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Hands of the King: 27. Belegaer

Bay of Balar, Early April, 2976 T.A.

If Denethor’s demand to be shown everything about the ship disconcerted Îbal, the man did not give sign of it. He shrugged and motioned for Denethor to follow him. They went first to the stern where Îbal talked about the rudder. Next was a lesson about waves and how Seabird moved upon them. Then the wheel, what her hull was like and why, the different kinds of sails, details on the rigging, and so on through the day. Denethor drank it in. The more he asked, the more expansive Îbal became and the two men walked, climbed, and crawled over every inch of the ship as the captain remembered more things the Warden might find interesting. Denethor most enjoyed being shown how to use compass, quadrant, and sextant to figure out where they were on the ocean, instruments he had only read of before. Beregar quickly gave up trying to stay with them, and whiled away the day dicing with one or another of the sailors.

Tolfalas fell away to their right and they set out into the wide Bay of Belfalas. Land became a rumor on the horizon, and large, strange fish could be seen in the waters. When sunset neared, Îbal motioned for them to climb up the great main mast and find a perch on a high yardarm, one standing to either side of the mast. Below, at the stern, Denethor saw sailors casting lines to catch supper.

Îbal leaned around the mast and gestured to the west. ‘This will be a grand sunset, the like of which you’ll never see on land, not even on a shore.’

‘I don’t doubt it.’ Denethor firmly grasped a brass handhold on the mast, shading his eyes from the sun’s last rays, shifting his weight to balance for the sway of the ship. Just as the ways of Osgiliath and Pelargir were always already familiar, Seabird’s motions were known to his limbs. His feet and hands knew where to go, his trunk did not have to be told how to flex, bend, or be still. It felt as though he were remembering things learned long ago.

‘Watch carefully when she’s half-set,’ Îbal advised, ‘and you might see some lights on the surface of the water. The stars appear first in the foam.’

The two watched in silence while the sun pulled the Sea over her like a blanket, tucking herself in for the night. The Sea burned red as she drew it near, merging with the fiery sky, then the flames melted back into the water, leaving the surface black behind them. When there was but a sliver of her circle to be seen, Denethor saw an odd shimmer on the distant waves. Then the shimmer resolved itself into something more fair.

Towers. They glimmered as though painted with gems and great banners sailed from their turrets. There were several, perhaps a half-dozen, though they shivered and flickered so that he could not count them for certain. There were sails in the waves below the towers, skimming the water like the gulls that had escorted Seabird past Tolfalas. A vice seized his heart, longing for what he could just but glimpse. For the first time, his feet lost their surety and he had to clutch at the mast to save himself from the fall. Around him, the world dimmed, though there still was light, and Denethor knew all the world he could touch would fail.

The towers vanished when the sun dropped below the horizon. As he descended the mast, Denethor tried to peer through the gloom that clouded his vision, different than nightfall. It was only when the stars came out that any brightness returned. The fish at supper had no flavor to it and the songs and dances of the sailors afterwards provided no amusement. When it came time to retire, Denethor could not bear to leave the starlight. He sent Beregar to retrieve his cloak, and sat upon the forward deck where he could see the stars without the sails getting in the way. Beregar sat nearby, snug between a barrel and a large coil of rope, and soon fell asleep.

I saw the Straight Way. Always he had scorned the Númenóreans who would not be content with Elenna and all the rest of the world, and who wished to take what was not theirs by right or duty, their selfish desires so easily twisted by Sauron. How could they not want this, once glimpsed? They fell in love and all else dimmed. They were tempted not by wrong, but by right. His chest still hurt, as though he had been struck a great blow. Once again, he was chained by love. Denethor could have imagined feeling awe or wonder or reverence at the vision he had been vouchsafed, but not this mixture of joy and grief. The gap between his knowledge of what lay beyond from the books and scrolls compared to this longing was like the chasm between his knowledge of love in songs and poems compared to Alquallë’s possession of his heart.

Denethor lay on his back and stared up at the stars, wishing for the palantír so he could bring their brilliance closer to him, wishing for Finduilas so she could be within his arms and turn the chains that crushed into her tender embrace. Even as he thought on that, a new grief rose and almost he wept. Thou shalt not be. Quickly, Denethor was on his feet and at the rail, staring off into the dark north and west where Dol Amroth lay. Finduilas... The hiss of the waves against the hull mocked him, sea serpent’s speech, their watery coils wrapping about the ship and slowing her forward path. He wanted to forsake this plodding vessel of wood and rope, to turn into a sea bird in truth, to soar, as Elwing sought Eärendil, and alight beside Finduilas. But Seabird could go no swifter, and the wicked voices gloated at the delay, robbing him of time to love. Denethor retreated to escape their sound and sat upon the deck, back braced against a cabin, clutching Finduilas’s betrothal ring through his shirt. Would that I had never woke from the serpent’s strike. In time, the motion of the ship lulled him and he drifted into sleep.

The world was still dim when Denethor woke. Sunrise was some time off and a thin fog walked the deck. Someone had thrown a tarpaulin over him as he slept. He could see Beregar, well-wrapped in his cloak and curled into a small ball, looking very much like Telperien napping in Denethor’s basket of reports. Pulling himself up to lean against the cabin, Denethor realized that one of the sailors was sitting next to him. Îbal had probably told the man to keep a watch on him during the night and make sure he did not fall overboard. The sailor was old, with a scraggly beard and unkempt hair, covered in a ratty cloak the same shade of grey as the fog, and he sat on the end of a barrel that had been cut down to make a stool. He was turned slightly away from Denethor and seemed engrossed in braiding up some strands of rope. Denethor softly cleared his throat to get the mariner’s attention. The old man moved his head a fraction at the sound, but did not leave off his work.

‘So. You’re awake.’

‘Yes.’

‘It’s a good time to be awake.’ The sailor gestured with one hand. ‘Things are easier to see when it’s not so bright.’

‘I suppose.’ Denethor was not sure he liked the man’s tone or the fact that he mentioned the dimness.

‘Why would you want to look?’ the sailor persisted. ‘There’s naught but water. Better things to see right here.’ The man glanced quickly over his shoulder before returning to his work. Denethor felt the dampness of the fog and shivered.

‘There are great things to see on the Sea, if you look,’ Denethor stubbornly replied.

‘Water. Fish.’

‘Stars. Birds.’

‘Birds!’ the mariner snorted, throwing another quick look. This time Denethor almost caught the man’s eye, and shivered again. ‘You have an odd notion of great, lad.’

‘Towers.’

Now the sailor’s hands stopped and his head turned a little more. ‘That’s not on the Sea.’

‘No. Beyond.’ Denethor pulled his cloak tightly around him and tucked his hands under his arms, trying to stop their trembling. ‘I saw beyond the Sea, beyond the world. It was terrible!’

