44. Third Age 3017 - Part Nine
Boromir stood next to the Chair where his father sat. Both men wore their court attire. Faramir stood behind Boromir, as attendant for his brother. They waited. And still she did not come. Those in attendance in the Great Hall began to stir. Boromir had to bite his lip to keep from laughing. How could he not expect her to be late? She was willful and headstrong. If she wanted to make a grand entrance, then what was it to him? He could not even remember what she looked like. Of course, he knew she had the black hair and gray eyes of those of Númenor, but he could not recall how tall she was; if she was thin or heavy; if she had a long or stubbly nose; or if she was plain or pretty. It did not matter much, he supposed, but he should be able to recognize her. Another laugh had to be stifled. She probably did not remember him. She had other... things on her mind at the time: his brother, his inheritance, his title. He swallowed hard.
The music began. He watched Imrahil and Nerdanel being seated in the front. After them came Míriel, flanked by her father and mother. Her siblings had been seated many moments before. 'Ah! She is fair to look at,' he thought, 'and not too thin nor too heavy. Her nose is good. Her chin,' he again had to stifle a laugh. 'is pointed and proud. Why am I not surprised that she holds it up and out. Stiff and cold.' He swallowed again. 'Time to smile, I suppose.' He bowed to his father and walked forward. He bowed to Galador who handed over Míriel's hand. Boromir placed it in the crook of his arm and turned towards Denethor. They bowed in unison. Denethor stood, his eyes moist, and addressed the company.
"Here stands Boromir of Gondor, son of Denethor, of the line of the House of Húrin. As his father, I, Denethor, son of Ecthelion, approve this union. Are you prepared, Lord Boromir, to plight thy troth to this woman?"
"I do pledge my troth to her."
"Here stands Míriel of Dol Amroth, daughter of Galador, of the line of the House of Imrazôr. As her father, do you approve this union?"
Galador stepped forward, nodded, then stepped back.
"Then so be it. Let us begin the ceremony."
Boromir and Míriel exchanged words promising the union of the two families and objects were passed from hand to hand to symbolize the transfer of possessions: the giving of a ring to Míriel by Boromir; the giving of a coin of the realm to Boromir from Míriel to signify her dowry. Miriel's mother then stepped forward and untied Míriel's hair; Imrahil stepped forward as her liege lord and joined their hands to show his approval. After Denethor spoke the words of binding, Nerdanel, taking the part of Finduilas, crowned the couple with garlands. At last, they shared a kiss. The ceremony was over; only one thing remained - the sharing of a goblet of wine 'in the name of marriage' to seal the espousal.
Faramir stepped in front of Denethor and offered the goblet to Míriel who took it, smiling sweetly and blinking her long eyelashes at Faramir as she tilted the cup to her lips. Suddenly, he realized what she had been about this past week. He blushed furiously and turned to Boromir, a look of horror in his eyes.
Boromir smiled and put his hand on Faramir's shoulder. "I know and trust you, Faramir. Do not be concerned," he whispered.
Faramir nodded, though pain flashed in his eyes. He took the goblet from Míriel, and offered it to Boromir. Their hands touched and Faramir held Boromir's for an instant. "Forgive me," he whispered. "I did not know."
Boromir drank deeply of the cup and returned it to Faramir, a wide smile on his face. "Thank you, little brother."
He stepped up to Denethor to receive the traditional hug. "There, Father. It is done, as you have asked."
The dance was almost over, the guests were beginning to leave, and still, Boromir had not danced with his intended, 'cept for the first dance of the evening. Most of the night, she spent in Faramir's arms, pushed there by Boromir, as he had no intention of exacerbating his wound with strenuous exercise. However, he was surprised and pleased when Nerdanel came to him, looked deep into his eyes, and asked him to dance with her. Boromir nodded, putting on a smile, and took her hand in his.
After a few moments, she steered him to the door leading onto Merethrond's balcony. She found a settee and sat on it, beckoning for Boromir to join her. After he was seated, she held him close. "You are sad for such an evening?"
"Only tired. I should have asked father's permission to retire an hour past. The wound..."
"Is fine. What ails thee?"
Boromir took Nerdanel's hand and gently kissed it. "I heard."
"Wha...? Oh! Dearest Boromir. Not in the garden?"
"I have tried to decide, since yesterday, which hurts more - the wound or the words."
"My beloved nephew. She knows not of what she speaks. Her mother is a caddish woman who taught her daughter only greed and selfishness. But she is young," her eyebrow raised, "and I have made a vow. She will change. She will be kind and good and faithful. I promise, Boromir. In your mother's name, I promise."
"Oh, Aunt. You can make no such promise. Changing a person. It cannot be done. I will live with her, when I am not away on campaigns, and I will give her everything she wants," he swallowed, "but Faramir. And I will give Gondor an heir." He smiled his dazzling smile. "I will bring her to Dol Amroth once a year, and you and I will dance away the nights. What say you to that, beloved aunt?"
She leaned her head against his shoulder and let her tears fall. "I tried to warn Imrahil. He would not listen. She has a pretty face and he is a man and the father of daughters. Perhaps he considers her a daughter too. He does not see her as she is."
"Then I will not see her as she is." He held her close. "I will remember my mother and how she was. I will bring Míriel what happiness I can. Do not look so sad. It is she who will suffer, for she will be alone. I will be out in the field with my men doing the things I love to do. Her only companion will be the child, but the child will be raised by nannies. She will have naught to do. I do not envy her."
Nerdanel wept. "I will beseech the Valar and ask that you be given an heir soon, dearest Boromir. I will love him as my own. As will your uncle."
