35. Third Age 3014
Boromir and Faramir accompanied Denethor to Rohan, along with Indis and Listöwel. It was just past the feast of Yáviérë and Gondor had celebrated the harvest day with much rejoicing. There had been an uneasy peace the last twelve years; Gondor and Rohan had held against the most formidable of attacks by the enemy and prevailed! Denethor had survived an assassination attempt. The farmlands were heavy-laden with crops, spring had been greeted with many new lambs and calves, and the Mark's slim stock of mares had had many foals. The grasslands of Rohan swayed as waves upon the sea. Denethor reveled in the openness of the land, the wind on his face, and his sons riding beside him. Returning to Rohan was always a welcome relief, for he left the cares of Gondor behind him. Trumpets blared to announce their arrival.
Indis had insisted they celebrate the harvest with their neighbors. It had been too long since she had last seen her sister-friend, Morwen Steelsheen. How Listöwel and she rejoiced when they reached the foot of the steps leading up to Meduseld and she stood before them, slightly bent, but her face full of joy.
"Too long, too long has it been!" Morwen cried. They ran to her and held her, tears streaming down their faces. As abruptly as the tears came, laughter followed.
"You are too thin!" "Your hair has turned white!" "Where are your swords?" Their instant rekindling of friendship delighted Denethor and Théoden. The three women went off, chatting joyfully.
Denethor smiled. Théoden grasped his friend's hands and held them tightly. "Too long indeed. What has occasioned this visit?"
"Indis. It came into her head three months ago and I could not dissuade her; I did not want to dissuade her. How are you, my friend?"
Théoden smiled. "Well. In fact, I have someone I want you to meet." He turned and motioned to a young man who stood in the shadows. "This is my trusted advisor, Grima, son of Galmod. He came highly recommended from the Lord of Isengard."
Grima bowed to Denethor. "All know of the might and wonder of the Men of Gondor. To meet their leader, their Steward, is a great honor."
Denethor blinked in disbelief at the pale-faced man who stood before him, yet his own face did not betray him. He bowed to Théoden's advisor. "Grima - from Isengard?"
"Nay, my Lord. My family is from the Mark. Long have we lived here. My father was a captain in the Eastfold, under Éomund. He died in the same attack that killed the Marshal."
"I am sorry for your loss."
Grima bowed in acknowledgement. "I must be off. I am in charge of today's meal. I hope it meets your approval." He turned and walked slowly into Meduseld.
Boromir and Faramir waited. Théoden smiled as he saw them fidgeting like young colts. "You wish to see Théodred and Éomer, I suppose?"
"Whatever is your wish," Boromir said tactfully. "We wait upon Father."
"Go, but do not be late for supper," Denethor said with a smile. They ran down the steps and towards the stables, their usual meeting place.
"Come, old friend," Théoden smiled. "Let us to my study. It has been o'erlong since you have visited me."
Once they settled and shared wine, Denethor locked his fingers together and sat in silence.
"You do not approve of Grima?"
Denethor snorted. "I do not approve of the wizard. Anyone or anything coming from him is suspect, in my mind."
"I know your unease regarding Curunír, but the man has lived with him these last twelve months and I find much wisdom in his words."
A sharp hiss from Denethor greeted this pronouncement. "Wisdom, in what way?"
"As it regards our land and our people." Théoden's voice became sharp. "Is wisdom only for Gondor?"
Denethor looked long at his friend. "Wisdom for Gondor is usually wisdom for the Mark. And wisdom for the Mark is usually wisdom for Gondor, my friend."
He knew Théoden heard the reprimand in his voice, but his friend stood and walked towards the fire, not speaking. Late autumn and the winds from the mountains were already cold, but not enough to need a fire. Denethor watched as Théoden held his hands before the flames, rubbing them together.
"Are you cold?"
"My bones seem to feel the wind more intensely this season."
Denethor wondered. "I will send you a cloak from our weavers. Lamb's wool keeps a body warmer, I think, than the fur of bears."
"I do not need a cloak of Gondor. What will my people think? That I prefer things of Gondor over those of the Mark?"
Denethor blinked, but otherwise kept his emotions in check. "Your father preferred many things of Gondor over those of the Mark. Particularly your mother." He smiled gently. "I meant no insult, Théoden. And you know that I prefer the stallions of the Mark over any horse bred in Gondor."
Théoden turned towards him. A look of consternation filled his face. "Forgive me," he whispered. "I do not know what came over me." He smiled. "Mother would agree with you. I think she looks towards Gondor for Théodred and perhaps Éomer and Éowyn also."
Denethor smiled broadly. "There is hope in such thoughts."
"Would you consider?"
"Of course." He was interrupted as the bell for the midday meal rang out. Both men stood and walked towards the hall.
Long tables were set and food covered every inch. There was hardly room for plates or eating utensils. Denethor was surprised to note that Grima sat on Théoden's right. He looked for Théodred and found him at the other end of the table, flanked by Boromir and Faramir. 'What goes on here?' he thought, his concern for Théodred fighting with the joy of seeing the three friends with their heads bent in laughter. His heart pinched for a moment as he remembered the times Thengel, Amdir and he had sat thus, rejoicing in their friendship.
The meal was superb. 'If this is Grima's handiwork, he has shown himself well. I wonder why Morwen did not plan the event and the menu?' Denethor thought absently. But his mind was on his sons and Théoden's plans for them. 'I cannot let them marry a Rhovanion,' he thought wildly. 'The blood of Númenor must not be diluted further. How will I prevent this without hurting my friend? Though Morwen is of Westernesse, is the blood pure enough? Kin-strife was done in the name of Eldacar's parentage. I would not let Thorongil...' His mind whirled with the implications of that thought, but he stilled the thoughts, would not walk that path.
