38. Third Age 3017 - Part Three
Denethor sat in silence. He held his goblet tightly, willing his sorrow and anger to flow out of him and into the cup. Slowly, his anger ebbed; his sorrow still cut him as a knife. At last, he took a deep breath, flung the cup into the fire, and watched the results. The smoke, sputtering embers, and hiss of evaporating wine eased him.
'My anger should be burnt away, for it will do me no good. Now, to think with composure. Faramir is not dead, cannot be dead. I will think on that no more. But the stone does not lie? It is the future it shows me. Well, I will change that future; he will not die. What must I do? First, attend to the Council. Does the Council believe me soft? They would not have insulted my son so, if there were respect. When did I lose their respect? Did I ever have it? Do I reap the scorn Ecthelion sowed? I must regain their respect. Nay! I will gain their fear. They will not thwart me. There must be changes. We will repair the Rammas. We will add men to Osgiliath. We will take their coin and their sons and save Gondor.' He paused for a moment, shuddered, and thought, 'and Faramir.'
He felt the anger begin to rise again. 'Húrin! Flippant at the sacrifice of my sons!' Another deep breath and he willed himself calm. 'There is no excuse for my Warden. Though long has he served Gondor, yet he disparages me and mine. Does he think fate is kind? Does he truly believe my sons are indestructible? Would that they were! They are not, as I am not. The Warden must take his duties seriously, else I must find another. Nay! I misjudge him.'
He stood and walked to the fireplace. 'I do not misjudge him! His eyes shine with contentment. Now that he is away from the battlefield, he thinks he can rest. I must help him see that the battle is here! Against the Council and those who would let Gondor sit, protected only by the blood of my sons. I will not allow it!'
He leaned his arm against the mantel, lowering his head till he felt the warmth of the fire on his face. 'If there was some way to burn Sauron in the flames of Orodruin.' He sighed. A tear fell. 'But rather, it will be Minas Tirith that burns. Have not I seen it with my very eyes?' A strangled sob escaped. 'And Faramir - brought from Osgiliath with the black breath upon him. Laying at my feet, dead. How to thwart this?' He fell to his knees in agony, clutching his arms, as a heart-breaking wail echoed through the room. Sorrow filled him; his heart burned as with a blade in it.
He heard the door open; he was too helpless to do anything but rock back and forth. The guard was at his side in an instant, wildly slapping at Denethor's robe. Vaguely, the Steward realized his robe had brushed against the fire's embers and ignited. He allowed the guard to strip him of the robe and lead him to the settle. He sat back, exhausted.
Húrin's voice pulled him from the darkness. "My Lord Steward," the man said in obvious distress, "the guard rang the Warden's bell. Tell me what you need." He motioned for wine; the guard brought it. Taking the cup from his hand, he waved the soldier away, but the man would not leave. Húrin ignored him and lifted the cup to Denethor's lips; after a moment, the Steward took a sip. The guard took the cup. Húrin strode to Denethor's bedchamber and returned with a new robe, gently helping Denethor into it. After a few more moments, he sat next to his Steward. "My Lord, forgive me. I was impudent."
Denethor did not respond, just continued to stare into the fire. The soldier offered the cup, but Denethor shook his head. Húrin raised an eyebrow when he saw a goblet slowly melting in the furious flames. The soldier stepped back and waited.
"I have seen..."
When Denethor did not continue, Húrin said, "Yes, my Lord. All Gondor knows of your foresight. Tell me, my Lord, what you have seen that I may understand and better serve you."
Denethor blinked once, twice, three times. His jaw tightened. "Do they think I make requests to fill my own fancies? Do they think I want their sons killed? Do they think I would bleed their treasuries, and mine, dry, to satisfy some fleeting need for power? Do they not know me by now?"
"The Council, my Lord?"
"Would as many of their men now live if I kept Boromir at home, safe in the Citadel? He is the greatest warrior Gondor has seen in an age. It is by his valor and battle-sense that we are not e'en now o'ertaken. Yet, I would keep him at my side, here." He patted the settle. "Know they not that every time I send him forth, my very being quails at the thought that he may not return."
Denethor took a shuddering breath. "And Faramir, e'en now I send my youngest, the most frail, to command the most dangerous outpost in all the land. He serves by the very lands that would devour us, under the very breath of the Nameless One. And yet, they moan and wail and go off and mock me."
Húrin swallowed. "None mock you, my Lord."
"They mock me - and my sons." Denethor grabbed his Warden's shoulder and held it tight. Húrin did not flinch, even as the nails dug into his shoulder.
"Obey me," Denethor whispered. "Trust that I see what others cannot. I will spill my own blood, before I see Gondor fall."
Denethor rested most of the day; then, he called for Húrin to join him for the daymeal. After they finished, he found himself pacing, waiting for the Warden to continue his thoughts on the evacuation.
"The people will want to hide or bury their valuables. We must take that into consideration, my Lord. Even if given not the time to do so, they will risk their lives to save their treasures."
Denethor stopped his pacing. Húrin spoke truly. "They will believe they can return, once the battle is o'er. Blind fools. If the Enemy succeeds, as I fear he must, then there will be no City to return to. They will be forced to hide in the mountains, else they will all perish."
"Is that where you wish me to send them, my Lord, once the evacuation begins?" He shivered at the thought. To be sitting here, in Denethor's study with a fire burning brightly and their stomachs full after a sumptuous dinner, discussing the overthrow of Minas Tirith seemed incongruous.
"Nay. Not to Mindolluin. We will send them off to Lamedon, Belfalas, and Anfalas. 'Tis best to be as far from Minas Tirith as possible. Though we know not how much time they will have, our refugees," Denethor choked on the word, "but they must not be near the City. The Enemy will have free reign o'er the rest of Gondor and will, after his initial gloating, burn the City and kill all who are still alive within her walls. Then, he will turn towards the fiefdoms. I do not think he will consider taking hostages, nor slaves. His purpose is to rid himself of those he has hated since the days of Húrin the Tall, when Men first loved Elves and followed them blindly."
"Where will you and your sons go into hiding?"
Denethor looked at the man in amaze. "Doest thou think that my sons and I wilt be allowed to live, if by some chance we art not killed in the battle?"
Húrin paused as Denethor spoke in Sindarin. The horror of the evacuation weighed heavier upon the Steward than Húrin had first thought. He answered in like manner, "Thy men will protect thee, my Lord, until the bitter end. Thou mayest indeed escape into the mountains. Thou knowest well the hidden places in Mindolluin."
"Doest thou think I wouldst leave Minas Tirith?" His breath caught; he could scarce breathe, so harsh was the thought, so pain-filled. "I wilt die here, in the flames of my City. My sons wilt already be dead, either on the Pelennor or on some other Valar-forsaken field, their blood spilled for those who would run with no thought for Gondor."
Húrin shuddered. "Hast thou seen this?"
Denethor stood as one already dead; the memory of the sight of Faramir, dead on a pallet, engulfed him.
Húrin waited. Never had he seen his lord this troubled. He took a step forward and rested a hand upon Denethor's arm. The Steward did not move. After many moments, the Warden walked to the fireplace and stirred the logs, hoping the noise would wake Denethor. Naught happened. Tears filled his eyes. They were doomed, then. If Denethor himself could not bear to look at their fate, then how could any stand? He walked to the window and looked out upon the Pelennor, noting the lights in the dark from the homesteads. He squared his shoulders and turned back to Denethor.
"My Lord. Minas Tirith will not fall, though all the hordes of the Enemy come against her. Look! The Pelennor. See! Your people have yet to be driven from their homes. They are strong and valiant. They look to you, my Lord, and rightly so. Your wisdom and strength give us all courage. We will not fail. As we take courage from you, my Lord, take courage from your people. They love you and will follow you to the ends of Middle-earth. But it need not be that way. Many times has the Enemy tried, since you became Steward, and every time, every time, my Lord, you have devised strategies to thwart him. We will plan this evacuation, for it is wise to be prepared for the worst, but it will not come to pass, my Lord."
Denethor's eyes finally focused upon his Warden. "We will fight to the end, Húrin, my sons and me. We will die fighting, e'en after all hope is gone."
"My Lord, you are not alone. Gondor is not alone. We have friends and fiefdoms."