"And Faramir. I believe the child will be spoiled silly," he laughed quietly. "I assure you, Míriel will not care for him. Only the best and finest woman in Gondor will raise him. I will find her and entrust my son to her. Mayhap it should be Ioreth? Though she is old."
Boromir looked at her in confusion.
"Your father had a woman from Dol Amroth as your nanny."
"Listöwel," Boromir choked. "Beloved. I had forgotten. So dear." Tears spilled.
"Anairë is of our house. A cousin many times removed. Her blood is not pure, but she is a beautiful girl. She would be perfect. I will begin to prepare her. When you have a son, I will send her. She is young and malleable." Nerdanel smiled to herself. "This will be perfect."
Boromir hugged her to him. "Wondrous aunt! Thank you. You ease my heart."
The Citadel was empty except for the guard. A sliver of moon hung in the sky; a faint hint of pink peaked over the mountains. Denethor walked quietly to the keel, placed his hands on the parapet's wall, and looked out upon the Pelennor. A light shone here and there. Farmhands were waking to prepare for the day. He had not slept, for great was his discontent.
He bit his lip. He would not cry. He could not remember the last time he had cried. But his heart ached as fiercely as if she had died this very night. He clenched the wall until his hands burned, but nothing would stay the tears. In deep shame, he let them fall. "Finduilas," he brokenly whispered. "Would that you were here to see your son..." He hated the woman! Oh how he hated this little snip that would hold his Boromir in such contempt! His sobs turned into groans. 'And so, father, it is done as you asked.' He shook; he had enslaved his son to a selfish slut for the sake of Gondor. He was not a fool; he had seen the eyes she made at Faramir. There was no curse foul enough to use as he contemplated this harlot.
"Finduilas," he called again, softly into the night. "I have never asked you to turn your face from the happiness of your new state; I would leave you in peace, but I cannot. If there is some way that you can make right what I have done, do it, my love, for the sake of our son."
Ecthelion stood before him. "All for Gondor, Denethor. Have you forgotten? Is that not our creed, our word, for those of the House of Húrin?" His snarled derision bore through Denethor's heart, as it always had, leaving a gaping hole. " Now you would denigrate our line by taking back your word? You would save Boromir by treachery? I had always thought it possible. I knew your weakness. Ever did I know you. Your heart lacked resolve. Weak I deem you. Nay, I name you coward!"
He almost fell in horror. He was in the Tower, with no memory of walking the stairs, nor opening the door into the chamber. In the Palantír, his father stood in fury, hatred shining from the black eyes that oft looked with contempt upon his son. Denethor clenched his eyes shut, trying desperately not to see that visage in front of him. Still the mocking voice taunted him, reviled him. He tried to pull his hands away from the suddenly hated stone, but they would not obey him. He could not use his full powers to pull away for his heart condemned him, and he must punish himself for what he had done over the years, the times he had failed his father and all of Gondor. And so he let the fear, grief, horror, and guilt wash over him in ever-stronger strokes. He let his father lash him with words that cut into his very being. Words he had heard every time he had stood before the Chair.
He heard a gentle laugh and looked deeper into the stone. His skin prickled and the hairs on the back of his neck rose. He shuddered and took a deep breath. "Curunír? What do you here?"
"I have missed you, son of Ecthelion. Where have you been? What mischief have you been up to? Have you been to the library? I have waited for you. Ah, I see you would dismiss me as inconsequential? That is to my favor. If you think so little of me, you give me leeway to do great damage. You think I am your foe? If you had treated me with respect, had listened to my words, you would be great. You would command all of Gondor and Mordor. I would have helped you. I saw the lonely boy and only tried to give him comfort. Now I will give you pain."
"Nay! You speak lies. You twist me with cunning. I will not listen. Never again will I listen to you."
"You will listen to that nothing? To Mithrandir? He is the one you should fear. Did he not try to put that usurper on the throne? I kept him away. For Gondor. For you. Yet, you think me the foe. I am now. Fear me, Denethor. Fear me and do not cross me."
Denethor shut his eyes, willing the voice away. Too unbearable, that voice. It had sent him into nightmares as a boy and, he realized, he was still not free of the wizard's wiles.
At last, too weary to stand, he crumpled at the base of the plinth, the globe still held in his hands. His mind left him and he wandered in lands he did not know. Lands of blessed peace and fair winds, lands filled with flowers, sweet scented and abundant. None walked these plains and mountains. Only he. 'Is this Valinor? Or mayhap I stand on the island of Númenor?'
She came to him, then. Her black hair shone as it hung full to her waist. Her great gray eyes looked upon him with pity. Never had he seen her so beautiful, never so sad. "I cannot help," she said, tears falling from those great wondrous beloved eyes. "There is no hope for him. You have seen him, have you not, lying dead in a slip of a boat, crashing over the falls."
He screamed as the boat hovered at the lip of Rauros. He held his hands up to hold it back, push it to the shore, and save his son. But his arms were not long enough. They could not reach Boromir. The boat tipped crazily and he hoped, Valar how he hoped that it would not fall, but it did. A never-ending fall. But it did end, the fall ended on the rocks at the base of the falls and the boat split apart and Boromir's body lay broken on a boulder. Boromir was lost. His son was dead.
He woke and found the globe lay next to him, calmed and still for the moment. He looked at it in dismay. "Do you speak the truth? Is what I see real? Or only a shadow of what might be? Tell me!" he screamed, "Tell me!"
Great sobs shook him. "I must trust it. It is a gift from the Elves." His chin shook. "A gift from the Elves for the Faithful. Am I not faithful? Have I not given all? Is not duty my only hope?" He bowed his head as anguish filled him. At last, he swallowed, drew in a deep breath, and picked up the stone. Slowly, reverently, he placed it back on the pedestal and covered it. "I know what I must do."
