1. Chapter I
"Let me help," Finduilas said in their courting days. She reached past the grimness that Denethor wore like armor, claiming that she could see behind that veil. She was the only assurance in his life that there was anything beneath the grimness to see.
"Let me help." So Denethor brought his concerns to her, sought out her advice when there were few others he would heed, and offered her a position on the council of nobles.
He was prepared to hold her in the highest honor that he could offer, and so nothing prepared him for the shock when Finduilas recoiled in horror at the thought. She wanted to be his escape from a life of strategizing, politicking, and preparing for the worst. She wanted to build a world that only they two could share.
She asked him for, and he granted her, a walled garden in the stone city of Minas Tirith, where she walked often and sang. Too often she walked alone, for he rarely accepted her invitation to join her there. It was her garden, not theirs. When the longing for her home grew too strong, he accompanied her on visits to Dol Amroth, where she attempted to show him what she'd missed.
Each time they arrived, her heart rose at the sight of the beckoning sea, with no walls in sight, and of their children, first one, then two, running joyfully along the endless shoreline and shouting. Obligingly, Denethor walked through the sand with her, still silently and patiently waiting for her promise to be fulfilled, that there was more to him than met the eye, that there could be more to his life than he'd ever looked for. Meanwhile, he studied the coastline for its strategic features, and advised her father on shoring up holes in the defenses.
She was unwilling to move in his world, and he did not know how to meet her in hers.
With increasing bewilderment and hurt, the gulf between them widened, and the vibrancy faded from her cheeks. Never strong, Finduilas took to her bed more and more often, uncomplaining as her women nursed her through fevers. She went seldom to her garden, and she raised her voice in song only for her children.
Fading was not in Denethor's nature. Growing more intense with each passing year of responsibilities weighing on his shoulders, he became driven to find a way to restore the woman he knew to the bed where lay the pale stranger with unnaturally bright eyes.
Still believing that he could bend the world to his will, he might not know, but she knew. In a last, desperate attempt to revive her spirits and failing health, Denethor took her a last time to visit the home of her young girlhood. She agreed to the trip as patiently as ever he had when he accompanied her, but without belief.
Her father had died some years ago--in the same year as his, in fact--and so it was left to her brother Imrahil to watch his sister be carried into the house in a chair, so thin that the blankets and wraps weighing her down seemed heavier than she was.
Her brother's eyes met her husband's, and they shared a bleak knowledge. Still they fought on for her.
She was not allowed to be exposed to the chill of the wind, but on one blustery day she sat by the window of her bedchamber, resting her elbows on the wooden sill. The leaves danced in the wind, and she remembered a girl who had once danced with them.
Imrahil came in to sit beside her and took her skeletal hands in his.
"I can no longer silence this question that has long been on my mind. Has he raised his hand to you? Are you in fear of him?"
Finduilas smiled tenderly at her brother, knowing he would protect her even from his own liege lord, a formidable man if ever one lived, if he thought his sister was in danger. Even if he stood no chance.
"He is as kind as he knows how," she reassured Imrahil, truthfully. "That's where the problem lies, you see? This is all he knows how to do." She sighed and said no more.
When the time came for them to return to Minas Tirith, and Denethor saw that his wife had grown no stronger, no happier as a result of the visit to her beloved sea, he came and sat where her brother had sat. He did not reach for her hand.
"I am not a man to admit defeat," he began. He was still unsure whether his offer constituted defeat, or a blind refusal to accept the inevitable.
"I am prepared to make you an offer. If life in the city," with me, he did not say, "has become intolerable, I will give you whatever settlement you ask for, and you may remain here, if-if it means you will thrive." Only that small hesitation betrayed the depth of his emotion. His once expressive mouth, if never overly given to smiling, was these days nothing more than a grim slash.
She did not move her eyes away from the window, staring for all the world as though the sight of rustling trees was something she would miss, and she would take what pleasure she could in the time that was left to her. "If I thought it would make a difference. But nothing I say, or do, makes a difference."
Listlessness was all she could summon, in the face of ten years of trying to coax a day, or an hour, from her husband away from planning for the defense of the country. He was a man of single-minded passion, but that passion was not for her.
"I would send--or bring-" His eyes searched her face, looking for a sign of hope. "-the children to visit."
They could be heard even now, running up and down the long corridor, playing tag. Someone should go and tell them to cease running in the house, but neither of their parents moved.
Finduilas turned her head, a little, in the direction from which she could hear them. For a minute, she hesitated. "If I thought it would make a difference."
Someone did come, spoke sharply to the children, and shooed them out of doors. They tore across the yard, nine years old and four. The elder belonged already to his father, heart and soul. He was happiest with a sword in his hand, and he waited for the day when he could stand proud as a soldier and fight for his country, in this war his father said would come. The younger still crawled into his mother's sickbed to cheer her up and begged for stories, and he loved nothing more than when they sang together the songs she remembered from her own childhood. But not for long.
"If I could keep my baby..." she began, but she did not hope.
Denethor gazed at his wife, level and steady, for a long time. Then he took a knife and cut his own heart in half, wielding the same ruthlessness with which he would later lead their country through the dark years. "If you had borne me a daughter, you might keep her. But I will have need of my sons in the coming war."
She sank back into the pillows. The children had passed beyond the window and could no longer be seen.
One morning, the sun simply did not rise. Boromir's mouth trembled during the funeral procession, but he kept up his stoic appearance where his father could see. He was going to be a soldier someday. His brother was having more trouble, but then Faramir was only four. Sometimes that was easy to forget, precocious as he was, but he was showing little precocity now, stiffening his legs in fear and refusing to climb the few steps up the bier to kiss their mother's cold face.
Seeing the twin frowns creasing their father's brow and their aunt's--Momma's sister Ivriniel--he reached out for his little brother's hand before an argument could break out over whether protocol must be observed at all costs. "We'll go together."
He stepped up to the casket first, with a small and reluctant body pressing against his leg, but before either boy had bent over her cheek, Boromir found a tear already glittering there. He looked up quickly at his father's face, but saw only a mask that might have been made of stone.
Duty done, they climbed back down the steps together, still locked hand in hand. Conscious of protocol, he waited until after the ceremonies to whisper, "I'll take care of you now." It might sound selfless and noble, but really it was only this: he was learning how much easier it was to be brave when he had a little one to protect.