31. Third Age 2997 - Part Two
Faramir scrambled to his feet as did Boromir. Cheeks on fire, Faramir opened his mouth to speak but Denethor would have none of it.
"I need not hear any more of your lies. Go!" He pointed to the hut. Boromir noted how Denethor's finger shook and nodded as Faramir looked towards him. 'Go!' he mouthed. Faramir turned and walked stiffly towards the hut.
When Faramir was gone, Boromir turned towards their father. Denethor's breath was coming in short gasps. Boromir bit his tongue. Naught he could say, for the moment, would dispel the anger in his father's eyes. He sat quietly, took up a stick, and poked at the embers of the fire.
Denethor looked askance. He had expected Boromir to defend his brother, as he always did. Perhaps the lad was growing, learning to understand Denethor's anger and frustration. He sat next to his eldest, held out his hands for warmth and - sobbed.
Boromir stilled himself. He would not let his father know he had heard the stifled sob and wondered, pain filling his heart. Denethor, for all his anger, was still his father; the beloved man who taught him how to fish, how to wield a sword properly, how to hold his head up when he was being reprimanded by a superior. He had heard that his father did the same, when he was a child, with Ecthelion. Never had his father done the same to him. He wondered now why Denethor treated Faramir as he had just done. He kept still.
Denethor bent forward, placed his elbows on his knees and rested his head in his hands. Finally he sighed, pulled his hands over his face, and leaned back against the shed. "You do not approve of my discipline of Faramir?" he asked quietly.
"You are my father and my Steward. It is not my place to question you."
Denethor gave a rueful laugh. "Can you not teach your brother the same thing?"
"He did not tell untruths, Father. Faramir has never lied in his entire life. You know that." Boromir hoped his father had calmed enough to listen to reason.
Thought of the wizard caused Denethor to sit up straight. "I do not know that!"
"Father." Boromir shrugged. "You are wiser than I. I know Faramir does not tell untruths; therefore, you must know it too. Is it the wizard? Would you tell me why you hate him so?"
Again Denethor rubbed his hands over his face. "I do not hate... I fear him." At Boromir's gasp, Denethor smiled. "When you were younger, you told me that I fear naught. You are older now, Boromir. Can you not see that even I, Steward of Gondor, can fear?"
"Of course, Father. I have been in battle now. I know what fear is. And it makes me no less a man to have it. I understand now. But I do not understand the fear you have for Mithrandir. He seems harmless enough. I have never once seen him cast a spell." He chuckled. "I sometimes wonder if he truly is a wizard."
"He is, Boromir, believe me." And the force with which Denethor said the simple statement caused Boromir to kneel at his father's feet.
"Tell me, Father, please. So that I might understand and be forewarned."
"Do you remember the wizard, Curunír?"
"I do, Father. But he has been long away from the City."
"He was wont to spend time in the Great Library, when he visited. It was once my favorite place too." He shuddered visibly and Boromir took his father's hands in his own. "I do not know, I cannot tell you what he did to me, Boromir, but he frightened me. Not with words, or enchantments, but in my mind. I have long disciplined myself to never allow another into my mind. Yes," he said quietly at the pressure he felt from Boromir's hands. "He entered my mind, of that I am sure. What he did there," another shudder passed through Denethor's frame, "I cannot tell. I have no memory of it."
After many moments of silence, Denethor continued. "When Mithrandir first visited Minas Tirith, a sense of fear and disquiet filled me. Even though older, I still felt the familiar shudder of horror, yes, horror, fill my very being. Eventually, I was able to overcome those feelings. Your grandfather valued Mithrandir's counsel. He listened to him above me. I was not a child any longer, Boromir; I was a captain in my own right. Mithrandir valued a certain man who served under Ecthelion. Do you remember him, Boromir? Thorongil?"
"I do, Father," Boromir said unhesitatingly. "I remember him well. He visited our rooms at times, did he not? Ate with us?"
"He did. He was a good friend. For a time." Denethor bit his lip at the memory. "Father, listening to the wizard, was going to make him Captain-General."
Boromir gasped. "Over you, Father?"
"Yes. Thorongil was a great captain, Boromir. He had won an unexpected and decisive victory over the forces of Harad. When he came back from that campaign, Ecthelion was going to name him Captain-General."