The old man said nothing, then, ‘Aye. It is terrible.’ He glanced again, and this time Denethor saw something in the man’s face that made him duck his own head and avert his gaze. The hair on the back of his neck rose and Denethor had to grit his teeth to keep them from chattering. He looked around but could see no one save Beregar, then realized there was no sound of anyone moving about on the deck as there should have been, only the hiss of water against the hull and the snap of wind in the sails.

‘Why… why must you be so cruel?’

‘Cruel? What do you mean?’ the mariner asked. Denethor risked a glance and saw the old man had returned to his rope-work. He looked like an ordinary man, but, then again, so did Mithrandir.

‘To show us such things, and then forbid them to us. To put such love in our hearts, so that we desire to be with you, and then thrust us away, so that our lives are dimmed and we despair.’

The mariner’s hands moved in a steady pattern and his voice was matter-of-fact. ‘So? If you are in such despair, there is your answer.’ The man gestured towards the ship’s rail with his chin. ‘Swim. You’ll meet a few fish and then you’ll find your towers.’

Denethor sat up, astonished at his words. ‘What kind of an answer is that?’

With a shrug, the other replied, ‘An honest one, and mayhap thought by you before. You need not remain if all is so dim.’

‘But this is made, too, to be loved. This is marred, doomed, yet we may treasure it.’

‘If it is marred and brings you grief, why should you not be glad to be rid it?’

‘And who has marred it? It is torn from us, stone by stone, by one of your kind!’ Denethor hotly replied. ‘I have read the philosophers. It may be Men’s lot to depart from here, but not to be torn asunder. Why cling to what is dimmed? For love of the world and what need never have been, yet somehow is. For what might be!’

The sailor shook his head a little and chuckled. ‘You are a contrary one. It matters not. You’ll end up swimming. And then you’ll have your towers.’

‘There is no proof of that.’

‘Of what?’

‘Of what will be.’

At that, the mariner half-turned and glowered over his shoulder at Denethor, tangled hair partly obscuring his face. Even askance, his look was so fearsome that Denethor dropped his head to his knees and brought up his arms to ward off the gaze. He trembled and hoped the creature would depart and leave him be.

‘If you have read the philosophers, then you know what is required of you.’ The voice was frightening, though soft.

‘There is no knowing, only wanting,’ Denethor said or thought. He was not certain his mouth was forming the words. ‘What tales there are come from the Elves, and are told to assuage their own fears. They are allowed both, the marred and the true. They have their towers, and abandon this world for that one. What have they to say to mortals?’

‘Scion of the Sea, you know this is not so.’ The soft voice turned impatient. ‘They are sailors in a ship upon an endless ocean. They have no love of swimming, for it only brings them back to their ship.’

‘But the ship is theirs. Mortals have not even that respite. We must face wrath, darkness, and ruin, and then we fail.’ Denethor heard the barrel scrape on the deck and peeked under his arm. The sailor once more was turned away.

‘Contrary!’ the old man snapped as he took up again his rope. ‘You know full-well but you are too stubborn to speak what is so. I know you are not so foolish as you pretend. Why, then, are you upon the Sea?’

‘I go to my betrothal.’

‘Why? If all dims and fails, what is to be gained?’

‘For what joy may be found. For love of her, because she should always be.’

‘But she won’t.’

‘It is an abomination that she should end,’ Denethor whispered. His hand found the ring through his shirt.

‘But not yourself?’ Denethor did not answer. The old man studied the rope in his hands, then sighed. ‘The Elves, you envy them?’

‘That they may have respite from these dimming lands, yes. Why must the pain of mortality be augmented by the pain of unending battle?’

‘They cannot leave their ship,’ the mariner mused as though Denethor had not spoken, ‘But you may come to shore. From one to another. From here, you see the masts of their ship, but that is not all there is to see. Once you find shore, you will know what they descry but dimly from the towers you have seen floating upon the Sea. Then, there will be knowing. Until then, there is but hope.’

Anger filled Denethor’s heart. ‘Hope! Such a fine word. Have hope that you shall be content once you have died. Have hope that we shall take pity upon you and stay our kindred’s hand. Hope is how you mask your power to save or to harm, and would have us think it our own fault when darkness overwhelms. Shall we hope that Sauron will go away?’

The mariner stopped his work and stared at the rope in his hands. ‘You see only what is near.’ There was sadness now in the voice. ‘Your vision is dimmed, even when you have the wit to know what it is you see.’

‘Yes. I give my love to this world, not to what may follow. That is a rumor. This is what is.’

With a great sigh, the old man stood. ‘Might as well start swimming.’ The mariner turned his face and looked fully upon Denethor. The grey eyes consumed him and Denethor felt himself to be drowning in the sorrow within them. ‘There is hope beyond thy sight, child, though it is not for you to bring it, nor does Fate hold a rift through which thou mayest pass.’

Denethor, crouching upon the deck, cried out and hid his face, trying to be free of the fearsome gaze. To his terror, the mariner knelt beside him. A great voice spoke to him out of the Sea, ‘Yet only hope may discern hope. You still have eyes to see, if you have the heart to look.’ A great hand gently touched his head. ‘Forgive, child. Forgive.’ Weariness crept over Denethor, following the tender touch of the mariner, and he became limp upon the deck. The voice of the Sea sang softly, and always afterwards Denethor thought these were the words;

A love is mine, as great a power
as thine, to shake the gate and tower
of death with challenge weak and frail
that yet endures, and will not fail
nor yield, unvanquished were it hurled
beneath the foundations of the world.

***

‘My lord?’ Denethor rose out of a vague dream of speaking to his grandfather. A hand touched his shoulder. ‘My lord? It is morning. Time to get up before we get stepped on.’

Denethor sat up, blinking against the bright sunrise. As he put his hand on the deck, he felt something. A slim lanyard lay on the wood, cunningly woven from a few strands of rope. Something pricked at his thoughts, strange words in a deep voice. He picked up the lanyard, though it made him shiver to touch it.

Beregar knelt and peered at the rope. ‘What’s that, my lord?’

‘Something. Nothing.’ Denethor gathered the lanyard into one hand and thrust it into his pocket. Beregar shrugged and rose, offering a hand to his master. Denethor accepted the help to stand.

‘Would you like to have your…’ The young man’s words trailed off when he looked into Denethor’s face.

‘What is it?’

‘My lord.’ Beregar had a look of wonder on his face, then ducked his head and shivered. ‘My lord, you… ’ Denethor waited while the other struggled to find words before giving up and gesturing helplessly. ‘You are my lord, that is all. What do you command?’

‘Stop being so foolish, for one,’ Denethor snapped, uneasy at Beregar’s behavior. ‘I am not hungry, so get yourself breakfast if you wish. And don’t hover!’ With that, he turned and strode away. He walked the ship, peering intently at each sailor, though he was not sure why. If they paused, he would show the lanyard and ask if it was their own. No one claimed it, and few would say more than that to him. None would meet his eyes.

