Ten Thousand Years Will Not Suffice: 21. Third Age 2980

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21. Third Age 2980

'Will Ecthelion appoint Thorongil Captain-General? Or even worse, will he name him Heir to the Steward?' Denethor paced the parapet, his hand clenching and unclenching his sword's pommel.' 'Tis a nightmare; one I thought never to have. The wizard has wormed his way into Ecthelion's heart and with him he has brought the enemy. For that is what Thorongil is, the enemy. I am certain of it. Or perhaps more certain of another thing.' He shivered, but it was not from the cold. 'Is he the usurper in more ways than one, a deeper, more sinister way? Not from the line of Anárion, of that I am certain. But of another line, long ago destroyed. The line of Isildur?' His lip curled in scorn. 'If it is as I suppose, my fathers' fathers denied that line and I, if I am allowed, will deny that line again!'

He strode towards the Great Hall, alight with torches. The sight of it sickened him. The torches, the celebrations were all for Thorongil, for his victory this day at Umbar. He had learned too late, always too late, that Thorongil had persuaded the Steward to allow him to lead an attack against the Corsairs. Denethor knew, from the sources he counted as allies, that the men of Umbar were building their fleet to defeat Gondor, but he had hoped, nay, had even asked his father to allow him to lead an attack. 'But when the time came,' he thought bitterly, 'beloved Thorongil was sent.' He stood for a moment before the stairs, holding his hand to his head, and let the harsh tears fall. He turned away and strode into an alley. Leaning his head against the Tower's walls, he wept. 'Father will take my title from me. He will give it to Thorongil and I will be... I will be what?' he sobbed. 'All these years I have put Gondor before everything, and now he rewards me in this fashion. I will leave Gondor. I will go to Thengel in Rohan. Or perhaps to Dol Amroth. What? I will go in ignominy? With my tail between my legs? Dishonored? Is that what I have spent my life for?' The sobs slowed; deep breaths were taken. At last, he walked towards the King's House, deep in thought. 'Have I truly spent my life preparing to throw it away? All those years of banishment, hoping for reprieve. And when reprieve came, little did it matter. Thus it is with my life. Yes. This is what I have spent my life preparing for. If this be for the good of Gondor, then so be it. Has that not been what I have been taught? All for Gondor? I will swallow my pride. If Father appoints him heir, then I will bow to this man from the north. Ever has the line of Húrin been Stewards, but no more.' He stopped for a moment; his head hurt from the strain of his thoughts. 'Steward,' he laughed and it hurt his throat. 'Nay, he will not be content with being Steward. He will be king.' The enormity of it struck him. 'If he be king, will the Stewardship remain? Will I want to be Steward to him?' He started to pace the little alleyway. 'I will continue the line, if for naught but for my son, my Boromir. I will be this man's Steward.' He choked on the thought. 'It will serve no purpose one way or the other. Unless the man be a worker of magic, Gondor will fall, whether I be Steward or he be king, Gondor will fall.' He strode back to his quarters; he did not have the stomach to face Ecthelion.

~*~

Indis searched the Hall for him. 'Where can he be?' she asked herself. 'He promised he would come.' She knew his heart, knew that he would be sorely hurt by the betrayal of Ecthelion. She had heard Denethor ask for command of the fleet, and heard the scorn in Ecthelion's voice as he denied him. Their father had not told him of his plans for Umbar, for the attack, for Thorongil. She had known. What good would it have done to tell Denethor? Listöwel and Amdir stepped towards her.

"Have you seen him?" she asked. "I have looked everywhere."

"Nay," Amdir shook his head. "I too have been to his quarters, his study. He is nowhere to be found."

"Finduilas is here, but I will not upset her by asking his whereabouts. She looks happy." Indis frowned. "She thinks the victory will make a difference. And perhaps it will, for the present, but it is not enough. Thorongil has not defeated He whom we do not name."

Amdir held Indis' arm. "It will help. It will stop one part of the vice that the enemy plans for Gondor. It will be long before another fleet can be assembled. Thorongil sank every one of their ships. The enemy ran in terror. I wish that I had been there." He stopped for a moment. "Denethor, I know, wishes he had been there, too. That is the crux of the matter. Too long has he dreamt of sailing, the ships of Gondor under his command. Indis," he turned to face her fully. "You remember the tales of Mardil's captain, Vëantur? He even told me of that man's voyages. Ecthelion could find no better way to crush his son than this!"

"I am just glad that Thorongil himself is not here. I understand he is finishing his reports and then will return to Minas Tirith." Indis spoke quietly.

"Mayhap he wants to give more people time to reach the City so they can welcome him properly." Listöwel put her hand over her mouth. "I am sorry. I should not have said such a thing, but their shouts for Thorongil wound me deeply. I can hardly imagine how Denethor feels."

Amdir pulled her to him. "Your loyalty to Denethor is not to be apologized for. Yet, Thorongil has been friend to all of us here."

"A friend does not betray a friend," Indis said quietly. "Who is the betrayer? Is it Thorongil or Ecthelion?"

"What father puts another man over his own son?" Listöwel whispered.

~*~

Denethor finally had to attend the festivities. Ecthelion sent his knights to him, ordering him to the Hall. The Steward's son sent them back with word that he would follow shortly. Laving himself in cold water helped the swelling from the tears, but not the gash in his heart. 'So long ago, in Rohan, I learned to keep my thoughts and feelings to myself. I must do even better. Tonight he will see naught on my face. No emotion, no thought. I wonder if the wizard will be there, gloating on his triumph? That should not concern me. The wizard now has all he has ever wanted, my place in Gondor is no longer my own. How often I had thought such would be the case. Even as a youngster, never feeling that I measured up to Father's expectations. It is the perfect ending.'

He found her as soon as he entered the Hall. Standing with Indis and Listöwel, ever-faithful Listöwel. He remembered how she had fought to be stationed at Cair Andros with Amdir, but the garrison had become too dangerous for the women of Gondor to stay there. She spent more and more of her time in the practice yards, her sword slashing at any that would dare challenge her. The swordmaster had told Denethor that she was better than most of the young esquires. He wished he had her strength, her will to fight. It seemed to desert him now. Yet, in the midst of his suffering, he saw that Finduilas appeared tired. "My love, art thou not well."

"Just tired, my Lord. Boromir fussed and wouldst not let me leave him. It broke my heart. I would go home now."

"Ah, dearest, I must see Father. Then, mayhap, we may leave. Forgive me?"

She shook her head. "I understand." She kissed him gently on the cheek. Indis moved closer and held her. Denethor gave his sister a grateful smile.

He saw Ecthelion sitting in the Steward's Chair, returned Finduilas' kiss, and moved forward. "My Lord," he said and saluted. "You requested my presence?"

"I should not have had to." His father's anger was palpable. "You shame me by not being present. You shame the line of Húrin by not being present. What am I to tell those around me? My son sulks in a corner somewhere? You have never learned to obey me fully. You never will. I have turned my thoughts to another, one who obeys my every order. Obeys my thoughts before they are spoken. I will place you under him, for a time, so that you may learn obedience. Your banishments have never taught it to you, though I sorely hoped they would. When Thorongil returns, I will establish him here, in Minas Tirith. You will be his aide. Do you have anything to say?"