"I leave for the southern fiefdoms on the morrow."
"I would that I were traveling with you."
"I know. You will be heading north soon?"
Boromir nodded. "Cair Andros and beyond."
"I would that I were traveling with you."
"Take care, little brother."
Faramir swallowed. "I go not into danger."
"I will be careful," Boromir's smile was quick and brilliant. "Though, of late I think we both have not been as careful as we might have been."
"Boromir?" Faramir hesitated. "I love you."
Another brilliant smile and a hug answered him. "I will fare you well in the morning. Do not leave until I arrive. We will meet at the stables?"
"Yes. At the stables."
"Damrod accompanies you?"
"I cannot rid myself of the man. He made some kind of an oath to a certain Captain-General."
Boromir laughed. "And he best keep it."
"Now, go, get you some rest. Father has asked that I join him. Probably a few last minute words." Faramir's smile was genuine. "He still does not trust me. He thinks me a young whelp, not yet ready for battle."
"I wish you were not," Boromir said quietly. "I wish you were still ten and hiding in the library, reading your books."
"I do not! I am glad I am able to help you and father defend Gondor. All the wishing in the world will not give us peace, much as we both would wish it." Faramir sighed. "I have not picked up mother's harp in an age. I fear I have lost the calluses on my fingers. I probably could not play it for more than a few minutes before my hands would hurt."
"And that is to Gondor's shame."
"Nay, it is the way of things for now. Soon," and Faramir's brow rose, "we will have peace. Father plans for it." He laughed. "And he is not one to be scorned nor trifled with."
Boromir let out a great laugh. "Nor crossed!" He hugged Faramir close. "Go to him before he sends someone after you. I hate that most of all, the ignominy of an escort. As if we do not know our way about the Citadel." Another hearty laugh. "I wonder he has not put a collar on us."
Faramir laughed in glee. "Do not even let him hear that. You will give him ideas. I am off. I promise, I will not leave until you bid me farewell."
"Thank you and good night."
Faramir watched as Boromir walked the steps of the Tower. He closed his eyes for a moment, realizing that his words were half in truth. He feared his father did not trust him. Well, there was naught he could do about that now.
He strode purposefully to his father's study, knocked on the heavy oak door, and entered upon command. Denethor stood at his desk, papers strewn about, a decanter of wine and four used glasses at the end, precariously sitting on a silver tray. Faramir stepped forward and moved it to the sideboard.
Denethor looked up. "I am glad to see you prompt."
"I have letters here for all the lords of the fiefdoms you will visit. Here is a map that shows the towns I want you to stop at. I have a purse here," he opened a drawer and pulled out a heavy leather purse and placed it next to the rolled maps. "There is enough to keep you till Dol Amroth. Adrahil will give you more for your return trip. Procure yourself a new horse whilst you are there. His are rugged little creatures with great stamina. You will need such a one for, once you return, you will be stationed at Henneth-Annûn. A smaller horse, not that great stallion you ride, will be more appropriate for the hill country. Take your sword and your horn."
Faramir listened as Denethor rambled on. He did not understand the small details that Denethor laid upon him. They had already discussed his route, the horse, the maps. He knew enough to take his sword and horn. Still, his father seemed to need to list these things.
At last, Denethor looked him full in the face. "I do not send you easily. You have only recently recovered from your wounds. If I did not deem the mission of such import, you would stay here. As would your brother. In fact, I must keep him here for at least another month, to let the wound heal. But it will not be healed in time. He will still carry it into duty and battle. I think you will not. I... I hope our southern realm will remain quiet for many years to come."
"With the men you have trained, and Belfalas behind us, the southern fiefdoms will be spared."
Denethor's eyes searched his. "You will... Ah, Faramir. I am concerned. I rue the day..."
"Father. I will do you proud. I promise. I will bring trust to our men and to those of the fiefdoms. The lords will respond to your call. Men will be sent, and coin. I will not disappoint you."
"Nay, you will not. I expect you back before Mettarë. Míriel and her entourage will be here. As will your uncle. Boromir will also be here for the festival. It is part of the agreement with Galador."
Faramir nodded. "Father," he hesitated a moment. "When Mithrandir comes, would you treat him civilly?"
Some sense of rebellion stirred in Denethor's heart. "I will, Faramir. In fact, I intend to listen quite closely to all he might say."
Faramir's face lit in wonder. "I would hope he would still be here when I return?"
"I will try to hold him for a time. Mayhap if I tell him you will return, he will wait."
"Mayhap, but I am of no consequence to him."
"I think all of the House of Húrin are of consequence to him, Faramir. I will not see you away on the morrow. There is a Council. Come, farewell me now."
Faramir stepped into Denethor's arms. He felt the warmth of his father's embrace and wondered.
"Hurry home and with good news, my son."
"It is already warm enough to melt stone," Boromir complained heartily. "Would that I were going with you. The sea air will be cool. And the women will be beautiful."
Faramir laughed aloud. "You already have one woman waiting for you, Boromir. Would you have them all?"
"I am sorry," Faramir breathed heartily. "I did not mean... I will stay away from her, I promise."
"Faramir, Faramir. Do not be concerned. Aunt Nerdanel has promised she will watch over her like a hawk. Miriel will not dare to come near you. I think even her father has been warned."
Faramir's brow was creased.
"Faramir! Do not be concerned. I know you. I know your heart. You are purity itself. I think you must have received this gift from mother."
"I do not remember her."
"I do. As I have always told you, you are made in her likeness. Sweet and gentle, kind and good of heart. Do not let that woman get her nails into you. She would use you."
"I told you - I intend to stay far away from her."