Denethor found a spot near the bow and stared out at the Sea. Something happened. Of this he was certain. Lines from the poem echoed in his head and mixed with the words of his dreams. He made himself think very deliberately of what went on the day before. Slowly, a memory of the towers upon the Sea returned, though he could scarce picture them now; there was left only a sense that they were beautiful and beyond his grasp. After that returned the dire thoughts of the temptation of good, and of its mortal fragility. Beyond that his thoughts would not go. Denethor stayed near the rail and glowered at the waves, resenting the way they clung to the hull and slowed Seabird’s flight. At least they were headed north, having turned sometime near dawn to begin the final leg of the journey. Near noon, Beregar sidled up with a basket of dinner and quickly scurried off, murmuring apologies for intruding. Denethor picked at it, but his hunger was not for food. It was for time. By mid-afternoon, they were drawing closer to land, the hills of Belfalas turning from black to green as Seabird approached.

A cough near his elbow let Denethor know someone wished to speak to him. He looked over to see Brandir at his side, also looking grimly at the Sea. With a nod, his brother-in-law turned to him, mouth open to speak, and froze. Brandir stared, then backed a few steps away before bowing.

‘Pray, forgive me for disturbing you, my lord,’ Brandir stammered, eyes averted.

‘Brandir? What nonsense is this?’ Denethor demanded.

‘You should see yourself, Denethor!’

‘What of it?’

‘You… you’re…’ Brandir cast about as Beregar had in the morning. ‘You look like one of the carvings in the Citadel. You’re so tall. I mean… That’s not what I mean. I don’t know what I mean!’ Brandir became more flustered with every word.

Denethor snorted. ‘You never know, Brandir. That’s why you are a fool. What do you want?’ He scowled to cover his own disquietude at Brandir’s words. First Beregar, then the sailors, now Brandir. Denethor hoped the conversation would be short so he could return to remembering.

The curtness of the reply appeared to goad Brandir out of his own timidity. ‘Fool I may be, but an honorable one!’ Brandir crossed his arms and glared at the deck. ‘You chastised me for holding my tongue before. Well, I will not do so now.’ The man took a deep breath, then said in a rush, ‘I cannot argue for you in this betrothal, Denethor. I will not help to arrange the dower, or urge Finduilas to wed you.’

Denethor sat on the rail, unmindful of the fall behind him. ‘You cannot do this?’

‘No, I cannot.’

‘Why not?’

‘There is no love in it.’

‘I am agreeable to it. Finduilas is agreeable. The Prince will allow it.’

‘You do this to spite Thorongil!’

‘I do this to take a wife.’

‘Then why not find a woman who loves you?’ Brandir shot back. ‘Or one not already loved by another?’

Denethor considered telling Brandir to do as he wished, then decided he tired of hearing his own kin laud Thorongil. ‘I have asked for the hand of a woman whom I believe a perfect choice for Lady of the White Tower. Do you argue with that? Is she lacking?’

‘Uh, no. No! Finduilas is as noble a girl as walks in Gondor. She is perfect for such a station.’

‘Which is why I asked for her. Because she can be such.’ And could be more. She is beyond your reckoning. ‘Should I not seek such a wife?’

‘But you don’t love her, and another does!’

‘I have heard you and my sister claim that Finduilas does not return Thorongil’s affection. Do you know this to be true?’

Brandir’s expression became wary. ‘Yes.’

‘So, what did you say to her on this matter, when she said she did not care for him?’

‘I did not urge her to wed! I merely said that Finduilas should give him her ear and listen to him,’ Brandir earnestly replied, glancing quickly at Denethor’s face, then back to the deck.

‘Why?’

‘Because I knew that if she simply gave him a chance, he would win her heart as he wins all hearts. Finduilas would come to love him.’

‘But you do not believe she could ever come to love me? Certainly not as she would love the captain.’ Denethor tired of talking to the top or the side of Brandir’s head, and held his tongue until the other glanced up. He caught Brandir’s gaze in his own and would not let the other look away. ‘You think so poorly of me, brother, that you do not think I could earn this girl’s love, even when she says she is agreeable to the match as she is not with Thorongil?’ Brandir’s mouth opened, but no sound came out. ‘And you also think that I could not find myself won over by her, no matter how beautiful, gentle, and kind she may be? You truly think my heart is naught but stone.’ With a sigh, he finally released Brandir’s eyes. ‘No, you should not speak for me. It would be dishonorable to bind two together where there is no hope of love. In that, I think we agree.’

Brandir turned away and braced his hands on the rail, head bowed. Denethor waited patiently. The other wiped his eyes with the back of hand, then said, ‘I am a wretched brother, Denethor, and worse than a fool.’ When Brandir turned, his eyes were wet and his face flushed, and again he would not meet Denethor’s look. ‘You are right. I know nothing and have let whispers rob me of what little wit I may claim.’ The man swallowed, then raised his face and asked, ‘Can you forgive me?’

Denethor drew a breath to upbraid Brandir for his fickle heart. He’s a fool, but an honest one. He will be sorry but for the moment, then will go on with his foolishness. And what of it? He is sorry now. His own head swam with the argument; it was not Turgon’s voice that warned him, yet it left Denethor chastened as only his grandfather’s admonitions could do.

Brandir’s repentant expression changed, taking on the awestruck look from earlier. ‘Please, forgive your fool.’

Denethor sighed. ‘Yes, of course. You are forgiven. And you are released from having to plead my case. I would not have you betray your honor.’

Brandir’s face reddened again and he dropped his eyes. ‘I think I have done so enough times before. It would be worse for me to refuse to stand with you.’

‘Only if you bear me good will.’

‘I do! Truly I do, Denethor. It just… It just seems wrong that you wed only on hope of love. You deserve better than that.’

‘I am not stone, Brandir. You have asked only if I already love, not if my heart inclines.’

Brandir grabbed him by the shoulders, face alight. ‘Then you do have affection for Finduilas!’

‘I am fond of the girl, yes. If only for her tenderness to Aiavalë, she would be dear to me, but I am not blind to her qualities. That she agreed so readily to my suit leaves me to think perhaps she bears some affectionate regard for me as well.’

‘So this explains it!’ Brandir crowed. ‘You have already wooed and won her heart.’

‘No, I did nothing!’ Denethor snapped in return. ‘I spoke no soft words, nor gave her any reason to think of me with fondness.’

‘Well can I believe that,’ Brandir said with too much innocence, even for him. The two stared at each other, then Brandir began to laugh. ‘No fortress may withstand her. Finduilas will conquer even your stone-hard heart, Denethor.’ The man’s face became serious and he gripped Denethor’s shoulders more strongly. ‘I will argue for thee, brother, as persuasively as my poor wit allows. If there is a spark of love within her breast for thee, I shall see it and give it tinder. There is too much at stake if this is not so. The realm cannot stand against its foes if its very heart and soul are divided. Look what such discord has already wrought.’

