7. Third Age 2945
Change was all about him. Thengel and Morwen were living on the Sixth Level very close to the house of Ingold. Indis was turning into a proper lady of Gondor. Almiel was ever closer to Turgon in his hour of need. Osgiliath had a new captain, Húrin, who was loyal to Ecthelion and upheld his views of Gondor's fortifications. Yet, the walls of the city crumbled bit by bit, the people did not produce young, and the defenses were not attended to during Turgon's Stewardship. All of this Denethor could see every day as he rode his horse out on patrol with Captain Thengel and his company. His heart was heavy as was his father's.
Thengel knew this and devised a plan to lighten Denethor's mood, if for only a few days. They would take their horses south towards Lossarnach. He would bring Morwen with him. They would stop at her father's home and he would leave her there for a much needed visit. Then, the plan would take hold.
"There is need for me here, Thengel. I do not have time for an extended trip," Denethor had protested. Then, there was the matter of the nightmares. Alone, in his own room, no one heard his screams. When they would go on overnight patrols, he devised ways to always take the first watch. When he was relieved from duty, he left camp and found some out of the way place to sleep, schooling himself to wake before the rest of the camp would. What would he do now?
"I myself am most ready for any kind of a jaunt that does not involve patrol," laughed Amdir. "I am most heartily sick of these daily patrols and would accept any kind of diversion." Amdir had been taken into Thengel's confidence and knew what the trip portended.
"Permission has been granted by your father," Thengel stated flatly, "and we are going. Besides, I have heard of possible warg attacks in the foothills of Mindolluin and would make inquiries of those in the area. We will take a half company and investigate."
"Wargs!" said Denethor. "Father has spoken of no such happenings. Have injuries been reported? What damage has been done?" Wargs had never been seen in South Gondor. They were known to be in Rohan. Perhaps some had come over the White Mountains? He was immediately concerned and now, naught could keep him from this outing.
There was an air of excitement around Thengel and Amdir that Denethor could not fathom. His heart was troubled by the reports of wargs and he could not rest, nor smile. Yet the two of them were almost delirious with joy. Denethor imagined that Thengel's joy was from being able to spend time riding next to 'His Lady' as he called Morwen. But what was Amdir so happy about? And another thing, why was Thengel even taking Morwen? If there were danger near Lossarnach, why would he bring her? True, her family was there and she had not seen them since the wedding, but still... Once or twice Denethor saw smiles shared by the two men. Something was afoot, he was sure. But what?
The ride was long and uneventful. The early spring sun was hidden by the White Mountains; the chill made Denethor glad he had wrapped himself in the warm cloak of his rank. It was new and he was most proud of it. He had been promoted to lieutenant just this past month and the thrill was still upon him. Thengel appreciated his skills as soldier and diplomat. The long years of studying and training were bearing fruit. Amdir also had finally been commissioned as a lieutenant and assigned to Thengel's Horse Guards. Denethor was stunned when he saw the beautiful sword presented to his friend by Ingold and Elleth. It must have taken many years to save for such a weapon. He clapped Amdir on the back in appreciation and complimented Captain Ingold on the fine sword.
Morwen's village in Lossarnach was more than eleven leagues from the City. They rose early and rode hard. Finally, Thengel called a halt. Indis had instructed the kitchen to make a hearty repast for them and had packed it herself. They would need all their strength, especially to combat the spring winds they would encounter as they turned west towards Lossarnach; Mount Mindolluin and the Ephel Dúath, had protected them thus far in their journey.
Thankfully, though there was now no discernable road, another telling instance of Gondor's fall into disrepair, the land itself was soft with rolling grasslands. This part of the foothills was not covered with stones and deep gullies as the northern side was. Farmers were in their fields preparing the soil for their spring crops. Cows, pigs and sheep were apparent everywhere. The ravages of war had been kept from Lossarnach. Since this was the breadbasket of Gondor, it had been most necessary to guard it at all costs. Denethor wished Indis could be here to see the flowers. Spring lay rampant on the land of Lossarnach; she would so love to see the wealth of flowers.
Morwen's village was situated on the banks of the River Erui. As the party approached, her family came out, smiling faces on these swarthy men of Gondor. Morwen started to dismount, but Thengel was there and offered his hand. He was still madly in love with his fair wife and never hesitated to show it. Denethor smiled. Being motherless, he had no training in how to treat a wife. He could not imagine his father doing the same. Morwen introduced Amdir to her father. Berthil started to show Thengel, Denethor and Amdir their rooms, but they stopped him and asked, most politely, if they would be allowed to bed down their horses first. Thengel, being a true horseman, would not allow another to tend his mount. The rest of the company bivouacked in the barn.
The festivities ran late that evening and Thengel chafed at the delay. He was ready to spend some time alone with Morwen, but good manners dictated a different course. Finally, the men started for their shelter, Denethor and Amdir headed for their rooms, and Thengel made to take his wife to bed. Berthil stopped him.
"I would speak with you sometime during your visit, my Lord," he said. "It is about coming to Gondor. Morwen's mother and I both are at a loss without her near. You yourself know well what separation can do. Would you consider this?"
Thengel was dumbfounded. He shook his head, but only to clear it; however, Berthil assumed it was a denial of the request. His face flushed red, unseen in the dwindling light of dusk. Morwen's father turned to go, but Thengel, realizing his mistake, immediately put out his hand and gently took the elder man's arm in his, apologizing profusely.
"Forgive me. It has been a long journey and our staying up late has addled my brain. Yours is a simple enough request. I will speak with Morwen before the end of our time here. Tomorrow is a long awaited day and I will not consider a thing of such import on short notice. Please forgive me if this does not meet your approval. I had no idea that you would consider leaving your farm."
"I understand, my Lord," said Berthil and walked Thengel towards his room. "We will speak of this when you return - that should be in two days time, if I remember your letter correctly?"
