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Hands of the King: 85. Demon

Minas Tirith, 12 November, 2988

'I will not go to the Houses again. This is my house. I will not leave you here.' That was what Finduilas had said after she had returned home last month. She had been made to stay a week in the Houses after she had coughed up blood, and had disliked all of it. Her ire had even extended to Warden Lhûn. Only Master Laanga and his bags of steeping herbs were welcome in her room.

When she returned to the Stewards House, Finduilas became more cheerful, though she did not leave the third floor, not even to go to her study. Her days were spent resting and being amused by the children. She had them tell her stories, build and destroy towers with their blocks, put on plays with their dolls, and report every one of their adventures. Denethor was reluctant to leave her while she was still weak, but did not wish to disturb her rest with people tramping in and out on Tower business, so compromised by starting his work early, while she was still sleeping, and returning to the house at midday. Finduilas always wished to know how the realm fared. Just like the children, Denethor provided her with reports. At night, he held her in their bed and tried to will her his strength.

He was speaking to Imrahil and Marlong in the council chamber about Pelargir when one of the guardsmen came in. 'My Lord Steward, Osgiliath has sent a signal flag message. Fumes are coming from Imlad Morgul.'

'Thank you. Report all new messages at once.' The man bowed and left. Imrahil and Marlong were already gathering their papers, preparing to go to the garrison. 'Warden, please see warnings are spread across the Pelennor and the Harlond so people may escape the poison. Captain, I think this may mean an attack.'

Marlong nodded. 'Yes, but north. I'll have Gethron reinforce Cair Andros. The éoreds should be put on alert, too. We may need them quickly along the road. The South won't stir now.'

'As you see fit.' Denethor dismissed them to attend to their tasks. Not long afterwards, Boromir came in, looking worried. Denethor immediately began gathering his work. 'Yes, Morcollë?'

'Mother forbade me to disturb you. She is not feeling well and is sitting in her room in the dark. Hollë is with her.'

Denethor found her in her rocking chair in the dim bedroom, Faramir sitting at her feet. Finduilas smiled when Denethor came in. 'Hollë has been singing me songs,' she said, 'all the ones he learned from Grandpa Prince when he was in Dol Amroth.' Denethor came to her side and took her hand. It felt cool. 'Hollë,' she said, 'would you and Morcollë go get me and Papa some tea? He will sit with me until you come back.'

As soon as the boys left, Denethor said, 'Vapors are coming from the Vale.'

'And he is watching,' she sighed. With a squeeze of his hand, she added, 'But he is less when you are with me. After the tea, we should sit in your study. Wear the lanyard.'

Denethor did not leave her after that, sitting at her feet for the rest of the day. Brandir and Violet came to the house in the late afternoon and did not leave. Borondir brought Denethor the reports from the Pelennor and Osgiliath as they came in. The vapors were spreading quickly and Orc scouts had been seen near the mouth of the Vale. That night, Finduilas insisted that Denethor continue to wear the lanyard, even if it touched her.

She did not stir from her room the next day and said little. In the late afternoon, Finduilas lay down and slept. Denethor sat next to the bed, holding her hand. The few times he left her side, she would be grimacing and twitching in her sleep when he returned. Briefly, he considered putting the lanyard on her, but the cord yanked him away from the bed so sharply, Denethor knew he should not.

***

Minas Tirith, 14 November, 2988

In the very early morning, Denethor was woken by Finduilas shivering. Her skin was cold to his touch. 'Alquallë, can you hear me? Wake. Please, wake!'

'Cold. So cold.'

Denethor left the bed and went to the door. Beregar was sleeping near the hearth in the front room. 'Huan, get a warming stone and send for Warden Lhûn. Finduilas has a bad chill. And more blankets!'

Finduilas had grown colder in just the minute he had been gone. She seized his hand. 'It comes!' she whispered, frightened. 'The Fiend has found me. He sends his creature under the cover of the mists to seize me. Save me, friend!'

Denethor hastily pulled on his clothes and belted on a knife. His sword was nearby. Aeluin tapped on the door, saying she had warm things for the Lady. It was only a few minutes later that both Warden Lhûn and Master Laanga arrived. 'They were in the tunnel when I went to fetch them,' Beregar explained. 'They knew they were needed.'

'Old Crone told me.' Laanga was already busy at work near the hearth mixing something in a wooden bowl. 'Her roots are deep and she listens.' Lhûn was at the bedside, checking Finduilas' pulse and feeling her brow, face grave. 'Something wicked is about.' At a cry from Finduilas, Denethor went to her. Her hand was like ice, but he could not feel the presence of the cold creature he had encountered in Ithilien so long ago.

Soon, Finduilas' hand warmed to his touch. This did not make Lhûn happy. She took the Laanga's concoction and mixed it with brandy for Finduilas to drink. In a little more than an hour after she was so chilled, Finduilas was consumed with fever. Laanga continued to mix pastes and potions, sometimes at Lhûn's direction, sometimes not, but none of them had any effect on the fever. Denethor noticed that there was a difference in Finduilas' breathing as well. Her wheeze was gone, replaced by a bubbling sound. By dawn, Finduilas was in severe pain along her right side.

Lhûn laid her head against Finduilas' chest and listened intently. She went to Laanga and murmured a few words, which made the ancient nod and hasten away, then motioned for Denethor to join her near the hearth. 'This is very bad, Denethor. Finduilas has pneumonia. She can't be moved to the Houses. I will stay with her here.'

'What do you mean bad?'

For several heartbeats, Lhûn said nothing. 'Very few recover after so long a chill and with such a sharp spike of temperature after. Her right lung is infected. If we can keep her other lung clear until the fever breaks, which could be days, there is... a little hope.' Lhûn sighed, rubbing her temples. 'Send the children away. There is a chance of contagion and they should not see this.'

Just after breakfast, Imrahil came to the house. 'Attacks from Mordor north and east,' he said plainly, 'but not large. More like a distraction.'

You hope I will leave her unguarded. 'Finduilas is very sick. It started with the poison mist.'

'How sick?'

'Lhûn says her condition is dire.' Denethor could not make himself say more. 'The children must go somewhere else. Lhûn said that.'

'I'll take them to Vinyamar. All of them.'

'Violet will help.' Denethor turned away to return to Finduilas. 'Tell Marlong to do as he sees fit.' He had a more important battle to wage.

***

Minas Tirith, 16 November, 2988

She had been coughing up something worse than blood for two days. It was dark and thick, like the poison that came out of the Dragon Fire wounds, and it stank. Her fever was climbing again as night fell, approaching the blazing levels of Fire wounds. Her flesh was wasting away by the hour. Lhûn kept forcing her to drink liquids, sometimes the apothecary's potions, sometimes plain water. Large blotches were appearing across Finduilas' face, neck and chest, angry red patches that looked like blood trying to escape the fire in her bones. Her nose bled almost constantly, and tiny drops of blood seeped from her eyes. She passed no urine or waste, just blood.

Denethor looked up when Imrahil came in near midnight. Imrahil looked on Finduilas with grief. 'Do not come closer. We know not what this is.'