"We have fiefdoms and their lords constantly dispute my plans. But in the end, they will know that I have seen rightly. As for friends, I do not know."
Unbidden came the sight he had of Théoden in the Palantír, withered and old beyond his years - a dotard. 'We will not have Rohan to help us, if Théoden remains under the thrall of that worm.' He shook his head. 'Mayhap Théodred will answer our call, when the time comes. I do not see Théoden living many more years. How he has changed. What has caused this? Thengel did not waste away as Théoden does. Is he being poisoned as Arciryas believed Indis was?'
Turning towards Húrin, the Steward placed his hand upon his Warden's shoulder. "We must discuss how to feed the men who stay behind." Húrin sat at Denethor's command. They filled the long night with talk of new silos built and extra crops planted; of appointed stations for each House to gather when the order to leave the City was given; of carts being apportioned to the lame and infirm, the women and children.
"There will be no men to drive the wagons, Húrin." Denethor said after a long silence. "They will be here in the City defending her. So now we must teach the women and the young ones to drive the carts."
Húrin put up a hand. "My Lord Steward, 'tis very late. Let us to bed for a few hours sleep. We both must needs be fresh else our plans be waylaid by fatigue."
Denethor looked up in surprise. The moon was filling the sky. He called to his guard. When the man entered, Denethor waved him forward. "Has there been no news of Boromir?"
"Nay, my Lord. None at all."
"Naught my Lord. As I reported this morning, word was received that Captain Faramir was on the Harad Road, heading towards Henneth-Annûn."
Denethor, barely able to rise his anger so awful, turned to the guard. "There should have been further word by now. Was no rider sent to Osgiliath?"
"Nay, my Lord. We wait for the rider to return."
"But none have come. Would you wait to send another rider," he turned once again upon the guard, his fury as palpable as waves of heat, "if Orcs were at the Great Gate?"
"You were with the Warden, my Lord. You said you wanted no interruptions."
"Denethor, you did order that we not be disturbed. Leave him, my Lord." Húrin motioned and the guard fled the room.
"You o'erstep your bounds," Denethor whispered after the guard had left them.
"You are distraught, my Lord, and tired. I will send errand-riders north and to Osgiliath. As soon as they return, I will bring their reports to you. Please, my Lord Steward, rest now?"
"Do it then," and Denethor flung the bedchamber's doors open and left the Warden alone with his thoughts.
Pounding awakened him, in the middle of the night. He flew to the Houses upon word that Faramir had been brought back from Osgiliath, wounded and poisoned.
Denethor sat on the bed; he held Faramir's hand, watched as the boy thrashed about, and remembered the times, after Finduilas passed, when the man as a child was sick... His breath caught as he pondered the fact that Faramir was, indeed, a man. When had it happened? While away at Pelargir, no doubt. How many years now since he had gone to that garrison? He knew Faramir had been home many times during his most recent tour of duty, but Denethor barely remembered those visits. He cursed himself roundly, but silently. Finduilas would have had him strung from the nearest gibbet. Nay. What she thought mattered no longer; he cursed himself for his own neglect, his thoughtlessness. If it had been Boromir come home to visit... His cheeks flamed red in shame.
He should be wondering how the battalion was caught so unawares? Where the patrols were? How Faramir had ever let himself be so soundly beaten? But his eyes could not leave the face of his son, his body spread out upon the bed, arms flung akimbo in the throes of the fever. He had learned to steel himself after the first bout of sickness had taken the lad, just a month after his mother... 'By the Orcs and Dragons of Morgoth,' his mind shouted, 'I should not have been left alone to tend them! I had no experience. I... had only love. And love does naught to stay a fever nor mend a broken bone.'
The Warden stopped in now and again to clean the wounds, offer some sips of tea to the still half conscious man, and speak a word of comfort to Denethor. "Remember, when he awakes, to call me."
Denethor sat through it all. At last, his body weakened and his eyes closed. Damrod's snores roused him. Night was close to falling. Denethor had spent the day here. He sighed heavily. The Ranger had deep circles under his eyes as he dozed, sprawled out upon a chair in a corner of the room. He had obviously not slept in sometime. Denethor had been furious when the man had refused to leave Faramir's side. The Ranger had carried his captain from his horse and directly into the Houses, letting none touch the Steward's son. Denethor reached the front door just as Damrod did. He tried to take the boy, but the man had looked at him with glazed eyes, and refused to allow it. Denethor, recognizing the fatigue of battle upon the Ranger, decided it best, for Faramir, to let the man take him into the Houses. He chided himself for not asking for a report from Damrod then. 'Well, now is as good a time as any.' But the tired soldier slept on and Denethor had not the heart to wake him.
Faramir's movements slowed and suddenly stilled. Denethor looked up in fright, but smiled when a pair of sea-gray eyes looked back at him in confusion. "Be still, Faramir. You have been wounded, my son; the arrows were poisoned. The healers have taken good care of you and now you recover."
"My men?" Faramir croaked.
"As many as came back are well."
"How many did I lose?"
The look in his son's eyes almost broke Denethor, but he steeled himself. Perhaps, as Boromir thought, the boy was not ready for such a command as Osgiliath. "I have not yet availed myself of the numbers. You were my first concern," he hedged. "You are going to need some time to recover, Faramir. The wounds on your back will prevent you from effectively wielding a sword, at least for some months, and a bow is out of the question. I cannot afford such a captain for Osgiliath."
Faramir lowered his head. "I am sorry, Father."
"Nay. It is the way of life at times. I myself have... Well, never the mind." A look of hurt flashed swiftly across Faramir's face and Denethor started. "I did not say I cannot afford you, Faramir. I cannot afford a wounded man as captain. And I cannot afford Osgiliath captain-less." He squeezed his son's hand to take the sting from his words.
"I understand, Father. What would you have me do?"
"I was going to send Boromir to the fiefdoms to request more men and coin, especially for your plans to raise the Rammas. Now, I think it would be best if I sent you. Since the Council was not o'erjoyed by your proposal, it is only fitting that you should suffer the repercussions when you go to their own lands." He placed a comforting hand on Faramir's arm.
Faramir grimaced at the thought. Then, "Boromir is forceful."
"That he is; however, your time in Pelargir has honed your diplomatic skills. I know there are many cultures that pass through that port; you have handled yourself well with them. I believe this training will help you succeed. And," he looked long and hard at his youngest, "Gondor's needs are great. You know them. I deem that enough to goad you to success in this endeavor."
He heard a loud harrumph behind him and turned to see the Master Healer glaring at him. "I will speak with you further on this, Faramir. I leave you now to your rest." He bent to kiss his son on the forehead, but thought better of it. Instead, he bowed, then turned and left the room. The healer followed close behind. Damrod had awakened at the sounds of concern that the healer had made and quickly followed behind Denethor.
After some moments, Damrod walked back through the door. "Captain," the man fell to one knee. "Forgive me. I lost your back."
"We lost more than my back, Damrod. I thank you though; it is by your efforts that I lie here - alive. How long have I been here?"
"Since late last evening, Captain. It is almost time for the daymeal."
Even as he spoke, one of the healer's assistants brought in food and drink. He sat at the side of Faramir's bed and proceeded to push a spoon filled with broth towards him.
Faramir grimaced. "It smells foul."
"There are herbs in it to give you strength," the assistant said quietly. "The Master Healer requires you finish it all."
"Of course he does. Has he eaten any of it?"
The assistant looked at him in horror. "It is very good."
"Have you tasted any?"
"Here!" Damrod interrupted. "Let me feed Captain Faramir. You may return to your duties."
"My duty is to see he finishes it all."
"He will. You have the promise of a Ranger of Gondor."
"If you insist," the man said, perturbed. "The Master Healer will hold you responsible. Do not eat it yourself!"
Damrod's look of shock sent Faramir into gales of laughter, which caused him to hiss in pain.
"I will get the healer," the assistant cried.
"Do not!" Faramir said through clenched teeth. "It is not the wounds; it is the laughter. Now, leave me be. I promise I will drink all the broth and the tea."
"Very well." The man left in a huff.
"I am perfectly capable of feeding myself," Faramir grumbled after the man left.
Damrod nodded and sat, waiting silently for Faramir to continue. Silence filled the small room as Faramir struggled to eat without spilling. Damrod bit his lip to keep from saying anything.
