20. Third Age 2978
Indis waited for him at the Great Gate. 'Always patient,' he thought with a smile. He quickly dismounted and strode towards her.
"Denethor!" she ran to him and relished the feel of his arms as he picked her up and swung her about. "Too long have you been gone. Finduilas has been beside herself. I have tried my best to assuage her fears for you. I have told her you are rock-hard and unable to fall to any enemy or fell beast. But she would not listen. And she told me her secret."
His face beamed and burnt at the same time. "I wanted to tell you myself, sister," he placed her back upon the ground, looking down at her. "Though I am most happy that she confides in you, that you have become friends. It is true. Arciryas said he might even come by Yáviérë."
"He! And how do you know it is a he? It could be a she. She carries her high. That is the usual sign for a girl baby."
He grinned. "Nay, 'tis indeed a boy."
She looked up at him impertinently. "You have some knowledge that I do not?"
"I had a dream, a premonition. I do not know what it was, but I do know she carries a boy. And that he will be a leader of men. And strong, steadfast and... and valiant. He will need to be all those things." A shadow crossed his face. "I sometimes wonder if it is ill-advised to bring another child into this world." His voice trailed off and he looked behind him towards the Ephel Dúath.
"Little brother! Come; let us not sully this day with thoughts of darkness. There is only light that comes from Mindolluin. The white of the great marble walls that our forefathers carved shines forth for all to see. And your little one will shine like a great jewel."
Her carefree laughter dispelled the darkness that tried to settle upon him. When he had heard the news from Arciryas' messenger, he had immediately returned to the City. Away for only a fortnight, his heart ached as if he had been gone for a year. In that time, he had been visited twice by unwanted thoughts and feelings, dark thoughts of a time of greater peril still for Gondor. And for his family. Once he had heard the news, he quickly finished his task and returned to the City.
They walked up the streets towards the Citadel, her arm cradled in his. Long had it been since they had had such a moment together. She drank in the joy of it. Being a generous creature, she had never begrudged Denethor time with others. Though her heart sometimes ached with the loneliness she felt, she rejoiced in her brother's joy. Arciryas, now Master Healer, was too often in the Houses; too much blood, pain, and sorrow lay upon him. It seemed the darkness of the One they do not name crept further into the very depths of Gondor. Besides being healer, he insisted on trying to find new remedies to help heal the men. He labored in the Houses sometimes for days and nights at end, wrenching bits of sleep on a little cot in his office, until she would fear for his health and compel him to come to their chambers for a good meal and an extended rest. But never enough.
"The enemy seems to be redoubling his efforts. Ithilien turns darker and darker each day," he whispered to her. "We need more men. I do not know where we can find them, but we need more men."
"Then Ecthelion was right in bringing in outsiders to the ranks of the army?"
"I cannot say. It seems not to have made a difference." He rubbed his forehead to try to release the tension constricting it. "We must exhort the other lords to give up their sons, their servants to fight for Gondor. We will not be able to survive; Gondor will fall."
She drew her breath in sharply. Accustomed as she was to his nay saying, she was unprepared for the depth of it this day of all days. Such good news should have rivaled all other news. Yet, he seemed not to be able to shake the desolation she heard in his voice. Her own brow knitted. The enemy truly had launched stronger, albeit furtive assaults on Gondor. The lists of dead increased daily - lists showing the destruction from the numerous sorties of the enemy who reamed Ithilien and the southern reaches of Gondor. The need for Arciryas in the Houses on such a steady basis told the tale in more gruesome fashion than Denethor's words.
"I cannot greet her like this," he sighed. "Is it my imagination...?" He did not want to give word to his fears, yet Indis had spent much time with Finduilas - she would know the answer. "Does she grow sad? Does she laugh less? Does she sigh more and louder? I have noted a change in her, do you?"
"Nay! It is as you say. But now, her heart is lightened. We must kindle the fire of joy that is permeating her. We must keep all ill news from her. I amar prestar aen. If she is to survive, she must not see what is happening. We must keep her eyes fixed on the babe."
"And after that? What then, my dear sister?"
Indis laughed. "After that, my dear brother, she will be so busy running after the little one that she will have no time for any thought!"
He held her in his arms, cradling her gently. His breath stirred the hairs on her forehead.
"That tickles," she giggled.
"Forgive me," he sighed, stroked the hair back from her face, and continued breathing gently.
She turned her face towards his and ran her fingers lightly over his forehead, trying to ease the creases that furrowed it. "I love you," she whispered.
"Nay, 'tis I who lovest thee." He took her hand from his forehead and kissed it lightly. He must banish the dark thoughts. Too well she knew him. She would know. "My mind is elsewhere. Names." He smiled as he looked into her great gray eyes. "Hast thou thought of a name for him?"
"Him. Thou continuest to say, 'him.' Art thou so certain, my love?"
"Yes. 'Tis true. Trust me."
She sighed. "An heir for Gondor. It is thy wish, is it not?"
"My wish is for health for thee and for our babe. It matters not if it be boy or girl, though I am certain 'he' is a boy." He tickled her gently and she laughed.
Another sigh. "My arms ache to hold him." She smiled. "'Tis a long time before that will happen."
"'Tis only Tuilérë. Six months more must we wait. But there is much to do. Among which is picking his name."
"Thou art relentless, my husband!"
"What thinkest thou of Boromir?" He had remembered how Indis had said his son would shine like a great jewel. Indis had no more far-sightedness than any other maiden of Gondor, yet her words had lodged in his heart. A great jewel. A faithful jewel. His son must be faithful to Gondor, to his duty, and to his people. It would be easy to convince Finduilas to name him thus - a jewel of great price. But for him? He smiled, remembering the first Boromir, the great Dorthonion leader, and also Boromir, son of Denethor I. How fitting to continue the tradition of a Boromir following a Denethor! And that Boromir was also a powerful warrior. His hopes started to climb. Perhaps his son would lead Gondor to victory, would become king... His heart stopped for a moment. 'Ten thousand years' - the words screamed at him.
"Boromir," she rolled the name over her tongue, her lips moving silently as she contemplated it. "Dost it mean faithful jewel?"
"Yes, my love. Does that not seem perfect?"
"Boromir. The name pleasures my lips." She said it again and he swiftly moved forward and kissed them.
