Thorongil's guardsmen had not been back in the city long when one morning Fallon sat at his desk, reviewing the scant information collected on Umbar. Quillion came in quietly, saw the commander was not in, breathed in relief, and sat down quietly at his spot. There was none of the usual morning chatter from the boy.
"So late this day? Quillion, you will never make cadet if you spend so much time wool gathering…" Fallon looked up and his teasing stopped abruptly. Quillion's tunic was mud smeared. Blood still leaked from a split lip and a bruise darkened on his cheek.
"Who won?" Fallon asked casually. Quillion wiped his nose across the back of his hand.
"It was a draw. One of the Citadel officers pulled us apart," he reported, anger roughening his voice. "The Commander will be displeased."
"Let's get you cleaned up. If we hurry, the Commander need not know." Fallon sat the boy on his chair, daubed the blood from the squire's face, and hung up the jacket for brushing when it dried. "So, are you going to tell me the tale?" he asked as he worked. Quillion stared ahead sullenly and then suddenly the story tumbled out.
"They were calling me a wizard's familiar---the Citadel messenger boys and some of the officers' squires---and baby and the Commander's pet! I never go into battles! Thorongil always leaves me with Mithrandir. They said I was a coward and couldn't fight. I showed them!" Quillion shouted. By the damage, Fallon thought, one of them seemed to have shown Quillion.
"You love Mithrandir. You tell us constantly about his tales and potions."
"Y-yes, but I am a commander's squire! I should ride with him into battle!" Fallon thought of the boys' bodies he had seen lying lifeless on the field after every battle. Fallon knelt before the angry boy.
"Quillion, you know you are much younger than any of the other squires." Darkness clouded the boy's eyes. Fallon saw that logic would not work. "Thorongil values you more than most officers value their squires."
"He thinks I am a worthless little boy! He probably wishes he had chosen Lucan for his squire!" Quillion said, referring to the older boy sent by Denethor that Thorongil had turned away.
"Thorongil loves you like a son and would see you safe. The Commander has a deep need to protect the ones he loves." Fallon chuckled. "I believe if he could, he'd find a way to keep me from riding at his side." The first glimmer of a smile appeared on Quillion's face. He nodded.
"I know you are right. But I want to go to war. I want the Commander to be proud of me." Fallon heard an echo in the boy's words of his own plea when he was little older Quillion. He sighed.
"Quillion, if it is that important, you could be reassigned to another officer," Fallon said. "It is easily done; squires are rotated through different officers as part of their training anyway." The boy paled.
"Nay! Oh, nay! Must I?"
"It is customary," Fallon eyed Quillion, knowing he had found a way past his guard, "I could convince Thorongil you are unhappy here, and, if he hesitates, since I am the Steward's son, I can get Father to override any objection." The boy was silent, staring wide-eyed at Fallon. "So, to what officer would you like to be assigned?"
"I-I want to stay with Thorongil." Good lad, Fallon thought, sure the matter was settled. The door swung open and Fallon rose abruptly, shoved Quillion from his chair, and cuffed him lightly.
"Quillion, quit whining about it!" he exclaimed in mock-anger. "You must learn to control that horse!" Fallon turned to his commander who was taking in the scene with a raised brow. "Elendii dumped him in the mud again. He will never make a cavalry officer!" Fallon despaired. The captain winked conspiratorially at Quillion as the Commander turned to his desk.
"Indeed?" Thorongil asked mildly, eyeing his squire who had the grace to blush. The Commander had just walked from the Citadel with Lieutenant Deverion. They had had an interesting conversation about the morning activities of his squire.
Later when Quillion went out to deliver messages, Thorongil leaned back in his chair and stared at his captain. Fallon squirmed a moment under the silver gaze.
"You already know the story," Fallon said. Thorongil nodded.
"I have no problem with my squire defending himself, though I wish he could do it a bit better. But, I do take issue with my captain teaching him to lie."
"He wants to prove himself. In this Age, the only way to do that is in battle."
