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The Commander of Gondor: 10. Pieces to be Swept Away
The next day when Fallon did not appear by noon, Thorongil casually left the guard offices and strolled to the captain's quarters. He was not there, but his dress uniform jacket lay crumpled into a corner and bits of the porcelain dolphin sculpture, a remembrance from his days stationed in Dol Amroth, littered the floor.
The commander began a search, quietly asking for his captain at the barracks and the cafes Fallon usually frequented. His discreet inquiries eventually led to the most disreputable sections of the city. In an above stairs bedroom of one of the seediest taverns, on a backstreet on the first level of the city, he found Fallon, who never drank, incredibly drunk with a young woman reluctant to allow him to leave. He relieved the brassy redhead of Fallon's shirt, but did not bother asking about a coat since that probably had been long sold. Thorongil threw several large coins down on the bed as she screeched at him, like a cornered goblin.
"My dear, you've been well-compensated since you've already taken whatever money he had." Throwing his own cloak over his captain's shoulders, Thorongil walked the groggy Fallon up the backstreets to his house. He half-carried him through the back entrance and dropped him on the bed. A wide-eyed Quillion went running to the apothecary with a list of herbs and Thorongil built up the fire and put on a kettle to brew a strong tea.
There was a timid knock, and as the door opened, Thorongil looked up with a rebuke on his lips, sure his squire had lost the list. It was Finduilas wrapped in a plain wool cloak with the hood covering her head. He pulled up a chair for her near the fire.
"I cannot find Fallon," she said immediately. "I sent word that I wished to speak with him, and when he did not come to the guesthouse, I came in search of him. I've been to his quarters and your office…I am worried. He left last night so suddenly." Thorongil looked at the naïve girl in surprise.
"Would you have had him stay and congratulate you on your engagement?" Thorongil's tone was biting. He tried to hide his disgust at her foolishness but it was clear to Finduilas.
"You are angry with me! Please, my lord, I feel so badly already!" Her eyes were red from weeping. "Please, you must help me!"
"Yes, I am angry. How did this come about? Your father was negotiating with Ecthelion for your marriage to Fallon. Your brother agreed!" Thorongil said curtly and louder than he intended.
"My brother believes I would be happier as the wife of the Steward. Such a match appeals to him. It cements his alliance with Gondor," she replied. "Denethor requested it and Imrahil could not offend the next Steward."
"Does it appeal to you, Finduilas? I thought you loved Fallon. And, as it seems all have forgotten, your family holds the fief of Dol Amroth from the King of Gondor, not the Steward!"
"My brother has the power to have me wed where he wills. I have no say. It is my duty! I once told you I could not marry for love. I am terribly sorry I fell in love," she sobbed in despair.
"Never regret loving," he answered softly. Her tears began to fall then.
"Oh, Thorongil, I do love him. I love him so! I cannot do this! I cannot wed Denethor!" Finduilas gasped between sobs.
"Lady, you have little choice unless fate intervenes in the coming year." Thorongil's heart softened toward her then. "Rest assured, Fallon is safe and you must return to the guesthouse. What would your intended think, you alone here with me in my quarters?" He echoed Imrahil's words of the evening before. That brought a shy smile.
Finduilas sat warming herself until Quillion returned. Thorongil sent him off as the lady's escort. He turned as the door shut behind the pair, knowing Fallon had heard every word. Indeed, his captain, unshaven and disheveled, was now standing in the bedroom doorway. There was a terrible look of longing and despair on his face.
"I thought maybe to flee with her---north, maybe, to that legendary brother of yours. I'd sell my sword to the Dúnedain, the Elves, the Dwarves, even the orc, to make a life for us. But, now I know she wouldn't go," Fallon whispered.
"Aye, she wouldn't. The lady feels it is her duty by birthright to do as the head of her family directs her," Thorongil agreed.
"Damn duty! It is my duty to stand aside while my brother weds and beds the woman I love!" Fallon staggered and nearly fell. He gestured Thorongil back and sat heavily in a chair, his head in his hands. "Thorongil, you are friends with Denethor. Perhaps he would listen to you…I dare not ask it of you, but I fear I would kill him if I met with him."
Denethor was still in his office when Thorongil entered later that day. He looked up and smiled. The Steward's heir looked more relaxed than the commander had ever seen him.
"Ah, Thorongil! Happy Yule!" He looked into his commander's eyes. "I see you've not come to congratulate me on my betrothal."
"I wish that I could; it would please me to see you happy with a family. But, Denethor, not this woman. She's your brother's intended."
"She is the princess of Dol Amroth and a worthy bride for the Steward," Denethor stated logically.
"I'm here on behalf of Finduilas and your brother. Denethor, they are in love! Can you not see that?" Thorongil began anew. Denethor's face changed. His ugly tone startled Thorongil.
"My brother is my father's bastard son; he is an unfit match for a royal princess and should never have aimed so high. Besides, I fell in love with the lady the moment I saw her." Thorongil heard honesty in his voice. "I have never felt about a woman as I do Finduilas."
"She loves Fallon. If you care so much for the lady, you must know she is in pain and does not desire this match," the commander pointed out.
