25. A Tent Full of Wonder
Mithrandir was there also, as was Prince Imrahil. I noted Húrin the Tall stood amongst them and, much to my surprise, two Elves. I stood perfectly still; remember, I am a spy in truth. So I did what I was best at; I watched and listened.
It seemed none noticed me, but I knew the wizard, and I knew he noticed. I watched for him to give me up, but he did not. I slid inside and sat in a corner and listened.
They spoke for a little time of the battle just won and of their terrible losses - Gondor's losses, I realized, not Rohan's nor the North's, but Gondor's - as if all who fought the common Enemy were joined as brothers. I shivered at the thought. So long had I attended Council meetings where each lord was only concerned with his own fiefdom. The sort of talk among these captains and warriors warmed my heart.
I saw it was Elessar who garnered this commonality from them. He spoke to each as to a brother, and each responded in kind. The wizard said hardly a word after the first few moments, but he stood beside the... Dare I think it?
I took a few deep breaths, stifling a mewing cry of distress and hope. Distress that Denethor was not here as Steward, where he rightly belonged, and hope that this was truly the King who stood before me.
I watched in amaze as each treated Elessar as if he was already their liege-lord. Even the wizard, when he did speak, spoke with deference. I sat back in wonder.
After a very short time, Elessar stood and began to pace back and forth in the close confines of the tent. He appeared agitated.
"We now speak of the future. All of you know of the Ringbearer and where he walks."
I stifled another mew of surprise. He had trusted Rohirrim and Elves with this knowledge? I scrunched within myself, trying to pull back in horror. Yet, he spoke on and I realized these men about him knew everything he knew. 'Is this the way to rule men?'
They listened as he spoke of a terrible decision. They all agreed. They were going to go to the Black Gate itself and meet their doom there! In order to protect the Hobbit, draw the Enemy's eye from him so that he could...
Anyone watching would have tried to offer me comfort, I think, for I drew myself even further in, more tightly into a ball, so that I could hardly breath. I held what breath was left in me so that I did not cry out, hiss out my despair at...
The Hobbit is going to destroy the Ring! Somewhere in the back of my mind, I remembered Faramir saying some such thing, but I had put it off as the lad having heard wrong. Pieces of the puzzle began to fall into place. That is why Denethor was so angry with Faramir! The true meaning of all the ill-spoken words on that hideous day roared through my mind. Not only had the lad set the Hobbits free against his father's direct order, he let the Ring go, knowing if it did not fall into the Enemy's hands, it would be destroyed! And all of Gondor's hopes of having a mighty weapon - lost! Denethor's hopes!
At last, the voice of the King drifted through my bruised and battered mind; the fog of fear and despair lifted as Elessar spoke on.
Mayhap I have had a touch of the Black Breath upon me. I frowned. How? Where? It is not possible. And suddenly... I remembered. All the hours spent at Denethor's side in the Tower room, watching as the Stone throbbed and hummed and glowed. Did it give off such evil as would cause my mind to be o'ertaken?
Another thought of horror. It had taken Denethor's mind, at the last moment, when he went up to the Tower room, as Faramir lay dying on the bed, and looked into it. I had not been with him. He had been alone; he had fallen prey to the Enemy. I wept silent tears.
Mithrandir could not have reached him, not with his mind full of the lies of the Enemy. I looked at the wizard in chagrin. For a moment, he looked back at me. I stiffened in surprise. He smiled, a soft, sad smile.
A/N - my deepest thanks to all those who so kindly offered thoughts on Mithrandir and Denethor's 'last discourse.' It much helped me to understand and write this. Especially eiluj.
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