Denethor was caught unawares. He had not thought his father would require any response; he never had before to the charges leveled against him, to the actions threatened. Never had he expected to be made Thorongil's aide! He blinked once; then said, "Whatever is your will, I obey, my Steward. I will await his command. Thank you for seeing me tonight. If I may have your leave, Finduilas is not well. I would take her to our quarters."

"So, you use your wife as your excuse! Still a coward at heart."

'Is he baiting me,' Denethor wondered. He steeled his heart. 'He will not succeed.'

"If that is your thought, then I am sorry, but I must take her home now. If you wish, I will return, once I have seen her safely to our quarters."

"Nay! I wish to see you no more this night. Go!"

~*~

"I do not understand it," Denethor protested as they reached their chambers. "How often have I asked Father to be stationed at Pelargir? How often have I asked for a ship? I have trained and trained for such an occasion as this, and he sends him instead. And now Thorongil has the victory. He has killed the Captain of the Haven. The Corsairs flee in terror. And all Minas Tirith, nay, all Gondor shouts the name of Thorongil. I expect banners to be made and hung by morning! Now Father will place me under that upstart as an aide! An aide!" Fury stung his words. He could feel the anger coursing through him. Finduilas touched his arm and the shock caused him to flinch. He saw the pain in her eyes. "My love." He took her in his arms. "Wouldst thou forgive me? My anger causes my whole body to seethe. I did not flinch from thee. I flinched from me. Thou art the only thing in this whole world that has not harmed me, nor forsaken me, nor caused me pain. Only happiness have I received from thee. And only pain hast thou received from me."

"Nay, 'tis not so, I love you. Thou hast always treated me tenderly. Fear not my thoughts of thee. They are only good."

"Good and pure and lovely. As thou art. Naught have I ever done to deserve such a love as thou art to me. There is naught that can come between us. By the Valar, I swear I love thee more than life itself, more than the line of my forefathers."

"And knowest thou that I love thee in full measure, my Denethor. How I love that name. How it feels upon my tongue, my lips."

He pulled her to him, kissing those sweet lips, momentarily forgetting his anger, frustration and pain. Always, when he brought his concerns to her, she turned them into joy. Why did he not confide in her more often, he wondered. Yet there were dark secrets that would terrify her if he shared them. He trembled slightly at the thought of her fair mind and heart confronted by the evil that continued to spread nearer and nearer to Minas Tirith, the evil that would one day claim his land.

She felt the shiver and held him tighter; misunderstanding the cause, she wondered what she could do to help allay this anger. If only he could have been stationed at Pelargir, if only he could have commanded the fleet. Her heart jumped at the thought of the nearness of the sea to Pelargir; she could have been happy there. She tried not to shake her head. She should be happy here. What was wrong with her? Her love doted upon her, their friends were many, her husband's father treated her well, especially now that she had given Denethor an heir - what more did she need? And yet, always, there was that sight before her - from the moment she woke till the moment she placed her head again upon her pillow - that horrible sight, belching and rumbling and sometimes waking her in the middle of the night. There was evil there; she knew it. She trembled and he held her.

~*~

Thorongil kicked the stone in front of him and Berelach looked questioningly towards him. 'If I stay,' he thought, 'I will continue to damage Denethor's place in Gondor. Ecthelion is foolish when it comes to his son. I know not why. Denethor tries, does everything he can to obey him, and yet he turns to me for counsel. I will never earn Denethor's trust at this rate. And trust me he must, for he will be my Steward if things come to pass as Elrond sees them.' He sighed. 'My heart is happy here. I love him. I love his son. And Finduilas and Indis could not be more courteous nor attentive. If I leave now, if I do not return to Minas Tirith, perhaps Ecthelion will turn to Denethor and use him. This parting would be most painful though. I love Minas Tirith. I love her people. Would I be abandoning them? Nay, it is more important that I not abandon Denethor, for this is not yet my time. The longer I stay in Gondor, the deeper grows Ecthelion's attachment to me, and the deeper grows the rift between Denethor and myself. I cannot let this continue. How will I tell them? Nay, there is naught to say. I will leave a note and go. Just say that other duties call me. Bitter is this time!' He kicked another stone. 'This is not what I planned.' He turned towards his aide.

"I will not be returning with you to Minas Tirith. I am writing a missive and will give it to you. In fact, I will give you two. One I wish you to take to the Steward and one to the Steward's son. Do you understand?"

"Of course, my Lord."

He sat on the gunwale of the boat and wrote quickly.

My Lord Steward.

Forgive the abruptness of my actions. Some concerns have arisen that must be dealt with. I must be off. I will not return to Gondor.

Your servant, Thorongil

This was hideous - what else could he say? He quickly signed and sealed it, wrote Ecthelion's name on the front and gave it to Berelach.

My Lord Denethor,

He sat back, chewed on the pencil as if it were his pipe, spat out a piece of hair that had dislodged from it, and tried mightily to think of something to say to mend the hurts his presence had caused.

I have written to the Steward and informed him that I must leave Gondor. I have said I will not return, but I hope to, one day in the distant future. At that time, I sincerely hope that we may start our friendship anew, devoid of all that encumbers our amity now. Ever have I meant to befriend you. To your mind, mayhap this has not seemed so. I will endeavor to do all I can, when and if I return, to be forthright and loyal to you and the throne of Gondor.

He scratched that part out. If he mentioned the throne... Denethor already looked askance at him. If he put in something about the throne, it would make him question. He looked at the missive again, crumpled it, stood up and threw it into the fire.

My friend,

He began again.

I have written to the Steward and informed him that I must leave Gondor. I have told him I will not return, but I hope to, one day in the distant future. At that time, I sincerely hope that we may start our friendship anew, devoid of all that encumbers our amity now. Ever have I meant to befriend you. To your mind, mayhap this has not seemed so.

He tried this part again.

I will endeavor to do all I can, when and if I return, to support you as Steward of Gondor.

I leave with you the dirk of your kin. I had meant to return it to you upon your taking the Steward's Chair, but that is not to be; I will not be here for that happy occasion.

'Ah, that should help. How do I sign it? Your friend, the usurper, the traitor.' His brow creased. He had done nothing wrong, naught to harm Denethor and yet he felt responsible for the rift between Ecthelion and Denethor. 'I will just sign it Thorongil and leave it at that,' he thought.

He finished the missive, asking Denethor to bid Finduilas and Indis farewell, signed and sealed it, wrote Denethor's name on the front and gave it to Berelach.

"There, it is done. Take these immediately to Ecthelion and Denethor. Please, make sure you give it personally to each."

"Yes, my Lord." Berelach said, then looked on in astonishment as Thorongil, after wrapping his belongings in his blanket and slinging them over the back of his horse, mounted, saluted him, and rode off eastward.

"Well..." was all he could say. Then he mounted his own horse and rode towards Minas Tirith.

~*~

The missive burned his hand and his heart. Long past, his heart had turned against the writer. The eyes reading it could only see danger lurking. "So, he intends to return. For what purpose, I wonder." And then, a sudden longing for friendship long lost assailed him. "Friend I had called him. Nay, closer to brother." Bitter tears burnt his eyes. "My heart recalls his kindnesses, his loyalty, his openness. Always, he shared all with me. Gave me no cause for regret, nor anger, nor jealousy." The tears fell in earnest. "I would go back to those times. I would take him in my arms and embrace him and thank him for everything he has ever done for me, from the moment of healing in the Drúadan Forest, to the negotiations for thy hand, to his friendship. And yet - I cannot forgive him for this... this estrangement from my father."

