nor forsake her nevermore.

As an arrow struck deep into me
Through the flesh it gently tore
Yet so softly did my love tear me
I will love her evermore.

Now the light of day is leaving
Final breath my body makes
She will wither and go to grieving
That fair maid who my heart takes.

Nevermore will I leave her
Nor forsake her nevermore.

When I return.’

top

XIII

Third Age 2948 – Part Thirteen

The old soldier's song hung over the air long after Amdir finished. He sat at table with Thengel, Denethor and Findegon. None spoke for some time. At last, Denethor turned to Amdir.

'You have always sung well, my friend. However, tonight you sang from your heart, did you not?'

Amdir blushed. 'My heart is taken, truly. I would have it no other way. She… she fills me. She gives me breath. She… ' He went to drink, then set his cup down. 'I think I will go back to the Houses now. Would you accompany me?'

'Of course. It is early though and your friends have come to prepare you for the event. Would you not stay a little longer?'

'I am tired.'

Denethor jumped up, alarmed. 'Forgive me. Need you a hand to rise?'

Amdir laughed. 'Nay, I am well. I think the pace up the hill will be a little slower tonight, though.' He stood and Denethor watched, anxiously.

Thengel stood and hugged him. 'Sleep well, my friend. We will see you tomorrow.'

Denethor had hoped to spend time with Findegon. He desperately wanted to speak about the Rangers and Ithilien, but Amdir came first. 'Mayhap tomorrow, Captain Findegon, we may meet?'

'Yes. I am staying in the Rangers quarters on the first level. I am at your disposal.'


Walking up the road to the sixth level, silence enveloped the two. Denethor's thoughts were awhirl with the song. The sentiment held him spellbound. A thousand times before he had heard it, yet, tonight, it held a different quality about it. His thoughts again went to Amdir and Thengel. He had no jealousy, but a feeling of discontent filled him. He tried to wish it away. All he needed was to get out of Minas Tirith, to feel his horse under him, his sword in his hand.

'Denethor. Will we go on patrol again soon?'

'Yes. The Company will. Alas, I am sorry to say, dear friend, you will not. Arciryas will surely not give approval for you to return yet. You are still staying in the Houses. Another month? Perhaps two? Though you are sorely missed. The barracks have been silent and cold. Laughter is rare.'

'There has been naught to laugh about. Who is Ecthelion sending to replace the men Captain Inlach lost?'

'He has said naught to me. There was a Captain and a lieutenant lost, besides the men.' Denethor shook his head, visions of the dead patrol swimming before his eyes. 'It would seem that only a full company will be safe on any of our roads from now on. This is a hard thing. There are not enough men – never enough men. I would lay it at the feet of the kings. Even before their line fell, they did nothing to encourage planning for Gondor's defense.' Bitter was his tone. 'Now, we pay with our lives, and the lives of our people.'

'But let us put our thoughts to merrier matters. Tomorrow is the last day of Yavannië and your troth pledge day. I will come for you at the sixth bell. We will meet Thengel and Ingold at the Citadel and have nuncheon. After that, we will go to your home where we will meet Listöwel and Elleth. We will meet Indis and Morwen in the White Tower. Do you have everything you require for tomorrow?'

Laughing, Amdir said, 'I require nothing but my friends and my beloved.'

Denethor heaved a sigh. This would not be an easy task. Indis had offered the garden for the ceremony, but would not ask Ecthelion's permission. Denethor thought it a mistake. Amdir had no inkling as to what they were about. May the Valar protect us, Denethor thought. Ecthelion was busy with preparations for the harvest-feast day, Yáviérë, and would remain in seclusion with his advisors the entire day. He was surprised Indis could get away for the day. But, their little party would be long gone ‘ere he came back to the White Tower. A shiver ran up Denethor's back. Amdir looked at him quizzically as his body betrayed him.

'This will be a good day, my friend. You and Listöwel will be pledged, we will laugh, eat and drink, and all will be right with the world.' They had reached the Houses. Denethor gave Amdir a quick hug and turned to leave.