"Yes, we should return on the night after next. Keep your fires lit and we will find the house, though it be late for our return. And do not fret over this request. It is an honorable one and not to be taken lightly. I will think upon it whilst we are away."
Denethor waited until all were asleep and then, packing up his bedclothes, he made for the door. Amdir was there to greet him.
"I wondered what you would do on this trip," his smile held pain.
"What are you talking about? I am just going to shake these out. I ... I found a spider on them." Denethor hesitated.
"As at every camp since we started our patrols together?" Amdir asked.
Denethor interrupted him, "Come, let us be outside. We do not want to wake the household."
"I followed you, my friend, the last time you took early guard outside of Forannest. You remember; we were strengthening the wall of the Rammas there. We spent three nights. One night, I rose early to play a trick on you, and found your bed empty. You were not in the camp. I was concerned that you would be found out and decided to search for you. And I found you. By yourself, some far distance from the camp. You were not up yet. In fact, you were in the midst of a great struggle. In your sleep. One in which you cried out often. Curunír was the name most used. I waited till you quieted down, and then went back to camp. I have followed you every night since then. And left you at the dawn."
Denethor hung his head in shame. "Amdir, I would keep naught from you except that which is shameful to me. I cannot shake myself of these dreams. The wizard haunts my days, if I am not busy on other tasks, and terrorizes my nights."
"When we get back to Minas Tirith, Denethor, I will go to the healers and say I am having nightmares. They will give me something to help. You know they still have a great wealth of remedies from the days of Númenor. They surely must have something that will help stop these."
"To be free of them, Amdir! Please leave me now. Get some sleep yourself. I saw a little shepherd's dwelling as we came over the ridge. It will make a fine place for tonight."
"And what of tomorrow night, Denethor?" Amdir asked.
"We will leave tomorrow to tomorrow. Now, go my friend. I will be fine. See you on the morrow."
Rain greeted them as they awoke early in the morning. Thengel was sorely disappointed but Amdir, ever ready to enjoy life, suggested they start out anyhow. The rain could let up; the sky did not look dark nor was it filled with black clouds.
"It is just a spring rain, light and swift. I am sure it will end soon. Why should we let a little rain stop us?"
Denethor had overheard them and wondered what rain would do to an investigation into the activities of wargs. The rest of the company was still eating when Amdir brought their horses forth. Denethor started and gulped down the last of his ham. He grabbed his cloak and quickly mounted. Thengel and Amdir were already galloping north towards the foothills of the Ered Nimrais. 'What was their hurry,' Denethor wondered, 'and why was not the rest of the company coming with them?'
They had risen at dawn and now it was almost three hours hence. It did not seem to Denethor that Thengel nor Amdir had any intention of stopping. They were almost on top of the mountain so to speak. They had left the gentle plains behind and were truly in the foothills. They had slowed down as they drew nearer to the mountain and as the terrain proved more difficult, but still - they did not stop.
Many times during the ride, he would call out and question what they were doing and always, the only answer he received was a smile from Thengel and a chuckle from Amdir. Finally, he settled back in his saddle and relaxed. This was no warg hunt; his friends were up to something, no doubt. But that something was definitely not dangerous - they were riding alone with the rest of the company sitting back on Morwen's farm. He wondered what they were doing. Ecthelion would be none to pleased to think that a whole half company of his top horse soldiers would be spending a day sitting at a farm. Yet, that thought made him smile. The men were a good lot and deserved a day's rest. Perhaps this was Thengel's thought. Again, Denethor smiled - this time it was at the thought of Thengel and what a great captain he had become. And what a friend. Denethor found himself turning more and more to the elder for counsel. Amdir was as close to him as his shadow, but Thengel was his teacher. And he was grateful. He taught him how to lead men and gain their respect and confidence. He taught him how to assess a situation and then deal with it. He showed him how to react in crisis with as little loss of life as possible. He taught him to respect his men and their lives. Denethor slowly forgot the reason his father had placed him under Thengel's tutelage, and drank up every bit of knowledge the Rohir would give him.
Rochallor' stumble brought him out of his reverie. Denethor gently patted his horse's neck to reassure him. He looked about and discovered that they were following the River Erui. In fact, Thengel and Amdir had definitely slowed their forward progress and were searching the terrain - for what, Denethor did not know. Small willow trees grew on the sides of the river. The water was clear and rushed singing from somewhere above them. Thengel pulled up on Nahar's reins and smiled.
"Here. This is a good place," Thengel said and started to dismount. Amdir jumped off his horse, took off the saddle, and started wiping Hros down.
Denethor looked at them, amazed. "What is this about?" he asked.
"This is about you, Denethor," said Thengel. "We were patrolling the area at the base of the Falls of Rauros when your birth day passed this year; we were not able to give you any presents of worth. This, dear friend, is your present - two days of spending time with us."
Denethor groaned. "What have I done to deserve this?" he sarcastically asked.
Amdir laughed. "You have been a friend and a pain and we are paying you back for it. Now get off your poor horse, let him rest and eat, and find us some nice long willow sticks. We are going fishing!"
"This does not seem to be the proper time for fishing. Captain," Denethor used Thengel's title to add weight to his plea, "we must be about Gondor's welfare. That means patrols and..."
"Listen to me, dear friend," Thengel had come over and placed his hand on Rochallor's withers. "Do you remember the night before my wedding, when I suggested that you let Gondor go for a moment and relax? Well, now that time has come. Turgon will have no more of defense; we are relegated to fixing fences and doing patrols. So, while we have this moment, we are going to rest, think of what is best for Gondor as we sit by this stream, and plan for when your father becomes Steward. We will be hard put to rest then."
Denethor knew Thengel spoke the truth. It was difficult for him to relax; life had been hard and strange for almost as long as he could remember; especially since his encounters with the wizard. Perhaps here he could rest.