Her soft voice beside him shushed him. "It seems to me, my Lord, that thy father bears the brunt of guilt here. 'Twas not Thorongil's intent neither to deceive thee nor to tear thee from thy father's esteem. Thou knowest this."

"I knowest not what to think. Clandestine meetings, gifts given, the people exhorted to cheer his name in the courtyards. What am I to think? That Thorongil was unaware of the repercussions, the destruction that these things brought about. I am the Heir, not he. My mind tells me he and the wizard engineered these things. Swayed my father's heart towards him, and away from me. Yet my own heart would deny such accusations." He pulled Finduilas towards him. "I will speak with Ecthelion, in couchéd terms and try to discover where the treason lies. Yes," he said as she pulled away from him at the word, "'Tis treason to plot to o'erthrow the rightful Heir. Is that not what he did?" His anger simmered again. "He and that wizard." He spat the word. "Wizards speak in riddles, tell half-truths, and endeavor to take control of peoples' minds. Hideous creatures. Long bereft of honor." He was droning the phrases, alarming her. "Wizards are not to be trusted. They lie. They steal information. They trick leaders into unwise decisions."

"Denethor!" she cried, "Thou art frightening me."

He drew a breath in sharply. Somehow, he had been back in the deep archives of the Great Library, listening to a feared voice. He shook his head to clear it. 'I have endeavored to keep my mind my own. I will not go back to being the pawn of another wizard,' he thought. 'I will not!'

He hugged her quickly to assuage her fears and left her. Striding towards the Great Hall, he toyed with the words he would use to question Ecthelion. How was he to couch his words so that his father would not realize where his questioning was leading? He was, however, unprepared for the onslaught of his father's rage.

"You!" his father screamed as he entered the Hall. "What did you do to make Thorongil leave me? What did you say to him that made him abandon Gondor? With him at my side, there was a possibility that we would win, that Gondor would not fall. But you," he snarled out the word, "you have destroyed all hope with your petty jealousy. Did you not know that my captain would flee from your accursed finger pointing?" He slumped back in his Chair. "I... I cannot do this alone," he whispered. "Finally, Gondor had an ally of stature!"

"Father!" Denethor tried not to shout. "I said naught to Thorongil. Naught. Always have I obeyed your will, though you would see it otherwise. Do not blame me for Thorongil's change of mind. Never had he made oath to Gondor, nor pled fealty to you; never had he promised to remain here. His loyalty was a delusion. Always, he looked only to himself, to his own ends. Now those ends have sent him in a different direction and we must stand without him. Know that I valued his quality. Know that I esteemed his leadership. Know you not that his heart was not beholding to Gondor. I appreciate your need of his skills, but Father, others have skills too, skills that perhaps you have not seen." He did not want to beg, but suddenly his entire being longed mightily for his father's approval. "Would you not teach me? Would you not use me to help Gondor?" He knelt before the Steward, his heart beating wildly. Perhaps there was the slightest likelihood that Ecthelion would value him. He knew Thorongil was loyal to Gondor, knew it in his heart, and he found it repulsive to use that ploy to sway Ecthelion, but he must use something to further his own cause, and Thorongil had, indeed, abandoned Gondor.

His father stood up. "Leave me now," he said wearily. "We will talk in the morning." He turned as if to leave, then turned back. "Come to the Council meeting tomorrow." Then he turned again and left.

Denethor almost leapt for joy. He had not been admitted to a Council meeting in over five years; summoned once in a great while to give report, but not attend! He could not believe his ears. He ran towards his quarters, ready to envelop his love and rejoice with her in the implied meaning of the invitation.

However, the Council meeting did not go as he had hoped, but it was a beginning. He was not introduced, and that disappointed him, yet the members of the Council knew him well. Why should his father introduce him? He sat halfway down the table from the Steward. The place of honor was given to Lord Amandil. Ecthelion did, however, notify the Council of Thorongil's decision. There were great sighs and harsh comments towards any who would have had any part in that decision. Denethor knew their thoughts accused him. He tried to keep his head up.

Many decisions were made that day that alarmed him. The forces at Pelargir would be cut in half, now that the threat from Umbar was presumed abolished forever, thanks to Thorongil - Denethor cringed. The Gondorian ships used in battle were left to sit at the docks. Funds were not allocated to repair them. Their crews were sent to the garrisons at Pelargir and Dol Amroth. Denethor questioned many of the decisions, but in his own heart he deemed it was not yet his time to partake of the discussions. Ciramir was sent to Pelargir and Amdir was stationed in Osgiliath. Listöwel would be sorely hurt by this decision. No woman was allowed to accompany her husband to the garrison at Osgiliath. Concern for Amdir's safety battled with pride for his friend. Osgiliath was deemed a very good assignment. There was no mention of an assignment for him. He kept his mouth closed. He was, however, placed as a member of the funding board, to learn, as Ecthelion told him bluntly, how to effectively negotiate, use the treasury monies, and contribute to the well being of Gondor. Denethor fought the urge to gag.

Once the Council was adjourned, Ecthelion called him forth. "I would have you spend the next months in the Great Treasury. I want the items there catalogued. It is a worthwhile assignment, and one that will teach you many things. It will also help you in your role with the board."

"Yes, my Steward. I will begin this afternoon. If I may have your leave?"

~*~

The Great Treasury. Denethor ran back to their chambers and hugged Finduilas tightly. All the excitement at his inclusion in the Council was mitigated by the task laid before him. "I am to be a clerk," he stated sourly. A bitter laugh escaped his lips. She ran her hand through his hair. "First I was to be an aide and now I am to be a clerk. So this is what I have trained for all my life." He stared at her for a moment. "Wouldst thou forgive me?" he said, looking into her bright gray eyes. "Always, my heart turns to the unpleasant aspects of my life, and away from the gifts I have. Away from thee. I am a fool; nay, more than a fool, I am an idiot. No other, looking at one such as thee, holding a Vala in their arms, and hearing the sweet cooing of their son, would spend one moment on such thoughts. 'Tis folly. And I am sore pressed to make excuse for it. Yet, I would beg thy forgiveness. Thou knowest me too well. Thou knewest me before our oath taking. Art thou surprised?"

She laughed, holding him closer to her. "Nay, thou art the most precious gift the Valar could give. Almost as precious as thy son. Come, thee must see what he hast done this day." And she led him into the nursery. As soon as Boromir saw him, he lifted his arms and cooed. "Papa, Papa, Papa," he sang over and over. Denethor's face blushed at the joy he felt looking upon the little one. "My darling Boromir," he cried and lifted him from the cradle, swinging him around and rejoicing at the gentle laughter emitting from his son. "Mama tells me thou hast been up to some sort of devilry?" He laughed as Boromir looked at him questioningly. "What great feat hast thou done this day, my son?"

Boromir looked shyly at his father. "Down, Papa," he said simply. Denethor smiled and placed him on the floor. The little one moved quickly to his cradle and climbed right into it. Denethor gasped. "How didst he learn to do this? Who taught him?" he asked Finduilas in astonishment.