Sitting back against the shed, Boromir drew in a great breath. "I can understand, to a point, Ecthelion's justification for such an action, but I think he was wrong. Are you sure Mithrandir suggested Thorongil be raised?"
"Nay," Denethor said quizzically. "I am not sure. I assumed. Mayhap it was the distant voice of Curunír. Ever I hear him rattling in my mind." Denethor laughed scornfully as Boromir stared at him. "Not actual words, but a sense that he still holds some sway over me. I oft wondered. There were times, Boromir, when I would not remember what we spoke of, when the wizard would hold me in his thrall. That frightens me to this day."
"And makes you frightened of Mithrandir?"
"Not frightened. Wary." His father's voice turned harsh again and Boromir turned the subject back to the one he was trying to save.
"So you were not strong enough, when you were Faramir's age, to battle the wizard?"
"I was not. And neither is your brother. He is soft," Denethor spat the word out as if it were some hated word. "I am afraid for him." His voice dropped. "I would not have him suffer the same degradation I felt, the same fear, the same..." Denethor drew in a long breath, "the same helplessness I felt." He smiled and helped Boromir to his feet. "You are turning into a diplomat, my son. So you are saying I must be patient with Faramir?"
Boromir smiled back, helped his father stand, and hugged him fiercely. "I love you both too much to see you battle each other. There are other foes for us to fight."
Denethor returned the embrace, feeling the warmth of Finduilas through her son. "I love you, Boromir, never forget that."
"And I you, Father. I speak not on Faramir's behalf only for his sake. He is part of you, part of Mother. You injure yourself when you disparage him."
Denethor looked long into his eldest eyes, sighed and changed the subject. "I had hoped to sleep some tonight. But I see I am thwarted in that hope. I have a few bundles that we must bring with us. Let us go back to the hut and get Faramir. It is time to leave."
Boromir stared, then moved forward. Entering the hut, he smiled at Faramir, who sat huddled by the stove. "Come, little brother. We are off on an adventure."
Denethor entered and began handing them carefully wrapped packages. Faramir's hand touched his and he looked long and hard at his youngest. "You are needed," he whispered. Then, he turned and left them. They scrambled to hitch on their swords, Faramir's heart had leapt at his father's whispered words; his eyes filled with questions. Boromir shoved pieces of bread and cheese into his pockets, shrugged and then followed Faramir out the door. They noted, as they left their little rest stop, Denethor was well on his way up the mountain and attempted to catch up with him.
Denethor bit his lip as he walked up Mindolluin. His sons followed him. Long hours passed; he knew it would take most of the night to reach their destination. He rued the fact that he had not had any sleep. Shaking his head, he smiled. 'I will sleep once this is over with.' Boromir and Faramir never said a word until he stopped four hours into their climb. The slope was steeper and they had all they could do to channel their energies towards the climb, not to speech. They rested but for a moment, then their father rose and climbed higher.
When at last Denethor sat on a slope above the City, both boys collapsed. He laughed out loud. "You are so out of training that you cannot walk up a little hill without breathing hard!"
"You," Boromir accused laughingly, "have known we were coming here and have trained for mountain climbing!"
"I did not," Denethor smiled. "But I am always in training. No time for frivolity for the Steward." He sighed to himself, 'Alas, there will be fewer opportunities for frivolity for the Steward's sons.'
He stood again and both boys groaned. Laughing, he turned from them and climbed upward.
Once they reached a small flat space high above the City, Denethor stopped. A lightening of the night could be seen on the horizon. Boromir collapsed, as did his brother. Denethor took the bundles from them and walked towards the middle of the spot. Boromir noted that there was almost no sign of human movement here, yet the area was free from brush and scrub. Denethor motioned them forward.
"It is time. Stand here, Boromir," he pulled Boromir to his right. "And thee Faramir, stand here." He placed Faramir on his left. Standing facing the east, he stilled himself and closed his eyes. His sons stood waiting and wondering. At last, their father opened his eyes. "Look at this scene before thee, my sons. As the sun rises over our land, so it rises over all of Middle-earth. We of Gondor are caretakers of this land, stewards, not only of Minas Tirith, but also of all Middle-earth, though some would begrudge us this, saying we think more of ourselves than is our due. But the men of Númenor fill this land. We do not know where all of them still reside, nor do we know how many of the Westernesse, the Faithful, live beyond our borders, yet, I am sure they do. And somewhere, my sons," he said wistfully, "the King of Gondor lives. We await his return."