"War is not the realm of children. I will keep Quillion away from it as long as I may. And I expect your assistance." Thorongil turned back to his desk. "And as punishment, it falls on you to teach him to defend himself in a fist fight." Fallon's curse brought a smile to his Commander's lips.
* * * *
The Yule celebrations were quiet affairs that year in Minas Tirith. The City Guards had returned to a lukewarm welcome by the citizenry, who saw little reason to celebrate their unsuccessful summer campaign and Ecthelion's failing health. The pirate raiding had blocked the trade routes and made for empty shops and sparse purses.
Finally, the Steward, put out at the solemnity of his immediate family and encouraged by Finduilas, ordered an intimate Yule dinner at the Steward's House. Finduilas had begged Thorongil to make Fallon attend, and between his commander's cajoling and the fear that this might be his father's last Yule, he grudgingly agreed.
Fallon was silent and sullen as he accompanied Thorongil up the streets to the Citadel. Once there, a strange dance began. Fallon refused to engage in more than the bare minimum of conversation, Denethor drank silently, and Finduilas, exasperated, drew Thorongil into telling tales of the north to lighten the mood. Finally, dinner was served but the diners ate little of the sumptuous feast. The conversation became non-existent again until Ecthelion engaged his sons and Thorongil in debate about the pirates. Finduilas quickly excused herself, claiming she needed to see to her son, and burst into tears as soon as she was in the nursery. Her dinner party had degraded into a war room debate.
Late one evening, several weeks after the disastrous party, Denethor sat in the drawing room of his apartments in the Steward's palace, one branch of a candelabrum lit to ward off the shadows, drinking heavily, much to the dismay of his wife and his adjutants. Denethor had regularly taken to spending evenings in the company of strong spirits, caring little to socialize with his family or his officers. A near-empty decanter stood at his elbow, his eyes were blood-shot and demon-filled as he stared into the candle flames. The door was pushed open and Finduilas came in, wrapped in a heavy dressing gown. She stopped beyond his reach and studied her husband warily.
"My lord, you awoke a servant and sent him for me? Is there a problem?"
"How fare you, my darling, my wife?" He turned his eyes upon her.
"My lord?" she asked confused.
"And," he went on without an answer, "our son? How is he?"
"Fine." Finduilas smiled, thinking of three-month-old Boromir sleeping peacefully in his nursery. His birth had brought lightness into her life, an existence that often found her aching for the smell of the sea and watching from the Citadel ramparts for a particular troop of City Guards to return from patrol.
Finduilas weighed the signs of her husband's mood, and decided he was not angry. She came closer, lured by his concern for their child. She hazarded she could show concern for him and rested an arm across his shoulders.
"Denethor, why do you drink? Why are you like this? What is wrong?" He smiled crookedly at her and motioned her to sit.
"My dear, I heard an amazing story today that I wanted to share with you." He poured another glass of the amber liquor. "I have a captain under my command, a man named Melenac. Do you know him?" She shook her head. "He is a career soldier, late of your brother's guard. But, he has no loyalty to the Prince of Dol Amroth. Your brother caught him at some indiscretion and tossed him out the gate.
"As you know, we take all here in Minas Tirith---renegades, wanderers, ---bastards," he said pointedly and she winced, "so he has been part of my staff since last summer." She still smiled at her husband, hoping this story had a point and was just not the wanderings of his drunken mind. "He came to me with an interesting tale today, the story of the princess of Dol Amroth and her lover, an officer of Gondor, an interesting story of illicit love, fraught with deceit and betrayal."
Finduilas paled and swayed in her chair. "My lord Denethor," she caught his hand, "I should have told you." He jerked his hand away and stood up, knocking over the chair.
"Did this "indiscretion" with Thorongil end with our marriage or should I doubt the legitimacy of my son?" Startled, Finduilas for a moment glimpsed a way to protect Fallon, but she was too honorable to tell such a despicable lie.
"It was not Thorongil!" She looked directly at her husband. Finduilas saw the awareness in his eyes a moment before he struck her, knocking her backward on the polished floor.