'The Morgul force was turned back just ere sundown. The northern Orcs are more numerous, but they are withdrawing.'

Finduilas turned at the sound of Imrahil's voice and stared at him. 'Have you come for me, Fiend?' Her voice was like cuts of flesh from her throat.

'It is me, Imrahil!'

'Leave the rest. I will come if you swear not to harm them.' Finduilas tried to pull back the covers and rise, but her hands lacked the strength to lift the blankets.

'Sister, don't you know me?' Imrahil was weeping.

'Me, Fiend. Only me.'

Denethor took her hands to keep her from plucking at the blanket. For a moment, her gaze fixed on him and she knew him. 'Find the rift, friend. The mariner swears it exists.' Finduilas sank back into the pillow, rubies falling from her eyes.

***

Minas Tirith, 18 November, 2988 T.A.

Her heart had continued beating after her soul departed. Denethor felt the last thumps against his own breast as he clutched her form tightly. No. No. No. He hid his face against her neck and willed her to return to him. No. No. No. A sensation worse than pain gripped his heart. Somewhere, an animal was howling.

'Denethor. Denethor.' Hands pulled on him. 'Little brother, please, stop!' Someone touched his hand, tried to get in between his flesh and hers. He lashed out with a fist, striking something. 'My Lord Steward, be calm.' Hands intruded and he screamed at them to be gone, gathering Finduilas to him more closely and flailing at anything that came near. A powerful hand seized his wrist and would not let go. 'Denethor, enough.' He struggled against the grip but could not win free unless he let go of her, and that he could not do. Finally, he exhausted himself and lay on the bed, Finduilas beside him. A hand stroked his hair and there was a soothing voice. The howl became a whimper.

Eventually he lifted his face and looked at the corpse beside him. Her face was almost unrecognizable. 'Denethor? Can you look at me?' He looked around and saw it was Brandir who sat on the edge of the bed and grasped his wrist. 'Say you will not strike us and I will let go.'

'Yes. Let go.' Denethor struggled to sit up and not relinquish Finduilas. Someone behind him helped him. Now he could see Warden Lhûn a few feet from the bed, and Aiavalë standing next to it. Aiavalë was weeping and there was a large bruise on her face. He stared at them, waiting for someone to speak. In his arms, Finduilas' form was limp. She was not dead, though. She could not be. He still felt her presence, though it was drawing away. Come back.

'You must give Finduilas to Aiavalë, Denethor,' Brandir said gently. Denethor shook his head, hiding his face in her hair once more. 'Very well. We will wait.' Gone. No. Back. Come back. No. No. A hand rubbed his back. There were sounds in the room beyond - footsteps, voices, weeping. 'It is time, Denethor,' Brandir said. 'Others need to care for Finduilas now.'

'No.' He would always care for her.

'Yes, brother,' Brandir patiently replied. 'Aiavalë and Lhûn will care for her. You must come with me.'

'Why? No.'

'You must speak to your sons. They must not hear this news from anyone save you. You must care for them, now.'

Aiavalë spoke behind him. 'Leave Alquallë to me, little brother. Please.' She edged up onto the bed. 'Give her to me.' Denethor allowed Aiavalë to gather the limp form to her chest. 'Go with Brandir.'

Brandir helped him stand then led him to the wash basin. Denethor kept his back to the bed, no longer wishing to see what was there. Lhûn and Aiavalë murmured to each other. When Brandir was satisfied with his handiwork, he put an arm around Denethor and guided him to the outer room. Aeluin and Beregar were there, as were Borondir and Haleth. All were weeping. 'Aeluin, please attend the Lady,' Brandir said, 'and Beregar you will attend us. Borondir, would you tell Imrahil to bring the boys here...'

'No. Not here.' Denethor did not recognize his own voice. 'Not... Not see this.' He turned to the door. 'Not here. Out.'

'Yes, not here. We go to the Tower.' Borondir and Haleth went down the stairs while Beregar hurried to collect cloaks. Brandir kept an arm around Denethor and walked him to the Wall Door. The day was gloomy, with storm clouds threatening. The sharp breeze helped clear Denethor's head. She had gone and he must follow. At the corner where they should turn to upper walk, Denethor struggled against Brandir and Beregar, wishing to go to the promontory instead to try to see where Finduilas had gone. 'No, Denethor. We must go to the Tower. The boys can't be out in this weather,' Brandir said calmly, though his grip was strong and he did not hesitate to give Denethor a shake or a shove to make him move along.

Hathol met them at the door to the Tower. 'Has... No, say it not!'

'Yes, it has, and you must keep any word of it from leaving the Citadel until our Lord decrees!' Brandir's stern tone brooked no disobedience. 'Have the council chamber readied. The Lord Steward will be using it.' Hathol hurried off. Gone. By the time they reached the chamber, its shutters were open, the lanterns were lit and a fire was burning in the hearth at the end of the room. Everything was dim. Abomination. Hathol came in with wine and tea. Brandir sent the wine back and poured Denethor tea, which he ignored.

They had not been there long before there was a knock on the door and Imrahil came in with Boromir and Faramir. Borondir followed and shut the door firmly behind them. 'Moraen and Haleth are at the house,' Imrahil told Brandir, 'and all the children are with Violet. I sent a note to Minastan.'

'Good. Morcollë, Hollë, come here. Your father wishes to speak to you.' Brandir motioned for them come over.

Denethor looked at his sons, struck dumb. He did not wish to say the words and make it so. Faramir took his hand, face anxious. Boromir was pale, his jaw clenched. 'Your... mother has... She... She is gone.'

'Gone where, Papa?' Faramir asked.

'Forever.' Boromir began to cry silently. Faramir shook his head, not understanding. 'She has... died, Hollë. Mama is dead.'

'But where is she?' the child demanded, looking around. 'Is she in the Houses?'

'No. She is dead like Aunt Wren.'

'She is at the embalmers,' Boromir said roughly, wiping his eyes with the back of his hand. 'That's where dead people go.'

'I want to go. I want to see her...'

Boromir poked Faramir. 'No you don't!'

Faramir began to cry and slapped at Boromir's hand. 'Yes, I do!'

'You can't !' Boromir grabbed Faramir's shoulder and shook him. 'Don't be stupid! You don't want to see...'

Denethor grabbed both of them. 'Behave!' he snarled. They froze. 'I don't ever want to see either of you strike the other. Do you understand me? Never.'

'He didn't hurt me.' Faramir put his arms around Boromir.

'We won't. I promise,' Boromir said, returning his little brother's embrace. 'Hollë, you don't want to see.'

Faramir dissolved into sobs. 'I want to go home. I want Mama!'

'No. She is not there anymore.' Denethor knelt and gathered Faramir into his arms. 'We are not going back there, either. Ever. Beregar, the house is to be emptied.'

'My lord?'

'By nightfall. Everything removed and it is to be closed. It is not fit to be lived in.'

'Where should your things go?'

'I don't care, just...'