'My Lord,' he heard a voice calling him. As he turned back, Arciryas stepped from the shadows of the doorway. 'My Lord,' he repeated, 'may I have a moment?' Amdir had gone into the Houses.

Denethor's heart skipped a beat. 'Is there aught wrong?'

'Nay, my Lord, all is well. I have a… a personal matter I wish to discuss with you. Is this an inappropriate time?'

Brow furrowed, Denethor bowed his head. ''Tis fine. Would you speak here?'

'Nay, I have a workplace where we may sit and share some tea?'

'Lead on.'

What could Arciryas possibly want, Denethor mused. All his dealings were with Adanedhel, healer to the Steward. The only concern between them was Amdir's health. Was there something wrong? Perhaps Amdir was not strong enough for tomorrow's ceremony. His heart raced a little faster and he wished they had sat on one of the benches by the entryway. At last they reached the little compartment that was Arciryas' and entered. Hot water was already bubbling on the fire in the corner as Arciryas motioned Denethor to the only good chair in the room. Denethor's frustration was starting to mount at the silence from Arciryas, but he tried to hold his tongue.

As Arciryas passed him a cup of tea, Denethor could contain himself no longer. He tried to be civil, but anxiety coated his words. 'Amdir is well?'

'Oh, yes, my Lord,' Arciryas looked startled. 'Amdir is healing well. Not at the speed that he would wish, but better than I had thought. I am quite pleased with his recovery. Of course, he will have scars but we are using blueberry, grape and wild pansy extract on the burns. That will help minimize the scarring.' Arciryas stopped and took a deep breath. 'I asked to speak with you on a personal matter, as I have said.' He stopped again and took another breath. Denethor almost laughed at the healer's discomfiture. What matter could be so grave…. Denethor's breath caught. Not Ecthelion? There could be naught wrong with his father!

'I beg of you, Arciryas, please do not hesitate. Tell me what it is that is bothering you.' He tried to keep his voice even.

'Your sister, Indis.'

Denethor jumped to his feet. 'What is wrong with her?'

'Nothing!' Arciryas stated as loudly as Denethor's shouted question.

'Please sit, my Lord. I am doing this very badly. Indis and I,' he plunged forward, 'we would, we want, we are seeing one another. She has been most kind and accepted my feelings towards her and I would that you would know before…' Arciryas had never felt so tongue-tied in his entire life, not even during his testing by Adanedhel when he applied to become a healer. 'I love your sister very much,' his face turned various shades of red. 'I know I am younger than she is, and that she is of the House of Húrin, but my forefathers lineage is of some worth.'

Denethor sat back, his hand brushing his hair from his forehead in hopes to hide the smile upon his face. He had not known, had not surmised anything of this sort. Indis! He could contain himself no longer. He jumped back up, grabbed Arciryas by the arms, and gave the man a mighty hug. Arciryas' grey eyes widened in surprise.

'Does this mean that I have your support when I approach your father?'

The sigh that escaped Denethor's lips could not be hidden. He sat back down. How could he tell Arciryas that Ecthelion would never give his approval? How could he himself have even given the poor man a moment's hope by his exuberance? Arciryas noted the change of countenance. He was a healer after all. Was not he trained in such observation? So this would be harder than he thought. Once Denethor had responded so positively, his heart had swelled with joy. Now, the pallor on the lieutenant's face told more than words. 'There is a problem.' he stated flatly.

'My father… How can I say this? He has come to rely heavily upon my sister. She is, and has been for some time now, the Lady of Gondor. You look very high in this pursuit.' He tried to keep his tone flat. He valued Arciryas as friend and healer. His blood was Númenoréan. Yet, he was not a Lord of the Court, nor was his family high placed.

'Is there aught that can be done?'

'My sister’s feelings are the same as yours?'

Arciryas nodded, miserably. Even the sweet thought of Indis did nothing to allay his torment. There did not seem to be much hope for their future.

'There must be something we can do,' Denethor groaned. 'If Indis loves you… But I cannot see a way out of this. Even as chief healer you would not be deemed worthy enough for her.'