Morwen herself walked towards him. "Forgive my lack of manners when you entered Edoras, my Lord. I was so delighted..."
She did not need to continue; he stood and took her in his arms. "Your love for my sister has always made my heart glad. You are precious to Gondor." She returned the hug and he held her back in surprise, looking at her in distress. "Are you well?"
"I have been fighting a cold, I think, of late. But the leech is confident I will be well soon."
"You have no strength in you. Your embrace is like unto a child's. How long have you been ill?"
"For two weeks, no longer. And I am as strong as ever I was."
"You are not! Théoden!" He turned in alarm towards Théoden King. "Have you not noted your mother's health? Take her hand. It is hot. She has fever." He picked her up and quickly carried her out of the hall and to her chambers. Indis and Listöwel scurried to their feet. They followed Théoden, who had also jumped up, concern etched across his face.
"We are going to be skinned within an inch of our lives. We have missed the king's meal. Father will be put out."
"Hush, Éowyn. If I had known you would put up such a racket..." Éomer hissed. "Why did you come with us, if you were going to be afraid of everything?"
"I am not afraid. And who found this cave anyhow?"
"She is right, Éomer. It is wonderful; it goes back forever. So odd to find such a large one here in the foothills." Faramir peered into the deep recesses of it. "Might we go in further?"
"There may well be jewels buried here or mithril," Éowyn said, her voice rising in excitement.
"It looks like someone has been here before us. Look. Signs of digging." Boromir picked up a stone and ran his finger along the yellow vein that ran through it. Putting the finger to his mouth, he touched it lightly with his tongue. He quickly spat. "Arsenic. The ratter must have been here digging for the poison. Let us be away from here."
Éowyn gasped at the news, but refused to leave. "But there might be jewels or mithril," she complained.
"There is naught here but death," Boromir said, grasping her arm firmly and leading her to the cave entrance. "Théodred, do not come back here again. And I suggest you tell the ratter to hide the entrance. The poison here is potent."
"Then if we cannot stay here, let us at least ride to the river. I would put my feet in and tease the fish." Éowyn smiled sweetly, hoping to cajole them into a nice ride in the sun.
"It is turning cold. The stream runs from the mountains. It will be frigid," Éomer said with a superior tone. "You will take ill and I will have to listen to your moans. I will not go."
"I would ride," Théodred said. "I have not raced you for at least a year, Boromir. Are you up to it? Will you accept my challenge?"
"Where to?" Boromir said, his face splitting with a great smile.
"The river. It will stop Éowyn's murmuring and give us a good long race."
"Then it is the river." Boromir jumped onto his horse.
Faramir and Éomer mounted their own horses. Éowyn was still trying to decide whether or not she should go back into the cave. "Come, Éowyn," Théodred ordered. "Join us."
"The horse uncle gave me is too slow. I have no chance to beat any of you."
"Éowyn, stop whining," Éomer chided. "We will meet you there. You wanted to go to the river and now you have your wish."
Théodred called out, "One! Two! Three!" and all four men spurred their horses forward. Éowyn clicked and followed them as best she could.
By the time she reached the river, her sibling and friends were laving their faces in the clean, cold water. She quickly ran to them and unceremoniously splashed them as hard as she could. Amidst their yells, she shouted, "There! That is for leaving me behind. I could have been warg fodder or Orc meal. Uncle will surely punish you for leaving me behind!" She was furious and shook visibly.
"Be still, little sister. You were not alone. We watched you as we rode. Do you think we would seriously leave you alone on the plains?"
"Did anyone bring anything to fish with?" Boromir interrupted.
"I have a hook," Faramir said.
"I will sacrifice my shirt for the line," Théodred said.
"I will find some bait," Éomer said and scurried off towards the rocks, shoving them aside. In a moment, they heard an "Ah ha!" and Éomer ran towards them, a small cricket in his hands.
"Éowyn, start a fire. If we catch anything, we can eat it here." The excitement in Faramir's voice echoed the excitement of all present. All but one.
"I will not." She was so tempted to stamp her foot that Faramir, who rarely missed such things, had to stifle a laugh. "I want to fish, too."
"We only have one hook, Éowyn," Théodred said patiently. "Let Boromir fish first; it was his idea and he is the best amongst us. Then, you can fish."
"But why do I have to start the fire?"
"Because starting a fire is woman's work," Éomer snorted. "And you are the only woman here."
"Éomer," Faramir stopped him. "Éowyn is a fine horsewoman and good friend. You chide her for things she has no control over."
Éowyn scowled. "I do not need a Gondorian to defend me. I can defend myself."
Her eyes smoldered, but she did not put Faramir off. "Of course you can, Éowyn."
"Now you mock me!" She wanted to scream, but instead, jumped upon her horse and rode off.
"I caused this," Faramir said, "I will follow her."
"We should return anyhow. Dark will be upon us soon and we are already in trouble." Théodred smiled. "It has been a most pleasant afternoon."
When they entered the hall, chaos reigned. Théodred grabbed a servant's arm. She squirmed, trying to free herself. "What is going on?" he asked as he held her tightly.
"The queen is ill. Very ill." The woman used Morwen's old title in her fear. "We are bid to scrub down the tables, lest others become sick."
"Where is she?" Boromir stepped between the two.
"I know not. The Gondorian took her somewhere."