'In the Tower, of course,' Brandir interrupted. 'Use the guardsmen.' Beregar and Borondir exchanged a look, bowed and left. Brandir came over to the table and took a seat, patting the chair next to him to get Boromir to sit down. Denethor carried Faramir over and joined them. 'An announcement must be made, Denethor.' Brandir turned to Imrahil. 'Have Hathol bring paper and pens. And something for the boys to eat.' The writing materials arrived quickly and some food shortly thereafter. Denethor let Faramir stay in his lap while the child ate his stew and bread. When it became clear that Denethor was not going to write anything, Brandir and Imrahil wrote down messages. Denethor signed them without bothering to read them.

Soon, the bells began to toll and the sky began to rain. Minastan arrived with his father, Hallas, on his arm. Denethor ignored them, leaving Brandir to do the talking. At some point, Imrahil told Boromir to come with him and deliver the messages to the Scrivener's Hall. Faramir was asleep in Denethor's lap, anchoring him. She was getting further away, but had not yet left the circles of the world. He could not explain how he knew this, only that his heart told him it was true. Come back.

The rain stopped just before sundown and Aiavalë came in. The bruise had swollen up and was very dark. 'Your quarters are almost ready. Boromir is helping.' Denethor did not answer. 'There are mourners in the Hall of the Kings. Do you wish to...'

'No.'

Aiavalë nodded and collected Faramir. He cried again when he saw her face, but was soon distracted by talk of supper. The meal was laid in the council chamber and no one ate very much. Faramir's interest was piqued by their new quarters. They were next to Ecthelion's old quarters and were larger. Boxes and piles of things littered all the rooms. There was a large front room, with a dining room to one side and a study to the other. All of the contents of his old study had been put there, even the maps, and most of Finduilas' study was there as well. Her banner was on the wall, but nothing else was in any order. A short corridor with a privy at one end and a door to a side hallway on the other ran between the three public rooms and the three bedrooms at the back. Boromir and Faramir's beds were in one room, their trunks stacked in a corner. In Denethor's room, almost everything he saw was hers - the bed, the rocking chair, the chest of drawers, the clothes press. There was almost no space in which to move, so much had been crammed into the space. When he looked into the chests, their clothes were jumbled together haphazardly. The third room was filled with what remained from the house, mostly what had been in the solar, but also Finduilas' desk.

'Where are your things?' he asked Aiavalë.

'In Violet's house.'

He looked around, trying to think. 'Beregar and Aeluin?'

'That is still being sorted out. Aeluin and the girls will stay with us until a proper place can be found for them in the Citadel. Beregar will stay here.'

At bedtime, Denethor tucked Boromir and Faramir in. They quickly fell asleep. Beregar came to the door and asked if there was anything else he could do for them. Denethor shook his head and went to his own room. He opened the clothes press and breathed in her scent. Not even a score of years granted to us. Not enough. He had to find her, even as Lúthien sought Beren. Denethor changed into his ranging clothes and pulled on his old stained cloak. Beregar was sleeping on a pallet in the front room, so he would have to be cautious. Denethor slipped out of his room and peeked into the front. Beregar was sleeping soundly. The door at the end of the corridor did not squeak and he was into the Tower. All were consumed with grief over the Lady's passing, so none paid attention to a grey shade moving silently along shadowed halls.

Once out upon the upper walk it was simple to go to the wall and let himself over the side. He had not used the King's Stair since his wild flight down it during the attack on Osgiliath, but his feet and hands remembered the way. Under his hands, the stone mourned for the loss of the Lady, the rain water dripping down the faces of the walls like tears. The soldier guarding the postern door withdrew his challenge and opened the door for him. At the stable, he refused to let the stablehand saddle Gaerhûl, too anxious to wait upon another's slow pace. She is going. Gull came from her stall to watch what he was doing and followed them out. Once down upon the road, Denethor commanded Gaerhûl, 'As you have never run before. Go!' They flew along the greenway to the Harlond, Gull a white ghost at their side. Denethor rode through the shuttered town to the fog-wreathed docks. There must be a boat of some kind here, to hire or to take. He strode out upon the main dock, looking for a tied up ship, and came to an abrupt halt, feet skidding on the wet boards.

The mariner sat on an over turned barrel, just as he had upon Seabird, his grey hair matted with seaweed and shells, and mended a great silver net. He did not look up from his work. Denethor swallowed and tried to walk past the apparition. The net snaked out upon the dock, blocking his path, each thread of the web as bright and liquid as mercury. 'Let me pass!' he demanded.

'Nay, you may not seek her yet.' The creature peered through his tangle of hair. 'Your towers lie on this side of the Sea for now.'

'She told me what you did, how you touched her. Why? Why did you do this?'

'Because you loved her. It was a rift. Or could have been.'

'A rift for any to pass through! You left her betrayed to an enemy, weakened beyond anyone's ability to heal.'

The mariner's gaze was cold. 'And none of this was your doing? All of the council you have been given - to love and not seize, to forgive, to let be - and still you follow your own stubborn way. You saw the effect you had on her.'

Denethor sank to his knees, hiding his face. He had drained her, left her weary, trying to remove what was meant to persist. "He spoke of it as a temptation to you. He taunted you." Anger flared and he glared at the mariner. 'You wanted me to do just that. What foul temptations you place in our path. Things of beauty. Things that are good. You drape chains of love upon us and gladly we close the locks, for should we not love?'

The mariner kept at his weaving and the net spread out upon the dock, the strands moving as he wove them, making the wood into waves. 'No, not love. That is not the end for which we are crafted.'

Bitterness welled up in Denethor's throat and he could barely spit out his words. 'Hope, you mean. Is there aught more evil than hope? All our fates are known before times, who shall perish, who shall triumph. What then is hope? You know what lies before me now.'

'Not all. You are... unpredictable.'

'And all my caprice is for naught. Why this fate? To what purpose is the suffering of the children of Húrin? Answer me!'

The mariner ceased his work, letting the net fall across his lap. For many heartbeats, he gazed at his own hands, turning them over to examine weathered palms and knotted knuckles. 'None. There is no purpose save that it is the fate given to you. On you does the burden fall.'

'To do what?'

'To do. That is all.'

Denethor staggered to his feet. Around them, it was as though the dock had become a ship, or perhaps the back of a great sea monster, moving swiftly upon the waves, threatening to throw him off balance. 'And if I defy this fate you wish me to submit to, you will throw snares before me to bring down the arrogant mortal who will not praise you for the cruelty you inflict.'

Before he could look away, the mariner caught his eyes in his sea-grey gaze. The sorrow in them made Denethor weep despite himself. 'Yes. Such is love.'

'If this is the fate set before me, I shall listen to your council from long ago, mariner. I might as well swim.' Denethor stepped onto the writhing net, seeking the edge of the dock. The liquid rope turned into kelp and sea grass, their tendrils tangling about him. He stumbled and fell to his hands and knees, one hand landing on something hard. It was the northern knife he had lost rescuing Beregar from the Sea. Denethor seized it and slashed at the strands pulling at him. No matter how he tried, or how far he stumbled, he could not reach the edge of the dock. When he turned about, he was no further from the mariner than when he started. 'Let me go. I am reduced. I... I have failed. What I love, I have destroyed and what I would preserve will be torn asunder. Let your champion bring hope and rule. Let me rejoin my love.'

