Son of Ecthelion

Hands of the King

29. Foundation

Minas Tirith, Late May, 2976 T.A.

Denethor sat on the bench at the end of the battlement while the sun set, but for once he did not stare east across the plain. He sat and watched the Tower, and wondered how he could get past the locked door to the upper chambers. The Steward held the key to the lower door just as he himself held the key to the topmost chamber, now strung on the mariner's lanyard around his neck. One day, while walking with Ecthelion and discussing water rights on the upper Cirith, Hathol, the Warden of the Keys, approached and requested something from one of the storerooms in the Tower. The Steward very grandly led them to the arch and unlocked the new door. Denethor offered to assist Hathol with his burden, and was able to ask about the new door, once out the Steward's earshot. The key warden grumbled greatly at new locks and no key for himself and how was he to do the Tower's business if he had always to go bothering the Lord Steward? After he rejoined Ecthelion, Denethor was careful to make no mention of the new door, which only amused the Steward more.

A half-dozen plans for obtaining the key had been considered and abandoned, and now there was no time. He would soon need to leave to travel to Edoras for the marriage of Prince Théoden, and before that he had to go to Osgiliath for an inspection. Anórien, Cair Andros, and Henneth Annûn would receive their inspections after he returned from Rohan. It would be mid-July at the soonest before he would be back in the City. With a sigh, Denethor stood and returned to the Stewards House. It was in disarray, with Aiavalë's work crew busily poking into every corner and mussing every room. To take advantage of his absence, they were to work first on his apartments. Denethor had taken Aiavalë's old rooms on the ground floor, refusing her invitation to stay with her at the widow's house. Only his desk, bed, and chest of drawers had been moved – all else he locked away in a small warehouse at the back of the Citadel.

Imrahil and Beregar greeted him cheerfully when he came into the sitting room. Supper was laid out for the three of them on his desk. As long as there were no guests, Denethor insisted that Beregar would eat with himself and Imrahil, though Beregar insisted just as stubbornly that he would serve them and clean up afterwards. It seemed a small enough bit of dignity to leave the young man, so Denethor assented. As they ate, Denethor decided it would be best to go to Osgiliath at once and also to depart for Rohan as soon as could be arranged.

'Hound?'

'Yes, my lord?'

'I will go to Osgiliath tomorrow, and will remain at least one night. On the second day after I return, we will set out for Rohan. I will have letters to give to Lord Brandir so he will know to be ready.' As soon as Denethor had learned that Maiaberiel was not going to make the trip, he had decided that he would take both Imrahil and Beregar along.

'Yes, sir.' The youths exchanged pleased looks. They were almost inseparable now. Aside from the afternoons when Denethor made Imrahil attend councils or be his clerk, the two did everything together – arms training, running errands, getting into small mischief. Denethor dismissed them for the evening, and retreated to his bed chamber to read Finduilas's latest letter.

There were so many letters from Alquallë that he could no longer keep them all tucked into her book. He sat tailor-style on his bed, looking at the stack. The older ones were beginning to fall apart from being opened and refolded. The recent letters were longer and less formal, which said to Denethor that Adrahil probably was not reading them anymore, though it seemed likely that Luinil would. He picked up the one that had been delivered that morning.

Dearest Friend,

It gladdens my heart to know that you and all those whom I love in Minas Tirith are well.

I have little news to tell. A storm came through two days past and the kitchen gardens took some harm. It is early enough that more may be planted. But what a storm it was! Grandfather and I stood out on a balcony when it first approached and delighted in its ferocity. We ran inside fast enough when the rain hit. Thunder rolled like drums and the wind churned the harbor water into froth. A few ships will need repairs, as will some roofs in the town.

Please thank my little brother for his letters; they are making it easier to bear his absence. Mother was relieved to hear that you will not permit him near any of the eastern garrisons. I think she wishes to see Imrahil as soon as she can, though she does not say so.

I send my love to all there, but most of all to you, Friend.

Your beloved,
Finduilas

He reread this letter twice before sighing and tucking it into the book. The very oldest, those beginning to disintegrate, he took to the desk in the outer room. There he wrapped them inside a sheet of paper and carefully sealed the packet shut. They went into the compartment below the false bottom in one of the drawers. A persistent thief could find them, but a casual snoop would not.

***

Denethor set out not long after the second bell and took his time riding across the Pelennor. It was the first time he had come to the garrison since turning it over to Thorongil. As he neared the causeway to the fortress gate, he felt a tightness in his chest. He wondered what he would find and how he would be received. The sentries called out that the Warden approached, swiftly followed by the creak of the gates as they were opened for him. For the first time since he set foot in Osgiliath as a youth, Denethor felt a stranger. Thorongil came out of the barracks followed by another man, and for one moment, Denethor thought it was Adrahil before he recognized Halmir. The Lost's shoulder-length hair had been cropped short and was almost all grey, and his face was clean-shaven.

'Warden,' Thorongil greeted him, bowing.

Halmir gave the younger man a disapproving glance, then bowed more deeply. 'Captain.'

'Gentlemen,' Denethor replied, walking past them towards the barracks. They followed him in. He was up the stairs and almost to his room when Denethor wondered if it was still his, or if another had been put into it. After a split-second pause, he bumped the door open, and tossed his saddlebags to the cot as he always did. He continued down the hall to the officer's meeting room. If someone else had been put in his old quarters, it would be corrected by the time the meeting was done. Denethor took the black chair, accepted a cup of wine from Halmir, and waited for the other two to speak.

'When do you want to inspect the garrison and when do you want to go out?' Halmir asked without preamble. The absence of hair to soften the sharp lines of his face was disconcerting.

'The garrison this afternoon. I meet with Galdor first. Tomorrow for a patrol.'

'Yes, sir, but no patrols.'

'You have none going out tomorrow?'

The Lost hesitated for one second. 'None you will be part of.'

'Indeed?' Denethor allowed himself to sound amused at Halmir's stubbornness. 'Then you shall not go on one, either.' Halmir nodded. Denethor let his eyes move to Thorongil, waiting for the other to begin.

'How fares the south?' the captain asked.

'Well. The winter was mild compared to last year, and all signs point to a peaceful summer, at least as far as Harad and Umbar are concerned.' Placing Lark as the Archivist of Pelargir had been a good decision. Marach sent regular reports from his trade network and they arrived safely tucked in with ordinary correspondence between the Archivists. Denethor made certain that Morwen continued to receive payments for the information – he preferred to stay in her good graces. Evidently she had sent Lark's mother south to be the Matron of a new whorehouse in Pelargir. 'What of here?'