"Father," Boromir said simply. "He probably took her to her own chambers. If we can find Amma, she will tell us what is happening." He put his hand on Théodred's shoulder. "She will be fine. You will see. Your leeches are good, Théodred."
Éowyn ran down the hall. Théodred and Éomer followed. Boromir put up his hand to stop Faramir from following them. "This is a family matter, Faramir. We should wait and let them discover what has happened. Let us go to Father's room. He will be there, I am sure. And Amma is probably with him."
They quickly crossed the hall and soon found themselves in front of Denethor's guest chambers. Boromir knocked. They waited but no answer came.
"Where would he be?"
"Wait a moment." He knocked again and their father's voice bid them enter.
"It is the flux," Denethor said quietly, after he let them in. "They believe she drank tainted water a fortnight ago. The healer thought she was recovering, but she is not. She cannot control herself, but even worse, she is in extreme pain. Indis is with her."
"I do not understand," Boromir stood next to his father. "Rohan's leeches are very good. How could she have become so ill so quickly?"
"It is the nature of the illness. It does not lead to death. Usually." Denethor turned towards Faramir. "You look ill. Are you all right?"
"I am sorrowed for her. Is there naught we might do?"
"Naught. Just keep mischief from you, if you can. Where were you? You were missed at dinner. I did not need to worry about the two of you whilst this was happening."
"We were distracted, Father. Forgive us. An unusual cave and then fishing."
Denethor smiled broadly. "Fishing! At least someone in this family can fish. What did you catch?"
Boromir blushed. "Naught. The truth of the matter is, we never did get to fish. Éowyn - she became upset and we deemed our transgressions enough to keep us in trouble for nigh unto a year."
Laughing, Denethor put his hand on Boromir's shoulder. "For a fish from that stream, I would have forgiven almost anything. You have set my mouth to watering." He stopped and his face blanched. "You did not drink from the stream?"
"We did, Father. It is mountain-fed and was clear and clean."
"Be careful. Only drink that which is boiled and strained, or ale or wine. There is naught to fear. This sickness is easily remedied, but I would prefer you not to have to suffer with it."
Boromir smiled. "We will obey you. Faramir and I will retire to our room. If you need us, we will be there until morning."
"Stop at the kitchens; you have not eaten."
They bowed and left.
For three days Meduseld and its people lay in turmoil. Morwen had taken a turn for the worse during the night. Her discomforts, instead of lessening, increased. She was given to convulsions. Horror filled the court and her friends. Grima worked long and hard with the leech to make sure that everything that could be done was being done. He had some books and herbs that the wizard had given him, and he even tried those. But to no avail. By the afternoon, she was wracked with convulsions and her hair began to fall out.
Indis and Listöwel never left her side. Grima forced them to eat and drink to keep up their strength, but both women had not the stomach to eat much. In fact, Indis was already complaining of nausea, brought on, she felt, by watching her dearest friend suffer so. By evening, the leech noted there was blood in Morwen's fluids. He shook his head. Indis took him by the shoulders and shook him. "There must be more you can do, something you have forgotten!"
"Indis, would you chide Arciryas in such circumstances?" Listöwel pulled Indis away from the leech.
"You know I would, if it meant a friend's life! I cannot understand this. We boil everything we give her; we give her only soft foods, and yet she becomes more ill. Perhaps it is not flux." She started to sway. Listöwel ran forward as she fell. She started to shake herself as the leech took Indis from her arms and laid her on the settle by the fire.
"She is just weary. There is naught to fear. She has slept little in the time since she arrived. I will have one of the servants take her to her quarters."
Listöwel looked at the pale face before her and ran from the room. "Denethor!" she cried when she reached his room. Banging on the door and calling his name, she grew nauseous herself and slid to the floor.
An hour later, a servant found her thus. Calling for the guards, he picked Listöwel up and took her to the chamber she shared with Indis. He laid her on the great bed next to the Lady of Gondor and ran for a leech, almost knocking a guard over as he ran from the room.
They sat quietly in the stables. "Father said we must return to Minas Tirith soon," Faramir said, disconsolately. "I would like to stay, at least until your grandmother is better."
"If she gets better," Éowyn sighed.
"When she gets better," Théodred scolded.
"Sometimes, the sickness runs such a course," Faramir said. "I remember we had a servant with the same ailment, and Arciryas assured us he would recover and he did. She will be well again. You will see."
Boromir looked at Faramir and realized his brother spoke the words to keep his own courage firm. "This is foolish. Morwen would not want us to sit about, worrying. Let us to Aldburg for a day or two. There are wild boars in the mountains near there. We can bring back one or two for a feast in celebration of her recovery."
Théodred's eyes lit up. "I will ask Father. I think that wise. She will recover and the people will want to rejoice."
"I will not be allowed." Bitterness hung on Éowyn's words.
"You could at least come to the city with us," Boromir said. "You could shop and visit old friends."
"Have you ever been boar hunting, Éowyn?" Faramir wondered.
She snorted. "Nay. Uncle does not even know that I have trained as a shieldmaiden for the last six years. Grandmother..." Her voice choked. "She helped me find a tutor and encourages me. Uncle supposes I am learning how to be a proper lady." She sighed again. "At least he lets me ride. Though that nag he gave me is as lazy as Grima." Her face contorted in a grimace. "I cannot stand him. He watches me."
Éomer laughed. "You are imagining things. He is so concerned with ingratiating himself with our uncle," he explained to Boromir and Faramir, "that he has not time for anything else." He turned back to Éowyn. "Grima Wormtongue is not worth your concern."
"Wormtongue?" Boromir questioned. "Is that his full name?"
