19. Third Age 2976
A sparrow lit on the parapet and Denethor almost lost his footing in surprise. He was standing upon the wall itself, hanging onto one of the marble pieces that was placed upright for beauty's sake, craning his neck for signs of the entourage. He laughed ruefully, 'Twould be well and good for me to fall and crash below. An interesting way to greet my bride!' The laugh changed to a startled cry of joy. Dust was disturbed in the distance, along the South Road, more dust than a lone horseman or cart would kick up. It must be her!
He jumped off the parapet, onto the escarpment, ran to the wall that began his shortcut, and started down, level by level. On the Fourth Level, he had to stop for a breath. "I am growing too old for this," he moaned softly. The pause gave his body a chance to complain. He looked at his burning hands, surprised by the blood oozing from various cuts. 'I think I will have to stop climbing these walls soon, and use the streets.' Too anxious to take the slower, longer road along those streets, he once again grabbed a handhold and crawled down another part of his childhood shortcut. He startled a servant who was hanging out her mistress' wash, but only gave a grunt of apology and continued.
By now he was on the Second Level and decided it would be prudent to take to the streets; he ducked into one of the inns. The hosteller was startled by the appearance of the son of the Steward, but, upon request, led him to a room with sink, towels, and a mirror. Thankful, Denethor noted none of the blood had dripped onto his clothing. After cleaning up and running a hand through his hair, he left the room, flipped a coin to the hosteller with a mumbled thank you and walked out into the sun. It was the first he had noticed the day; it could not be more beautiful. Spring flowers were in full bloom; a wind, strong enough to carry the odors away from the City and to snap the Steward's banners, blew from the south.
As he walked into the Ranger's Quarters on the First Level, he smiled. Dagnir never failed to amaze him; his horse was saddled and ready. The mane was braided as was the tail, and a mithril-edged helmet covered the horse's head. He was glad he had worn his own best livery. 'Twould not do to have his horse look more elegant than himself.
Horse and rider passed through the Great Gate as the City's trumpets sounded. A herald rode behind him holding the White Banner of the House of Húrin. He rode slowly; it would not do to appear too anxious. He heard hoof beats behind him and espied Thorongil riding towards him, followed by a contingent of Ecthelion's personal guard, the Steward's banner flying in front of them. Denethor pulled his mount up and waited. Thorongil drew next to him and smiled. "Forgive my temerity, my Lord, but I did not think it proper that the future Steward of Gondor should be left to greet his Lady without escort." Denethor smiled, turned his horse south again, and continued his journey, Thorongil at his side. The Knights of Gondor, mounted on the best horses in the land, rode in a double file. Denethor turned slightly in his saddle to see. Pride swelled his heart for at that very moment, the sun, coming from behind a small white cloud, touched the Citadel. The glory of it, the beauty, took his breath away. Finduilas could not help but fall in love with his City, not on a day like today.
They reached the Harlond. Her escort had stopped at the ancient port and awaited him. Adrahil stepped from the coach. One of his men brought a fine looking steed, which the Prince of Dol Amroth mounted. He clasped arms warmly with Thorongil and then turned and saluted Denethor. The slight was swift but not unnoticed. 'So,' Denethor thought, 'we play games. If this smoothes the ill content of our marriage, then I will endure any slight for her.' The three turned their horses and rode at the front of the column. Thorongil chatted amiably with the prince, who chose to ignore the Steward's son. Denethor held his anger in check. All he wanted was to jump off his horse, open the carriage in which she rode, and take her into his arms. But - she was not yet his. The entourage passed through the Great Gates while the trumpets sang out the joy that was in his heart. He had never heard the full swell of trumpets. His banishment had caused him to miss Ecthelion's coronation ceremony, the only time within his lifetime that the full call of the trumpets of Gondor had rung out. Indis had told him how the sound had filled every nook and hollow in the City, echoing off Mount Mindolluin itself. He shivered for the grandeur of it. Despite his anger and frustration over the binding of the two houses, Ecthelion would not shame Gondor by not presenting a mighty exhibition of welcome and celebration.
The men dismounted at the great square of Isildur. Her carriage stopped; Adrahil opened the door, took her hand and helped her out. Denethor craned his neck, trying to manage a glimpse of her, but the Knights of the Swan barred his way. He lifted an eyebrow. Another snub. He would be forced to walk behind Adrahil's men. Thorongil, it seemed, would not allow this affront to pass, though. He took Denethor's arm and walked him to the front of the company. The man, well loved by the Swan Knights, commanded respect and the company let them pass. Refreshments were served under a portico set up purposefully for this event. Light drinks and pastries, designed to refresh the road weary travelers, completed the fare. After this short repast, at which Denethor could get no closer to her than a quarter of a furlong away, flanked as she was by her family, she was returned to her carriage and the procession started towards the Citadel.