‘Then seek to allay the doubts that would breed discord,’ Denethor quietly said. ‘The Prince has given consent that we may be betrothed, but his heart misgives. He would have preferred Thorongil, and is loathe to let his daughter go so young to any man.’

‘Yes, she is young,’ Brandir agreed, ‘so what may I say to the Prince?’

‘That the marriage itself may wait until a proper time. But also be certain that my dower piece to her is great. Whatever Dol Amroth will dower, gift unto her twice more and of finer quality.’

Brandir looked surprised. ‘That is not common…’

‘Neither is Finduilas.’

Brandir cocked his head and studied Denethor’s face closely, then smiled. ‘Yes, she is most uncommon. I will do as you ask.’ Brandir left, whistling a jaunty tune as he went. Turning back to the Sea, Denethor could see land clearly. He sought out Îbal to ask how long it would be. When he approached the captain at the wheel, Îbal looked him over with a keen eye, but avoided meeting his gaze, and bowed.

‘My lord.’

‘Captain.’

Again Îbal measured him, then said, ‘The Sea has found you, my lord Denethor.’

‘What mean you?’ Denethor warily replied. What do you see when you look at me? What sign is writ on my face?

‘You care not for Seabird today, but watch the waves,’ Îbal said.

‘I watch for the shore,’ was Denethor’s brusque answer. ‘How long until we are at port?’

‘Of course. In two hours, more or less.’

‘Thank you.’ Denethor returned to his place at the prow. More than an hour had passed, and the headland of Dol Amroth was visible, when Denethor decided it was time to prepare for their arrival. Being a barefoot, windblown sailor might be acceptable on another journey, but not this one. Catching Beregar’s eye as he walked past the young man’s perch on a water butt, he signaled for Beregar to follow. The other was at heel at once.

‘We will dock within the hour, Hound.’

‘Yes, my lord.’

‘I need to be presentable.’

‘I laid out clothes for you, sir.’ As Beregar said, there was a set of fine garments shaken out and hanging on pegs in the small, beautifully finished cabin. Denethor had to duck to keep from clipping his head on the beams in the ceiling. Beregar bade Denethor to sit while he fetched hot water from the galley for washing. As soon as he returned, Beregar gave his master a cup of wine, poured some of the hot water into a basin, mixed it with cold sea water, then set to work. First to be scrubbed were Denethor’s feet, which were scratched and dirty. There was a large purple bruise on his right shin where Maiaberiel had kicked him the morning before. Beregar allowed Denethor to finish his wine before getting him into clean trousers and shirt, stockings and boots. Denethor wondered for a moment if he would be permitted to wash his own face and hands, but the Hound simply presented him with a fresh basin of wash water. After the embroidered tunic was in place, Beregar made Denethor sit again while he neatly combed and braided his master’s hair in a complex plait. Up on deck, they could hear sailors calling to each other as Seabird neared the harbor. Denethor held up a hand to keep Beregar from doing any more.

‘Make yourself ready, now. You are a hound, not a cur, and should look it.’ Picking up his cloak from the berth, Denethor went back on deck, eager for a glimpse of Dol Amroth.

Ahead he could see part of the sea wall built millenia before, one of the great works of Númenor, and above the harbor were the keep and tower of Dol Amroth. The city covered the steep slope between the wall of the keep and the wall of the haven. A third wall ran from the outer edge of the haven wall into a sharp cliff-side to the east of the keep. The sea wall made a nearly perfect circle with the shore of the headland, and upon it were low, massive guard towers, each looking as though hewn from a single block of black stone. Beyond the walls, a deep, narrow valley reached east into the hills, sloping sharply upwards as it went. The hills to the north were lower and more gentle than the craggy headland, and there appeared to be lowlands between the hills and the shore. The southern headland plunged vertiginously into the water below.

Denethor could not help but feel some disappointment when they passed the sea wall and approached the haven. The work of the Númenóreans was obvious – the sea wall, the haven wall, the tower upon its promontory, the outer curtain wall defending the landward approach. All else was low and simple. Some houses close to the haven wall were of stone, but further on they were of wood. Most of the ships at the docks were fishing craft, with a few traders mixed in and nothing else to rival Seabird. It lacked even the begrimed grandeur of Pelargir or the nobility of the ruins of Osgiliath. Despite the placement upon a steep hillside, it could not compare to the beauty and grace of Minas Tirith. It was merely a port, not a center, a strong fortress surrounded by a simple town. Linhir could claim a larger population and a busier harbor.

Even so, it is greater than any settlement west of Gilrain, and its lords more noble than any others in these fiefs. Or so they claim. Denethor looked up at the tower as they sailed into the harbor. Are there any lords or mercenaries who are not of kin to Elendil by now? Princely cousins who might have claimed more, had fate not intervened. When Galador succeeded his father Imrazôr as Prince, Mardil had been Ruling Steward for twenty-six years, and had pondered the wisdom of his house claiming the throne through his grandmother Míriel, Ondoher’s elder sister. She had been Master Archivist, much like Aiavalë now. The exchanges between Imrazôr and Mardil, and later Galador and the Steward, were fascinating. Denethor had read them under Turgon’s tutelage, and they had discussed them a great deal. Mardil knew the realm needed stability and, with both male royal lines extinguished, knew a new dynasty must be established before Gondor was picked apart in rivalries as Arnor had fallen. Imrazôr thought that Eradan should be crowned upon Mardil’s death, and pledged his support. Galador foreswore his sire’s oath, and said he would claim all of Gondor from Gilrain west as his own kingdom, for he acknowledged no lord save the direct line of Elendil. So it was that Elendil’s heirs continued to rule Gondor, even if they did not exist. Denethor had always admired Mardil’s brilliant strategy to defend the realm, and felt renewed respect upon seeing this provincial outpost.

Had you been more loyal, Dol Amroth, Umbar would not have been so dire a threat. The arrogance of the princes grew over time, and they saw themselves as equal rulers of Gondor. They scorned the eastern lands that bore the brunt of attacks from their enemies, and withheld taxes and tithes from Minas Tirith. They counted upon the shield of Anduin to keep them safe, and fell swiftly to the Corsairs in the Year of the Long Winter. The stronghold was in dire straits when Beregond arrived with the army of Gondor and freed the falas from Umbar’s deadly grip. You proud lords have been more obliging, have you not, since that time of disgrace? The price for their salvation was to surrender their young heir, Amrothir, to the care the Steward until he was a man full-grown. Always since then did the heir of Dol Amroth serve the Steward for a time in Minas Tirith, to understand his place and learn his duty to the realm, not just to his own fief.

Some sailors furled Seabird’s sails as others took to the oars to bring her safely to the docks. Denethor stood at the prow, watching the town come into clear view. Horns and bells were sounding, and people gathered on the haven wall, the harbor, and the streets beyond, clothes bright against the dark buildings. The ship was swiftly moored and the gangplank lowered.

