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Truce: 2. Two of a Kind
Denethor looked over the edge of the bluff, relieved to see that the sheer rock face fell only twenty or thirty feet straight down before embedding itself in a tree-studded slope that dropped slightly less precipitously to the river far below. There was a chance, then, that Thorongil had survived the fall. He turned away from the sight of the two figures lying motionless on the riverbank. "Get me some rope."
"I don't have any," Cirion answered. "Only the scouts carry rope."
"Go and check Thorongil's horse, then," Denethor said. He himself did not carry rope, being the Captain-General, but he would not be surprised if Thorongil did. The man always seemed extraordinarily well-equipped. He turned back to the rock face, deciding it would not matter much either way. The bluff top stood at least a hundred feet above the river. He would be lucky to find enough rope to lower himself down the short vertical section of the bluff.
"Here," Cirion said, handing him a slender coil of blood-stained rope.
Denethor threw it over the side. It unwound as it fell, bouncing off the cliff until the far end came to rest against the rock. It did not reach all the way to the bottom of the sheer face, but it would do. "Bring me my pack," he ordered, kneeling to tie the rope to a tree trunk. "And Thorongil's," he added. When Cirion dropped the packs at his feet, he opened his and hastily rifled through it, tossing out items he would not need. "Once I am down below," he said without looking up, "it will be too risky to shout orders, so listen carefully. If orcs come, get on your horse and flee. Do not try to fight them alone."
"What about him?" Cirion asked, looking over his shoulder.
Denethor glanced at the huddled figure of the slave. "If you can get him up on a horse," he answered, "take him with you, but if he panics and runs away, let him go." Denethor filled his half-emptied pack with supplies from Thorongil's – food, a blanket, and a spare shirt. He shouldered his pack and stood up. "Wait here. If Thorongil is alive, I will signal you by waving my arm."
Cirion peered over the edge. "Are you going to bring him back up with you?"
"Only if he is able to climb," Denethor said; an unlikely proposition. "If he is dead I will have to leave him behind."
"But what if he's hurt?" Cirion protested. "You can't just leave him there!"
"I do not intend to leave him there," Denethor said, pulling on the rope to test the strength of the knot. "If he is alive, I will stay with him, while you go for help." He left unsaid that he did not, in fact, have high hopes of finding Thorongil alive. Pulling Cirion away from the edge to break his fixed stare at the unmoving body of his captain, he gripped his narrow shoulders. "You are a soldier of Gondor, and you must indeed be an apt one or Thorongil would not have you in his company. If he is alive, you must go and find Turgon. He will know what to do."
"What if I can't find him?" Cirion's voice, steadily rising, cracked on the last syllable.
Checking his impatience, Denethor kept his own voice low and steady. "If you have not found Turgon by nightfall, hide somewhere until dawn. At first light, ride back to the crossing and wait for help." Releasing the boy's shoulders, he tightened the wrist-straps of his gloves, and took the rope in his hands.
"Don't you want this?"
Poised to climb over the edge, Denethor looked over his shoulder to see Cirion holding a leather case from Thorongil's pack. Denethor had discarded it, taking it for a shaving kit. "I don't need that."
"What if the captain is hurt? You'll need his herbs and medicines."
"I am not learned in herb-craft," he admitted. Like most soldiers, he knew enough to stop up a gushing stab wound or splint a bone, but beyond that was for the healers. He had heard Thorongil knew something of healing, but he had not known he carried his own supplies. "I would not know what to do with it."
"He would." Cirion held out the kit expectantly.
"Very well," Denethor said, kneeling to present his back to the boy. "Put it in the pack and strap it up tightly. Quickly, now! Daylight is wasting."
Denethor lowered himself hand-over-hand down the cliff, and as anticipated ran out of rope before he ran out of rock. Dangling from the last few inches of rope like a chicken in a butcher shop, he jammed the toe of his left boot into a crack and studied the base of the cliff below. He faced a better outcome than Thorongil had; a drop of only ten or twelve feet instead of thirty, but once he landed with momentum on the precipitously steep slope he was just as liable to roll like a fallen boulder all the way to the bottom. Only by grabbing hold of one of the scattered trees that clung to the side of the hill would he hope to avoid an immediate, uncontrolled, and quite likely fatal descent. Twisting his body around to face forward, Denethor eyed a tree directly below him and released his grip.
He landed hard, feeling the shock in his knees, and instantly pitched forward into a wild tumble down what seemed to be a nearly vertical slope. He aimed a flailing arm for the tree he had spotted from above as he rolled past it and missed badly. Luckily, the next tree he encountered required no such precision of aim, as he slammed into its trunk with enough force to rattle his teeth. With a grunt, he managed to hook an arm around it before he could ricochet off and clung there, gasping, as his heart pounded in his chest. When he could breathe again, he looked up and waved at Cirion's pale face peering over the edge of the cliff, then straightened his twisted pack straps and began to pick his way down the steep hillside the riverbank.