When they reached the Sixth Level, the carriage stopped. Finduilas stepped out, blinded by the morning light shining off white Mindolluin marble. She smiled when she caught sight of him. He stepped towards her, but Adrahil took her hand and turned her towards the tunnel that led to the Citadel. Denethor took a step back, longing filling his face. He had forgotten any insult as soon as he had seen her.
Thorongil, putting his hand on Denethor's shoulder, whispered, "Soon, she will be yours forever. Let Adrahil have his moment."
Denethor grunted in agreement. "Now that she is here, in my City, I can hope."
"I know," Thorongil chuckled, "Believe me, I know." His thoughts went back to the last three years. Four times a year Denethor had persuaded Ecthelion to allow him to go to Dol Amroth. Thorongil had no trouble procuring permission to accompany him. Four times a year they would fish on the return trip. Never on the way, for Denethor was hard-pressed to see her - his beloved. Thorongil smiled, thinking of the hours he had spent, line in a river somewhere between Dol Amroth and Minas Tirith, listening to minute details of Finduilas: her qualities, her expressions, her profound wisdom, until he would have to cry, "Stop, my Lord! I can stand no more, else I will woo the fair maiden myself." At which Denethor would blush and mumble an apology. The two men would laugh, pull their lines in, and bed down for the night. For three years Denethor's spirit had grown lighter and lighter.
Now the time was come at last.
The tunnel ended and they stood before the Courtyard. He gasped. She was overcome with emotion; he could see it in her face. He wanted to cry seeing the beauty of it reflected in her eyes. The stunning white marble, the great expanse of the Courtyard and escarpment itself, the Guards of the Citadel before the Court of the Fountain with their black surcoats embroidered with the White Tree and their winged mithril helmets, the swatch of green grass in the whiteness, and then - she paused and drew in her breath - the White Tree. Was that a tear on her cheek? Was it anguish over its lifeless limbs? He had forgotten; he should have told her. Adrahil seeing none of the beauty, took her arm, and forced her away from the sight. They walked to the Citadel. Denethor's heart broke. How he wished he could have stood next to her, drinking in the beauty and grandeur of the Courtyard through her eyes. How he wished he could have held her and told her the tree would bloom again. How he wanted to sweep her into his arms and love her right there, on the spot. His face was on fire for the thought of her. He would never be able to thank her for this glimpse of a first time sight. He wanted to fall to his knees and worship her. He leaned against the tunnel wall trying to catch his breath. Thorongil spoke softly. "My Lord, you do not want to miss her entry into the Great Hall?" Denethor blinked twice, drew a breath and started forward.
The guard opened the doors into the Great Hall; Prince Adrahil led Finduilas in, Denethor and Thorongil followed. She turned to him for one moment, her smile subdued, but the twinkle in her eyes stopped his breath. He closed his eyes for a moment, trying to let his heart return to some semblance of normalcy. The group moved forward; Thorongil gently took his arm and led him along. He was grateful; the Hall looked magnificent, marble walls and statues polished till they shone; he could see his face reflected in the glass-like shine of the floor. He had Indis to thank for this, he knew.
As they approached the Steward's Chair, Denethor's heart dropped. A blush of shame covered his face. Ecthelion should be on the Throne, his heart said, but he shook his head, chided himself and continued to walk forward. 'Ten thousand years will not suffice.' His father's words wound their way around his heart. Though their blood was as fine, nay even better than many in Minas Tirith, and those from Belfalas, never would the sons of the House of Húrin be aught but Stewards. He bit his lip, remembering Prince Adrahil's grand throne at Dol Amroth. His father was better... Nay, he must stay this thinking.
They bowed low, Prince Adrahil and Princess Finduilas, to his father, and for that, Denethor was grateful. Ecthelion rose from the Chair, stepped down the few steps, and kissed Adrahil on both cheeks, then turned his gaze upon Finduilas. Denethor noted the slight rise of his father's eyebrows as he looked upon her. She looked breath taking, even after such a long journey. Denethor's heart stood still for one moment, then Ecthelion pulled her close, kissed each cheek lightly, and led them to the Hall of Feasts. Denethor sighed and Thorongil laughed at his discomfiture.
"I tell you, all will be well, my friend," Thorongil whispered. "She has charm and wit and courage. She will hold her own against the Steward."
Denethor laughed and walked behind the group. "It is still a whole month before the ceremony. I will be able to neither eat, sleep, nor breath until that is completed. Perhaps we should go on patrol or some such. Anything to not be a witness to these grueling moments. My heart stops every time a new situation arises. I know she will hold her own against all, but I would that she did not have to. I would that we could run away, marry, and live together in joy. I sometimes think that will never be."