'Many fewer patrols and incursions. Birds are nesting, not just flying through,' Thorongil replied, Halmir nodding in agreement.

'Good.' Denethor drained his cup and stood. 'I will be with Galdor.' He found the surgeon in his miniscule apothecary concocting something that turned out to be passably good brandy. He ended up having dinner with the healer and spoke of the strange plants he had seen while traveling in the south. Galdor complained in equal measure about the stupidity of young men and the absence of whores. The surgeon noted that there had been almost no fumes from the Vale since just after the battles of mid-winter. Denethor thanked him for his company and assured Galdor that he would be invited to the wedding. He then set out to inspect the fortress.

Nothing had changed. That was the greatest surprise. The garrison was just as he had left it. It looked the same, smelled the same, sounded the same. It was only when they climbed the walls and looked out at the ruins that Denethor found difference. Even across the river, he could make out scorch marks on the stone, could see gaps where previously something had been. As soon as he could, he left the wall. When the three were back in the courtyard, Denethor asked Thorongil, 'How far out do we command?'

'To the Crossroads. We patrol beyond it, but I wouldn't say we command it.'

'We'll go that far tomorrow, then, and a ways north.' Halmir looked displeased, but said nothing.

'You will stay two nights, sir?' Thorongil asked.

'Yes. If you will excuse me.' With a nod, Denethor dismissed the officers and headed back towards the barracks. He wanted to look again on the ruins, but did not want to be accompanied while he did. Passing through the barracks, he slipped in between the outer wall and a row of storehouses. There was a little-used stair that led to a barred window overlooking the ruins – the dank corridor continued a dozen yards to another narrow stair that let out behind the privies. Denethor rested his arms on the window ledge and looked at Osgiliath. He ran his eyes slowly over the edges on the river, noting exactly where Anduin had carried away parts of the past. A breeze came from the east. In it, Denethor thought he smelled burned flesh. He made himself stay there and look until he had examined all that could be seen from the small window. Dinner had caught up with him, so he carefully picked his way along the cramped and slick passage towards the privies. The sound of two familiar voices made him stop part-way down the stair.

'No.'

'It is…'

'No.' From the sounds of the voices, Halmir and Thorongil were near the entrance to the stair, their voices amplified and echoing slightly against the stone. After a pause, Halmir continued, 'There is no reason for you to go. I can answer any questions.'

'And I am the one to answer to the Warden.' Thorongil's voice was patient. Halmir made a rude sound. 'He will expect it.'

'Not both of you over the river at once. Why can't you understand this?'

There was another long pause, accompanied by the rustle of cloth. Denethor surmised they were using their sign code. Afterwards, Thorongil said 'Very well,' though he sounded reluctant. There was more sound of cloth.

'He has business being here!' Halmir's voice was low but sharp.

'As do I.'

'You don't belong here. You…' The words ended and there was more noise of cloth, ending with the sound of a hand slapping stone. After another long pause, Halmir said, 'I do my duty. You have yet to understand yours.' The next sound was footsteps, but Denethor could not determine if both men had left. He stealthily withdrew and came out by the other stairway. Later, at supper, Denethor sat with Galdor and Thorongil and spoke about the condition of south Gondor. Halmir sat with the other four of the Lost stationed in Osgiliath. The King's Men also sat together, though they were subdued. The cot in Denethor's room was comfortingly familiar, and he got his first good night's sleep since he had been moved out of the alcove in his study.

The ride with Halmir the next day was uneventful. They and a dozen other horsemen rode over the bridge just past sunrise. They were to the Crossroads by midmorning, then rode a few leagues north on the main road before turning west and returning slowly through the small paths and overgrown lanes that crisscrossed the western slopes of Ithilien. Thorongil was right; there were more birds in the land than Denethor had heard for several springs. The blooms were gone from abandoned orchards, and green fruit hung thick on their branches. Half-demolished walls bore witness to where fields once lay, a faint memory of how Ithilien had mirrored the Pelennor and the eastern reach of Anórien, each protected by a proud tower. Every so often they would pass the remains of an old house, sometimes with a wall or chimney jutting up through brambles and wildflowers, sometimes just the burned foundations. Twice they stopped to allow a rider to dismount and give reverence to a family home. Each left a handful of waybread on the hearth and knelt in honor of what had been lost. Denethor knew each was to promise to retake their lands, but wondered if any still believed that would happen.

They were nearly back to Osgiliath when Halmir said, 'The defense of Ithilien is poorly done.'

'In what way?'

'It needs better coordination. We here know nothing of what the northern rangers do.'

'I could say the same.' Denethor looked at Halmir until the other dropped his gaze. 'Yet, somehow, it appears we are safe enough, though we are told little and are asked to take all on faith.' The Lost did not reply. 'I command Cair Andros and Osgiliath through my seconds. I know what is being done. Unless there is something here of which I am ignorant?'

'No, sir.' They rode for several minutes before Halmir asked, 'Why do you trust us?'

'Should I not?' Halmir did not answer and they rode in silence back to the garrison. Denethor wrote a note for the evening messenger to take to Beregar, telling him to be ready three days hence to set out for Rohan, then spent the rest of the day going over the ledgers and reports of the garrison. Once again, he slept well.

At breakfast Denethor told Thorongil, 'You come with me today. I inspect the ruins.' Halmir looked sourly at them both before leaving the mess. Soon, Denethor heard the gates to the bridge creak open and shut and knew extra guards had been sent out.

They began by walking the length of the bridge, Denethor inspecting it carefully. It was in acceptable condition. They left the bridge near the eastern end and entered the ruins. It was further than he remembered to the edge of the Fire's reach. At first, all he could see were scorch marks, then there were places with shattered stone. In all of the protected crevices, soot clung and stank. Denethor did not want to touch the stone, afraid of what it would say to him. Finally, when they stood amidst the center of the Fire-fall, where spidery cracks veined the stone and there was an odor of rotting things, he laid a hand upon the crumbling skeleton of an arch. It refused to weep despite its burns and breaks, grinding stone upon stone like an injured man clenching his teeth, while Anduin tried to wash away the memory of the desecration. Denethor walked on, looking for another wound. A fragment of stone came away in his hand when he touched an old window sill. One edge was sharp and he gripped the stone tightly, letting it bruise his palm. In another spot, he brushed his fingers over a scorched carving and they came away coated with an oily soot. He rubbed them on his clothes but could not remove all of the filth.

