Quillion came to the wizard in his apartments, trembling, wet from the storm raging over Minas Tirith. Rain plastered his dark curls to his head and his cheek and shirt collar bore a smear of dried blood. He carried a dark bundle and went down on a knee before Gandalf. The wizard saw the wrapping was Aragorn's commander's coat and shuddered in sudden dread. The boy's eyes were dark with terror and Gandalf bent to comfort him.
"You're a brave lad, Quillion, riding all the way from Pelargir alone," he said kindly, trying to keep his own voice light. Quillion handed the bundle to the wizard and rose, trying to stand at attention, looking very young and forlorn in his dripping uniform.
"This is for you from my master," the boy whispered. Gandalf began opening the bundle, smoothing out the folds of the coat as he laid it on the bed. A horrified look spread over his face as he took out each item: Aragorn's star of eagles brooch, and the pipe and tobacco pouch Bilbo had given him so long ago. He found the pocket with the letter addressed to Lady Finduilas and drew forth the ring of intertwined serpents.
"My lord," Quillion slipped the silver chain of the brilliant Evenstar over his head and held it out to the wizard. Gandalf sat heavily on the bed, defeated. Quillion waited still, swaying at attention, the pendant swinging in his grasp. "His sword…I couldn't lift it. It's still buckled to Dagor's saddle."
"Is---is your master---dead?" Gandalf breathed out the last word, the final gasp of a dying man.
"That's what the troopers believe, but…" The boy shook his head and could not continue. Gandalf laid an arm on his shoulder.
"Come, then it must not be that bad."
"Yes, it is, sir. He crossed the Anduin at Pelargir. He and Captain Fallon were heading for Mordor. I heard them say it." The boy broke into sobs. Gandalf tried to comfort Quillion but felt no peace himself.
"What did you hear? What did they say, Quillion?"
"Captain Fallon was acting mad and shouting at the commander. He said there was nothing for him here; he'd sell his sword to Mordor. Lord Thorongil said if Captain Fallon chose to go to the Dark Lord then he would come along too. He said it should be an interesting meeting." The boy swallowed, trying to gain control. "It was awful! I thought at one point the Captain would draw on the Commander. Then Captain Fallon stormed out and my master made up this bundle. That's when---that's when…" and Quillion told Gandalf about the assassin. "There was so much blood," he ended, staring at an unseen horror. As he considered Quillion's story, Gandalf rummaged in a chest, pulled out a shirt, and bade the boy change out of his wet clothing.
Gandalf's servant Findalion brought in tea and the wizard mixed in a packet of herbs. He made the shuddering boy drink and soon Quillion was dropping to sleep. With a blessing, Gandalf slipped the chain of Arwen's pendant back over the boy's head.
"You must keep this safe for your master." Gandalf carried him to a cot and covered him with a soft blanket. He kissed his forehead. "Rest, my child, and soon I'll take you to see the Elves." He gave instructions to Findalion to protect the boy from any who tried to enter. Then Gandalf went to confront Denethor.
Torches flared and hissed in the constant blow that night on the sixth level of Minas Tirith. Down the passageway in the great hall, between the rumbles of thunder, Gandalf could hear the celebration still going on. He hesitated there a moment and listened. The invalid Ecthelion had been carried from his bed to celebrate with his men. He had called the defeat of the Corsairs the greatest victory for Gondor in 500 years as he drank to the troops. Toast after toast was made; many of the cups were raised to the brave Commander Thorongil, the hero of Umbar, who had led his men to victory against the Corsairs but had then mysteriously disappeared. The messenger told of evidence of foul play in the Commander's rooms in Pelargir. Ecthelion believed one of the surviving Corsair lieutenants must have crept back for revenge. The blood trail led out into the night and, the men theorized, to the Great River where the brave commander must have met his end.
Gandalf stood a long while at the doorway of the Citadel guard office, watching Denethor. The Steward's son was not celebrating with his men. His pen scratched across the parchment in the guttering candlelight. He seemed almost obsessed in his writing and looked twice his years in the flickering flame.
"The report for the Council?" Gandalf asked. The nib of Denethor's pen snapped as he flinched. His eyes skirted away when he saw who stood at his door.
"Do you enjoy sneaking up on a man, Mithrandir?" Denethor asked dryly. "It surprises me with such tactics you have lived so long."
"What news have you of Thorongil?" Gandalf watched the heir's hooded eyes.
"The official tale that he was murdered or the fantastic one I'm sure you know since Thorongil's pup has come running home? Don't look surprised, Mithrandir. I knew when he rode through the gates. My information from Pelargir confirms the brat's story. The Commander of the City Guard was seen crossing the Anduin, heading for Mordor, turned traitor with my bastard brother!"
"Or Ithilien." Gandalf stood with arms folded, watching Denethor intently. "But Quillion tells another tale, a tale of a hired assassin." Gandalf paused but Denethor didn't rise to the bait.
"My man believes him deserted to Mordor. He said he watched both Thorongil and Fallon drinking and complaining in a dockside tavern about their treatment here, a notice distributed along the wharves proclaiming the Dark Lord's offers of great reward for fighting men was littering their table."
