41. Third Age 3017 - Part Six
The winds on the parapet blew colder than they had this past fortnight and Denethor wondered once again about the Enemy's hold on the weather. 'Is He that powerful? Can He tame the elements, bind them to His will?'
A hand lightly touched his arm. "My Lord," Húrin said quietly, "You are troubled?"
"'Twas kind of you not to say outright, 'I was able to come upon your back unawares!'" Denethor turned to face his cousin. "When a soldier leaves the battlefield for the final time, he loses a part of himself."
"Are you lost, my Lord?"
Denethor's breath hitched, but his reply was strong and his Warden missed the catch. "Lost in thought only, Húrin. Do you need something?"
"You asked me to apprise you when a messenger from Amon Dîn arrived. Boromir has begun his journey to Rohan."
"Did you meet with the builders? Have you set a date yet for when they will start?"
"We met, my Lord. My estimate and young Faramir's were off by a wide mark. The builders believe it will take nigh unto ten years to heighten the Rammas."
Denethor said not a word, but this time, Húrin did note a straightening of the broad shoulders of his Steward. "I still think it is best that we begin the project at the Causeway Forts. In two days time, I will ride to Harlond and survey the Rammas there. Then I will decide."
"Faramir thought that the North Gate should be the next place to rebuild."
"Nay. The North Gate will be the last. Our allies from Rohan help us guard the north. Preparations," Denethor changed the subject, "for new silos and granaries are under way?"
"They are, my Lord. I am planning on building two granaries and one silo this year."
They both turned as Imrahil walked towards them.
"Good morrow, brother, Húrin," the prince smiled warmly.
"Imrahil! I had forgotten our meeting. Have you broken your fast yet?"
"I have not. And you? Though that question seems to be moot. I am sure you have not."
"And you would be correct in this, at least. Húrin, let us take our stalwart prince to the dinner hall. I would the men see their Steward still lives, and," he put his hand on Imrahil's shoulder, "that Dol Amroth's most beloved Swan Knight still graces Minas Tirith with his presence."
Imrahil smiled gently. "I must return to my city when Míriel's cortege leaves."
"You will be missed. Of all the lords of Gondor, your friendship and wisdom I prize the most."
As they entered the hall, the soldiers all rose in unison. Cries of "Huzzah!" rang through the hall. Denethor beamed and saluted them. One of the servers ran to Denethor and offered a table. Another brought a tray of pastries and hot teas.
Denethor whispered to Húrin who left them. Imrahil and Denethor sat. The prince watched as Húrin went from captain to captain. One at a time, the captains came forward to approach Denethor's table. He asked each to sit and questioned them about their duties, their men and their families.
After an hour and with scarce a sip of his tea or a bit of pastry, Denethor was satisfied. He had interrogated, praised and exhorted all the captains present in the hall. A warm glow hung over the men. When he stood to take his leave, the soldiers rose again and cheered him wildly. He saluted, then Imrahil, Húrin and he left.
"You must be exhausted?" Húrin wondered.
"I am exhilarated. They are good men, what few there are left. They know their duty, could you not feel it? They will fight till the end."
"And you will collapse," Imrahil gently chided him, "as will I if I do not eat something with more substance than pastries!"
Denethor nodded and the three walked to the Steward's quarters. Denethor rang for a meal while Húrin and Imrahil settled themselves in deep leather chairs in the study. When Denethor joined them, Imrahil asked, "You were discussing granaries for food storage when I came upon you on the parapet?"
"You have many great houses that lay empty and boarded. Instead of building new granaries, would it not be more frugal and quicker to turn a few of these into storage?"
Denethor nodded in surprise. "What think you of that, Húrin?"
"An excellent idea. As Steward, you can acquire empty homes in the name of Gondor. I will do a survey these next few days and attempt to discern which houses would best be suited for this need."
"There are three problems, Imrahil, with your idea," Denethor stated as he finished his tea. "Fire, mold and vermin. The upper portion of the houses would have to be sealed. We would have to use the largest homes, ones that had great ballrooms or great foyers. Because of the threat of fire, there could be no lit fires inside and the vermin would surely find their way in and eat what we have endeavored to save."
"The major problem, as I see it, is keeping the grain dry and free of rot." Imrahil stood and began pacing across the study, his face lit in excitement. "I propose using the spill drains that lie under most of the houses. Seal them off and then fill them with hot water. Of course, fires would have to be built on the outside to heat the water. But the cost would be much less than building new granaries. And the houses are already empty! You already have drain pipes running under the larger ones to take the spill from Mindolluin away from the City and to prevent flooding in the spring. Chose two houses that are directly over some of these spillways. The houses chosen should be far enough apart to prevent flooding. Stopper the ends of the drains, set fire near the top stopper for heating water, then flood the pipes with the heated water. Every morning, have the bottom stopper removed and the cooled water flushed out. Then - repeat the process."
"Men would have to shift the grain at least twice a day to kept it from molding," Húrin interjected.
"Twice a day they could move the grain from one end of the ballrooms or whatever to the other end. The casements would be left open to allow air to flow freely. If you do chose two houses far apart from each other, it will counteract the threat of flooding." Imrahil sat, contented.
"And," Denethor stated wryly, "the cats of the City would be most pleased to prowl the perimeters to keep the vermin down." Denethor stood and walked to the window. After a long moment, he turned and looked at his friends. "It is a good plan. Húrin, find the drawings for the sewers and locate the best houses. We will begin immediately. The Council will be furious; already the Lords of the Building Trades were rubbing their hands in anticipation of the stipends they would have received for building these granaries. Imrahil's plan is much better, and," he turned towards the prince, "infinitely more reasonably priced. Gondor thanks you." He pulled the man up from the settle and hugged him warmly. "I have said before, and I will say it again, you will be sorely missed when you return to Dol Amroth."