A shiver ran down his back.
Indis had watched as the men rode off across the Pelennor the day before. She had smiled at the sight and had prayed to the Valar that all would go well. Denethor was well away from the City for a time. He needed the rest; he used the Palantír too often, in her mind. She noted he had been having head aches of late. He would come from the Tower washed as white as snow. Never had he had the weakness that she had seen the one time, but still, using it drained him. She could not count the number of times she asked him to lessen his use of the weapon. He would hear naught of it. He deemed it too valuable. Many times had he seen the enemy coming towards Gondor and been able to send out patrols, in time, to thwart them.
She put the worry out of her mind, for the moment. She had many duties to perform while Denethor was out of the City. He had left her in charge of the tribunal - a duty that repulsed her. The greed, the envy, the sloth, the hatred that she saw too many times in the supplicants' faces frightened her. Slowly, she had noted her people's high character spiraling downwards. She had spoken of it with Denethor, but he had no reason for the change. She remembered watching her father's tribunal and not seeing such foul behavior.
As she sat on the Steward's Chair, waiting for the first petitioner, she read Morwen's letter. Théodwyn flourished with her husband. She now had two strapping children for Rohan. Théoden, whenever he visited Minas Tirith, never failed to regale Denethor with tales of the children and what fine warriors they were. Even the youngest, little Éowyn! Only two years old, and to hear the story they last heard, the child had already slain a warg. Indis laughed quietly to herself. She had chided Théoden for his tall tales, but he only smiled, kissed her, and continued with another fantastic story. She adored Théoden. He had grown to be such a strong and wise king. His father would be most proud of him.
The morning began as she thought. She put the letter down, sat up straighter in her brother's Chair, and listened as one after another came and accused a neighbor, a friend, even a brother of atrocities against themselves. Slowly, she realized that most of the petitioners were from the east, those who lived closest to the Ephel Dúath. Was there some reason for this? Had the One they do not name caused such rancor among her people? She would have to bring this to Denethor's attention, but first she would examine this, make a list of all the petitioners, where they came from, and the nature of their grievances. She was afraid of what she would find. Evil ever spilled from beyond the Mountains of Shadow. Did it now affect even her people's minds?
Berelach strode towards the Chair. Indis sighed with relief. She had sat for more than fours hours listening to her people's complaints. It was almost time for nuncheon. She smiled gratefully at Denethor's aide, then hitched her breath. The man's face was drawn. Something was amiss.
"My Lady," Berelach saluted her. "There is trouble in Osgiliath and Cair Andros," he said quietly.
She waved the last petitioner away and the Chamberlain cleared the Hall at her signal. "What sort of trouble, Captain?"
"Orcs spill from the Ephel Dúath and Easterlings from the Black Gate. A mighty army, my Lady. The garrisons will not hold at their present strength."
"Call the Steward's captains at once. I want them in Denethor's study within the hour. And have the alarm horns sounded every hour until I tell them to stop."
"The Steward?" Berelach asked.
"Has been sent for."
He saluted and left. The guard on her right moved towards her at a wave of her hand. "Ask Listöwel to join me in the study."
The guard saluted and turned to leave. She stopped him with a word. "Have food ordered and brought to us, once you have sent for her. I do not think another opportunity to eat will arise this day. And send for an errand-rider." She dismissed the man.
Staring unseeing before her, she wondered how the enemy had known Denethor was away from the City.
Standing quietly for nigh unto an hour, the three waited. Anor's first light broke over the mountains. Just the hint of light crept up behind the Ephel Dúath. As they watched, the sky lightened further. The black of the mountains heightened in color in contrast to the gray that slowly spread from the horizon. Orodruin itself blazed red now and again. Another hour and another passed by. The sun's true self rose over the mountains and they could barely see the molten fire in the blaze of Anor. At last, the sun rose fully, shining forth so brightly that they could no longer look at it.
Denethor took in a deep breath. "Didst thou see that?" he asked, his voice strong and firm.