Boromir and Finduilas giggled. "Want sleep. Cradle soft, Papa." He yawned.

Denethor walked back to the bed, pulled the coverlet over him, and kissed him on the forehead. "Sleep now, my sweet Boromir. Papa is so proud of thee. And Papa loves thee very much." He turned to hide the tears in his eyes, walked towards Finduilas, and buried his head in her shoulder. They walked slowly from the room.

~*~

"It... is.... not.... possible. He cannot be dead. He wast here, with us, just two years ago. Dead. It cannot be. Too young to be dead." He slid back into his chair, hands hiding his face. "How?"

"He was not of Númenor, my love. He died. It happens." Finduilas had not wanted to sound unfeeling, but she knew the frailty of men who were not of Westernesse blood.

He pulled her to him, down onto his lap, and held her tight. "He wast more brother than friend, Finduilas. I cannot abide the thought that he is gone. I had wished to fish with him one more time. I sent a missive to him, after Thorongil deserted us, asking for his advice, but he did not reply. I was hurt, at the time. I thought, what with his love for Thorongil, that he wouldst not listen to me. That he thought I wats being foolish. He must have been ill then. I should have known better. I knew him well, Finduilas. How couldst I have thought he wouldst abandon me?" Tears formed. "When?"

"Not five days past. An errand-rider wast dispatched as soon as... There wast no warning, Denethor. He had been ill for only a short time. He died in his sleep. Morwen wast by his side. Théoden had returned from the Fords of Isen a fortnight before. Wilst thou goest to Edoras?"

"Of course. I must. And Amdir wilt go too. We must send a rider immediately to fetch him. Recall him from Osgiliath. Indis... Arciryas too. He wouldst not want to be left behind. Oh, Finduilas. Dost Indis know yet?"

"Nay, my love. I thought thou wouldst want to tell her."

"Yes. Call the guard in. I wilt meet her in our chambers."

~*~

Indis insisted, once Denethor told her the news of Thengel's death, that Listöwel be allowed to accompany them. "We three, Denethor, are bound as sisters. You cannot separate us. She must attend," Indis stated. And so it was that the entire company of friends, less Elleth who had taken ill, arrived at the gates of Edoras. Dust and heat assailed them as they passed through. Banners hung silent in the dark. It had taken them longer than usual to reach the Rohirric city. Though rivers were only tiny trickles or dried up beds, they were not the stumbling block that caused the trip to be long and arduous. He rued the fact that Indis and Listöwel accompanied them. They did not show it, but he knew the two-week journey had taken its toll on them all. It had been a dangerous journey. Orc bands had attacked at night four times during their long sojourn. Gratefully, he acknowledged that they had lost none of their company; he smiled, though, as he thought of the battle readiness of the women! They would not be put off, nor encircled in protection, but had fought hard and long, as the men guarding them. It irked him to think Orcs would have the temerity to attack a full Gondorian battalion. Gondor must be deemed weak indeed to be held in such disdain.

~*~

As Morwen held Denethor's arm tightly, she recounted the ceremony. "I began the song of mourning.... "Bealocwealm hafað... They laid him in a mound prepared for him, the mounds on the left being part of the second line of the Kings of Rohan. Little white flowers have already begun to sprout from its base. The day was beautiful. White clouds spotted the sky; the mountain snows mirrored their whiteness and the river Snowbourn glimmered in the hot sun. All was white and blue and gold. The roof of the Golden Hall hurt the eye, such was the brightness of the sun that day. How I wish you had been here. I should have sent for you earlier. I could see he was failing, but I would not accept it. Nor did I expect it to happen so quickly." She leaned against him, clinging to his arm. "He bade you farewell, Denethor. He awoke in the middle of the night, clutching his chest, bending near over with pain. It subsided for a moment. His eyes, misted with tears from the pain, suddenly cleared. He looked at me and smiled, gave me his love. We lay together for another few moments, he recounted his love and pride for Théoden, his wish that he could have accomplished more, his thoughts of friends near and dear to him. You, my dearest, Denethor, were part of those such named. Another few moments and Théoden and the healers were at his side. But he was gone by that time."

"He was a brave warrior, Morwen. Songs and tales will be told of him until the end of time. I learned so much from him. A truer friend I have not had. Gondor has indeed lost one of her sons. Ecthelion would have had me use him for Gondor's end: I know he knew that, but I would not sully our friendship with that crassness. I had only the deepest respect for him. Though his years were many more than mine, he held me in esteem. I considered him our finest captain. Will you come back to Gondor with us, Morwen? You are sorely missed. Your old quarters would be prepared."

She looked at him in surprise. "Nay, Denethor, though I would wish it mightily, for I miss my sisters terribly. Théoden and Théodred have need of me. The little one needs a mother, and I am that for him, and always will be. But I thank you for the kindness. He loved you very much."

"And I him."

~*~

Laughter swept down the hallway and into the main hall. Théoden, Amdir, and Denethor looked up in surprise. "'Tis the sisters," Denethor said in mock anger. "They cannot stop that cackling whenever they meet. 'Tis a disgrace!" The smile belied his words.

Théoden laughed. "Have they always been like this?"

"Yes. They drove your father mad with it. Some nights, 'twas hard to sleep. I think he relished being sent to a far off outpost now and again. I know I did."

All three men laughed heartily. Denethor clapped Théoden on the back. "My lad," his tone grew serious. "Know that I will be here for you. In whatever your want. Need I say that the promise of Cirion, Steward of Gondor, will hold as long as Ecthelion is Steward, and then after, when I am Steward. We will not forsake the men of the Mark. The boundaries will not change, nor your sovereignty. I swear it."

Théoden embraced Denethor. "Father spoke truly of you. He told me that, if ever I was in need, I was to call upon Gondor. That Gondor would answer. Know you also, Denethor, that Rohan will answer any call of Gondor's. We know the oath of loyalty taken by Eorl on the Halifirien, the oath of perpetual loyalty to Gondor. Know that I will keep that oath, Denethor, as long as I have breath! Do you not find it strange, my friend, that we should be swearing oaths that were created by our ancestors so long ago? But the friendship between Gondor and Rohan has been strong, and always will be." He paused for a moment. "Did you know that Cirion's father was named Boromir? I find it strange that I sit here with you as father of Boromir. I think it bodes well for our people. Do you not agree?"

Laughter again erupted from down the corridor and Denethor and Théoden joined it. Amdir shrugged. "'Twill be hard for them to be parted again."

~*~

"I tell you there was smoke coming from his nose!"

"Nay, 'tis not true," Indis cried.

"'Twas," insisted Morwen. "I saw it myself. The wizard had drawn on that pipe he uses and smoke came from his nose! After that," she paused for emphasis, "he blew out a round ring from his mouth that drifted to the ceiling of the Golden Hall. Then it stayed there, till evening came!"

Indis laughed loudly. "I have heard tales of Mithrandir's love of the stuff he calls pipeweed. I remember one time in Minas Tirith, he had some children of the Tower Guard running over the foothills of Mindolluin harvesting bunches of sweet galenas. He brought it to the laundry and spread it on the drying tables. After a week, he went back to retrieve it. He was furious; the laundress had thrown it away. They bellowed back and forth at each other until I was called to settle the matter."