For two days, the men walked this small part of the river - together sometimes and sometimes alone. Finally, it seemed each had found his honey hole, his favorite spot. They would eat as they fished, tell jokes over the rushing water, and slowly Denethor felt himself smiling again. The river was clear and clean. Denethor had discovered the trick of finding nooks and eddies where the water lay quiet. It was a battle, he thought to himself, between the fish that hid there and him. He discovered it was not easy to catch a fish. The worms they used were not active - early spring cool accounted for that - and, try as he might the first day, he could catch nothing. Amdir was gloating. Already he had four on a stringer and Denethor had not one bite. But he would not be discouraged. He found the exercise relaxing. He watched the fish in the little pools. Sometimes it seemed his hook would land so close that he felt he could hit the fish on the head, yet the fish would not bite.
"Hmmm," he thought aloud and Amdir laughed. "Having a little trouble there, Lieutenant Denethor?"
Denethor could do naught but chuckle. "I will learn this fishing thing and I will catch more than you, I promise."
Thengel had walked down from a little spot further up the stream. "I believe it is getting close to sunset, my friends. Time we gathered firewood and settled down. I have heard that fish like early morning for their eating time. I am sure that is why I have caught none. Wrong time of day, sun in my eyes, hook too straight, not sharp enough," he started a list of excuses. Both Denethor and Amdir hooted with laughter.
As Denethor collected the firewood, Thengel set up a small tent and Amdir cleaned his fish. He insisted they be called his fish, even marking the length of each fish on a log. Denethor knew what that was for. Tomorrow, if he caught any, Amdir would hold them up to the log and probably howl with laughter over the size of Denethor's fish compared to his own. Denethor sighed, but it was filled with fondness. Amdir would die for him, he knew it, but he would give no ground when it came to this fishing!
Denethor had found some wild rice during his firewood foraging; he brought the few stalks back to their camp. It was early for wild rice and the pods were small, but this would do. Enough to give them something to add to their repast.
Thengel brought out bread that Morwen's mother had packed. The banquet was become quite substantial. They laved their hands in the river, stood, turned towards the west, and gave up their moment of silence. Then they sat and ate and were grateful.
After the meal, Thengel brought out a small flask of wine that Morwen's father had urged upon him. The fire was warm against the cool of the night. They were close to the snow line. Their backs were cold, but the wine, along with the fellowship around the fire, filled them with warmth. Their talk had started out good-naturedly about the fishing and the prowess of Amdir, but gently moved towards Gondor and its weal. Denethor found himself frowning again and willed his brow to unknot. He took another drink and forced himself to relax. Thengel saw his struggle and smiled.
"My Lord Denethor," he intoned, "do you not wish to tell your subjects what causes your brow to furrow?"
Denethor laughed - how could he not! The smile quickly left his face, though, and his eyes turned dark. "Gondor has changed just since I was a young boy. My father has changed; he asks me to do things that, I believe at another time he would not ask of me. I have seen Turgon take on the visage of an old man. I have seen a wizard..." He stopped for a moment, took a deep breath, shook his head, and continued. "There is evil lurking in Mordor. I had not expected change. I am not sure why, but I find it troublesome."
"Look about you, Denethor. This mountain stream has not changed since men came from Númenor. The change you see is transitory. Gondor itself will not change. The land will not change, nor the White Mountains, nor the plains of Rohan. People will change and adapt to..." He did not want to bring up the subject of Mordor, nor what terror it seemed to hold. He did not want to speak of such things here in the beauty of the mountains, yet it would be difficult to speak of Gondor without speaking of the future. He sighed. "There is evil coming; we cannot not speak of it. Yet, there is good also in Gondor and in Rohan. Trust your people, Denethor, your men and your friends. Change will come; but you are learning how to adapt to it."
They leaned back on the logs before the fire and drifted into silent thought. These men, stalwart and strong, were Gondor's hope. One was Rohan's hope. Slowly, Denethor felt peace. He closed his eyes.
For almost two years he had suffered the nightmares. This day - he woke to find he had none. Relief flooded his entire being. He had fallen asleep by the campfire; he remembered that. Now he awoke in the tent, alone. Where were Amdir and Thengel? He quickly threw on his tunic and left the tent.
The fire glowed; there was water gently boiling in a kettle. A small package lay next to it, filled with bread, cheeses, and tealeaves. Denethor looked around him. Upstream, he saw the head of Amdir showing through a break in a great rock outcropping; further ahead of him was Thengel.
Denethor colored slightly. He had slept well into the morning and his companions had left him to rest. Gratitude filled his heart. He could not remember a day since he had started his training at, what - was it eight years now - that he had slept in. He found it a glorious experience.
But nonetheless, if they thought that leaving him to sleep would assure them the spoils as fishermen, they were sadly mistaken. Smiling at the thought, he quickly threw together his tea, grabbed the small package of food and his willow stick, and hurried to where he hoped fish would come to him.
A touch of fog lay on the ground burning off slowly as he found his nook. He quickly baited his hook. He tried to see what might have been the catch for his companions so far this morning, but they were hiding them. Denethor shrugged, forcing himself to relax. He had noticed the fish seemed to bite when there was stillness within him and quiet around him. He would not sit; he would stand. 'Focus,' he told himself, and had to laugh at the memory of Cranthir during their 'Kings and Stewards' games and Gwinhir during his training with the sword saying the exact same word. They would laugh to see him focusing on fish!
Slowly the morning passed and not a fish was on his stringer. He decided sitting might be more beneficial. Perhaps his shadow was frightening the fish. Finally, he could stand it no more and walked to where Thengel stood.
"Are you doing well?" he asked.
"As well as can be expected for this late in the morning," laughed Thengel.
A hint of red touched Denethor's face but he refused to give ground. Then a smile broke his chagrin and bad-temper. He clapped Thengel on the shoulder.