"It is a nickname Éowyn and I gave him," Éomer laughed. "Suites him perfectly. He worms his way into uncle's list of advisors, yet I see no wisdom in him."
"Let us give no further thought to him." Éowyn did not want to speak of Grima. "We can leave now, with uncle's approval. Let us find your fathers and ask."
They walked quickly to the Golden Hall and entered. All was quiet, the court still shaken by the Queen Mother's illness. Théoden sat upon his throne; Denethor stood next to him, leaning over and quietly speaking. His manner was relaxed.
Boromir hoped that meant Morwen was recovering. "Father. Théoden King. We have a request." He continued on as neither parent spoke. "We would like to journey to Aldburg and bring back a boar or two for Edoras' celebration of Morwen's recovery?"
Denethor smiled. "It is good to hear that your heart is not heavy with worry. She will recover. Grima has assured Théoden. So a celebration will be in order. You have my permission."
"And mine also," Théoden smiled. "It is a good plan. Éowyn, you will stay behind. I would have someone at my side until your grandmother returns to her rightful place."
Éowyn smiled dimly. "Of course."
Faramir noted her hands were clenched. "Mayhap sometime away from her usual duties would be helpful to Éowyn, my Lord. She has been constantly in contact with Grima regarding her grandmother and has spent much time helping to care for her. We would most treasure her company."
Éowyn looked at him; gratitude filled her face.
"I had hoped... Very well. When will you leave?"
"It will only take moments to pack. The horses are ready. We will return in two day's time," Théodred said. "Thank you, Father."
He waved them away and the five almost ran out of the hall. Within moments they reconvened at the stables, carrying small bags with only the essentials. The guards smiled as they left Edoras, golden hair and raven shining in the warm sun of midday, laughter filling the air about them.
"My Lords!" A guard entered only moments after the friends departed. "Lord Denethor is needed in Lady Indis' chambers."
Denethor looked up in surprise. There was fear in the man's eyes. He bowed to Théoden and moved towards the hall leading to the guest chambers. Théoden took his arm before Denethor had taken two steps. "I will come with you."
The hall was crowded with servants and such. The guard had to move them aside so that Denethor and Théoden could enter the room. When they did, the guard closed the door and stood in front of it, barring any from entry.
Indis lay on the bed, her face pale. Listöwel lay next to her in the same state. Their breathing was labored. Denethor moved to Indis' side. The healer stepped back.
"Indis?" he whispered. She opened her eyes and he blanched at the pain they held. "I am here, sister. So is the healer. Rest now, whilst I speak with him." He squeezed her hand and waited until she closed her eyes. Then, he took the healer by the arm and pulled him far from the bed. "What is wrong with her? And with Listöwel?"
"I fear they have been too long in contact with the Queen Mother. They have caught the sickness from her, though the illness seems to be stronger in them, probably because they have been with her for so long."
Théoden grabbed the man. "My mother seemed to be improving this morning."
"She took a turn for the worse right after the first meal. She willingly ate the broth that was prepared, and with fervor, but shortly after, she collapsed against her pillows, her strength taken from her. I do not understand this. The sickness should be leaving her. It is o'erlong for such a minor illness." He held his arms open. "I have done everything I could for her."
Théoden shook him. "What are you saying? Are you saying there is no hope for her?"
"Her convulsions continue - at times, unabated. I cannot help her." The man's agonized face looked downward. "She bleeds. I am sorry, my Lord."
Denethor sat hard in the settle by the fire. "And there is no hope for my sister nor her friend?"
"If their illness is of the same strain as the Lady Morwen's, I do not see them recovering."
Denethor sat back in shock. Théoden sat next to him. "This cannot be happening. Indis is strong, as is Listöwel. They carry the blood of Númenor in them. I do not understand."
"The swiftness of the illness is surprising," the leech continued. "That is why I am so concerned." He turned towards Théoden. "I think you should summon the family to farewell your mother."
Théoden lifted his face towards the leech. Denethor held his arm as he saw anguish flood his friend's face. "I will tend to that. Go to your mother's side," he gulped quickly. "Guard!" he called. The guard entered the room and walked to his king's side. "Escort Théoden King to the Queen Mother's chambers." The guard did as he was bid, not thinking to question the order that stemmed from the Steward, as his king's face contorted in grief.
After Théoden left the room, Denethor returned to his sister's side. "Sweet Indis." She opened her eyes and he saw her attempt to smile. "Rest, darling sister. I am here and will take care of you. Listöwel is here also. You both have o'ertaxed yourselves and I am quite angry. So now I order you to stay here in your room and recover. Morwen is doing well," he lied as Indis' eyes fluttered shut. "Therefore, you are not needed at the moment. I have a few missives I must write to the Council, then I will return. Will you promise you will stay here and rest, my dearest sister?" His voice caught and he forced himself to calm. She opened her eyes again and he kissed her forehead. He bit the inside of his mouth to keep the cry of surprise from startling her. She was burning with fever. "I will return soon," he promised. She closed her eyes and he stood, swaying slightly. He shut his own eyes for a moment, fighting the fear that threatened to engulf him.
"Continue to minister to my sister and Listöwel, leech. I will return shortly. Do not give up. Do you understand me?"
The leech's face blanched. "I do, my Lord. I will care for them."
Denethor strode quickly from the room and into the hall. Noting the guards all seemed to have left the area, he ran to the Golden Hall. There, a guard stood by the throne. He started as Denethor ran towards him. Instinctively, he held his spear before him.