Imrahil and Húrin spent the rest of the day in the archives while Denethor prepared for the next day's Council meeting. As he had feared, many of the Council members were furious at the change of plans. Denethor could easily read their hearts. Yet, he listened attentively to their complaints, their counter suggestions and their outright fury at their loss of coin. In the end, he thanked and dismissed them. Grumbling could be heard well after he left the Council chambers.
Returning to his private study, he was not surprised to find Imrahil there and waiting for him. Before Denethor even sat down, Imrahil raged. "They are glad we are at war! Their eyes are filled with visions of wealth. Have they not lost sons in these years past? Do they not know the horror of war? How can they put their greed above the welfare of our people?"
Denethor held his hand up to stop Imrahil's tirade, but it did little good, for in strode Húrin, his face filled with the same anger Denethor saw in Imrahil's.
"How dare Lord Ohtar claim the houses we picked as his? His relation to the former owners is tenuous at best. At most, he is a twentieth cousin removed. The owners of these houses have been long dead and none have claimed them before this! The buildings have been left to rot. But now that he sees he might blackmail you into paying for their use... Argh!" the Warden snorted in derision and sat heavily on the settle next to Imrahil.
Denethor poured goblets of wine and passed them to his friends. His face, however, was as grim as theirs were angry. "I have already made my decision. We will go ahead with the plans and turn the houses into granaries. Ohtar can bring a formal complaint if he wills, but as I judge complaints..." A taut smile crossed his face for a moment; he did not finish the sentence. "If he continues his complaint, I will have him thrown in the dungeons."
Húrin's face fell. "You would not?"
"Of course I would not."
"But it felt good saying it, did it not?" Imrahil laughed. "Eased my anger too. Let us eat and prepare for tomorrow's trip to the Harlond." The servants had entered by this time and served the daymeal to the three.
Though the day dawned dark and miserable with the threat of rain from the east o'erhanging Minas Tirith, Denethor could not help but have a small moment of ease at the thought of leaving the City. He had not ridden in months; too many affairs of state lay before him. He had found every time he attempted to mount his horse, someone or something interrupted and he was forced to cancel his outing. Húrin had promised he would let naught stop the Steward from his inspection of the Rammas.
Imrahil noted the rare good mood that engulfed Denethor and smiled warmly. "Your mount looks as happy as you do."
Denethor took in a quick breath and relished the feel of Minas Tirith in his nostrils. Some thought his City smelt of age and neglect and refuse, but to Denethor, the City smelt of life, pure and clean, sharp as steel and bright as silver. His arms prickled with the feel of it, the joy of it. He had forgotten. He swallowed the tightness in his throat and urged his horse into a gentle walk.
"Why do we really go to the Harlond, Denethor? Húrin could have gone, would have at but your word."
"I need to be seen. The people know of the threat from o'er the mountains and I would assure them their Steward has everything in hand. Just as I did with the soldiers in the dining hall. A captain must let his men see his strength, else they become anxious. The same is true with my people. I have too long kept in the confines of the City. True, I send Boromir and Faramir, but that is different. I am their Steward. I am their guardian." His head raised a fraction and his back straightened. "They need a strong guardian, especially at this time, as strong as the Rammas Echor." He gave a small grunt. "As strong as it will be once we finish the refortifications. I should have begun them long ago. Without Faramir's urging, we might have been found wanting, Imrahil."
Imrahil nodded. "I like the bent of his mind. He sometimes seems too quiet, perhaps withdrawn, but he thinks on his feet, and has a good grasp of lore. As do you, brother."
"He is too much like me. Gondor needs more like Boromir, quick with a sword and a shield, ready to leap into battle without a thought, afraid of naught." His face beamed with pride. "He is Gondor, Imrahil. Have you watched him? No hesitation. His men know it too and follow him into the most loathsome situations. They care not. As long as Boromir leads them, they know they are in for an adventure. The lad relishes battle. I think he would be lost if there was peace." Denethor's voice dropped in wonder.
"Peace is a good thing."
"Of course it is," Denethor said testily, "and Boromir will rein himself in, when the time comes, and govern Gondor well. But for now, I am most grateful that he rides into battle as his namesake did, with fury and strength."
"And he is grateful that he has the love and wisdom of his brother to council him, when he becomes Steward. Though I would not talk of that time now. He will have time to 'rein in' his battle lust long before you pass the Rod to him."
"Faramir is wise in lore." Denethor's brow creased. "He analyzes things o'erlong. A crisis comes and is passed before he takes action. I hope his time in Osgiliath is well spent. The needs there are many."
"Faramir will do well. He does take longer to make a decision. He calls in his captains and asks their opinions. His men love him for that."
"I am well aware of the love of his men. But a captain must have more than love, he must have loyalty."
"Faramir has the loyalty of his men." Imrahil's own brow creased. "Is there aught I have missed?"
"He waits for the wizard."
"You sent for the wizard."
"I did indeed, at Faramir's urging."
Imrahil stopped his horse. Denethor pulled his own mount up.
"Do you doubt Faramir's loyalty?"
Denethor squinted across the Pelennor, wondering what Faramir was about this day. "I do not, not yet," he sighed heavily.
"He went to Osgiliath whilst still suffering from the effects of the Orc poison." Imrahil's jaw tightened. "Is that not loyalty?"
"What mean you?" Denethor looked at the prince in surprise. "He was healed. He had returned to his own rooms. Had been discharged by the Warden of the Houses!"
"He was still weak, had just had a relapse the morning before you sent him off."
Denethor turned his horse towards Imrahil and dismounted. Imrahil did the same. Denethor grasped the prince by the arms and pulled him close, nails digging into Imrahil's arms. "What say you? He was ill when he took the journey?"
"He was, Denethor. Did you not know?"