"I have caught nothing. The fish sit in front of me and laugh," he said. "I have used every resource I know; I have even watched Amdir to see what trick he might be using, but to no avail."
Thengel laughed. "Did you lave your hands before baiting your hook?"
"Nay. I finished crushing the tea leaves, drank my tea, and then baited the hook."
"Ah! Therein lies your trouble. The tealeaves are bitter; the fish can smell the bitterness on your bait. Wash your hands in water upstream and try with fresh bait. That should help."
Contentment came with fishing. It was a strange thing to think, but it was true. He sat by his honey hole, his stick resting in his hand, and contemplated the feeling. It was one he was not accustomed to. Long days of training and study, long hours on patrol, and longer discussions with his father centering on the preparedness of Gondor, left little time for contentment. Yet, today, in fact these past two days, he was filled with this new sensation. He relished it; he did not want to lose it. In fact, he dreaded the thought of the end of this time of peace. Peace - not a word he had ever associated with Gondor - and yet here he sat, on the slopes of the Ered Nimrais, contemplating peace. It wrenched at his heart. How long were his people to endure the horror of war and death and evil? He laughed and scowled at the same time. It seemed he was not even allowed one moment of peace, for Gondor's weal was ever in his heart and his thoughts.
Thengel came over and sat beside him. The two men, one in the prime of his life and the other just beginning it, mused in silence. Thengel had been watching Denethor and had seen his friend's shoulders slump. He thought he knew the reason too. So he had left his fishing and joined him.
"Life is very short, my friend. Especially for the Rohirrim. Yet, you have a longer lifespan than I; you should not spend it in dark thoughts. Here is the grandeur of Gondor and of Middle-earth before you. Drink it in, Denethor. Let it lighten the load. You have only to look out your window, on any morning or any evening, and see the world at your feet. The glint of the sun on the White Tower should bring only joy to your heart. Do not be troubled by the future. Live today. Know that you have friends who will sustain you when difficulty comes. If it be my fate, Rohan will ever be at your call."
Amdir walked over and sat also. "Amdir too, my Lord, will always be at your call."
Denethor laughed. "If anyone saw us, we would be laughed at. Friends at hand, fish ready to eat, a mountain spring bubbling at our feet, and our faces drawn in scowls and frowns." He laughed again and Amdir and Thengel joined him. "I believe it is time for a telling of who is the better fisherman. Time to take our fish to Amdir's log and gauge our success... or my lack of the same, for in truth, I have caught nothing."
Thengel laughed. "I will not even question the superiority of Amdir's fishing. I cede to his prowess."
"How am I to gloat if neither of you offer me the chance?" Amdir fumed. "All the trouble I went to yesterday to measure my fish and for what?"
"Well," Denethor said, "you can always bring the log back to Minas Tirith with you. I could find a carpenter to hang it in your quarters. We could come in on cold winter nights, Thengel and I and any other who might want to - to sit and admire it and the prowess that it stands for." He ducked out of the path of the log as it flew from Amdir's hands. "Foul, foul," he cried, falling to the ground laughing as Amdir rushed him and pummeled him mercilessly. Laughter spilled from them both.
"I am sorry, my friends," Thengel pulled them apart. "We have a long ride ahead of us. It is time to eat our fish, that is, Amdir's fish and depart this place."
What had been a hard climb towards the top of the mountain proved even more difficult on the descent. The horses had to pick their way carefully through the rocks and uneven terrain. The men were silent and watchful. At last, they reached the sloping hills of Lossarnach. The sun was warm on their backs as it advanced in its westward path. Thengel was anxious to see Morwen again. Separation from her was difficult. He saw her face in his mind's eye and sighed deeply. Denethor smiled. He knew where Thengel's mind and heart were. It was good to see his friend this way, and he wondered if ever he would be of like mind. His heart turned towards dark thoughts, but he pushed them aside. He had decided, up on the mountain, that he would focus on only good. He knew it would be difficult. Young as he was, life had been hard; his thoughts were often dark, but no longer. He had friends who trusted him and loved him, and he would not soon forget the lessons learned on this outing.
The night was spent in song and drink and fellowship with Morwen's family. Berthil laid out a grand feast and invited many relatives and friends from the surrounding area to join them. Not often was there time for laughter and joy. The spring had been harsh, but the crops had finally been sown. It was a good moment for rest and friendship. Morwen sat in Thengel's lap, much to the consternation of her father, but she would have none of his scorn. Too often Thengel was gone on patrol. She was going to enjoy this time with him - time away from his duties, from Minas Tirith and the crush of responsibility that lay upon him. She ran her finger down his cheek. Thengel looked at her, winked, picked her up and went towards their rooms. None stopped him, for delight was plain upon his face.
The morning dawned bright and beautiful. Denethor realized he loved a spring sky better than any other. There was a cleanness about it. A sharpness. Berthil and Thengel had been deep in conversation during the morning meal. Denethor had wondered at it, but they soon bade their farewells, left the farmland behind as they headed southward towards the River Erui. Before they retired, Denethor had requested that route for their way home. He had studied the Battle of the Crossings and wanted to see the site. Thengel thought it would be a good idea, too. He had been happy in the change of countenance on Denethor. Another day away from his father would only be helpful. There had been no messages for him when they had returned to the farm, and he deemed all was well in Minas Tirith.
The ride was long but they did not push their mounts. They followed the river as it rushed headlong over the terrain; it ran cold and bright from the winter snowmelt. Thengel thought they might even try their hand at fishing again. They stopped close to the border of Lebennin about a league from the battle site for their midday repast. They sat and Denethor recounted the battle between Eldacar and the cruel usurper, Castamir. It had been a bloody battle; one that should have quelled any further division in the land, but it only gave fervor to the Corsairs. Umbar had been taken back, then lost again. There had been no peace between the descendants of Castamir and Eldacar since.