"But whilst you are in Dol Amroth, have some fun. There will be none here until you return. I would like that image in my mind's eye. Of you enjoying yourself on this trip. Would you do that for me, Faramir? Would you enjoy yourself?"
"I will try," Faramir laughed.
"I have something for you." Boromir turned and pulled a package from the stall behind them. "It should make the nights seem less dark."
The paper fell and Faramir's hands shook as he beheld the traveler's harp. "Boromir!" He swallowed hard. "It is beautiful." He grabbed his brother in a fierce hug. "Thank you!" He hung it on his saddle using the silk baldric that wrapped around its neck, jumped upon his horse, and saluted. "Thank you," he whispered as tears glistened; he rode away.
Boromir waved, but Faramir did not look back. Smiling, Boromir walked back towards the Tower.
He sat with Faramir's report splayed across his knees. No one could call his youngest son long-winded, for his reports were concise - but the detail! If any other had submitted this report, it would have filled one page, at the most, two. But Faramir. Denethor smiled. He counted the pages once again. Six. He sighed and began to read. A light knock on his door. He hardly looked up so absorbed was he. Arthad coughed. Denethor nodded.
"Boromir is here to see you."
"Send him in! Send him in!" He took the report and pushed the pages together. Placing it on the desk before him, he stood and hugged his eldest. "I was nigh unto faint with hunger, waiting for you to come. Arthad!" he called, "Have the meal served now." He walked Boromir through the door into his dining area.
"Have you heard from Faramir?"
"I have. The report sits on my desk. We will read it together."
They passed the meal pleasantly, as was their wont. The breaking of their fast together had become a daily ritual after Faramir went south. Long discussions, mostly about defenses, allies, and battle strategy, filled the two hours Denethor allotted for them each day. After the repast, they retired to Denethor's private study. He poured them both light wine, then offered Boromir Faramir's report.
"Read it aloud, please."
"My Lord Steward," Boromir began, a wry smile upon his face.
After an hour of reading, being interrupted, answering questions, and throwing out thoughts in response to the report, Boromir finished. Denethor sat back and Boromir smiled. He had sat on the edge of his seat as he read and he noted his father had also. "Faramir's reports are not dull." He burst out laughing.
Denethor smiled and took a sip of his drink. "They are not. Nor are they short. But he has told me all I need to know. I look forward to his report on Dol Amroth."
"Father. I would be away. I feel strong. I am chaffing at the bit. As are my men. I need action."
"Argon has not given his permission." Denethor did not want these mornings to end. He had forgotten how much he enjoyed Boromir's company. After all these years, he respected his son and he knew his son respected him. None other spoke to him so plainly.
"Arthad," the man entered. "Ask the Master Healer to attend me." The man nodded and left.
"Thank you, Father."
Silence attended the room. Boromir thought of Faramir and how much he missed him; Denethor thought of Boromir and how much he would miss him.
"Has aught been heard of the wizard?"
Denethor's head snapped up. "Are you waiting for him? I did not know you looked forward to his visit."
"I do. I cannot remember the last time he was here. He travels in far wider circles than we. Last time he was here, he told Faramir and me about an..."
"An Elven stronghold far west of Rohan, by the sea. How many Elves do you think still live in Middle-earth, Father? There cannot be many. None are ever seen."
"I would think I was talking to Faramir. When have Elves been of concern to you?"
"Mother was of Elven-kind, was she not?"
"You have been thinking of your mother?" Denethor asked quietly.
"Aunt Nerdanel and I spoke of her at the betrothal ball. I do not usually give much thought to her anymore, I am sorry to say."
Denethor stood and walked to the fire, looked at the portrait above the mantel, and sighed. "She was a lovely woman." He began to smile, and the smile turned to a small chuckle. "Your adadhron did not much care for Elves. It was difficult persuading him to allow the marriage. Thoron..." He stopped, clenching his teeth.
Denethor swallowed the last of the wine and put his glass down. "Thorongil. I am sure you have heard of his exploits? Do you remember him?"
"I have. Most warriors of Gondor have been taught his battle strategies. And I do remember, but scarcely."
Denethor looked up in surprise. "Battle strategies?"
"Yes. Ones for the defense of Osgiliath. Mostly, we are taught what he did to the Corsairs."
Denethor laughed bitterly "Of course."
"You must have known him well, Father. What was he really like?"
"I must be speaking with Faramir. These are questions he might ask."
Boromir stopped and bit his lip. The tone was one he was well familiar with. Naught further would he hear about Captain Thorongil. "Are there many Elves left?"
"Do you wish to see one?"
Boromir had the grace to blush. "Ever since Faramir saw the one at Edhellond. It would be interesting. Might Faramir see another whilst he is in Dol Amroth?"
"Did he say he was going west from there?" At Boromir's nod, Denethor shrugged. "Then he very well might. If he passes through Edhellond."
"I heard there are Elves on the road to Dale."
"You have heard the stories, Boromir. I do not deem it a place you would wish to find yourself. I suggest, when you are guarding our northern border, that you stay away from there."
Boromir smiled. "I think my duties will be such that I will find no time for such a sortie."
"There is much to be done..." The alarm horns interrupted him.
A knock and Arthad entered. "A missive from the Tower Watch, my Lord."
Denethor nodded and opened it. "Smoke to the north of us. Beyond Forannest." He turned to Arthad. "Is this the only missive you have?"
"It is, my Lord Steward."
"Then we will go to my public study. If any bring word here, have them directed there. Boromir," his son stood, "Go to my study and wait for me. I must do something first." Boromir nodded and left, tucking a sweet roll or two into his pockets from their leftover meal.