Lowering his head, he leaned against the Swan Knight and held him for a moment.
Imrahil felt the wavering of the Steward's body and clasped him to his own. "He obeys you in all things," he whispered.
"We will go to Osgiliath. I will send Húrin to the Harlond tomorrow."
Imrahil nodded and crushed Denethor to him. "Your son will be pleased to see you."
The journey took well over four hours. In fact, Imrahil wondered if they would ever reach the garrison, for all sorts of folk came out when they heard the horses' hooves. The farmers and their children waved, joy apparent on their faces, and their wives curtsied to their Lord. Denethor fairly beamed. He slowed the pace every time they came near a homestead, knowing the people hungered for his presence, his strength. And he gave it to them, as a cup overflowing. At last, they stopped for nuncheon at a hostelry halfway between Minas Tirith and the Causeway Forts. Soldiers of Gondor milled about the entranceway. As soon as they saw who approached, some ran into the inn while others quickly strode forward, hands to their chests in salute, their faces plainly showing their surprise.
Denethor nodded to them and let one of them take his reins. Another tried to give him a hand as he dismounted and he had to hold himself still. Though his hair was whiter than ever it had been in his life, he was not yet a dotard. Still, the soldier's motives were pure, he felt, so he let the man help him dismount. Imrahil was at his side in a moment. Denethor asked the soldier his name and where he was stationed. Then, he turned to the others who looked expectantly to him. He spent some time with them, then, at Imrahil's urging, he went into the inn. The keeper was at his side in an instant, offering a table in a back room. Denethor shook his head and insisted they be seated in the front of the inn with the other soldiers of Gondor.
The proprietor beamed from ear to ear. 'This is so good for business,' he almost rubbed his hands in glee. 'Many will come to sit at the table that the Steward sat at. I must make a plaque or some such - I cannot believe my good fortune!' He hurried forward to wipe the table with his shirtsleeve. Then, he ran to the back and brought forth two tall flagons filled with his best ale. Rarely did he serve this ale, not to the common soldiers of Gondor, but for the Steward, 'only the best will do!'
Denethor looked at the man as he set the drinks before him. Something about the man's curled lip, or perhaps the over brightness of his eyes, betrayed his thoughts to the Steward. "I would drink what you serve my men."
The tone chilled the innkeeper to the bone. "My Lord," he stumbled over the words, "this is what I serve your men." He swallowed hard and Denethor watched the man's throat constrict.
"This is not what you serve the warriors of Gondor. Bring me a flagon of that. And now." The Steward's voice was low but Imrahil himself felt a shudder, as of icy water, run down his back.
"Beg your pardon, my Lord Steward," the man cringed, "I have just now received a new shipment. Here!" he called to the girl behind the serving table, "Clear the flagons of the soldiers of Gondor and give them the new ale, the one that arrived just this morning." The girl looked at him in confusion. He turned towards her, his face contorted in rage. "Are you dense, girl? I'll do it myself. Clear the tables." She ran forward and took the flagons in front of all those in the common room and brought them back. The innkeeper started pouring ale into the emptied drinking vessels, then he motioned for the girl to take them to the men.
The men cried aloud in joy, as they tasted the better ale, then raised their flagons to their Steward. One over zealous soldier stood on a table and led them in a cheer. Three huzzahs, a salute to their Steward, and the men quaffed their ale.
Denethor's face never changed. He took his drink, returned the salute and downed his own ale. The innkeeper returned. "Have you some sort of stew?"
"Lamb, my Lord Steward." The proprietor's diffidence troubled Denethor. 'Was the man hiding something else?' He nodded and shortly thereafter, a steaming bowl of stew was placed before Imrahil and him. The stew was good and Denethor put aside his unease. Denethor ate quickly and Imrahil followed suit; no words were spoken.
At last, as Denethor chewed the last bite of bread, he relaxed. Looking hard at Imrahil, he asked, "Do you remember Thorongil?"
"I was twenty and five years when he won the great battle against the Corsairs. I commanded a ship under him."
Denethor nodded. "Of course." Again, the prince found himself under close scrutiny by his brother. After another moment, Denethor sighed heavily. "By all rights..." he shook his head. "Nay! The people would have crowned him, had he come back to Minas Tirith. They thought naught of their Steward nor of his Heir. I think that surprised my father. He heard the calls in the street, the same calls I heard for the Northerner to be crowned." The eyes searched Imrahil's face.
"I had heard rumors of... adulation," Imrahil said quietly. "What did your father do?"
A choked laugh greeted his question. "Naught. Thorongil left the battle site and was not heard from again. Mithrandir left soon after."
"Did Ecthelion have him murdered?" Imrahil whispered.
"Mithrandir or Thorongil?" Denethor smiled. "Nay. Thorongil lives."
"Why did he not return to the City, take up the crown?"
"I know not. But my men would not regale me as they have today, nor as they did in the hall two days ago, if he was still here."
Imrahil nodded. Denethor dropped some coins on the table and left the inn. Imrahil followed. By the time they reached the Causeway Forts, it was close to nightfall. The sentries challenged them and Denethor pulled his horse up in chagrin. "I do not know the password. I had not planned on leaving the Pelennor. I neglected to ask for it. Know you?"
Imrahil shook his head. "I do not."
Denethor burst into laughter. "Then we might as well turn around and return to the City."
"Your men will let you pass," Imrahil said firmly.
"If they do, I will have them imprisoned."
"You would not."
"This time, Imrahil, I would. My orders are law. No one enters or leaves the Pelennor without the password. No one."
The guard walked towards the riders. "The password," then stopped in confusion. "My Lord Steward!" he saluted. "Forgive me, my Lord, the password?"
"I know it not."
Turning in panic to the other guard, the first said, "The Lord Steward does not know the password."
