26. Third Age 2989 - Part One
'Who betrayed whom?' Denethor thought. His heart ached more fiercely now than it had done then, though the sharp pain, the pain as of a dagger in his heart, had left him. Now, it was an ever-shuddering, constant flailing in his body. 'Did I betray her? Was I not the man she needed?' Tears fell again. As always. When away from prying eyes, when a moment came when he should have peace, he had pain and tears. 'So I am the cause of everything?' He shook his head. He would not indulge in self-recriminations. These were the times when Amdir would come and make him smile. He gasped. Another pain. Another loss.
'Did she betray me? She came into my heart, forced her way in even when a child, and then she left it.' He ran his hand over the oaken desk, the cool feel of the wood assuaging some of the pain. Too many times, of late, he would find himself looking at nothing, his mind a blank. And he would have to force himself to think again. To look to Gondor's defenses... His heart recoiled at the thought. 'Gondor's defenses,' he wanted to scream. 'What about my defenses? How am I to guard myself from these thoughts, these feelings? How am I to go on?'
They had failed each other. In some way, unknown to him, they had failed. His father had been right. Yet it was Gondor that Ecthelion had feared for, not his own son. The pain would not go away.
Berelach knocked twice, entering when he had no reply. "The Council stands ready for you, my Lord." He bowed and left.
Denethor rose. The Council could wait for just a moment longer.
He found the lad on the steps by Finduilas' garden looking out into the sunshine. "Faramir," he called softly. The boy turned. No expression crossed his face and Denethor sobbed inside. He sat down next to him. "What art thou doing?"
"I am waiting for Mama," the boy said softly.
Denethor sat with his huge hands folded on his lap. Looking down at them, he wondered if they would ever again hold anything as precious as Finduilas? This son was precious to her. Precious to him. He had tried, this whole last year, to decide what he would do with the lad. Boromir would be in training soon, but Faramir? What was he to do with Faramir? He could no longer tolerate the blank, pinched face that looked out upon the garden. The child seemed to have withered and died inside. Firieth would have known how to help him. He could not treat him as his own father had done. He could not force him to grow up. He was only six. Bending forward, he took the boy in his arms and placed him on his lap. "Shall I wait with thee, my son?"
Faramir looked up in surprise. His chin quivered. Huge tears filled his eyes. "Papa," the boy wailed and flung his arms about his father's neck.
Denethor's sobs shook his own body. Great gulping sobs held back for so long. 'Oh by the Valar, I cannot do this alone,' he thought. "My son, my son," he whispered.
He felt a hand on his shoulder. Boromir stood behind him. He made room on his lap and Boromir sat; the boy did not cry. Stroking his brother's cheek, he leaned heavily against Denethor.
They sat there until the sun set, and warmth left them. Someone had come into her chambers and lit the sconces on the walls. A fire had been started and the crackle of the kindling sounded. He stood Boromir up and then stood himself, still holding Faramir in his arms. He led Boromir to the fireplace and sat on the settle in front of it. Faramir fell asleep.
"Wilt he be well, Papa?" the boy whispered.
"Yes, Boromir, as long as we love him, he wilt be fine."
"I wilt always love him, Papa."
"I know thou wilt, Boromir, I know thou wilt."
"We wilt not lose him as we did Mama?"
"Nay, Boromir. Do not dwell there. Mama was sick. Faramir is not. He wilt heal from this heart wound. Someday." He looked long at his eldest. "As will thee and me."
"My Lord," Indis said, "I dismissed the Council, though they were not pleased. Are you well?"
"Yes. But Faramir is not, Indis. Is it right that a boy should grieve so for his mother?" His brow furrowed as he questioned her.
"'Twould be wrong if he did not."
"Yet, she was ill his whole life?" he wondered.
"And he sat with her. And when she became too ill and tired to read to him, he read to her, and sang her songs, and nuzzled next to her, giving her comfort."
"Are you saying I did none of these things?" he asked, his cheeks hot with shame.
"Nay. I am saying he spent long hours with Finduilas. He did not need childish games, nor constant prattling, nor trips to the market to love his mother. He needed her presence and she gave it to him fully. He spent too much time with her, for his sake, but for her sake it was a blessing."
"I see what you mean." He groaned, "I cannot give him that time. I could not give it to her, else I relinquish my title and give it to someone else; let them govern Gondor while I care for my son. Is that what I am to do?"
