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The Commander of Gondor: 11. The Wedding Party
Preparations for the wedding soon took precedence over any other activity in Minas Tirith. Thorongil marveled to Gandalf he was certain Sauron could march up to the city gates and be told his invasion would have to wait until after Denethor and Finduilas were wed. The senior officers had parts in all the pomp of the festivities. Also, it was the winter season and most soldiers except for career troops were on leave. This meant Ecthelion did not have the luxury of sending his younger son and his city guard commander on a holiday to the north. And, by late November of that year, snow had fallen in the high passes. In little more than a month's time, the Princess of Dol Amroth would arrive to take her place as the Lady of the Citadel and the future Steward's wife, and Fallon and Thorongil found themselves in the thick of the activities.
High and low born alike were planning celebrations. Thorongil marveled that every single item in the White City was being washed, polished, or refurbished. Workers scrubbed a layer of soot from all surfaces and the granite and marble glowed. Wains brought goods from outlying areas, and shopkeepers rubbed their hands together as their stacks of coins grew taller. It had been years since such good cheer filled the town under siege for so long.
The City Guards was the primary unit assigned to all parade and policing activities. There seemed to be constant practices, special meetings, and escorts for dignitaries. Thorongil spent much of each day at the Citadel. He spent the rest of his time shielding the Steward's younger son from such duties.
Ecthelion, though he understood Fallon's hurt, wanted him included as part of the family as much as possible. So, Fallon was constantly embroiled in the wedding preparations either as brother to the groom or as part of his Guardsman's duties, and it was taking a toll on the man's spirit. Fallon tried to acquiesce to his father's inclusiveness with nonchalance, but as Thorongil saw his captain's control becoming more brittle, he interceded. After a long afternoon shut in Ecthelion's private study, Thorongil came back with the word that Fallon would no longer have to attend any further activity as brother of the groom. The commander himself would assure his guard assignments took him away from official wedding duties as much as possible.
Unfortunately, the stress had sent Fallon back to the bottle. When not on duty or trying his damnedest to be a good son, Fallon could be found these days drinking in some seedy tavern, spoiling for a fight, or being held in the stockade by his own men, usually for starting one. Drink was turning Fallon sullen and mean, and Thorongil had taken to letting him cool his heels in the guardhouse until the alcoholic vapors wore off. Otherwise, he remained ugly, belligerent, and unreasonable even to Thorongil.
Fallon's light-hearted bantering with his commander had disappeared. After several unprovoked arguments that Thorongil ignored, his captain's tirade finally ended with Fallon, suddenly shocked into soberness, pinned against a wall outside The Laughing Dwarf. He realized in horror, looking into the blazing deeps of Thorongil's eyes, he had just swung at his commander with drunken impulsiveness. Thorongil should have broken him to the lowest trooper for such an action, but the commander recognized Fallon's desperation and refused to be part of the destruction his friend was seeking. From that moment, though, the captain avoided any interaction with Thorongil except that required by his position.
As if Fallon's volatility had not created enough crises, Quillion had also become a real concern to his commander and any who felt affection for the boy. The lad deeply grieved the death of his beloved mother. The Lady Gwendeth had caught a lung infection that left her coughing and gasping for breath. When the troops had gone off that spring in pursuit of the Haradrim, Thorongil left Quillion in the city. Secretly, he did not want to take the boy into so perilous a situation and conveniently, Gandalf appeared in the office and requested the squire's help with some arcane and long-lasting tasks. In truth, Thorongil and the wizard had conspired to keep the boy close to his mother since, after a visit to the cottage; the commander feared she would be dead before the summer campaign ended. Thorongil, after a show of impatience at the wizard's demand, acquiesced and over Quillion's protests, turned him over to Gandalf's care.