Morwen was feeling ill and lay quietly as the men talked, some furs thrown down for her to lie upon. Thengel gave her a glance and a smile. 'How could anyone be so beautiful,' he wondered? He walked towards her, water in his hand, when he heard shouting further off, and saw dust rising from the hooves of horses. Ciramir rode up to him, his horse lathered from the exertion.
"Corsairs!" he screamed. "Headed this way and running hard and fast!"
"Get Morwen out of here!" screamed Thengel, mounting Nahar at the same time and riding forward to meet the enemy.
Never before had Denethor fought. Never before had he actually been on an enemy-filled battlefield. The hairs on his arms stood up as he faced the foe. His mind whirled... 'I am not ready, I am not ready,' it seemed to scream. But there was no being ready - it was time to fight or time to run. Running was unthinkable. Thengel was before him, Amdir to his left. The rest of the horse soldiers were behind them. The Corsairs were before them, great swarthy men dressed in rags, not proper uniforms. Their faces, getting closer, were dressed in hideous scowls. The noise from their throats was deafening. Denethor tried to count them, but they were too many. He cursed himself for bringing his friends here. Then he cursed himself for that. If they had not come, the folk of this area would have been slaughtered. Perhaps, this time, fate had worked on his side.
He drew his sword as his body shuddered. It took all his strength to lift it. It felt strangely heavy, this sword; he had wielded it for the last three years. In fact, he remembered at this year's birth day, considering getting another as this one was getting too light for him. Strange. But no longer time for thought. A Corsair ran past the already busy Thengel and rushed Denethor. Denethor swung his blade hard and quick, but not quick enough. The enemy dodged the blow and retaliated with his own. Denethor's speed from countless practice sessions saved his life. He quickly moved to Rochallor's right; the foe sliced to the other side and left himself wide open for the blow that finished him. No time for rest or breath, for another of the enemy came at him, full on. The blow dropped him from his horse. Denethor struck Rochallor's flank to get the horse away from the battle. He had but a moment to settle his feet, and thus was able to give a full swing to his sword, neatly severing an arm; the foe fell. He smiled. Another and another came. Would they never stop?
He looked wildly about for Amdir. His friend could not be found. Fear gripped Denethor's heart, but there was no time for searching as another of the foe attacked. Blood was everywhere. His hands slipped on his sword; he wiped one on his tunic and continued. Off to his left, he saw Thengel fighting furiously - a wide smile covering the Rohir's face. Thengel was enjoying this. He had been dismounted too, but it did not slow him. Denethor marveled. He himself had not been caught up in the battle fever. Fear still lingered too close to his heart.
He felt the blade before he saw it. His thigh ignited in fire. His hand automatically went to clutch the leg, but instinct told him to hold on tight to his sword. He swung blindly at where his foe should be, and was rewarded with the feel of flesh being cut. His sword had found its mark. The enemy lay dead at his feet. He felt the warmth of blood streaming down his leg, but another of the enemy was soon upon him. Furious, he did not wait for the charge, but flung himself forward. Another lay dead. And so it went on for days and nights, or so it seemed. Time and feeling had left him. The battleground was all his mind saw and felt. The noise was horrific - men yelling, horses screaming, the clash of metal on metal, metal on leather.
A moment came, one moment when none attacked nor were near enough for his blade to do damage. Denethor straightened himself and looked about. The field was clear of their foe. His ears were blocked; no sound filtered through them. He shook his head to clear them. Thengel, standing a short space away, saw Denethor and smiled. Denethor returned it, but somewhere in the haunts of his mind, he was missing something. What was it? The field was deathly quiet. The ground seemed to move gently. It was the bodies of the wounded, trying to free themselves from the dead who weighed them down. Denethor shuddered. Amdir - that was what was missing! Where was Amdir?
"Thengel! Thengel," he cried in fear. "Have you seen Amdir?"
"I have not - not since the battle was joined." They both turned, looking in a great circle, searching the ground for their lost friend.
"I am here," a quiet voice answered their shouts. "I am all right. Nay, I am not all right, but not wounded."
Denethor rushed to where the voice came from, far towards the edge of the battlefield. In truth, his friend sat, seeming unharmed. Yet, something was wrong.
"Amdir. Where are your wounds? Thengel, bring the healer here."
"Nay, nay, please Denethor." The plea in Amdir's voice was unbearable.
"My friend," Denethor said, "what is wrong? Are you so grievously wounded that there is no hope?"
Thengel came up to stand beside him. Amdir was now openly weeping.
"How did this happen?" He looked up at Denethor through his tears. "One moment I was next to you, standing, waiting for the attack, and the next moment I found myself turning away."
Denethor fell to his knees - stunned. Thengel shook his head.
The silence was appalling - almost as appalling as what had occurred. A tear slid down Denethor's cheek as he looked at his friend. To run from battle? Nothing was as heinous an act, yet, Denethor understood.
"There will be other times to show your courage, my friend. You know now what fear can do. You will be ready for it the next time. You will not run. I know your heart, Amdir. I trust you. You will not fail us again." Denethor spoke with quiet conviction. He was making no excuses for his friend; he knew him. He knew this encounter with fear would make him a better soldier of Gondor, if he was challenged to use it. Thengel smiled in approval. Denethor would one day make a great leader.
Denethor rose to stand and collapsed at the same moment. He had forgotten his wound. Luckily, it was not deep. Amdir jumped up in alarm. Denethor laughed. "Do not be concerned, my friend, it is but a scratch, whilst the wielder of the blade lies dead on the field. There are others with greater need than mine. Go to them and help the healer."
The fires burned bright that night as the men tried to dispel the darkness of their thoughts while they buried their dead. How could Corsairs have come so far north and none know of it? From which way had they come? Defenses were poor indeed for such a large troop to have come so far, unheeded. It boggled the mind. They had been on the very doorstep of Minas Tirith! Where were the soldiers stationed at Pelargir? Thengel, Denethor and Amdir sat in quiet discussion.