He sat for another moment, the fire fading quickly. "He is so thin. He still does not talk. Rarely. I remember being concerned and Finduilas laughing at my concern." He saw them sitting on this very settle, speaking of their youngest.
Boromir sat on the floor in front of the fireplace. The boy had a great book laid out upon his knees. Faramir sat close beside him, peering at the illustrations as Boromir pointed to and named each of the Stewards, sometimes turning the pages too quickly for Faramir. Now and again, Faramir would make a sound that only he and Boromir could understand; then Boromir would slow the turning of the pages.
"Why does he not speak? Why does he make those dreadful noises?"
"Methinks it is because Boromir speaks too much. There is not time for Faramir to find an opening," Finduilas laughed.
"Then separate them. I find it grating."
She looked at him in horror. "I canst not separate them. They are as twins, joined at the hip."
"Mayhap my father had been right in strengthening me as a child, separating me from my sisters so that I might rely upon myself. And what wilt happen when Boromir must leave to defend Gondor? Who wilt speak for Faramir then?"
"They are but children, Denethor. The foundation of their love and respect must be laid now."
Indis' hand on his arm brought him back to the present. "She had great wisdom, Indis. I have none."
"Do not say that, Denethor. The City, your people, considers you wise. With your sons, you will have to learn wisdom the way you learned wisdom for your people. You will not fail your sons, my dearest brother. They know you love them, and that is more important than anything. Do not forget that."
He held her close. "Without you, gentle sister, I would be dead now. I would have walked into the Anduin and never come out of it." He shrugged. "You will not leave me, will you?"
How could she answer such a question? Her heart spoke for her. "If it be within my power, Denethor, I will not leave thee."
He pulled away from her. "Please." He stammered. "I... I would ask you not to speak that tongue again."
Her eyes opened wide. "Not speak... Of course. If that is your will."
"It is. I cannot bear to hear it."
"Very well, Denethor. But will you deprive your sons of their heritage? Of the comfort of Quenya and what it means to them? I think you would be foolhardy. They speak it fluently."
"For a little while, I will allow it. But I will ease them out of its use, if I am able. It speaks only pain to me. I will hold another Council tomorrow," he said, changing the subject. "Please send announcements to the members. Now, if you will excuse me. I am tired and would to bed." He kissed her lightly on the cheek and went to Ecthelion's chamber. He had moved in shortly after she had died. Too many memories in their own chambers.
"How strange that I should end up here, like my father before me, in a widower's chamber, bereft of all I hold dear." He drew in a ragged breath and fell onto the bed, not even removing his boots.
An hour later, his manservant came in, removed his boots and covered him with a duck down blanket.
Boromir heard the muffled cries in the night and ran to his brother's room. Faramir was sitting up in bed; his nanny was nowhere to be seen.
"What troubles thee, Faramir?" Boromir quickly sat next to him.
"I want Mama," Faramir wailed.
Boromir held him close. "So do I, little brother, so do I. But I am here for thee. Dost that not comfort thee?"
Faramir tried to stop crying, but Boromir was not enough. "I want Mama," he sobbed again.
Boromir stroked his hair, tangling his fingers in the tear-soaked strands. He did not know what to say. "Shalt I bring Papa here?"
"Nay," Faramir choked. "He frightens me sometimes."
"Papa, Faramir, it is Papa. Thou canst not be affrighted of him! He loves thee very much."
"He looks at me strangely, sometimes."
"Thou hast the look of Mama, Faramir. It must hurt him sometimes."
"I do not want to hurt him, Boromir." The boy's eyes widened. "Dost I hurt thee?"
"Nay, nay! Papa knows that, too. Thou art being silly, for there is naught thou canst do." He took his little brother's face in his hands. "Thou must not be affrighted by Papa. Thou must not think Papa does not love thee. Do not take Papa's sadness upon thee. It is not thy fault. Dost thou understand this?"
"I dost, Boromir. I wilt remember it."
"Very well. Remember, if thou wouldst call, I wouldst answer thee," Boromir whispered as he put Faramir to bed. "I am near; I stand betwixt thee and thy fears. Sleep well. Sweet dreams." He kissed his little brother warmly, walked to their mother's chair by the fire, and sat. In a very short time, his own little head fell in sleep.