Denethor quickly climbed the stairs. There had been no movement in the last few weeks. Could this fire be a natural occurrence? Had a farmer let a field clearing grow out of hand? He locked the door behind him and pulled the sheath. No time to prepare himself. He took a deep breath and placed his hands on either side; the globe wakened.
'Fire!' He wanted to cry at the destruction. Their desperately needed fields of grain were ablaze. One. Two. Six. Six fields lost! How could... He saw them as they lumbered back towards the Emyn Muil. They were driving horses and livestock before them. Orcs! Not a large band either, but large enough to do serious damage to Gondor's winter food supply. The new storage buildings would not be filled this year. 'May Morgoth rot in the Void!' He turned his eyes back to the flaming fields. As he narrowed his vision, he could see the dead bodies littering entranceways and the ground around the farms. 'Not only our precious grain, but men I had hoped to have as reserve for my army. A doubly hard blow this day!' He searched further north, then west and east, but there was naught to be seen. He covered the stone and walked slowly down the steps. 'How many women and children?'
As he entered his study, Boromir stepped forward with three missives in his hand. "You probably know already, Father. Six farms attacked. There were no survivors. May I follow those who did this? At least, have Gondor's revenge if naught else?"
"Yes. Take the three companies you have prepared. I will write to the captains at Amon Dîn and Cair Andros. They are to give you more men from their garrisons, if the need arises."
"I would travel with as few as possible, Father. Too many and I lose speed. Orcs travel slowly. We might be able to catch them."
"Nay. The fires are burnt low. They attacked before dawn, as is their way. They are almost to the Emyn Muil. But they will return. You will have time, once you reach Cair Andros, to plan. I will do everything I can to watch for you, but even I cannot watch constantly, as evidenced by today's attack."
He sat heavily at his desk and motioned to Arthad. "Ask Húrin to come to me. And an errand-rider." He waited a moment. "Boromir, I must speak with Argon. I cannot let you go if you are not healed."
"Father." Boromir took a deep breath. "I have been injured before, as have you. I know my own body. It is ready. Another week before we ride out from Cair Andros on patrol and I will be ready. I have been training and my arm is near as strong as before my wounding." He smiled. "I would say do not concern yourself, though I know you will. But I will be ready by the time I take my men into the field."
"Very well. You will be gone for at least three months. I had hoped to have you return to the City at Loëndë, but it would be impractical. I do not want you riding unnecessarily. At your last examination, Argon thought you would be fully healed by that time, but I would not strain a stomach wound. They can be delicate. Go. I must spend time with Húrin. A patrol must be sent to bury our dead. Boromir," he stood and hugged his son, "I bid you fare well, my son."
Boromir returned the embrace but did not leave. "One more thing, Father? I would take Arthad with me. He was my aide before you pilfered him from me."
Denethor smiled and nodded as the errand-rider entered. Boromir saluted, took Arthad by the arm, and left the room. Denethor quickly wrote two missives, sealed them and sent the errand-rider to Amon Dîn and Cair Andros, apprising them of Boromir's arrival. When he was once again alone, he closed his eyes, but only a moment later, Húrin knocked and entered. Amlaith entered behind him, sent by Boromir.
Húrin nodded and took the proffered drink. When Denethor had finished describing the latest attack, he asked, "How many companies should I send? Those who bury the dead will need protection. Which captain will you send?"
"I once sent for Hirgon from the Causeway Forts, but he has never appeared. Might you have a reason for this?"
"The only reason can be that the missive was never received."
"Hm. If I send a note now, by the time the burial detail is ready, he should be here. He will take the detail. Our need for captains outweighs our supply. He will take a company or two of our knights from the Tower Guard for protection. With Boromir's troops riding in the same direction, the Orcs will stay away. Also, daylight protects our men, for the nonce."
He wrote the orders in his study and handed them to Amlaith. "Make sure these are sent. Watch until the rider leaves the Citadel."
"They will be finished in one day's time?" Húrin continued.
"I believe so. Only six farms after all. How many would that be? The farmer and his wife and their children, plus a few helpers. Probably only eight or so per farm, if that. The graves will be common ones. There is no time for individual burial."
"Of course," Húrin shuddered.
"Now, we must speak of Amon Dîn. This is the closest attack we have had in my memory. Therefore, I must deploy more men to that garrison. With the men lost at the Firien, the garrison is vulnerable. It is a hard blow, knowing Guilin is dead. Baranor is stationed there, is he not?"
"He is, my Lord." Húrin coughed in distress.
"He has served many years, my Lord. In normal times, he would have been long retired."
Denethor grimaced. "Yes. In normal times. His son is stationed at the Causeway Forts, is he not?"
"He is. A lieutenant also in that company."
"I will promote him and send him to Amon Dîn. If he is anything like his father he will do well. Bring Baranor home. Give him his rest. Mayhap, he can train some of Gondor's esquires."
"It will be done. Beregond will be made captain of Amon Dîn."
Morning came and with it, an unexpected visitor. Denethor could wait no longer. After nuncheon, he summoned the guest.
He began to put the 'Kings and Stewards' pieces away. "It will be long before I will play this again."
"I know the game."
Denethor stopped. He looked at the wizard in surprise. "So, they play this where you are from?"
"It goes by other names, but it is played in many places. A good game to learn strategy - battle and otherwise."
Denethor nodded and put the pieces back on the board. "Both Boromir and Faramir enjoy the game. For different reasons. Obviously."
Mithrandir smiled. "Indeed." He held his pipe before him. "May I?"
Denethor nodded. "Your 'indeed' - you find their playing styles different? Or them?"
Mithrandir chuckled. "You know the answer to that question."
"I did not know you know Boromir."
"I keep my eyes open."