'I am not worthy of her, of that I am certain,' Arciryas cried, 'but I love her nonetheless.'

'Come with me.' Denethor rose and pushed him through the doorway.

'Where are we going?'

'You will see. Be still while I try to think.'

top

XIV

He was a fool. The thought slapped him in the face, hard, as he grit his teeth. How long had this been going on? How long had he been blinded to his own sister’s anguish? On the road from Emyn Arnen, he had vowed that he would spend more time with her, listen to her, and now, further evidence of his disregard, his selfishness. He could hear the labored breathing of Arciryas behind him, but Denethor could not slow his steps as he made his way towards ‘The Three Fishermen.’ He had put himself before all those he loved, and now that his eyes were no longer blinded, he would put things to right, if he could. ‘How do I begin to notice? How do I school myself to pay attention to others’ needs, others’ wants? How do I become wise in things other than battle?’


‘We will do what...?’ Thengel had exploded. He lowered his voice as half the company still in the inn stared at them. ‘We cannot. What fey mood has you in its sway that you would even consider such a thing?’ he hissed, and then turned towards Arciryas in frustration, but the poor healer’s face was as white and drawn as he imagined his own to be. ‘Do you have some remedy to heal him of this madness?’

Denethor’s lips quirked into a small smile. ‘I am not ill. There is no other way. I have pondered it from the sixth level to here; there is no other way. Ecthelion will not hear of it; that way is shut. So, we must find a new path, a new way. I believe this is our only course.’ He sat back, holding the flagon in his hand. It was the only thing that felt solid as his mind tried to pull itself together from the whirl it had been in. The course he had suggested was madness, he knew, but there was no other way. The consequences for him would be terrible, but too long had he allowed his sister to bear the weight, the fury of their father. He remembered how she had brought them together after Cranthir’s death. She had stood up to Ecthelion. Now he was going to crush any repair that had been done.

‘It is the only way,’ he stated again, the smile now wiped from his face. ‘I will bear the brunt of my father’s displeasure, nay, anger. Too long has Indis loved me with no recompense. Too long has she suffered for Gondor, given all of herself to its affairs, to my father, to our family. I will not let this continue. I know I speak madness,’ he paused, ‘and if I could, I would go to Ecthelion, plead her case before him, but he will not listen. Thengel,’ he put his hand on his friend’s shoulder, ‘you know I speak the truth.’

Thengel sat back; the horror of the action planned was almost too much to bear. ‘If you do this, you will be banished from Gondor, not Arciryas, not Indis.’

Silence deafened Denethor. ‘I know too well, but am I not accustomed to this kind of treatment? Nay, I will not be banished, but I will be sent far away into some odious garrison, some unwelcome duty. I can bear that. In time, he will reconsider and order me home.’ He paused as the remembrance of his three-year banishment when he was a mere lad assailed him. The loneliness, the shames of that time were almost too much to bear, but he was a man now. Would he be banished that long? Or mayhap longer? He tried to hide the shiver that ran through him, but Arciryas’ healer’s eyes caught it.

‘I cannot let you do this for me, for us.’

Another slight smile played on Denethor’s lips. ‘It is for me, too, my friend. Too long have I listened to my sister weep alone, too long have I seen her drawn, sad face. If what you say is true, then it is my duty to help her.’

‘Then let us go find her.’ Thengel said, ‘Let us see what she thinks of this madness.’


They walked slowly towards the White Tower, all three ensconced in their own thoughts. As they approached, Denethor saw that there was no light in Indis’ quarters. She cannot have retired yet, he thought. No, she was at Elleth’s.

‘Come, we are at the wrong place. She is with Elleth, Morwen, and Listöwel at Captain Ingold’s home. They must still be preparing for the morrow.’


As they walked through the door, the fire swept its warmth and light into Denethor’s heart and he knew what he contemplated was only right. Indis ran to him, questions in her eyes, but he hugged her tightly and whispered in her ear, ‘I love you, my sister.’ She pulled herself away, sudden tears spilling down her face.

‘Brother, is there anything amiss?’

‘Hah,’ he whispered softly. ‘I am the fool even more, if you only think I come to you in time of danger or in time of need.’