"The Queen Mother is deathly ill and Théoden King has retired to her chambers. There is no guard in the guests' hall. Send someone there to keep watch. Also, I need to send a rider towards Aldburg. The king's son is needed here. He must be recalled."
"Lord Denethor. I cannot leave my post, as you well know. The Doorward, Háma, will be able to order the guards."
Denethor thanked the man and ran through the hall and to the entranceway. The Doorward's office stood to the right. He never considered knocking, just entered and found Háma speaking in quiet tones with two other guards. Háma looked with surprise at the Steward, but saluted and stood at attention. "How may I help you, Lord Denethor?"
"Tell these two to step outside for a moment."
Háma did as he was bid, not even blinking at the Steward's temerity, then motioned for Denethor to sit. The Steward paced the small room instead. Háma stood and waited.
"The Queen Mother has taken a turn for the worse. The healer recommends Théodred be sent for. My sons and he, along with Éomund's children, set out for Aldburg before noon. They must be found and bid to return here."
Háma strode to the door.
"One moment," Denethor tried to stop him from leaving.
"If they left so long ago, I must do my king's bidding now. I will be back in a moment." He strode from the room, waiting for no further word.
After only a moment, he returned. "Forgive me, Lord Denethor. Now. There is more you need?"
"There are no guards in the guest hall. My sister has succumbed to the sickness. I would have a guard at her door."
"My deepest sympathies, my Lord," Háma said, his face whitening in sorrow and fear; illness could sweep through a city such as Edoras in hours. "I will assign someone immediately. Is there anything further I may do for you?"
"I must send a rider to Minas Tirith. The Council has to be notified that I will be staying here longer than planned."
"I will send one to your quarters. Perhaps the missive will be complete in a half hour's time?"
"Yes. And when my sons arrive, would you send word to me immediately. I will be in my quarters or with the Lady Indis."
"I will bring them myself, my Lord." His face trembled, and Denethor realized the man was truly sorry for Indis and was struggling to hold back his tears.
"Thank you," was all Denethor could say. He bit his lip to stop his own tears as he walked towards his quarters. He needed to write the missive to the Council of Minas Tirith, but first, he decided quickly, he would visit with the king's counselor.
He found Grima walking slowly from the kitchen, his hands holding a goblet. "I would speak with you, if you have but a moment?" he asked quietly.
"I am on my way to the Queen Mother's rooms. I have another potion that I am going to give her. It is stronger than others I have tried, but she is failing and drastic measures are needed."
"Has any told you that my sister and her friend have also succumbed to the illness?"
"Nay!" The surprise and concern on his face gave Denethor a start. "I will go to them as soon as I have given Morwen this draught. They are in the guest quarters?"
"They are. I will wait for you there." He stepped aside and Grima walked away. Denethor looked after him, his eyes narrowing.
"If we leave you at Aldburg, will you promise to meet us this evening?" Boromir thought the girl too headstrong to comply, but he hoped she would make the promise.
"Of course I will. I plan to visit my cousins and to shop, as you think that is all I am fit for."
"That is not what my brother meant, Éowyn," Faramir tried to mollify her. The ride out had been less than pleasant. The men had spent the entire time talking of troops, placement, and weapons. Éowyn spoke not a word. When it was time for nuncheon, she started the fire in silence. Faramir felt uncomfortable. It hurt his senses to have someone so upset and he not able to help. 'I am like Indis in this respect,' he thought wryly. Éowyn seemed close to tears, in Faramir's eye, and so he tried to soothe her. But she would have none of it, and, as soon as they finished their meal, she mounted and started forward.
He joined her, riding alongside her. The others scattered the embers, poured water over the last hot parts, and joined them. They road south.
She turned to Faramir. "I am tired of you," she whispered. She clicked and her horse flew forward. All looked on in surprise. Yet, none followed. The horse, as Éowyn had noted, was not fleet of foot. They would have no trouble catching her.
"She is a lively filly, is she not?" Boromir laughed.
Théodred smiled. "She has great heart. If grandmother has her way, she will one day be a great shieldmaiden."
"She is too moody. She lets her mind take her places a woman should not go. But enough of that," Éomer said, "What kind of weapons do the Easterlings have?"
They launched again into the weaponry of the enemy. Faramir noted Éowyn had slowed and that they were catching up to her. "I like their swords. They have...." He stopped. Éowyn had turned to wait for them. In surprise, he noted she looked behind them. He turned himself. "A rider approaches," he said, "at speed."
The others turned and drew swords. They waited.
Denethor walked slowly towards Indis' rooms. 'Something seems wrong here,' he chewed his lip. 'I cannot discern what, but I am ill at ease in this place now. We must leave and quickly.' He shook slightly. Putting his hand to his head, he pushed hard against his forehead, willing his thoughts to grasp the fear he had suddenly felt. 'It is as if the wizard is here!' He shook even more. 'It is not possible. Théoden would have informed me. He knows of my discomfort with Curunír.'
Slowly, he entered Indis' bedchamber and moved towards the bed. The sheen of sweat on her face told him more than the words of the leech that she was dying. He swallowed a sob and knelt at her side. "Indis," he murmured in his grief. She did not stir. He fought the tears that threatened. He must take her back to Minas Tirith to her husband.
Indis moaned; her body roiled on the bed as a convulsion took her. The leech stepped forward. "My Lord Steward," he said quietly. "I must clean her. If you would leave the room for but a moment; she has no control," he apologized.
Denethor looked at him, nodded and stood. "I will... I have things I must do. I will return shortly." He took the man's arm and gripped it tightly. "Give her something to ease the pain, even if it be poppy. She is beyond worry over abuse." The healer nodded and he turned and left the room.