"Stop this!" she said as she leaned closer to him. "Stop this," she whispered as he drew her even closer, but he would not stop. "Boromir it will be," she sighed.
He reported early the next morning to Ecthelion. His mission had been simple. Reassure the captains stationed at Cair Andros and Henneth Annûn of the Steward's support, examine the garrisons' strengths, and observe their needs. Then report back. It seemed a waste of time. Daily, errand-riders brought reports back far more detailed than the ones Ecthelion had asked for. He did not understand the need for this mission. He could not, however, question his orders. So he had gone and returned in a timelier manner than Ecthelion had anticipated. As Denethor entered the Great Hall, he was surprised to see Thorongil attending the Steward. He stopped for only a moment, brow furrowed, then continued forward.
"Denethor!" Thorongil welcomed him warmly. Ecthelion did not raise his eyes. He studied a map laid open before him.
"My Lord Steward," Denethor greeted his father. Ecthelion kept his eyes on the map.
"I see we need to shore up our defenses here and here," he pointed to the map. "The men I sent you should be sufficient. I also want more ships built. How fared you with Adrahil? Is he ready to give us what we need?" He looked up finally, but not at Denethor, at Thorongil.
Denethor made not a sound. So this was why he was sent on that worthless mission. Ecthelion had not wanted him to be here whilst Thorongil was. And from the sound of it, Thorongil had been very busy indeed, meeting with Adrahil, receiving fresh troops, shoring up defenses. Denethor's face started to burn as he struggled to remain calm.
"My captain has returned with good news, Denethor," Ecthelion finally acknowledged his presence. "He is working wonders in the south. Pelargir will ultimately be the garrison Gondor needs, not the sleepy seaport it had been under Amdir. You can take a lesson from his deeds. He has kept the costs low, too. The price for new ships is well within reason, not overstated, as some would negotiate. Perhaps I should place you under his command. You would learn much." Ecthelion turned towards Thorongil. "You met also with Mithrandir? I would hear of your discourse with the wizard." He paused for a moment, turning towards Denethor. "You do not need to hear of these things, Denethor. Go back to your troops and wait for my summons." He turned back to Thorongil. Denethor, smiting from the veiled reprimand and the dismissal, saluted and left.
"My captain! He called him 'my captain.' And this is not the first time he has done so," Denethor growled as he walked into the sunlight. The sight of the White Tree burnt his eyes. 'Does he hold me responsible for that, too?' he wondered bitterly. He walked to the parapet and sat on the wall overlooking the Pelennor. His love for Gondor caught in his throat as he looked out at the fields and orchards before him. Still a beautiful sight, even knowing what evil lay beyond the River. "My captain," he said again and tears stung his eyes. As the noon bells rang, he left his reverie and turned towards his quarters in the White Tower. Head lowered, he almost walked into a man. He looked up quickly, an apology on his lips that died as soon as he noted it was Thorongil.
"My Lord," the captain said gently. "You did not see me? I called your name a moment ago, as soon as I saw you sitting on the parapet."
Denethor smiled, hiding his anger. "Nay, I did not hear you," his eyebrow lifting as he spoke.
"What have I done, my Lord?" Thorongil asked in dismay.
"What say you?" Denethor queried. "There is naught amiss." He tried to walk past the man.
Thorongil put out an arm and immediately took it back, recoiling at Denethor's glare. "Did you not know that I was recalled for this meeting? I was summoned a fortnight ago."
'Summoned at the same moment I was ordered to leave Minas Tirith,' Denethor thought sardonically. 'He must fear me if he waits till I am gone before he brings my usurper into our City.' The term startled him. 'I must think. I must discover what causes Ecthelion to approve of this man over me.' He moved forward. "Forgive me, Captain Thorongil, I have duties I must be about. Perhaps we may meet later."
Thorongil trounced on the invitation. "Yes. Let us meet at 'The Three Fishermen.' Is Amdir in the City? Perhaps he will join us?"
"Nay, he is not good enough to captain a garrison here in the City. He is at Amon Dîn, watching over the sheep," Denethor sneered dryly.
Thorongil's brow creased. "My Lord. I had naught to do with your father's assessment of Amdir's accomplishments at Pelargir."
Denethor strode past him, unwilling to speak further. Thorongil stood silent.
As Denethor approached the Great Library, Arciryas met him. Denethor smiled, strode quickly towards the healer and embraced him warmly. "Thank you for sending the messenger. I would not leave her alone now for all the mithril in Númenor."
"She is strong, Denethor, though her mood had troubled me for a time. Yet, the babe within her seems to have strengthened her. I deem all will be well. You have naught to fear."
Denethor gave a short, derisive laugh. "My own mother died having me. And you tell me I have naught to fear! 'Tis all I have done since your message arrived."
"Again I say, you have naught to fear. Her body is sturdy. The blood of Númenor flows strongly through you both. The babe will be well also."
"And we have the best healer at our disposal," Denethor laughed fully. "You must continue to remind me of this, my friend."
"And... She has Indis as her constant companion. One could not ask for better."
"Yes. Forgive me; I must away now. Please, come to dinner tonight. We will celebrate. I wish Amdir were with us. 'Twould be great fun to have us together again. I miss Thengel."
"Thorongil's company would be pleasant also?"
Denethor took a deep breath. His cheeks flushed and Arciryas noted. "Thorongil has been with my father these last days. I do not think he has time to spend on frivolity."
He quickly turned towards the Great Library, as the healer watched him go. Taking the steps two at a time, he descended into the bowels of that vast storehouse, holding a torch high. A slight shiver assailed him, but he steeled himself to try the locked compartment. To his surprise, it was not locked. The wizard's spell had been lifted, but when? Lighting a candle, he sat at the scribes' table, pouring over book upon book. Now and again, an archivist would ask if he needed help, but he waved each one off. The pile on the table grew and the candle that he had lit, burnt to a nub. The suddenness of darkness surprised him. The candle had spent itself. He groped in the table's drawers, found another and lit it from the sconce in the hall. He was very close. He sensed it. He could not leave yet. Secrets would be his soon. A sudden tug at his heart caused him to stop. She was waiting for him. He could feel her in his bones. Clutching two large tomes in his arms, he grabbed the now extinguished torch, lit it from the candle, and ran up the stairs, two at a time.