The smell increased as the sun warmed the stone. While not as strong as on the day of the battle, the stench was of the same kind. Under his feet, Denethor could feel the stone yearning to stoop down into the river's cool embrace and be cleansed. A wave of nausea came over him, forcing him to stop and lean against a wall until he overcame the impulse to retch. Thorongil touched his shoulder, tentatively at first, but more firmly when Denethor did not resist. It was like Finduilas's touch, or the mariner's, removing the turmoil in his heart and leaving a kind of peace behind. Gently, the hand pulled on him.

'We should leave this place, Denethor.'

'Yes.'

The two men picked their way out of the center of the ruins and back to the bridge. As he had in the winter, Denethor led them to the pier of stone in the midst of water. They sat in the same manner, he to the west, Thorongil to the east. Denethor could feel something different to the pier, a greater trembling before Anduin's current, and knew the stone would give way in the next few years, perhaps even in the floods of the coming spring. One of the tiles, decorated with a sun, had an exposed edge. Denethor pulled his belt knife and began chipping at the mortar under the tile.

'You're going to ruin your knife.' Denethor shrugged and kept trying to work the tile loose. 'Why did you send me that note?'

It took Denethor a moment to remember the message he had sent to the captain concerning the pyres in Umbar. 'Did you understand?' There was no one else to tell.

'I think so.' Chip, chip. 'Do you know any more?'

'No.' The pyres, they would smell like Osgiliath. When Eldacar fled, the stones also burned, and those faithful to him were burned. The city escaped into the river, casting itself into her murky depths. The corpses were drawn south by the current, even as far as Pelargir, where the rebels mocked them.

'Does the Steward know?'

'I said nothing to him of this.' The point of the knife was ruined. Ecthelion would welcome the Fire as long as it destroyed the bridge and the past.

'What is Umbar like?' Denethor looked up. Thorongil sat, knees drawn up and arms wrapped around them. 'Tell me of this place. What would I find there?'

The question was asked so honestly there was nothing Denethor could do save answer. 'It is beautiful. It sits on the hills and cliffs overlooking the firth. Below is the greatest harbor you will ever see, with many docks of stone and ships of every kind. There are no large trees anymore, though once there were cedars. Every square has a fountain. The streets are silent, for no one dares to speak. The women and even some of the men wear veils to shield their faces from the sun. The slaves are not permitted veils or much clothing, so their skin is dark. Worse than the black ships are the black hearts. Umbar is like a peach with a pit consumed by mold and rot. All that is left is the skin that holds in the putrescence.' Denethor returned to chipping the tile loose. It was almost done. 'Crime binds them together and to worse excesses, and the powerful vie to see who shall be the most wicked.'

'You believe the report?'

'Completely.' I fired an arrow into its black heart.

The captain sighed and looked into the swirling waters. 'I should see Umbar.'

'It is here, if you know where to look. Everything is here.' With a final chip, the tile was free. Denethor looked at it closely, then spat on it and rubbed it with his sleeve to clean off the grime. He slipped the tile into a pouch at his waist. 'Now, it is my turn for a question.' It was difficult not to laugh at Thorongil's wary look. 'What is the north like? Tell me of this place. What would I find there?'

'It would depend on where you went.' The captain looked down at the tiles. 'Some settlements. Not much.'

'Is there nothing left?'

Thorongil's eyes caught his own, fierce and bright. 'Hearts. Hope.' The man half-smiled, but it had no humor in it. 'Mercenaries. Little that would interest you, Warden.'

Denethor stood. 'No, Captain, I would find it all interesting. But I think most of it is already here.' He led the way back to the garrison. When they arrived, Denethor asked for Gaerhûl to be readied and went to his room to collect his pack. Thorongil waited for him in the courtyard.

'Is all to your satisfaction, Warden?'

'Yes.'

'I will see you next week when I come for council.'

'No, you won't.'

'Why not?'

'I will be in Rohan for the next month. I go to attend Prince Théoden's wedding.'

'When is that?' Thorongil asked eagerly.

'Mid-summer, I believe.'

'Would you…' The captain paused and began again in a more formal tone. 'Warden, if I write a note of congratulation to the Prince, might I entrust it to your care?'

'Of course. Send it by the evening messenger.' A stablehand brought Gaerhûl up. 'Good day, Captain.'

'Good day, sir.'

The return to the City gave Denethor a chance to think. The wilds of the north, the depravities of the south, and Gondor caught between them like the bridge that ran through the ruins of Osgiliath. Both north and south were lost and each grasped at what lay between them. Umbar was a hollowed out thing, a shell or garment wrapped around rot. It survived only as long as Gondor did, its soul the hatred it bore towards what gave it life. In this it spoke the truth of the Enemy and the greater foe who had been that one's master. The Lost, however, what to make of them? Why do I trust you? Denethor tried to name the reasons to himself; they are Dúnedain, they have always served well, we know them… No, I do not. But I trust them. They are like the northern ruins, nearly gone, but still strong. Slowly their foundations erode, and they wander more. He looked north as he rode, wishing once more for the palantír. The tiny bit Thorongil said had captured Denethor's imagination, and he wanted to ride north and see this place for himself. Hearts and hope you say, Captain. But you must live somewhere. What of these settlements? For the first time, he found himself ruing the bargain he had struck with Adrahil to move the wedding up. If he had until the summer after next, surely that would be enough time to go to the Lost realm and return? Then he would understand why these men wandered and suffered the indignity of selling themselves. That was it. Now he knew his true question. Why do you wish to wander rather than return here, to Gondor? Do you not want a home in the world? The Tower gleamed ahead of him, shining and proud in the summer day. There were foundations reaching deep into the bedrock of Gondor itself. Denethor enjoyed seeing the details of the City emerge as he rode closer. Neither the putrid hate nor the rootless hearts for you, fair Queen. You bear the burden of preserving what has been for those who are yet to be. And soon there would be a queen for Minas Tirith, a woman as beautiful and brave, as caring and kind as the City herself. Denethor urged Gaerhûl into a canter, eager to return.

***

'Denethor.' Imrahil had a conspiratorial look on his face as he sidled up. They were one day past the Anórien garrison on their way to Edoras. They should arrive at the Golden Hall on the fourth day from today.

'What is it?'

'Do you know what today is?'

'The fourteenth of June.'

Imrahil grinned, then glanced around quickly. 'It is Beregar's birthday!' That explained both the mirth and the caution. 'We must give him what celebration we can this evening.'

'Tell Brandir. He will help.' Imrahil nodded and scurried off. Denethor glanced around until he saw the Hound and whistled to get his attention.