The others laughed with her. "Great was the courage of that laundress, I must say," said Listöwel. "I would not cross the wizard myself. Dark are the memories of wizards for Denethor, that much I can say!"

"Yes," Indis frowned. "He truly distrusts them. All wizards. Yet, I myself, find Mithrandir to be pleasant company. He regales me with many tales of Elves, and great forests, strange creatures - the very type of tales that Denethor loves. But Denethor will not allow himself to be anywhere near when the wizard visits Gondor."

"'Tis a shame," Listöwel echoed her friend.

"What is the real shame is that you will be leaving me soon. Théoden said that Denethor plans on leaving the day after tomorrow. I will rue that day, my sisters. Blessed has your company been to me. You have eased my heart. I know Théoden has been lifted by Denethor's presence. Would that we could stay together always. Do you remember, Indis, when I was with child and had the vision of Thengel helpless? Do you remember how you said that, as long as our men were together, they would be all right?" Tears started to fall. "'Twas an omen of this day. We should never have left Gondor. I know Thengel would be alive today, with Denethor and Amdir at his side. I know it."

Indis leaned in and held her sister-friend. "Nay, my sister, you know that the life of an Eorlingas is short. His time had come. Your curse is that of one of Númenor. You chose one of lesser blood. You knew your life would last longer than his. But be heartened, for Théoden's blood flows with yours and he will live longer because of it. That, my sweet sister, is very good."

"Yes," Morwen sighed. "'Twill flow through the line of Thengel forever. That does hearten me, my sweet Indis. Thank you."

~*~

Darkness enveloped Finduilas as she hid under her cloak, willing it to be gone. But Finduilas' heart had been o'ertaken by it; she was helpless in its power. Such terror had never assailed her as this did. She felt it, physically, and burrowed deeper into the cloak: the cloak he had given her on their wedding day. Darkest blue with mithril stars scattered about. The cloth was so thick she could not see through it. And this was a blessing. The mountain belched and stormed at her, shaking the very foundations of Minas Tirith, causing her to grasp the cloak in panic. Three times the room had shaken so badly she was afraid she would be thrown from the bed. She clung to the great oaken headboard as her tears fell. 'How could he leave me alone like this? Does he not know I will go mad with this terror? Is there no one who can help me? I am so alone. I am so alone.' The tears fell faster as she cowered further and further into the precious mantle that covered her.

Another tremor hit the room and she screamed into the night, "Where is he? Why did he leave me? Why did they all leave me?" But there was no answer. Even the mountain had quieted. The silence almost hurt it was so deep. "Silence before the storm? Is that what this is?" she wondered aloud.  But after a few moments, she realized the mountain had stilled. She held her breath for another moment, then slowly moved the cloak back just a bit. The fire still burned brightly in its place, the candles still flickered, but now gently, and she could hear the soft sound of wind blowing outside her windows. Another deep breath and she sat up. Her fingers hurt from holding so tightly to the headboard. She flexed them, then sat up, moved off the bed and walked to the terrace opening. 'Why am I doing this? I do not want to see it.' But some compulsion, some fixation made her look. The sky in the east was lit up as if by the sunrise, but it was no sunrise; it was the flames of that horrid mountain reaching towards the firmament itself. She pulled the cloak tighter about her. The stars were the same as those back home in Dol Amroth. Yet, not the same, for these were being o'ercome, supplanted by the fire and smoke that spewed out of that horrid, cavernous peak. She closed her eyes. Such sadness, such gloom, such despondency beset her that the tears, which had stopped when the shaking had stopped, poured forth again in such torrents it frightened her. 'By the Valar, I will die here in loneliness and grief.' She screamed wildly, "Denethor! Denethor, save me!"

The guard flung open the chamber doors, sword unsheathed, searching for the cause of his Lady's distress. Stepping a few paces into the room, he called her name. When his call went unanswered, he strode quickly to the bedchamber's doors, knocked, then opened them. She lay by the great terrace doors that overlooked the Courtyard of the White Tree. Rushing towards her, he sheathed his sword, took her in his arms, and gently called to her. She did not respond, but her chambermaid ran in at the same moment.

"My Lady," the wretched girl screamed.

The guard shouted for her to be still; then motioned for her to come to him. She wept openly as she tiptoed across the room.

"The Lady Finduilas is ill. Go to the Houses immediately and bring back the Master Healer. Go, now!" he shouted as she looked at him in confusion. With a start, she ran from the room.

Denethor's groomsman entered the room as the chambermaid left and quickly ran to the guard's side. Kneeling, he put his hand on her forehead, touched her cheeks, and finally felt her neck. "Quickly," he whispered. "Place her upon her bed. I believe she has only fainted."

The guard sighed a great sigh of relief, picked her up and placed her under the covers. The groomsman removed the cloak and pulled the covers up around her neck. "I will stay with her. Please inspect the rooms. Make sure there is no sign of an intruder, naught that might have caused this distress."

The guard obeyed. After a few moments, he came back. "There is no one here. Nor any sign that an intruder has entered these rooms."

"Yes. It is as I thought. I believe she has never felt the quaking of the earth before. Though not as hard as when the mountain first awakened, the shocks were strong. She fainted in fright, I think. Go, back to your post. I will stay with her. When the healer comes, send him in."

A few moments later, a man stood in front of the guard. "The Master Healer has gone with Denethor to Rohan. My name is Siriondil and I would look to the Lady Finduilas,"

~*~

Denethor held Morwen in his arms, comforting her as best he could. He knew there were no words to assuage her grief. Yet, he was grateful to be with her, to at last hold her and tell her of all that Thengel had meant to him, to Gondor and to the Rohirrim. He knew he did not want to leave her here. And yet, he must. His friend's son needed her. She had such wisdom and strength. He thought, with awe, of the women in his life. Morwen Steelsheen. Aptly she was named. He saw it in the steel of her eyes as she bid them farewell. Indis was weeping openly as was Listöwel, but each waved, smiling through the tears. The entourage went through the gates, down into the valley and towards the road that led home. As much as he wanted to stay, to spend more time with Théoden, he knew he must leave.

Denethor's heart had been filled with pain these last days. He needed to be with Finduilas and Boromir. He had been gone too long. He had never meant to stay for Théoden's coronation, but his friend had begged him, and so he stayed. It had recalled to him Thengel's ceremony. Bittersweet these days seemed to be. To raise a cup of cheer to the new king delighted him, for Théoden had become quite a man, so like unto Thengel, but still, he wanted to still see Thengel seated on the throne. How hard for Morwen to sit next to her son and not her king. 'Ah,' he thought, 'but Théoden is now king. I can only wish the best for him. The days are growing darker. I have warned him about the wizard at Isengard. I hope he takes my advice to heart. Would that my ancestor had never given the keys of Orthanc to a wizard! 'Tis fruitless to follow that line of thought.' He shook his head. 'The damage has been done; the wizard resides in the tower. And I must leave it in the hands of a child.' He had to laugh. Théoden was no longer a child, but his fondest memories of the man were in Minas Tirith, bouncing him upon his knee. How he wished they had more time together. 'Ah, someday I will take him fishing with me. Thengel told me he excels in the sport. Then again, perhaps I will not. I really do not want to have another abject lesson in humiliation. I have never been able to fish well. I know not why.' His smile filled his face.