He sat at his desk, fingering the base of the goblet, watching Finduilas knitting in front of the fire. He had asked her to come to their chambers, upon his return from the Great Library. He was spending too much time, these last few months, in the library, but a fixation for knowledge was upon him. He did not know how to quell it. Something about Thorongil gnawed at him ever since he had returned from his sortie to Cair Andros. He had discovered, upon questioning the servants, that Thorongil came to the City at least seven or eight times a year, summoned by Ecthelion. Denethor had not once been asked to join them in whatever discussions they had. The wizard, Mithrandir, had also been guest to the Steward. Thorongil never once sought him out whilst he was in Minas Tirith. This, more than anything, rankled him.
At first he had not been able to find her. Their chambers were empty, but he had gone to his own study, and there she was, waiting patiently for him. His breath caught at the presence of her love; it filled his heart, his very being. Nothing could describe this feeling of completeness, of pure peace and joy. He put the goblet down and walked towards her. She smiled up at him and he dropped to his knees in front of her, tentatively touching her stomach.
She placed her hand over his. "He sleeps, my Lord."
He raised her head, kissed her gently, and sat back on his heels. He looked long upon her and love filled him. Did she sense at all the depth of his love? To hide his tears, he knelt upon the floor and gently rested his head upon her lap.
She stopped her knitting, put the needles aside, and placed her hand upon his head. "Thou wast deep in thought, my Lord. Wouldst thou share thy thoughts?"
Denethor sighed. "Thengel seemed so old, the last time I saw him. At our oath-taking. And Théoden is a man, already Second Marshal of the Riddermark. I used to bounce him on my knee!" He remembered Thengel's pride in his son and a warm glow spread over him. He would soon feel that self-same pride for his own son, of that he was sure. "And now, Théoden too is destined to have a child. Elfhild is due even before thou art. It seems strange to think of my old friend and captain as being a grandfather." The face of Cranthir slipped before him, hardly agéd. The blood of Númenor made such a difference. It almost hurt. Thengel was seventy-three. It seemed impossible, that at seventy-three a man would look so old, yet Thengel had. Whereas his own father, at ninety-two, was still hale and hearty with many years left to him. He creased his brow and she tried to sooth the wrinkles from it. "Even Théoden seemed old, somehow, though he be just thirty years. The legacy of men is a hard thing. I wondered, in my youth, as to why so many of the lords of Gondor sought for potions and talismans to keep them young. I think I understand now. To see a loved one grow old before my very eyes... 'Tis a hard thing," he repeated. "Death is a gift, I am told. I do not think I like such a gift."
She leaned over him. "My husband, thou art my love, my own. Turn thy thoughts from these dark paths. Let me see the light of Anor in thine eyes. Turn thy mind to thoughts of our son. The gift of Eru is far from us this day. Thou art to be a father. Joy should be thy feast."
"Yea verily, my love. It is. And thou art the reason for the feast." He joined her on the settle and laid his head against its back. He pulled her to him. She snuggled close, and soon, he heard her breath slow into sleep. His thoughts had flown from Thengel and Cranthir to his mother. He was desperately afraid. He could not lose Finduilas.
Adanedhel, even though retired, came to assist. He would not leave the room. Ecthelion himself paced outside their chambers and did not sleep. Haunted looks covered both men's faces. They frightened Finduilas and unsettled Denethor. Finally, Arciryas had to speak to them. Pulling Adanedhel physically from the room and forcing the two men into an antechamber, he spoke. "My lords, if anything untoward happens, I will call you both. Please, you are frightening the Lady. You must stay away."
Adanedhel interrupted him, a ghost-like smile on his face. "She was well," he muttered, "well. All had gone as planned. She was just a little tired, something to be expected. I left the room. I... I left the room and was called back. She was dead." His voice had dropped to a whisper. "She was well. She was well."
Arciryas stopped. Cold shivers ran down his arms. "Tell me what happened. I must know if I am to save her."
"The babe had become trapped in the passage. I used my hands, as is customary, to turn him. Then everything progressed as it should. He was born shortly thereafter. I made sure he was healthy, then turned to her. Her breath was short, but only from exertion. I read the signs. All was well." The healer closed his eyes. "She was well. I... I know not what happened. Perhaps some malady was upon her before labor started. I know not. She was well." His voice had risen in pitch, turning hysterical.
Arciryas put his hand on the old man's shoulder. "I see. That is good to know. I will now attend her. I will look for other signs, to make sure there is no malady upon Finduilas. And you, my Lord Ecthelion, please do not let her see you. Either of you. She must be at peace, as much as is possible at this time. You bring anxiety with you. You must not enter; I will not allow either of you in the chambers until it is over. You may stay here, if you wish, but you will not be allowed back in that room. I do not want you speaking with Denethor either. Old wounds are coming to the surface and I cannot let that happen. They will transfer to my patient. I will have one of my assistants bring news every few moments. That is all I can do."
Adanedhel made as if to speak, but Arciryas held his hand up. "Nay. I will brook no discussion on this."
He turned towards the Steward, but no words were needed. The man looked miserable and cowed. Arciryas put his hands on his Lord's shoulders and looked him in the eye. "I have learnt much these past years; I will not let her die. I promise." He squeezed the man's shoulder, turned and left the room.
As soon as he reached the door to Denethor's chambers, he motioned for a guard to attend him. "Go to the Houses and tell my assistant, Firieth, to bring the notes of the Lady Rían's care. She knows where they are." The guard bowed and left. Arciryas entered the outer chambers. Denethor stood in the doorway to the balcony, his whole body crunched over. Arciryas stepped towards him, and Denethor, hearing the soft step, turned. His face mirrored the disquiet that had filled the antechamber.
"Is aught amiss?" he whispered.
"Nay, my Lord. All is well. Finduilas must be supported at this time. She notes your concern. It causes her concern. May I ask what is the reason for your unease?"
"I have just had word. Théoden's own Elfhild has passed away. During childbirth!" The horror on Denethor's face alarmed Arciryas. The news devastated him further. "We have spoken of this before," Denethor almost hissed. "You know the history of my family. You know what happened to my mother. How else should I be? Is Finduilas' fate to be the same as my mother's, as Elfhild's? Childbirth is not such an easy thing as you would have me believe!"