'You are mistaken. There is not only one champion in this darkness. But what of your love for this world, and for what might be?'

'It is an abomination to me now. She is not. The world is dimmed. Will you not let me claim the final Gift? Swiftly, for she is nearly gone!'

'Never through water will it come to you. What you love endures and a rift remains. Child, do not despair...'

'Why not? That,' Denethor gestured to the east, 'will overwhelm us unless you save us. We have no power to save ourselves and can only give ourselves for slaughter until you tire of battle and allow your fellow to be struck down. Even in victory we are left maimed and diminished. If we craft something of ease and beauty, you name us vain, proud and arrogant, and seek to bring us low once more. It is not enough that we perish. You reduce us to desolation first.'

The mariner cast his eyes up at the stars and there were tears on his face. 'Yes, child. I leave you to do. I am much in need of your forgiveness.' The creature rose from his seat and walked away down the dock, disappearing into the gloom. All that remained was the net, now just a pile of knotted rope, and the barrel seat.

And the knife.

Denethor sat on the barrel. He believed that the mariner would not permit him to perish within his watery realm, but this... He tested the edge with his thumb. It had not suffered from its years underwater. It would do. As he raised the blade to his throat, something tugged on his heart, or rather, someone. He knew that touch and he knew when she was distressed. She would not countenance this end.

Denethor stood, returned to the horses, and rode back to Minas Tirith. At the crossroads before the City, he dismounted and stripped Gaerhûl of his tack. 'I'll not need you again, nag. At least one of us should be with his love.' The horses nuzzled him before turning and trotting off to the north. He waited until he could no longer hear their hoofbeats before lugging the tack back to the stable. The tunnel guards at the Citadel were surprised to see him coming in. You should keep better watch. His feet betrayed him and took him to the Wall Door before he remembered there was nothing there for him now. He was careful when returning to the Tower rooms not to wake anyone. Faramir and Boromir were sound asleep in their beds, but Beregar was restless, chased by some dream. Denethor undressed and lay down in his bed, but could not sleep. She was not there. He went to the chest of drawers, got her grey nightdress, and pulled it over a pillow. Hugging that to his chest, he eventually fell asleep.

***

Minas Tirith, 19 November, 2988 T.A.

Under his hand, he felt her breathing. Her warm form was nestled against his and a few strands of her hair tickled his nose. Perhaps it had all been a nightmare. When he tried to open his eyes, Denethor found his lashes crusted shut. His eyelids were sore and it hurt to clean away the gunk. The sight that greeted him hurt more. The room was not theirs and the form was not hers. Boromir was next to him with Faramir on the other side of his brother. The light coming through the windows was wan, but he could tell from the angle of the light that the day was well advanced. He slipped out of bed and nearly fell down, his legs sore from the descent of the King's Stair and the wild ride to the dock. His memory of what happened there was muddled. There were clean clothes laid over the back of a chair so he pulled them on.

Beregar sat in a chair in the corridor, rising when he saw Denethor. 'My lord? I hope the boys didn't wake you.' Denethor shook his head, not trusting his voice. When he came out of the privy, Beregar was waiting with a wash basin and warm water for his hands and face. Aiavalë and Brandir were waiting in the front room. Denethor sat on the couch, head in his hands, and sought for her. It was faint, but it did not go further. Somewhere, she rested. Somewhere, she healed. He wept while Aiavalë held him, longing to see her whole once more. At the sound of the boys in the corridor, he sat up and hastily wiped his face on his sleeve.

Brandir stood and embraced his nephews. 'There you are, sleepy heads. Are you hungry?'

'Yes, Uncle.' 'Mm-hmm, I'm hungry.' Beregar left and soon returned with servants bearing trays from the kitchen. Denethor allowed Aiavalë to lead him to the table. He managed only a few swallows of tea, though the boys ate ravenously. Near the end of the meal, Faramir sat upright with a start. 'Where is Telperien?'

'We could not find her, Hollë,' Beregar said. 'She vanished when... people started moving things about. I think she was frightened by the strangers.'

'We have to go get her...'

'No one is to return to that house.' The others stared at him, making Denethor wonder what he sounded like to them. He sipped the tea to wet his parched throat. 'The house has been emptied, and shall remain closed.'

The boys muttered assent and finished their meal. Denethor stood and walked out of the apartments, not really knowing where he was going. Aiavalë went with him. He wandered the corridors of the Tower, sometimes touching the stone. It was the only thing that understood his loss, having lost so much before. They ended up in the council chamber. Denethor sat heavily, too tired to go any further. There was more tea waiting for them. Not long afterwards, Imrahil came in and took a seat nearby. 'Violet was here. Hollë went with her to see Findis.'

'Morcollë?' Aiavalë asked.

'With Brandir. Mab and Handir are also with him. Aeluin and Finiel are putting the rooms to rights.'

'Mírwen?'

'Haven't seen her. Aeluin probably knows.'

'She must not go back to Morwen.'

'No.' Imrahil put a hand on Denethor's arm. 'Denethor? There are a few things you must decide.'

'It doesn't matter.'

'You don't know what I'm going to say.'

'It doesn't matter.' Denethor stood to look out the window. The world was suitably dim and more rain threatened. It should stay like this forever.

'People are coming to the Tower. They wish to know when the Lady will lie in state. All of Gondor mourns.'

'I don't want her seen like that.' Rain began to fall.

'Give them a chance to say farewell, Denethor,' Aiavalë urged. He shook his head.

Imrahil sighed. 'As you wish, my lord. When shall the funeral be held?'

'It doesn't matter.'

There was a long silence. 'I will make the arrangements, Imrahil,' Aiavalë said. 'A week, at least.'

Denethor nodded. It did not matter. A week, a month, never. It was all the same. She was gone. He stared out the window at nothing until Aiavalë touched his arm and said the rooms were now in order. Aeluin and Finiel were still neatening things, but the quarters were now livable. Denethor looked in each room and saw that it had been arranged as closely to how it had been in the Stewards House as Aeluin could make it. The boys' room had their toys set out and pictures they had drawn tacked to the wall. Boromir's sword hung neatly on its pegs. In his own room, the clothes were properly folded, his to one side, Finduilas' to the other.

'I did not know if you wished to keep her things near to you, my lord,' Aeluin said while he looked at the chest of drawers. 'If not, we can remove...'

'Leave them.'

Finduilas' chair was in the study just where it should be. Denethor bade Aeluin to leave him, and sat on the floor before the chair, staring into the fire. He thought he felt her stroke his hair as she always did, and closed his eyes, wishing it to be so. A sound brought him upright, and Denethor realized he had dozed off with his head on his knees. Faramir was standing at the door to the study, dripping wet and filthy, holding something to his chest under his cloak.

'Papa, I found her.' He came over to the fire and took Telperien out from under the cloak. She was almost as bedraggled as Faramir, but mewed when she saw Denethor. He took her from Faramir and she began purring loudly.