It took quite some time for Faramir to finish the soup. At last, he lay back upon the plumped pillows and held the cup of tea in his hand. The smell was noxious; his stomach roiled at the thought of drinking it, but drink it he must.
"Where were the scouts?" Faramir asked quietly, his eyes fixed upon the cup.
"A new captain misunderstood the reports he received. He was counseled to return and tell the column to halt while the patrol investigated a feeling of unease one of our best scouts had. The captain took the message as an all clear and let the column proceed. The patrol leader was correct, as we now know. Orcs were in hiding."
"Damrod, the Steward refuses to tell me. I must rely upon you. How many men did we lose?"
"At least half the battalion. I brought you straight here, so I know not the total figure. Your wounds were not severe, but the poison set in quickly - fever and chills. I had to bring you, my Lord, else I feared you would succumb."
"What day is it?"
"Two nights and two days since the ambush."
Faramir grimaced as he tried to rise from the bed.
Damrod gently held him down. "Not yet, my Lord, please."
"I must to my men, Damrod. They are lost and leaderless."
"They are not, Captain. Lord Denethor himself is riding to Osgiliath. He told me when he left you."
At that, Faramir flung the bedclothes off and attempted to stand. Damrod tried to force him back, but Faramir swore a particularly foul Sindarin word or two about the Ranger's mother and Damrod stepped back.
"My clothes!" he ordered and Damrod left, returning a few moments later. Faramir put on his leggings and stood, pulling them up about him. He swayed, bit his lip, and sat back down. Damrod knelt and helped him with his boots.
Faramir turned as the Master Healer came through the door, bellowing for the guards.
"By order of the Steward, you are not to leave here!" Denethor's own guard appeared at the door, swords drawn.
Faramir sat back upon the bed. "Damrod," he cried, "You must go to Osgiliath with him!"
"I have sworn an oath to Captain Boromir, my Lord!"
"I am safe and in good hands. I promise you, I will not leave these Houses until you return."
Damrod saluted, turned and left. Faramir sagged back against the pillows and wept.
Denethor heard the hail whilst only halfway to the Great Gate. It was Damrod. He pulled up on his horse and waited. "Is aught wrong with Faramir?"
"Nay, my Lord Steward," Damrod saluted as he stopped his own horse. "He bids me accompany you."
"I recall an oath?"
"If it is your will to captain the men of Osgiliath, then Faramir commands I accompany you."
"Yes, my Lord Steward."
Denethor smiled. "Who is the captain there?"
"Gelmir, my Lord."
"He has been there only three months, if my memory does not fail me."
"He has, my Lord."
"Where, before that?"
"With Captain Guilin at Amon Dîn; I believe Pelargir with Captain Faramir before that."
"Ah, yes. Since Faramir was ready to leave his sick bed, he has no confidence in the man?"
"When Mablung brought me nuncheon today, he said Captain Derufin arrived from Cair Andros only a few hours ago."
"Derufin? He is Boromir's aide, is he not?"
"He is, my Lord, and well-respected by the Captain-General. You could send him to Osgiliath?"
"Why did he not come to me with his report?"
"You have been with Faramir almost the whole day, my Lord Steward."
"Let us back to the Hall. Find this Derufin and bring him to me!"
Denethor turned his horse and rode slowly up the road to the Citadel. 'Where is Boromir and why is his aide returned without him?'
He dismounted at the Sixth Level and gave the reins to a groom as his guards milled about, waiting for further orders. He dismissed them. Walking swiftly towards the Hall, he stopped and looked northward. 'Where is Boromir?' he thought again. His feet turned towards the Tower. 'I can take but a moment and look for him. Nay! I must take care of Osgiliath first.' He strode briskly into the Hall instead.
As he sat on the Chair, the Chamberlain came forth. "You have a visitor, my Lord Steward."
"I have not time now to see anyone but a Ranger named Damrod and Captain Boromir's aide, Derufin."
"As you wish, my Lord Steward. But the man says you wished to see him."
"Who is it?"
"Imrahil!" Denethor was on his feet and striding towards the doors as the prince entered. Warmly hugging him, he turned him towards the vestibule. "Tell Damrod to bring Derufin to my study," he called over his shoulder to his Chamberlain. "And bring some wine and food!"
Imrahil smiled. "So you have forgiven me the fact that I did not support you at the Council meeting?"
"Of course. You understand Gondor's needs; Dol Amroth's needs are as dire. You have sent the men you can; your funds are marked for the building of ships. Continue that and I will be glad. Why did you stay in Minas Tirith? I thought you left after the Council meeting?"
"The Warden came to me with questions regarding certain of my kin."
Denethor looked at him in surprise.
"Certain female cousins?"
"Oh!" Denethor frowned. "I had forgotten. So much has happened."
"Is it true? Is Faramir wounded?"
"He is, but recovering in the Houses."
"Might I see him?"
"Of course. I must meet with two of my men; they should be along presently. Then, I hope we might speak of the cousins. After you have seen Faramir, perhaps you would join me for the daymeal?"
"Yes. I will to Faramir now, if it pleases you, then I will return."
Denethor hugged him warmly.
He turned and discovered Damrod and Mablung waiting for him. His guard opened the door to his study. Entering, he bid them follow. The Chamberlain came before the door even closed and brought servants with food and wine. It was laid upon the desk. Denethor thanked them and waived their dismissal. He sat down and bid his visitors sit.
"Thank you for coming. Derufin, I understand you just arrived in Minas Tirith? Where is Boromir and why have you come without him?"
Derufin told of the battle and Boromir's orders. Denethor relaxed and sat back in his seat. "So all is well with the Captain-General?"
"It is, my Lord Steward. I return to prepare for his next sortie."
"I have other business that I must send you on. I am sorry. You will not be returning home just yet. I am placing Boromir in charge of Osgiliath. Faramir's wounds will prevent him from serving in that capacity. He will be sent on the foray to the fiefdoms instead."
Denethor waived towards the food. "Please, eat as we talk, for we have not much time."
Derufin lifted an eyebrow, but Damrod filled his plate. Derufin followed his example and began to eat.
After the two had cleared their plates and were beginning to fill them again, Denethor spoke. "I am sending you to Osgiliath, Captain Derufin, to command the garrison until Boromir returns."
"Gelmir captains Osgiliath, my Lord Steward."
"I know that. However, you will now captain it; Damrod and Mablung will accompany you."
"My Lord Steward!" Damrod jumped up. "I have an oath yet to fulfill."
"You were going to break it."
"Only because there was no one else to send. I cannot leave now. You have Derufin. I must stay!"
Denethor's brow furrowed. "I will send Mablung with you, Captain Derufin. Damrod has an oath," he said dryly.
"Thank you, my Lord Steward." Damrod stood, saluted, and ran out the door.
"Well, then, Derufin, it is up to you to hold Osgiliath 'till Boromir returns."
"What of the Orcs who ambushed Faramir?"
"Boromir has a large troop with him. Damrod said many of the Orcs were killed in the ambush and most have fled back to the mountains. I deem my son will not be taken unawares."
"By your leave, my Lord Steward, I will go now. I would like to reach the garrison before nightfall."
"Go then." He stood and accepted Derufin's salute. The captain left.
Slowly, he sat down at his desk once more, held his head in his hands, and wept bitterly.
When the guard announced Prince Imrahil an hour later, Denethor waived the man away. "Give him my regrets; tell him I will see him on the morrow."
Nigh unto the third hour, Denethor found himself in his study, looking over his full calendar. He had not met with his Council for their weekly meeting; he had not met with his Chamberlain; he had not met with his Warden. He had, however, visited his son, broke the fast with him, and then left him to rest.
"I will return, Faramir. But later this evening. If you need anything..."
Faramir finished the last of his tea and put the cup down. "I know, Father. And thank you."
Denethor's heart pulled at him, cajoled him to stay as he watched the fever-ridden eyes of his son try to hold his own. "Would you prefer I stay?"
"Father. I know your duties. You have been at my side two nights and a day already. When you are with me, I force myself to stay awake. Mayhap a full day's rest would be best."
Denethor smiled. "Always the wise one? Yes. It is true. And I put aside my own duties to sit with you. I will away from you until the daymeal. Would you wait for me? Share yours with me?"