The second guard walked quietly towards Denethor. He drew his sword, saluted, and paused. Taking a deep breath, he said, "By order of the Steward of Gondor, none may pass without the password." He bit his lip after saying this and Denethor noted that the first guard was almost hopping from one leg to the next. They were both clearly frightened.
"Would you send a rider for Captain Faramir? He is staying at the garrison in Osgiliath."
"I will, my Lord Steward." The man turned and barked an order to another soldier standing nearby. The man ran to the stables, mounted and rode across the Causeway towards Osgiliath.
Denethor dismounted and motioned for Imrahil to join him.
"They carry this too far, Brother!"
"To be precise, they should hold us both as prisoners until they are given orders as to our disposal." Denethor had to hold back another laugh. "I am grateful they have decided to leave us be, for the moment."
A lieutenant strode quickly forward. Denethor knew he must have been sent for. He waited to see what would happen next.
"My Lord Steward?"
"My men say you do not know the password?"
"It is true."
"Then I must escort you back to Minas Tirith."
Denethor nodded. "What is your name?"
The soldier blushed, but did not retreat. "Hirgon. I am in charge of this outpost."
"May I stay until my son is brought to me?"
Now the lieutenant looked confused. "My Lord, your rule states - "
"That none may enter or leave the Pelennor without the password. I will not leave; I will stand here and wait for my son. You may have my sword." He began to unbuckle the sword belt, but the soldier hurried forward. "It is not necessary, my Lord. I will give you one hour, then I must escort you back to Minas Tirith."
Denethor nodded. The lieutenant walked back to the guards. Imrahil scowled, but Denethor had a pleased expression on his face. They waited.
The Warden of the Keys swore softly under his breath as he stood upon the escarpment, looking out upon the fields of the Pelennor. He could not find what he looked for, but he knew, with the certainty of his long relationship with Denethor, that the Steward was not where he should be. He swore again and turned towards the Tower.
Three soldiers ran from the tunnel leading to the Sixth Level. Húrin stopped and waited. They ran; it pleased him to see this show of duty. Their swords hit their legs at the pace they set. Stopping before him, they saluted. The youngest, much to Húrin's surprise, spoke. "My Lord. The Steward is not at the Harlond. We looked everywhere for him. At last, due to our diligence, we discovered a man who had seen him riding towards Osgiliath."
Húrin bit his lip to keep from smiling. 'Due to our diligence!' The man was indeed young and obviously a proud pup. He nodded and motioned for them to leave. The speaker moved towards him, as if to continue, but the other soldiers took his arms and led him away. As they moved, he heard one of the soldiers say, "Due to our diligence? What an idiot you are. Do you not know it was our duty not our diligence. Now we look like fools, puffing ourselves out as Haradric peacocks!" The other cuffed the youngest on the side of his head. Húrin chuckled quietly. He remembered a time when Denethor had done something similar and Húrin had been the one to give him his comeuppance. His brow furrowed at the thought of Denethor. 'Where is he? Is he truly going to Osgiliath? Well, wherever he is going, he is not going without an escort.' He walked quickly into the Tower, ordering one of the guards to bring the Captain of the Guard to him.
As he entered his own office, he found the Captain of the Guard waiting for him. Ragorn stepped forward and Húrin could see the palpable tension on the man's face. "Speak."
"The Steward is not at the Harlond. Those I sent to meet him have sent an errand-rider saying he never arrived. Do you know aught?"
"I believe he is riding to Osgiliath."
"Alone? And with no escort?"
"Prince Imrahil rides with him."
"But he has no escort!" The man cried in outrage. "Why was I not told?"
"I have just discovered this myself, Captain. It would be best if you quickly assembled your company and followed him, ere he is lost in the hills."
Ragorn scowled, but saluted and ran from the room. Húrin smiled. 'Denethor will receive a tongue-lashing for this, if I know Captain Ragorn.' He sat at his desk in relief, glad to know that Denethor would be looked after. Then, he grimaced. He was to meet with the Chamberlain to arrange the seats for the betrothal banquet. He held his head in his hands and moaned. 'Where is Indis? She did this so well.'
In the meantime, Ragorn ran to the stables in the Sixth Level, signaled and he and the company he had already called together rode down the streets of Minas Tirith and out into the fields of the Pelennor. Mile after mile passed under their horses' hooves as Ragorn paced them. They arrived at the inn well after nuncheon and were told in excited tones that Denethor had indeed been there but had gone on to the Causeway.
Again, the company of Denethor's personal guard rode eastward. At long last, they reached the Forts and discovered Denethor standing under armed guard. Ragorn jumped from his horse, his sword drawn before he landed. His full company immediately joined him as the guard from the Causeway ran forward. In moments, the air rang with the sound of swords being drawn.
Faramir stood at the end of the broken bridge, the third of its kind that spanned the Great River. This one, though demolished, stood out about six feet over the water. He watched as the current caught on sunken debris and swished the river this way and that. 'Treacherous to swim here,' he thought mildly and fondly remembered the times Boromir and he had swam in the channels by Cair Andros. The water was warmer there as the river ran lower in the summer near the island fortress. He shook his head and pulled himself back from such reverie. He watched as the currents flowed swiftly past certain areas near to this side of Osgiliath and realized that the river was an ally, in places. Yet, as he watched, he noted how easily the old wharfs and docks made it for landings. 'They should be torn down,' he thought to himself, but a part of him dreaded the thought, for tearing the city further down only magnified the fact that Osgiliath was indeed dead and not soon to be resurrected.
Damrod called to him. "Captain. I think you should see these."
Faramir turned and left the bridge, climbing down onto the ruins and over to Damrod. The two nights and one day of total rest had revived him; the poison seemed to have finally left him.
"In here," his aide said and pointed once they had passed in through a narrow hall.