'My lord?'

'You will ride with me today. We have a few things to discuss that are not for the young prince's ears.'

Beregar nodded soberly. 'Yes, sir.'

'I will tell Lord Brandir that he is Imrahil's companion today. He can instruct the other on Anórien.' Beregar bowed shallowly and trotted off to help ready the horses. During the ride, Denethor and Beregar spoke of the young man's arms training, any rumors or odd things Beregar had come across, and how the ordering of the Stewards House was coming along. As Beregar astutely presented the condition of the King's Men – floundering, unfocused, falling out of favor – Denethor had to take a new measure of the man. The Hound might not be a master of lore, nor clever with figures and calculations, but he understood power, much more so than Denethor had credited to him before. When they rested during midday, he watched the two young men practice their archery. Beregar's skill was impressive. I'll need to keep him away from Marlong, or the captain will demand him for Henneth Annûn. An idea came to Denethor's mind, which he liked. He settled in for a nap, looking forward to the end of the day.

They camped in a place much used by travelers along the road, with a pen for the horses and some sturdy windbreaks for the men. The soldiers set up camp in a cheerful manner, exchanging sly looks and winks. When it came time for supper, Denethor called Beregar over, face stern.

'Beregar, I am displeased.' He said this in a strong voice so all would hear.

The young man looked worried. 'At what, my lord?'

'You. You have not been truthful today.'

'Who says so?' was Beregar's indignant reply. 'I have spoken no falsehood!'

'I asked you for all that you knew and you failed to tell me one very important thing.' Denethor paused for effect. 'Is it true that today is your birthday?'

Beregar stood there with an astounded look on his face while the soldiers whooped and hooted. Imrahil and one of the younger soldiers ran up and dragged Beregar to a hastily improvised throne made with a saddle and crowned him with a daisy garland. Beregar was made to sit and accept Imrahil waiting on him for supper. He was given a pouch with a few small coins from the soldiers and a piece of silver each from Brandir and Denethor as a gift, amidst much joking that he had to start saving for a wife. The evening was merry with stories and songs performed in Beregar's honor. Denethor refused to let the young man serve him at all that evening, not even to lay out his bedroll.

'Not today, Huan. The Lady would shake a finger at us both.'

'Thank you, master.'

'You are becoming a good archer.'

Beregar smiled. 'You think so?'

'Yes. When we return to Minas Tirith, I will see that you are given a longbow and a quiver of arrows for your own.' He brushed off the other's thanks and went to bed.

***

In the afternoon of the fourth day after the celebration, the party drew near Edoras. Meduseld's golden roof shimmered in the afternoon heat. A group of horsemen, their hair shining as brightly as the hall's crown, raced out to meet them, circling like swallows and singing a welcome to the guests. Théoden led them. Quickly, the golden warriors formed an escort for the Gondorians and guided the travelers up the road to the gate that pierced the stone and wood wall, singing all the while. When they reached the gate, Théoden dismounted and bowed grandly. Denethor slipped off Gaerhûl and bowed somewhat less grandly in return.

'Welcome, Denethor, son of Ecthelion, High Warden of Gondor, and friend of the Mark! Welcome Lord Brandir, counselor and friend! Lord of the Mark, King Thengel, has sent me to greet you and to bring you as quickly as may be before him. Will you come now and enjoy the hospitality of our halls?'

'Thank you Théoden, son of Thengel, Prince of Rohan, friend of Gondor. We are honored by your greeting and ask to be presented to your lord, Thengel, King of Rohan,' Denethor replied with another shallow bow. Théoden smiled and gestured for them to follow him. As they passed through the gate, the riders sang once more, enjoining them to rest in peace and safety under the golden eaves.

Denethor looked around with great curiosity as they climbed the hill to the hall. People came out from the houses to see the guests, and many waved and called to Brandir when they recognized him. The houses clustered thickly upon the stone way and alleys built of hewn planks led to more houses built behind. None of the houses was more than a ground floor and a loft above in height. Many had carved doorways and eaves, and a few had simple images of flowers or horses stenciled on their walls. There was not a sense of disappointment seeing Edoras as there had been when he looked upon Dol Amroth, though there were a few times that Denethor wished to laugh. This is the capitol of a kingdom? He could count a dozen towns of Gondor more grand than this, and several dozen villages fully its equal. Only Meduseld itself gave nobility to this rustic outpost. He looked at the stone street they trod, and had to shake his head. It was Gondorian work, as was the watercourse that ran alongside.

The hall itself sat upon a foundation of Gondorian stone. Before the hall, six tall guards stood, silent and fair, waiting for them. Théoden hastened up the steps before the rest, then turned to stand with the guard. As one, the seven offered their swords hilt first.

'Hail, noble guests!' The man to Théoden's left sheathed his sword and stepped forward.

'I am Hárald, Doorward of Thengel. Leave here your arms, for our lord will allow no harm to come to you within his halls.'

Denethor had to admire the graceful phrasing of this law, and gave over his sword and knife. Brandir had left his sword on his horse and had only a knife to surrender. Imrahil and Beregar had no swords of their own, so presented their knives. Hárald laid the weapons carefully upon the stone before the seats and signaled for the doors to be opened. Théoden preceded them into the hall. They passed though the dim and beautifully decorated hall too quickly for Denethor's liking, for he wished to examine the carvings and tapestries. Skirting an open hearth, they approached the king. Denethor was shocked at Thengel's appearance. The last time he had seen the man was at Steward Turgon's funeral, twenty-two years before. Then Thengel had been like to his son, tall, proud, and golden, with a ready laugh and a strong back. The man before him bent forward in his throne the same way his gnarled fingers curved over the arms of the chair. Thengel looked older than Angelimir.

'Hail, Thengel, son of Fengel, Lord of the Rohirrim!' Théoden called out. 'I present to you noble guests from Mundburg.'

Thengel stood more smoothly than Denethor expected and stood almost upright. He laughed and that was the same as it had always been. 'Welcome, indeed! Two friends I see, and two new faces I must come to know so that they, too, may be counted friends.' The king descended the dais and embraced Denethor. Thengel was lean, but not frail, and there was strength still in his arms. 'Denethor, son of Ecthelion, too long has it been since we have spoken. Once I was shown the generosity of your city, and now shall I return that kindness!' Brandir stepped forward for an embrace. 'Good friend, Brandir! The Queen has said you must pay a call upon her ere the sun sets!'

'I shall do as she commands, friend Thengel,' Brandir replied. Chairs were brought and set near the foot of the dais. The king waved them to seats, taking one for himself.