Faramir did not answer. Denethor watched the poison-ravaged face rest. He bent over, kissed his son's brow, and walked from the room.
Damrod waited outside the door.
"Where else, my Lord Steward?" the Ranger asked with a smile.
"He sleeps now. Keep him well, I will not return till this evening. If aught occurs... Or if he needs me. Send for me. Immediately."
"I will, my Lord Steward."
Denethor sighed and watched Damrod enter his son's room. Then, he turned and walked towards the Tower. Imrahil would be waiting; already, he was an hour behind on his meetings. His Chamberlain would be waiting, probably tapping his foot in frustration.
Imrahil indeed waited for him. Denethor blushed in shame. The guard had refused to let him into Denethor's study, so the prince had waited at the door.
"Forgive me!" Denethor rushed forward and embraced his wife's brother. "Come. Have you broken your fast yet?"
"I have, my Lord."
"None of that. We are in my private quarters. Brother you would call me at best or else Denethor."
"Brother it is then."
"Come. Come. Sit here." Denethor pulled the Warden's cord and his aide's cord. Within moments, his aide stepped through the door. "Have tea brought and sweet rolls. And some wine from my cellar. Have the Chamberlain pick the wine."
Imrahil laughed quietly. "I need naught. 'Tis good to be with you again and not in the Council chambers."
"I am tired of those chambers myself. Too many days I spend there and naught to show for it but a blistered backside."
Imrahil roared. "I note you took the most comfortable seat here."
"I did. Steward's prerogative. Now, how fares Dol Amroth? I know the report you gave to the Council, but give to me your full report. Your sons training - how goes it? Are they quick to learn? Is their Sindarin flawless yet? Have you started their Quenya lessons? Have they made their first voyages?"
Laughing again, Imrahil held up his hand. "They have done all that and more, Denethor. They are grown men. They send their love to their favorite uncle."
Denethor looked puzzled. "Grown?" A light came into his eyes again and Imrahil shivered. "Of course. And Lothíriel? Has any asked for her hand? She is now all of nineteen years, is she not?"
"She is. But I came not to speak about her."
"Nay. We wait until my Warden arrives. This will only be a preliminary meeting, Imrahil. Boromir must be part of this."
A moment later, Húrin was announced. Once he was seated with a glass of wine in one hand and a raisin'd cake in the other, Denethor spoke. "Húrin has told me that you have two cousins. One named Míriel and the other Lalaith. You know Gondor's need. Which would you prefer as your nephew's wife?"
"Direct and to the point, I see." Imrahil frowned, deep in thought. "Lalaith is as sunny as her name warrants, but I fear she would..." His brow furrowed.
"She would succumb, as did your sister, to the desolation that Minas Tirith has now become?" Denethor's voice was low, but his pain pierced the room.
"She is a gentle thing. Mayhap for Faramir?"
"We do not discuss Faramir," Denethor said with a heavy sigh. "What of Míriel?"
"I like the woman: strong, unafraid, knows Haradric even. She would be a boon to him, when peace comes to Gondor."
Húrin looked up in surprise at the Prince of Dol Amroth and waited for Denethor's sharp rebuke. It never came.
"She is fourth cousin. It will be smaller than Lalaith's."
"He is smaller than Lalaith."
Denethor snorted. "I seem to remember him." A frown crossed his eyes. "He is small. Is he truly of Númenórean descent? How strong is it?"
"His line is as pure as mine, though why his stature is so small, I know not. She does not take after him, nor have any of his children. She is as tall as Lothíriel; her hair is black and long, her limbs are straight, her mind is quick."
"So Boromir will have his hands full?"
Imrahil smiled; then, he lowered his eyes. "She will not fade."
Boromir chafed at the delay. He wanted to be near the secret stronghold by nuncheon, but the weather had conspired against him. He swore softly as his horse picked carefully through the rocks of the riverbed they were crossing. Rain began to fall; the river was close to raging. He looked about him and noted that his men were taking as much time as he was to cross. He bit his lip, trying to contain his impatience so that he did not kill himself, his horse, or his men.
He had had a strong sense of urgency about their return to Minas Tirith. Almost, he had changed their course to head to the City, but common sense won out and he kept the men heading towards Henneth-Annûn. Not oft did such feelings assail him; he seemed impervious to the foresight of his father and his brother, but now and again, it weighed upon him. How Denethor and Faramir ever stood such assault, he could not fathom.
Sitting upon his horse on the east bank, he waited, eyes straining southward towards the secret garrison. For almost a full day now, they had ridden hard through deep cloying forests. Boromir shook his head. 'Why ever Faramir is enamored of this land, I do not know. It is too dark and dense for me. Give me the plains and hills of the Pelennor, Lossarnach and Lebennin. I need speed, not this interminable trot that we must hold to.'
"Captain," Arthad interrupted his thoughts. "The men have all crossed. It is almost dark. Shall I give the order to make camp?"
"A little longer, Arthad. I would have us closer."
"Of course." His aide, Derufin's replacement, turned and motioned; the reformed column urged their horses forward.
The supply wagons slowly crossed the second rain-swollen river in their journey, tilting and hitching against the rocks. He heard a cry as a wagon tipped precariously to the side. He rode forward, grasped the seat, and swung himself into it. Taking the reins from the startled driver, Boromir urged the horses forward, clucking and encouraging them. The wagon righted itself in a moment and soon they were across. He whistled and his mount rode up next to the wagon. "You did well, up to a point. Next time, be more patient with them. Horses frighten easily."
The driver's eyes widened. "Thank you, Captain."
Boromir nodded and jumped upon his horse. Impatience exploded within him. He pulled the reins to the side and nudged the horse forward, towards the south. Another wagon tipped and then righted itself. He was pushing them too hard. He motioned and Arthad joined him. "You spoke well. We must camp for the night. Give the command and set out the pickets."
Arthad saluted and left him. Within moments, the camp was fully assembled, his tent up. Boromir smiled. The fire was already started and a pot of water began to simmer. A soldier stepped forward and offered to take his reins. Boromir nodded as fatigue settled over him. He dismounted and passed the reins to the man, thanking him before entering his tent. Arthad waited. Boromir sat and started to take off his boots. Arthad stopped him, kneeling in front of him, and removed them.
"The meal will be ready shortly. I will call you when it is."
"Thank you, Arthad. I am tired beyond words." He pinched his eyes closed.
"What is it?"
"Is there aught the matter?"
"Faramir has been heavy upon my heart this day, though he is safe in the Citadel with father. I know not why my heart misspeaks me."
"You drive yourself and the men hard, Captain. It is only fatigue. Rest now. I will call you when the meal is ready."
Boromir sprawled upon the cot, his mind too tired to even respond. Within moments, he was asleep.
He woke shivering and found Arthad standing over him. A shudder ran through him. "Has there been any news from Henneth-Annûn?" he asked as he swung his feet over the side of the cot. Arthad quickly helped him with his boots. "Or from Faramir or the Steward?"
"None, Captain. Only the one we received in Cair Andros; none since," the man said with sympathy. "You still worry about Faramir?"
"I had a dream or a nightmare or a suspicion, naught I can quite recall, but a sense of doom lays about my heart. Is the daymeal ready?"
"It is and your captains await your pleasure."
"Then let us go and get this interminable night over with," he muttered darkly.
Waking well before dawn, Boromir found and roused Arthad. "Raise the camp and let us be on our way. I will brook no further delay." He turned back to his own tent, did his morning ablution and dressed. He went to the mess tent to break his fast and found no one about. He swore quietly. After a moment, the cook ran in with a cup of tea in one hand and biscuits in another. "My Lord, I will bring the rest of your meal in a moment."
Hador and Guilin joined him before he finished his tea. "We leave early, then?" Guilin asked. Boromir nodded. "Will we be able to see the path?"
"I know the path by heart. Send out the scouts as soon as they have broken their fast. I want to be on the road before dawn."
Guilin nodded and left the tent. After a few moments, he returned with forty men. "I deemed it proper to send out four patrols?"
The cooks were busily running back and forth with great trays of biscuits, cheeses, fruit, bowls of porridge, and hot pots of tea.