"You, my Lord," Arciryas voice was firm, "do you have any knowledge as to the number of births I have attended? Do you not remember Morwen's many trials? Did not she survive, and the babes all born healthy? I will tell you now, as your Master Healer, but most importantly, as your friend, that I will not let her die, nor the babe. I will not leave her for a moment. Even after the birth, I will attend her until I am sure she has recovered fully. This is my oath to you, my friend. I will not let her die."
Denethor grasped Arciryas' arms so tightly that the healer flinched. "I will not let her die either. I will not leave her side, no matter that you order me away. I will not leave her alone." His voice broke.
"I will not ask you to leave her. Come, let us to her chambers. She has need of you. But you must be strong. You must not show any terror." He gently took Denethor's arm and led him through the doors. Indis smiled as they walked in and Denethor's heart eased.
Immediately after, Firieth entered the room, carrying a thin, rolled parchment, which she gave to Arciryas. He sat in a chair by the window and carefully read it. Denethor sat on the bed, holding Finduilas' hand. She smiled at him; then closed her eyes. This was lasting much longer than she had expected. Denethor murmured words of love to her.
Arciryas sighed. He motioned for Denethor to join him and walked towards the bedchamber's terrace. As they stepped through the opening, Arciryas placed his hand upon Denethor's shoulder. "I know now what caused your mother's death."
Denethor's heart stopped.
"When the babe turned, a tear must have opened in her womb," Arciryas stated. "The notes of those who cleansed her for burial witness to a great loss of blood. Adanedhel did not mention it. I believe, since she passed while he was away from her, he did not further investigate. Terror and pain were upon the whole of Gondor. Rían was much loved. And your father took it hard. It is not surprising to me that naught further was done."
As the healer spoke, the warning call of a trumpet sounded. Denethor looked up in alarm; he ran to Finduilas' side. She grasped his arm; he could not leave her. Others would have to answer the call. He had vowed to stay with her; he would not break that vow.
As the day progressed and little advancement was made, Finduilas slept more and more between the spasms of birthing. The pangs lasted overly long, and wore her out, yet seemed to produce little change. Arciryas could not tell when the babe would come, and he was beginning to be concerned. Firieth had brought medicaments to help ease her Lady's growing fear. When she was awake, her eyes mirrored the fright in her heart. Arciryas wished Finduilas' mother were here, though Indis did everything in her power to help her sister-friend.
Listöwel suddenly appeared at the door, and joy lit Finduilas' face. Denethor started in surprise as he saw her. 'What is she doing in Minas Tirith? Why is she not with Amdir at the garrison of Amon Dîn?' If she were here, would not Amdir be also? Where was his friend? She gave him a long look, and turned her attention to Finduilas. "My sweet little cousin," she cried fondly, "you look a mess. Here, let me fix your hair. Indis, plump her pillow. Does no one note that our little one needs some reassurance! 'Tis time to draw back the curtains; let a little light in. And some air; the place smells like the Houses of Healing, herbs and medicaments enough to smother one. This is a good thing that is happening here! How very sad you all appear. And none of us with any experience in birthing a babe! Oh! Forgive me, Arciryas," she giggled and the room smiled, "You have spent much time doing these things. I meant Indis, Denethor and I. None of us have done such a great deed as our sweet one does now!" She leaned over and kissed Finduilas on the forehead, willing herself to smile and throw cheer about the room. The gloom that she had experienced when she entered had all but made her recoil. Coming from the blackness and despair that she had just witnessed... 'Nay. I will think not on that. I must dispel this darkness and help my dear one smile.'
Arciryas could have hugged their friend. She brought fresh hope to the room. 'Just what the healer would order,' he thought. As he kissed Listöwel on the forehead in greeting, Finduilas groaned. Arciryas, quickly examining her, smiled. "'Tis almost time," he sighed gently. "The pains are stronger; he is coming soon." All flew into action with Denethor being pushed roughly to the side. Water, bandages and medicaments all were arranged and Arciryas stood next to the birthing bed, waiting for the babe to appear. Denethor held his breath.
As Finduilas lay in sleep, the child bundled in her arms with Indis sitting next to her on the bed, Listöwel went to Denethor's side. "My Lord," she said quietly. "Amdir must needs speak with you. He awaits outside with your father. A terrible thing has happened. I would not speak of it before, knowing your place was with Finduilas. But she rests now, and it is urgent!"
He remembered the alarm horns. His face whitened and he left the room. Amdir sat in a chair in the antechamber, his face and hands covered in blood. Denethor's cry of 'Amdir' made him stir. He tried to stand, but could not, weariness overtaking him. "Amdir, my friend. What has happened? Why are you returned from Amon Dîn?" Ecthelion and Adanedhel were nowhere to be seen and Denethor wondered, but concern for his friend kept him at his side.
Amdir took a moment to catch his breath. He had been on the edge of sleep, so weary was he, yet he barely rested as visions of death and destruction assailed him. "Orcs, Denethor. Too many. Took the garrison by surprise three nights ago. A great number of them swept down. They were silent, as is not their want. They had o'ercome the guards before any knew of their presence. They were large, Denethor, larger than any I have ever seen and cruel. They came over the plains of Rohan, from the northwest. We had no chance to fight back, hardly any at all. I sent errand-riders out, but none got through. Ecthelion said they had no word of the massacre. And that is what it was, Denethor," Amdir's eyes filled with tears. "Only twenty-three men left. Twenty-three out of five hundred. I did not run, Denethor!" Amdir cried, his voice breaking as it rose. "I did not. I was knocked unconscious. The Orcs left at daybreak. My men, those who survived, found me and brought me back here. We could not stay. They torched the buildings. Once she realized she could fight no longer, Listöwel hid herself and the other women in an underground storeroom, apart from the buildings. The Orcs did not find it. The beacon has been destroyed."
Denethor knelt at his friend's side. "You are not hurt yourself?"
"Nay, just a head wound, but not serious. Adanedhel tried to care for me, but your father drew him away, calling for the guards. I know not where they went."
Denethor could not believe Ecthelion had left Amdir in this state. He gently helped him up and brought him to the bedchamber's door. Opening it gently, he quietly called Arciryas to his side.
When Arciryas saw the state Amdir was in, he made as if to leave the room, then thought better of it. "She sleeps," Arciryas stated, "Yet, I will not leave her. Bring him in here, Denethor. I will minister to him by the terrace. She will know naught of it."