Indis drew alongside him. "What brings a smile to your face, my brother?"

"I was thinking of Thengel and how much he loved to fish. I imagine he has drawn forth all the fish in the Snowbourn and left none for his son!"

"I too miss Thengel. It is a very hard thing to lose a man such as he. Besides being a friend, Gondor needed his strength."

"Indeed, sister, you speak well. I cannot forget the pride Thengel had in Théoden. I think Rohan will remain loyal to Gondor, will do her best to keep the evil forces at bay, and will guard our shared border well. We discussed horses, and he has promised another herd to be sent to Gondor within the month. Our need for new mounts is desperate." He shook his head slowly. "We lose as many mounts as men in this age. Too many, dear sister. Too many."

She placed her hand on his. "When you are Steward, my Lord, you will exhort men to join Gondor's armies. They love you, the men who serve under you, and all will know that love. You will have no difficulty encouraging the other lords of Gondor to send men to swell the ranks. You are eloquent and wise. They will see the wisdom in your words and they will respond in like. I have no doubt. Ecthelion has been ruled by frustration and enmity towards Turgon and the legacy he left him. If you leave aside these things, you will be strong and Gondor will survive."

"I know not how Gondor will survive, Indis. We have not enough men and the lords of the surrounding lands do not send us recruits. It is as you say; I must persuade them to act and now. Else Gondor will surely fall. I thank you for your confidence in me, dearest sister. It is most needed. If Father would only..." he stopped in confusion. Better to leave those thoughts somewhere in the dark recesses of his mind. They only caused pain. "We have been missed, Indis, of that I am sure. If only there were some way to fly over these mountains into Finduilas' arms, 'twould make me most happy."

~*~

Siriondil had now paced the room for nigh unto a fortnight. Finduilas still languished. All the medicaments he used did naught for her. She had not even wanted to see her son. The healer was most concerned. 'Perhaps it is fever. Nay,' he wished it were. He could deal with fever, knew how to fight it, but this was different. It assailed her mind. Would that Denethor would hurry home. Ecthelion had not thought it necessary to send an errand-rider to the party; he thought they would return within the month. Denethor had now been gone almost two months. She was awake and aware, most of the time, yet her speech slurred at times, and her eyes would cloud over. He shivered. 'I must do something.' He jumped at the sound of running feet. He stood away from the bed and turned towards the doors. Denethor pushed them open and ran into the room. His face was terrible to behold. The healer quickly moved out of his way. Denethor knelt by her side, taking her hand into his. Arciryas joined him. Siriondil left the bedchamber and waited in the outer rooms.

"Finduilas?" he whispered. Her eyes were closed, her face gray, her hair lay wet about her face, drenched in sweat. "Finduilas," he moaned. "Listen to my words, Wake!" She did not stir. "My own, forgive me. Too long have I been gone. Forgive me, my love, forgive me!" He turned towards Arciryas. "What ails her? Why will she not wake?"

"My Lord," Siriondil stepped through the doors. "I gave her a draught to help her sleep. The last time she woke, she was delirious, screaming about death and fell beasts and I know not what else. Afraid she would hurt herself, I gave her a potion."

Arciryas stepped to the man and walked him back out the door. They spoke for some moments; then Arciryas came back and stood by Denethor. "The potion is weak. She should wake soon. Please, Denethor, take a quick bath; make yourself presentable, so that when she wakes your appearance or your demeanor will not affright her. She needs you strong now."

Denethor quickly kissed her forehead and moved to the antechamber. His groomsman was issuing orders for a bath to be drawn. Denethor pulled Arciryas close to him. "What ails her?"

"Siriondil tells me there was a time of great activity from the mountain while we were away. Three or four tremors hit the tower. She was alone, frightened, and fell prey to a madness - it will pass, Denethor. Once she is in your arms, it will pass. She is weak, however, and I think it best you do not leave her for long periods. Either you or Indis or Listöwel must be with her for now. She should not be left alone."

Arciryas embraced him, surprising Denethor. "Brother, her love for you is deep. Let that thought comfort you while she heals. I will stay by her side until you are ready."

~*~

Indis ran into the room while Denethor was still in his bath. He looked up surprised and she blushed. "Forgive me, brother. I heard the news of Finduilas' illness. Is it serious?"

Arciryas had stepped through the door as soon as he heard Indis' voice. "She will be well, my love," he said. "You will have to help her regain her strength and her will to live. I am told she refused to see Boromir. He must be brought to her. The child has such life and joy within him; he can only help to raise her spirits. But not for a day or two. I cannot believe they kept him away, even if she had requested the separation. A mother needs her son, as does the son need his mother." He wanted to throttle the nursemaid and her chambermaid. How could they leave her alone during the tremors? It was becoming commonplace to have the tower shake; though, from Siriondil's description, it had been a fairly violent event this time. Still, had the maid hidden under her own bed? He would ask Indis to find another to take care of Finduilas, someone stronger. 'Ah,' he thought suddenly, 'Firieth. She will be perfect. Strong and no nonsense. Finduilas will not be able to order her about.'

~*~

Denethor finished dressing and joined his sister and her husband. "I will go to her now. You both should go to your own quarters. I will see you in the morning, both of you. Arciryas, at that time, I would like a full report from your healer."

"Yes, my Lord," Arciryas said, and, taking Indis' arm, left the room. Denethor walked to their bedchamber, closed the doors behind him, and lay next to the Swan princess. Tears slowly welled up in his eyes; he let them fall. At last, he fell into sleep.

Awakened by a fist hitting him in the cheek, he sat up. She was still asleep, but her arms flailed about. He tried to grab them and suffered another hit to his shoulder. Gently, he whispered her name. Arms kept flailing and a moan escaped her lips. "Save me," she whimpered. His heart broke. "Oh sweet Finduilas. I am here. Thou art safe. Listen. Lie still, sleep." But naught seemed to calm her. As he readied to call the guard, her eyes flew open. "Finduilas!" he sobbed. "My own, it is I, thy husband." She looked uncomprehendingly at him, and then her breath hitched and she flung her arms about his neck. "Denethor!" she screamed. "Denethor, save me!" Her eyes were wide and her breath came in ragged gasps. "Finduilas," he whispered, trying to soothe her. "Finduilas, thou art safe. I am here at thy side and I will not leave thee." She clung even harder and he had to struggle for air, but he would not let her go. "Finduilas. There is naught to fear. I am here. Thou art in thine own bed. Guards stand at the door. Thou art safe, my own. Thou art safe."

Suddenly, there was a knock on the door. The guard cautiously opened it. "My Lord, is there aught wrong? I heard screams."

"Yes. Thank you for entering. Go to my sister's chambers and bring Arciryas here."

The guard left and Denethor once more turned his full attention to Finduilas. She had calmed to the point that her arms were no longer flailing about wildly, but her eyes still rolled in her head, and drool covered her lips. He was very frightened. She should not look this way. It reminded him of a horse, mortally wounded in battle, not knowing that it was going to die, and pleading for surcease from the fear and the pain. "By all the Valar, she cannot die," he whispered. "She cannot." He tried to still the fear in himself, lest she feel it and her own fear rise further. Whispering her name over and over, stroking her hair, he waited for Arciryas.