"Good," Boromir said quietly. "Tell the men to eat, then be away as quickly as they may. We will take the Harad Road from now on; we should reach it within the hour. Two patrols will work the foothills while another two will ride the west side of the road. Send reports to me every hour." The men nodded, finished their meal, and left.
"We are going to Henneth-Annûn," Boromir confided to his captains. "Not many know of the secret stronghold. I will go forth with Arthad and hear their captain's report. You, Hador and Guilin, will continue the march towards Osgiliath. I am hoping that there are no more Easterlings about, that all were with the main body that attacked us. Since we have seen no others, I believe they are all gone. But Orcs may be about; be careful. I am surprised at the level of activity we are seeing. Long has it been since those of the east came forth in such force. Once I have ascertained all is well with our troops at Henneth-Annûn, I will continue on to Osgiliath and meet you on the road."
Arthad entered; Boromir gestured to him to be seated. After he had been served, Boromir's aide said, "The men are ready; it should only take another half hour at the most before we can pull out."
"Good. Then we will away." He nodded and Guilin and Hador left them. His brow furrowed for a moment. "Have we received any missives?"
"Nay," Arthad answered. "Though none know we have taken the road to Ithilien."
Boromir blushed. Denethor had not told him how to return, nor even when; he knew that his father had intended for him to return the way he had come. But Boromir needed to assure himself of Faramir's safety; a sense told him Faramir had gone to Osgiliath. Mablung and Damrod were with him, of that he was certain, but his heart had been heavy since the night's disquieting dreams.
"It is a full day and a night since we left the battle sight. My riders will not yet have reached Minas Tirith with their reports. Father will not expect a report for another three days, at least. I had expected to receive something from him before we left the Nindalf, some news of happenings in Gondor."
"News of Faramir?" Arthad asked kindly.
Abruptly, Boromir stood. "Let us go and harry the men. We must be away."
Arthad held the tent flap back and watched as Boromir, valiant Captain-General of Gondor, was laid low by concern for his brother.
They marched for an hour and soon reached the river that ran to the fortress. Boromir called a halt at the pool. He called Arthad to his side. "We will leave within the hour, you and I, and go to Henneth-Annûn. Glad I am that we have found none of the enemy about. Call Captains Guilin and Hador to me."
"I will leave you now," he said once the captains reported to him, "Continue on, but again, with care. Keep your patrols out and demand constant reports. If you stop, set out pickets. My heart bodes ill for us all." They saluted and left him as Arthad returned, leading Boromir's horse.
"He is fed and watered, Captain. How long before we reach the fortress?"
"Five hours at the least. Its guards will meet us within moments after we leave here."
He mounted and they rode off. As Boromir had surmised, Rangers quickly met and escorted them. There was no speech between them; the Rangers led and Boromir and Arthad followed. Glad was Arthad that they were thus escorted, Boromir noted, as he looked towards his right and saw the deep gorge next to them. Any who did not know the way would risk falling into it and find a quick death.
Once they entered the cave, Captain Amlach greeted them warmly. Calling for wine and seats to be prepared, he motioned to Boromir to sit and nodded, smiling, to Arthad. "It is good to see you both. I am a little nonplussed though. Why have you come? I received no notice, no missive in regards to a visit from our Captain-General." He was all smiles.
Boromir, however, stood rigid. "Did you not lose a patrol less than four days ago?"
Amlach paled. "We did lose a patrol. How came you by this knowledge? Our errand-rider could not have reached Minas Tirith and you have reached here in such a short time."
"The Steward saw."
That was enough for Amlach. "As I said, we did lose a hunting patrol. But naught else untoward has happened since. Why are you here?"
"Denethor sent an errand-rider asking for details."
"None arrived," Amlach blanched at the news. "None of our patrols nor scouts have seen any further sign of the enemy. In fact, all has been quiet."
"I cannot understand that. Easterlings camped upon the Nindalf. You have seen nor heard naught?"
"Nay, Captain." Amlach motioned for food to be brought. "Please, eat and rest. On the morrow, I will send out more patrols-"
"Now, Captain. Send patrols out now - but send them southward. We came from the north and there is no sign of the enemy there."
Amlach watched as his Captain-General paced in the confines of their cave. "'Where does your mind wander?"
Boromir looked up and the eyes that met Amlach's were filled with pain and sorrow. "I know not. My heart is heavy." He looked out upon the waters of the falls, but it gave him no comfort.
"There is tea made. Mayhap the sharing of your load would help ease your mind."
"Speech is useless when the nature of the unease is not known."
"Speech may ease the mind enough for it to grasp the reason for the unease." Amlach motioned to his quarters behind the curtain. "Join me?"
Boromir left the falls begrudgingly and followed the captain. He smiled at Arthad, who, he noted, slept not. "Go, lie down and rest for we leave shortly; we will probably ride the night." Arthad nodded.
Upon entering Amlach's recess, he sat on the captain's cot and took the proffered cup. "I know not what it is," Boromir began with no preamble. "Nay. I know what it is, rather who it is, but I know not why. Faramir is in Minas Tirith. If aught is wrong with him, then Minas Tirith itself is not safe." He chuckled grimly. "If aught is wrong with Minas Tirith then I should be away this moment."
"As I said," Amlach apologized, "There have been no missives from the City. If aught were wrong, would not a rider have been sent forth?"
Boromir frowned. "A rider was sent. I do not understand how he has yet to arrive." Prickles of fear ran down his arms. "The rider was waylaid. That is the only explanation. How far south do your patrols go?"
"To Emyn Arnen. But not this week. This week, the patrols only go to the Crossroads. We also have patrols towards Cair Andros and the Cormallen. One of these would have brought back news if Minas Tirith was besieged."
"Have they returned?"
"Those from Cormallen. I expect the others in another day. If, as you think, the errand-rider has been waylaid, then my southern patrols are also in danger."
"Yes. I will need an escort back to my men. I would leave now."
Amlach nodded. "I will send patrols through the woods while we wait."
"I deem that unwise, Amlach. I have brought a strong force with me from a battle in the Nindalf. They continue along the Harad. If there is foul play, as I suspect, a greater force will be needed. If you wish, you may accompany me."
"I will. And some of my men also."
"Then do it." Boromir stood and walked towards the falls. The crashing cascade of them gave his heart a moment's rest while all about him chaos reigned. The garrison came alive, the alarm being given. Boromir walked closer to the edge. 'How fares my brother and why am I so troubled?' He grimaced as a sharp pain filled his heart. At it, he turned and fled back into the cave. "Now!" he shouted wildly, "We must be away now!" and ran to the stairwell. Quickly climbing up the fortress' steps, he found his horse saddled and ready at the cave's entrance. He mounted and held tightly to the reins. His horse sensed her master's tension and skittered about. Boromir welcomed the distraction; if he dwelt too long on why his heart hurt, he would lose his mind.
Amlach came through the entrance and joined him. Within moments, Arthad was at his side, along with a dozen Rangers. "Send Rangers with Arthad with speed to greet my men," Boromir said quietly. "Then they will be ready when we arrive and we need not tarry."
"Why send Arthad?"
"Hador will not let your men come near even with the password."
Amlach nodded and sent the men off after Boromir quickly whispered a command to his aide. "They are to be ready to quicken the pace when I come, do you understand, Arthad? I want all haste. The wagons will be left behind with a small guard. I want naught to hamper a quick march."
"It will be done, Captain."
After the small group left them, Boromir let Amlach take the lead; the warriors rode east.
"My Lord Boromir!"
The shout caused all in the party to look towards the rider coming down the path in a fury of dust and thrumming hooves.
Boromir held his hand up and the Rangers stopped. The rider approached. Boromir noted the man spoke with no thought of saluting him. 'The news must be bad indeed,' he thought as fear prickled behind his neck. "Speak."
"There has been a battle ahead. Orcs from the Ephel Dúath, I think. There are... They attacked a large body of men from Gondor, my Lord. Many dead lie strewn about the road. It would seem the battle went ill for our warriors. None live."
Boromir's lips tightened as he held back curses. "How long ago?"
"The bodies are cold and carrion have had their way with them. At least two days, mayhap more."
Boromir called to Amlach. "We ride in haste; now. Tell your men. Do not spare the horses!"
Amlach nodded and signaled. The Rangers understood as Boromir urged his horse forward. Within an hour, they had reached his soldiers. Arthad rode up to him and saluted. "I sent the rider as soon as we received the news from your scouts, Captain. It is another two days march at least, with the army."