The horn sounded and Denethor looked up in surprise. The call told of a delegation from Dol Amroth. He hurried to the window and looked out. Far below, he could see the banners unfurling in the wind. It looked to be a Swan. There had been no missive received. He had not summoned anyone. He walked to the Great Hall. Whoever it was would be shown to him.
Indis ran into the Hall crying, "Denethor! It is Listöwel. She has returned."
Tears were in his sister's eyes, but Denethor's heart quailed at the thought of meeting her once again. He had failed Amdir, failed to protect him, and now Amdir was dead. She would not forgive him for this. He bowed his head in consternation.
Indis would not let him suffer. She knew what his thoughts were and spoke. "Your friend's wife is here to visit her husband's tomb, Denethor. We must welcome her. Do you not remember, brother, her tender care of Finduilas? Would you let her enter, unwelcomed?"
"Nay! Of course not. She will always be welcome. Berelach," his aide stood behind him, as always. "Send to the cook and have him prepare a feast for this evening. And find the chambermaid and tell her to prepare a room, near to Indis' own. I think she would prefer that and not her old chambers." Berelach turned to leave. Denethor stopped him. "Nay. Amdir was your friend too. Give the orders to another and return here immediately." Berelach smiled and left.
Horns sounded in the Courtyard of the White Tree. Denethor drew a breath, prepared to wait, but the thought of his old friend burned his heart, so he stood up and strode quickly to the door. Indis followed in joy. He ran out the door and down the steps just as she was coming up them. "Listöwel," he cried and embraced her. "Listöwel, forgive me. I should have come to you. I should have sent for you..." He could not speak.
"Nay, my Lord and friend. I could not come myself. I know your grief as you know mine." Her throat constricted as she felt the warmth of his arms around her. Too long had it been since she had felt such warmth, such a loving, tender embrace. Her tears fell as she hid her face in his inviting, black robe. "Forgive these tears, my Lord."
"I will not forgive them; I will add mine to them. You were sorely missed, Listöwel. The whole of Gondor rejoices in your return. Are you...?" He did not know how to ask. He let his arms drop.
"I have returned for good, my Lord. I could not stay away. Though Dol Amroth was my home from childhood, it long ago ceased to be such. My heart is here, by my husband's tomb. With my friends," she smiled at Indis, "and with your sons. I should have returned earlier." She turned towards Indis. "My dearest sister-friend," she cried, "too long has it been. I have missed you. How are you? And Firieth? Where is Firieth, with Boromir and Faramir?"
Indis started. Pulling back from her friend's embrace, she replied, "Listöwel, Firieth passed before Finduilas. Do you not remember?"
Listöwel sighed in confusion. "I... I have forgotten many things this past year. My mind seemed to lay in a fog for sometime."
"Oh, Listöwel. I understand. You will grow strong again. You will come with me to our practice room and we will swing our swords again. I have missed my battle companion." She smiled. "It is most good to have you home again."
Listöwel turned towards Denethor. "My Lord. Who watches the children? Who cares for your sons? Did Firieth's daughter, Ioreth, take her position?"
"You do not know the woman who now is their nanny. She has been a trial and a nuisance. She does not love my sons. I have been at my wit's end as to what to do."
"Then put thy mind to rest," Listöwel slipped into Quenya. "I wilt be thy sons' nanny. I love them as if they wert my own."
Denethor's face crumbled at the sound. Speaking in Westron he accepted her offer. "My heart will be at rest with you as Faramir's nanny, Listöwel. Boromir begins his training next year. He does not need a nanny, but he will need a friend. I thank you for your kind offer and I find I am obliged to accept it. You have been a faithful friend to Finduilas; now, even in her death, you serve her."
It was opportune that Listöwel had returned when she did for Elleth was near to death. The two friends spent many hours together sitting at Elleth's bedside. The Houses of Healing felt cold to Indis. They had stopped coming, to her own shame, after Finduilas passed. The soldiers forgotten. How could she have done this? They too needed surcease from pain and thoughts of battle. She would return to her duties here once Elleth... 'Oh!' The thought took her breath away. 'Twould be so hateful to lose this friend, her comrade-in-arms, her sister. Tears fell. Elleth smiled weakly.