"My brother! You lay with my brother!" He screamed, his face contorted with maniacal anger. All at once, the rage seemed to run out of him. Tiredly, he righted his chair and sat down heavily.
"My lord, please!" She crawled to him, and head resting against his knee, told him as much of the tale as she dared. "It was before we were wed. I was young and desperate and unwise. I have been true to you since our marriage." Finally, he sighed deeply and laid his hand on her hair.
"All right, my dear. Don't weep." He raised her head and touched her bruised and bleeding mouth. "I am truly sorry for that. It was bad of me; I don't beat women. Go to bed now, I must think." She trailed across the room and as she got to the doorway, looked back. The red flames of the fire threw the large shadow of her husband crouched over the bottle at the table, grotesque and flickering, against the far wall. Finduilas shuddered with an overwhelming feeling of despair and fled from the room.
* * * *
The lady slapped the riding whip across her thigh again and impatiently paced another turn around the marbled portico. The groom holding her grey gelding watched her nervously. Two guardsmen ready to ride out with her stood stoically near their mounts. Suddenly the grey pricked his ears and snorted a high whinny as the black stallion clattered up the causeway. Thorongil reined Dagor in, leaped off, and dropped immediately to a knee before Finduilas.
"I most humbly beg pardon, my lady." Finduilas had planned to be imperious and cold to him for his tardiness, but she never could. She laid her hand on his shoulder and smiled. He tossed her into the gray's saddle and as she arranged her skirts, she gestured at the troopers.
"Tell them we do not need their presence. You're rescuing me from my prison today and we really can't have them interfere with our escape." Thorongil walked to his men. With a snapped salute, the corporals led their mounts back to the stables.
Finduilas and Thorongil trotted sedately down through the city streets and through the north postern. There, she loosened her reins and galloped northward. For some minutes, the pair flew along the north road and for a moment, Thorongil feared Finduilas might truly be fleeing from the White City. Finally, the lady's gray slowed, blowing. She let him walk along on loose rein for a bit then guided him from the track and dismounted. With an elvish word to Dagor to stand, Thorongil followed her to a grove of beeches where she threw herself down on one of the tumbled blocks of old building granite, her back pressed to the sun-heated warmth of one of the rocks. He sat beside her for some minutes in silence. The dark pines marched above them, spots of color between the bare hardwoods on the lower ridges of white-peaked Amon Dim.
"Lady, you send word to me that you must speak with me, that you must ride with me today, and then we sit silent as these stones. What ails you, Finduilas?"
"I simply wished a ride with my champion," she said coquettishly, looking up through dark lashes at him. As usual, her flirting had no effect. She sighed. "Why can I not be Finduilas of Dol Amroth with you again if just for a bit?"
"Because you are Finduilas of Gondor and troubled, and I am your friend and here to help."
"I do need your help," she agreed. "You must protect Fallon."
"It is already one of my jobs," Thorongil replied grimly.
"Denethor knows what happened with the wedding escort. He knows about Fallon—" Finduilas had the grace to blush.
"Are you in danger?" Thorongil asked concerned.
"Nay. I can handle my husband. But, I fear for Fallon."
"Denethor would not move against Fallon; he would not do anything to upset Ecthelion."
"I fear my husband is a desperate man. He can be unpredictable."
"He would not harm his own brother," Thorongil reasoned calmly.
"He does not see Fallon as his brother!" she cried, upset and agitated.
"I believe Denethor is a reasonable man, but rest easy. I shall protect Fallon." Thorongil assured her.
"Thank you, my lord. Have I told you how much I cherish you?" she smiled up at him. They talked for some time on other issues and eventually rode back to Minas Tirith as the sun cast the shadow of Mindollin over the Rammos.
Finduilas' mood had much improved with the ride. Laughing, the pair climbed the Palace stairs. Finduilas' arm was linked through Thorongil's as he gallantly escorted her into the gallery. There they came upon Denethor. He sat on one of the marble benches, obviously waiting for their return.
"Been riding with my wife?" He cocked his head up at Thorongil. "Without an escort, Commander?"