When the healer entered the room, he strode immediately to the bed. Indis was directly behind him. After a few moments, he sighed. "Finduilas," he called gently.

She did not react; only continued to keep her arms about Denethor's neck in a stranglehold. Denethor did not attempt to free himself. He continued his litany of gentle, loving words.

"Finduilas," Arciryas called again, and this time, she looked at him. He placed his hand under her chin and smiled. "Dearest sister, Indis has come to visit you. Will you speak with her?"

Indis stepped into Finduilas' line of sight. She blinked two or three times and then started to cry, quietly at first, and then more frantically. Indis knelt and took her hand and held it tight. "It is all right, Finduilas. We are all here now. All here for you. All will be well."

Finduilas sighed and the tears slowed. Firieth had arrived by now and thrust a cup of tea into Arciryas' hands. He recognized the smell of the valerian root. She was smart, this one. She would watch over Finduilas well.

Denethor also recognized it. The odor brought back memories of the horror of the fire at Emyn Arnen and Amdir's near-fatal injuries. Too many bad memories. But he knew the tea would help her. He almost laughed as she pushed it away. He had oft done the same thing, but he took the cup from Arciryas and held it to her lips, gently speaking her name. She looked up at him, and the pain in her eyes lessened. He smiled and she drank. Soon she was asleep. Denethor sat back with a sigh as Indis took the cup and gave it to Firieth. Indis and Arciryas sat down on the bed. Firieth moved to the doorway and sat in a chair nearby. All three sighed with relief at the same moment. "I fear it will be a long night," Denethor whispered.

"Yes, but she is much better than any time previous to this, according to Siriondil. That heartens me," Arciryas whispered back. "If you do not mind, I will stay here with you. I am sure she has turned for the better, but I would be amiss if I left now." He turned towards Indis. "You may go back to our room if you wish."

"I cannot leave her," she smiled sadly. "My heart breaks for her. Such a little thing. Like a tiny bird, pushed from the nest too early. We should not all have left her. Our thoughts were for Morwen, though, and who could have envisioned such a quake at this time. It is almost as if the mountain itself knew she was here alone." She shivered.

"Do not give the mountain power over you, sister. It cannot do such a thing. It is only moving because of its nature. Not for evil purposes." But in the depths of his heart, Denethor wondered.

~*~

Adrahil gasped when first he saw her; then, quickly put on a smile as he pulled Finduilas into his arms. "My beloved daughter. How happy I am that you have returned to your home." He smiled an apology to Denethor, but it was not needed. Denethor knew she must feel safe if she were to heal, and here, in her childhood home, safety dwelt. "And Lord Denethor. It gives me much pleasure to greet you again. I hope your stay will be long?" he hinted.

"We hope not to o'erstep your generosity, Prince Adrahil, but we also hope to stay for quite some time."

"Your chambers have been prepared. I have placed you at the front of the palace, o'erlooking the Bay. It is a spectacular view, and one of my dear Finduilas' favorites. What think you of that, my darling daughter?" the prince said as he turned towards her once more. "Does it please you to be in the 'Elven Wing?'"

A smile, weak, but a smile nonetheless, graced her face. "Father! You know how much I love that part of the palace. Thank you!"

Denethor saw the look of weariness that passed over her and took her hand, gently pulling her away from Adrahil. "My Lord," he said quietly. "We look forward to spending time with you, but at the moment - our journey was long, may we be excused? I would rest for a time, and I believe your daughter is also ready for a rest."

"Of course." Adrahil's voice boomed out, "Ivríniel, come, take your sister and Lord Denethor to their chambers." He turned towards Denethor. "Perhaps, after you have rested, you will join me for dinner?"

"We will see," Denethor stated simply. "I am grateful that your kind invitation included my sister and her husband." Indis bowed and Arciryas smiled. Denethor led Finduilas away.

Adrahil called after him. "They have chambers set aside on the south side of the palace. My son, Imrahil, will show them the way," but he realized Denethor did not hear; his focus was on Finduilas.

~*~

And so Denethor found himself once again in the guest chambers at Dol Amroth. The sea sparkled in the sunlight, reflected light shining into the room and lightening every corner. He shuddered briefly. It was in this very room that he had seen his first Elf. He had come to court Princess Finduilas, so very long ago, and yet... What? Was it only eight years ago? It felt so much longer. They had been wed now these past four years, happily wed until this month. When he had returned from Edoras, the guard at the Great Gate had greeted him with the news that the Lady Finduilas had been taken seriously ill. He had commandeered a fresh stead from the Rangers' stables and ridden as fast as the horse could struggle up the interminably long streets to the Sixth Level and the entrance to the Citadel. When he opened their chamber doors, his heart had stopped. She lay on their bed, face as white as the sun-bleached sands of Belfalas, hair drenched in sweat. He did not even see Siriondil; he knelt at her side, taking her cold hand into his. He remembered calling her name over and over. She lay as if dead. 'Death!' his mind screamed. 'I cannot abide it!' He had poured every ounce of his being into his voice, into calling her back from wherever she had wandered off to. That was all the remembrance he had. The memories of that horrid, fearful night of vigil would come back to him, eventually. Now, his mind pushed them away.

'Not tonight. Tonight we will sit on the terrace and watch the sun set over the Bay and listen to the sound of the waves, and she will be well again,' he hoped with all his might. He heard the rustle of her skirts and turned from the beauty of the Bay to the beauty of Finduilas. Pale green dress sculpted her body. 'Too thin,' his mind screamed, but he pushed that thought away, too. Black pearls about her neck, a welcome home present from her sister Ivríniel, accented the pallor still left over from her illness. The gauntness of her face half hid beneath her black hair, that hair which had once been so shiny, soft and beautiful. It looked thin, dull, and flat. He fought back the shudders that engulfed him. She would not see his anguish. He smiled and walked to meet her, forcing his thoughts towards the healing she would receive here in her home, and far away from the terror-filled sights that assailed her.

"My own! Thou looks most lovely." Her eyes were sunken and terror again filled him. "Art thou warm enough?" he continued, steeling himself to uphold her, to give her comfort and hope. "I thought we might take our lunch here, on the veranda instead of going to thy father's dining hall. I would keep thee to myself, my own, my love. Then, we could watch the sun set over the Bay, after thou hast rested. Would thou not like that?"

She leaned her head against his shoulder. "Wouldst thou hold me?"

How could he hold her without breaking her? She seemed so fragile, like the whitest snowflake, here for only a moment, then melted away. 'By all the stars of Varda, I must not think like this. I must be strong. I must be... happy.' He took her gently into his arms, cradling her head in his large, battle-weary hands. 'A new battle I fight,' he thought.  'The battle to save my beloved.'

Kissing her hair while whispering tender words, he built his own courage and strength from the love that o'erwhelmed him in that moment. 'She is worth fighting for,' he thought furiously. 'I will fight till my last breath to keep her alive and well and happy. But how?'