Denethor walked down the plank and made his way along the stone pier towards the docks where people awaited him, some with flowers, others with drums and horns. They began to cheer when they saw him leave the ship and those with instruments played. As he drew near, however, the sound subsided and the townsfolk stared in wonder. Men doffed their hats and bowed, women curtseyed, clutching the flowers they had intended to throw, and some people knelt as he passed. After an initial startled look, none would raise their faces to him. Denethor felt the hair on the back of his neck prickle at their actions, but did not slow his stride.

Ahead was the great gate from the docks into the town. The doors, to his disappointment, were made of wood, not stone or iron, and Denethor knew these were replacements for what had once been there. He growled under his breath at the loss of what must have been, then forgot whatever imprecation such carelessness deserved. Finduilas stood just beyond the shadow of the wall, slightly behind Adrahil and Luinil, and the world dimmed once more, until all Denethor could see was her. It took deliberate effort to wrench his eyes from Finduilas’s face and give his attention to Adrahil. The Prince looked him in the face for but a moment, then took a step back and bowed deeply. The rest of the Swans followed suit, as did their entourage.

‘Lord Denethor, pray be welcome in our city and accept our hospitality,’ Adrahil said after a pause, as though he had a difficult time speaking. Denethor looked over the rest, who like all that day would not face him, except his love. Finduilas gazed at him in wonder for a moment, then she smiled and would not turn away from his eyes, and he thought his heart would drown in joy. She glanced quickly at all the bowing nobles, and her smile quirked as she suppressed a giggle. He smirked back, then cleared his throat.

‘Prince Adrahil, I thank you for your gracious welcome. May I deserve the honor of your house’s hospitality.’

Adrahil straightened up and the spell seemed broken. Smiling, the Prince offered his hand and Denethor took it. ‘Did you have a good journey?’

‘Yes, it was fair and swift. Never have I been upon a finer ship.’ Adrahil smiled more broadly. Denethor turned and bowed to Luinil. ‘Princess, it is an honor and a pleasure to see you again.’

‘It is always a pleasure to see you, Warden,’ was her gracious response. Brandir and Maiaberiel came forward and soon greetings were exchanged all around. Through it all, Finduilas said nothing to him, but simply smiled. When it came time to walk up to the keep, she slipped a hand into the crook of his arm and they followed Adrahil and Luinil along the street. The townsfolk had found their voices once more, cheering and throwing flowers and making as much noise as they could. It was just as well – Denethor could not think of a word to say and Finduilas seemed content to smile.

The crowd thinned out halfway up the hill, and Adrahil and Luinil began pointing out various sights. Brandir and Maiaberiel drew closer and chatted with the others. Near the top, just before the lane switched back to climb to the fortress gate, Luinil led them to an overlook. There was a small terrace with a stone balustrade from which one could see the entire harbor. Denethor admired the perfect arc of the seawall and its towers, then something along the wall caught his eye. At the furthest reach of the arc, an old fisherman walked upon the wall, creel slung over his back, pole resting on his shoulder. The man’s grey cloak blended into the waves beyond. As Denethor watched, the man turned and looked back at the town. The distance was close to a half a mile, yet Denethor could see the mariner’s eyes, and he remembered that they had spoken.

‘Remember your heart, you stubborn man.’

Denethor gripped the balustrade, knees turned to water, and tried to keep from swooning. ‘Denethor, friend, what is it?’ Finduilas exclaimed, seizing his arm with both hands. Another hand was on his other shoulder, steadying him.

‘I don’t know.’ He searched the sea wall, but the mariner was gone.

‘The Sea is rushing out, that’s all,’ Adrahil cheerfully offered, coming over to them. ‘You’ve not been on the bay before, have you?’

‘No, not even along the shore,’ Denethor had to admit. The dizzy sensation, much like the vertigo that seized him after looking in the palantír, was passing.

‘When you get back to land, your legs are used to the Sea, is all. It will pass quickly.’ Adrahil motioned towards the lane. ‘Shall we go? The keep awaits.’

The keep was magnificent. The tower stood at the edge of the cliff and was not very tall in truth; a garrison stood in front of it. Across a large court that held outbuildings and gardens, rose a sheer cliff face, and the keep was delved into the cliff. Balconies and windows opened upon the court and the face of the cliff was carved with columns and trees, plants and beasts. Inside, huge brass lamps hung from high carved ceilings, and the floors were set with beautiful tiles. The air was fresh, with good ventilation even in the deeper halls and chambers. Tapestries of varying ages hung on walls, muffling echoes. Through all the tour of the keep, Finduilas held his arm firmly. When suppertime approached, she reluctantly relinquished her hold so a servant could show him to his quarters. Beregar was already there, busy unpacking things.

‘So, Huan, what may you tell me?’

To Denethor’s relief, Beregar did not avoid looking at him. ‘There is fresh water on the sideboard there for you, sir. The door over there is to your bedchamber and the one to that side leads to a balcony. The small door is a privy.’

‘Where have they put you?’

‘A pallet over there is fine for me, my lord,’ Beregar said firmly as he took Denethor’s cloak. ‘And…’ the young man’s cheeks reddened slightly, ‘how fares the lady?’

‘Well, I believe. We have not had chance to speak.’ Denethor went to the balcony and stared out over the court and beyond to the Sea. He started trembling again when he thought of the mariner. Who…? What…? This cannot have been. What did I speak to? At least he now knew what had happened, but beyond that his mind refused to go.

Too soon, he was summoned to supper. The great dining hall was full of people – nobles, notables, the Prince’s kin near and distant, all watching him and talking about the alliance of Stone and Swan. Luinil took charge of him as soon as he entered the room, making certain he was introduced to everyone. At last they came to the head table. Brandir and Maiaberiel were already there, talking with Adrahil and Ivriniel. Luinil guided Denethor towards the only chair left, between Finduilas and a very old man with short silver hair. The elder turned in his chair, but did not rise.

‘Lord Denethor, this is Prince Angelimir.’ The Prince looked at Denethor for several heartbeats, an unreadable expression on his face, then stiffly rose and inclined his head. Even bent by age and illness, the Prince was taller than most men. Denethor returned the bow more deeply in respect of the man’s age.

‘I have been waiting for you.’ Denethor quickly straightened. Angelimir offered a bony hand, his fingers twisted back almost to his wrist bone, joints like knots of wood. Denethor did not know how to take a hand so deformed, and simply held out his own, palm up. The Prince placed his hand across Denethor’s.

‘I did not mean to delay supper.’

‘I have waited longer than that.’ Angelimir’s face broke into a wide smile, and Denethor saw the resemblance between his beloved and her grandfather. ‘Not a moment too soon have you come for this old man! I deserve to see at least one of my grandchildren wed ere I die.’