"Long has my father warned me of this day," Denethor said. "However, he feared He whom we do not name. The Corsairs seemed not to be a threat in this age."
"How could they have come so far north and not be seen?" Amdir asked for the hundredth time. "Where are the southern patrols?"
Thengel shrugged. "Turgon has stopped them. He said there was no need. He deemed the need was closer to Minas Tirith. We cannot now go to Pelargir ourselves. Morwen must be returned to Minas Tirith. Ecthelion must know of this attack. I will send a small patrol under Ciramir down the Anduin and wait for their report." He sat in silence for a moment. "But nay! We must go now." He pulled together his bedclothes and stood up. "We dare not wait till morning. We will not rest until we reach the Great Gate, though I am loath to lay this trip upon Morwen."
"Mayhap we should go back to Berthil's and leave her there?" Amdir asked. But Thengel would not hear of it. With the enemy so far afoot, he dared not trust her anywhere but behind the walls of Minas Tirith. Morwen, however, had taken a turn for the worse. The company's healer cautioned Thengel; she was in no condition to ride. Thengel was beside himself.
Denethor sat in silence. All his long life it had seemed his father had been in battle with Turgon. Today's combat proved Ecthelion had been correct, that Gondor was ill prepared for the future. Perhaps it was time for Turgon to use the gift of Eru and sleep. 'Nay!' his mind screamed, 'not Turgon. There must be a way to break through this cloud that hangs over him, that prevents him from listening to Ecthelion.' Denethor could not bear the loss of Turgon. Finally, he became aware of the debate going on around him. He rose and looked at his friend. Amdir and Denethor knew what must be done.
"Amdir and I will ride ahead to Minas Tirith and return with help. Our numbers are too few if there is another attack. It would be better if it were just the two of us, less noise, and we will be less likely to be seen." Denethor knew Thengel's heart was torn. "It is little more than fifteen leagues and the South Road is flat and fast. We should be there and back by morning, barring any difficulties. We will have a cart follow behind, to carry Morwen back."
"You cannot go. You are wounded. The ride will open the wound again," cried Thengel.
"It has been sewn closed and will not open. I will be of no use to you in battle if more of the enemy are about. It would be better that I be the one to go. Our party is now very small, and with Ciramir off scouting the land, who would you have?"
"Go then, but be wary. This might have been a small troop, but it also could have been a wayward patrol separated from a larger force." Once they were horsed, Thengel gave them more instructions, then slapped the flank of Denethor's horse and they were off.
Pickets were set, the fires were lowered and the remaining men tried to sleep. The dead had been buried, another group of mounds on an already tortured land.
Both Denethor and Amdir rode hard. The sky was overcast; they had nary moon nor stars to guide them, but the road was still in good condition and their undertaking was great. Neither spared a moment for words; they focused solely on where they were heading. Each man's head swirled with his own thoughts.
Denethor's were solely on Gondor and what this attack meant to it. He shuddered at the thought of how incredibly vulnerable they were. For Corsairs to have come so close to Minas Tirith - it was unthinkable. Were there others along the way also? Was this the forward thrust of a larger force, or the rear guard of such a force? That thought sent his heart racing. Perhaps they were too late. Perhaps Minas Tirith was already under attack. He spurred his horse faster. No sooner had he prompted the horse to the faster gait, than he pulled Rochallor up again. They were all tired, horses too. They had been on the road, or in the battle, since early morning. He had to give his mount a moment's rest. Hros and Amdir needed rest too. Killing the horses would serve no purpose.
Amdir, too, was deep in thought. The shame of the afternoon was still upon him. Denethor's words had been consoling, but now, in the dark and away from the battlefield, his heart sank. After all the training he had been through, after all the mock battles that they had practiced, still, when the fight was upon him, he had run. His face reddened at the thought. He knew it had happened to others. Never had he thought it would happen to him. Thoughts of Ingold filled his mind. What would his father say? That thought, however, brought comfort. He knew his father would speak to him as Denethor had. 'It is not in the running that a man is judged,' he had heard him say before, 'but in his coming back to the fight.' Amdir knew this was just the beginning of Gondor's fight. He would do everything he could not to make the same misstep. If he had to chain himself to Denethor, he would be in the thick of it. He pulled Hros up as Denethor slowed.
"We will walk the horses for a short distance and then give them freedom to run again," Denethor said. "I can hardly abide this pace though. We should be near Minas Tirith."
The moon, recognizing the need for reassurance for these men of Gondor, broke through the stifling clouds and lit the spike of the White Tower, mirroring the ghostly light back into Denethor's eyes. It was all he could do to not rein in Rochallor and stare at it in wonder and awe. This was one gift he wished for his sons, if ever sons were given him, and that would be to love Minas Tirith with every fiber of their beings as he did. He gulped a quick breath of air and forced himself on.
It was well past midnight, but the torches by the Great Gate blazed. A lone silver trumpet rang out its call as Denethor and Amdir passed inside - a Lord of Gondor had returned. Turning into the Rangers' barracks next to the Court of Kings, Denethor was met by Captain Inlach in his night attire. It weighed heavily upon Denethor that the Rangers had come to such an end - not even one guard on duty before their barracks - something would have to be done about this. He pushed that thought into the back of his mind, for there were greater issues pressing him onward.
"What is this need of yours that brings you here at this hour?" Inlach asked.
"Quick! Steeds for Amdir and myself. Ours are spent from our journey and we must needs speak with the Captain-General immediately. I do not trust our horses to endure to the Seventh Level at the pace we must needs set."
"As you wish, my Lord. Hurry," he said to an underling, "bring two horses to Lord Denethor."
"And make sure our horses are well tended," Denethor shouted to the servant as he mounted his new steed.