"Drinking in a tavern? Thorongil? Whom you well know doesn't drink? Certainly a believable tale," Gandalf sneered sarcastically. "Two of Gondor's finest officers casually deserting to the Enemy on the heels of a great victory? Your brother and your friend? Can the next Steward of Gondor afford such losses?" Gandalf stalked into the room, up to Denethor's desk. "Your logic in this matter is flawed, Denethor." The hatred in Denethor's eyes nearly caused Gandalf to recoil.
"Goad me not, Mithrandir! I no longer acknowledge a brother, as well you know. Moreover, it is your favorite, no friend of mine, who has deserted Gondor and sold us to the Enemy. You should choose your pretender more wisely next time," Denethor hazarded, savvy to political intrigues.
"Consider your words. Don't you rush in haste to judge these two who served Gondor so well?" Gandalf reasoned.
"I am the heir of the Steward. The interloper Thorongil weaseled into my father's graces, gathered untold information about our defenses, and has fled to sell it for Mordor blood money. How many men of Gondor will die because you and my father were trusting fools!" Denethor's speech sounded practiced and his anger did not ring quite true.
"Be careful where you tread, Denethor. How many men of Gondor live now due to Thorongil's leadership? The man you condemn saved your life once," Gandalf reminded him. "Publicly besmirch the memory of the Hero of Umbar and your own troops would turn on you at the mere suggestion that Thorongil is traitor."
"The Steward has already acknowledged his death so your plotting matters little now since to the men he is already ghost and legend. And since we live in such fey and troubled times, I've signed and dispatched warrants. The Ithilien Rangers and Osgiliath's garrison have orders to capture and execute anyone claiming to be Fallon or Thorongil. We know not what powers the Dark Lord has to conjure the dead to life, do we?" Denethor saw Gandalf's ire rising. "And, Mithrandir," he said with a note of threat, "you can do nothing. It would kill my father to be told of such treachery from his favorite commander and his younger son. And even for the life of your pawn, you would not hasten me to the Stewardship."
Denethor's chess skills were excellent; Gandalf had played him several times over the years, and the wizard knew they had played this game to a stalemate. So, he gave in to his clamoring anger.
"Interloper? Pretender? Pawn?" Gandalf thundered. "Strange words you choose to describe a man who was simply a commander of Gondor. Do you somehow see more than that in Thorongil? What visions twist your mind, Steward's son?" Gandalf watched as Denethor blanched. Gandalf had long suspected a Palantir, a seeing stone once believed lost long ago in the ruins of Osgiliath, had been found by Denethor.
"I am heir of the Steward, a true son of Gondor. I protect Gondor from all that threaten her. That is all I mean," Denethor blustered.
"Remember, Heir to the Steward," Gandalf stood with arms folded, watching Denethor intently, "you hold Gondor for the King, not for yourself."
"Go play word games with another, Mithrandir." Denethor said quietly, regaining his composure. "'Tis more likely my own monument will be raised before a King shows up to claim the throne."
Gandalf snorted and left the room. The Stewards had long grown presumptive in their position and this one more than any other. Denethor was right on one account: he did not wish to hasten Ecthelion to his grave. Denethor played a dangerous game that threatened the safety of Gondor and all of Middle Earth. And, it was obvious he was desperate: the Steward's heir signing a writ for immediate execution of Fallon and Thorongil meant he was trying to hide what the two men might know. Gandalf guessed the overly confidant Denethor had instructed his assassin to announce who had sent him, but in underestimating Thorongil's skill, opened himself to the accusation of attempted murder and treason if either man ever returned.
If Aragorn were found by Gondorian troops, Gandalf felt they would return him to Minas Tirith and refuse to follow the writ of execution. In that case, he would need to be here to prevent Denethor's vengeance, but the wizard also needed someone willing to cross the borders into Mordor to find the wayward young fool if it came to that.
Back in his own chambers, he checked the soundly sleeping boy and then hastily put pen to feather-light vellum, and rolled the twist into a small, silver case. Near his window perched a hooded falcon whose home was Rivendell's cliffs. He tied the message to the bird's jesses.
"Go, Hador." With a cry, the falcon glided away. Gandalf watched as the bird circled north. All the way to Rivendell; it was so far and the way was dangerous for bird or man. For the first time ever, hope wavered in Gandalf. He knew the land of shadow and the minions of the Dark Lord well. He despaired that before help could ride to Mordor, Aragorn would be captured or killed by Sauron.
Gandalf stared at the red-tinted clouds away to the south. Aragorn's loyalty was never a question in his mind, but he also did not underestimate Sauron's powerful servants. The Morgul Vale with towering Minas Morgul, the bastion of Angmar, was where Denethor's spy who had followed Aragorn as far as he dared said the two were headed. At the very least, if caught, they would be killed. Most likely, the Witch King's cunning tools of torture would wrench Aragorn's identity from him and Sauron would be near complete in his triumph. The red glare seemed to intensify above Orodruin as if the demons there laughed at Gandalf's failure.
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.