Thorongil chuckled. "Fate would not be so cruel as to bring you two together only to separate you. Rest in the knowledge of her love, her loyalty. She will be yours forever, and soon, my friend."
"It is good to hear you say such things." A cloud passed over Denethor's face.
"Is there aught wrong?" Thorongil asked quietly.
"A shadow sometimes seems to pass over us, as I try to look into our future."
"Then," Thorongil laughed outright, "You must stop looking!"
Denethor laughed loudly. "Yes, my friend. I will stop."
Though Denethor had only jested about going on patrol, a situation arose the very next day, and he was ordered to Cair Andros. Dagnir rode with him, along with a full battalion of knights, though the number in a battalion was now five hundred, compared to the seven hundred of just thirty years ago. Thorongil stayed in the City. As they reached the island, signs of recent battle smote their eyes. There were dead horses, battered carts, and armor strewn along the shores of the Anduin. The battle must have been great. He thought of the men he had commanded here just a few short years ago, and hoped that those he loved and respected had not fallen. No bodies were visible. They had all been buried and the Orcs' carcasses burned. The mound still smoldered. Denethor put a hand over his nose as they passed it. Never could he become inured to the smell. They stopped on the west side of the great river, pickets were set, and two companies rode forward on patrol.
Dagnir brought Denethor tea where he sat on a great fallen hickory tree. His captains congregated around him. "We will wait until our scouts return before we cross the river," he said quietly. "I would that we could cross over immediately, but seeing the signs of a battle that looks ended does not mean it is so; we cannot trust that it is over. Nor that Orcs are not waiting in ambush on the island itself. We must content ourselves to wait here. I want no fires this night. And I want the pickets doubled. Caution the men to keep quiet. We will leave in the morning, if the patrols do not return by then. If they have not returned, we will assume the worst and go in battle formation. Now, take your rest, it might be the last you have for many a day." He walked to his tent and entered it. Dagnir was inside, another cup of tea waiting. "You are the best aide I have had," Denethor smiled. "Thank you. Get some rest yourself now. I will need you at my side tomorrow, awake and alert." He fell into the cot, still dressed. Dagnir shrugged, pulled off his captain's boots, and left him.
The patrol had returned in the middle of the night with the news that the battle had indeed been won, and that those stationed at the garrison were back guarding it. Denethor did not strike camp, but decided to wait till the morrow. Once they had broken their fast the next morning, Denethor called Dagnir to his tent.
"Do you know how much your worth is to me?" Denethor asked his aide as the morning's light bathed the tent. "Nay, do not answer. I ask you this now for I would have your total allegiance."
"My Lord," Dagnir started to reply but was interrupted by Denethor.
"You will never be named a Captain of Gondor. I think you know that. It is custom in Gondor that only those with pure Númenórean blood are made up to captain. There has been an incident recently that has broken this tradition, you know of whom I speak; yet, there is only the one instance. I have asked Ecthelion to raise you, but he has called upon this tradition and refused me. I am... I have not the words to tell you the value I place on you. I speak now, for another will be raised to captaincy, one whom has been only a short time with our company. I wanted you to know, before his promotion is announced, that you were, are, and will be my first choice for captain. If it were in my power, you would be one today. I..." He could not continue.
Dagnir held his face impassive. Denethor was pleased, but the man's stoic behavior only further angered Denethor at his father's refusal. "I am sorry. I... I would ask that you continue as my aide, as my first officer, and as my friend. I would understand if you would prefer to transfer to another battalion."
Dagnir blinked. "My Lord, my duty is to Gondor and to the Steward. Whatever he wills, I will. May I be dismissed?"
Denethor wanted to hug the man in gratitude. Too long had they been comrades-in-arms to let this pass without further words. He struggled to think what he might say to assuage the grief he expected his aide felt.
"My Lord," Dagnir felt his captain's chagrin, "There is naught further to say. When I took commission in the service of Gondor, I knew what her traditions were. My heart had been set on only serving Gondor. It is my everlasting joy that I have been allowed to serve her through you. I will go and prepare your horse now." He saluted Denethor and backed out of the tent.
The garrison itself had been spared. Scouts had discovered the Orc hoard before they crossed the Anduin. Their goal seemed to be Osgiliath. Those not killed had run back towards the Nindalf.
As he and his men entered the gates of the island fort, a cheer went up. Denethor noted the diminished numbers of the battalion. 'Their losses were heavy,' he thought. A sudden anger filled him. 'How do these Orcs dare to trod on our land?' his mind screamed. 'We cannot continue to countenance this affront.' Dismounting, he strode quickly to his old office followed by the captain of the garrison. As he sat in the chair, he realized he was no longer captain here and stood up in embarrassment.