"There is naught to cry for, my sister," she whispered. "My life has been good and has had purpose to it. I lacked for naught; neither love, nor friendship, nor son..." At this, her voice broke.
Listöwel's sobs grew louder. "Yes, you could have had a grandchild. I have failed my duty as wife and as daughter to you."
Indis held her friend close. Elleth whispered, "Nay, my dearest daughter and sister-friend, 'twas not your fault that the Valar kept you from bearing a child. I cannot blame you for anything. You are dear to me." She looked away for a moment. "Dearest Amdir. I have missed him so. I cannot go to his tomb. It brings anger to my heart knowing he was lost so needlessly."
"Needless were not his actions, Elleth, nor his death." Indis admonished her gently. "Amdir gave his life for good cause. His name will be sung in the Great Hall for ages to come. A brave and valiant warrior of Gondor. A beloved friend." Her own tears fell.
"Would that I could have held him one more time," Elleth sobbed. "To hear his voice, to run my finger down his cheek, wipe away his tears, know his laughter. My heart cannot bear this separation."
"You are still needed here," Indis cried. "Please, dearest sister-friend, do not leave us. Your sword is needed. Your sewing skills. Your tea parties."
The three sobbed together.
Ingold entered the room and they parted for him. He nodded his head towards them and walked to her side. The women quickly moved forward, hugged Elleth and left them alone.
He sat and gently pulled her to him. "My love, will you not avail yourself of the healing offered in this place? And then come home with me?" He wiped the tears from her eyes. "I too miss Amdir, but he died a soldier's death. One that any would wish for. Saving his Lord and Steward. Saving his friend. Could you not let him make this sacrifice without giving your own?" His jaw tightened. "Come home with me, my own."
She did not speak again.
Denethor walked out of the Council chambers shaking his head. They had broken for nuncheon. He would not call the Councilors back after the meal. They would never learn. He had proposed; they had declined. He felt the burden that Ecthelion must have felt. He would not let this happen. His Stewardship would not fail. His heart started pulsing as he walked up the stairs. The White Wizard had come to help bury Ecthelion. But Ecthelion's own preferred wizard did not come. The smile on Denethor's face was grim. Much as he hated Curunír, he hated Mithrandir more. So it was with some pleasure that he noted that wizard's absence. He had found it strange that the locking spell on the lower level of the Great Library had been lifted after Mithrandir had visited the Library. After the Grey Wizard left, Denethor had availed himself of the books from that level. Some in Quenya he had given to his translators. During this past year, they had barely touched a small portion of the tomes in that part of the edifice. He exhorted them to hurry their work. Upon his father's death, he had gone to every room, tower, and cellar that had a key on the Warden's chain. He knew about it from legends he had read as a child, but thought it was only that, a legend. He was a fool. He had to open his eyes to all things. Nothing deemed just a legend would be considered as such. It would be given careful thought and research. But then, Curunír had showed him the globe. Or a vision of the globe. He was never entirely sure.
Unlocking the door, he stepped into the high chamber. He had used it once before, immediately after Ecthelion had passed, but the fear he had felt had been too strong. It fed on his grief. Now, he was stronger. He would use it, for was he not of the line of Anárion? And was not this the Stone of Minas Tirith, the Palantír of Anárion?
Listöwel had come to Minas Tirith as Morwen's handmaiden. Remembering how she had admired, even envied, the friendship of the women about her, she had soon found that she was part of that friendship. Now, there was only Indis and herself left. Finduilas, Elleth and Almiel were gone. Morwen, along with their mentor, Eledhwen, was in Edoras. She recalled with a smile how flustered Morwen had been when the call had come for Thengel to return to the Mark and be crowned king. Unlike Finduilas, she had loved the White City, her husband had been content, and their children had thrived.
Listöwel sat and listened as Indis read the letter from their beloved sister-friend. Edoras had been in an uproar of late, Morwen wrote. It seemed love was in the air; many of her friends were beginning the troth pledge. Théoden was officiating at ceremony after ceremony and joy filled Rohan. She told of the abundance of foals that came in the spring and rejoiced at the news that Théoden planned on giving one of the best of the lot to Boromir for his twelfth birth day. For herself, she often rode out with Eledhwen, who had become her handmaiden. Loath had been Listöwel to leave Gondor, though Morwen had never even thought to ask her; Amdir would not even consider it. However, Eledhwen was more than happy to take on the added duties. They were still practicing their sword fighting, Morwen wrote, though Théoden had forbidden his mother to join any more patrols. Indis and Listöwel howled with laughter as Morwen wrote of the failed attempt to circumvent his orders and the disastrous tongue-lashing she had received from her king-son.