Denethor's smile was taut. "I have noted."
Mithrandir chuckled again. "As do you."
This time, Denethor's smile was more genuine. "Why did you come back?"
"Why did you send for me?"
Denethor took a deep breath, walked to the sideboard, and poured two glasses. He turned and offered one to the wizard, then took a sip. "Cherry brandy from Lebennin, as yet untouched by the blight."
Denethor sat at his desk. He unrolled a map and motioned for the wizard to join him.
Mithrandir lit his pipe and then carried his glass with him.
"When I was in Ithilien, back in '39, there was a blight upon many of the plants. Faramir reports that it is now spread from a few to almost all. There was a particular iris field that I was fond of. In '39, the blight only touched the outer plants. This past year, the field was gone. Wiped out. I gave Faramir specific directions. It was not that he could not find the field or the plants; they were gone. Reports now come to me that plants in Lebennin and Lossarnach have been like infected. Have you noted this elsewhere?"
"You call me to Minas Tirith to discuss plants?" Mithrandir's voice was low but light.
"It is not natural. I have never seen its like. My archivists have searched the Great Library and find no mention of such a blight. It is not only confined to one form of plant; it affects all. It has no favorites. And yet, you look at me askance. As if I waste your time upon a triviality. This affects our food crops also."
"Denethor. That is well and good, but it is not the reason you asked me here." He walked back to the settle, relit his pipe, and took another sip of the brandy. "It is very good."
Denethor stood in stony silence. At last, he said, "'Twill probably be the last bottle." He walked over and sat in the chair on Mithrandir's right. "When last you were here, you spent much time in the archives. Did you find aught of value?"
"I always find things of interest in the Great Library."
"I have spent much time there myself, especially as of late. I have found the scrolls of the kings particularly... interesting."
Mithrandir took a puff but did not respond.
"I followed both lines."
Still silence. By this time, Denethor was beginning to tire of the game. "I have other duties that I must now attend to. Would you join me for a game of 'Kings and Stewards' after the daymeal?"
Mithrandir nodded, finished his drink and left.
Denethor sat back, his fingers steepled, a small smile upon his face.
A knock on the door and he stood and walked back to his desk. He called enter whilst folding the map. "Húrin! Have you found anything out?"
"My Lord Steward. It seems indeed to be treachery. I cannot believe it would be Arthad though."
"Ah, tell me what you have found."
"The riders received their missives from Arthad, then took them to their lieutenant. Wait. Let me begin with him. Tarostar is a lieutenant in the Errand-Riders Company. He was in charge of missives until he was injured in a questionable accident. Arthad, after he finished preparations for Boromir's betrothal, needed something to keep him busy. I have not seen many with such drive, except perhaps Boromir. Well, be that as it may, the men did not readily accept Arthad. Nevertheless, the man took great diligence in discharging his duties, as I have seen him do in all he puts his hand to. The men took their missives from Arthad, took them to Tarostar who approved them and then sent the riders on their way. The same thing happened with missives coming into Minas Tirith. They gave them to Tarostar, who passed them on to Arthad."
Denethor scowled. "Have you found anything... different about Tarostar and his relationships with his men?"
"There are rumors, Denethor. Nasty rumors, but I could not verify them."
"Threats that seem to have been carried through upon the men..." Húrin squirmed, "and upon their families."
"How long now?"
"At least a year, perhaps a little more. Tarostar has been in charge of missives for two years."
Denethor took a last swig of the brandy. "Forgive me. Would you like some?"
"If I may. I find this distressing."
Denethor motioned and Húrin went to the sideboard, pouring himself a full glass. He turned to Denethor and brought the bottle with him. He poured Denethor more. He put his hand on Denethor's shoulder. "I do not like this one bit. I do not know how it happened that none knew of this."
"How is Arthad involved and why are the missives missing?"
"Because Tarostar thought Arthad had permanently taken his position, if my guess is right, and was trying to discredit him."
Denethor drank the contents of the glass. "Treachery indeed. He cared not about his fellow soldiers? Put them at peril by withholding information?"
"It seems so."
Denethor's face blazed. "Arthad is now with Boromir. Who is in charge of the missives?"
"And none are now missing."
"What punishment do you deem appropriate?"
"Drum him out of the service of Gondor."
"I think more is needed."
Húrin paled. "Hanging?"
"It would seem so."
"My Lord Denethor," Húrin tried to clear his throat. "I know what he... It is fair."
"Mayhap, Húrin, Boromir would not have been attacked if such missives had not gone astray. I must have proof though. I will not hang a man without proof."
"I will obtain it, my Lord." He swallowed the rest of his drink, saluted and left.
Denethor sat heavily in his chair. 'It is the lies again. Do I hang a man for listening to the lies of the Enemy?' He put his head in his hands and massaged his temples. 'I will wait for proof. Then, I must. I must.'
After an hour with the Palantír, he walked to the parapet and looked northward. 'Boromir,' he thought. 'How fare you this day? I have seen things. War is coming to you. How do I ensure that you will get the missive? Ah! Hirgon.' He turned and walked back to the Tower. His aide stepped forward. "I sent a rider to the Causeway Forts with new orders for Lieutenant Hirgon. Has he reported?"
Amlaith shook his head. "Not yet, my Lord."
"Send for the Warden of the Keys."
The man saluted and left. The door remained open and Denethor scowled.
After only a short time, Húrin looked through the door. "It remains open?"
"My aide." He grimaced. "Húrin, Boromir is not happy with the aides I have had these past three years. Since I let Berelach... since I promoted Berelach, I am at a loss. Amlaith is my third in these three years. Is there any that you would suggest?"