Unfortunately, Thorongil's diagnosis was right. The gracious lady died just before the troops arrived home. At the last, Gandalf's potions, unable to cure her body, had eased her pain in passing. Ever since her burial, Quillion had been inconsolable, grieving for his mother by day and suffering vivid dreams of Thorongil's death at night. Gandalf was relieved when the tall commander's black stallion clattered into the courtyard. In their quarters, the wan, red-eyed boy bravely tried to tell Thorongil what had happened but broke into heart wrenching sobs. Still in his cloak and spurs, the commander held the nine year old until he had cried himself to sleep. Later that night, over glasses of miruvor, Thorongil asked Gandalf for his letter the wizard always held, addressed to the Lord of Imladris. He reviewed his requests to be carried out if ever something should happen to him in the field, and added a postscript making provisions for Quillion, asking that he be cared for in Rivendell.
As autumn wore on, Quillion seemed to recover from the loss he felt and the troopers again heard the incessant scampering footfalls and bright chatter of their pet. But, one day Fallon broke his self-imposed silence and with a worried look, explained to the commander that several of the men reported Quillion going each day to sit near his mother's grave with his mid-day meal, talking to her as if she was still living. That day, Thorongil followed Quillion to the beautiful park that was Minas Tirith's cemetery, back to the wooded section where his mother lay in death near her husband. The boy sat down beside the intricately carved stone, took out his food and between bites, began to tell his mother about what had happened since he had visited yesterday. Thorongil listened for a while, and then silently slipped away. He decided the fantasy did the boy more good than harm. Afterwards sometimes he would accompany Quillion and sit quietly as the boy talked to his much-missed parent.
On this day, the late-November leaves were rattling through the streets as Thorongil sat at his desk contemplating two opened documents in front of him. One was the orders for the bridal party escort. A full troop specifically led by him only was to leave on the morrow for Dol Amroth and escort the princess and her retinue home. After long talks with Denethor and Ecthelion, those were orders he had been expecting. Fallon's reassignment had been a surprise but a handwritten note from Ecthelion indicated it was at Imrahil's request.
The real problem he faced was in the other papers. It was a personal letter, delivered by private messenger that morning, from Finduilas. Through the spring and summer, he had received several long rambling letters from her: one-sided debates on the decision she had allowed her brother to make for her. In this letter, one he would have preferred never to have received, she had penned a request for Thorongil.
"… although I shall follow through with my promise, and although I have great admiration for my future husband, I know I shall never love him. I will always love Fallon and I feel I have treated him so shabbily! Because I must spend the rest of my life fulfilling duty, I ask you to help me have a last breath of freedom:
Bring Fallon to Dol Amroth with the escort. I wish to spend the last two weeks I have as an unfettered woman with him. I know my brother has requested Denethor forbid Fallon's attendance, but, Thorongil, you once promised me any request that was in your power, and I beg that you bring Fallon to me.
I suspect this will offend your sense of honor deeply and I am embarrassed at what disappointment you will feel about me. I need this one chance to see my love before I wed. As you once told me you so loved someone, I hope in your heart you will understand and find a way to grant this.
Send Fallon to Dol Amroth as her escort…Thorongil knew that he would be sanctioning their liaison and disobeying a direct order from the Steward. Finduilas wanted this and Fallon felt no loyalty to his brother. The three of them would share in the betrayal of Denethor if Thorongil granted her request. The commander understood the pain love offered all too well but his years of training had instilled the need for honor at all costs. His decision made, the commander pulled out vellum and a pen, and wrote an order directing Fallon to oversee the purchase of new mounts while he was away.
As the sunset turned the city walls to flame, the commander walked up the hill in the cold wind to have dinner with Gandalf. Findalion served an excellent meal of succulent roasted duck and used some Elven magic, Thorongil was sure, to procure fresh berries for dessert. For the evening, Thorongil could forget who he was required to be and return to himself alone with his friend. Sated and relaxed, he sat before Gandalf's comfortable fire, sipping Imladris wine, thinking of home and trying to forget he was riding to Dol Amroth in the morning. Before he had left the office, he had delivered his orders to Fallon. While it was the proper thing to do, he did not take comfort in his decision.