Boromir shook his head. "We take fresh horses, you and I, Hador and Amlach and his Rangers. Guilin," he shouted and the captain rode to his side. "Bring the men behind us; I will not wait for them. I must see for myself."
"It will be past the mid night hour when you arrive at the ambush sight, Captain. You cannot ride at night. Orcs - "
"I leave now!"
Too many men would give them away; too few could mean their doom. Using horses was, perhaps, foolish, but they would reach the battle scene quicker, and could bid a hasty retreat, if need be. Traveling at night - he may as well ask his men to kill themselves.
Boromir settled for a half company, and all volunteers. Arthad rode next to him; many aides had Boromir over the years, but this one, he thought wryly, had already proved the best. He wondered if the man could read his thoughts or, mayhap, have some foresight. His aide was, by the look of him, pure Númenórean. Amlach and Hador rode behind him, he noted, and he was glad. Amlach had an easy confidence about him that Boromir appreciated.
"My Lord, we are almost there."
"Leave the horses and go on foot?" Amlach asked.
"Nay! If Orcs are still about, we may need to flee and quickly.
"My best are already out." At that moment, a Ranger on foot stepped from the trees. "Captain, it is a stone's throw from here. Perhaps you wish to dismount? Our patrols show no enemy about. We have lit torches."
Boromir dismounted and strode forward. Immediately, he had to cover his mouth and nose. The stench was putrid. He clenched his teeth and moved forward and right into the middle of the road. The dead, and there were many, lay scattered about. Some, he noted, had not the time to unsheathe their swords. Tears filled his eyes. 'No warning!'
Arthad put his hand on Boromir's arm. "What would you have me do?"
"You know," Boromir whispered.
Arthad nodded and moved quickly forward, taking ten men with him. Boromir continued to walk through the carnage. Now and again, a familiar face lay before him. He would curse quietly and walk on. Amlach stayed at his side.
After an hour's search, Arthad returned. "He is not among the dead."
Boromir nodded. "We ride to Osgiliath."
As soon as the Ranger saw his Captain-General crossing the bridge into Osgiliath, Mablung ran across the courtyard to greet him. Boromir shook as Mablung told him of Faramir's condition. He needed to be in Minas Tirith right now, needed to be at the Houses, for fear gripped him and would not let him breathe, nor think, nor live sanely until he knew Faramir was alive and healing. The sense of doom that had been with him for days now overwhelmed him.
Mablung took his arm as he stumbled. "My Lord! The wounds were not deep. The healers have the medicine to make the poison less potent. Faramir will be well. Here is the captain's quarters." He led Boromir in, making sure he sat. Arthad followed closely behind.
Boromir clenched his hands about the sides of the table. He steadied himself. "Send the Captain of Osgiliath here to me. Then, tell the other captains to be ready for my summons. Damrod is with him?"
Mablung nodded, knowing Boromir was once again focused on his brother. "Damrod saved him; put aside his own safety and rescued him. Then he tended the wounds, once we were able to stop. Others counseled him to stay in Osgiliath and let the garrison's healer care for Lord Faramir, but he would not listen."
"As soon as I am finished here, I will follow them. Have my horse ready, Mablung."
The soldier nodded, but no more than five minutes later, he returned, bearing a tray laden with food and drink. Boromir scowled, then broke into a smile. "Best I eat, else I fall off my horse on the way home."
"Yes, Captain. You have been known to do that. I was forewarned."
Boromir burst into laughter. "No doubt my brother." His face fell. "Did you see him, Mablung? Were you with him?"
"I was, Captain."
"Tell me all. I have not had the time to hear any of it 'cept that he was wounded." He offered a stool.
"You should have all been killed," Boromir whispered upon completion of the tale.
"Yes, Captain. Faramir kept his head and wheeled us about before he was struck. If we had not been riding, and that was Faramir's idea too, we would all have been cut down."
"Who captains Osgiliath now? Gelmir? Why is he not here yet?"
"Our captain is with the healers. He watches over the wounded." Mablung thought it wise not to mention the changes that Denethor had ordered. At least not for the moment.
Boromir lowered his gaze and wolfed down some of his meal. "I cannot remember the last time I ate. He does well, this captain of yours. Give me another moment and I will join him."
Mablung stood, but Boromir took his arm and pulled him back onto the stool. "When was the last time you ate?"
"I do not know."
"Just as I thought. There is enough stew for the three of us." He found forks in the captain's drawer and pulled them out, wiping them on his breeches. "Here." He motioned for Arthad to join them.
Silence filled the captain's quarters as the men ate, all deep in thought.
Another few moments passed and Boromir stood up. "Go and find some rest. I will not need you for at least another two hours. You also, Arthad." His men saluted and turned to leave. "Do not forget my horse."
"I will leave orders at the stable. It will be ready at the sixth hour."
The healers' barracks were on the other side of the garrison. As Boromir walked towards them, he was greeted with exclamations of concern for Faramir. His eyes grew moist; however, he merely smiled, nodded in acknowledgement and continued on his way.
The Captain of Osgiliath was leaning over a cot, pulling the covers over a warrior's head. Boromir stood back and waited a moment, hushing the aide who wished to announce him.
"My Lord Boromir!" Derufin stood, saw him and exclaimed. "What do you need?"
"Derufin - what do you here? I sent you to Minas Tirith!"
"And the Lord Steward sent me here."
"I should have known you would be with the wounded. Most of these men are new to the garrison, are they not?"
"They were. But I have found that one day here is like a thousand elsewhere. Time is known to be short; we became friends immediately."
Boromir's face grew red. "I... The Steward knows of your sacrifice."
"Not only mine, my Lord, but these men."
Boromir walked with the captain to the next cot.
"You will be going home soon," he heard the captain tell the wounded man.
"To what life without a leg?" The man's voice was hard and bitter.
"Gondor still needs you, if you are willing," Boromir stated.
The man looked up in surprise. "My Lord, I did not see you."
"But I have seen you and know of your courage. Will you serve Gondor in the Citadel?"
"Oh my! Yes, my Lord!"
"Of course, we will let you heal first, in the comfort of your home. Come to the Tower Guard when you feel well enough to begin your duties there."
"I will, my Lord." The warrior saluted and Boromir returned it.
"Good. Captain, follow me."
"I did not know Gondor would use those thus wounded," Derufin said as they left the confines of the building.
Boromir took a deep breath and turned towards him. "Gone are the days when Gondor could afford to let the injured retire. Besides, I deem it cruel to throw a man away because he has lost a limb. Do you not?"
"What use will he be if Minas Tirith is attacked?"
"He will do what he can. Did you not see his eyes? That man is a warrior; he will continue to be one, though his duties be light. I am using your quarters, Derufin; please come as soon as you have washed up. I need to hear your report. Likewise, the reports of those under you; Denethor will expect it. I want to be away by the ninth hour."
"As you wish, Captain."
Derufin left him and walked back into the garrison's hospice. Boromir, his heart still torn, walked through the courtyard, into the captain's quarters. 'I must be away soon.'
"Where do you think you are going?"
"Boromir!" Faramir rose from his bed and fell into his brother's arms.
Brother hugged brother. Then, Boromir gently seated Faramir on the side of the bed and turned to Damrod. "I will expect a full report from you, once we reach Osgiliath."
"Osgiliath? Boromir, are you leaving now and yet just arrived?"
"Nay, Faramir. Father has given me this night to spend with you; then I ride out. Damrod, now that he has completed his assignment, though not as well as I had hoped, will come with me. Now, I hear foolish tales of you wanting to run off in your under garments and save Osgiliath?"
Faramir's blush reddened his pale face. Boromir clasped his hand.
"Captain-General?" Damrod still stood by the door.
Boromir looked at the Ranger, quizzically.
"Permission to speak?" Boromir nodded and Damrod continued. "May I stay with Captain Faramir? The Lord Steward is sending him on a sortie to Gondor's fiefdoms. I would go with him."
The look of devotion in the warrior's eyes surprised him, but, upon further reflection, Boromir understood. Faramir bore himself well, responded well to the soldiers of Gondor, and quickly earned their respect. That is why he had excelled at Pelargir. "Very well. If Faramir agrees."