Sitting back with a sigh, Listöwel said, "'Tis good to hear from her again and look to fond memories."
"Yes, she sounds well. How she must chafe against her orders - for 'The Steelsheen' not to partake in any sorties! I would not want to be Théoden. He must have an earful from her everyday!" Indis laughed. "We well could have used her sword in Emyn Arnen. She wielded it as well as, or better, than many a man in the Company"
Listöwel blanched at the name. Indis' eyes widened. "Oh my dearest sister. I am so sorry. I did not mean to hurt you. I... The battle was hard. When I saw you fall, I thought I would die myself. I remember at the time how I had wished she were with us. Please, oh please, dearest friend, forgive me! I am a fool."
Through tears, Listöwel said, "I love her letters," effectively stopping Indis' words. "It is almost as if we were together again."
Indis turned from her friend and sobbed. Emyn Arnen, such a beautiful place; she remembered it well. Heavily wooded, peaceful, herb-scented - yet full of hideous memories. It was Emyn Arnen where they had been attacked by Orcs before they found the mutilated body of Almiel. It was Emyn Arnen where they had almost lost Denethor and Amdir in the fiery remains of the Rangers' home. It was Emyn Arnen that Amdir was returning from when he was killed by Orcs.
Listöwel sat still for a moment. Then she turned towards Indis and caught her in a fierce hug. "I love you, dearest sister. Naught you could ever say would tear us apart. Forgive my weakness."
"Nay," Indis cried. "You were not here. You were denied the right to grieve at your husband's deathbed. Have you been to his tomb yet?"
"I could not bring myself to go."
"Well, of course you could not. What sensible person would want to go alone to Rath Dínen? Come, my friend, I will go with you now."
"Would you, Indis?" Listöwel sobbed.
"Yes. Right now." She put the unfinished letter aside and led her friend out the door.
The Steward flew down the stairs as if all the minions of Morgoth were behind him. "Berelach!" he bellowed as he entered the Courtyard of the White Tree, "Berelach!" and all looked upon him in amaze.
"My Lord." Berelach ran forward.
"Send a missive to Captain Amlach in Osgiliath. Tell him a sortie of Orcs is approaching the Crossroads." He lowered his voice. "Tell him Captain Ingold has forded the Anduin north of the city. He must stop him. He must. I believe he is going to certain death, and is claiming it for himself. He has a fey look in his eye. He must be mad with Elleth's death. Grief has finally o'ercome him. Tell Amlach to take a battalion. The number of the enemy is large."
"My Lord, did an errand-rider come from Henneth Annûn or Osgiliath? How do you know this?"
"Never mind!" Denethor snapped. "Just do it. And tell the messenger to ride like the wind. Delay will be fatal."
Berelach saluted, turned and ran to the stables.
Denethor took a deep, shuddering breath and walked the escarpment. He stood looking out towards Osgiliath, heart wrenching in pain and sorrow for his friend's father. The sun had begun its descent into the west and he found it difficult to see.
It had not been easy, looking into the stone. Black and empty it had seemed for nigh unto a half an hour. He had been ready to give up the attempt when a slight fogging roiled from its innermost depths. Throwing his shoulders back, he concentrated more fully. Slowly, lines and colors turned into blurred impressions, and then blurred impressions turned into images. Land lay before him, hilly and green. He could not discern where it was. Forcing himself to concentrate, he moved his eyes and the landscape moved with them. "Ah," a soft sigh escaped his lips. The river moved into sight. It was the Anduin. He cried aloud in recognition. But the cry tore his mind from the task and he lost sight of it. Furrowing his brow, he continued. There it lay before him again, swift flowing and clear. He could not look further. It was as if the stone had frozen in one place. 'Never the mind,' he thought, 'I will spend time looking at this sight; see if I may, perchance, see clearer, with more detail.' As he looked, the Dome of Stars appeared before him, broken and crumbled into dusty ruins. His mouth lifted in a small smile. He could see the steps rising to it. Then, he saw the Tower of Stone of Osgiliath. Excitement filled him as he drew closer and closer to the scene before him.