Luinil laughed and chided her father-in-law, then said it was time to eat. During the standing silence, Denethor felt Finduilas slip her hand into his and squeeze it. He glanced over to see her looking at him with concern. After they sat, she murmured, ‘How do you fare, friend?’

‘Well.’

‘What of…’

‘Later.’ Denethor deliberately turned away from her towards Angelimir. ‘Prince, I have read of the keep at Dol Amroth, but was unprepared for its magnificence. Words do not do it justice.’

‘It is a marvel,’ Angelimir agreed. The two spent the rest of supper talking about the history of the keep. At the end of the meal, the old Prince insisted on walking Denethor back to his rooms, pointing out interesting objects, telling tales about the tapestries, and so forth. Denethor was reminded not so much of Adrahil as of Finduilas when Angelimir spoke. At the door to the rooms, Denethor invited the man in for wine, but Angelimir politely refused.

‘I need to consider you a while longer.’

‘Why is that, Prince?’

‘Now that you are here, I am not certain what to make of you.’

‘Am I so odd?’

‘Yes.’ Angelimir studied Denethor, then smiled, putting a hand on Denethor’s shoulder. ‘Think me not unfriendly, young man. You are seeking the greatest treasure of my house.’

‘I know.’

‘Tomorrow, here is what you must do. You must take a horse and leave the keep. Ride north along the coast. It is a pleasant ride with much that will interest you.’

‘May I ask why you advise me so?’

The old man laughed and turned to walk away. Over his shoulder, Angelimir answered, ‘Because the dower will be argued tomorrow, and it is bad luck for you to be here while that is done.’

Denethor did not go to bed until late. He tried to listen for the song of the Sea and the words of the mariner, but nothing spoke to him. His dreams were of Alquallë’s voice reading poems. Morning arrived wrapped in a foggy cloak. After finishing a breakfast of odd cheeses and sweet bread, Denethor bade Beregar to accompany him for the day’s ride. To Denethor’s surprise, Angelimir was waiting for him downstairs.

‘There you are, Denethor.’ The old Prince gestured for them to follow him. ‘Do you ride today?’

‘Yes, sir. You said I should follow the northern shore.’

‘You should. The fog will soon lift.’ Angelimir hailed a passing serving boy and sent Beregar off with him to collect a meal from the kitchens. As the night before, the Prince spoke amiably about the keep while he and Denethor walked to the stables. These, too, were delved into the cliff, though there were pens, an arena, and a blacksmith in the court before the stable doors. Even though Angelimir’s words were innocuous enough, Denethor could not help but feel himself being judged. It was a relief when Beregar returned with pouches holding their noon-tide meal and he could escape the Prince’s keen eyes.

A stableboy guided them down the hill and through the town to the northern gate in the outer wall. The fog was lifting by the time they set out upon the Edhellond road. Denethor allowed his horse to amble since there was nowhere they had to be, and asked Beregar to speak about what the young man had seen in the town and keep. As he had expected, the Hound had spent his time wisely and had much to say of how the keep was run. He was not surprised to know that Adrahil had both more soldiers and more horsemen then he claimed to the Steward – Aiavalë’s spies had reported as much – but was glad that it was no more than he expected to find. After the Hound’s recitation, Denethor studied the farms to the east of the road. A few times he paused to pull a few leaves from trees and plants he did not recognize so he could ask about them later.

Towards noon, they heard a shout behind them. It was Finduilas. She cantered up, laughing, and Denethor could not help but smile in return.

‘What are you doing here?’

‘Grandfather said that it was not proper that we should leave a noble guest unattended,’ she replied with a grin, ‘so I said I would see that duty done.’

‘Won’t you be missed?’

Finduilas shrugged. ‘Possibly. I expect Grandfather will have an explanation if anyone asks.’ She patted a pack buckled to her saddle. ‘I brought more to eat in case they did not give you enough. I do have to return in a few hours.’

‘Then we should eat.’

‘Follow me. I know of a spot.’ Denethor swung his horse into place beside her. A furlong down the road, she turned onto a small, well-worn track towards the bay. The path followed a shallow ravine down to a cove. After Denethor helped Finduilas off her horse, Beregar took charge of the horses, leaving the two of them standing there. Denethor found himself shy and tongue-tied. Finduilas smiled and held out her hand, and led him to the rocky shore. Where the collar of her shirt opened, he could see the silver chain he had given her at Yule.

‘I have missed thee, friend.’

‘And I have missed you, Alquallë. The City is drear without you.’

‘How fares my big sister?’

‘Aiavalë is happy, but impatient that you are gone. Indeed, all of Minas Tirith speaks of nothing but when their Lady will return.’

Finduilas’s cheeks turned pink and she ducked her head. ‘Well, that will be decided soon enough.’ Shaking a finger at him, she said, ‘You have not done as I asked. You did not free Huan to join the Tower Guard!’

‘I certainly did! He refused to leave. He said he is your Hound and refuses all other posts.’

‘Dear Huan!’ she laughed. They walked slowly, in step, pebbles crunching under their feet. ‘What is wrong, Denethor? Do not pretend you don’t understand.’ Finduilas’s clear eyes met his own, and he knew he would never deceive her.

‘As was granted you in Osgiliath, I was given a vision upon the Sea.’

‘Of what?’

‘I do not know what to make of it. At sunset two days past, I stood upon Seabird’s mast and I saw towers upon the horizon. The towers of Avallónë.’

Finduilas stopped and seized both of his hands in her own. ‘You saw this? How I have longed to see them! You have been blessed, friend!’

‘I feel cursed. When I saw them, all else dimmed and withered in comparison. I thought I would weep, for I knew all else I could see would perish. Then…’ Denethor bit his tongue and shook his head, not wishing to give voice to his fears.

‘What?’ Finduilas raised his hands to her lips and kissed his fingers, then held them wrapped between her own against her chest. ‘Speak, friend. You have heard my dreams. Give me yours.’

‘It was not a dream, Alquallë. I spoke to someone. I know I did, for I have this.’ Reluctantly, Denethor pulled a hand free of hers and retrieved the lanyard from his pocket. ‘The one I spoke to made this while we talked, and left it behind. But he did not leave behind the words! They are gone. He spoke of dire things. Of hope and no hope, and bade me swim or, or… something!’ Denethor thrust the lanyard back into his pocket, wishing he could as easily thrust the mariner from his mind.

‘Who was this?’

‘I fear to give name to what or to whom I spoke. He sat next to me in the fog before dawn, while the ship slept enchanted, then vanished from the deck. Yesterday, I thought I saw the mariner once more upon the seawall, and he looked at me and said to remember my heart.’

Finduilas touched his cheek. ‘And you have found her. Can you doubt, now, that we are intended for each other?’