"The lady requested none so I alone was favored with her presence," Thorongil said easily.
"Finduilas can be too generous with her favors." Denethor reeled to his feet. He reeked of brandy and was already quite drunk. Thorongil's eyes flashed dangerously at the implied insult. Finduilas disengaged herself from the commander's arm.
"My lord champion, I will see you soon." He bowed to her, hand to his breast and she brushed by her husband disgusted, a look of loathing on her face. Denethor laid a restraining hand on the commander's arm.
"I'd prefer you not ride alone with my wife, Commander." Thorongil looked down at the man's hand on his sleeve and then raised his eyes to Denethor's. What he saw in their silver depths made the Steward's son quickly move his hand away.
"I rode not with your wife, but with my friend, my lord." He saluted and turned on his heel, walking away from Denethor's ugliness.* * * *
Storms rolled over the ridges above the White Tower. Thunder tumbled off the mountainside and across the Pelennor, sounding like an army at the gates. Lightning, bright as daylight, threw stark shadows against the walls. Alone in his office in the early spring storm, Thorongil was finishing a report. He leaned back, stretching the muscles in his shoulders; they were tight from too much hunching over a desk. He stretched his hands above his head and listened to nature's raging. The rain would come soon. He should be on his way or he would arrive home soaked. He wondered where Fallon was, what dark-eyed beauty had looked his way, what tavern had beckoned as he passed? The darkness of his spirit had returned as they rode back into the city last fall after their last sortie of the season against the Corsairs, and, between drink and brooding, Thorongil almost feared one day to find the captain dead by his own hand. It was good they rode south again soon for another season of attempts to save the people of Lebennin from the pirates. Thorongil felt his ability to protect Fallon as he had promised Finduilas was stretching thin here in the shadow of Ecthelion's spire.
Thorongil heard a noise and looked to the door, thinking Fallon had come. Denethor stood in the doorway as he had nearly five years before on a cold, snowy night. He had the same despairing look as his brother when he drank, and Thorongil guessed that tonight he had drunk quite a lot. The man staggered across the room and sat down. He watched the commander silently for some minutes.
"Thorongil, you're an honorable man." Denethor acknowledged suddenly.
"I try to live my life that way." Thorongil was uncomfortable and wary. He felt danger from the Steward's son. His sword was hanging on its peg across the room. He eased his right hand behind his back where the Elven blade he always carried rested. He thumbed off the catch of the ornate locket, prepared to do what he must if he was forced.
"What would you, an honorable man, do if someone committed a reprehensible act against you? Would you seek revenge?" Denethor asked, red-eyed.
'What blighted thought of some unintended slight had the drink caused Denethor to dwell upon?' Thorongil wondered, 'What poor, unknowing soul had injured his honor now?'
"I do not seek revenge against others. I see no useful purpose except selfishness in such an act," he answered the Steward's son.
"Well, I do seek revenge. I am a selfish man and I believe what belongs to me is mine and no one else's." He sat silent for a bit, head tilted as if listening to an inner voice. "But I believe the build-up to revenge is more pleasurable than the actual act. The cold fear sweat of not knowing when death will come and the insult will be avenged." Denethor almost seemed dismissive then. "I came looking for another. Where is Fallon? My brother---no, he is not that. He is the indiscretion of my father, got upon a whore."
"His mother was a high born lady of the court, who—"
"Who didn't have the good grace to die at her bastard's birth! Or the sense to drown him in the Anduin!" Denethor snarled.
"My lord," Thorongil began, hoping for some shred of the camaraderie he and Denethor once had. "The drink is addling your judgment. As Steward…"
"As Steward, I shall do what I like, including punishing those who have been disloyal to me!" Thorongil gave up trying to reason with the man.
"Denethor, leave off plaguing my captain. He wrestles with enough demons to satisfy your need for revenge."
Denethor laughed and rose to leave. "Tell your captain I seek him." He paused in the doorway, looking at the Commander of the City Guards. "Oh, Thorongil, you might be wise to guard your back this summer in Pelargir." He laughed evilly as he stepped out into the storm.
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.