Suddenly, movement on the Pelennor caught his eye, for it was indeed the Pelennor that now commanded his attention. He spied a small blur rushing towards Osgiliath. Putting all his might into forcing the stone to show him what he wanted to see, he focused on the spot. It was a rider dressed in the livery of Gondor. 'I must see who it is, who rushes so swiftly towards Osgiliath.' By now, his head hurt and his eyes burnt, but he could not stop, not without knowing what was happening. As the stone bore down upon the figure, he drew in his breath. It was Ingold. He pushed further and caught sight of the captain's face. Fell and harsh was it. He shivered. The man veered to the north after passing the gate. He was not going to Osgiliath. Denethor watched in horror as the man drew close to the western shore of the river, then began to cross it. The current was strong there; Denethor knew it well. The man would never be able to traverse it. Yet, Ingold turned his horse into the running water. The horse struggled, then started to swim. After what seemed hours, his mount reached the other side. Denethor wanted to pull away, send for help, but the stone called him deeper.
As he watched, the scene changed to Ithilien. It was easy enough to determine it was Ithilien for he noted the Crossroads lying before him. As he watched, a large band of Orcs came into sight. They walked as if they owned the road. His anger flared. He tried to count them, but there were too many. They swaggered down the road, if swagger one could call their hideous walk. Swords and terrible weapons were clutched tight. Armor covered them. As the stone drew closer to the band, Denethor noted that some of the foul creatures had the White Tree emblazoned upon their chests. He choked as he realized they wore garments of his own men, Knights of Gondor. They had stripped their victims of their livery and wore it in mockery. Denethor's anger flamed so that the stone began to turn red. His breathing came in hitched gasps. He dropped the stone onto its resting place and reeled backwards, catching himself upon the wall. Sliding down, he lost all thought. When he came to, the startled remembrance forced him to his feet. He had to save his friend's father!
"Your presence was sorely missed," Indis said, once they returned from the grave.
"I came back because this is my home."
"Boromir and Faramir thrive under your care. Faramir even speaks more often, much to Denethor's delight."
Listöwel blushed at the compliment. "Finduilas laid a strong foundation. Never have I seen brothers so dedicated to each other." Her heavy sigh stopped Indis' reply.
She waited, but Listöwel did not speak further. Finally she leaned forward, putting her hand on her friend's knee. When Listöwel looked up, she asked, "What concerns you so deeply?"
"Boromir will be made esquire in just three months. He will move to the barracks to live with his Company." She stood and walked to the fireplace. "I do not know how Faramir will fare with this separation. I wish Denethor would wait a year or two."
Indis stood and walked to her side. "I understand your concerns. They are not unfounded. Denethor was made esquire when he was but seven years old. I am grateful he has not continued that tradition."
Listöwel smiled. "He has not continued many traditions. None of the coming of age ceremonies has been performed for Boromir."
"Well I know it and I have wondered. But, as punishment, Ecthelion withheld many of Denethor's ceremonies. I think he has not continued them because of that. They hold a sour taste in his mouth. There will, however, be a grand ceremony when Boromir comes of age and is made an Esquire of Gondor. I have even begun some of the planning."
"You will allow me to help with the preparations?" Listöwel pouted eloquently.
Indis laughed. "Of course. But now, I must return to the Houses. Please join us this evening for the daymeal. I miss you as does Arciryas."
Listöwel herself laughed. "Once the boys are bedded, I will come. I will only stay for a short while though; Faramir still suffers from nightmares. Too often I find Boromir asleep on the chair by his bed. It breaks my heart."
Indis hugged her tightly. "Soon, with your love and care, Faramir will be healed of these." She took the letter with her as she left the nursery. "We will finish this when you come for supper," she laughed as she waved it over her head.
Those who had witnessed the incident wondered. Rumor spread quickly throughout the City that Denethor had indeed been endowed with the Númenórean gift of foresight. He gave scarce attention to it. He walked into the White Tower and sat heavily in the Steward's Chair. There was naught further he could do. Closing his eyes to the brightness of the torches, he waited. His mind returned to Osgiliath.
