It was a fine day to be Thorongil, he thought as he strolled through the streets of Minas Tirith. He tugged on the cuffs of his new black uniform jacket. It was embellished with a double row of silver buttons, engraved with the Steward's emblem. The White Tree of Gondor was embroidered with silver thread across the chest, and a red sash wound round his waist: he cut quite a military figure. No division insignia or rank emblems marked it yet, but the star of eagles brooch clipped back his red-lined cloak and he seemed to be getting a lot of attentive respect from the citizenry. Lord of Gondor: it was a new uniform and new role for Thorongil, late of the Ithilien Rangers.
Walking the streets, Thorongil refreshed his memory for the feel of the White City. It had been two years since he had spent more than a day or two there. On this bright March morning, the sun held promise of its blazing summer strength but the wind from the north still spoke of winter. Banners snapped in the stiff breeze and he caught more than one flying hat and returned it to its thankful owner
Thorongil had been back just one day since reading the orders and promotion citation left for him at Osgiliath. Reporting to the guard barracks, he found the City Guard commander's jacket and a summons to appear before Ecthelion at the Citadel awaiting him. Denethor worked quickly, he mused. He had stopped by Gandalf's quarters and inquired after his friend but the wizard had not been in the city for months. Findalion, his Elvish servant, was vague about when Mithrandir might return, but nodded his silent approval at Thorongil's new appointment.
It was two hours until his meeting with Ecthelion and he had nothing to do, a state he hadn't been in for a long, long time. Thorongil stopped at an open-air café near a residential section on the city's fourth level. Awnings and a trellis shaded its courtyard, and protected the seating from the wind. The tables were deserted this early in the day except for one guard officer, tipped back, with a large non-regulation straw hat covering his eyes. Legs stretched out on the opposing chair, he sat with a carafe and glass in front of him. Thorongil sat down near by and when the serving girl came to take his order, requested a pot of hot Lai thond tea. She looked at him strangely but nodded and hurried inside with his order. The officer tilted back his hat and lazily opened one blue eye.
"Lai thond tea? Are you an Elf?" he inquired lethargically.
Thorongil laughed. "Not today. I'm just a man who likes my creature comforts but doesn't get to enjoy them much." He tugged at the tight collar of the uniform jacket, realizing it would never feel as comfortable as the shirt and leggings and leather vest of the Rangers. He held out his hand. "Thorongil of Rohan, late of the Ithilien Rangers." The young officer sat up and clasped his hand. He looked over Thorongil carefully.
"Fallon of the City Guard. But you're neither Elf nor Rohirrim." He moved his bottle and glass to Thorongil's table and plopped down at his elbow. The man was tall, red hair hung from beneath the straw hat, and his clean-shaven face was lean and sensitive. His eyes were clear blue, merry, and honest, and Thorongil liked him immediately.
"Early in the day for strong spirits?" Thorongil eyed the bottle.
"No, it's not wine. It's a taste I developed while serving in Dol Amroth: culuma salva, a fine morning drink and cure for too much evening revelry." He poured another glass of the golden liquid. "How long did you serve with the Rangers? Most don't last long enough for an appointment to the regular troops."
Fallon whistled. "I'll stick close. I like your luck."
"What is being an officer of the City Guard like?" Thorongil asked, stirring honey into his tea.
Fallon raised an eyebrow and teased. "So, you're an orc! A Southron spy from Mordor! Here to pry out secrets of our defenses."
Thorongil laughed again and realized it had been a long time since he had felt this easy. "No, just curious. I'm about to be reassigned to the troop."
"Good, I need fine, strong men to order around and shield me from Orc arrows in Osgiliath. You look like an able fighter. For much of the time, it's typical military: drills, escorts and so on. When the summer heat comes, it seems to arouse our neighbors to the east. Then we have to remind them which side of the river is theirs."
Fallon was silent a moment, and then smiled shyly. He tapped his glass to Thorongil's cup. "Here's to a long career," he toasted, and then began to sing:
"City Guard, full of pride
Against all foes we will ride
When in danger, when in doubt
Find a wall, down and hide!"
The boyish doggerel brought another smile to Thorongil. Fallon continued. "There is great adventure and reward protecting the White City..." he began, quoting the recruiting speech of the Steward.
"…for the privileged few who are called to their destiny by the silver trumpets." Thorongil continued for Fallon. The officer's blue eyes danced.
"Ah," said Fallon, knowingly, "you are familiar with the Steward."
"I'm met him briefly, but I'm about to know him better. I have an appointment soon." Thorongil finished his tea and left coin on the table for the servant.