‘Thengel, what has come over my Lord?’ She turned and saw Arciryas behind them and her eyes widened. ‘Amdir?’ she whispered.

‘Nay,’ Denethor said quietly. ‘But I must speak with you alone.’ He turned towards Elleth. ‘May we?’

The group went out of the parlour and left brother and sister to themselves. Denethor could hear the whispers as they went into the kitchen. He was grateful that Thengel would explain his plan to the others. He did not have the strength to even think that far.

‘Sit, my love,’ he said and walked to the settle. She sat next to him, wonderment still upon her face. ‘Indis. I need you to be frank with me. I need you to answer my questions truthfully.’ She was silent and bowed her head. What could he want of me? What questions? ‘Are you in love with Arciryas?’

Her head flew up, mouth opened, cheeks flaming red, and he knew. He put his fingers to her lips. ‘Nay, say not a word. I understand now.’ They sat in silence. ‘You have ever been my help, my comfort, my support, Indis, and now I would make it up to you.’ She tried to interrupt, but his fingers flew again to her lips. ‘Please, let me say what must be said. When I returned from the carnage of Emyn Arnen, I vowed that I would place you before me, your needs and your wants. You became – no you always were – all that I hold dear in this world. Now, I wish to repay you. I have an idea that might seem foolhardy to you. But you will see the wisdom in it, once you consider it fully.’

He sat back, put his arm around her shoulders, and held her close. ‘Tomorrow is the troth pledge for Amdir and Listöwel. Tomorrow, if you agree, I would make it your troth pledge to Arciryas.’ She tried to pull away, but he clung tightly to her. The fear in her eyes burnt him as much as the fire in the hut. ‘There is nothing to fear. Father will be able to do nothing, once the formalities have been accomplished, once the pledge has been made. You and Arciryas will slip into Morwen’s suite to complete the pledge. After that, there is nothing even the Valar could do to separate you.’

Tears streamed down her face. ‘And who will tell Father?’ she whispered.

A smile creased the corners of Denethor’s eyes, but no smile touched his lips. ‘I will, my dear sweet sister. And he will punish me for it. But it will be light and nothing will be able to dim the joy I will feel at your happiness. Please, let me do this for you.’

She hugged him closely, her tears wetting his tunic. He smiled. It would all be worth this moment.


The day dawned with the sun brilliant, even hurtful to the eyes. Warmth already filled the streets of Gondor; it would be hot for this time of year. Thengel met Denethor for breakfast in the barrack’s dining room. He was quiet and withdrawn. Denethor smiled. He had an inkling of the thoughts that raced through his friend’s mind, but could do nothing to assuage the fear he saw in his Captain’s eyes.

‘I thought we were being brave using my mother’s gardens for the ceremony. Such a little thing now compared to what we will be doing,’ he laughed.

Thengel shrugged and looked away. He was angry with Denethor, nay, furious. But he could think of nothing to do to sway his resolve. He loved Indis too, but the cost of this enterprise seemed too much. Of all times when he needed his lieutenant by his side, this was it. They were scheduled to begin patrol immediately after the harvest-feast. Denethor would not be with them, of this he was sure, and neither would Amdir. A double blow. Arciryas? Would Arciryas even be allowed to go? What healer would Adanedhel send with his Company, if Arciryas was not allowed? No, Ecthelion would be eager to get Arciryas out of the city, away from Indis. Perhaps he would try to convince her to reject the pledge? Ah, she would not.

They ate in silence; Denethor hurt by Thengel’s turned back. There was nothing to be done, however. All their plans, nay, his plans, were in place. Both ceremonies would take place today and tomorrow he would be sent off to who knew where. But his heart was light. Indis would be happy.


Many chores had lain before them, but the sixth bell finally rang. Denethor was at the door of the Houses. Amdir and Arciryas stood waiting for him. Amdir’s eyes were bright and his cheeks were flushed. Denethor looked at Arciryas in alarm, but Arciryas smiled.

‘Our friend Amdir is quite ready, methinks.’ He laughed and Amdir’s cheeks become rosier still.