"Nay, my Lord," Captain Hathol said. "Please, sit. I await your orders."
He sat back down. "Alas, I have none for you. Your orders remain the same: guard the fort, patrol for Orcs and other enemies, and keep Gondor safe. A little thing." His sarcasm was not lost on the captain. "How many have you lost?"
"A full company, nigh unto seventy men and twenty horses. Neither supply easily replaced."
"I know. I will view the men before nuncheon. Please have them assembled at that time. I am sorry..." he paused for a moment. "Is there aught that I can do for you? That my men can do for you?"
"Burial has already been performed. We had planned a small ceremony..." Hathol hesitated. "In the morning. Would you be able to stay?"
"Of course! I would be honored. May I have the roll of those lost? I have friends here..."
"You will have it on your desk within the hour." Cair Andros' captain saluted, turned and left.
Denethor rubbed his hands over the top of the desk. He had many fond memories from his stay here.
Denethor decided to remain on Cair Andros for another fortnight. Walls needed reinforcing and the battle-weary troops needed rest. His men could provide that help and that rest. As he sat in his office, Dagnir entered. "My Lord, the horse situation is not good. They have lost too many in this last battle. The troops here need horses for patrol. Their territory is vast. They need them more than we who are stationed in Minas Tirith."
"I have been thinking on the same situation," Denethor stated. "I would like to lead a foray to the Mering Stream, meet with the Rohirrim; if memory serves me, they have an outpost there. Mayhap they will have extra mounts that we might trade for. Send two errand-riders to the Rohirric garrison. I will write the missive now."
The next day, before Anor itself had risen, the errand-riders were dispatched. Three days later, Denethor led half of his battalion west. On the third day after that, they pulled up to the Rohirric camp at the Mering Stream as the sun reached its peak.
"My Lord Denethor?" a soldier came forward, hand brought to his chest in salute. He laughed at the surprise on Denethor's face. "Thengel King himself taught me the proper way to greet the Steward's son." Then he pulled Denethor into a huge hug. "I am Éomund and I am in charge of this lowly camp. I am honored and pleased to meet the friend of my king." He paused. "And Walda's. He was a cousin and a friend. I understand you were with him at the end?"
Denethor sat on the proffered seat, a grimace covering his face. "Yes. Would that I had arrived sooner. He was mortally wounded by the time I reached him. We spent three years together, serving Rohan. He was a good Marshal and a good friend. I owed him my life many times over."
"And he you. I have heard of the battles you two were part of. Songs, even, have been made of some of them. Perhaps tonight we might sing them 'round the fire?"
Denethor blushed slightly. "I have heard of no such songs. If it pleases your men to sing them, we will listen - but - I believe songs of Eorl, Helm Hammerhand, or even Thengel King would sound sweeter."
After the noon meal, Éomund took Denethor to the horse enclosure. Over fifty horses were gathered together.
"Are all for sale?" Denethor asked incredulously.
"Yes, Denethor. As soon as the errand-riders showed me your missive, I knew my king would want me to do all in my power to help you. I sent runners to nearby posts. We have assembled what we could. I am ashamed, however. I know Gondor loves the black stallions of the East Emnet, but I have ill news. Most have been stolen." He held a hand to silence Denethor's questions. "It is not Orcs. Our custom was to leave our horses to wander free until we had need of them. A year ago, we noticed that the blacks were disappearing. We know not who, or what, is taking them. We now keep them in holding pens. But it harms their spirit. They are accustomed to being free."
"I have heard no such reports. Has the Steward been told?"
Éomund drew himself up. "The men of the Riddermark do not need Mundburg's help in such a little thing."
"My deepest apologies, Éomund. The sons of Eorl have long protected the western borders that abut Gondor. Would you think that I, who have served under Fengel King, do not know of your courage, your wisdom? Yet, Gondor cannot survive without knowledge of what happens on her borders. You must see that." He paused for a moment, letting his words sway the young soldier. "It is not in disparaging thoughts that I asked my question. Gondor would be foolish not to listen to her league-fellows."
"Nay, forgive me," Éomund blushed. "I am hot headed and rash. Wisdom would be served by knowledge. You speak true. If you would allow, I will send monthly missives to Mundburg with news of the goings-on in our part of the Riddermark, with my king's permission."
"No apology is needed. You fight a desperate battle. I know; I have been there. Your mind and wherewithal are on other matters. Yet, it would be in the best interest of Gondor and the men of the Riddermark to converse as often as possible. Let us to your tent to discuss terms for the horses."