"It is a girl's infatuation. She is young and will come to see the wisdom of our marriage. She will come to love me," Denethor said with assurance.
"Would you have an unhappy, unwelcoming bride?" The picture of the sensitive Finduilas giving herself to a man she did not love made Thorongil shudder.
"A year will make a vast difference. 'Twill give me time to woo her. We'll find Fallon a match among the Lossernach nobles. Perhaps Imhrahil's lady's sister. She'll bring him wealth. "
"But, you and Fallon---this may cause a rift that will bring kin strife again to the White City." Thorongil harkened back to a historical event when brother fought brother for lordship of Gondor. "It's not that simple. Finduilas is your brother's love. You have no right---" Denethor then lost patience with his commander.
"No, Commander, it is you who have no right. Get out! You are dismissed!" At that order, the man who had been very near to becoming the only friend Denethor would ever have looked at his with contempt and left.
The holiday festivities ended and daily life in Minas Tirith began to return to normalcy. The regularity of life brought some order to the turmoil swirling in the City Guard office from the betrothal announcement. Fallon resumed his duties with more military zeal than he had ever exhibited. Thorongil, though, felt the pressure building and walked lightly around his captain.
The commander met with Finduilas briefly the day before she left for Dol Amroth. In the palace gardens, gravel crunched under their feet as they walked, trailed by Quillion. He had devoted as much time lately to being lady's page as squire of an officer. The boy bid the princess a sad goodbye, but brightened when she told him she would be back in a year.
"And then, Sir Quillion, you shall have to divide your time between Lord Thorongil and the next Steward's Lady again." She sent the boy off to gather some winterberry branches for her, and then turned to the commander.
"I can give you no message for Fallon that will ease his pain," she said, eyes downcast, "because I can think of none that relieves my own, but, Commander, knowing you and he are here gladdens me that when I return I will not be without friends. I hope that at least, you and I shall remain friends." She looked expectantly at her pirate lord.
"I will always be your friend and your champion, Finduilas. And, although I think you wrong, I know you feel you have little choice but to wed Denethor. But, we will look forward to your return and welcome you to the White City, my lady." He bowed over her hand but she threw her arms around his neck and for one last moment became again the girl he had met in Dol Amroth.
The prince's party departed for home the next morning, accompanied by Denethor and a contingent of the Citadel Guards. Thorongil watched from the ramparts as they rode into the distance. His eyes caught a lone horseman, still as a statue, watching from the rise to the Rammos, sunlight gleaming copper off his horse's hide. Ecthelion came up beside him, hands resting on the wall; he, too, was watching Fallon alone on the plain.
"My ability to rule this city does not extend into my own house," began the Steward. "I fear I have allowed irreparable division to occur between my sons, Commander." Thorongil's eyes remained on the vanishing cavalcade. "Denethor seemed obsessed with the girl once he'd met her. She is so young and obedient to her brother. I hope they are well-matched since the brother would have none other for her once he learned of Denethor's interest." The commander finally turned from the wall and faced the Steward.
"Ah, his interest? I must believe Denethor did not seek the betrothal to hurt his brother," Thorongil grounded out, his eyes steely.
"No, I don't believe that is the case." Ecthelion shook his head. "You must see to Fallon for me. He refuses to answer my summons. His anger will wear down. He will come to accept this. He is a fine man. Any would be proud to have him at his side, even a king." Thorongil could only nod to the Steward, unsure if Ecthelion's rosy assessment was simply colored so by a father's hope.
winter cold gave way to spring early that year. Summer's heat wilted the spring blooms before they were fully opened. The early heat brought the Haradrim deep into the north and Thorongil led his troopers into the field, not fighting Orcs this season, but the dark-eyed Southron men. The Haradrim chose that spring to cross the Anduin and fire farmsteads and villages in Lebennin. Thorongil's City Guards spent much of the summer and deep into autumn away from the city.
The incursions had brought forth the Swan Knights also. In several battles, Imrahil and Thorongil fought side by side. Many evenings they shared a campfire and during summer storms, often a tent. At first, Thorongil found himself anxiously watching the prince's back, anticipating Fallon to aim an unfriendly dagger at him. However, Fallon held no grudge against the prince; he was cordial to his former love's brother. He reserved his hatred for his brother alone.
Fallon had recovered some of his old spirit but he now wore a shield of uncaring recklessness. His words were biting and his laughter hard. Only to Thorongil and Quillion did the captain remain civil; any other, soldier or civilian, was fair game for his words and fists. He drank heavily now, and most mornings found him bleary-eyed and unwell, if they found him at all. More than once, Thorongil dragged him from the stews of Pelargir or another river town, drunk and belligerent. He would sway in the saddle, ill from drink, eyes blood-shot as an orc, and charge, spurring and roaring like a demon at their foes. He earned the name Raug'wann* that summer from the Haradrim. His unnerving yell sent shivers of fear up the spines of even his own men.