Denethor helped Amdir to a chair in the corner. He glanced towards the bed, noted Indis and Listöwel seated by Finduilas' side, and knew he had a moment to speak with Listöwel. As Arciryas tended Amdir, Denethor drew her from her seat upon the bed. "Thou art and have always been most brave, dearest Listöwel. But that was folly to stay and fight. Didst thou not know the toll thy loss would have taken upon Amdir? Didst thou not know the toll thy loss would have taken on thy friends?" In his concern, he had lapsed into Quenya.
"My Lord, I could not leave him," she said simply. And tears started to fall. "I could not leave him," she whispered.
He held her tight, knowing the horror that lay upon her. 'Twas difficult enough for a man, a soldier, to see the sights that she must have seen before she retreated. It grieved him to see her pain. He had no words of comfort. The only comfort he had were his arms. Holding her closer, he whispered her name, stroking her hair all the while.
Indis moved close. "My brave, sweet Listöwel. You have proved yourself a warrior, dearest sister-friend, many times over. I am so proud of you. Eledhwen would be so proud of you. We must write to Morwen, tell her of your deeds. She will be sore-pressed to rival them!" Indis had not known the extent of Gondor's loss.
Listöwel turned towards her. "Only a handful left, Indis. Only a handful left." She bit her lip to keep from screaming her horror.
Indis blanched. "How many, Denethor?"
"Nigh unto five hundred. The stronghold burnt to the ground. The beacon destroyed."
Tears welled in Indis' eyes. "So many?"
"Yes. But look, Arciryas is finished with Amdir. Listöwel, take him to his father's quarters. Ingold will help him, and Elleth will help you. Go, now. We will speak of this on the morrow."
As Listöwel and Firieth led Amdir away, Denethor's thoughts grew dark. "Ai!" he cried aloud, grief for the lost men and for Gondor overwhelming him. "I swear by the Horn of Gondor, Boromir will not endure what I have had to endure these last forty-eight years. I will free Gondor from this Enemy, so that my son may live in peace! I swear by all the Valar!"
He was shaking as he finished his vow. Finduilas, awakened by his cry and frightened at the violence of his manner, quickly pressed the babe closer to her breast. What had started as a day of celebration at the birth of their son had turned into a day of darkness and pain. Again! Nothing remained beautiful here in Gondor. It was not Denethor's fault. She knew how dearly he loved her. 'But,' she thought, 'there must be a curse upon this land.' Her thoughts, as always, took her back to Belfalas and her home in Dol Amroth by the sea.
Indis hovered over her as she saw the sadness grow in Finduilas' eyes. She came to them from Belfalas, sparkling and alive, one of the fairest flowers of the line of Númenor. Yet, now, just two years after arriving in Minas Tirith, sadness showed at the corners of her mouth and lingered in her eyes. Indis looked at Denethor in dismay. Perhaps flowers from her garden would ease her pain. She ran to pick some, suggesting that they open the terrace doors for air; Finduilas declined. Today of all days, she could not bear the view. She shuddered as she thought of Mt. Orodruin glaring at her, mocking her happiness. She saw in her mind's eye the redness of its fires scorching the blue sky, the black smoke rising upwards, creeping closer and closer to Minas Tirith. She could not abide that sight with her son in her arms! She swore she could feel the tremors of its hateful spewing rock her bed. She drew in her breath. She could not continue this way. Instead, she willed herself to see the sea from her window in the castle in Dol Amroth, on a clear, bright day. She could feel the sea air on her face, feel it gently blowing the strands of her hair across it. Ever, when this mood of gloom fell upon her, she would retreat in her mind to dear Belfalas and her home.
Suddenly, she shook herself. This was her home now. Lovingly, she opened her eyes and stared down at the precious bundle in her arms. She must put that other life behind her. The Valar had sent her a son, beautiful and strong - he held her finger tightly in his little hand - and she knew she must be strong for him. She echoed her husband's vow in her own heart. Somehow, she would fight with Denethor to bring peace to this land, and somehow she would wage her own war against this curse. This child of theirs would not grow up with war and death and evil. 'Somehow,' she thought, 'a weapon must be found to help Gondor, to release Gondor from this evil. To release my family from this evil.' They had been fighting for so long, her husband, his father, and his father's fathers. Could a weapon be found that would destroy evil forever? Did such a weapon exist? She sighed. Perhaps the king would return...
Denethor went again to Finduilas' side. He knelt by her bed, apologizing profusely as he gently stroked her hair, and for the thousandth time he rejoiced at the fate that had brought her to his side. His anger was spent. He could not remain angry in her presence. He had to learn to curb it when he was with her. She must not lose the joy that wrapped itself around his heart when she was near. Tears filled his eyes as she moved the wrappings from around Boromir's face. Ah, could any man be more blessed than he! His son was beautiful. He saw the face of Eärnur in him, and hoped that his son would be as brave as the king who defeated the Witch-king of Angmar. Yet, as soon as that thought, that vision of the face on the statue of Eärnur in the Great Hall assailed his mind, he remembered the ending of that king. Or the supposed ending of Eärnur, for never did he return from the Black Gate. 'It was that king's leaving his throne that has forced the Stewards to rule Gondor until the return of the king... or until the Steward's line itself runs out,' he thought bitterly. Almost a thousand years had passed and yet, as Ecthelion had told him long ago, and as he knew he would tell Boromir sometime in the future, 'Few years, maybe, in other places of less royalty... In Gondor, ten thousand years would not suffice for a Steward to become king.' His duty was to his king, whether present or no. And he would teach that duty to his son. The rightful king would return.
Dark were his thoughts this day; he could not help the shudder that swept his body as he thought of Eärnur not returning... Some foreboding about his son? And then, perversely, he thought of Finduilas' namesake being killed by Orcs. Why was he being tormented on this day of great joy? What other dark feelings would attack him?
He looked again at his son and his wife and willed the thoughts to be gone. He willed peace to settle upon his countenance. He would not succumb to these dark thoughts. He would not succumb to despair - now that he had everything he had ever hoped for...
Finduilas held out her arms and took her friend into them. Whispering Indis' name over and over, she stroked her friend's hair. "My dearest sister-friend, forgivest thou me. I had forgotten thy own barren womb." Her tears mingled with Indis'. "I am foolish and very selfish. Thee and thy friends opened thy hearts to me when first I entered Minas Tirith, and all I have been is a burden. My thoughts ever fly to my needs, forgetting those whom I love. Please, forgivest thou me."