Boromir creased his brow, trying to understand what his father wanted him to see. He kept still.
"Naught o'ershadows the sun?" Faramir whispered, not sure if he was bidden speak.
Denethor's brow rose.
"Evil cannot prevail?" Boromir questioned.
"I am proud of thee both. For years, I tried to hide thy mother from the mountains," Denethor's voice cracked. "I would show her the strength of Gondor, as I show thee now the strength of Anor. She could not see it. Or she would not. I know not." He swallowed hard. "Would that she could have seen Gondor from this vantage point. E'en at its height, the sun was o'ershadowed from her window."
He pulled his shoulders back. "We wilt speak of her no more. She is a sign of weakness. We wilt only speak of those things that give us strength - from this day forward."
"Papa!" Faramir whispered in horror and Boromir joined his voice with his brother's, "Father!"
Faramir continued. "Art we not to speak Mama's name again?" Tears welled in his eyes and Boromir fought his own.
"That is my decision." Denethor clenched his teeth. "She bringest only thoughts of despair and death."
"Nay, Father," Boromir spoke up. "She wast joy and love and laughter." Boromir put his hand on his father's sleeve. "Dost thou not know she was ill, in the end? Her illness didst not make her something to abhor!"
"She was weak!" Denethor stated shortly. He turned viciously towards his eldest, grabbing his arms in a powerful grip. "She wast weak and we canst not be weak. We must be strong, for Gondor. Thou must be strong for Gondor, Boromir! Like the sun, like the precious jewel that thou art! Thou must make thyself hard and strong and keep weakness as far from thee as Valinor is from this wretched mountain before us. Dost thou understand?" His face was twisted in pain. He shook Boromir in the passion of his words.
Faramir put a hand on his father's arm. "Papa!" he cried, "Thou art hurting Boromir!"
Denethor blinked, then blinked again. He looked upon his son, now full grown and taller than himself. He took in a ragged breath and let his hands fall.
"We have..." He paused for a moment to collect himself. Boromir shot a look of gratitude at Faramir.
Denethor sat down in silence on the soft green grass of the sward. He looked straight forward, but saw naught, only the face of Finduilas writhing in agony on her bed as the ground shook and he, kneeling at her side, trying to help her, to bring her back to her senses.
His sons waited. After more than an hour, Anor commanded the sky.
He stood and spoke. "We have..."
The horns of Gondor split the air with their warning sound. Denethor paled and looked towards the City. Naught seemed amiss from this vantage point. Boromir moved to gather their things. Denethor put his arm up and stopped him. "Please kneel, my son." Denethor said quietly. "I had other things I wanted to do. But they must be put aside for now. However, naught must stop this part of the ceremony at least, what we are about at this moment, for if this is not accomplished, Gondor will be weakened."
Boromir looked at his father in amaze. What could be more important than the warning calls of Gondor's horns! Shivering, he knelt, his heart racing, trying to understand his father's plans further than his scaring the daylights out of him with the hard grip, harsh words and his disregard for the horns' call.
"Today, thou hast come of age, my son. Long has the tradition of the line of the House of Húrin been that the Steward of Gondor, upon his son's coming of age, should confer upon him the title, Heir of Gondor. So now, my beloved Boromir, I do name thee." His hands held Boromir in a kneeling position before him. "Arise! Son of the Steward! Arise! Heir of the Steward! Arise! Man of Gondor! Arise! High Warden of the White Tower! Arise! Lord of Gondor! Arise! Prince of the City that Elendil founded!" He lifted his hands and helped Boromir stand.
Tears flowed down Boromir's cheeks as he realized what his father had done. He had not expected this, not this year. He had been taught that the ceremony would take place on his twenty-first birth day. What had made his father change the date?
"As is the custom," Denethor continued, "I pass to thee the Keys of the Realm. In further days, we will walk together and open every door, box, tower and drawer locked against thee." He handed Boromir a huge set of keys. "These are to be held in trust until the king comes."
Boromir placed the keys upon his belt.
"As is the custom," Denethor continued, "I pass to thee the Horn of Gondor." Boromir took a step backwards, drawing in a sharp breath. He was not to take the Horn until he was named Captain-General and that was many years away. Denethor took the Horn and removed it from his own neck; stepping once again in front of Boromir, he placed it around his son's own neck.