'Denethor, who are these young men that you bring?' Thengel asked.

'A kinsman of your Queen, Imrahil, son of Adrahil of Dol Amroth.'

'Brother to your betrothed, yes?' Thengel said with a quick smile.

'Yes. Brother to Lady Finduilas.' The king nodded pleasantly to Imrahil, who stood and bowed. 'The second is my squire, Beregar the Hound.' Beregar mimicked Imrahil, bowing to both Thengel and Théoden. A serving woman brought forward a tray with mugs of ale for each of them. Denethor raised his mug in a toast. 'To the friendship, honor, and courage of Rohan.' They drank to this toast and several others, then settled in to talk. Nothing of great importance could be discussed in this setting, but the converse was pleasant. Thengel's wits were sharp and his speech engaging.

In no time it all, the afternoon turned to a gentle summer evening, and supper was laid in the hall. Queen Morwen arrived with her daughters, two of whom Denethor faintly remembered from the previous fall, and more greetings were exchanged. The hall filled with people who came to see the guests and honor their arrival. The dishes were plain, but the food plentiful and served with great courtesy. As the meal progressed, the guests were no longer so interesting and chatter turned to the wedding in two days. Théoden was the object of teasing and ribaldry which he cheerfully accepted.

The day's ride was beginning to take its toll upon Denethor. From their barely stifled yawns, Imrahil and Beregar were in much the same condition. Denethor glanced around the room, wondering how much longer the meal would last. Everywhere he looked, he saw happy faces, golden hair, many children.

Except over there. In one of the darker corners, an older man sat and stared at him. This man's hair was dark, as were his heavy-lidded eyes. Next to him was a tired woman with pale brown hair, shot through with grey, and she had a child in her lap. To the other side were three more children, two girls as mousy as their mother, and a lad somewhat younger than Imrahil, though Denethor realized that he probably could not determine the ages of Rohirrim by looking. They would all look older to him than they really were. He nodded politely to the dour man, who did not respond but kept staring. To Denethor's relief, the meal ended not long afterwards, and the Gondorians were guided to a small house near the hall so they could sleep. Their weapons were already there. Denethor gratefully crawled into a sleeping booth at the side of the central room.

A soft rap on the door of the booth woke him the next morning, letting him know that breakfast was there. Théoden came to the guesthouse within the hour, asking for Imrahil and Beregar. When the young men left, Denethor decided to look at Edoras. There was not much to see. The entire village could be known in less than an hour. There was no market place within it, nor any great building save Meduseld, nor even a common tavern. Behind the hall there were some low stone storehouses, made of river-rock and broken stone bound with coarse mortar. Tow-headed children followed him and women watched from their doorways. If he bowed, they would giggle and bow or curtsy in return. He walked back up the stone way, noting where the dressed stone had come loose near turns and along the edges, and how it had been repaired with simple cobbles. Denethor climbed the steps to Meduseld. One of the guards stood to give the guest a stone seat. From there, Denethor looked at the paved street snaking its way down the hill.

It is not enough to build a durable foundation. That is but the start. Then it must be tended, and with knowledge, else the repairs but cobble things together. Denethor did not understand why the Rohirrim did not ask for a stonemason to be sent to reset and bind the stones of the street. When walking around, he saw that many of the wooden planks used for the alleys were new, replacements for others that had rotted or split. There was not a way in Minas Tirith, no matter how mean, that was not paved. Where is the pride in foundation, to build something to outlast you? Already, after but one morning, Denethor found himself impatient with this place. There was contentment here and honor, even glory, but no thought to greater things.

And why should they strive, if all that is made will be unmade, and all that lives shall fail? Denethor had a fleeting memory of the vision of the towers and once more the world seemed dim. He struggled against it like a diver seeking the surface. To make is to be unmade… No. He would not succumb to the Steward's despair and wish destroyed what could not be made eternal. Even so, he felt weighed down, dragged away from the surface by a burden of thought. Denethor rose from his stone seat and returned to the cobbled road, squatting down and studying the juxtaposition of stone cut by hand and that smoothed by a river. It was easier to gather a basket of rocks and pound them into the dirt. It was something an older child could be entrusted to do. Do the Lost have even cobbled streets? Perhaps this is why they wander. There must at least be farms. It was a peculiar idea, that one might not have a home, but also an enticing one. To be able to just go…

'I knew Gondorians loved stone, but did not realize the romance was so complete.' Denethor jumped at the voice and almost fell over. Thengel stood next to him, face crinkled in amusement. 'What fascinates you so much?'

'The disrepair of the street.' Denethor stood, feeling foolish. 'There are stonemasons…'

'I know.' Thengel's humor disappeared. 'I know all there is in Minas Tirith that is not here.' The king motioned with his chin. 'Come with me. I am off to watch the young men at their practice.'

Thengel did not wait for an answer but briskly set off down the road. Denethor followed him out of Edoras to a low hill overlooking some lowlands between the road and the Snowbourn. There a number of horsemen were gathered, practicing with spear and bow, shouting insults and encouragement to each other in equal measure. Denethor could see Imrahil and Beregar in the midst of the Rohirrim, very much a part of the drills. Thengel motioned towards a large flat stone, indicating they should sit. As the king did not seem inclined to talk, Denethor watched the horsemen. Soon, he could pick out a pattern from the hurly-burly; there was an order to who followed whom, which weapons were used, even what insults were offered. Théoden kept the squad moving constantly, shifting speed and direction at a shouted command, a whistle, or an arm motion. The golden riders changed between spear and bow with grace, the two ravens among them less so. Théoden kept a close eye on his guests, skillfully guiding them in the intricate weave of attack, retreat, reform.

'Your son orders his men well. Even the new recruits.'

'He has earned it.' Thengel watched his son with pride. 'King's heir or no, he had to prove himself worthy to be First Marshal. That is his own éored, gathered from across the Riddermark and trained to his approval. It was this company that held off the orc incursion through the Wold last summer. Even with what we send to you, Rohan is not left unguarded.'

'Théoden has not commanded the Riders in Gondor.'

'Nor will he.'

'Not after the marriage, of course.'

'I do not want him to serve Gondor.' Denethor left off watching the horsemen and turned to face Thengel. The king's face was stony. 'His place is here.' Thengel's gaze returned to Théoden. 'He must not be divided. It must never occur to him that there are things to be found elsewhere.'

'You lived a long time in Gondor.'