‘Then it is time we met your father, Amdir. He waits in the Citadel with Thengel.’

‘My stomach is roiling and I do not believe I could eat anything. May we just, perhaps, sit by the parapet, look out on the fields of the Pelennor?’

‘Whatever suits you, my friend. It is your day. They will find us when the need arises. We are to meet at the White Tower at the eighth bell.’

Amdir had not been told what other event was going to be happening this day. Denethor had questioned whether or not to tell him, just let it happen and answer questions when the time came, but this appeared to be the opportunity he needed. And he would use it.

Once Amdir’s mouth closed, Denethor smiled. ‘This does not take from the pleasure of your day, does it? I had not thought you would mind sharing this day?’

‘Nay, I am just... at a loss for words. I did not know.’

Denethor laughed. ‘None of us did. But the women did. They had no trouble changing Indis’ gown into one more appropriate. They spent the night laughing and singing. To hear them, you would have thought all Gondor knew and rejoiced. In fact, I do believe all Gondor will rejoice when the news is released.’

Amdir placed his hand on his friend’s arm. ‘Yes, all Gondor will rejoice, except those Lords who had hoped to advance their careers, or the careers of their sons, by a match between their houses. And what of Ecthelion? Do you seriously believe there will be rejoicing from the Steward’s House?’

‘Leave that to me, Amdir. All will be well.’ He gave a smile to Arciryas. ‘You both have much to rejoice at.’


The garden was in full bloom. Flowers cascaded from the windows and the embrasures above, benches had been placed, and music floated through the air. Indis had done everything possible to make this day splendid for her friend. How strange that all the preparations had been for herself too. The dress fit well, but the alterations made her uncomfortable. It brought to mind exactly what she would be about this day, and the thought still took her breath away. Her love for Arciryas was strong, surprisingly sudden, but strong, and she blushed as she thought of it. He had been assigned to Denethor’s Company only a year after he came to the Houses. When was that? Just two years ago. Rarely did they have opportunity to meet, until this year, these last six months when she took turns visiting Amdir. The blush deepened. She remembered when first they had sat in the garden on the vestibule outside the Houses. She had been concerned for Amdir. Denethor had been distraught and she needed to know whether Amdir would live or die. She had to be prepared to help Denethor if the answer was hard. He had taken her hand, purely in comfort, and the touch had sent tingles down her spine. She saw his eyes widen at the same time and they were lost. Or found. A tear slipped down her face. She truly loved him. Yet, the course that Denethor was leading them on... She was still terrified. Denethor had promised there would be little repercussion to this action, but she did not believe him. How could she not hurt her brother and hurt her affianced? Or how could she not hurt her affianced and hurt her brother? She should run away. Or tell Arciryas she did not love him. Nay, he would not believe her. And running would do nothing! Ecthelion would find her or she would die in the wild. Her frightened eyes swung right and left, looking for some escape.

‘Wen stood before her, took her in her arms, and hugged her tightly. ‘My sister, you look like a frightened rabbit. What ails you on this day? Do you doubt yourself, or Arciryas?’

Indis sobbed. ‘I cannot save him, nor Denethor. This is madness. I should never have agreed to it.’

‘Yes, this is madness, a blessed, marvelous madness and I am most happy for you. Time enough you have given to Gondor, to Father. Time now for your own happiness. I watch Turgon and I see life slipping from him. I would have life for our family. I will not give children to the line of Ecthelion, but you will; you must. I would see a sweet babe, laughing in your arms. Time now to put aside fear, my beloved sister. Time now to take the happiness given you.’ She wiped the tears from Indis’ eyes as their friends entered the garden.

Sweet and precious were the words as each couple spoke the pledge. The music had been stilled, not a sound but the voices of each as they made their pledge, and then the kiss. Tears flowed and arms hugged and voices cracked in joy and love and friendship.