Night came, pickets were set, and the fires were lit. Instruments of all sort were drawn forth and the night's entertainment begun. Denethor smiled to be back among these warriors. He knew many of the songs by heart; it felt good to sing them again. 'Ah, Amdir would laugh to hear me sing, but I believe my voice has improved since our little jaunt to Rath Dínen.' He shared warm ale and a bedroll with Éomund. Leaning against it, he thought, 'I rather like this young warrior. Headstrong, yes, but wise too. If he can keep from becoming enmeshed in fighting, he should turn into a strong leader for Rohan.'
Suddenly, he sat up. He recognized the song as one of Walda's favorites. 'Where now the horse and rider? Where is the horn that was blowing?' The singer sang while the harpist picked the notes. He held his breath, such beauty in the words and the simple melody. He never understood the last two lines, but it mattered not. Haunting was the melody and haunting were the words. 'Who shall gather the smoke of the dead wood burning, Or behold the flowing years from the Sea returning?' The camp was silent for many long moments after the last note fell.
Another man began to sing and the harpist quickly followed.
Northern fields touched by sun
Awake to horns mighty sound
Rohirrim ride strong and bold
Rise with them, we must away.
Fealty to our king with mighty oaths
Shields raised, spears held high
Swords shining in the Riddermark
Ride now! Ride on!
Foe-beleaguered our steeds striding
Marching forth, to battle called
Fight and fall, buried deep
To heart's breaking, grief awaking.
Buried deep in snow-covered mounds
Where Gentle Simbelmynë rest awash in tears
Warriors before the Golden Hall
Sons of Eorl sleep at last.
"Mundburg has songs, too? Forgive me," the banner-bearer stood before him. "I am called Guthláf."
Denethor smiled. This one was very young. "We have songs. I, however, cannot sing. I will spare you pain. Dagnir. What say you? Will you give these men a song? We cannot have them strain their voices all night. And, they must have time to down a flagon or two. Can you give them that time?"
Dagnir smiled broadly. "Yes, Captain. I can." He stood and turned towards the company.
Golden fields stretch to greet her
Sundering seas is her allure
Shimmering mountains tower high
Touching moonlit mountain sky.
Hoping, waiting, all welcoming
Minas Tirith's glinting towers
Lum'nous spikes, gleaming white
Smite the darkness, ream the night.
Anor waits to greet the day
Wishing darkness all away
Shadows lurk, they do not sunder
Light nor shade nor worlds of wonder.
Night lies still and will not leave
Warrior widows sit and grieve
Light will come 'tis part of life
As with battles as with strife.
Gondor sits, mirrored moonbeams
Light her walls in Elvish dreams
All is well; Eärendil shines
'Pon my City, beloved, mine.
Hoots, hollers and backslapping followed the song. Denethor had to laugh.
"You men of Mundburg," Éomund laughed, "only sing of the White City? Have you no other love besides?"
"She is love and mistress enough for any man, Rohir. Mark my words; if ever you should happen upon her, especially when the morning sun touches her, you will be caught in her web. None who see her forget her."
"Then," Éomund sobered, "I wait to see her."
"And I will gladly show her to you. Someday. For now, we must rest. Tomorrow we must be off. Our men await these mounts. Gondor is indeed blessed to have such friends as the Sons of Eorl."
"You are to be wed, I hear?" the young warrior asked as Denethor stood. At his nod Éomund continued, "Has my king accepted your father's invitation?"
"Yes, Éomund, he has. He sent missives saying he will arrive sometime soon. The ceremony will take place less than a fortnight from now. I must away tomorrow, or I might miss my own vow taking! May I wonder why you asked?"
"I had hoped to see his daughter again. Has the Lady Théodwyn been invited? I..." His cheeks turned a pale red under the sun-darkened skin. "I was hoping the Eorlingas might rest here on their journey to Mundburg."
Denethor smiled, knowing why the young man hoped the entourage would stop. He remembered the child Théodwyn and wondered. 'The last time I saw her,' he thought, 'she was only ten. I wonder how she appears now. And what makes this man think Thengel would consider him? Hmmm, hope dwells always in a man's heart.' He spoke aloud, "Your king did not say what day he would arrive, but I had hoped it would be soon. Which again makes me anxious to retire now, so that we might strike camp early on the morrow. Please forgive the abruptness of this, but my own love will be anxious at my absence."
"Oh! I am sorry. Yes, please, sleep now. My tent is yours."
"Nay, I will not take your tent. Dagnir has already set mine. I will farewell you now. I am hoping we will be gone before the first light. I thank you for your hospitality. Gondor thanks you for the horses. May the men of the Riddermark live long."
"Farewell to you, Captain Denethor. Fair weather and flat lands greet you."
With that, Denethor turned and walked to his own tent. Consternation filled his face. It was not till they had talked of the arrival of Thengel that Denethor had remembered how perilous short was his time. Dagnir greeted him. "Tell my captains I would see them now."