The light was diffused and dust rose and choked them at every footfall. At last, they came to an opening where the light finally brightened, showing them docks, long lines of docks that opened right into the city itself. Faramir shivered. The enemy could pull their boats up here and enter the city with nary a problem. Swallowing hard, he walked further along. "This must have been some sort of entertainment area or such. Look at the wine bottles. Boats must have docked here and the people walked right into this inn. How many more are there along the river?" Fatigue shook his voice.
Damrod did not note Faramir's weariness. "There cannot be many, but I think a full scale search must be organized. Every one of these docks must be destroyed and the openings into these buildings must be sealed."
Faramir nodded. He took a deep breath and both men left the building. "The sun will be down soon. We will mount an expedition tomorrow, at least three companies, and explore this part of the river. We would be helpless if an attack were launched now."
Damrod agreed as they made their way to the garrison. Faramir heard his name called and turned in surprise. It was Mablung. "The Steward awaits you at the Causeway Forts, Captain Faramir."
Faramir looked in amaze. "My father has left the City?"
The look of concern on Faramir's face grabbed at Mablung's heart. "Naught is wrong, according to the errand-rider."
Running towards the stables, Faramir called for a mounted horse. Within moments, Mablung, Damrod and he were riding west to the Causeway.
Denethor stepped forward and raised his hand. "Cease! I am well, Captain Ragorn. Put away your sword. Lieutenant Hirgon, tell your men to lower their swords."
At that very moment, Faramir pulled up, staring in horror at the sight before him. He stayed in the background; Denethor had not seen him, but Faramir watched in consternation as the Men of Gondor faced off against each other. Mablung made to draw his own sword, but Faramir held his hand. They waited at the edge of the impending conflict. Not oft did Faramir have the opportunity to watch his father; he waited, wondering what had caused this state of affairs and what the outcome would be.
Ragorn looked at his Steward in alarm. "They raise their swords to you!"
"They do not," Denethor said heatedly, then lowered his voice and sighed. "They raise them against you. Does it not seem a fairly dangerous thing to draw your sword in the presence of the Steward? What can the lieutenant think but that you have come armed to o'ertake me?"
His aide sputtered and fumed. "I would not raise my hand or my sword against my Steward."
"Nor would I!" the lieutenant shouted. "We protect our liege lord!"
Denethor put his hand on the young man's shoulder. "As does the captain of my personal guard. Know you not the livery?"
The lieutenant's face blazed red; his breath caught. "I... I am sorry, my Lord, I did not note. I only saw their swords drawn."
"Then put yours away."
The lieutenant did as he was ordered, turned to his men and ordered them to sheathe their own swords. Ragorn did the same. Both men saluted Denethor and waited.
"Have you not noted that our Enemy takes great pains to sunder us?" the Steward spoke quietly. "Have you not watched as those who live closest to the Ephel Dúath, those who refuse to leave their farm lands, cheat and lie and steal. They murder their neighbors whilst they plot against the realm."
"That is only rumor," Hirgon cried in protest. "None have actually seen it."
"None have actually seen those who live in the lands east of the Harad Road. Yet, I know they are there, that they have turned to the Nameless One and pledged Him their fealty. His poison drifts on the air, over the mountains and down upon Osgiliath. Nay! Upon all of Gondor. You have now breathed in that poison."
Both the captain and the lieutenant turned white. "Nay!"
"Yes! Any who turn a sword against me or mine, against my soldiers, my warriors, has succumbed to the Nameless One. You may as well go and join his leaguers in Minas Morgul."
He watched as many of the men shivered. "You can feel him, can you not? But take heart. You are not alone. His poison has touched others. Yet, Gondor still stands. Imrahil and I stand in the gap. Boromir, Faramir and Húrin. We know and we fight against even these weapons. Will you not stand with us? Will you not fight dissension?"
Faramir strode forward and stood at his father's right hand. His sword was sheathed but his eyes sparkled. Denethor looked at him, keeping the surprise from his eyes and from the men about him. "Go now back to your duties. Remember what you have seen and heard this day. Keep yourselves alert! Do not listen to the Enemy. Be strong together!"
The men of the Causeway saluted and walked slowly back to their barracks, their posts, and their duties. Ragorn and his men stood back and waited for their Steward's next orders. Hirgon waited.
"Lieutenant. I now have the password. May I use your quarters for a half hour? I need to speak with Captain Faramir."
"Yes, my Lord Steward. Please forgive me." The man started mumbling and stuttering.
"There is naught to forgive. The Enemy knows our weaknesses, the weaknesses of all men, and will use it against us. You have shown exemplary leadership today. Continue as you have, watch for these signs among your men, and help them to fight."
Hirgon led them to his rooms and left them. Denethor turned to Faramir. Gently taking him by the shoulder, he sat him on a chair. Imrahil stood by the door. "Faramir. Why did you not tell me you were still suffering from the poison? Why did you come here whilst still ill?"
"I am well now, Father," Faramir protested. "I took my time on the journey and arrived in good health, reasonably good health," he amended.
"Your uncle says otherwise. Am I to believe he lied?"
Faramir blushed. "Nay, but Father, you asked me to come here and I knew I was almost well. There is so much to be done."
"Then you and I both listened to the whispers and succumbed." Denethor shuddered. "I count on you, when I am weak, to council me. Will you remember that?"
"I do, Father." Denethor watched as Faramir shook his head. "I did not think what you asked was so grievous."
"Gondor needs her captains strong, Faramir. Remember that. Now, how fare you?"
"I am well. I was at the Northern Bridge. There are inns right along the water, Father, with docks that open right into the city. The defense work will be more arduous than I had thought."
Denethor sat across from his son. "Do the best you can, whilst taking care of yourself. Then return for the ceremony. Your brother expects you there." He smiled warmly. "As do I."