The trio played with flute, crumhorn, and harp, gentle music as the revelers ate the simple repast the women had prepared. Their talk turned to laughter, and laughter to dancing. Indis and Arciryas were pushed forward as was Amdir and Listöwel. The benches were moved out of the way and the pledge dance began. Slow and rhythmic went the music and the dancers followed it. Their hands were held together above their heads, then brought down and around from left to right and then right to left. Their feet lightly marked the time in small circles. Then arms encircled waists and kisses were gently placed on foreheads. The dance lasted only a short time, yet all were enthralled. Slowly, each couple dropped their hands, turned and bowed towards their friends, smiling shyly.

Gracious clapping greeted the end of the dance, but the trio had other thoughts in mind and quickly started a more lively tune. All joined hands and started the circle dance. It had been so long, Thengel and Morwen’s ceremony, since any had danced. Toes were stepped upon, groans were heard, but laughter covered the day. The circle started slowly, with hands again clasped and raised, then all swung in towards the middle and then out again, while the men started to stomp their feet and the women gently kicked out and back again. Denethor liked these dances. No partner was needed. All joined together and most made mistakes. He did not feel self-conscious. Amdir’s smile was bright as he nodded towards him. It was good to see such laughter and joy. The twisting of his stomach had stopped as soon as the pledge had started. Morwen and Thengel sat for most of the activities. Arciryas’ presence gave them both ease of mind. The babe was not due for another two months; Morwen would be fine. For more hours than Denethor had expected, they danced and sang and laughed. At last the sun was setting and Denethor gave thought to his Father. It was time they left this garden. If Ecthelion came and saw them, he would be livid, but Denethor and Indis felt that their mother would be most happy to have it used for such a purpose. Too long it had lain unused - a testimony to nothing. Now, fond memories trailed through their minds as they wandered out the door. Elleth had called the servants and the area was cleaned ‘ere the last guest left. She gave the garden a quick look, ‘Wen came and hugged her, and they left, feeling a smile from Rían covering them.
top

XV.

‘Ensign!’ Denethor heard and turned around. He had recognized his father’s voice, but wondered whom he was addressing. As he turned, his eyes met Ecthelion’s and the storm in his Father’s eyes told him exactly whom he was addressing.

‘My Lord,’ Denethor placed hand on chest and bowed. So this was the punishment, or a part of it. Ecthelion had finally discovered what had happened. It took him all of fifteen hours.

‘Did you think nothing would come of your total disregard for my wishes?’ Ecthelion hissed so low none could hear but Denethor.

‘Nay, my Lord. I would wish different, but that is not to be, I see.’

‘Do not bandy words with me, you little...' He took a deep breath. ‘It does not stop here, either. When I call you, I would have you come to my chambers. There we will discuss your career.’ Ecthelion turned brusquely and headed for his place at the head of the festivities.

A silver trumpet called out for attention and all heads turned towards the temporary Steward’s Chair, at the foot of the Great Hall’s stairs. ‘Today is the feast of Yáviérë. Today we rejoice in the bounty of our land. My deepest thanks to all for coming, for bringing their wares, their harvest, their friendship. Today we celebrate. And, as is traditional for this day, I will announce promotions within the ranks of the knights who protect us. First, bring forward Ingold, my Captain of the Guard.’

After an hour of announcements and congratulations, Ecthelion completed his work and left the Chair. He motioned towards Denethor, who bowed and started to leave his comrades. It was time to endure his Father’s wrath. Thengel put his hand on his shoulder to stop him. ‘I would come with you?’

Denethor laughed. ‘You are now Captain of the Tower Guard. Is this part of your new duties or do you wish to be demoted as I am and spend your days in the stables? And, before another has the occasion, I would be the first to wish you congratulations. You also, Cranthir, for becoming Captain of the Horse Guards. Well you both deserve these positions. Gondor is strengthened by my Father’s wisdom in choosing you. Amdir, give your father my deepest regards on becoming Captain of the Armies. I would no other. Who would have thought those many years ago! This means your family will be moving into the White Tower! How delighted I am for Elleth too. She will finally have a casement that looks out onto the east and south. But she will have to leave the iris garden behind.’ Sorrow touched his voice.

‘It will still be in the family, Denethor. Father is giving me their home. Listöwel and I will make sure the garden flourishes and you may come and visit those flowers anytime.’