His eyebrow arched as he smiled. "I see thou knowest what this means. I am glad thou art so sharp-witted. With this Horn, I confer upon thee the title of Captain-General of all the Armies of Gondor and Captain of the White Tower."
Boromir stepped back again in amaze. He was not even a Captain of Gondor yet; how could he be her Captain-General?
Denethor smiled warmly. "Today, I name thee Captain of the garrison of Eilenach. The people will know thou art captain only. Faramir is witness to thy further titles. Of course, those who are astute in the ways of Gondor, especially the other captains, wilt know, when they see the Horn of Gondor on thy person, what has transpired. And thou wilt have their respect for the title. But thou must still earn their respect, Boromir; that I cannot give thee."
"Here." Denethor pulled a long sword from the packages they had carried up the mountain. "Here is the sword of the Captain-General, made by the smithies of Gondor. And a dirk to match it. Swear that thou wilt wield it for Gondor's defense, my son."
"I swear it, my Steward," Boromir said, his own voice cracking as he looked with awe at the beautiful blade in his hands. It was heavier than any blade he had ever held, but it was fair and strong. The workmanship was exquisite. The blade's flattened diamond shape and equally wide fuller reduced its weight, yet retained strength in the end of the blade by stopping just short of the tip. The guard, similar to that of his father's sword, showed a warrior's flourish in that it was formed from a square-edged piece of steel that had been twisted before being curved into a crescent. The handgrip was wide like the blade, and the pommel was an elegant and simple piece of steel that added weight to balance the blade. He looked at his father in love. "I swear, Father, that I wilt wield it as thou hast wielded thine, in strength and fortitude and perseverance with honor and courage."
Impulsively, Boromir stepped forward and embraced Denethor, the sword still in his hand.
Faramir found the sheath and belt in the packages and brought them forth. "If I may, Father?" he asked and Denethor granted his request. Boromir turned towards his little brother and Faramir clasped the belt around Boromir's waist; then attached the sheath to it. Boromir kissed the blade, barely choking back further tears and sheathed it. His hands trembled as he held onto the pommel. He was the Heir. He was Captain-General of Gondor. He was loved and respected by his father and his brother. He would not fail them, he swore quietly, nor Gondor.
"There are..." Denethor began but the horns sounded again. Denethor blanched. "Come, my sons. We are needed." They scrambled to gather their things, then hurtled themselves down the mountain. The horns cried, 'Gondor is in desperate need of her Steward.'
They reached the hut as the sun descended behind the White Mountains. Faramir quickly built a small fire and boiled water for tea. Boromir checked their mounts. The horses looked rested and ready. Denethor sat, his eyes distant. "I should have looked before I started this venture," he mumbled quietly. Boromir stared at him as he entered the hut, wondering what his father spoke of. Faramir only shrugged while rummaging through their supplies. There was enough meal left for a small dinner. They would have to go without breakfast. The tea was ready and they sat and ate in silence. At last, Denethor stood.
"It is time to leave."
"Father, you did not sleep last night and the climb up and back down the mountain was strenuous. You must... we must rest else we fall from our horses in exhaustion."
Faramir joined with Boromir - both boys were concerned for their father and both boys rued the fact that they had been the cause of their father's lack of sleep the night before. "The horses are rested and ready. We will have no trouble pushing them. If we take but two hours rest now, we should arrive at the Great Gate by midnight."
Denethor stood - torn. Finally, rubbing his hand over his face, he agreed. All three lay down and slept immediately. Precisely two hours after they had fallen asleep, Denethor was awake, stoking the fire. He made tea quickly, then shook Boromir. "Prepare our horses; we leave in a quarter hour." Boromir nodded and ran to the shed. Denethor called Faramir who rose and began packing the last of their supplies. He handed his father a biscuit and ate his as he packed. Boromir returned. "We are ready, Father." Denethor nodded. Adding the packs to the horses, they quickly mounted and headed east. There was neither moon nor stars to guide them, but Denethor knew this land well. His sons followed.
Gelmir, Captain of Henneth Amrûn, and Gwinhir, Captain of the garrison at Pelargir stood beside Derufin and Duilin. They spread maps out on the study's table - maps that Denethor himself had made - of Northern Ithilien. Gildor, Captain of the First Company, and Gorlim, Captain of the Second, stood at Indis' side. Berelach waited quietly near the door. Ever his heart and mind waited for his Captain-General. He felt lacking without his Steward beside him.