"Will you come to Osgiliath, spend the night?"
"I will stay here tonight, if the lieutenant will not begrudge me a bed, inspect the Rammas in the morning, and then ride back to the City. Húrin can send inspectors to the Harlond."
"Then I will leave you to your rest, Father."
"Would you stay, at least for the daymeal?"
Faramir smiled. "Thank you, Father. I would like that."
"Good." They sat until the daymeal was brought, discussing Boromir's betrothal, the Rammas, Gondor's defenses, and when they finished their meal, they watched the stars before Faramir took his leave.
Denethor rested well that night.
Arthad walked the Citadel, a deep frown upon his face. He had been left behind to prepare for Boromir's next posting. But Denethor's army, under Boromir's direction, was well oiled. In two days' time, the Captain-General's aide had everything planned and ready. So instead of helping guard his captain, he was left to walk the escarpment and wait. His warrior training accepted this, but, on the third day, as Anor broke over the mountains turning the sky into the most brilliant blue imaginable, he broke. He flung his covers from his bed, dressed quickly and ran to the parapet. The Pelennor spread before him, its green fields, little hamlets, sloping hills, and tree-studded lanes spoke of peace and tranquility. Arthad harrumphed. 'Peace and tranquility! I am a warrior. I should not be here; I should be beside my captain.'
Yet, every bit of his training rooted him to the spot. He could not leave Minas Tirith without orders, and they would not come from Boromir. The warrior's eyes sparkled. 'Mayhap I can cajole the Steward into sending me as a messenger!' the man fairly beamed. 'I will offer myself as errand-rider.' He ran back to his rooms, made his bed, suited himself in his livery and walked swiftly to the company's buttery. After eating a quick meal, he strode to the Great Hall. His face fell as he learned that Denethor was in Osgiliath.
Making his way to the armory, he turned a corner and literally ran into Prince Imrahil. "Forgive me, my Lord. I was not watching..."
"You were a thousand leagues away," the prince laughed. "Who were you looking for?"
"The Steward, but I am told he is in Osgiliath."
"He returned late last night. If you wait till the ninth bell, he should be in the Great Hall." Before Arthad had a moment to turn, Imrahil took him by the arm. "You are Boromir's aide, are you not?"
"I am. Arthad, at your service."
"What do you here when your captain is away in Rohan?"
Arthad's proud face fell. "I am preparing for Boromir's trip to the North."
"Ah, yes. To patrol the northern border?"
"Why do you seek the Steward? I am sure you are capable of making the necessary preparations without the Steward's help?"
The man squared his shoulders. "All is prepared and has been for over two days. I am, if I may speak forthrightly, at wit's end. Everything is ready. And I stand here and twiddle my thumbs."
"Hard lot for a warrior," the prince smiled kindly.
The man bowed his head.
"Well, would you mind spending some of that twiddling time at the training grounds with me? Mayhap a little sword practice would take your mind from your troubles?"
"I would most appreciate that, my Lord."
After an hour's thorough battering by the prince, Arthad was exhausted. The man was at least twenty years older than he was and yet, he had held his own. Arthad had to surrender. He not only had held his own, the prince had thoroughly beaten him too many times for Arthad to remember. 'Remember?' Tales of Elves told him by Boromir ran through his memory. If he wanted to, the warrior could say it was by that gift that Imrahil had beaten him, but he knew it was not. Pure skill. The warrior shook his head and offered his arm. "A good drubbing. I see this is why I was left behind. To hone my skills."
"Nay, Arthad. Boromir has told me of your prowess on the field of battle. You have naught to be ashamed of. Mayhap it was my Elven heritage that o'ercame you today?"
The twinkle in the prince's eye made Arthad stop and wonder if perhaps the prince had the same capability of mind reading that the Steward was said to have. He saluted the prince, took the man's weapons and armor, and walked to the bathing area. Depositing these accoutrements and his own, he walked into the bath area. Steam rose; Arthad looked forward to washing the grime of battle from him with pleasure. Though it was still spring, the heat rose from the Pelennor to the upper levels, and had made their practice more strenuous than during the winter months. Imrahil followed him into the large bathing area.
Both men sat for many long minutes, silenced by the feel of the hot water soaking their bruised bodies. At last, Arthad spoke. "It is at least another ten days before Boromir returns. Do you think the Steward might use me as an errand-rider whilst I wait?"
"Does he need errand-riders?"
"Always. Missives must be sent off to all corners of the kingdom. I ride well. I can protect myself if o'ertaken."
"Then ask him today."
The men finished their bath and walked slowly towards the Citadel. "Are you from Minas Tirith, Arthad?"
"I am, my Lord. Born and raised here, on the Fourth Level. My father, Tarcil, was a guard in the Sixth Company."
"Ah. So you know Minas Tirith well?"
"I do, my Lord. Is there aught you need?"
"I would like to purchase a betrothal gift for Boromir. Might you know of a shop where I might find something to the captain's liking?"
The man grinned from ear to ear. "There is a set of vambraces that has caught his eye. A leather worker on the Third Level has made a fine pair, embossed with the White Tree. The man has hidden strips of steel in them for further protection. The captain would be happy to have the pair."
Imrahil slapped the man on the back in delight. "Before we attend the Steward, would you show me the shop?"
Arthad laughed and turned about. Imrahil followed. The walk was not long and soon they were standing in front of a small shop in one of the lesser lanes of the Third Level. The smell was pungent, as it should be, but Arthad put his hand over his nose for a moment to accustom himself. Imrahil followed him in. After much bargaining and much laughter, Imrahil walked from the shop with the vambraces. "This deserves a drink," he said and led Arthad to the Fourth Level. They sat and drank a cup or two of Gondor's finest.
"Boromir will be pleased. He has wanted those for nigh unto six months. He wears his father's, so he was honor bound to keep them, but his heart longed for these."