He picked up his pace, entered his own room, and leaned heavily against the door. 'The missive. I will not write one. I will gather my family to me and leave here immediately. Indis needs Arciryas' attention. He will be able to heal her. She is not so ill that she cannot make the journey. Where is Boromir? I need him here now.' He walked towards the table, then turned and quickly left the room.
The groom at the stables was surprised to see the Steward of Gondor standing before him, a scowl on his face, and a sharp command shouted at him. "I will have a horse ready in just a moment, my Lord." He whistled and another groom came from one of the stalls. "Get the Steward's horse ready." He turned back to Denethor. "Do you need supplies? Where is your guard?"
"I need naught but my horse," Denethor barked back. "Now!"
The groom ran to the back of the stalls and helped the other prepare Denethor's horse. Within moments, Denethor was riding out of the stables and down and out of Edoras' gate.
Turning south, he spurred his horse onward. He could hold it back no longer; he screamed his anger, his fear, his hurt, all of it he screamed into the winds off the White Mountains. Tears streamed from his eyes; his cloak stretched out behind him, tossing fitfully; his horse, given free rein, ran like the very hounds of hell were after it; and Denethor's mind went into dark places it had not known before. Racing through his thoughts were all the pain that ever assailed him - from the moment of his birth until this very moment. And he took it into his heart and embraced it, finally accepting and making it a part of him.
It ran, like a dirge's refrain, through his mind - his banishments at his father's hand time and again, Cranthir's death, the White Wizard, Turgon's death, Almiel's death, Thorongil's treachery, Mithrandir, Finduilas' death, Amdir's death, Adrahil's scorn, the Palantír, the further destruction of Osgiliath, of Gondor itself, the armies of the Haradrim, Easterlings, Orcs, and that damnable mountain that spewed fire and ash daily. The list went on and on. But it did not stop there, it repeated itself over and over again until he thought he would go mad. Stopping his horse, he slid off the saddle and crouched on the ground, holding his head and sobbing piteously.
Boromir was first to see the horse, first to urge his own forward, first to reach his father, and first to jump, before the horse even stopped, and slide on the slippery grass to hold his father tightly. "Father! Is Morwen dead?"
Denethor did not respond. He knelt in silence looking down.
"Father." Boromir cupped his father's face and lifted the strong chin so that he could look him in the eye. He drew back in horror at the look of utter despair that consumed those once steel-gray eyes. "Father," he whispered.
Faramir was kneeling next to him in an instant. "Father. It is Boromir and I. Wine!" he turned and shouted to Théodred, then turned back to Denethor. "Father. Be at peace. There is no harm in Rohan."
Denethor's eyes blinked at Faramir's words as Boromir lifted the flask of wine to his lips. He drank but a little, then shut his eyes.
Faramir put his hand on Boromir's arm, questions rising through him and spilling, unasked from his eyes. Boromir shook his head and looked back at Denethor. He raised his voice a little and put command behind it. "Lord Denethor. Is there aught we can do for you?"
Denethor stirred, opened his eyes, and looked at his sons. "Boromir!" he slurred the name and Boromir's heart fell in agony. "Faramir, where have you been? I have looked for you for hours."
"We are here now, Father. Let me help you stand," and Boromir put his arms under his father's and pulled him upright. "Now. Shall we ride back to Edoras?"
Denethor drew in a deep breath. "In a moment. I... was lost in thought."
"I see the messenger met you. Then you know that Morwen Steelsheen is near death?"
Again, Boromir nodded.
"We must return and quickly." He looked towards Théodred. "I am bitterly sorry, young man. I cannot tell you the grief that courses through me at your loss. Would you and your cousins go ahead now? I wish to speak with my own sons."
Théodred took the Steward in his arms and embraced him. Looking with concern towards Boromir, he hugged him, turned around and mounted his horse. Éowyn and Éomer had not dismounted. They were on their way north in moments.
Boromir watched in dismay. He wanted to be with them, his friends, as they greeted their sorrow, but his father was more important. 'It cannot be Morwen's death that has caused him to be out here on the plains of Rohan alone!' He stood and waited, Faramir at his side.
Taking in another deep breath, Denethor turned to his sons. "Indis and Listöwel have taken ill. The healer believes it is the same ailment that has felled Morwen. We must leave Edoras immediately. I will take her home with me, to Minas Tirith and to Arciryas." His head shook a little as his brow arched upwards. "He will save her." His words choked him and he began to cough.
"Amma?" Faramir asked. "Amma is ill?"
"She lies on her bed in Meduseld and is barely able to open her eyes. Morwen is not dead, not yet, but it is only a matter of hours. By the time we reach Edoras, she will probably be gone."
"How did Mother die, Father?"
Denethor started in surprise. He stood and walked away from his sons and towards the bed where Indis and Listöwel lay in drugged sleep. He knelt next to his sister. "She stayed with your mother until we had to let her go." He bit his lip. Faramir and Boromir moved to the bed and sat on the floor beside him. "She sat with me when I was a child, ill or fevered or heartbroken. She never left me. Always defended me." He turned and looked at Faramir. "But you ask not of your Amma."
The Steward pushed himself up and walked back to the settle. Boromir gave a feeble smile to Faramir and they joined Denethor, once again on the floor at his feet. It was as they had done since they were babes; he would sit and they would converge upon him. He would tell them stories and laugh at their antics. So long ago.