'Twenty-four years. I would fain have stayed the rest of my life.' The old man once more looked at Denethor, his blue eyes sharp. 'Once, when I was foolish, but not so young, I dreamed of remaking this simple place into a great city, of bringing my people finally out of twilight.' He laughed, a mere bark of derision. 'I have lived another four and twenty years, and age will soon end my foolishness. I have learned to be silent on it, but it stalks my dreams and stands as a rebuke.'

The king rose and waved to the éored below. The company wheeled smoothly, even the ravens, and charged up the hillside. King and Warden found themselves surrounded. Thengel praised the horsemen and exchanged loving words with Théoden, then bade them continue. The horsemen would not leave before they sang of their king's valor and wisdom, then saluted and left in a thunder. Thengel walked back to Meduseld. Denethor followed as he had not been dismissed.

'No,' Thengel began as though their conversation had not been interrupted, 'he will lift them no higher, but there will be contentment. I also begin to wonder where our enemies will come from. The Great Enemy rises, it is true, but I am concerned about our western borders as well.'

'Curunír?'

'You mean Saruman, the wizard? Perhaps. Dunlendings most certainly. Orcs return to the mountains near the Gap.'

'Is there trouble from the wizard? Queen Morwen said she thought him unfriendly.'

'Unfriendly? Oh, yes. But I do not know if he is a threat. He does not allow Eorlingas to draw near Orthanc. He will protect Dunlendings who flee to his lands. Even so, he has offered us no harm directly.'

'Wizards perform their works out of sight.'

'Hmm.' The two passed through the gate and walked up the hill. 'Théoden will think of Rohan, but he will not forget Gondor.'

'Is that why you allowed him to come last fall?'

'Yes. He will regard Gondor with honor, but his heart will live always here and he will be a beloved king.' Softly, as though speaking to himself, Thengel said, 'Had I known such a king, I would not have known Gondor.'

'Will you not see her once more? This winter.'

'Yes, I would like that.' They continued up to Meduseld and took seats upon the terrace. Far off, they could see the éored finish its drill. 'Thank you for bringing Imrahil. It pleases Morwen to have a kinsman here. He was not doing too badly in the drills.'

'I saw.'

'Your squire is quite good as well. Better than the other boy.' Denethor waited, curious at Thengel's words. 'Would you be interested in having him remain?'

'I do not understand.'

Thengel shrugged. 'Not all wives are pleased by kinsmen.'

It was several moments before Denethor understood what Thengel was suggesting. As he could give no answer to the question, he stood and bowed to Thengel, then returned to the guesthouse. The house was empty. Denethor took a seat and pulled out the book with its letters tucked inside, laying his treasures on the table before him. It was difficult to think; now said, Denethor was amazed at his own blindness, and wondered who else had arrived at the same conclusion as Thengel. Surely, you have not, Alquallë. You know the truth. This is what Morwen meant, that I would but cause more harm with rumors. Denethor deliberately read over each letter, then read from the book. Food arrived at noontide, then again in the evening, accompanied by the others of his party and apologies from Morwen for laying no table. The wedding feast was tomorrow and the hall was being readied. That night, Denethor dreamed of Gondolin falling.

Edoras was in merry chaos the next morning and promised to remain that way until early-evening when the feast would begin. Morwen appropriated Brandir first thing to assist. Denethor sized up the situation and went to the stables to ask for Gaerhûl to be readied. Within an hour of the sun's rising, he was riding south towards Harrowdale. Beregar and Imrahil caught up with him not long afterwards and the three journeyed into the steep, narrow vale. By midmorning they had reached the wall below the mountains, with a narrow switchback road leading upwards to a high meadow, and climbed the steep way. Denethor felt a sense of wonder at the weathered carvings marking each turn in the path. They stopped at the meadow and ate some dinner, Beregar having slipped bread, cheese, and sausage from the kitchens. Far away north, Denethor could just make out the glimmer of Meduseld's roof. While the horses grazed, the men walked along the track that led between a double row of black stones. The closer they drew to a forest of dark pines, the stronger Denethor felt a sense of dread. It was akin to the sensation he experienced in the Osgiliath battles, of hatred and evil so cold it froze the soul, but this was less piercing, more like a numbing fog leaching life from a traveler's limbs. They stopped at the forest's eaves and peered into the gloom under the boughs, but even Denethor did not care to venture into the darkness, nor did he try to touch the standing stones. He contented himself with pocketing a fragment of stone that had fallen from one of the watcher statues. They collected the horses and were back to Edoras in good time to wash and dress for the feast.

Near sunset, Théoden and his bride spoke their wedding vows upon the terrace before the hall. They spoke Rohirric, not the speech of Gondor as the court usually spoke. Denethor understood most of it, though he had to concentrate. The open ground before Meduseld was packed with Rohirrim, and more filled the main street and the lanes just off the hilltop. When Théoden kissed the girl to seal their pledge, the wooden walls of Edoras reverberated with the onlookers' joyous shouts. The doors of Meduseld were thrown open and people crowded inside for the feast. More tables and benches were set up before the hall. Denethor found himself seated next to Thengel at the high table. There were many toasts, and boasts, before the food was passed and a low rumble of talk filled the room.

'I must apologize, Lord Denethor,' Thengel said cheerfully. 'I did not mean to drive my most noble guest away with the hubbub this morning.'

'I wished to view Harrowdale, which I have heard described many times, and the day seemed good for riding.'

'Good! Good!' the king replied. His voice dropped as he added, 'I beg leave for my presumption of yesterday. I fear I have insulted you.'

Denethor studied Thengel's face. The words were sincerely meant, but there was also a challenge in the other's blue gaze. 'There is no reason to leave my hound anywhere.'

'Truly?' Thengel's expression was amused and unconvinced.

'Truly.'

When all had eaten their fill, people came and went in the hall. Denethor took advantage of this to leave the high table, following the new couple outside where there was dancing. He found a dark corner where he could watch everything without being seen. Théoden and the girl held court while other young people toasted them and tossed slightly ribald compliments at them. The couple took it all in good cheer, drinking, kissing, and dancing as the crowd demanded. Now and again he spotted Beregar and Imrahil among the revelers. He had not been able to give the man much attention during the ride, but now Denethor examined Beregar's face and gestures intently. There was no denying the Hound's resemblance to the Steward's offspring, but Denethor did not know his own face well enough to say that the two of them looked enough alike to be sire and get.

'And none too soon!' Some men were standing just past Denethor, backs to him, watching Théoden and Elfhild try to drink out of a horn at the same time. One of the men was the dark-haired fellow who had stared at him the evening before. The son stood nearby and there were two others.