"We will send one battalion to Cair Andros and one to Henneth Annûn. You will command them, Gildor, from West Osgiliath. Gorlim, you will send a battalion to Henneth Amrûn and one to East Osgiliath. You will command from West Osgiliath also." Gildor nodded to his aide; Derufin saluted and left. Gorlim did the same and his aide, Duilin, saluted and left.
Indis smiled. "Dúinhir's sons appoint themselves well." Both captains smiled and agreed.
"They are becoming the mightiest archers in all of Gondor," Gildor stated proudly.
"Gelmir," she turned to the captain, "you will place your four companies under Gorlim's command. Gwinhir, I will not send any further men to Pelargir as of now. I want no troops moved from West Osgiliath. You are sure there was no sign of attack on either of your posts?" she asked Gelmir and Gwinhir. Both captains said, nay.
"I cannot appropriate men from Amon Dîn nor from Pelargir," Indis continued. "I fear further attacks may be imminent." All four nodded in agreement. "The signal came from Cair Andros two hours ago, as well as the signal from Osgiliath. Methinks that means they were attacked at the same time. Which leads me to believe that they are keeping their strength together; Easterlings only attacking Cair Andros and Orcs only attacking Osgiliath."
"I agree, my Lady, since they attack from the north and the east; I would have expected an attack from the south. There has been none. Though no signal has been sent from my men, I have been away far too long. By your leave, Lady Indis, I would return to my garrison?" Gwinhir petitioned.
"Of course, Gwinhir. And you too, Gelmir. The Steward thanks you for your reports to the Council this past week. Keep the signals ready. I would know of your need at first sign of attack."
"Yes, my Lady," Gwinhir nodded.
Both men saluted and strode out of the room.
"The Steward, Lady Indis?" Gorlim asked.
"Will return on the morrow. We cannot wait for him."
"Have you heard naught from Rohan?" Gildor asked.
"Naught. I sent four errand-riders for reports as soon as the alarm was given. I do not want to light the beacons, as of yet, though I fear we might soon."
"Not for help, surely?" Gorlim exclaimed.
"Nay. For information. We must know how our allies fare. The same for the southern beacons. I would know what is happening along the coast, with Belfalas. I sent another two riders to Dol Amroth. I will not recall the battalion that trains in Lossarnach, not yet. Moving the First and Second Company's troops from Minas Tirith will leave her practically defenseless, with only the men of the Third Company and the Tower Guard to protect her."
"We are spread rather thin. I am surprised..." Gildor bit his lip.
Indis turned to him, taken aback. "You are surprised?"
Turning red, Gorlim said, "I believe Gildor wondered about the Lord Steward's foresight."
Shaking with anger, Berelach strode forward. "The Lord Steward knows everything. Mayhap this is a test of your readiness."
Gorlim blanched. "He would do no such thing!"
Indis put up her hand for silence. "The Lord Steward indeed has the gift of foresight, but that does not mean," she looked hard and long at Berelach, "that he knows everything, nor can he discern the plans of the enemy even before the enemy knows his own plans."
Gorlim gave a small laugh. "Of course, my Lady." He apologized quickly. "The Steward has shown," again his face turned red, "amazing abilities at times. His men, in their love and admiration, forget he is human, after all."
Berelach stood down, swallowing hard.
"He is all too human and relies heavily upon his captains to keep their heads and do what is needed." She gently reprimanded them all. "He will return on the morrow and be pleased that we have begun Gondor's response."
They bowed, saluted and left, hoping their indiscretion would not be reported to their Captain-General.
Berelach stood before her, breathing hard.
"Berelach, I appreciate your loyalty to my brother, but you must control yourself."
"My Lady, I will." His pained look made her relent. He spoke again, this time in a softer voice. "I see what he does for our people; I see the strain he puts his body through for Gondor."
She stared at him. "Of what do you speak, Berelach?"
"He goes to the Tower, almost daily, and..." he bit his lip, "when he returns his eyes are glazed, his step weak. I know not what he does there, but it takes its toll, whatever it is. I know it is for Gondor's weal, but I fear for him."