"Nay," Indis exclaimed. "'Tis not true! Wast thou not ready, just now, to have me leave thee and care for Denethor? Thy heart is good and pure, Finduilas. I speak not of my pain for I have Arciryas and that is wonderful and good. I am most fortunate. I think not often of our lack, for a moment here and there, but our bounty is beyond understanding. Think no further on this, my sweet Lady. Think only of returning quickly to thy duties. 'Twill be such fun to join thy family in these years to come, to rejoice at the growth of thy child, to see the love between man and woman develop into an even deeper bond." Indis' quick smile heartened Finduilas. "I love thee, dearest sister-friend. Thou fillest a deep void in me. Left by my sweet sister's absence. To have been given another sister, 'tis a gift from the Valar. Your love is gift to me. I thank thee." She gave Finduilas a quick hug and pulled away. "Now, rest thou whilst I seek out Listöwel, tell her of thy concern, and return within the hour."
Denethor had bidden Arciryas stay with Finduilas, once she had fallen asleep, and quickly left the room. Ecthelion had left Amdir wounded and alone in the hall and he would discover why. For what purpose had he left so quickly and ungraciously? As he turned the corner heading to the Great Hall, he heard loud shouts coming from his father's study. He quickly walked into the room. His face fell as he saw Amdir, standing before the great oak desk, bidden to attention and reporting to Ecthelion.
"Father!" The word came out louder than he had meant. "Father," this time softer. "Captain Amdir has been wounded." The evidence was still clear. Adanedhel, who stood in a corner of the room, had done naught to clean the wound. Listöwel was nowhere to be seen. "Do you not see that, Father?" he asked gently.
"Of course I see it," his father replied crisply, scowling as he leaned forward to speak to Denethor. "I only ask as to the state of the garrison. I will let him be ministered to once I am done with him." He turned to face Amdir again. "Now, again. Tell me where the patrols were? How many had you sent out? What time...?"
"My Lord Steward." Denethor interrupted. "Perhaps 'twould be best to have Captain Amdir," and he stressed the word 'Captain' loudly, "sit? Adanedhel can tend his wounds while you question him." A servant stood by the door and Denethor motioned for him to come forward. "Bring a cup of mead for Captain Amdir. And a decanter of wine for Lord Ecthelion." As the servant left, Denethor strode forward, moved a chair behind Amdir and gently helped him sit. Ecthelion's face was blazing, but Denethor did not care. Adanedhel hobbled forward. It hurt to see the man so old and weak. He remembered how once, a long time ago, Adanedhel had spoken forcefully to the Steward for Gondor's weal.
Ecthelion sat back in his chair. His face still shone scarlet, but Denethor could see the Steward had pulled in his temper. "Captain Amdir," he sneered. "Are you comfortable now?"
Amdir said naught, but Denethor had to clench his hands to keep his fury in check. 'Never would Ecthelion speak thus to Thorongil,' he thought bitterly. He kept his mouth shut. Amdir was, at least, finally being cared for.
"My Lord Steward," Amdir said calmly, and Denethor wondered that his friend had such control. "We sent out ten patrols every four hours, as is our wont. Darkness had come, the fires were lit, and all was quiet. It was almost time for the replacing of the patrols, when a sudden quiet filled the air. I had come out of my office to oversee the changing of the guard. I felt something was wrong, but could not discern what. Everything seemed as it should be. I doubled the guards on the wall. The patrols were overdue, but not by but a few moments. A patrol finally was sighted, the gates were opened, and the Orcs attacked. They had lain hidden against the walls. They had left one patrol untouched, and, unbeknownst to that patrol, used them to gain entrance to the fortress. All the other patrols had been o'ercome and destroyed before the Orcs e'er entered the area. There were more than a thousand attackers. They came in waves. Our archers did their best. We used boiling oil to repulse the ones still on the outside, but they continued to come. Our knights fought as best they could, but the quarters were cramped with the number of the enemy. It was hard to even wield a sword and pikes were nigh unto useless. Sometime, after the mid of the night, I was wounded and lay as if dead. I know not how the other men escaped. The women, after Listöwel saw they could not defend themselves any longer, hid in an underground storeroom. They were not, mercifully, discovered. I awoke to a cold cloth on my head, wielded by my aide, Dagnir. It was well into the morning by this time. We quickly searched the grounds for survivors, removed the dead bodies that barred the entrance to the place where the women hid, and quickly freed them. All the horses were gone. We walked to the North Gate. I left my men there and rode here as quickly as I could. There has been no sign of the Orc army since that night." Amdir sat still, not moving a muscle.
Denethor had walked to the nearby window and listened quietly, proud of his friend's courage.
Ecthelion sat for a moment. "So, you have lost your entire battalion?"
"Almost, my Lord. We lost well over four hundred and seventy."
"Men Gondor desperately needs?" The question was not supposed to be answered. "Well," Ecthelion said as he stood up and walked around the desk. "Are you well enough to return to your command?"
Denethor made as if to interrupt and Ecthelion raised his hand and shot him a look of pure rage.
"Yes, my Lord." Amdir said quietly.
"And where do you suppose you will get the men to replace those you have allowed to be slaughtered?" He paused for a moment, brooking no reply. "Or do you expect me to find you men to fill your garrison?"
Denethor blanched at the cruelty of the questions. Ecthelion had had men under him. He knew what it was to lose men. How could he interrogate Amdir in this manner knowing the depth of sorrow that encompassed the captain?
"I am relieving you of the command of Amon Dîn. You will go to the Houses to have your wounds attended to. I have need of my healer at the moment. Then, you will wait upon my pleasure for your next assignment." He turned his back, strode towards his desk and sat shuffling papers, his entire body saying they were dismissed.
Denethor strode towards Amdir, making sure Ecthelion heard the anger in his stride, helped his friend to his feet, and left the room. Neither man spoke a word until they felt the cool air greet them as they reached the entrance to the Citadel.
Denethor did not know where to start, so many apologies to be made to his friend. But Amdir spoke first.
"I will be fine. The wound is not deep. I would prefer to go to my own home on the Sixth Level, if I may? Please, Denethor. I have not the will to see another at the moment. I know Listöwel waits there for me. She will care for me."
"Tell me this, friend," Denethor wondered, "I cannot see Listöwel letting the Steward take you away from her without words being said."