~*~

Many days passed before they joined the family for anything. The journey had been too long, Denethor feared, for Finduilas lay abed for almost a fortnight, unable to rise by herself. Arciryas tended her. Each morning, Denethor would carry her to a chair on the veranda and sit and urge her to eat. Arciryas would come twice a day, bringing medicaments and tales of the splendor of the palace and of Dol Amroth itself. Gondor's Master Healer had never been to Belfalas, and the wonder of the place astounded him. Indis would join them every day for lunch. Her light-hearted laughter echoed through the room. She brought fresh flowers and regaled Finduilas with her findings. She delighted in the variety. She and Finduilas started to plan for a new garden area in the courtyard off of their chambers in Minas Tirith. At last, Finduilas was speaking of Minas Tirith again. She strengthened in those days and hope, however fragile, kindled in Denethor's heart.

~*~

She was sleeping now and he had walked out onto the veranda, his attention caught by the sound of a crane calling. His thoughts turned to Boromir. How the little one loved the great cranes that walked the little streams outside Minas Tirith. He missed the lad mightily. Listöwel would be taking good care of him, but, nonetheless, he wanted to hold him in his arms and bounce him on his knee. He would be changed by the time they returned home; babes grow quickly when they are little. Every day, when he went to the boy's nursery, he would note that he had grown a little taller, his face had lengthened a little, and his hair had darkened a little more. What would he look like when they returned? He stifled the groan, looking quickly towards the bed, but she did not stir. As much as he loved to hold her in his arms, those arms longed to hold his son.

'My son,' he thought. 'Never had I thought to have a son, and such a one as he. Brave and fearless already.' He remembered how the lad had climbed into his crib all by himself. Not afraid in the least over the height that he had to negotiate to complete the task. 'And quick of wit,' he smiled. 'Knows my footfall from any other. Yells my name before I even open the door. I love him so very much. Is it possible to love a child so completely?' He walked towards the wall. 'He would love this place. The gulls, the beaches, the water. Oh, how the child loves the water.' They were hard-pressed to keep him from splashing through every puddle in Gondor, every stream on the Pelennor. Another smile lit his face. 'Never clean. Always into some mischief to tear at his garments and besmirch his face.' He chuckled, then grew solemn. 'Was I such an abysmal child that my father should hasten to separate us at every opportunity? Nay, 'twas the absence of my mother that caused our estrangement. It must have been very difficult for him.' Finduilas' illness had opened his eyes to the grief his father must have felt when his mother passed away. He heard her stirring and strode quickly back into the room. She smiled as he flung himself upon the bed.

"Thou art mussing the covers, my Lord," she teased. "What wilt my father think?"

He threw his head back and laughed. "Dost thou think that I care what thy father thinks when thou art at my side." He quickly took her into his arms, where she settled with a sigh.

~*~

Finduilas went to bed early. Indis walked with her to their rooms. Adrahil had asked Denethor to stay, after supper, to speak of Gondor's weal. It was now three months since they had arrived in Dol Amroth and Finduilas was well recovered. Denethor planned to leave in the morning. After the women left, Arciryas, Denethor, and Adrahil sat in front of the great stone fireplace in the prince's study.

"I cannot tell you how grateful I am for your kindness to Finduilas," Denethor began. "I had no other recourse but to bring her here. You see I was right in that decision. She needed to see the sea again, feel the salt air on her face, and look upon beloved faces again. I will not let so much time pass before bringing her back to Dol Amroth, if that is agreeable to you."

"Of course it is," the prince said dryly. "I could not refuse my daughter anything. Did I not give her hand to you when she asked it of me?"

Denethor smiled. The animosity between the two families had lessened over time, but a touch of it still lingered.

"I have a favor to ask of you, Denethor." Adrahil spoke firmly.

"Anything, if it be within my power to grant."

"It is. I would have Imrahil return with you to Minas Tirith. He is an asset to me. Well, you have a son. You know he is more than that. But I would have him experience more of the world than what we have to offer here in Belfalas. He will be prince. Heir to my throne. Besides that, it would do Finduilas well to have family at her side."

Denethor bristled, but kept his face from any sign of discomfiture. 'He would send his son to watch over his daughter. Obviously, he has not faith that I can take care of her. Yet, in truth, I have not done well. He must think I abandoned her when I went to Edoras without her, though I thought it wise not to burden her with that tedious trip. It was a mistake, not taking her. But who could have foreseen such a thing.' He held his breath for a moment. When it came to Finduilas, he had no foresight. He had not thought, nor recognized that fact before.

Adrahil was speaking and Denethor had missed some of what he had said. "...If you would not mind?"

"Forgive my, my Lord. I did not hear the first part of your question."

"There is not enough room in the barracks for the sailors that Ecthelion sent from the Pelargir. Would you speak with your father? Ask him to station them at other posts? There must be three thousand, at least."

"More than that, I think, yet, did not Dol Amroth need everyone of them during the battle against Umbar? Would you have had less under Thorongil? Methinks Dol Amroth would have fallen had not Thorongil attacked. Is there no gratitude for the sacrifice made by Gondor?"

Adrahil paused for a moment, color rising in his face. "All of Belfalas rejoiced at the defeat of the Corsairs." He stood for a moment, trying to restrain the anger he felt. He had forgotten that Denethor's tongue could be wicked. "I only ask for the comfort of your people. They are cramped."

"You cannot find them larger quarters?"

Again, Adrahil flinched. "If that is what Gondor needs, then Belfalas will provide. Yet, I do not see the need for such a great contingent of men to be stationed here. With the threat of Umbar gone, their presence would serve Gondor better nearer the eastern borders, do you not think?"

"I will take Imrahil back with me. He will be commissioned as a captain, for I have seen his skill in leading men. I will take your request to my father. But," and he paused for effect, "but Belfalas must send more men to Minas Tirith. There is no excuse, now, to keep your men here. Would you not agree?"

"I will speak with my counselors."

"That is not enough," Denethor said quietly.

'How does my daughter love this man?' the prince wondered, struggling again to keep control of his own tongue.

Denethor could see the struggle on the man's face and relented. He knew what it was to control oneself in front of an unyielding, demanding Steward.

"Belfalas is next to my heart in my love because of your daughter. Gondor is, of course, first. I will remember that, when I go to my father regarding the number of men required. We will not leave Dol Amroth unguarded." He stood and walked to where Adrahil stood. "My father," he began tentatively and in Quenya. Adrahil looked up in surprise. "Thy daughter is most dear to me. Think not that I will let aught happen to Dol Amroth for her sake, if not for Gondor's. Trust me in this. I will not fail thee, nor thy people. If Gondor falls, and thou knowest this, then Belfalas will be o'errun by the refugees of those battles. And then, eventually, Dol Amroth herself wilt fall. Thou knowest this also, Father. The Unnamed One will prevail if all of Gondor does not unite. Wilt ye send men to Minas Tirith, to train in her armies, to defend her, and Belfalas?"

Adrahil put his hand on Denethor's shoulder. "The Swans have always been faithful to Gondor. We wilt not betray that faith."

~*~

A/N -Thengel dies, 75 yrs. old; Morwen 58; Théoden, son of Thengel, becomes 17th King of Rohan after the death of his father, age 32. Pencil - artist fine brush of camel hair used as a writing implement around AD 1386. http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?l=p&p=9


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.

Story Information

Author: Agape4Gondor

Status: Reviewed

Completion: Complete

Era: 3rd Age - The Stewards

Genre: Drama

Rating: General

Last Updated: 06/14/10

Original Post: 01/18/05

Go to Ten Thousand Years Will Not Suffice overview

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