"Belegorn, my Lord," Húrin said quickly. "A good man. From the line of Húrin, but long has the family lived in Linhir. The boy became a knight about three years ago. He is stationed at Amon Anwar under Captain Mardil. I have heard only good reports of him, for someone stationed at such a distant outpost."
"Bring him to me. His father. What is his name?"
Húrin blushed. "Gwathmor."
"He was born lame, my Lord Steward. He never served."
"How did his son...?"
"Prince Imrahil loved his father. I know not how they met."
"I see. If Imrahil thought well of his father, then who am I to question that. Send him to me. But first, there is a band of Easterlings headed west. Right into Boromir's path. Begin the process of finding men for me, Húrin. I must send a battalion, at least. I still await Hirgon."
"I will look into that also, my Lord. He should be here shortly." Húrin saluted and left.
Denethor sat once more and poured another glass of brandy. Anor was close to setting and he had accomplished naught this day. He twirled the glass in his hand. 'I wonder what father would have done if I had been born lame? Or the wizard, would he have put Thorongil on the Throne... Why did Thorongil leave when he had Ecthelion in the palm of his hand? And where is he now? Long lost. I had him in my sights at the beginning of this year, and lo, the year is almost ended.' He put down the glass and rubbed his forehead again. A nasty head ache loomed. He closed his eyes and yearned for Boromir to return. 'Morgoth's breath!' he swore, 'I must send a battalion north. But where will I get the men?"
He walked the stairs to the Tower room. The Palantír waited for him. He had just looked this morning. He opened his mind to it again and discovered the Easterlings he had seen had not traveled far. A large contingent. He furrowed his brow. 'They are headed towards the Emyn Muil. Towards Boromir. I was right. There will be another battle and soon. I must gather my forces and send them north to Boromir. He will know what to do.' He looked towards the Emyn Muil, but found no movement. Slowly, he worked the stone back south towards Ithilien. There was no activity there either. It had only been eight months since the last battle. Winter would be upon the Emyn Muil in six short weeks. The Enemy must think them weak indeed if He sent another sortie against them. 'But of course, he thinks us weak. And we are.' He put the globe down and walked back to his study. Mithrandir stood outside the door. Denethor silently sighed.
Arthad thought how good it was to be riding once again at Boromir's side. Though their mission was grave, Boromir's mood infected the entire troop. He was definitely happy to be once again heading towards battle. They stopped at Amon Dîn for the night; Boromir wanted to inspect the damage to Anórien, but he would not disobey his father. The next morning, he led his men across the Anduin and onto the island of Cair Andros. As he swung down from his saddle, he grinned. "Captain Hador! It is good to see you again. I am most grateful you and your men made it back after our last sortie."
"As am I to see you, Captain Boromir. How fares your brother?"
"He is well and on a mission to the southern fiefs. Come; let us discuss your garrison. I have read the daily reports. All seems well here."
They entered the captain's quarters and Boromir sat in his old chair. Hador brought out goblets and filled them with wine. "I expect you are parched?"
"I am. Thank you." He sighed heavily as he sat back, then grimaced in pain.
"So," Hador said quietly. "The reports are true. You were injured."
"Not in Ithilien. In the Firien Woods near Rohan. Orcs. I am almost mended."
"Yet your father sends you out, wounded? The need must be great. Is there another foray by the enemy into our lands?"
"There has been. Did you see the smoke yesterday morn?"
"We all did. And wondered."
"Orcs attacked six farms, destroyed the fields and took the horses and livestock."
Hador sat heavily in his own chair and downed the wine. "I was afraid it was something like that. Too much smoke for a swithen fire gone astray. When do we follow them?"
Boromir smiled. "You are a man after my own heart. However, our orders are not to follow them, but to wait for their return. Which means patrols. I have three companies with me. Only the best men. Some Rangers even. I will send each company out towards our border. I will command one. Arthad will command another. And Anborn will lead the Rangers."
"I stay behind?"
"I am afraid so."
"I do not know this man, Anborn."
"He is a Ranger from Henneth-Annûn. Faramir thinks he has promise and asked me to watch o'er him whilst he is gone."
"You begin the patrols on the morrow?"
"Nay. Now. My men are ready. I have maps of Ithilien, the Nindalf and the northern borders. We will set up a permanent camp by the outpost at the base of Rauros. We will then split up and patrol Gondor's border."
"So be it. But first, you must eat. It will only take a few moments. Nuncheon is prepared."
The meal was halfway complete when Arthad knocked and asked for entry. Hador granted it.
"The men are saddled and ready, Captain. They have eaten." He looked at Boromir and smiled. "Would it be best if we waited a bit?"
"Nay!" Boromir laughed. "I can eat whilst riding. You know me better. Let us away." He bid Hador farewell and mounted. A smile lit his face and his men were heartened, though they knew they would live in peril for the next few months. A warrior started a song and the rest of Boromir's company quickly joined in.
Hador smiled and saluted.
"Faramir!" Imrahil's warm embrace heartened him. "It is good to see you again. I had given up hope."
"You? Never, Uncle."
"Are you well? Should you have taken this trip?"
"Denethor has allotted a goodly amount of time, therefore, we have progressed slowly. According to Agron, I am healed."
"I will believe that once my own healers examine you."
"They will not. I admit I am tired. But we have come a long distance."
"Then come with me. I have a meal ready. My guard, as ever, found it extremely easy to note your progress."
Faramir laughed. "Uncle," he turned and moved Damrod forward. "This is my aide, Damrod. I believe you met him in Minas Tirith. Would you see that he has quarters near mine?"
"The wet nurse Boromir gave you," Imrahil whispered.
"Yes." Faramir smiled. "The same. Though he is become a good friend and companion. If I do not have him quartered near me, he will sleep on the floor in front of my door."