"Would that others were so observant," she said bitterly. "How often does he go there, Berelach?" She was becoming worried; she had noted her brother's weariness.
"He goes at least once a day, my Lady."
"Once a day!" she almost shouted. "Berelach, you must tell me the next time he goes there."
"I will, my Lady, I promise."
She turned towards the map-covered desk. "When he returns, you will be the first to know. Please send a messenger to me. I must see him before..." She took in a shuddering breath; then waved Berelach away. 'I must stop him. This is too much. He will waste away to nothing; eaten up by that... thing!'
Listöwel appeared as soon as she noted all had left the room. "Indis!" she cried as she saw her friend leaning over and holding onto the desk, her knuckles showing white from the grasp of the hard wood.
Indis collapsed in her arms. Leading her towards a chair, Listöwel called for the guard. When he entered, she ordered a healer brought.
"Nay!" Indis cried. "I am only tired. Just tea and something to eat."
The guard saluted and went to carry out her orders.
"Will you now tell me what terror has gripped you these past weeks?"
"I am afraid for Denethor. He does not sleep, nor hardly eats. There is naught I can do for him, but I must try. Forgive me, dearest sister-friend, for causing you alarm."
"I am only alarmed because I love you. I would not see you suffer if there is aught I can do to prevent it!"
They rode their horses hard, each man silent, knowing that the hourly blowing of the alarm meant Gondor was under attack. As they approached the Rammas, Denethor pulled up.
"Boromir." His son pulled up next to him. The Steward placed his hand on his eldest's shoulder. "We will part ways here. You must put aside your new command whilst we take up the burden of this assault. Ever the enemy attacks Osgiliath. I am sure this latest is against the old capital. Go there now and report to Captain Guilin. Do what he needs!" He looked long and hard at his son. "You have the Horn. Ever have the Steward's blown it before leaving on a mission. Do so now. It will put fear in the hearts of our enemy and courage in the hearts of our men! But, do not wind it again unless at your final need. Its sound is known even to the Orcs. They will step back, if only for a moment. That should avail you the time needed to escape." He heard Faramir suck in his breath, knowing what his father's words meant. "Tell the captain I want reports every four hours. And - take care, my son. Return to me!" He gently kneed his horse away and headed towards the City.
Boromir tentatively put the Horn to his lips. His father did not look back. He took a deep breath and blew with all his might. A squeal came out of the Horn and Boromir reddened.
"Try again, Boromir. You can do it."
Boromir smiled. "I wish I had had a moment to try this in some secret place, Faramir, not here on the Pelennor itself with the wind carrying the pitiful sound to the very walls of the City." He lowered his head for a moment, then blew again. A clear, rich sound rent the air. Boromir's face lit up, as did Faramir's.
"That was wonderful!" Faramir cried. Boromir smiled, hugging him fiercely. "Farewell little brother. Keep the City safe for me!"
Faramir's eyes stung with tears as he watched Boromir wave to him, then ride off.
Denethor rode like the wind. Faramir could not catch him, but continued to follow. They passed the Harlond, less than a third of a league from the Great Gate. Their horses' flanks were covered in white sweat, mouths frothed. Denethor, wanting to reach the City as quickly as possible, still bled for his stead's pain. Finally, Denethor's horse stumbled and fell. Faramir pulled up and jumped off his own horse. Denethor was already standing, a dirk in his hand. As Faramir watched in horror, Denethor shoved the blade into his mount's heart. Sobbing, Faramir looked away.
"There is no time for weeping," his father spoke, but Faramir heard the sound of unshed tears in Denethor's voice. "The leg was broken. You must walk for a time," he said as he mounted Faramir's horse. "I will send someone with a mount." He turned, kicked hard with his heels, and left Faramir by the dead carcass.
Once, Denethor looked back and saw Faramir kneeling by the fallen horse. He shook his head. 'Too soft,' he thought sadly, 'too soft. He will be Orc fodder before he is twenty.' His breath hitched as he forced himself to face forward.