"Good luck to you then," Fallon said. He leaned close and whispered almost conspiratorially. "We're about to get a new commander. I have the unlucky fate to be his second. Probably some egotistical, autocratic bore who'll order us to gallop down the Orcs' throats and sit on this side of the Pelennor, hobnobbing with the courtiers." Fallon drained his glass. "I don't know much about him. Rumor has it he saved the Heir's life and earned the promotion. Some stranger from the North, they say. Could even be a Dwarf for all I know."
"Perhaps," Thorongil grinned, a mischievous light dancing in his eyes, "or he might be… Elf...or Rohirrim….or me." Fallon was startled for just a moment, recovered nicely, and filled his glass again.
"Thinking before I open my mouth has never been my strong suit. Shall I assign myself to the guard house or just a week of rotating duties?"
"Neither," Thorongil said, rising and shaking the officer's hand again. "I will need to be entertained and someone must shield me from Orc arrows when we ride to Osgiliath, after all." Fallon rose also as the three-quarter bells rang.
"I'll walk with you, if you don't mind. I also have an appointment at the citadel." The two handsome officers climbed the granite-flagged streets, past markets and bakeries, into the residential areas, where townhouses were fronted with iron gated courtyards. Many of these stood empty, their fountains dry and windows blank. At Thorongil's query, Fallon explained that many city residents had left for outlying estates, choosing to be isolated rather than to be so close to the front lines, and many houses, he confided, had belonged to soldiers who never returned from battle. Climbing up streets lined with trees about to burst with spring blooms, they came to the uppermost reaches of the city.
The park-like plaza of the Citadel and the White Tower was deserted. Thorongil looked up, admiring the tall spire catching the changing light as clouds scudded across the sky. The black-clad Citadel guards saluted smartly. Fallon leaned near and his "I admit, I think they look like gulls." brought a smile to Thorongil, who stopped to do obeisance to the White Tree, to Fallon's amazement.
"Formal, aren't you? I hope that doesn't lead you to false hopes for me to appear on time each day."
The stone of the Citadel held the cold and the air inside was chilled. The polished marble grand foyer echoed their footsteps. They walked down the gallery to the offices and war room wing, which was buzzing with activity. Ecthelion's assistant nodded when he heard Thorongil's name and asked none of Fallon. Thorongil thought it strange when he ushered them both into the Steward's office. Ecthelion sat at his desk, rolled maps and stacks of reports covered it and the floor around him. He acknowledged Thorongil's salute as Fallon lounged his way across the room and propped himself in the window seat.
"Thorongil, you did the White City a great service by saving my son. You have my personal thanks and gratitude. I saw it in you when we first met." Ecthelion turned to Fallon who was disinterestedly thumbing through a book. "Come, my boy. You seem on good terms already with our new war commander. What do you think of him?" Fallon looked him over critically as if assessing his worth, and Thorongil returned the look, mystified at the Steward's treatment of this junior officer.
"He seems a fair man, Father," Fallon said, "though a bit rigid. And tall." Indeed, Fallon stood a few inches shorter than Thorongil.
"Father?" Thorongil blurted out, taken unawares as he hadn't been for years.
"Oh, I failed to tell you the Steward is my father?" Fallon questioned, with a wide grin. Ecthelion shook his head and sent his son to find the adjutant for refreshments. A short time later, a young cadet carried in wines and cheeses on a tray, and another appeared a moment later with a carafe of hot tea. Thorongil nodded thanks to the grinning Fallon.
Ecthelion spoke long on the responsibilities of the command position, the struggle in Ithilien, and the stability of Osgiliath, and Thorongil asked him thoughtful, detailed questions. Fallon quietly listened to the conversation and covertly assessed his new superior. Finally, their conversation ended when Denethor entered the office. He had a smile for his father and gripped Thorongil's hand. Fallon noted how alike the two appeared: both tall, dark men who exuded sternness. Denethor's grimness was real; Fallon could already tell Thorongil's was a persona.
"Well met, Commander," Denethor said. "Congratulations on your promotion." He nodded to Fallon and turned to Ecthelion. "My lord, we need to speak of some issues." It was an obvious dismissal so both officers saluted: Thorongil, smartly; Fallon, with a studied casualness, and the two left the Citadel.
"Come," Fallon said. "Let me show you the barracks, your office, and your new quarters." Fallon led him down to the grey stone-façade guard offices and the attached barracks on the city's third level. Three soldiers lounged on benches on the portico outside the office. On seeing the two officers, they jumped to their feet, saluting immediately. Inside, the commander's office was big and light, a large window faced northeast and set before it were two desks, one covered with a tremendous stack of paperwork, awaiting him. Fallon next guided Thorongil down a quiet alley and through a treed courtyard, overgrown with purple-blossomed markberry trees to a fine townhouse.
"These are quite fine and much larger than what I usually am accustomed to," admired Thorongil, assessing the whitewashed walls, elaborately carved fireplace, and thick, patterned carpets covering the stone floors of the furnished rooms.