As they hurtled up each level, Denethor chafed at the distance. He remembered as a child wishing for a horse to make this interminable climb swifter; here he was again wishing for a speedier route. They left their mounts at the stable on the Sixth Level and hurried forward. As they reached the escarpment and strode towards the Steward's Hall, a guard stopped them and pointed towards the White Tower.
"Lord Ecthelion is waiting for you there, my Lord. The trumpet woke him. He bids you enter." He motioned them forward as the Chamberlain came, requesting they follow him. Denethor nodded his head as the guard left, acknowledging his service. Ecthelion bid them sit as they entered the room, but Denethor strode towards his father, greeted him with bowed head and hand upon his chest, and began to speak.
"Captain-General," he used his father's title. "Great evil has come to Gondor. A troop of Corsairs attacked us at the Crossings of Erui. We destroyed them, but we lost many." Anguish touched his voice. "Father, it is as you have dreaded. Gondor is under attack."
His leg throbbed and he looked for a seat. "The Lady Morwen is ill," he continued, "She cannot be moved. Thengel has sent scouts to search the land - to see if more of the enemy are about. But there are so few of the company left, they will all be lost if we are not swift in sending them reinforcements."
A servant brought mulled wine, bread and cheese, but Denethor turned his head. Tears were so close. Amdir sent the servant back for the healer.
"We will send help; however, I will not involve Turgon in this. It is late and haste must be of paramount concern, but we must also use caution," Ecthelion said as Ingold, Gwinhir, Durahil and Inlach entered the chamber. The healer followed behind them, quickly evaluated Denethor's wound, and made him sit by the fire as he tended him.
All in the room listened attentively as Denethor obeyed Ecthelion and told again, but in greater detail, of the attack and their flight to Gondor for help. These Captains and Masters of Gondor were dumbfounded. Denethor knew their hearts blazed with fury as they thought of Corsairs on their beloved roads, their defiling feet on the lands of Gondor. They said naught, however, and waited upon the Steward's son.
"As I said as you entered, we will send Thengel the rest of his company, plus two more companies. They will leave at dawn." He held up his hand as Denethor started to speak. "A cart will be needed; I want it protected along the way. Haste without wisdom creates a fool's errand."
"I am going with them." The entire company turned towards the even, low voice.
"I forbid it!" Ecthelion said as Indis stepped from the shadows. She had entered unnoticed with the others, saw Denethor was being tended to, and stayed by the door.
"Forbidden or not, my Lord, I am going," she said as she stepped to her brother's side. She put her hand on his shoulder. "Morwen will have need of me. She is with child."
Denethor felt as if a sword had cut him once more. He should have known; he cursed himself. He should have known. Morwen had been most anxious to see her parents. Nothing Thengel had said would dissuade her from taking the trip. Now he understood so many things, her tiredness at each phase of the journey, her wanting to be near her mother almost the entire time they had been at their homestead, her illness. He thought of his own mother, lost at his birth, and he would not have that happen to Thengel. "Father, we must be away now."
Ecthelion's face had whitened at the news. Rían's cold, white face looked at him from the grave. "Yes! Assemble the companies immediately. The cart will follow. What healer is with the company now?"
"Arciryas," said Denethor.
Ecthelion turned towards Indis. "If you are going, then wake Master Healer Adanedhel. He must accompany you."
"I would be one of the company, if my Lord allows," said Amdir. "And I, Father," entreated Denethor.
"Neither of you have slept since the night before last, according to your tale. You must rest. And you, Denethor, must heal."
"Father," Denethor looked beseechingly at the healer, "I am well enough to travel. The wound was tended well after the battle." The healer nodded his approval. "I must go to my captain. He has great need of me."
Ecthelion knew of what need his son spoke. Loath as he was to agree, he could not forbid his son this request. "Go then, but in the cart, the both of you, and have your horses follow behind. Rest as you can on that ride, and then aid Thengel as you may."
It seemed the whole of Minas Tirith was awake, all but Turgon, asleep in the Steward's Hall. Almiel had held Indis close, and then bid her sister farewell. She must stay by the Steward. She knew she could not dissuade Indis from her path; she helped her pack warm robes, blankets and clothes. Firieth, newly assigned to the Master Healer, helped pack ointments, herbs, healing droughts, and cloth for bandages. She gave the packaged supplies to Indis when she stopped by the Houses of Healing to fetch Adanedhel.
The soldiers left the City, hearts deep in sorrow. All knew what they might find when they arrived at the Crossings - perhaps the entire company dead, Thengel and his men, and the kind Morwen. The pace was set. The company quickly outdistanced the cart and its occupants. Denethor chafed to be riding in a cart instead of at the forefront with his fellow soldiers. Amdir quietly bid him rest and Denethor knew he must.
The first pale fingers of the sun were starting to streak the sky as the company drew close to the Crossings. Fires could be seen, lit in the distance. Denethor had wakened an hour earlier, and was heartened to see the light. Corsairs would never light a fire so close to Minas Tirith. He fervently hoped it was Thengel's fires that he saw, not those of the rescuers who had preceded them.
He scrambled from the cart ere it stopped and searched the area for Thengel. A sob caught in his throat. Thengel was standing apart from his men, his shoulders shaking. Denethor knew the news before asking, but found compelled to ask, "Is the Lady Morwen well?"
Thengel turned slowly towards his friend. "The child is lost."
Adanedhel and Indis had run to the tent that held Morwen. Dropping to her knees, Indis quickly hugged her friend. The healer evaluated her, shook his head, and spoke with Arciryas. "There was naught I could do," he said. "The babe was dead ere it was born. I have tended to Morwen's needs, but alas, there was naught I could do.' He shook his head in sorrow. This was the first babe Arciryas had ever lost. For it to be his captain's son!