"You know your captain well. I cannot thank you enough. Boromir is dear to me, as is his brother. I do not see them often enough." The prince shook his head. "We, all of us, are duty-bound, are we not, to leave our own thoughts and needs behind and place Gondor's needs first? It is a hard life that we all lead, but I deem the hardest is lived by the son's of Denethor."
"Nay," the warrior said quietly, "The hardest is lived by Gondor's Steward, for he must be the one to push his sons forward, to offer them in service to Gondor. That is a hard thing for a father to have to do, give his son to Gondor. But doubly assailed is Denethor for he must give both his sons."
Imrahil looked at the soldier in surprise. "My father had to do the same, and his father before him. I am doing the same with my own sons." The look of joy that had filled the prince's face not an hour before had fled. "I do not envy Denethor, for I fear his sense of duty far surpasses mine. I fear he would give everything for Gondor and I am not quite ready to do that. My sons are precious to me."
"His sons are precious to him," the warrior spoke heatedly. "But what course has he but the one he takes? Do not all the men of Gondor give of themselves and of their sons? What recourse have we? The Enemy breathes upon our very necks." Arthad shivered. "It is different in Dol Amroth. You do not see that every time you look up, or out your window, or over your shoulder."
"You are right to chide me. I do not see that mountain every day and what it stands for."
"Nay. Forgive me. Boromir would have my head if he heard me speak such to you, his favored uncle."
"Favored am I?" Imrahil smiled. "He is a most favored nephew. Well, we best be about our business. I have much to do in preparation for Lady Míriel's arrival and you have a request of the Steward."
They toasted Gondor one last time, drained their mugs, then walked to the Citadel.
It was now short of a fortnight when the Lady Míriel was expected to arrive; the Citadel was awhirl in preparations. Húrin swore long and often as he tried to accomplish all the details necessary for such a large event. Not only was the betrothal ceremony to be planned and the Great Hall bedecked in finery, Merethrond had to be decorated, invitations were long overdue, meals must be planned for at least a fortnight, perhaps two, and guests' quarters had to be prepared. Húrin still had no idea how many were coming from Dol Amroth in Lady Míriel's entourage.
Denethor quietly watched and finally came to a decision. Indis was sorely missed. These were the things she did with such flourish. Never a thing wrong, nor out of place, during her time as Steward's council. He sighed heavily but walked away before the Warden caught sight of him. He did not want his cousin to think he intruded, nor think the man was not up to the task. He must find someone else to plan the betrothal and the attendant activities concerning it. Húrin must prepare Gondor for war.
'Perhaps Boromir was right. Perhaps we should have left this go for another year. Preparations for war should take up all our time. But if war comes, as I very much expect, then an heir is of the utmost importance, if only to hide in the hills with its mother whilst Minas Tirith falls.' He swallowed hard at the thought. 'Another thing to prepare, hiding places for my people. Húrin has the evacuation well in hand, but where will they go? Perhaps some shelters should be set up along the River Gilrain. I have asked the lords of the different fiefdoms, from Lossarnach to Anfalas, to prepare to receive our refugees, but there is not enough room in their cities to accommodate the vast number that will be displaced.' He had reached the steps of the Tower now and wondered, but good sense took over. He had not fully recovered from his last time with the stone. He would wait another day, perhaps two, before attempting to see what was happening in Rohan.
He heard the disturbance in the Hall before he saw anyone. A young rider. 'Ah!' he thought happily, 'A rider from Belfalas by the livery he wears. And of the prince's own court. He will be glad to receive this missive.' He walked to his Chair and sat. The messenger strode forward. "I have a missive for Imrahil, Prince of Dol Amroth," the man bowed courteously.
"I will send - "
Imrahil ran into the Great Hall and up to Denethor. "My Lord Steward," he saluted, smiling cheerfully. "O'erlong is the message in coming. If it contains what I think it should, our friend Húrin will be most pleased."
Denethor allowed the message to be given to Imrahil and waited.
"The Lady Míriel will be here by the tenth of April," the prince read aloud. "Ivriniel is accompanying her, as I thought. And my beloved is coming too." A huge grin split Imrahil's face. "It is o'erlong since last we were together."
"My apologies for keeping you so long, but the journey home will be a pleasure, will it not?"
"It will indeed," and Imrahil blushed at the knowing look Denethor gave him.
"Are your quarters sufficient for the both of you? I could move you to the third floor."
"Nay. Sadly, we will not be spending much time in our rooms. The festivities, along with chaperoning Lady Míriel will take much of our time. Oh, my Lord Steward. Here is Arthad, Boromir's aide. He begs a boon from you."
Arthad took a deep breath and stepped forward, saluting his Steward. When Denethor nodded, he began. "I am left here by Captain Boromir to prepare for his next posting. I have completed all my tasks." He paused and looked uncertainly towards Imrahil, who smiled and nodded for him to continue. "I am a warrior, my Lord Steward and chafe at this inactivity. Might I beg a posting as errand-rider until Captain Boromir returns?"
Denethor shook his head. "The Lord Boromir will be returning shortly. I cannot use someone who has only days to give. Though that has given me an idea of how to repay a certain lieutenant at the Forts. Húrin," he motioned and the Warden was at his side in an instant. "There is a Lieutenant Hirgon in charge of the Causeway Forts. He has impressed me with his courage and his sense of duty. I would have him brought back here and made an errand-rider. He has most pleased me."
Húrin nodded and wrote the request in his book.
"As for this young man," Denethor turned once again towards Arthad. "I would have him be your helper for the moment. Put him in charge of the betrothal preparations. If he has so soon prepared himself for Boromir's next posting, then he is adept at planning."
Arthad stepped back in surprise and confusion. "I have not the skills, my Lord."