'Go get a towel to dry her. And another for yourself.' Faramir scampered off and was back in a moment with the towels. Denethor wrapped the cat, who was thin and chilled, in one towel and wiped off Faramir's hair with the other. He began to shiver so Denethor sent him to get out of his wet clothes and into something warm. There was a squawk from someone adult and female out in the corridor shortly after he left, so Denethor figured Faramir was not going to return very soon. 'Well, now, your Majesty, you are back,' he said to the cat, rubbing her through the cloth. She snuggled into his arms, bunting her head against his beard until he scratched her ears. Faramir was much cleaner when he returned. Denethor gave him a stern glance. 'You went back to the house.'

'I didn't go in it.' Faramir scratched the cat under her chin, making her close her eyes in pleasure. 'I went into the yard and called for her. She was under a hutch and wouldn't come out, so I climbed under it and rescued her.'

That explained the excess dirt. 'And if you hadn't found her in the yard, how were you going to get in the house?'

Faramir kept his eyes on Telperien. 'Through a cellar window. We couldn't leave her there, Papa! She'd be all by herself and she didn't even have a bed to sleep on.'

Denethor sighed and kissed the top of Faramir's head. 'No, Hollë. I suppose not.' A thought crossed Denethor's mind. 'You were supposed to be with Aunt Violet. Does she know where you are?'

'Mmm, maybe?' Denethor gave Faramir a stern look. 'I was going to take a nap, but I couldn't sleep, so I decided to come home and sleep, and I went to the house by mistake, and then I found the cat and I had to come here.'

'Aeluin!' Denethor called. When she showed up, he explained Faramir's presence and asked for Violet to be informed so she would not worry. At supper time, Telperien followed them to the dining room and sat near Denethor's feet, cleaning herself. He fed her scraps form the table which she daintily accepted. She kept him company while he sat in the boys' room, waiting for them to fall asleep, and nestled in the pillows on his bed, lulling him to sleep with her steady purr.

***

Minas Tirith, 20 November, 2988 T.A.

'We have to do something.' Denethor looked at Boromir dully. His son was looking at him across the dining table with a fierce, almost contemptuous, gaze. 'It is too wet outside to do anything, so we have to do Tower business. You said I am to wait upon the Steward.'

'There is much work piling up, Denethor,' Aiavalë said. 'Borondir has need of your counsel.'

My counsel is worthless. There was no point to any of it. The center of the world had vanished and the rest could perish as far as he cared.

'That is an excellent idea,' Imrahil declared. Brandir arrived not long afterwards and agreed with the rest. Denethor let them have their way. He went to the baths and did not resist being washed. The warm tub felt good. He wished they would just leave him there and let him fall asleep in its embrace. They worried that he would drown in it, but he knew the mariner had barred him from that end. The council chamber was well lit and all of the reports and messages sat upon the large table in neat stacks. Denethor sat and listened to this minister and that one drone on about something, and found he was beginning to understand Ecthelion's impatience with such things. It is all vanity. At the end of each speech he would simply turn to Imrahil and ask what the High Warden's counsel was. That decided the matter, and Denethor would sign something. It was important to Boromir that the seals be done properly, so Denethor was careful with them.

They let him be after dinner. Denethor retreated into his study and sat before her chair. Telperien appropriated his lap and they watched the fire together, pretending that it was twelve years earlier and that they were waiting for Finduilas to arrive from Dol Amroth to spend the rest of her long life with them. He took her letters from the secret compartment in the bottom drawer of his desk and read them to Telperien. Always, right at the edge of his senses, Denethor could feel her presence, far off, but soon to come closer. If the wait was too long, he would find some way to go to her as he done once before, crossing the Sea to join her.

The next day passed much like this and soon there was a habit to the day that prevented him from having to think greatly. The mornings were for the pretense of rule and the afternoons were for the dreams of ending. When the letters were done, Denethor read the books. Of Tuor and The Fall of Gondolin made him long for the Sea once more. A ship that held but the two of them, and an escape from the tales. Only the mariner knew where they were. Once that had been read to Telperien, he began the Lay of Leithian. He lingered over the passages of Beren's enchantment and their first kiss, thinking long of the night Finduilas came to him and he lost himself to her forever.

Then folded in the mists of sleep
he sank into abysses deep,
drowned in an overwhelming grief
for parting after meeting brief;
a shadow and a fragrance fair
lingered, and waned, and was not there.
Forsaken, barren, bare as stone,
the daylight found him cold, alone.

Such a brief meeting. Denethor examined the ancient book, the salvage of a ruined land. A tale of a doomed love. "What did they do? They hoped and they dared! Most important of what should be was their own love. They gained not a gem, but each other." Finduilas' scolding of so many years past echoed in his head. So have we hoped and dared, Alquallë, but I have lost you. And for what? What was there in his hands to show for this grief? The mariner himself had said there was no purpose to their suffering, save that it had to happen. It simply is. If he tried, he supposed he could discern a higher purpose, the small part they played in the unfolding drama of Arda, but that solace was hollow. It was not even for him to bring about a great victory, as had been promised Túrin. Another had been chosen for that. A great plan unfolded across the ages to which all, willing and unwilling alike, must submit. If it is my fate simply to do, then it should be done and soon. To plod forward was to legitimize this wretched torment and the lying, unworthy beggar who was meant to inherit the salvage of their sacrifice. To a king who came to strive against the darkness, for the sake of such a one could he sacrifice himself and all of his house. But what he does is not for our sake. He has abandoned us.

Perhaps his fate was cast, but it was love for which his heart was crafted. Love of what was impermanent, imperfect, mortal. He loved a woman who coughed and whose skin sagged. He loved a city whose stones tumbled and wore down. He loved the lore and craft that faded from their minds with every generation. Perhaps Thorongil wandered so that he would not become attached to what would perish. And, perhaps, in this, Boromir understood the wisdom of the mariner better than Denethor did. We have to do something. He wished he knew what to do.

***

Minas Tirith, 23 November, 2988 T.A.

Aiavalë dismissed the other counselors save for Brandir and Imrahil. 'Denethor, I have heard from the chief embalmer this morning. They are finished.' When Denethor did not answer, she continued, with just a hint of impatience, 'What do you wish done?'

'Burial.'

'Will you not reconsider, Denethor, and allow those who love her to say farewell?' Imrahil entreated.

'No.'

'There should at least be a funeral, Denethor,' Brandir said.

'Why? I don't want to see her like that.'

'So there is no uncertainty. You know your enemies. If there is not a public funeral, they will whisper she ran away from you.' Brandir said this in a matter-of-fact tone. 'She would be the first to tell you to do this, you know that. She can be shrouded, but it must be done.'

Think, prince. For one second, Denethor thought he heard Finduilas' voice. It was what she would counsel. She is their Queen. They should bow before her a last time. We all shall. 'As you say.'

'I will need some of her things, Denethor,' Aiavalë began. He stood and walked out of the chamber, motioning for Aiavalë to come with him, and went to his room. There, he took out a small wooden chest in which Finduilas had stored her jewelry and drew out several items, placing them on a kerchief. 'Bind this on her brow,' he said, pointing to the Dwarf-stone, 'and this wherever it should go.' That was the swan pin Aiavalë had given her as a Yule present. 'Pick out whatever clothes of hers you wish. I need to get something.' Denethor hastened to the study. From the top drawer, he took the lanyard and removed his own betrothal ring, leaving hers still strung upon it. After a moment's hesitation, he pulled the lanyard over his head and slipped it under his shirt. He tucked a small book in his pocket and returned to his room. Picking up the silver chain with the black stone from the pool below Henneth Annûn, he strung his ring onto it. 'She should wear this. Place this book under her hands...'