Indis sat next to Morwen, holding her head and rocking her gently. Her tears mingled with Morwen's. "I suppose I should not have come," Morwen sobbed. "I knew I was with child, but I so wanted to speak with my mother. I had not even told Thengel. Never let him speak to the child within me." Her sobs increased as the warmth and love of Indis penetrated the darkness that had lain about her since the healer had told her the babe was lost. She kept running her hand over her stomach, wishing that the child was still within her. "Indis!" she suddenly wailed. "Indis!" And Indis held her as if Morwen herself were a child and helped her friend release the anguish.
Ciramir and the scouts had returned. The camp was struck; the decimated, wounded army turned north. Denethor shook his head. Naught would ever be the same.
Indis held Morwen the entire time it took to return to Minas Tirith. Thengel's beloved sobbed and slept, sobbed and slept. Arciryas road alongside the cart, his face contorted with pain. He had seen men die before, had cut off limbs to save their lives, had told families of loved ones' deaths, but never had he felt this before. It cut him deeply. Life was supposed to have been here, and joy, and the promise of a future. Now there was just death in all its finality.
His captain rode at his side, head bowed, tears long spent. Thengel would look towards the cart when Morwen was awake, trying to impart some measure of comfort to her, but she would look away when their eyes met. The world tore apart every time she looked from his face. His heart tore with it. He had failed her - miserably. The little things that he had been so very glad to do, help her off her horse, rub her shoulders during the day, hold her close at night, all were for naught. When she really needed him, he was gone. No good did it do to tell himself he had been needed at the battle. He knew with every fiber of his being that he did what he must. But riding alongside her negated everything, everything. No wonder she would not look at him.
Morwen retched suddenly and Thengel called a halt. The constant crying was taking its toll on her. Indis hugged her more closely and offered her water. "Indis," Morwen whispered for the thousandth time. "What am I to do? I have lost our child. Look at Thengel, how he looks at me. He is angry, I know it. He must hate me. Oh, Indis, what am I to do?"
"Hush, you silly child. Thengel is dying inside. He loves you. He would cut off his arm 'ere he saw you in pain. The look he is giving you is one of comfort. Can you not see it? There is no anger in him, except perhaps at himself for leaving you, but no anger at you."
"Anger? At himself?" Morwen asked, shocked.
"Yes, anger at himself for leaving you, my dearest, for leaving you."
Thengel dismounted and approached the cart. He shook. How would she react to his presence? "My beloved, how fare you?"
Her eyes darted this way and that. She looked quickly at Indis who smiled at her. He gently reached out and touched her shoulder. She did not recoil. He breathed a sigh of relief. "My beloved, do not turn your face from me. Please. Do not take your love from me. I could not bear to lose you." Indis beckoned him into the cart and moved over so that Thengel could sit next to Morwen. They sat together; he holding her hand in his; she sobbing quietly.
When Thengel called the halt, the men rode slightly ahead and stopped. Every soldier there loved Thengel. In varying degrees, they felt for their captain. Death on the battlefield was one thing - one thing they all understood. But this loss was unthinkable.
Denethor and Amdir turned in their saddles to watch their friend. They could not hear - did not want to hear - but the droop of their captain's shoulders told them volumes. Ciramir ordered the company to stand down. Some men dismounted; some took dried meat from their packs and ate. Others lay on the ground, glad for the respite.
"Did you...?" started Amdir.
"What is it?" asked Denethor.
"Nothing. I am sorry, nothing."
"Seriously, Amdir, did I what?"
"Did you think during the battle or did you just kill?" Amdir asked.
Denethor still reeled from the battle, their headlong rush to secure help, the loss of Thengel's child. He sat heavily upon Rochallor.
Ciramir rode over and dismounted. "Come, let us walk for a few moments."
Denethor and Amdir did as he requested, and the three men walked away from the company.
"I would hear your thoughts, also. Forgive my eaves dropping."
Ever since the battle, Denethor would shiver now and again at the thought of the men that he killed. His first battle; his first kill. Would he be able to forget their faces? He was embarrassed. The fear started again in his gut. He did not want to go back to that time.
Ciramir sensed his thoughts. "There is no reason to fear the battle, nor your reaction. It is over and done with. Now is the time, in the sunlight and in the company of friends, to speak of it. Your first battle. There will never be another like it. It is good to examine it and your reactions to it. This will help you become better soldiers. It will also prepare you for the next battle."
"And what if I say that fear ran rampant through my heart and my very being?" Denethor snapped angrily, now thoroughly embarrassed.
"Then you would have answered correctly. Once you lose fear, Denethor, you will be dead. Never let pride in your ability overcome your fear. Welcome fear; use it to focus on what you must do. You did well yesterday. I watched you - you did as you were trained. There was one moment when you were distracted and that moment almost cost you your life, but you recovered."
How could Denethor tell Ciramir that that moment was when he could not find Amdir?
"Amdir," Ciramir continued. "You must remember this. Fear drove you from the battlefield. You should have grabbed it, clasped it to your heart and used it. Instead, you let it drive you to another horror, one that will be with you until you are tested again."
Amdir hung his head and Denethor pitied his friend.
"I... I see their faces," Denethor said quietly, almost in a whisper. "I almost wish I had left the field of battle myself. The moment of death..."
Ciramir put a hand on Denethor's shoulder. "Sadly, you will lose that horror, Denethor. One face will soon meld into another. It is not good, but that is the way of it. A soldier's life... a soldier's burden. I do not believe the men of Númenor were created to slay one another. Because of the lies of He whom we do not name, Westernesse is no more, and we live with the evil he has unleashed on our land."
"Ah, I see Thengel has remounted. Let us go," said Ciramir. "Remember, the both of you, what I have said. There is no shame in fear, no shame in remorse over killing, and no shame in relying on your friends to get you through the battle. However, remember what is at stake. Gondor! And we who fight for Gondor know - it is all for Gondor."
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.