"You're pensive tonight," Gandalf commented, tamping his pipe and lighting it from a brand, waiting for Aragorn to begin speaking.
"Why are the decisions we make about the ones we care about never clear cut?" Aragorn sighed deeply. "Gandalf, I want my world lined up so I can see where the heroes stand and where the villains stand, and in this instance, I can't discern which they are!" He told the wizard of the letter from Dol Amroth and the decision he had made. "I would hate myself if I betrayed Denethor but I hate myself for not honoring my pledge to Finduilas. By the Valar, Gandalf, I don't want to stand with the villains!" Gandalf harrumphed and blew a large smoke ring. "If I were king already, I would forbid this marriage and required Imrahil to allow her to marry Fallon!" The wizard's rebuke amazed Aragorn.
"If it were you instead of Denethor and Arwen in Finduilas' place, what then would you do? Would you permit a king to make such a decision for you?"
"Gandalf, that's unfair. Of course, I'd refuse to abide by anyone's decree. I barely followed Ada's now. But…that I would do for Arwen."
"Also, perhaps you place what your actions would be in the situation on others? Perhaps Finduilas' request is made in innocence." This caused Aragorn to rightly blush. "Or you may want to consider this tryst will take place, either now before the vows, or after. My Lord Judge, what would be more dishonorable in your esteem?"
"Gandalf, do you feel I judge wrongly?" Aragorn asked quietly.
"I feel you have no right to judge at all. Some things are meant to be in this world, my boy, and neither Steward nor future king should interfere with them. But, does it matter? By any means, your decision's made. Fallon stays here and you lead the escort to Dol Amroth." The wizard muttered something about kings dictating morality, and then continued smoking in silence. Presently, Thorongil roused himself and made as if to leave.
"Have a cup of tea before you go!" Gandalf said, brightly. "It's a cold evening." Findalion was soon in the room with the pot and cups and the heady fragrance of Aragorn's favorite brew filled the air, so he agreed, settling back in the chair for a few enjoyable moments longer.
The next day dawned clear, bright and warm. Fallon had shown up to assemble the escort and was now patiently sitting his horse before the polished, mounted troop in front of the Citadel. Ecthelion and Denethor stood on the steps, silent and impatient. The troopers' horses were pawing; they had been standing for a long while and there was still no sign of the commander. The sun climbed higher in the sky. Fallon looked down the boulevard in the direction of Thorongil's house.
Presently, hoof beats on stone rang out and Quillion clattered up on his bay. The boy was frightened; his pale face and huge dark eyes alarmed Fallon. He saluted the captain and presented Ecthelion with a folded paper. The Steward read it and looked up, worried.
"Boy, is Mithrandir there? Should I send a healer?" Quillion shook his head and said Gandalf had taken charge. The Steward nodded and called to Fallon.
"Captain, this duty lies to you. Take your troops to Dol Amroth and escort the Lady home. Commander Thorongil is gravely ill, too ill to ride." Denethor exploded into expletives and slammed inside the hall. Fallon with a startled look on his face, hastily saluted his father and sent the troop down the streets. He touched his heels to his mount and hastened through side streets and alleys to his quarters to retrieve his pack and dress uniform. Then he stopped in at Thorongil's home to see to his commander.
Gandalf let him in and showed him a Thorongil he had never seen: in bed, pale and unable to lift his head. He seemed half-delirious with fever, colorfully cursing the wizard in Sindarin. Fallon caught 'poison' and 'treachery' before Gandalf ushered him out quickly, assuring him it was the fever that caused the commander to say such. Fallon, gravely worried, rode to the city gates, met up with the troopers, and led them south to the Harlond Road.
Back in the cottage, Thorongil weakly raised his head from the pillow and looked blearily at Gandalf, who sat in a chair near-by. A wave of nausea and dizziness washed over him, and he collapsed back onto the bed, eyes closed.
"What was in that tea?" he rasped.
"Nothing that won't be out of your system in a day or two." chuckled Gandalf.