Aiavalë snatched it from him. 'I knew you took this!'

'Alquallë gave it to me. It saved my life when I was touched by Dragon Fire.'

Aiavalë gave him a sour look, then sighed. 'It should go to the archives, but I will put it in her hands.'

Denethor tied up the jewels in the kerchief which Aiavalë tucked in her pocket. 'Send someone for the banner.'

Aiavalë embraced him. 'It will be done properly, Denethor. I swear.'

He went to the study and sat, looking at the banner until Beregar and Hunthor came to take it down. Aeluin told him dinner was ready shortly after that. The boys came charging in as the table was being laid, full of news.

'Grandpa and Grandma are here!' Faramir shouted, hopping from one foot to the other in excitement. Denethor looked at Boromir who nodded.

'Since it wasn't raining, we went riding with Borthand. Did you know Gull and Gaerhûl ran away? When we were coming back, we saw Seabird at the Harlond. A messenger galloped up and said Grandma and Grandpa were aboard and asked us where Uncle Imrahil was.' Boromir was almost as excited as Faramir.

Denethor thought on this news. The Swans could not be here so fast upon the worst news, so Imrahil or Finduilas must have sent word before times that they should come. He motioned at the table. 'Eat your dinner and then wash up and put on clean clothes. They will be here soon.' He ate nothing himself for he was not hungry. When Beregar presented a note from Vinyamar asking if Denethor would receive the Prince and Princess, they were told to come to the Tower at once. Aiavalë was informed of the guests and asked to attend.

Both Luinil and Adrahil looked wretched, but summoned smiles and teasing at their grandsons' boisterous greeting. Luinil embraced Denethor a long while, shaking slightly from her weeping. Adrahil's embrace was perfunctory, and the look in the man's eyes was hard. Imrahil had come with them and Aiavalë soon arrived.

'We came as soon as we got Imrahil's message,' Luinil said. Denethor glanced at his brother-in-law who would not look at him. 'When we docked yesterday in Pelargir...' Luinil began crying. Adrahil hugged her to him.

'Too late. Would that we had known sooner.' Adrahil's voice was as cold as his gaze.

'We had hope until late,' Denethor answered. We always have hope until Doom comes to rest. 'The fever was swift, and even Warden Lhûn was helpless to stop it.'

'May we see her?' Luinil asked.

Aiavalë took her hands. 'Yes, Luinil, but not today. She is being prepared for the funeral which is on the morrow.' Aiavalë gave Lhûn a kiss on her cheek. 'Tomorrow morning, early, I will come get you and we will see her before the procession.'

'Please, yes.'

Adrahil scowled. 'A funeral? So quickly?'

'The embalmers finished their work today.' Denethor said.

'She should lie in state,' Adrahil countered, his face becoming red. 'We have only just got here...'

'It is not customary for the Lady of the White Tower to lie in state. She is not a ruler.' Though you should have been. You should have been Queen.

'Why did you say nothing, Denethor?'

'What do you mean, Prince?'

'She was ill for months, and you did not tell us! You never gave us a chance to say farewell and now you rob us again.'

Denethor made his voice even more icy than Adrahil's. 'She was given to me ill. Indeed, she was drugged and drunk on our wedding day to keep her from spitting up blood and collapsing, and bedridden for two days afterwards. Were it not for the healers of Minas Tirith, she would have died years ago. She was sick from the first day we met.'

'That is not so! Not like this!' Adrahil stood, face red and hands balled into fists. He shook off Luinil's attempt to calm him. 'She has withered here, placed upon a barren rock, and I have watched her fail more with every time I saw her. She herself called this place a sepulcher. Cursed be me for ever bringing her here!'

Imrahil stepped between them, taking Adrahil by the shoulders. 'Father, I beg you, cease!' Luinil was sobbing in Aiavalë's arms and Faramir had started to cry. 'Even I did not think her so ill until the fever took hold. There is no one to blame...'

'He is to blame,' Adrahil spat, pointing at Denethor. 'I named you once Eöl, and I was right to do so. You have kept her under your darkness and hastened her end. You will drag us all down into it. All hope flees before you!'

Denethor smiled grimly. 'My own most of all.' With a nod, he went to his study, shutting the door firmly behind him. He sat before her chair, ignoring the arguments and weeping in the other room. Adrahil was right, of course. He had hastened her death.

Sometime later, there was a tap on the door, then it opened a sliver. 'Denethor?' Imrahil came in and knelt next to him. 'My lord, please forgive my father's outburst. He is grieving and does not know what...'

'He knows exactly what he is saying, for he has said it to my face before. If he keeps his silence, I will overlook his traitorous words, but only this once. I shall not brook rebellion ever again. You know that.'

'Yes, my lord.' Imrahil left.

***

Minas Tirith, 24 November, 2988 T.A.

Denethor stood a long time before the doors. Once he saw this, he would not be able to pretend that she would return to him here. He took a deep breath and entered the inner chamber. The bier was draped with a heavy silver outer shroud, her black wing embroidered in a pattern around the edges. The inner shroud was thick white silk, the black wing worked large over her breast. He drew close, looking intently. The form under the cloth was too large for her wasted frame. Cautiously, he touched where her shoulder should be and found it had been padded. Checking her ribs and her thigh, Denethor found the same thing. As Aiavalë had promised, none would see devastation the fever had wrought.

He walked back to the doors and motioned for the boys to be brought forward. The argument with Adrahil yesterday had left them both upset and exhausted. Denethor gave them each a kiss. 'Hollë, Morcollë, we're going to take Mama to the Hall of the Kings now. Morcollë, this is just like we did with Grandpa Ecthelion.' The two nodded. 'We should say goodbye here.' He took the boys by the hand and led them to the bier, and picked Faramir up so he could see. The children looked at the shrouded form for a few heartbeats.

'Why is she all wrapped up, Father? That's not like Grandpa,' Boromir said.

'So we will always remember what she looked like when she was alive, and not like this.'

Faramir looked up at Denethor. 'Boromir said she's with Grandpa Ecthelion. Is that true?'

'Yes. That is where she has gone.'

'And she is all well and she doesn't cough anymore.' Boromir crossed his arms over his chest and dared anyone to contradict him.

'If she's not sick, can she come back?' Faramir asked.

'No.'

'Why not, Papa?'

'Because if she did, she would only get sick again, except worse.'

'That's because there is magic tea there,' Boromir said. 'I asked Master Laanga and he said that she would have magic tea and it would keep her well.'

'Oh.' Faramir touched the form lightly. 'Can we go see her?'

'Don't' be stupid, Hollë! We can't go there.'