He barely had time to take a sip of the tea brewed by Dagnir when the tent flap was pulled back and his captains strode in. "We will leave before first light. The horses will follow the main company. Have drovers ready. We will eat on the road." They bowed and made to leave. "One other thing, we must not tarry. I must start for Minas Tirith as soon as we arrive in Cair Andros. Go now and tell the men."
He strode up and down inside the little tent, tension causing his neck to ache. Dagnir entered and Denethor poured out his unease upon his aide. "I have misjudged the time. She will be wondering where I am. I cannot let her be anxious over me. I still have preparations that must be made. The ring is done. For that I am thankful. I know Indis will arrange the festivities, but I wanted to buy her some little offering, some token of my love besides the ring. I have found naught."
"My Lord, there is an heirloom in the treasury, a dirk once worn by Turgon's mother. My father saw it with his own eyes and told me of its beauty. The handle is encrusted with emeralds. If I remember correctly, the emeralds are the seven stars; there is a moonstone at the base of the White Tree. It would be a fair gift for the Lady Finduilas."
"Yes! I remember it well." Denethor grasped Dagnir's shoulder. "Thank you. I will ask Father for it when I return. It is a fitting gift for a Princess of Dol Amroth." A smile lit his face. "How can I sleep now? My heart is o'erburdened with this joy. Yet sleep I must. And so must you, Dagnir. Go now. Wake me an hour before the company rises."
Dagnir watched the furrow on Denethor's brow grow less and less distinct the closer they came to Minas Tirith. It had taken longer than his captain had thought to drive the horses to Cair Andros. It had been tedious work; the men were not used to herding horses. He had had to laugh at the sight of one or another of Gondor's Knights urging his own steed on to catch a wayward mare of Rohan that had tried to head off to parts unknown. Too often, the horse seemed to win, and more of the knights would be needed to bring the animal back to the herd. He sighed. It would be good to enter the White City, bathe in warm water, sit on a cushioned chair, sleep in his own bed, and not smell of horse! 'Ah,' he thought. 'I am becoming soft.' He turned to look back at the men. Denethor's sharp intake of breath caused him to quickly turn around. His captain had pulled up on his horse.
"My Lord. Is aught amiss?"
"Look! Look at the City! It... It begs description."
Dagnir stopped his horse and stared. Indeed, he had never seen the White City so beautiful. Banners snapped in the stiff northern wind. White banners everywhere. There seemed to be not one inch of Minas Tirith not flying the Steward's Banner. From every parapet, from every tower, cascading down windows, covering the Great Gate, banners flew. It was staggering. The City looked magnificent. Dagnir's smile filled his face. "My Lord, 'tis a wondrous sight."
"'Tis indeed," Denethor concurred. "This is the work of Indis. Where and when she had the time to plan this, I do not know. It is wondrous." The familiar tingle prickled his body; the same sensation he felt every time he looked at his City from afar.
Simultaneously, both men clicked their tongues, urging their horses to a gallop. The knights followed; amazed at the sight before them. "I cannot fathom," he whispered, "any place more beautiful. Surely the Valar themselves had a hand in the making of her."
Piercing gray eyes stared at him from the back of the Hall. He could almost see the fire in them, not the fire of love or want, but the fire of anger. His face blanched. He knew she was furious. This was the first they had seen each other since the day she arrived. E'er since his return, two days ago from Cair Andros, his father busied him with small errands. Were these used to keep him away from her, he wondered? Beyond that, reports needs be written and offered, replacements found for those lost at the battle of the River, remuneration for the horses discussed, a myriad of tasks laid at his feet. The matter of Rohan's horses was the worst. They had spent an entire day arguing about it.
Even this morning, on his oath-taking day, Ecthelion had summoned him again to berate him for his actions. He had been enraged when he heard the price Denethor had agreed upon.
"And not even black stallions!" his father had shouted. "What possessed you to agree to that price with no stallions?"
"My Lord Steward," Denethor spoke softly. "The Rohirrim gave us the best horses they had. They are worth the price. They are healthy and of good breeding stock. We paid for sires, mares, and their future offspring."
Thorongil tried to step between the two, but Ecthelion waved him away. As he stepped back, Denethor noted a glint of green coming from a weapon hitched to Thorongil's belt. He drew in his breath. He knew this dirk! Thorongil looked at him in surprise, saw where his eyes were looking, and blushed. Ecthelion noted naught but his own anger.
Pulling himself as tall as he could, Denethor said, "My Lord. It is done. Gondor cannot go back on her word to her allies. If you deem the price too high, you may take it from my pay. Or," and he looked pointedly at Thorongil, "you may take one of my prized possessions. Perhaps great-grandmother's dirk - the one she promised to me?"