"Orc spawn!" Thorongil rasped through clenched teeth and bent again over the basin near his bed. Gandalf shook his head.
"You were once a pleasant, civil-tongued lad," he chuckled. "I told you there are turnings of this world that cannot be interfered with by mere mortals, even such as you."
At the Citadel, Denethor was in the throes of a tantrum in his father's office. The Steward watched his son pace like a trapped beast, and not for the first time, wondered at the man's sanity.
"I want him broken for this!" he demanded wildly of his father.
"My son, you are over reacting. You would have a man punished for being near unto death, perhaps from poison? I've spoken to Mithrandir. Thorongil is too ill to ride. Would you have him fall dead at Imrahil's feet? Sending Fallon is no insult to your lady or her brother, my son." Denethor looked at his father with blazing eyes.
"I could have gone!"
"No, it is improper for the bridegroom to ride out and spend two weeks along with his lady."
"Alone! There will be nearly a hundred riding with her, even her brother!"
"All the same, it is not done."
"If Thorongil was truly poisoned, 'twas done by my brother's hand! But I believe they conspire against me!" he accused. "If it takes years, I will see justice done!" Denethor shouted as he stormed out.
Three weeks later Thorongil was waiting at the Ford of the Sirith as he had a year before. Only his squire and a single trooper accompanied him this time. Snow was falling softly. Quillion held Dagor. The stallion lowered his head, blowing warm air against the boy's hands. Thorongil was pacing. All he encountered from Gandalf, who he had almost forgiven, to Quillion had felt his impatience since his recovery. Denethor, when recovered from his madness, realized Thorongil was not at fault and visited the recuperating commander. Through he tried, Thorongil could not stay angry with Mithrandir long. As his strength returned, Thorongil had even contemplated riding to Dol Amroth but chided himself for his worry. Now he waited near the river for them.
The wait was not long. Soon his scout cantered up and saluted. "They come!"
The full troop in its dress uniforms, banners flying, trotted into view. Several elegant carriages and carts followed behind. Fallon rode up, wheeled his big chestnut to Thorongil's side, and saluted smartly. Both watched the princess' closed carriage roll by, window coverings drawn.
"Commander, an uneventful journey. I'm glad to see you looking fit," the captain announced. Looking into Fallon's eyes, Thorongil guessed the truth. He saw great joy there tempered with overwhelming sorrow. His captain was a man who now knew what would never be his. Thorongil reached out and laid his hand on his suffering friend's arm.
The nights spent on the road were tense. The first night in Arnach, Finduilas greeted Thorongil formally. She refused to meet his eye with a reserve fitting for a stranger. She retired to her room and left the two officers alone for the evening. Fortunately, Fallon's contrary personality was gone and he was pleasant and congenial to his commander. As they settled before the fire, he inquired after Thorongil's health.
"Mithrandir poisoned me when he found I was not sending you to Dol Amroth at the lady's request," the commander confided. "Within three days I was fit but weak. I almost rode after you."
"I shall thank him when I see him," Fallon said wistfully, "but I wish I hadn't gone. Thorongil, I am truly sorry for my behavior to you these past months. You are my friend, the only true one I have." The two lapsed into silence.
The next night camping on the road was worse. Finduilas requested her meal alone inside her tent. The captain and his commander ate with their men and rolled in their blankets, lying back to back under cold stars. As he was drifting off to sleep, Thorongil heard Fallon whisper.
"Perhaps, my lord, there is still time to resign our commissions and ride north. We could avoid the mountain passes and take a leisurely track up the North-South Road through the Fords of Isen and be in Rivendell before spring." Although he did not answer, Thorongil did not disagree with Fallon's plan.
Denethor and a crowd met them at the city gates. Cheers went up for the new Lady of the Citadel as the Gondorians welcomed her to the city. The Commander saluted him and reined aside to let the train go by.
"You are relieved, Commander, Captain." Denethor dismissed them, teeth gritted, malice for his brother in his eyes, before he spurred his horse after his intended.
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