'But she can hear you, and so can your grandfather,' Denethor said, hoping it was not a lie. She is there. I can feel her. She must be able to hear us. 'You can write her letters and read them out loud and she will hear them.' He kissed the boys again. 'It is time to take her to the hall so everyone else may say goodbye, too.' He led them to the outer chamber where ten guardsmen waited, Gethron at their head. Denethor, Boromir and Faramir followed the bier, Aiavalë and Brandir directly behind. Next came the Swans, then Beregar and Aeluin, and last the rest of the household.

A wail rose from those who lined the streets when they left the embalmers' workshop and bells began to toll. Denethor could hear the mourning of the stone through the soles of his boots, so great was the City's grief. The clouds were low, though it did not rain, and the morning light was diffuse. In the Court of the Fountain, the Tower Guards had to force back the crush of mourners who strained to come close and touch the bier.

In the hall, a stand draped in black awaited the bier. Behind it, blocking view of the throne and the jeweled tree, stood a standard with her banner. After they had knelt in reverence, Denethor stood and walked to the head of the bier. He looked out at those gathered in the hall and realized that it was not mighty and the powerful who stood there. Her guardsmen were there, and all the pups of the Hunt. The women of the Lady's houses and those of the whore houses stood together, Morwen a half head taller than the others around her. The archivists from the caverns, the serving girls from the Messenger's Rest, and the prentices from the Houses of Healing were gathered. Lark and Violet stood with Adanel and Primrose. Warden Lhûn and Master Laanga stood near the healers. Throughout the hall, Denethor saw those who had been dear and loyal to Finduilas- Marlong, Golasgil, Scratch, Forlong and Almiel, Minastan and Míriel, Ivrin and Aldwyn - and knew Aiavalë had chosen carefully.

He drew a breath to sing the hymn of passing, and looked down upon the white shrouded form before him. Though he tried, he could not make a sound. It is abomination. Those who were here knew Finduilas for the kindness she had shown them. Do you know what hero lies before you? A queen as great as any of a bygone age. He wanted to speak of her courage and wisdom, how she had faced down darkness and done great deeds, but his grief struck him dumb.

A hand rested on his shoulder. Denethor looked up at Brandir, not remembering how he came to be on his knees. 'Can you speak, brother?' Brandir murmured. Denethor shook his head. Brandir nodded and sang the hymn. There were footsteps behind them, then Boromir was at Denethor's side, embracing him and taking one of his hands. When the hymn finished, Brandir helped Denethor to his feet. Faramir wiggled from Aiavalë's grasp and ran out, taking Denethor's free hand. The boys led him back to the others.

The Swans were the first to approach the bier. Luinil looked an old woman, so deep was her grief, and all of Adrahil's belligerence had vanished. They both embraced Denethor long before allowing Imrahil and Moraen to help them to their seats. The others in the hall followed without regard to rank or station, the whores mixing with the lords, soldiers waiting for servants. No one hurried or was impatient, giving each a chance to honor the Lady. Somehow, even in the growing days of winter, some had found flowers to lay by her bier and others bore greens. A number placed some small gift upon the bier itself; a bit of lace, a folded note, a coin, something carved of wood. Golasgil put a tiny book not even the size of his palm at her side.

Laanga kissed each of the boys and looked a long while at Denethor. 'I know you care little for us, grandson, but remember that the garden is always open to you. That door is never barred.'

Denethor stared at him, having nothing to say to the creature. You let her die. You all did. Laanga sighed and walked away, leaning heavily on his staff.

It was well past noontide before all in the hall had filed past and paid their respects. Faramir had become too tired to stand, so Denethor picked him up and now he was sound asleep, his head pillowed on Denethor's shoulder. Denethor looked around until he caught Beregar's eye. The man hastened over. 'Take Hollë, Huan,' Denethor said quietly, 'and keep Morcollë with you. This last, they should not see.'

'I will. Morcollë, come with me and help put your brother to bed.' Aeluin came over and helped him take the children away.

With the boys gone, Denethor signaled to Gethron to have the pallbearers take up the bier. He followed it out of the hall. There was barely a path wide enough for the bearers to tread through the crowd thronging the court and the streets. The top of the walls were packed despite the cold, and the sound of weeping filled the air. Between the crowds and Denethor's weariness, it took a long while to reach the Closed Door. Imrahil laid a hand on his arm.

'Denethor, my parents... I must take them back to Vinyamar. They cannot bear this.'

'Go.' Denethor embraced Luinil and Adrahil once more before they left, then dismissed all the mourners except Aiavalë, Brandir, Borondir and Haleth. He followed the bier down the winding path to the Hallows. The doors to the tomb of the House of Húrin stood wide. Near Emeldir's sarcophagus another stood open, a wooden stand next to it awaiting the bier. Aiavalë came forward to help wrap the outer shroud. Denethor felt clumsy and stupid as he tried to make the cloth lie just right. It offended him that it would not be done perfectly. It was difficult because of all the small gifts the mourners had presented. Finally it was done and the pallbearers placed her within the sarcophagus. The lid was moved into place with a cold, final "clunk" and it was done.

Denethor sank to his knees and leaned upon the tomb. 'Leave me. Leave us.' Resting his head upon the cold stone, he reached out to Finduilas once more, searching for her comforting presence. When he found it, he closed his eyes and concentrated all of his mind upon her. Let me join you, as Lúthien did Beren. If any Power has pity for me, grant me the Gift. Let us be whole once more. The lanyard tugged on him, trying to make him move. You bade me to do, and this is what I shall do. I want love, not hope. The tugging stopped, replaced with the sensation of a warm hand upon his shoulder. Denethor tried to figure out how he could will an end, but nothing yielded. His own soul was obdurate. There is no ending, child, only swimming. In that moment, Denethor understood. Alquallë, let me come to you. Call me as I called you. I will answer. This is the rift through which I may pass. He could sense her hesitation, then, like her kisses waking him in the morning, he felt her touch. Eagerly, he gave her his soul. Once I drained you; let me fill you. Denethor felt a fierce joy, welcoming this sensation like blood leaving his heart. But a few more moments, and they would be togeth...

Something struck him and threw him to the ground, destroying Finduilas' grasp on his soul. He cried out and tried to crawl back to the tomb, calling her name. There was a sharp slap on his cheek and a hand grabbed his ankle, dragging him away from the sarcophagus.

'Oh no you don't!' Aiavalë said, giving him another slap. 'I know what you're trying to do and I won't let you!'

'Leave me be!' Denethor wailed. 'Let me die with her. I don't want to live.'

Brandir grabbed him by the shoulders and shook him. 'You have to. We need you.'

'You don't understand...' That earned him a very hard slap from Brandir. His brother-in-law wrestled him away from the tomb and towards the entrance.

'I most certainly do understand, and so does Aiavalë.' Brandir took Denethor under the chin, forcing him to look him in the face. 'My wife died. Her husband died. We know what this feels like. It is dark now, but you must live.'

'Why? Let go of me!' Brandir sat back on his heels. 'There is naught for me here now.'

Aiavalë limped over and kicked him. 'You have two sons,' she barked, 'who are very much living for! You selfish brat! Would you hurt them like this?'

'They have you...'