After Ecthelion had passed, Denethor had striven to prepare Gondor for the fell time that he saw lying ahead. He had called upon his old friends, Dúinhir of Blackroot Vale, Angbor of Lamedon, Adrahil, Prince of Dol Amroth, Baranor of Lossarnach, Hirluin of the Green Hills, and Éomund of Rohan. Denethor had used his time wisely, whilst they remained in the City in the days following the funeral rites, and had taken each aside. He knew their weaknesses and strengths and played upon them, as his father had taught him. He grimaced at the thought, but necessity ruled. They had answered his call and come, with men, to support Denethor's attempt to reclaim Osgiliath. They had been successful, though many brave men had died. The garrison of East Osgiliath was now firmly in Gondor's hands under the captaincy of Húrin, while Amlach captained West Osgiliath. Denethor had vowed he would not lose it again. The bridge had been rebuilt, though not nearly as well as the bridge of his ancestors, but it served its purpose - to keep both sides of the city connected, and to aid with troop movement and supplies. Denethor had placed blinds along the road, with seasoned troops hidden within. Blinds had also been placed in the trees of Emyn Arnen. Nowhere could one wander in that part of Ithilien without being seen. Orcs had not dared to attack, once a few bands of them had been surprised and riddled by his archers' arrows and his knights' swords.
Though he knew his men would be able to destroy the Orc band that was trying to slither through Ithilien, his concern was more for his friend's father. What fey mood had taken Ingold? What had possessed him to enter Ithilien alone? He had known grief himself, yet he could not understand this. He stood and strode up and down the hall. Should he look into the stone again? Nay, the warning had been given; his men were doing what they could. He walked to the door and opened it. Night had fallen; the Orcs would be emboldened.
He remembered Amdir at his side, standing upon the bridge, smiling. 'We shall look for that field of irises one day,' his friend had said. Though now they never would. He must save Ingold - if for naught more than for the memory of his friend. But Ingold had been more than friend's father; he had been his captain long ago, and also his friend. He remembered the night he had encountered the wizard. How his heart and flesh had turned to water. In the midst of it, Ingold had hugged him with fierce friendship, chiding Denethor for his reserve. The closeness of the man in that moment eased the fear that had all but taken Denethor. And now that man was riding to his death. He raced up the stairs, unlocked the door and strode into the room.
"Théodwyn is to be wed!" Indis almost shrieked, waving the letter in the air.
"When? When?" Listöwel peppered her with questions. "Are we invited? Is there time to find a proper present? Who? Who?"
Indis hugged her friend. "Stop it now, Listöwel, you are making me laugh! She is marrying Eo... Oh, what is his name? Those Rohirrim; they insist on putting Eo on the beginning of all their names, even the women! Éomund!"
"I remember him now. We have met him once."
"You are right, dearest sister. A tall, handsome man." Indis smiled.
"Are not all the Rohirrim tall, handsome men? I love their hair." Listöwel blushed.
"I prefer the hair of Númenor," Indis rejoined.
"You may go on preferring them; I will look to the west." Listöwel smiled broadly. "And you will look to the east - to a certain healer, no doubt?" She hugged her friend. It was good to laugh again, to think of men with joy and not sorrow.
But sorrow ever dwelt in Gondor. Listöwel dressed in black now, for Ingold, her husband's father, had died. The men of Osgiliath had arrived too late; the man had ridden hard and encountered the Orcs alone. His sword had been found at his side, broken in two. The Orcs, of course, were hunted down and destroyed. But little comfort did Gondor take from that.
As Captain of the Armies, Ingold would be laid in one of the great houses in Rath Dínen. Denethor stood by his side, in the Great Hall, and wept. The Hall was dark, lit only by a few braziers. He mourned alone. None were allowed into the Hall as of yet. Dimly, he remembered something from his past. As he stood, hand upon the shoulder of his dead captain and friend, the memory returned. His father had stood just so, with his hand upon the shoulder of Cranthir, his mother's brother, as he lay broken and dead. Denethor had come into the Hall that dark night, led there by Indis, and his father and he were reconciled. Death could serve a purpose, but this night he found no such purpose. Black were his thoughts. 'What good is the stone if too late comes its warning!' He vowed, upon Ingold's dead body, that he would learn to more effectively wield the stone. He would spend time studying it, holding it, delving into it until he learnt all its secrets. Then he could protect Gondor and his people.
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.