He could not answer. In the slap of waves on the shore, some of the mariner’s words returned. “Hope is not for you to bring, and Fate will not let you pass.” I will not bring hope. That is for you to do, Alquallë. You said our deeds require us both, but what is for me to do?

‘Denethor?’

‘I know not how to read these signs, Alquallë.’

‘Then trust me to know. It may not be for you to be king of Gondor, but you are a king from the Sea. It is not only my eyes that can see this now. Thus you were, friend, love, when you came to Dol Amroth yesterday. You may not remember the words of the Lord of Waters – Yes! Yes, I shall name who spoke! – but his words were with you and his grace was upon you.’

‘His words were more curse than grace, Finduilas!’

‘So they may seem now. So do my own dreams seem. But do not doubt that I have chosen to whom I will bind my fate, and it is to thee. There is something that awaits us, and is for us to do.’

‘May you never rue that choice, Alquallë. My lot is ruin, I fear.’

‘Friend, would that I could lift this gloom from your heart! I think I have been led to you so that you will have something beyond ruins and oaths.’ Finduilas stepped closer and circled him with her arms, resting her head upon his chest. He embraced her tightly and dropped his face to her hair as he had done once before. ‘Whatever fate would fain hand to us, we have both chosen love, friend.’

They stood together, Finduilas’s hands rubbing small circles on his back. Denethor kept his eyes closed and wished he could stop his ears as well, so that nothing would intrude upon them. All that mattered was the beat of Finduilas’s heart against his own.

Then his stomach growled loudly. They both started at the sound, and Finduilas began to shake. Soon her giggles were too strong to muffle and she laughed until she began to cough. When she was done, Denethor heaved an exaggerated sigh. ‘Such indignities are never recorded in the great poems,’ he grumbled.

Finduilas laughed again and tugged on his hand. ‘And so it is proved that we are not creatures out of them! Come now, Denethor. We have left Beregar sitting by himself for too long. I am surprised he has not trotted out to snap at our heels and drive us back to the fold.’

They made their way along the rocky shore. It pleased Denethor how easily her hand fit within his own, as though it had never been otherwise, and reminded him of why he was in Dol Amroth in the first place. It also reminded him that not all were pleased by Finduilas’s choice.

‘Alquallë?’

‘Yes?’

‘Is the Prince reconciled to this match?’

Finduilas shook her head and sighed. ‘No. He was not pleased with it in Minas Tirith and has had much time to reconsider it in the days since. Mother approves, but Father has oft argued with each of us that it should not be made, no matter the announcement on yestarë.’

‘He does not care the scandal it would cause?’

‘I think that alone keeps him from forbidding it.’

‘Then he should not have agreed to it. On what grounds does he object? That he does not wish you wed at all, that he does not wish you wed to me, or that you were already promised to another?’

‘All of them.’ Finduilas stopped and frowned at the ground before capturing his eyes. ‘He thinks you false. Your manner offended him and he believes that you do this only to spite the Steward and Thorongil.’

‘And Luinil?’

‘She knows I love you and that you love me in return. Neither of us can convince Father of this. There has been much discord in our house,’ Finduilas said in a sad voice. ‘Mother and Father have argued greatly, and Ivriniel and Imrahil have taken Father’s side. They wish the pledge to be set aside. It is actually now in Grandfather’s hands.’

‘Angelimir? How so?’

‘He grew impatient with the arguments and said that he would decide whether your suit was true or false, and if it should be accepted, even if true. He represents Dol Amroth at the dower meeting today.’

‘Would he forbid it? Knowing what was announced in Minas Tirith?’

‘Yes, if he thought it a poor or falsely offered match. The only man more stubborn than my grandfather is you, friend.’ Denethor raised an eyebrow at her mischievous expression. She laughed and took his hand once more. ‘It will go well, Denethor. Grandfather would not have sent me here if he did not approve of you. Let us not talk about dire things anymore today. Tell me of Aiavalë and the Archives and Minas Tirith.’

They returned to where Beregar sat waiting for them, the meal spread out upon a blanket. As they ate, they spoke of the doings of the City. Finduilas questioned Beregar about his family and the tavern, and said she would have messages for his mother and sisters for him to deliver along with some for Aiavalë and the other archivists. Too soon, the sun passed towards the west and Finduilas had to leave. When Denethor and Beregar would have returned with her, she scolded them and told them to remain. ‘Grandfather went to great lengths for us to meet. Do not confound his plans!’

Denethor insisted on going as far as the road and watched her until she disappeared behind a curve before returning to the cove. The tide was retreating. Denethor sat on a rock and considered things. He had not understood the depth of Adrahil’s opposition. It was not merely a preference for Thorongil. If that was all, there was a second daughter who could be offered as a match. Though perhaps Adrahil knows the captain would not accept another any more than I would. It went deeper. In Dol Amroth could be seen the seeds of rebellion against the Stewards. Angelimir had served the Steward Túrin for twenty-one years before returning to his own fief, and had been Turgon’s right-hand during most of that. Adrahil had spent only two scant years as a young man serving Turgon and working beside Ecthelion. I thought that Adrahil and I had arrived at an understanding when I became Captain-General. We worked together well enough to recapture Osgiliath and rebuild the bridge. Obviously that was not enough. Denethor suspected Thorongil’s obsession with Umbar did much to endear him to the Prince. The possibility of Thorongil becoming king – and beholden to Adrahil as kinsman – increased the Prince’s waywardness.

Denethor sighed and stood. He walked along the shore, looking at the Sea. And then there is You and Your riddles. It was no blessing You gave. He had dared to interfere with fate and leave off what he had sworn to do. Now fate was answering. Denethor saw an interesting stone and picked it up. A small crab, barely as large as his thumb, was hiding under it and scuttled away to find new shelter. The stone itself was dry on top, but still wet below. So is Gondor like this stone; one side to the waste, the other to the Sea. The sea fiefs see only the wet side and give no thought to the shelter provided from the other. But it is one stone. Dol Amroth again forgets where its strength lies. He pocketed the rock and continued his stroll around the cove. All afternoon he wrestled with his doubts. “Then trust me to know.” Is it truly that simple, Alquallë? Perhaps I should, as my own choices have led to folly. It was only when the sun was low on the water that he returned to Beregar and the horses.

They arrived at the keep shortly after sundown. Upon returning to his chambers to wash for supper, Denethor found a scroll and a sealed note.

Beloved Lord and Brother,

The deed is done, or almost. It requires you and Prince Adrahil to agree to what is set down in the dower scroll. Prince Angelimir was formidable and suspicious, as though he knew not of the honor of the Stewards, but he listened with a fair heart. I suppose that was his right as Lady Finduilas’s defender. And though you may think it unlikely, your lady sister spoke as strongly for you as I did, and we upheld your honor and that of your house. In the dower, I gave freely (as you commanded), and Prince Angelimir was humbled by your generosity.