‘And now I must take orders from you, my lieutenant! Will wonders never cease.’ He laughed uproariously. Nothing could take from him the joy of Amdir’s promotion.

‘We will meet at The Three Fishermen at eight bells. If you are able, please join us,’ said Thengel and Denethor smiled. ‘If I am able.’


‘You will NEVER do such a thing again. You have trod on my plans. You have placed yourself above me. You have placed yourself above Gondor.’ His father’s wrath was tangible. His neck tensed as his hands clenched and unclenched. Never had Denethor seen him so angry. Spittle spewed from his mouth as he screamed.

‘Father, that was not my intent.’

Ecthelion spun around as if to strike him, but held his hand. His voice shook. ‘I will not allow such disrespect. Too often have you spoken of the Council in this same manner and I allowed it. I see now that was a mistake. Your disrespect has turned from the Council to me! You will leave immediately for the beacon of Halifirien. One of the tenders has passed. Another is needed. The head tender and his family will not know who you are, just a drudge sent from Minas Tirith to replace the one who was lost. You will leave your livery here. You will stay there until I bid you return. You will not show your face in Minas Tirith. Do you understand me? If I see you in the City, you will be banished from Gondor. Do I make myself clear?’ All the pent up rage of years past exploded as his voice rose again to fever pitch. ‘Ega!’(*)

‘Yes, my Lord.’ Denethor bowed and walked from the Tower. The beacon hill. There was no further outpost in all of Gondor, except perhaps the seaport at the mouth of the Lefnui! He felt a flush rising in his cheeks and tried to shake off the feelings of shame. He had never expected to be demoted. Nor had he expected being sent to one of the farthest outposts of Gondor, but neither had he expected better. His friends - he would send a note. Ecthelion, his fury enkindled to an extreme state, had sent a guard with him to escort him out of the Citadel and out of Minas Tirith. Thoughts of his last banishment flooded through him and the shame of the ten-year old burned in the man’s heart. Once again, an escort to sunder him from his City, his friends, his family. He was not allowed to send the note.


Silence cut through the inn like a sword through soft butter. None of the men smiled, nor spoke. Most of the others who frequented the inn had left, the feel of anger and alarm rank in the air. The bell had rung four times, the middle of first watch, and still no sign of Denethor. ‘He is gone. I feel it. Ecthelion knew we would meet and he has sent him off with no chance for good-byes.’ Amdir’s voice was bitter.

‘Yes, I believe you are right in that. Well, there is nothing to do for it, but go back to our homes. Tomorrow, we will find where he has been sent. What happens after that I do not know.’

‘Well, at least you will be here for the birth of your child,’ Arciryas said. ‘Had you known you were to be promoted to Captain of the Guard?’

‘Nay, Ecthelion said nothing to me of this. I almost wish it were not so. At least as Captain of the Horse Guards I was able to leave Minas Tirith. I am now fixed to her and know not when I might be able to visit Denethor, wherever he is.’

‘I too will not be leaving Minas Tirith any time too soon. I have been appointed as permanent healer at the Houses. I will no longer go on patrol with our Company. I find this most disturbing. I... have enjoyed field learning. Though I cannot quite believe Ecthelion has allowed me to stay here. He has not announced Indis’ marriage and I fear for that too.’


‘Has there been no word? Nothing of where he has gone?’ Elleth asked.

‘Nay, my father has not spoken to me since my troth pledge. He sees me in the halls and turns the other way. I am sore pressed to understand this. There was love for my mother during their life together. I had thought he would understand.’ She scuffed at a wisp of dust in front of Elleth’s fireplace. ‘Arciryas has been forbidden from the seventh level and I am forbidden from the sixth.’ Her laughter turned slightly hysterical. ‘I am held prisoner in all but name.’

‘Then it is time for us to continue our lessons. If you have naught to do, we must use this time. It is prized. Morwen will not be with us, but come, let us find Listöwel and Eledhwen and begin. Too soon will come other duties.’