"You have the skills. Preparing a battalion for war duty is more than will ever be required of you in this posting." A small grin battled for prominence, but Denethor's stern face won out. "Meet with Húrin after nuncheon. He will begin to show you your duties."
Arthad swallowed, saluted and left the Great Hall, his shoulders slumped in defeat.
From that moment on, planning went more smoothly. Denethor and Húrin spent the next few days concentrating on preparations for war.
Five days after leaving Amon Dîn, the weary warriors of Gondor reached the Mering Stream. Boromir motioned for his men to remain behind as he rode forward to seek permission to enter Rohan. It was nigh unto dark, yet the Rohirrim who guarded the border challenged him. Boromir nodded his head in approval. However, approval very quickly turned to anger when his request was denied, with what appeared to Boromir as nary a thought. He bit his lower lip and counted to ten in Quenya.
"I am Boromir, son of Denethor, and Captain-General of Gondor. I would see Marshal Éomer."
"He is not here," the guard said disdainfully, holding his pike tightly to his side whilst three men stood behind him, their bows nocked and ready. "He has been summoned back to Edoras. Now be off with you, unless you have a writ of entry from Théoden King."
Boromir clenched his hand on the pommel of his sword; the gesture, he noted, did not escape the sentry's eyes. "Did Marshal Éomer leave word as to when he would return?"
"I am not privy to his comings and goings. He is the sister-son of the king and under no duty to tell me. Go back to Mundberg. You are not welcome here."
Boromir could take no more. He swung his horse around and rode back to his men, seething all the while.
Guilin, having noted the angry gestures of the guard and his captain, spoke not.
"We camp here for the night," Boromir said without further word.
Guilin ordered the preparations and set the pickets. He shook his head; they had not brought tents, for they stayed at garrisons along the way and had planned on the hospitality of the Rohirrim. He grimaced in a small moment of satisfaction. 'Now, Captain Boromir sees what we have endured these past months!'
'I have four days,' Boromir thought as his mind whirled at this turn of events, 'before I must leave and return to the City. I will wait and hope that Éomer returns quickly. And I will keep my temper else I ask one of my archers to shoot that pretentious guard!'
When morning came, while his men gathered what little supplies they had in preparation for breaking the fast, Boromir wandered away from the camp and found himself by the Mering. His father, brother and he had fished here many times, many times with the King of Rohan and his son and his nephew. All friends and sworn allies until just of late when there was a cooling in the relationship. In fact, Boromir remembered that it was soon after Indis' death in Edoras that the friendship between the king and his father had begun to wane. He lowered his head and tried to remember that time, but the pain had been so great and frightening, especially for Faramir to whom Indis was the closest thing to a mother, for his memories of Finduilas were lost, that Boromir had not the heart to peruse the thought any further.
The river ran higher than normal, for the winter snows were melting off the White Mountains. A picket stood close by; he nodded, and continued. Stopping by the stream, he picked up a stone, fingered it and thought long and hard. He tossed the stone down and walked a little further. His mind was not on Rohan, but Minas Tirith and his father and brother. How weak was Faramir, he worried, and what had happened to his father? Where was his uncle? Imrahil had promised he would watch over Denethor. Of course, he couldn't let his father know he had set his uncle as a nursemaid over the Steward, but if Denethor could not take care of himself in the small things, like eating, then what recourse did he have?
He sighed heavily and picked up another stone. This one was small and smooth to the touch. He smiled and pitched it across the water. Though the current was strong, the stone skipped four times. He laughed out loud and heard an answering snicker from across the stream. Quickly looking up in alarm, he saw a Rohir standing on the opposite side. He took a breath. "Care to join in a contest?" he called in Rohirric.
The horse-lord was surprised at the Gondorian's knowledge of Rohirric, but he smiled and nodded. He held up both hands. Boromir looked around for ten stones. Within moments, he had his arsenal ready. At a nod, the Rohir went first. His stone hit the water smoothly and skipped three times. He bowed and Boromir took his first stone, rubbed it for a moment to rid it of any debris, then flung it sideways. It skipped four times, as his first had done. He smiled and returned the bow. For many moments, both men were consumed with the contest. Boromir was in the lead, but only by one skip. The Rohir had one stone left. Boromir was the last to shoot.
The Rohir's stone hit seven times, easily skimming the stream. Boromir raised an eyebrow. 'Good throw!' He saw the grin split the man's face and smiled. His last stone - and only three skips. He bowed in defeat. The horse-lord smiled warmly, then turned and left. Boromir was once again alone, all his previous concern washing over him stronger than before the brief respite. He laved his face in the cold mountain spring, then turned and looked south towards Amon Anwar - and made his decision.
When he returned to camp, food was laid out. Yesterday's bread and some cheese. He snorted in disgust as the smell of bacon wafted across the Mering. The Rohirrim were eating in style! His anger flared again.
"Guilin!" he called and the man was at his side in an instant. "I am going for a ride into the Firien and then, perhaps, to our outpost at Amon Anwar. We should have camped there last night. At least we would have a passing meal this morning. I will return in time for the daymeal."
Guilin laughed in outright shock. "You would leave without an escort?"
"We are hemmed in by the Rohirrim on our West and our outpost on the North. I will be fine."
"And I will be dead if I allow this," the captain said, his face turning furious. "To allow the Captain-General and heir to traipse about without a guard is treason!"
Boromir looked at the man in surprise, his quick retort quelled by the last word. In truth, he could understand the man's fear. "Very well, we will take one company and leave the other here. We will spend the night at the outpost. I will wait for a rider to bring me news of Éomer's return."
Guilin relaxed as Boromir squatted by the fire and took the proffered meager meal, His Captain-General bit into the hard crust, muttering curses. While Boromir ate, Guilin saddled his horse, then ordered the men to break camp.
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.