Your loving, foolish brother,
Brandir

Denethor did not know how much he had dreaded this moment until he found that he was trembling from relief and had to find a chair before his knees gave way. He read the note several times before turning to the scroll. As he read it, his eyebrows went up. Brandir had indeed given freely. After his initial surprise, Denethor shrugged and set the scroll aside. The liberality of his gifts would be another difference between himself and the threadbare captain. There could be no doubt that his suit was for the girl herself, not for what riches or clan advantage that he could garner. He washed, then re-read the dower scroll while waiting for the summons to supper. It came within the hour.

Unlike the night before, supper was not served in the dining hall, but in a much smaller room on the second floor. Also unlike the previous evening, it was a very small gathering and no women were present. Adrahil glowered at him from the head of the table when Denethor entered the room, though Angelimir, sitting at the foot, smiled warmly. Imrahil and Brandir were standing near by, as were a few more distant male kinsmen of the Prince. As soon as he entered the room, servants laid the table, and Adrahil motioned for all to gather for the standing silence.

‘Are not the ladies to join us?’ Denethor asked.

‘No,’ Angelimir replied. ‘They have had their fill of us men-folk and have retired to talk of weddings.’ The elder Prince gestured to the seat at his right hand. ‘Please sit here, kinsman.’ Though the comment was meant for Denethor, the old man’s eyes flicked to the head of the table. Denethor thought it best not to look at Adrahil right then. When he did risk a glance at the Prince, Adrahil was staring at him with no small animosity.

Angelimir appeared determined to aggravate his son. Soon after food was passed, he turned to Denethor and said, ‘Your dower gifts were magnificent, Lord Denethor. Brandir kept shaming me with his unstinting hand.’

‘Then he did no more than he should have.’

‘Will you be so generous to my grandson?’ Angelimir asked.

‘I do not understand.’

‘It comes time for him to serve the Steward,’ the elder Prince answered. Denethor glanced across the table at Imrahil. The young man was carefully attending his plate. So, this has also been an argument in this house. ‘I understand your duties are many, Warden, and hope you will have attention to spare.’

‘Of course I shall. That is how it should be,’ Denethor said firmly. ‘When is this to happen?’

‘I have not spoken to the Lord Steward yet,’ Adrahil interrupted. His voice was polite, though his face was stiff. ‘Imrahil is too young for such responsibilities. He should be a help to the Steward, not a burden, after all.’ The last words were said lightly.

‘Is not the wedding set for mid-summer two years hence?’ Brandir asked. ‘Assuming the Steward agrees, it would be good for Imrahil to start then. It would please Finduilas to have her brother nearby, I dare say.’

Two years? Denethor had assumed the wedding would be one year after the betrothal, as was traditional, not two and more. He wondered who had insisted on that.

‘He should go when he is four and twenty, as we did, Father,’ Adrahil said.

‘That is a good age,’ Denethor agreed. ‘Is that not the usual age?’

‘Aglahad was twenty-four, yes, for my father said so when he sent me,’ Angelimir replied, ‘though I would have to go look up when grandfather went.’

‘You will be that age when, Imrahil?’

‘In three years, Lord Denethor.’

‘Then there is no hurry to decide such things,’ Denethor firmly said. He deliberately asked some questions about the trees he had seen on his ride, producing a few leaves from his pocket. Whatever quarrel was between the two princes, he wanted no part of it.

The rest of the meal passed without incident. When it finished, Angelimir asked Denethor to attend him for a glass of wine. Adrahil had already given him a curt nod and left the room, so Denethor agreed. They walked to Angelimir’s rooms. The study was very like his own, with bookshelves and a red Haradic rug on the floor. He wondered if they had both inherited their tastes from Turgon. At a gesture from the Prince, Denethor poured them wine. The old man did not speak at once, but sipped his wine and watched Denethor closely.

‘I saw you once, a long time ago.’

‘At the Steward Turgon’s funeral, I believe.’

‘No. I paid no attention to you then. Though I should have.’ Angelimir’s gaze was intent. ‘I had forgot I was waiting.’

‘I do not understand.’

‘You are very like your grandfather. He was a man I respected a great deal.’ Denethor waited. ‘Finduilas said she spoke to you of her dreams.’ He nodded. ‘All of my line are dreamers. It is the Elf-blood. Some more, some less, but all dream.

‘When I was her age, a bit older, and was serving Steward Túrin, Captain Turgon led a sortie against Orcs in Osgiliath. It was my first battle against Orcs. A stench rose from the Accursed Vale and choked us. I swooned from the reek. When I awoke, I could see no one, and I stood in the middle of ruins, bone-white, under a death’s head moon. To the east I saw Minas Morgul, glowing with a corpse-light. To the west, alas! There I did see Minas Tirith empty and rotting, and fell beasts wheeled about in the sky above it. Around all, in great arcs north and south, was a wall of fire, broken only by Anduin, and it closed in upon the ruins of Osgiliath. Then did I see people, ghost-like, fleeing the flames and drawing nigh to the ruins. Armies marched out from the towers and advanced upon us all. To the south, we saw ships and they passed up the river between the walls of fire, and there was an army for our salvation, raised from deeps, the lost souls of Númenor, and their captain, like Elendil the Tall, called forth our Enemy and slew him.’ Angelimir paused. ‘It was you I saw.’

‘No.’

‘It was you. I saw you with a spyglass when you were aboard Seabird in the harbor, and I cried out, for you are the king of the dream.’

‘I am no king, Prince Angelimir. I am Warden and, should fate see it happen, will one day be Steward until the king shall come again.’

‘It matters not what you call yourself, Denethor.’

‘And if you had not seen the king from the Sea through your spyglass?’

‘Then I would have followed my son’s advice and sent you home without our treasure.’

But I am not the king. You would speak differently if you saw him, too. Then which king would you choose? Denethor drained his cup. ‘I shall not contest my good fortune, sir. King or not, Lady Finduilas will be my queen, and beloved to all of Gondor.’

Angelimir offered one of his tortured hands. ‘Well, perhaps I might not have thrown you out on your ear. Finduilas says she loves you and you seem an honorable man. Good night, kinsman.’

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Last Update: 10 Mar 12
Stories: 8
Type: Reader List
Created By: Aiwendiel


Of course there are thousands of stories out there, and I have only read a fraction of them. NOT intended to be a scientific survey! My picks of stories that I feel are particularly well written, stylistically interesting, lyrical... Regardless of era, topic or character.

Why This Story?

Truly exceptional writing by the very talented Anglachel, marvelously nuanced and mature, enriches understanding of the main characters as well as enhancing grasp of Gondor's recent history. Utterly believable backstory of Denethor II as portrayed by JRRT.

 

Story Information

Author: Anglachel

Status: Reviewed

Completion: Complete

Era: 3rd Age - The Stewards

Genre: Drama

Rating: Adult

Last Updated: 07/01/09

Original Post: 02/23/04

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