'Finally, we'll have a proper queen,' the dark-haired man said in a gloating tone. Denethor had to strain to understand the Rohirric speech.

'Yes, Gálmód, you have that right,' the taller of the other two men replied. 'No more arrogant women who cannot speak their lord's tongue!'

'I am not sure the lord knows his own tongue,' was Gálmód's sneering reply. 'He has too long been under the sway of foreign things.'

'Shh!' the second man entreated. Denethor drew a little further into the shadows. 'There's no call to speak so!'

'You're half ensorcelled yourself, Gram,' snapped Gálmód. 'What have we to do with such deceitful ways? We are hedged about by wizards and dwimmer-crafty women and men who think naught of spilling our blood as their own fails. We need a true king, who spends not his time always wishing he were bounded by stone.'

The tall man sharply signaled for Gálmód to be quiet, which made the other snort and stride off, his son at his heels. Gram and the tall man whispered fiercely to each other before slinking away in the other direction. Denethor wondered if Thengel knew that rebellious words were spoken openly among the townsfolk. Given his words of yesterday, he does and knows what has caused this discontent. He prepares for what is best for Rohan even as he would fain lead his people another way. Denethor was not particularly dismayed by Gálmód's words against Gondor – there were those in Gondor who resented the use of the Rohirrim – but wondered what status this man held in Edoras. Was he a tradesman, a farmer, a rider? There was not much formality as to who of the town could dine in the king's hall.

Denethor also was intrigued by the man's words about wizards. Not simply Curunír, I deem. What trouble have you been stirring up among the horsemen, Mithrandir? He had not considered that perhaps these two wizards were working in concert. It would appear that I have not given enough attention to our northern borders. A quick glance said that the carousing was not going to end soon. He trusted Beregar would keep the young prince out of any serious trouble, and returned to the hall. Thengel and Morwen sat with some others at the high table, speaking cheerfully, while a minstrel led a group of children in a clapping song about farm animals near the central hearth. Brandir, sitting next to the queen, saw Denethor and waved him over.

'There you are, Denethor,' Brandir said. 'I wondered where you had wandered to. You have been missing for most of two days.'

'I did not wish to interfere with wedding preparations.'

'An excellent decision, Warden,' Morwen interjected , 'and good practice for you. Simply say "yes" to whatever the women plan if you wish to enjoy your own wedding.'

Denethor bowed in acknowledgement of her wisdom. 'I shall hold your advice dear, Queen Morwen.'

Thengel motioned for Denethor to sit next to him and poured him a mug of ale. 'Denethor, I know that your duties are many, but will you agree to bide a while with us here in Edoras? I promise things will be quieter by tomorrow.'

'Alas, my duties demand that I depart tomorrow, or at the latest the day afterwards.'

'Nonsense, Denethor!' Brandir objected, 'There is naught so pressing in Minas Tirith that you must return at once.'

'I did not say I was returning to Gondor.'

'Where then do you go?' asked Thengel, blue eyes alight with curiosity.

'I am off to see a wizard.'

***

As it turned out, Denethor did not set out until the morning of the third day after the wedding, and he did not go alone. Thengel decided that he, too, wished to speak to Curunír, and Morwen announced she was going with them. The extra day's delay was caused by the king and queen trying to convince each other to remain in Edoras. Neither succeeded. Denethor had greater success making Beregar remain behind with Brandir and Imrahil. A half-dozen of the Gondorian soldiers attended Denethor and two dozen riders followed their king and queen. Also in attendance were four of Thengel's counselors, including Gálmód. Each counselor had several horsemen, and Gálmód had his son, no doubt so the young man could learn statecraft. The company was rounded out by a string of pack horses and a hostler.

Thengel stood, wearing no armor but with a sword on his hip, and surveyed the gathered men with a wry chuckle. 'All this to pay a call on a neighbor.' His blue eyes twinkled as he glanced at Denethor. 'We did not get a chance to ride together, Warden, when I was in Gondor. Now we shall correct that.'

'I hope there is no occasion for battle on this ride, Thengel,' Denethor replied. Ahead of them, they watched Morwen mount her horse and ride towards them. She carried a short bow and a quiver of arrows.

'Indeed not,' Thengel softly answered. Morwen reined up before them. 'Good morrow, my queen. You are determined in this foolishness?'

'As long as you are, my heart,' she answered firmly, 'I will not be parted from thee, not even if there is danger.'

Thengel sighed but smiled. 'Then let us be off.' Gaerhûl and the king's horse were brought over, and soon they were fording the Snowbourn and heading west.

It would be fourteen days to reach Isengard and return. Word of the king's travel ran ahead of them, and there were often groups of people afoot or on horseback at the side of the road, waiting for Thengel to pass and asking for his blessing. Denethor wondered where they all came from. Once in a while he would see a few houses together, spy a herdsman out upon the rolling plain to the north, or see wood smoke rising from behind a fold in the foothills to the south. The land was beautiful, a great green sea of grass that reached from the road to the edge of sight north and east, but it was barren. Far away, he saw the first spires of Hithaeglir, with a low, dark smudge he knew must be the ancient Fangorn forest just to its east. He was glad for the reassuring bulk of the Ered Nimrais beside them, providing an anchor against the vast nothing of the plains. Denethor wanted mountains and high places, trees and hills. Ithilien, for all of its danger, was more inviting than the plains of Rohan.

For the first day, Denethor did little but observe the king and his counselors. Gálmód surprised him. From the man's surly behavior in Edoras, Denethor had expected he would be either disdainful or flattering towards his king. Instead, the man was stern and direct. The man's darkness set him apart from the other men, as did his short-stature, but he held himself as proudly as any of the golden riders. His words were as proud as his carriage, chosen carefully and pronounced with dignity. Denethor listened closely so his own Rohirric would improve. It was clear that he was chief among Thengel's advisors, which made the man's words at the wedding more mysterious. Thengel asked for Gálmód's wisdom about planting, the weather, weanling foals, the making of ale, and many other things. In all of his answers, the counselor referred to the acts of past kings, or the wisdom in songs and tales, or the practices of their forefathers. He often corrected the faulty memories of the other counselors and always knew the customary way for doing this or that. The son, Gríma, said nothing if not spoken to, but listened attentively to everything.

The only thing in which Gálmód did not appear the master was conversing with the queen. He insisted in speaking Sindarin when addressing her directly, and mangled the speech enough to make Denethor wince. From the overly-patient look on Morwen's face, he assumed this was a long standing state between them. Thengel and the other counselors pretended not to hear it. Denethor did not understand how Thengel could allow Morwen to be insulted in this way, particularly as the other counselors spoke both Westron and Sindarin to her, and none spoke the latter as atrociously as Gálmód.