"She hated the mountain. Once, I had come here, to Edoras, for some state function. The mountain had shaken. I think neither of you have felt it as hard as it was that night. She was alone and... When we returned, it took all of Arciryas' skill to heal her from the fright. I think that was the beginning, now that I look back upon it. Boromir, you were just a babe.
"I promised, too often, that we would visit her home and her father. But Gondor called every time - some new attack, some treachery, some meeting. I hold myself responsible. She needed to see the sea more often than I could take her."
"But Father, you made the Ocean Room and it was grand," Faramir cried. "I remember the hours spent there. I remember almost naught of Mother, but I remember she loved that room."
"Too late, Faramir. I am always too late for those I love." His tone lowered. "I remember when I asked Father's permission to marry her, he held her Elven heritage against her, much to my surprise." He turned to face his sons. "I believe she faded away. Just stopped wanting to live." His eyes opened wide as he saw something in his sons' faces that startled him.
"It was not because of you! She loved you both deeply. She was a frail thing. When I sent her away, hoping that the air of Dol Amroth and the arms of her father would heal her, she was already lost. Her eyes... Those beautiful eyes that burnt my very being, those eyes were glazed. I did not believe it; I would not believe it. I still hoped." He took a shuddering breath.
"But Indis does not have Elven blood in her. She has the blood of Númenor and she will fight this. We leave first thing tomorrow morning. I am hoping she will pass the night in peace, and rested, will be able to endure the journey. Be ready, my sons. Now, say your fare wells to your friends. We will not return here soon."
"Is your grandmother any better?" Faramir asked as they sat in front of the fire in Théodred's quarters.
"She is dead." His voice was dull and his eyes strained.
"Oh! Théodred, we did not know. I am sorry."
"She passed a short time ago. Father is not yet ready to announce it to the people. She was well loved. Sorrow will fill the Mark this night."
He put his face in his hands. "I will miss her. We never had a moment to speak before she was gone. I wanted so desperately to tell her of my love for her, my respect, my devotion."
Éomer smiled sadly. "She was a very wise woman, Théodred. She knew these things. You never had to say them. Had you not noticed the times she would sit and smile, while on the throne, as you made one or the other of your reports? I noted. As did your father. She was the greatest woman I have ever known."
"Then give your sister the same respect, Éomer," Boromir suddenly spoke up. "Because she is a girl does not mean that she is useless. Your grandmother is a shining example of that. If not for her, Indis and Listöwel... Did you know she brought the shieldmaiden to Minas Tirith to teach them how to wield swords, how to protect themselves? If not for her, they would have been hacked down by Orcs' ambush many years ago. If not for her..." Boromir took in a deep breath. "The Mark is no friendly place, as you well know. As sister-daughter to the king, Éowyn should be groomed for defense also. Théoden does not see this." He looked down at his hand, clutching his own sword's pommel. "I speak out of turn because I respect you, Éomer. You diminish yourself by diminishing your sister."
The room filled with silence. None of the friends looked at each other. Boromir raised an eyebrow. "I leave in bitterness because I spoke my heart?"
"Nay," Éomer finally replied. "She is my little sister and I treat her as such. Yet, she is a woman full grown. By this time, many have already had two or three babes. She does not want that for herself. I find her difficult to understand."
Boromir laughed. "All women are difficult to understand."
"And you have had much experience with women?" Théodred teased.
Boromir's smile broadened. "Little experience with one."
Théodred struck him on the back and both men went rolling off the settle. Faramir looked at Éomer, shaking his head. "Always he counts himself as the lover of Gondor."
Éomer joined in the laughter. "So now, Captain-General, you will regale us with stories of your conquests?"
Théoden stepped into the room and all grew quiet.
"Forgive us, Father, for our levity."
"There is naught to forgive," Théoden choked out. "Your grandmother loved laughter. It is a fitting tribute to her. However, I need you in my chambers. There are many details to discuss before we entomb her." His brow furrowed in pain.
"Let me bring Éowyn with me. She is old enough now to sing the funeral dirge."
"Yes. She is. Bring her along." He turned to Boromir and Faramir. "Your father has told me he plans to leave first thing tomorrow. I have changed the time for burial so that you may be present. She would want that. Would you speak with your father and ask him to delay his departure for just a few hours?"
"Of course, Théoden King. Though his grief for you is great, greater love has he for his sister. I will go now and prepare everything for our departure to help ease his mind. If he is assured that we will leave as soon as the ceremony is over, he will stay."
"Thank you, Boromir. Théodred, come when you have finished your fare wells."
"We are done now, Father." He turned to Boromir and embraced him. Tears fell. "I look forward to our next meeting. May it be not delayed o'erlong."
"Faramir," the prince took his friend by the shoulders and held him. "Until we meet again. Take care of your brother. He is impossible." He smiled.
"Do not be a stranger to Minas Tirith," Boromir choked out. "The road leads both ways." He embraced Théodred again, turned and walked from the room.
The sun shone brightly upon the snow, blinding any who looked south from the mountain town of Edoras. The people had gathered by the mounds. Thengel's was open and waiting. As the cortege moved from the Golden Hall, down through the streets of Edoras, and out of the gates, keening and wailing began. The women covered their heads while the men wore their battle armor. Though Morwen Steelsheen was not a warrior in the strictest sense, all who knew her, knew a warrior's heart beat within her. She was clothed in her shieldmaiden garments, her sword was laid on her chest, and her helmet lay next to it.
Éowyn started to keen the funeral dirge. After a few moments, the hills rang with the raised voices of the women of the Mark, joining Morwen's grandchild in the death song. The men beat their spears against their armor in time to the chant. The mournful echoes from the mountain stirred the air and the wind picked up into a gale force. None noticed.