Imrahil raised an eyebrow.
"It is true. He did it in Osgiliath."
Imrahil shook his head. "Well, let us to your rooms so you can refresh yourselves. I expect to see you for the daymeal."
"We will be there. Uncle," Faramir paused. "Are... may I visit mother's garden?"
"You never have to ask, Faramir. The flowers trip over each other, they grow so abundantly. I believe there is Elven magic in that place. I will not require you this afternoon."
He was indeed very tired. In fact, he had not told his uncle that he was recovering from a fever. The company had had to stop in Tarnost for a week whilst he fought it. Damrod had been close to ending their mission, but the fever had finally passed. He bathed and rested but an hour. He needed to spend time on her terrace overlooking the Bay.
The garden was beautiful. A small smile graced his face. 'I know you are not here, Nana, but I wanted to present myself well.' A soft, gentle breeze lifted the unruly hair that always fell upon his brow. The bench he chose looked out upon the sea. He took in a few deep breaths and then began to hum one of her lullabies. Boromir had sung them oft enough, when first they found themselves alone. Father could not, or would not spend much time with them, those first years. He felt a light, gentle hand on his shoulder and held his breath, hoping beyond hope that it was some manifestation of his naneth. Shivering slightly, he called out, "Nana." A faint laugh. "Ah, Nana, you tease me."
"I had not meant to tease, more to seduce."
He jumped to his feet and almost stumbled in his haste to move away from her. "Míriel! What are...? Why are...? How...?"
She laughed lightly. "I am very glad to see my presence affects you so greatly." She moved forward.
He jumped back, three paces. "I have... An illness... Just getting over a fever..."
She laughed again, this time low and lustful. "You are most welcome to come to my home. I have some wonderful treatments that would strengthen you, heal you, with just a touch." The last words were spoken in a whisper.
He shook his head. "No need. Prince Imrahil... his healer will look after me."
She stepped closer; he fell over the bench. She giggled and knelt beside him. "You realize there are not many I would sacrifice my beautiful dress for. The grass will stain it. But that is of no consequence." She tried to run her hand through his hair, but he jerked his head aside, and hit it on the base of the bench. "Oh, my poor, handsome Faramir. You are all awash at seeing me again, are you not? Well, we will spend our time together and you will become accustomed to my flirtations."
A vicious curse crossed her lips, then she purred. "I will see you later tonight? You know where my father's manor is." She bent lower and kissed his lips. He pulled away, but she tangled her fingers in his hair and pulled him closer. He shuddered and pulled further back. She laughed and stood.
"He is here, soldier. I will leave him to you."
Damrod watched her walk away and noted how her hips swung, tantalizingly. "Wench," he whispered, then ran to Faramir's side.
"Where are you hurt? What did she do?"
"I tried to get away from her and fell and bashed my head into the bench." Faramir pulled his bloodied hand away and sighed. "Now I really must see uncle's healer."
Imrahil's anger was palpable. Never had he given permission for her to visit that wing of the palace. And for her to sully his sister's garden. He paced his study, waiting for the healer's report.
"It is nothing," Faramir strode into his uncle's study, Damrod close behind. "Just a scratch. Head wounds tend to bleed freely. I am well," he answered his uncle's unasked question. "I am sorry this happened here. By rights, I should have spoken to her myself, ended it in Minas Tirith."
"I spoke with her father," Imrahil's brow rose. "I spoke quite pointedly. He will hear of this and he will be reprimanded. A father is culpable for his daughter!"
"She is very young and was not asked."
"It makes no difference. She is a Swan. I will banish the whole family to Ras Morthil, to the town of Athrad. If we are fortunate, she will become food for the Woses who still dwell in that land!"
Faramir smiled. "Uncle, I think that a little rash. She is impetuous."
"She is a strumpet, a harlot!"
"She is a young girl who found herself in a place not of her choosing with a man who frightens her. Obviously, she felt no fear with me."
Imrahil took Faramir's arm and led him to a chair. He motioned for Damrod to sit also, but the Ranger shook his head, positioning himself directly behind Faramir. "Take this," he offered a glass of wine, "it will help settle you."
Faramir smiled warmly. He did not quite think he needed anything to settle him, but if his uncle needed to offer something, then he would accept. He reached for the proffered glass, but before he could take it, Galador stormed into the room. Imrahil looked up in surprise. Galador's look was fey. His eyes swung wildly about the room, then rested upon Faramir. The Swan Lord strode swiftly towards Denethor's son. At the last moment, he drew a dirk and lunged forward.
A/N - 1) A swithen is the old Norse name for swidden - a cultivation process used to clear land of vegetation, sometimes for deforestation, sometimes for crops. Produces ash that raises Ph in the soil. Though both uses found at dictionary.com are nouns, I have found the word used as an adjective. http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/swidden
2) The town of Athrad on the River Lefnui in Ras Morthil is from the Sindarin for crossing. Tolkien did not give a name for a town in that area of Middle-earth. http://home.netcom.com/~heensle/lang/elvish/sindarin/engsind.html In fact, the place was pretty much desolate... "The Men of Gondor did not make any settlements in Druwaith Iaur, although they did maintain beacons and a coast guard at the end of Andrast." http://www.tuckborough.net/lands.html#Druwaith-Iaur Also, There was a Sarn Athrad in Beleriand too, and in his appendix to The Silmarillion Christopher Tolkien glossed the first member of the name thus: "sarn '(small) stone' in Sarn Athrad . . . ; also in Sarn Gebir ('stone-spikes': ceber, plural cebir 'stakes'), rapids in the river Anduin." http://www.forodrim.org/daeron/md_plur.html
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.