"Most officers of your rank also have estates where their families live most of the year," Fallon said, hoping to pry some personal information from the close-lipped man. Realizing none was forthcoming, he reluctantly continued his tour. "There are workers who do much of the laundry and heavier cleaning and cooking, if you like, but you will need a boy,---a military squire. And your horse will need to be moved up here to your stables; I'll see to it. That hill to the Citadel gets steep after a few days of running up it at every whim of my brother's." Thorongil nodded as he looked out onto a grassy stable yard set before an airy shed with four box stalls.
"So, what does my commander now request?" Fallon asked when he had finished the tour and they were lingering on the covered walkway outside the offices as the setting sun cast shadows across the Pelennor.
"Perhaps dinner, unless you're engaged? I haven't asked you about yourself," Thorongil suggested.
"We could eat in the soldiers' mess," Fallon proposed, "or, I have just the place; too fancy usually for a lowly captain's purse but I'd be happy to accompany my commander there." Thorongil agreed and found it remarkable he had found such an affable companion in the teasing captain.
Fallon was right. The dining area of the inn he had chosen was quite elegant with fine linen and glass goblets instead of sleeves and trenchers. Sparkling wine and delicately seasoned seafood, instead of the usual hearty fare of stew and ale, teased the palate.
"And, your story?" Thorongil asked after they had supped. "I've never heard the younger son of the Steward mentioned." They lingered over hot tea at the meal's end.
"And most likely won't, except in whispered gossip," Fallon answered frankly. "My mother and Ecthelion were in love. Unfortunately, he was already married. He provided well for us. My mother died when I was five; the Steward's lady had already passed. Ecthelion brought me to the palace and educated me there. It was a lonely childhood. Denethor was already old by then."
"Old? We are of the same age, he and I." Thorongil's eyebrow arched.
"Alas! Second in command to an aged officer. My career is in decline. Will you need a cane and hearing horn?" Fallon queried irreverently.
"Enough! Continue your tale!"
"My father always said I lack the dark and brooding Numenorean looks." He fluffed his red-gold locks. "And, I feel, I also lack the nasty personality of my half-brother, though that itself may not be a trait to blame on Elendil. He had no pity for a five-year-old bastard who had just lost his mother. He seemed to always find my weak spots and play them until he grew sated with my tears." Fallon shook his head and continued his tale. "My father says I'm much like my grandmother. She was from Dol Amroth; a part-elvish princess or some such nonsense. These days I tend to blend in; just another City Guard officer, until someone recalls my parentage, usually as a result of a blunder or faux paux on my part."
"There is a lot of your father about you." Thorongil was silent a moment. "Now that you are both adults, I think there is still no love lost between you and Denethor?"
"I shouldn't thank you for saving him; that sums it up well," Fallon sighed and drank from his cup.
"You hope to become Steward?" Thorongil looked at him sharply.
Fallon was taken aback by Thorongil's remark. "Oh, no, you take me wrong. Denethor is jealous of my father's caring for me, and resentful he was unfaithful to his mother. I may have felt the same in his place. I regret that my brother and I cannot come to an understanding about our shared parent. I do not want his job and I am committed to the defense of Gondor, and so I am faithful to the Steward. I have no regrets that I was bastard born except that my brother prefers I not exist. These things happen. Beautiful women have as enticing a power as Isildur's Bane."
Thorongil looked directly at him and for the first time Fallon was captured by his powerful gaze. "Fallon, be serious a moment. You are the Steward's son and brother to Denethor. Are you my second for a reason?"
Fallon full met his commander's stare and for the first time Thorongil saw past the bravado. The young captain looked out across the room of diners. "Only that you were unlucky enough to be appointed me. Since I returned from training in Dol Amroth six months ago, I am not exactly first choice for seconds. My mouth tends to be not appreciated by most. The rest fear my parentage." Thorongil saw the insecurity in the young captain. "You may reassign me to another regiment if you like."
He smiled. "Nay, you amuse me. We shall get on fine."
Fallon was silent for a while, and then he changed the topic to his new commander. "What about you, my lord? A family? A lovely lady who waits for you?"
"I have a family in the north." Thorongil smiled ruefully, his thoughts immediately winging to a hidden valley near the ford of the Bruinen on the Great East-West Road. "I am a soldier; such a life is unfair to involvements of the heart."
"Ladies love soldiers," Fallon confided, "and I know many ladies in this town, both high-born and other. You shan't be lonely for long."
Historical Note: When Thorongil meets Fallon, he is drinking culuma salva, orange juice, a drink imported to Minas Tirith from Dol Amroth. It became very popular with the court after the marriage of the Steward's son to the Dol Amroth princess in 2976, T.A.
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