Thorongil's face grew a deeper shade of red, but Ecthelion was oblivious to the barb. "You will certainly pay for this in the years to come - when you are Steward and the Treasury is empty because of your folly!"
Ecthelion's words stung. "Yes, Father. I will pay for it, as I will pay for the sons not born because your lords think only of the building of monuments to lie in dead; I will pay for it because my ancestors thought that Gondor was safe and not in need of defense building; I will pay for it when our allies turn their backs on us because we demean them; I will pay for it when wizards rule the House of Húrin instead..."
"Enough!" Ecthelion bellowed. "I have had enough of your whimpering and whining, your softened heart. Gondor will be strong! Gondor's allies will see that they cannot take advantage of us." He strode back and forth in front of the Steward's Chair. Reining in his anger, he turned to Denethor. "I have spoken with the wizard. He has assured me we are doing well. He suggests we strengthen Pelargir and I agree. I am sending my captain, Thorongil, to replace Captain Amdir at Pelargir. He has been commissioned to restock the fleet, encourage foreigners to join our forces under him, and remind the lords of the southern fiefs to call up their sons for Gondor's service. He will be leaving as soon as the ceremony is complete. He will not deplete the Treasury, nor give excuses as to why our allies rook us, nor fail us in our need. Go now. Prepare for your vow taking to this... this..." He stopped at the look upon Denethor's face, and seemed to quail for a moment.
Denethor saluted him stiffly, glared at Thorongil, and left the Hall.
He shook his head to clear it of the memories of these last two days. He must focus on her and on the ceremony. He must let all thoughts of the last few hours dissipate. She had every right to be angry. He had duties to perform, but she was now part of those duties. How would he ever explain himself? What a night this would be.
The procession moved forward; Finduilas holding her hand lightly on Adrahil's arm, as she had the night he fell in love with her. She looked like steel - a fine sword, honed to sharpness. By the Valar, he wished he had left his father hours ago. The Swans reached the Chair and bowed low before Ecthelion. Denethor took his place to the right of the Chair. Ecthelion stood, addressed the company, motioned for Denethor to join them, and continued. By now, Denethor's ears were ringing. He knew she was angry, could see it in her stance, but the anger seemed to make her even more beautiful. Daughter of Elves indeed.
Denethor leaned closer and whispered in Quenya, "I will not forsake thee again; I vow it, here in front of the Steward's Chair."
She laughed and his face turned scarlet. The next moment, she placed her hand lightly on his arm. Her brow furrowed as she replied in the same tongue, "Never leave me nor forsake me, my Lord. Thou art my very breath. I cannot live without thee. I cannot think without thee. I cannot love without thee. Thou art my all."
Ecthelion, listening, stared at her. 'Elves,' he thought. 'Strange creatures.'
Denethor shook at the touch of her hand. He took hers in his and kissed it gently, not caring what the guests thought. Now, he would truly make her his own; he would say the words of the vow and cleave to her. How his voice did not quiver as he solemnly promised his fealty and love, he did not know. Yet, he finished the words and marveled that he still stood. He watched in amazement as she leaned over and kissed him fully on the lips.
Another withering look from Ecthelion, but she smiled at the Steward and spoke. "My Lord," she said to Denethor, "Do not stake thy life on that vow. Thou and I wilt talk - but that time is not now. 'Tis time for my own oath."
She turned fully towards him and spoke in a loud voice.
"How canst I say that I love thee, my Lord? What words might I use? No word, no thought, no feeling is strong enough, eloquent enough to tell thee of the love that o'erflows my heart - because thou, my Lord, hast filled my heart with such joy, such longing, such peace.
"Thou hast open'd my eyes to the world around me, to its beauty, its smells, its colors, its sounds - birds chirping, gulls calling, children laughing - because of thy love for me.
"Thou hast opened my heart by giving me family and friends who love me without question," she turned and smiled at Indis, "accept me as I am, hold me to faithfulness, cherish me, and find me of worth - because of thy love for me.
"Thou hast opened my mouth to sing, given words to thy love and fidelity, shared the joy of thee with others, cried with others, and laugh'd with others - because of thy love for me.
"I am entire because thou completest me. I am thine, my Lord, from now until always."
He swept her into his arms, holding her close. Never had he expected words of such passion, such commitment to fall from her lips. He lifted her chin and kissed her deeply. Turning towards the Steward, he bowed, placed her hand on his arm, and walked down the long Hall. The smile on his face lit the room and caused his people to rejoice!