'You're their father. They need you. You will destroy them if you leave them,' Brandir said, giving Denethor another shake. 'Would you do them harm? Finduilas will not thank you for abandoning them.'

'She didn't love them.' Denethor ducked, warding off another blow from Aiavalë. 'She wants me with her!'

'Then you are both selfish!' she yelled. 'Will you both leave them for wolves? Denethor, we can't protect them. If you are gone, Gondor will fall and they will perish. Do you wish to kill your sons? That is what you are doing as surely as if you cut their throats.'

Brandir stood and pulled Denethor to his feet. 'No more of this. You are going back to your sons.' They gave him no chance to escape, holding his arms and walking him to the apartments in the Tower. Beregar took one look at them and got water for washing. Denethor let them do as they wished, too dizzy and weak to resist. His head hurt from all the slaps. By the time they finished, it was full dark and Aeluin was putting supper on the table. Boromir and Faramir refused to eat unless he did, taking a bite only when he did.

'We can't sleep unless you sit with us, Papa,' Faramir said. Beregar set a chair between their beds for Denethor. Brandir sat on the floor and told them all a silly story about a mouse, a cat, and a slab of bacon. The boys drifted off to sleep before the story was done.

'Denethor?'

'What?'

'Are you going to stay?'

He thought a long time. 'Yes.'

Brandir stood and kissed him. 'I will be back in the morning.'

Denethor sat still for almost an hour, searching with his heart. She was not there any more. Finduilas was no longer within Arda. The curious thing was she had taken most of him with her. He breathed. His heart beat. His limbs moved, but he was not certain he was really alive. He both had and had not departed the world with her. Denethor looked at his sleeping children. There was just enough of him left to care for his charges. He knew that he could relinquish that last part of himself when he needed to, and nothing but his will could part him from this world. Love has crafted me for my fate. No more would he be a pawn for the Powers. He would do, and they would tremble.

He tucked the boys in more firmly and slipped out of the side door. There was a thrill in his heart, akin to the joy he felt when he handed his soul to his love. Swiftly he made his way up to the top chamber of the tower. I do love this world, more than any of you, and I will defend it from you. What you tear from us, I will win back. He pulled the drape from the palantír and used it to look due east. Come here! I command you! This time, the lanyard did not try to pull him away. For this have you been crafted, child.

The colors swirled around, then a face took shape in the stone. It was beautiful and terrible at once, and it looked upon him with gloating. At last we meet! Now you will know you master. A will gripped him, trying to make him submit.

Denethor gritted his teeth and gathered all the force of his will together, firing it as though it were an arrow and he a bow of Númenórean steel. The demon staggered back from the stone. I am my own master, Fiend. Never will I submit to you.

Your soul shall be mine! Frantically, the creature lashed back, trying to impose his will, but finding no better purchase on Denethor's mind than could be found on the slick surface of a palantír.

You are wrong. Denethor was almost giddy. My soul belongs to her and she holds it safe beyond your grasp. The Enemy snarled and did something. For a moment, the Dragon Fire scar burned, but Denethor laughed and plunged it into the Sea. No more shall any of you torment me. Sea and Fire alike are mine. Mayhap you are the stronger, but no more will I dread what you can do. I will not wait for rescue.

***

'Papa? Papa! Papa!' The sharp screech brought Denethor awake.

'Stop that!' he ordered, trying to figure out where he was. His head pounded and spun. When he tried to sit up, his hand slipped and nearly sent him tumbling down the stairs. Small hands grabbed him. When he could focus, he made out Boromir and Faramir in their nightshirts. They were staring at him in alarm. Stairs. Tower, Stone... the palantír. 'What are you doing out of bed at this hour?' he demanded.

'What are you doing out of bed?' Boromir challenged.

Denethor managed to sit up without falling. 'Answer me first.'

'I woke up to use the privy and you weren't there any more and you weren't in your bed so we came looking for you,' Boromir said. Faramir nodded.

'You have no business wandering around at night.'

'We thought you had gone! Like Mama!' Faramir said. 'You're trying to leave us!'

'No! Don't be foolish.'

'Then what are you doing?' From the look on Boromir's face, Denethor did not think his eldest son was going to let him go without an answer.

'I went up to look out of the tower and think. I was coming back, and I sat to rest. I must have fallen asleep.' The boys looked at each other sidewise and Denethor knew they knew it was a lie.

'Then you should go to bed.' Boromir took Denethor's arm and tugged on it.

'Yes! That's what you tell us,' Faramir chimed in, taking his other arm. 'Bed time, Papa.'

Somehow the three of them got Denethor to his feet and down the tower steps without falling. No servants crossed their path as they staggered along the hall, no doubt exhausted with grief and unmindful of their duties. Memories of the struggle in the palantír came back to Denethor - the cruel mind, the force of their wills like hammer blows across the leagues, the final triumph as he wrested the stone away from the demon. Once back to their quarters, Boromir led them to Denethor's room. It took a good deal of pushing and pulling, but the boys managed to get him shoved into his bed. Faramir pulled off Denethor's shirt while Boromir wrestled off his boots. More pushes and pulls got him got him mostly lying lengthwise. Boromir lay down behind him, an arm wrapped around Denethor's waist. Faramir curled up against his chest, one hand twined in Denethor's hair.

'You're not leaving us,' Boromir said firmly. 'I will go, not you.'

'Don't go away, Papa,' Faramir whispered. 'Don't leave us.'

Denethor pulled them to him. 'I won't. I promise. As long as you live, I will remain.'

A soft mew announced Telperien's company. She curled up in the pillows and purred them into their dreams.

******

She loved me for the dangers I had passed,
And I loved her that she did pity them.

Scene I, Act iii, Othello, Shakespeare

***

He piled upon the whale's hot hump the sum of all the general rage and hate felt by his whole race from Adam down; and then, as if his chest has been a mortar, he burst his hot heart's shell upon it.

"Moby Dick", Moby Dick, Herman Melville

***

This is more than Consent, or Concord; it is real Unitie of them all, in one and the Person, made by Covenant of every man with every man, in such manner, as if every man should say to every man, I Authorize and give up my Right of Governing my selfe, to this Man, or to this Assembly of men, on this condition, that thou give up they Right to him , and Authorize his Actions in like manner. This done, the Multitude so united in one Person, is called a COMMON-WEALTH...This is the Generation of that great LEVIATHAN, or rather (to speake more reverently) of that Mortall God to which wee owe under the Immortal God, our peace and defence.

"Of Commonwealth, " Leviathan, Thomas Hobbes

***

He hath cast me into the mire, and I am become like dust and ashes.
I cry unto thee, and thou dost not hear me: I stand up and thou regardest me not.
Thou art become cruel to me: with the strong hand thou opposest thyself against me.
Thou liftest me up to the wind; thou causest me to ride upon it, and dissolvest my substance.
For I know that thou wilt bring me to death, and to the house appointed for all living...
Doth not he see my ways, and count all my steps?
If I have walked with vanity, or if my foot hath hasted to deceit;
Let me be weighed in an even balance that God may know mine integrity.

30:19, Book of Job



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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

Go to Hands of the King overview