The bad summer of raids had him carelessly challenging death; he would charge madly into a pack of Haradrim lancers or walk boldly within arrow range of their bowmen. Even their own bold troopers, who would follow Thorongil into Mordor and charge up the slopes of Orodruin if he so ordered, rode uneasily behind Fallon when the captain led the charge. All that summer, there existed an unspoken struggle between Fallon and Thorongil: the captain trying to kill himself and the commander working mightily to save his hide.
One day near the end of the hot, dry season, Thorongil and his captain almost met their end near the Lebennin Road. They were riding back to where the troops were bivouacked after meeting with some local farmers to arrange for supplies. Surprising a large group of Haradrim scouts, the two should have run, but Fallon hesitated only a moment, drew his sword, and charged. The enemy outnumbered them by two dozen and the fighting was fierce. Only Thorongil's uncanny Elvish fighting skill saved them. He killed their officer in a desperate match and the Haradrim finally scattered.
Both of them received serious wounds and limped back to camp. Dagor and Hafur had not come through unscathed: both bore several nicks from Haradrim blades and the chestnut hobbled on a bruised fetlock. Later, as the company surgeon attended to them, Fallon looked at his commander ruefully as the surgeon's assistant bandaged his cracked ribs.
"I suppose I'll have to end this mad campaign of mine before you are killed." He winced, as the dressing was pulled tighter. Thorongil looked at him balefully, the left side of his face covered with his own blood.
"That is acceptable to me," Thorongil said, gritting his teeth as the healer stitched the source of the gore: a wicked forehead gash just below his hairline, "as long as it occurs soon."
The following morning, his captain stiffly limped into his tent and asked leave to return to the city. Since the troop was marching north for Minas Tirith in just a few days anyway, Thorongil agreed. As he watched Fallon ride north with an escort, he wondered if he would arrive in Minas Tirith to find his captain in the city dungeon, guilty of fratricide.
Heavy storms finally broke the summer heat, quickly followed by two weeks of cold rains. The cooling weather sent the Haradrim scuttled back south, and October's end found the troopers nearing home. Brown leaves skirled through the streets the day Thorongil and his battle weary guards trotted into the White City. Thorongil looked over his bandaged and battered men before he dismissed them for winter furlough; too many good men now lay buried in Lebinnin soil. It had been a long and deadly campaign.
Fallon met him as he tiredly came up the stairs of the Citadel to Ecthelion's office for report. The intensity of his captain's greeting genuinely surprised Thorongil. Fallon's jaunty salute became a bear hug and the captain ushered his friend into his father's office, arm still slung around his shoulders.
The commander's debriefing with the Steward was warm and jovial. Denethor's late appearance was civil. Ecthelion begged a moment of Thorongil's time alone and dismissed both Fallon and Denethor at the end of the meeting. He ushered the commander out on the broad veranda adjoining his office. Thorongil raised his face to the warm sunlight. Ecthelion saw new lines of weariness there.
"The two have reached a truce," the Steward began.
"I am heartily glad to hear that."
"Fallon is not content with the decision yet, but he is no longer so angry he would harm his brother." Thorongil looked closely at the Steward trying to discern if that was merely a father's hope. "He also hasn't been drunk since his return to the city. Perhaps all is on the mend in the House of the Steward." Thorongil agreed, wished him well, and added his hope to Ecthelion's.
Thorongil collected Quillion who had been left in the city out of danger in Gandalf's care. The boy's greeting was as enthusiastic as Fallon's had been and Thorongil nodded his thanks to Gandalf for the boy's care over the dark head pressed tightly to his chest.
A few days later, Fallon and Thorongil were alone in the office: Quillion had taken Dagor to the farrier. Thorongil, for once, refused to begin work on the stack of papers littering his desk and sat back, eyes closed and weariness etched deeply in his face.
"My friend, you are exhausted. You gave the troopers leave; you need some rest for yourself." Fallon had never seen his commander look so worn. Thorongil did not answer, and Fallon thought that perhaps he was asleep.
"Are you truly yourself again, Fallon?' Thorongil asked presently.
"I am as much myself as I will ever be. Perhaps killing Haradrim all summer was a help. I made my peace with my father. And, I had my say with my brother." He smiled grimly. "That was something I'm sorry you missed. I am a loyal son of Gondor, though, regretfully, I think there can never be a bond of trust between us two again."
"And Finduilas?" Thorongil thought of the unhappy young woman who had sent him several long letters by way of her brother's couriers that summer.
"Well, what is the point in causing her more pain? I wrote welcoming her to the family." Fallon sighed. "Though I don't think I will make a very fine brother-in-law."
"You are resigned then that she will be Denethor's wife?"
"Resigned but not accepting. I am hoping to avoid the upcoming festivities. I've suggested my father send me north as emissary to the Dúnedain at Fornost and to Lord Elrond in Rivendell to plead for support for our cause." Thorongil saw the seriousness in Fallon's face. Mention of those northern reaches brought a lift to his soul. He could almost hear the rushing waters of Imladris and taste the air of the pine forests surrounding Fornost.
"An interesting thought. Perhaps Quillion and I will join you. Time away from Gondor might be refreshing, and as a lady once told me, autumn is the time to see Imladris."
*Raug 'wann (demon of death)
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