Amdir laughed, then groaned as his head split in pain. "He called a guard as we left your quarters. The guard took her by the arm before I even knew it. I could hear her curses... yes, my friend, curses that I did not know a woman would know... as she was escorted out of the Citadel. I could do naught. Unfortunately, I hardly had the strength to take care of myself." Amdir laughed again. "You should have heard the words she said. Oh!" He bent over in pain and Denethor swept him into his arms and carried him towards the gate. "Please put me down, Denethor. I can walk."
"I think not, my friend, I think not. And I am not taking you to your home. I am sorry. I am taking you to the Houses. Father may be wrong about many things, but of this he speaks well. You need time with the healers. I will bring Listöwel as soon as I am assured you will stay in the bed they assign you."
"Do not summon the night, my love," Finduilas spoke soothingly. "Light lives now in thy son - a bright shining star for Gondor. Thou wilt raise him to be all that Gondor needs. Through him, peace will come. Thou, with him at thy side, wilt defeat our enemies. Fear not! I am with thee. Never wilt I leave thee." As she caressed his check, she spoke again, "Dost thou not know that thy father is beset by many burdens? Little does he know that he has only to look to thee to find strength, and courage, and wisdom. I see it in thee, my husband. I would that he would see it; the cares of Gondor blind his eyes. Do not hold this against him, my love. Wait, thy time will come. His eyes will open and he will do what is right and good for Gondor."
He held her tightly, holding his breath as he listened to her precious voice speaking words his heart could hardly bear to hear. He wanted desperately to believe her, to know that he did have the strength to save Gondor, but he could not see it. If Ecthelion's eyes were blinded, so were his. 'How will I fight this? How can I be what Gondor needs? How can my father ever believe that I can help save Gondor when even I do not believe it?'
She sensed the anguish in his tightened shoulders, heard the in-drawn breath, and wondered if ever she would be able to do as Indis had said she could - give him the strength he needed. She spoke gently. "My love, doest thou not believe me? Doest thou think I am only a woman with a woman's foolish thoughts? Doest thou think I married thee for thy looks only?" A gentle laugh. She continued, "I know thee to have wisdom. Might I not have wisdom also? Thy son has much thy look, fair and good. He wilt have much need of thee, my own."
He looked down upon the babe lying between them. A small fist, shoved into the little one's mouth, kept his son's attention. He shivered as the babe held his finger tightly. Tears glistened in his eyes. "I love you," he whispered to her and then, bending his head to kiss the little one, whispered it again to his son, his Boromir.
Morwen had come from Edoras. Unbidden, she had come. Indis hugged her so tightly, she thought she would lose all breath. Then, she had her hands grasped and found herself being swung around and around, joyful laughter pealing through the air. Morwen, in mock embarrassment, tried to disengage herself from her friend, but no amount of struggling would tear her from Indis' loving hold.
"Morwen, my dearest sister-friend. You could not have come at a better time!" Indis said as she collapsed on the fountain's encompassing wall. She pulled Morwen down with her, both women catching their breath.
After a moment, Indis pulled her towards her and again gave her such a warm hug that Morwen sobbed with joy. To be back in Minas Tirith again, to sit next to her dearest friend, to laugh and cry together, no words were sufficient to tell of her joy. "Nay, I have been remiss in not coming sooner. How is Finduilas? How is the babe? Denethor, does he father the child well?" Her words tumbled from her and she giggled deliriously. She hugged herself as she looked about the square. Naught had changed here in Isildur's Square. The merchants still had their stalls lining the street, the shops still had crowds coming into and going from them, and the Knights of Gondor still strode through the streets as if they owned them. She breathed a heavy sigh and leaned upon Indis' shoulder. "'Tis so very good to be home." Tears glistened in her eyes. "Home, Indis. Yes, it always will be home, at least in my heart."
Indis had given her friend a moment to settle herself before she answered her questions. "Finduilas does well. Your birth pangs were much worse than hers, but she seems not to have the endurance that you have. And the babe, Boromir," she said the name lovingly, "he is everything you would expect from Denethor. Handsome, strong, blackest hair and lovely gray eyes. To look upon him is to love him!"
Morwen laughed. "So, this Boromir has already stolen your heart?"
"Yes," Indis laughed. "Stolen it and locked away the key. My heart is no longer my own."
"Denethor is beset by many things. How fare's Rohan, Morwen? Are there more attacks this year? Does it seem to you as if... I do not know how to ask. Evil... but I will not speak of these things now. I will only rejoice in your presence. And for Thengel to bring you - that is such a good thing for Denethor. Thengel's presence and wisdom can only help Denethor."
"You speak of harsh things, Indis. Tell me truly. Was Listöwel really in a battle again?"
"Yes! And without us! Can you even imagine such a thing? I was sore-pressed to not be angry with her, having all that fun without me! And..." Indis paused with a frown marking her face, "I understand you have been named 'Morwen Steelsheen' for the ardor of your sword arm! Is that true? You were always so good with your sword."
"'Tis true. My Lord's people shame me by calling it out as I ride through the streets of Edoras." Her face reddened even as she recounted it. "I am no true Shieldmaiden. There are many others who are so much better than I, yet the people honor me."
Indis smiled. Her friend's genuine humility touched her. She had missed this woman, missed her sorely. "Come, my dearest friend. I will take you to your quarters in the Citadel. After you refresh yourself, I will take you to Finduilas. You will meet our Boromir. Then, you will see he is the fairest babe in all the land." Her smile split her face. "After that, we three..." A sudden cloud passed over her face. Her sister's face swam before her eyes. It used to be 'we four.' She drew in a breath, let the pain go, and smiled again. "We three, Listöwel, you and I, will then find some hidden place and squeal and laugh over all the adventures we have had since last we were together!"
Thengel sat quietly, waiting for Denethor to explain himself. He was dreadfully tired. The journey had seemed so much longer than ever it had before. Morwen took it in stride, but he was ready for sleep. He could not rest yet. Denethor had come to him late in the evening, troubled. His pronouncement of Ecthelion's latest movements forced Thengel to question the Steward's good sense. He trusted Thorongil implicitly, all the while understanding Denethor's unease. He knew very little of Ecthelion; the Steward did not readily welcome familiarity with his captains. What could have possessed Ecthelion to send Denethor off like that? He should welcome his son to the proceedings. To all counsels. Thengel leaned his head back against the couch. The thought of his own son, of Théoden, Second Marshal of the Mark, caused his lips to curl in a smile. He heard Denethor's cough and pulled himself back into the moment. Denethor was obviously waiting upon him.