Their practice chamber was becoming cooler. The nights were shorter and the women suddenly ascertained a new sense of urgency. They practiced hard and long. Laughter was only found in short bursts as they focused more and more on the skills they were learning.

‘How many times do I have to tell you? The crossguard is directly below the tang. You keep your hands above it, otherwise you will find a finger missing!’

Indis blushed. ‘I am sorry. I will try again.’ She held the sword with both hands and tried to raise it again. ‘The sword is too heavy.’

Eledhwen scoffed at her. ‘The sword is too heavy,’ she mocked. ‘The other was too light and would not cut a hare’s head if you had tried. You speak of protecting Gondor, of guarding those you love, yet you refuse to obey me and train as I ask. What of your resolve?’

Indis’ blush deepened. ‘I am sorry,’ she repeated.

Listöwel giggled and Eledhwen turned to her in fury. ‘Who was it that let her sword fly from her hand last week? Who said the pommel was not wide enough to keep the sword in her hand? You are full of excuses, all of you. I am ashamed to be your teacher.’

‘Please, please do not say such a thing,’ Morwen begged. She had joined them this day, though the walk down the steep stairs had been difficult. ‘We are foolish women perhaps, but we know what gift you are giving us. Do not be discouraged. We will try harder.’ She looked pleadingly at her sister-friends. ‘Oh...'

Indis rushed to her side. One look at her drawn face and she ran to the stairs. ‘Lay her down and get her some water. I am fetching Arciryas.’


Thengel took the cup of water offered by his aide and walked towards the window. Morwen’s time was close and he found it disconcerting that she would disappear for hours. Where was she now? His aide had spread the roster for the coming week before him. This was not work that he enjoyed. He wanted to be on a horse, with his men, riding across the Pelennor. He snorted in disgust - a place of high honor, to be Captain of the Guard. Why did he feel it was a bribe from Ecthelion for his service, nay his allegiance to Gondor? Gondor had his loyalty; did not Ecthelion realize that? He would not leave. There was nothing in Rohan for him. His father’s ways were not his own. He loved Gondor with a passion. He loved the people, the City, his friends, aye, even the language felt sweet upon his lips. Ah, Gondor. Now he must spend his time doing paperwork, not finding Denethor. ‘Where is Denethor?’ he muttered under his breath. Two months had passed and not even a whisper of what had happened to him or where he had been stationed. Baranor had not been sent with him. This had stunned Thengel, but upon further thought, he realized a lowly ensign had no need of an aide. Baranor must be crushed.

A cry caught his attention. He saw Indis running across the escarpment, her skirts flying and her hair waving in the breeze. His heart flinched. ‘Morwen,’ he cried and ran from the room. Where could she be? He had seen Indis leave the White Tower, but had no idea where she might have come from. He could not go through the halls yelling Morwen’s name. He ran to follow her; it was his only recourse. She had run into the Houses of Healing and was just reappearing as he came to the garden. ‘Indis,’ he called.

‘It is Morwen, Thengel. She is in one of the rooms at the bottom of the White Tower and I fear the babe is coming.’

Arciryas pushed him aside. ‘Get the Guard to bring a litter,’ he shouted as he ran past him, ‘and quickly.’

His knights had heard the screams and were already at his side. By the time he reached the White Tower, six men were close behind, one carrying a litter. Gratitude swelled at the discipline of these men. Ingold had done well. The Tower Guard were the brightest and boldest knights in all of Gondor. They reached the bottom of the steps and a cry greeted them. It was not a frail cry, but one filled with strength. His child! He ran into the room where the crying was coming from and saw the babe in Morwen’s arms. Collapsing at her side, he pushed the hair from across her face, kissed her sweat-soaked forehead, and smiled in delight. She was smiling back at him, healthy and happy, though tired.

‘It is a boy,’ Arciryas smiled as he wiped his hands. ‘Hail and fit. His lungs attest to that, do they not? And what name have you chosen for him?’

Thengel looked at Morwen. She smiled, turned her head towards the healer and said,

‘Théoden.’

*Ega - Quenyan command, “be gone.” Imperative and very superior in meaning.