"I do. But Boromir, I must needs speak with you alone."
Damrod saluted and left. Boromir knelt and pulled off Faramir's boots, then helped pull off his breeches. He repositioned the sleeping gown and laid Faramir back on the bed. "The fever is still in your eyes, brother. Do not try to get up again without the healer's permission."
"Is that an order, Captain-General?" Faramir's eyes closed. "I could not let Father go to Osgiliath."
"I understand and agree. But there are others we could have sent. I cannot lose you, little brother; I have told you that before."
Faramir nodded and Boromir noted the sheen of sweat upon his brother's brow. "Tell me what happened, Faramir. I was nigh unto mad with fear when I saw the ambush sight."
"Why are you here?" Faramir suddenly realized that Boromir had been sent to the Nindalf.
"The battle was swift. Once over, I decided it best to come to Minas Tirith through Ithilien, see if there were other Easterling patrols still about. Now, tell me what happened."
Faramir squirmed. "Mistakes," he berated himself openly. "Scouts' reports misunderstood, green troops, and a foolish captain who should have known better!"
"Speak you of yourself?"
"I do and not." A heavy sigh accompanied the pained words. "I did not know the men, and sent the wrong one. One who had not experience in the field. I am as much a fool as he was. The rats of Osgiliath have more sense than I do."
Boromir kept silent.
Faramir opened his eyes. "I lost half my men at least, Boromir. I sent out patrols, but the message I received back was that all was clear."
"So you accepted the report and moved accordingly?"
"It is not that easy," Faramir whispered. "I sent my men to their death."
"Would I have done differently?"
"You would have listened to more than one report."
"I think not, Faramir. I spoke with Mablung and Damrod. They, too, accepted the report."
Faramir chewed his lip. "Father thinks you do not trust me."
Boromir smiled. "I trust you, Faramir. I do not trust father. His mood, as of late, has been fey and I do not understand him. I believe he would send the both of us into the very fires of Orodruin, if need be. In fact, I know he would do that. So I use deceit to keep you safe. Forgive me."
"I let him think your experience in the field is not..."
"Boromir!" The hurt in Faramir's voice cut him.
"I will not have you die for naught, Faramir. I do not care what father thinks. When the time comes, when the need is greatest, we will both be in the forefront of battle. But until that day comes, Faramir, I will protect you." His voice dropped to a whisper. "As I always have."
"So I have you to thank for father's disdain?"
"It is not disdain; it is reluctance to use you when another, seemingly more qualified, can be sent."
Faramir's distress was too much for Boromir to endure. "I praise your wisdom, your battle tactics, your book learning to him. I only hide your skill in battle. Do not hate me, brother."
"I am tired. I would sleep now." Faramir lay back on the bed and turned on his side, away from Boromir.
Boromir knelt at the side of the bed and pulled Faramir to him. "I warned father not to send you to Osgiliath and look what happened. You were almost killed. Tell me I was wrong, Faramir! Tell me I should let you die!" He choked and sobs racked him.
Faramir closed his eyes and returned the embrace. "Your love means more to me than father's disdain, Boromir."
They held each other close.
When Faramir finally slept, Boromir left the room. Damrod stepped forward. "Stay with him. I will return; I must meet with father over my new orders."
"I will, my Lord. And thank you, my Lord, for letting me accompany Faramir."
"Only because he lives. You almost lost him, Damrod."
"I know, my Lord. And I will make it up. Naught shall touch him again, whilst I live."
"Good." Boromir sighed. "If he asks for me, tell him I will return shortly."
Damrod saluted and Boromir walked heavily down the hall to the gardens of the Houses. He sat for a moment and looked eastward. The mountain flamed and rumbled, though not that it could be felt in the City. 'You will kill us all, someday, will you not?' At length, he stood and walked up the level to the Seventh Gate, through the tunnel and onto the parapet as he was ordered. Denethor waited for him by the escarpment.
"'Twas a feint by the Enemy to discover our strengths and weaknesses."
"You have seen this?"
"I have. I wondered why so many attacks all at once. Even the area around the Poros was attacked, though by lesser numbers. He seeks to destroy us. I fear the time nears."
"Then we can put aside any thought of marriage!"
"Nay," and Denethor smiled. "You will meet her during the feasting of the seasons of Tuilérë. I meet with Imrahil in one hour. I would have you join us."
"Father," Boromir said, exasperation strong in his voice, "I leave her up to you. I have said you are wiser-- Uncle Imrahil is still here?"
"He is and it is one of his cousins, your cousins, that we will discuss. I would have you with me."
"Father, I have not slept since I cannot remember when. Might we put this off till the morrow? Before I leave for Osgiliath?"
"Go and sleep. I will see you at the third hour in my quarters. I will have food to break your fast. Be there promptly, Boromir."
"One more thing, Father? Were you going to go to Osgiliath? Yourself?"
"I have not been out of the City in a very long time; I finally had an excuse." Denethor smiled.
"Father! I am serious. Were you going to go yourself?"
"Nay. But do not tell Faramir. He thinks the better of me because of it. I was going to the Ranger's barracks on the First Level. I have a captain I thought might be of good use in Osgiliath. I also wanted to ride my horse, clear my head, and be away from the Hall for another few moments."
"Thank you, Father. It would not have been wise." Boromir accepted the warm hug but had hardly the strength to return it.
"You need your rest," Denethor said quietly. "I will see you on the morrow."
"I promised Faramir I would return."
"He probably sleeps. The Warden keeps him well medicated. Every time Faramir breathes, it catches his lungs. The pain is not easy. I will go to him in your stead. Go now and sleep and see me on the morrow."
He walked Boromir to the Tower and left him by the doors to the Great Hall. Looking up towards the uppermost window, he pondered his next move. 'To Faramir,' he thought. 'Time is too short.' The lights were going out in the Citadel as he walked into the tunnel and then to the Houses. Faramir slept fitfully. He sat by the bed and waited.
"Father, tell me of Númenor, of its sinking."
Startled, Denethor looked quizzically at his son. Sleep still filled the boy's eyes but fear widened them. 'From whence comes this question?' He remembered, a very long time ago, telling the tale to Thorongil. 'What have you been about, my son?' he thought furtively. 'I was suspicious of your brother, when I saw Thorongil walking in the Emyn Muil; is it you I should be wary of? Have you met with the man? I know he walks near our borders.' The remembrance of that caused Denethor much concern. 'I have forgotten Thorongil and his mission. By now, he is probably gone from my sight.' A small smile tugged at the corners of his mouth. 'Nay. Not many may hide from my sight.'
"Why ask you this?"
Faramir blushed and the pallor of his skin betrayed it.
"Are there other secrets you hide from me?" Denethor asked and Faramir started.
"I keep no secrets, Father. The wizard has not contacted me."
"No one else?"
Faramir's eyes squinted as he tried to discern what his father was implying, but his head began to swim and he sighed heavily. "I know not of what you speak."
"Never the mind. Have some more of the healer's tea. It will help the pain." Once Faramir drank and lay back down on the bed, Denethor asked, "Why do you ask of Númenor?"
"A foolish wonder, I suppose." Faramir closed his eyes for a moment, trying to find the heart to tell his father. "I have had a dream of the land of Westernesse that foundered and of the great dark wave climbing over the green lands and above the hills, and coming on, darkness unescapable. Is that what it was like or are we fated for such an event again? The dream does not bring me peace, Father; in fact, it terrorizes me."
"You have had it more than once?"
"Is it a waking dream?"
"Nay. Only when I sleep does it come."
"It was a wave that took our homeland from us. As for what you have seen, mayhap it is Westernesse and not some untoward prophecy for Gondor. I know not if it was the Valar or some power even greater that caused the sea to swallow our land. Tales say Lord Ulmo roiled the seas so that the boats of Elendil rocked precariously. If that Vala was there, who can say the others had not a hand in it! For all their power - the wave killed those left on the island, the women and children - but not our Enemy. Somehow, Sauron escaped. And now, the bane of the Valar would engulf Gondor and I think all of Middle-earth. How can we combat him if they failed?"
Faramir shuddered from fear, sickness and the poison still in his body. His head reeled from the drugged tea. "I do not think he will triumph, Father."