As quickly as the singing had begun, it ended. The wind continued to blow, its soft shush turned into a roar. Théoden motioned and the mourners began their return to the city. The king stood there, with Théodred at his side, quietly weeping. Grima stood between Éomer and Éowyn, offering soft words of consolation. "Meteútsiht, the flux. Clear case of it," Grima said sadly. "Such a wonderful woman."
Denethor could stay no longer. 'Indis waits in her rooms, close to death. We must leave here now,' his mind screamed. He stepped forward, before the allotted time of mourning was complete, and spoke. "Théoden King. I cannot tell you how my heart aches for you and for your son, your sister-son and sister-daughter. While Edoras mourns, so does Gondor. But I must be away. Forgive me." And tears fell as he embraced the King of the Mark. He stepped away and motioned for Boromir and Faramir to follow. Théoden stood, unblinking in the morning sun.
Grima tsk tsk'd' at the display and the interruption of the mourning period. Faramir could hear him speaking to Éomer and Éowyn saying such. Faramir's skin bristled and he thought, thankfully, that it was well for the cocky little worm that Boromir did not hear him. The more he was in contact with this advisor, the more he could not stand him. He stepped forward and took Éowyn by the arm, moving her out of earshot of the erstwhile consoler. "You will be welcome anytime in Minas Tirith. If you ever have need, think not that Gondor will not answer. I promise thee." He had slipped into Sindarin without realizing it. A warmth came over him, but the moment ended when Boromir took his arm and pulled him away.
"Father waits - impatiently," Boromir whispered in his ear and they were off.
Indis lay dead in Denethor's arms. They had not even reached Amon Anwar, not even touched Gondor's soil and she was gone. He sat in the wagon, holding her close, whispering her name over and over again, but she did not hear. Listöwel lay silent next to him, her labored breathing the only sign that she yet lived. Boromir sat next to him and Faramir next to Boromir. Denethor wanted to scream, but he had not the strength to even breathe. If he had not been leaning against the wagon's side, he would have fallen himself. Every ounce of him, every breath, every hair and sinew burned with sorrow. Anguished sobs filled the cart as he finally let his pain flow.
His beloved sister, his confidant, his protector, his friend. It was too much to endure, this pain. His chest hurt and he remembered the pain of Finduilas. Surprised, he had not noticed when it left him. Not that he did not love her less, his wife, but that the physical pain was gone. He lowered his head in shame. He should never have lost that pain. He should still feel it today, cutting through to the very depths of his being. But it was gone. Did he not love her enough? Is that why the pain was no longer with him? Had his love only been a transient thing, a flighty thing - given as show for the world and then filed away and forgotten.
His sobs increased. Sorrow for Indis mixing with sorrow for Finduilas, for his father, for Amdir. Tears continued to fall down his cheeks and into her hair. 'Ah, Indis,' he thought, 'how often did I chide you for not taking care of yourself, for not brushing your hair? And here I have destroyed it.' He tried to smooth it out, dry the tears with his tunic. At last, he gave it up and cried aloud, "Indis! Do not leave me. Please. Do not leave me."
Boromir put his hand on his father's shoulder and held it tightly. His chin shook as he tried to hold back his own sobs. His other hand was on Faramir's leg, silently supporting his brother in his grief. Not since Finduilas died had the three come to such united grief. How could he help his father? He was too young when his mother died to be of any use, but now he was grown. Was there not some word he could say, some gesture that would ease his father's pain?
Faramir's sobs were muffled. He buried his face in Boromir's sleeve, trying desperately to be strong for his father. But he found he could not. When Denethor screamed, he shook. Never had he heard such sorrow. Indis' death was overshadowed by his grief for his father. He clung to Boromir and waited. Waited for grief to ease. But it did not. Denethor wept. The sun was setting and still he grieved aloud.
The soldiers stood nearby. Many had known the warm kindness of this woman. Many had gone to her in their need, asking for her help in requests from Ecthelion, when she sat at court with him. Many had found her wise, offering solutions to problems they thought nigh impossible to unravel. They busied themselves as best they could, keeping their voices low, noises to the minimum.
Night fell. With it came the baying of wolves from off the mountains. The soldiers started a fire. Boromir came out of the cart and the soldiers stood, waiting.
"Men of Gondor. The Lady Indis has passed and so has her dearest friend, Captain Amdir's beloved, Listöwel." He turned to go back into the cart, but stopped. "Thank you. Thank you for... We will ride again at first light." He saluted them and turned back into the wagon.
A/N - 1) For the use of the word 'nickname' - it is as old as AD 1400 so I don't feel uncomfortable using it. 2) For the use of the word 'hell.' The Silmarillion, JRRTolkien. Chapter 13: Of the Return of the Noldor. "But Fingon could not release the hell-wrought bond upon his wrist..." Chapter 14: Of Beleriand and Its Realms. "...he took up his abode in the endless dungeons of Angband, the Hells of Iron..." Ibid. "...there were green things even among the pits and broken rocks before the doors of hell." Chapter 19: Of Beren and Lúthien. "...neither law, nor love, nor league of hell..." Ibid. "There the fire and anguish of hell entered into him..." Ibid. "...and hurled like thunder from his throne lay prone upon the floors of hell." 3) For the use of the word 'damn.' The Two Towers, JRRTolkien. Chapter 10: The Choices of Master Samwise "...but think-there's someone loose hereabouts as is more dangerous than any other damned rebel..." The only one who used 'damn' in all of the Tolkien books that I have on file, was Gorbag, an Orc.
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.