Silver trumpets rang through the air as he neared the Great Gate. He heard shouts of recognition and hope from the soldiers lining the wall. It lifted his heart. A lone rider, with a horse in tow, passed through the gate and rode hard towards Denethor. Squinting, Denethor noted it was Berelach. Gratefully, he changed mounts. Berelach left the spent horse there, knowing others would retrieve it and the Steward's son. Berelach rode behind his lord till they reached the gate at the Sixth Level. Ready hands helped them down and took their horses from them. The feel of the Citadel's marble under his feet filled Denethor with strength. He breathed a sigh of relief; he was where he belonged.
While they had ridden, Berelach could not share the news, but as soon as they dismounted, his aide launched into a full report. By the time they reached the Great Hall, Denethor knew everything that had happened these past two days. At the Hall, Denethor turned right and headed towards the Tower.
"My Lord," Berelach called, "I have food prepared. Would you not stop for a moment?"
Denethor never acknowledge his aide's words, just continued on into the Tower and up the long stairs. If he had had the strength, he would have taken the steps two at a time, but he found himself instead holding onto the rail the last few flights. Never had he felt such weariness. He was all but spent. Finally opening the door, he took a deep, steadying breath, and walked in.
It sat there, under the silken cover, waiting patiently for him. It knew he would come.
Before stepping towards it, Denethor turned to his left and looked out upon the Pelennor. He wondered if Boromir had reached Osgiliath yet. There was smoke coming from across the river, black and thick. It all but obscured the foothills of the Ephel Dúath as the first touch of the full moon broke through. He had been proved right again; the battle was for Osgiliath.
Taking another moment, he turned, then took five paces to the upright support. Pulling the cloth away, he noted the gentle hum that had, of late, greeted him when he removed the covering. Swallowing, he put his hands to either side and closed his eyes. Immediately, they flew open as pain lanced between his eyes. He shuddered and forced his eyes closed again, using all his will to control this thing, this tool, this weapon. His breath calmed, the pain lessened, and Denethor knew the stone would do his bidding.
Faramir stood on the Pelennor and watched the fading forms of his brother, riding off in one direction, and his father, in the other. Gulping back tears, he waited, his thoughts flowing in a thousand different directions, only two with any purpose: one with Boromir, one with Denethor. As he watched, his father entered the gate as another rider left it, heading towards him. Faramir licked his lips in wonder at his own temerity, but he had made his decision.
The rider stopped and held out the reins of the extra horse. Faramir nodded, took the reins, mounted and turned the horse east. The rider, caught unawares, called after him, but Faramir had ridden fast and was far ahead. The groom sat, unsure as to what he should do. Finally, he turned towards the City. What would he tell the Steward?
Berelach stood waiting, expecting her to act, but she did not. She accepted his report of Denethor's arrival and subsequent withdrawal to the Tower with hardly a glance. He did not understand it at all. When he had first reported that the Steward daily went to the Tower, she had reacted quite strongly. He would keep quiet. Once he was relieved, he would return to the bottom of the stairs and wait for his Steward.
The sun had barely risen above the Ephel Dúath and long shadows crossed the fields before her. Indis shook herself and dismissed Denethor's aide. Denethor was still in the Tower, but that could not be helped. She knew whatever words she would use would not sway him, not with the battle at hand. Harsh, shadowed lines sliced through the verdant land, turning it from a garden of Gondor into a wasteland. She shivered as she beheld it - never had it looked so barren, so desolate, even when the winter winds dried it out and the empty fields stood in stark contrast to their spring and autumn splendor.
Once darkness was replaced by morn, she moved towards Merethrond. There would be no feast this evening. She would not even have to inform their guests. All knew, with the battle raging on two fronts, that none would celebrate the coming of age of the Twenty-Seventh Ruling Steward of Gondor. She spoke quietly with the cooks and servants, then left the dining hall. The food would not be wasted; what little the family needed would be sent to their private dining room and the remains would be taken to the First Level and distributed to the poor. The goodwill earned would help ease the burden that would soon be placed upon the food supplies, if the battles went ill.
Indis wondered where the boys were. Faramir had probably retired to his own rooms, exhausted from the last two days activities. Boromir would surely go to his friends, take them to the nearest inn, and celebrate the honor bestowed upon him. It would be a short celebration. Boromir would know that, later today, Denethor would send him back to Amon Dîn. She moved to their dining room, sat and waited for her loved ones to join her for the breaking of the fast.
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.