"The Last Alliance could not defeat him - they slowed his malice, but he has grown mightier since."
Faramir swallowed hard, then pushed onward. "Father, Mithrandir believes there is a weapon that may destroy him."
Denethor stood so quickly in the little room that the chair flew back with a crash. The guard threw the door open in alarm, but Denethor waved him back to his post. "When did he tell you this?" Denethor fought to keep his anger hid.
"Many years ago, Father. He had been in the archives studying some scrolls, with your permission. He did not seem to know what the weapon was."
"As usual," Denethor muttered. "Half-baked plans and wasted words."
"If he answers your summons before I leave, Father, might I spend some time with him? Mayhap, with the two of us looking, we might find some clue."
"I must leave you now," Denethor said coldly. "If you need anything further, ask the Warden." He turned and opened the door.
"The wave, Father? Have you seen it?"
"I have not." Denethor moved through the doorway, but paused a moment when he heard Faramir begin to speak again.
"Might I see you again, soon?"
He did not answer; he found he could not answer. He stepped into the hall and closed the door after him. Waves of nausea struck him and he scarce had time to make the gardens before retching miserably. Fear swept over him. 'Is the wave Faramir saw water, or is it the Enemy's hoards?'
Imrahil was waiting in his study, as was Boromir. Húrin arrived a few moments later. "We have much to discuss this morning," Denethor began peremptorily. "Imrahil, there are two of our cousins, removed enough from Boromir to be considered as a spouse for him. What think you of them?"
Since they had discussed just this yesterday, Imrahil began confidently. "Míriel, daughter of Galador and my fourth cousin, would make the perfect mate for you, nephew. She is young, but not as young as your mother when she wed your father; she is lean, but not frail; she is wise, but not proud; she is gentle, but not one to be o'errun. There are others, but I deem her the wisest choice."
"Do you like her?" Boromir asked quietly.
"I do," his uncle smiled. "Very much."
"Have I met her?" Boromir's brow furrowed in concentration.
"You have, but many long years ago; she was just one of the many children that ran through my father's halls."
Boromir took a deep breath, then turned to Denethor. "Have you set a date for our announcement?"
"Tuilérë, March 23rd. She has already been sent for."
"You had already made the choice?" Boromir asked and his voice was gruff.
"The southern beacons were lit yesterday, Boromir, and an errand-rider was sent to fetch her," Denethor said firmly.
"Then I will leave for Osgiliath directly after my visit with Faramir. I will return the day before Tuilérë. When will she arrive?"
"If all goes well, she should arrive by the eighth of April; the formal betrothal will take place on the tenth."
Imrahil interrupted. "You will like her, Boromir."
"Will she like Minas Tirith?"
"She does not have to like it," Denethor said briskly. "We have learned from our mistakes, Boromir. She will be sent home for extended periods every year. That should help."
"Only present long enough to be bred?"
"Boromir!" Imrahil stood, his face red. "I will not have you speak of your intended in that manner."
Boromir's face had reddened also. "I speak only the truth - for the girl and for myself."
Denethor stood and moved towards the window. "It is not the best of circumstances for either of you, Boromir; however, it is near to the custom of our ancestors on Númenor. I would that you could spend some time with her, before next year's Loëndë. That is the day I have ordered for your wedding."
"Then it shall be done. She shall be staying in Minas Tirith once she arrives?"
"She will stay for a fortnight. You will come and tend to her during that time. Properly chaperoned, of course. Then, we will send her back until this year's Loëndë. She will return for that feasting time, and you will return for another fortnight."
"With every feast, I am to tend to her?"
"The major ones," Denethor sighed.
"Very well, Father. Might I be excused now? I would spend as much time with Faramir as possible before I leave."
"Boromir, he was in pain when I left him. I do not know if the medicaments have addled his mind or what, but he spoke of a dream. Perhaps you can help him understand it."
"Of what was the dream about?"
"I know so little compared to Faramir and you, Father. Did you speak with him about it?"
"I did, but not to his satisfaction. I fear I became angry."
Boromir nodded his head in understanding. "I will return the day before Tuilérë, Father. You will receive the normal garrison reports weekly."
"Keep me posted, Boromir, of anything untoward. I told you of my concerns."
"Yes, my Lord Steward. Until I return."
"Until you return."
Boromir saluted Imrahil, who pulled him close in a hard hug. "You will like her," he whispered.
Húrin saluted. Denethor walked Boromir to the door, walked through it into the hall, and held his son close. "I am proud of you, my son. Proud of all you do, but most proud of this."
Boromir sighed. "Thank you, Father. I will do as you ask, as always. Whilst I am gone and Faramir recovers, visit him, please?"
"I will and without fighting or rancor or bellicosity, I promise."
Boromir smiled and hugged his father. "That is all I can ask. Fare thee well, Adar."
"Father says you and he had another spat?"
"Nay," Faramir's eyes, watery and feverish, looked up at him in dismay. "He does not understand anything I say." Tears spilled. "Forgive me. This wretched tea and the poppy they give me for the pain makes me weak."
"You never have to ask my forgiveness, Faramir. I have been in the same spot as you. I understand."
"Father does not misconstrue your words, jumps up at every little thing you say, nor turns as if to stone by just a word..."
"Does that word happen to be Mithrandir?"
"Confound it, Boromir. You know it does." Faramir fell back against his pillows, totally exhausted.
"I am sorry. Have you heard anything from the wizard?"
"Please, Boromir. Do not ask me that. I have heard naught."
Boromir held up his hands in mock surrender. "Then let us speak of other things before I must leave you."
"You go to Osgiliath now? I wanted to spend the day with you."
"I am sorry. I have not much time there before I must return for... I return for Tuilérë. If you are still here, then we may spend time together then. Will that do?"
"If it must. Why do you return? A Council meeting? There is none scheduled till Loëndë."
"Other matters. Has father spoken to you much?"
"He thinks I am addled from the wounds."
"You are addled, dearest Faramir. But I deem it is the medicaments. I... I am to be betrothed. The announcement will be made at Tuilérë."
Faramir gasped, then closed his eyes. Boromir waited. "I am sorry, Boromir. I know you had other plans," he finally said. "Who is she?"
"A cousin of ours, Míriel. Do you remember her; I do not."
"I do, but only vaguely, and many years ago. I dare not even tell you about her, for as much as we have changed, she has changed."
"So, she was ugly and scrawny and quarrelsome and hateful."
Faramir laughed, then choked in pain. After a moment, he recovered. "She was none of those things. In fact, if I recall, she was a pretty little thing. Not shy though. I think she is a favorite of Amrothos."
"She is very young."
"As was mother."
"Well, then, I will treat her as I would mother. I would not have her..."
"So am I to be the groomsman?" Faramir shied from that discussion.
"Of course. Who else?" Boromir sighed.
"You could sound at least a little pleased to have me as such."
"I have no need nor want for a wife!" Boromir exploded. "I cannot place my mind, my thoughts, my self on anything but the war. It only grows worse."
"Because of that, Gondor needs an heir now?"
"She does. Always greedy. Have you not noticed, Faramir?"
"She is, but lovely, too. And worth all the sacrifice."
"Of course. But I had not meant to make this sacrifice, not now, not in this way."
"Boromir! Are you a romantic?"
His brother growled.
"I believe you are a romantic." Faramir smiled at the thought.
"Do you remember the room father made for mother - the Sea room? I always cried when we left it. Do you remember that?"
"I do not. I was saddened myself every time we left it."
"Do you know it is no longer there? That father has obliterated it? Even boarded the door leading into it?"
Faramir's eyes widened. "I did not."
"In that room, Faramir, mother would stroke my hair and tell me stories of maidens and the men who watched over them. She told me I would one day be such a man. I have oft thought of that, Faramir, what kind of a man I would be for the woman given to me to protect. I cannot protect her, Faramir. I cannot protect even you."
Faramir watched as his brother's shoulders sagged. "You do protect me, Boromir. You sent Mablung and Damrod," he whispered.
"I protect no one," and the desolation in Boromir's voice cut through to the very core of his little brother. "I protect no one."
"I will help you protect her, Boromir. I swear it."
Boromir raised his head. "I know you will, little brother, I know you will. I must be off now. I will visit at Tuilérë." He hugged Faramir long and hard and left him.
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.