"I do not understand Lord Ecthelion, Denethor. You know I do not. You should have been made Captain-General already. Your postings, these last years, have not been ones that would help you to familiarize yourself with your future duties. Your father, you say, has been devious. I see where you would surmise that." He shook his head. What could he say? "I will tell you this, and I have told you this before, Thorongil is an honorable man. He seems to be a pawn in your father's hands, much as you have been. Do you not see that?"
"I see only that my father leans towards naming Thorongil Captain-General." At the look of shock in Thengel's eyes, Denethor continued, earnestly. "He calls him 'my captain' takes him into his confidences, invites him to meetings that I am barred from participating in, and mocks my men and me. He has made him a captain. Never has someone not of Númenor been made a captain in the army of Gondor. What difference from a captain to Captain-General? What else am I to infer?" He stopped for a moment, poured some more wine for his friend and continued, "My heart is heavily burdened with this estrangement from Thorongil. I remember our friendship. Fate has set our own, my friend, in stone, yet it had been the same for Thorongil, I had thought. Now, my heart cries out in anger and despair. I cannot abide the sight of the man."
"You should have seen Thengel's face the first time I put my sword on in front of him as he sat on his throne. He had thought it was but a passing fancy." Morwen laughed for the hundredth time. "Orcs had attacked very near to the foothills of the White Mountains while the king's éored had been sent on some task. Did he think I would not go out and help defend our people when we were so short of men? Eledhwen joined me and he knew he did not have a hope to combat our resolve. The band that attacked the village was small. Walda's son, Éofor, had command of our half-éored. Hild... Oh, I forgot to tell you that Hild had started training with Eledhwen when we moved to Edoras. She is very good, too. I remember hearing Denethor, when she was but a youngster, call her a 'terror.' Well, that day the Orcs knew what terror was. She wielded her sword and screamed invectives against them as she hewed them down." Morwen laughed again. "'Tis a delight to surprise our men, is it not?" The smile covered her face.
Indis laughed in joy. "You are a delight, dearest sister-friend. It is good to hear your tales. I did not know you had time, what with the children you have been begetting, to even lift a sword!"
Morwen rolled her eyes. "In truth, it seems as if children flow from my womb as waters from the mountains. Do you suppose Finduilas will have more? I never thought I would, after I lost my first."
"That was a hard time for us all." Indis shivered. "Too many of our women have suffered so. It seems the strength of Númenor has left the women of Gondor for other places."
Listöwel sighed. "It seems the birthing of children has left the women of Gondor."
Indis strode towards her friend and hugged her tightly. "Yes, you speak the truth, my little sister."
"'Tis the wizard, some in the City say," Listöwel clung to Indis, all thoughts of merriment banished by the pain of their empty wombs.
"Do not help spread those rumors, Listöwel. Mithrandir is wise and seems to have Gondor's weal at heart. The advice he gives to Father is shrewd. Denethor oft bewails the lack of men. If Mithrandir did not counsel the Steward to open our armies to men of other countries, we would be sore-pressed to defend Gondor."
"E'en now, more men are needed," Morwen stated sadly. "But you, little sister," she said as she looked lovingly at Listöwel, "you yourself have been through a deadly battle just recently?"
Listöwel looked up. "At Amon Dîn. You know the horror, mixed with exhilaration, that o'ercomes one in battle. Would that you both were at my side. So many men killed. I am still in shock that the women were saved."
"Because of you," Indis said quietly.
Listöwel blushed. "Ever have you both been my shining lights, my guides on how to live. You give me hope. During the battle, I thought of you, imagined you on either side of me, and that gave me the courage to continue. Seeing Amdir lying as if dead would have totally undone me, though. I am glad I did not see that!"
Morwen shook her head quickly. "We did naught but love you, dearest sister-friend. Now, we must send these morbid thoughts from us. My heart has been eased by the joy of our reunion. Let us now to Finduilas. I am sure she is ready for the company of women. Denethor still scowls too much, even when he holds the babe!"
The others moved through the door, but Morwen pulled Indis aside. "I do not remember the floor shaking so, nor the stench filling the air as it does today? What has occurred?"
"'Tis Mount Orodruin. I have become accustomed to it, I suppose. It has increased over the years. I had forgotten, nor noticed with everything else that has happened. When the east wind blows, it is almost impossible to take a breath. Denethor has had fans made that are secured to the ceiling in their bedchambers. A servant is always working the mechanism while Finduilas is abed these days. She notes it and compares the air to that of Dol Amroth. I feel for her."
Thengel closed his eyes. Gondor was being torn in two. By what forces? The wizard? "How often has Mithrandir been here in Minas Tirith?"
"He practically dwells in our library. He searches for something. I know not what. I myself have met him on many occasions, pouring over old tomes, accounts of battles, and other dust-covered scripts from ages past."
"And what have you been looking for, my friend?" Thengel asked gently.
Denethor's face reddened. "I have Gondor's weal as my uppermost concern. My father speaks of the return of the king. I have been studying volume upon volume of the earlier writings of my kin. I am missing something, but I will find it. The key to this mystery." He twirled the goblet in his fingers, face distorted in a frown.
Thengel knew he could do naught to dissuade Denethor from searching for lost history, but it seemed useless to him. Better to prepare his own son to write a new history for Gondor.
"Boromir reminds me of you, Denethor." He smiled at the memory. "I was but twenty-five at the time. I would hold you, now and again, in my arms. He has your look," he said warmly.
Denethor's smile lit the room. "Thank you." A companionable silence filled his study. "Never had I thought such a moment would come. Oft did I wish I could find someone like your Morwen, or Amdir's Listöwel, or even my dearest sister, Indis! And now I have Finduilas, Jewel of Dol Amroth, and I am happy." He gave a short laugh. "With all Father's talk of the king's return, I thought there would be no need for an Heir to the Steward. Heir or no, nothing is better than having a son."
"The king will always have need of a Steward, Denethor, especially one of your quality."
"And I will always have need of such a friend as you," Denethor spoke quietly, emotion cracking his voice.
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.