The ceremony was over. As she walked with him towards the Great Door, she quietly reminded him that they had much to speak of. He stifled a sigh. Then he spoke to her in Quenya - love phrases he had learned from books found in the archives. He would persuade her to begin this day anew, from this moment onward. He would show her he meant the vow he had just made. Whispering sweet names to her, he continued towards the Door. "Beloved, Precious, Star of Eärendil, Daughter of Varda, Fairest Lady of Gondor," on and on he went. He closed his eyes for a moment before they reached the entrance. Turning towards her, he begged forgiveness, then took her in his arms and kissed her passionately. Long and slow was that kiss and the guests started tittering, but he did not care. At last, he loosened his hold upon her and turned her towards the door. They walked forward, smiling, out of the North Door and into Merethrond, the Hall of Feasts.
Their moment of happiness was short-lived, however. Thorongil came, the next morning, to speak with him. Denethor did not want to see him; did not want to give him a moment to explain the meaning of the dirk. And yet, he knew that is why the northerner came. Memories tried to flood his mind, memories of their friendship; he willed himself not to remember. Finally, he bid the servant let the man enter.
Thorongil quickly strode into the outer chamber, saluted, and bowed on one knee. "My Lord."
Denethor blushed. "Stop it. Get up. There is no need for that." The memories would not be checked; he could not let his friend kneel to him. "Finduilas sleeps. Let us to the balcony." A servant followed and laid tea, cheeses, breads, jams, and sweetened rolls on a table. "Have you broken your fast?" At Thorongil's shake of the head, he bade him sit and eat. After a few moments silence, Denethor asked, "Would you tell me why my father gave you the dirk?"
"I do not know myself, Denethor. I truly do not. He gave it to me at the same moment he gave me the captaincy of Pelargir. A token of his esteem. I did not want to take it. It is too grand a gift for one such as me."
"I..." Denethor laughed hoarsely. "I was going to give it to Finduilas as a gift." He shook his head. "There are other items in the Treasury that would be more appropriate. She does not countenance violence and would probably put it in some corner, or at the top of some storage area, and it would be lost. Better you have it," he said with a small smile.
"There is another matter, Denethor."
"Yes? What is it?"
"Pelargir. I know you have wanted to command the fleet. I know you trained for it under Prince Adrahil. I did not ask for it. I must have you know that."
"I know. And my father knows I wanted it." He stood facing the parapet. Gulls called to each other and the sound broke his heart. He thought of the books he had read of Minardil's captain of old, Captain Vëantur. Reading of the great sea captain's voyages had helped Denethor through the torments of his early childhood. Now he would never sail the seas on adventure. Not only Thorongil's appointment, but also his taking of a bride, had put an end to those dreams.
"It is best you go. But first, I have another question. Did Mithrandir suggest that you have the captaincy of Pelargir?"
Thorongil bowed his head. Denethor knew he had his answer. His mind whirled. Bits and pieces of old thoughts, old fears, ran through him. 'Wizards are not to be trusted,' he remembered Amdir saying a very long time ago. He sighed heavily. He had learned to fight Curunír; now he would have to learn how to fight this wizard.
"I would spend time with Finduilas." He laughed at the memory of the hours he spent bending Thorongil's ear on the graces of the fair lady. "You understand what I mean. I look forward to our next meeting."
"Yes, I understand, my friend. I will think on you often. I would hope that, upon your trips to Belfalas to visit her kin, you might take the Pelargir road and visit with me?"
"I will do that. You may outfit your best ship and transport us by the Bay to Dol Amroth. We will laugh and sing, and perhaps put a line out. The fish in the Bay are known for their great size!" He gave Thorongil a great hug and showed him from the room. As he walked back in, she stood in the bedchamber's doorway.
"Art thou so eager to leave thy bed, my Lord?"
He smiled. Let Thorongil have the sea. He had Ulmo's own, a water sprite.
A/N - 1) The title Marshal is used for many army postings in LOTR. Marshal of the Riddermark, Marshal of the Mark, etc. There do not seem to be any other titles for those in Theoden's army. So I used Marshal of the garrison as Éomund's title. He is young and this is probably one of his first commands. For precedent, I used this quote from TTT, Ch. 8, The Road to Isengard. 'More were scattered than were slain; I gathered together all that I could find. Some men I sent with Grimbold of Westfold to join Erkenbrand. Some I set to make this burial. They have now followed your marshal, Elfhelm.' 2) Denethor calls Rohan 'league-fellows' - I used this term from the one in ROTK, Ch. 6 - Battle of the Pelennor Fields. From the song, The Mounds of Mundberg. 'In the Mounds of Mundburg under mould they lie with their league-fellows, lords of Gondor.' 3) Banner-bearer -This is his first assignment, under Éomund. Guthláf is Théoden's banner-bearer and dies next to his king on the Pelennor. ROTK, Ch. 5 - The Ride of the Rohirrim. 'With that he seized a great horn from Guthláf his banner-bearer, and he blew such a blast upon it that it burst asunder.'
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.