When they halted for dinner at noon on the second day, the eldest counselor, a man named Walda, asked in Sindarin if he could sit next to Denethor and speak to him. 'Please do,' Denethor answered in Westron. 'We should speak in the Common Tongue, though, as I know not your noble speech and I would not have you speak my own when I cannot return the courtesy.'

Walda bowed. 'Thank you, Lord Denethor, that is kind of you.' The man had questions about the battles of last winter. He had been a rider in Gondor at the same time as Thengel, though not for as long, and his grandson was now in Anórien near Cair Andros. It turned out this was the man who actually selected which riders would be sent. He was very curious about how the riders were being used now and what Denethor believed would come in the next year.

'Orcs in Ithilien, mostly, and raiding along the coasts. The victories of last summer did great harm to the Easterlings and to Harad. What do you see here?'

Walda shrugged. 'There are orcs out of the Misty Mountains more than before, and sometimes from the Emyn Muil. What concerns me most are the Dunlendings.' As the man spoke, his eyes moved to Gálmód. 'They are sly and devious folk, skulking in shadows. They ever swear fealty and friendship, we treat them with honor, and then they betray us. They will wait many years for their plans to unfold.' Walda's voice softened and he spoke in his own tongue, 'Even when they say they are of us, they plot our destruction.'

'Excuse me?' Denethor asked politely, allowing his brow to furrow in confusion. 'I did not understand your last words, Walda.'

'Forgive me, Warden, I said I hope they have not found favor with the wizard.'

***

They arrived at Aglarond midday on the third day. Denethor was glad to leave behind the empty plain and enter a green valley that rose into the mountains. For the first time, the land was thickly settled, reminding him of the southern vales. The cots were modest, but in good repair, and the land well tended. The heat of the plain retreated in the face of cool breezes flowing down from the mountains. Thengel said they should lodge in the garrison since their company would be too large for any farmstead to manage. Alebrand, the young lord of the vale, had joined them on their journey to Aglarond and insisted on staying with the king and queen in the fortress; even his substantial house would not suffice to hold them all. Denethor agreed, wishing to see the ancient fortress at the top of the vale. When he saw the spire of the tower and the stout curtain wall, however, he could not help but feel some disappointment. It was a squat thing, built from local stone, and there was little grace to it. It had been raised by Tarannon Falastur after the division of Arnor to augment the defense of the Fords of Isen provided by Angrenost, for the king had wisely seen that the north would soon lose sway over Enedwaith. That king cared only for the sea and gave little thought to anything that did not touch water. Even so, the stonework was strong and the whole well wrought.

Once inside, it was another matter. The open space behind the wall had encouraged the Rohirrim to scatter their garrison. Too used to horses as their legs, their outbuildings straggled up the gorge behind the wall. While the horses themselves were on pickets inside the fortress, fowl and goats wandered freely. The inhabited part of the tower was neatly kept, with sturdy furniture, well-scrubbed floors, and bright hangings to soften the echoes. Most of the tower chambers were locked. Twenty times the number of soldiers that were there would have been sufficient for the garrison.

Thengel insisted that Denethor should go with Alebrand and see the caves further up the gorge. The king himself declined the jaunt, saying he had seen them before. In truth, he looked weary, and Denethor did not miss Morwen's worried glances. His concern for Thengel disappeared when he saw the caverns. Perhaps they were wise, the builders, to make the defense so plain. It could not compare with this glory. He spent several hours following Alebrand about, awed by the subterranean splendor. Menegroth could not have been more beautiful. It was near dark by the time they emerged and supper awaited them. To Denethor's relief, the short rest had left Thengel looking much restored. After the hearty meal, Denethor excused himself to stroll upon the curtain wall and look down the vale. He could just see over the parapet. When he leaned against the wall, Finduilas's book pressed into his chest and Denethor wished for a glimpse of her, or even a new letter – none had come with the messengers from Minas Tirith. Under his fingers, the stone murmured of summer heat and winter ice and siege. Like himself, it was lonely.

Footsteps warned him that another approached. It did not surprise him that the visitor was Gálmód.

'Why are you following me?' Denethor asked in Westron.

'I only came to see if you…' Gálmód began in his twisted Sindarin.

'Your horse speaks better than you do,' Denethor crisply replied, still speaking Westron, 'though I doubt you are as clumsy with your words as you pretend. Speak like a civilized man or go talk to the animals.'

'Arrogant pig,' Gálmód grumbled in Rohirric.

'I have been around enough Riders to have picked up that much of your tongue,' Denethor said, 'however, as I said, I only care for civil speech, whatever the language.' Gálmód glared, but said nothing. The top of the man's head did not reach the height of the parapet. 'You are deep in the king's counsels, Gálmód. Why do you so dislike Rohan's greatest and most faithful ally?'

'Because you are arrogant pigs,' Gálmód said in Westron.

'Uncouth in any language, I see' Denethor dryly noted, 'Perhaps we should return to Sindarin. Then I would not understand you.'

'You men of the West are too proud and too clever,' Gálmód growled.

'You are jealous.'

'No! I do not want what you would offer, for it is given deceitfully. For all your greatness, you have naught to give but only take,' was the hot reply. 'You look down from your high places and think all others to be less than you.'

And if they are lesser? If they live rudely and wish for nothing beyond a full belly and some songs to sing? 'You would fault me for liking the mountains? I fault you not for liking the plains. It sounds to me as if you doubt your own worth.'

'Never would I doubt Rohan. This is a clean place, a simple place, far from your dark whispers. You steal our kings and leave them dead, or send them back ensorcelled.'

'And never have your kings fallen in battle save at Gondor's behest?'

'The Eorlingas are greater than you entombed specters!' Gálmód spat, 'We are not in misery and filth like the Wild Men to the west, nor will we partake of your decadence and decline. We could tame the West were we not always drawn into your battles. Did we not come from the east and tame this?' Gálmód gestured north towards the plains.

'You came in and settled on the foundations laid twenty-five hundred years or more before, like this,' Denethor tapped the wall, 'and have yet to raise anything to compare. Before you dream of taming the west, perhaps you would care to learn a few simple crafts, such as stone masonry?' With a nod, Denethor walked back to the tower.


This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.

In Challenges

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Author: Anglachel

Status: Reviewed

Completion: Complete

Rating: Adult

Last Updated: 07/01/09

Original Post: 02/23/04

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