By the time he released his grip on the final tree trunk and leapt down onto the blessedly flat ground, Denethor was breathless again. Unsheathing a dagger, he made a quick scan of the area, a task for which he'd been unable to spare attention during his descent. The opposite riverbank was thickly wooded but flatter than the near side, from which tall bluffs and rounded hills rose both upstream and down as far as he could see. The dead silence of a winter afternoon clung to the chill air, and nothing moved but the leaden riffles of the river as Denethor hurried to the pair of bodies lying on the riverbank. They did not seem to have moved at all since he had first spotted them from the bluff top, and he had little hope of finding Thorongil alive. He reached the orc first, slowing just long enough to heave a kick into the body as he stepped over it, to make sure it was dead. A few yards away lay Thorongil, curled on his side, his face hidden by a tangle of leaf-encrusted hair and his clothing pulled wildly askew. As Denethor reached him, he saw that his scabbard had become entangled in his cloak, wringing the cloth into a wad and constricting it against his throat. Denethor hastily unfastened Thorongil's brooch to free the twisted fabric, feeling warm skin beneath his fingers. Thorongil stirred at the touch. "Stay still," Denethor said, placing gentle pressure on his shoulder to keep him from rising while looking up, trying to spy Cirion atop the bluff. When he did not see the boy after a few seconds, he rose and positioned himself directly beneath his path of descent. He still did not see Cirion, and now he realized with growing concern that he could no longer see the rope, either. Being light-colored, he reasoned, it might simply blend into the buff-colored limestone in the waning afternoon light -- or, he reckoned more darkly, Cirion might have cut it to conceal it from approaching orcs. Or, more likely still, he dispassionately concluded, Cirion had been killed by orcs who had simply taken the rope. Denethor counted to ten. Cirion did not appear. He counted to twenty. He glanced sharply over at Thorongil and the dead orc, whose bodies, he realized with alarm, were clearly visible from the bluff top. He rushed back to the orc and dragged it to the base of the slope, heaving it into the underbrush. Hurrying to Thorongil, he knelt beside him again. Though his eyes were closed, his body was tense with pain. "Thorongil," Denethor whispered urgently, "It is Denethor. Can you hear me?"
A pause; then a slight nod.
"Where are you hurt?"
It took several hitching breaths before Thorongil could answer. "Ribs."
Denethor sighed. He had witnessed enough tirades by outraged healers to know that moving a man with broken ribs was not recommended, but on the other hand remaining in the open, in full view of any band of orcs that happened to stroll past, was even more foolhardy. "There are orcs about," he said simply. "We need to move." After a moment, Thorongil nodded and withdrew his right hand from its protective grasp of his side. Denethor took it and pulled him up as gently as he could, getting a hand and then a shoulder under him to support his weight, but as soon as Thorongil tried to stand, his left leg seemed to give way and he crumpled with a cry of pain. "What is wrong?" Denethor asked, tightening his grip. "Is it your leg?"
Without another sound, Thorongil went limp in his arms. Catching him under the armpits and hoisting him over his shoulder, Denethor spared but a wishful glance at the bluff he had just descended before setting off instead along the flat riverbank, heading downstream as quickly as his burden allowed. In the scant few minutes since he found Thorongil, the clouds had darkened and the air felt colder. A snowflake landed his face, and then another. He quickened his pace. Though the coming of night would lessen the risk of being seen from above, night and cold and snow would make the need for shelter all the more urgent.
A short distance further on, he came to a stream-scoured bluff thrusting up from the riverbank. In the gloom he could make out a dark blotch at the base of the rock. Moving closer, he found what he had hoped for - the lower portion of the bluff had been eroded by the river, leaving a shallow recess which at this time of year, with the river flowing well within its banks, would provide good shelter. The overhang ought to be just deep enough to shield them from prying eyes above as well as the worst of the snow. Lowering Thorongil to the smooth shelf of rock, he dragged him as far beneath the overhang as he could.
It was almost dark now, and growing colder by the minute. A fire would be welcome both for its light and its warmth, but Denethor could not risk alerting orcs to their location. He shrugged out of his pack and dumped out the contents onto the ground. The blankets he put to the side, along with the provisions and extra clothing, save for one shirt that he wadded up and placed beneath Thorongil's head. Deciding to risk a single candle, he lit it, wedged it between two rocks, and bent to examine Thorongil. His face and hands were dirty, bruised and cut, but the bleeding seemed to have already stopped. Denethor suspected the worst of the injuries would be hidden beneath his scuffed and torn clothing. He unlaced the coat and jerkin, while the shirt he simply sliced down the front. As he pushed aside the fabric to expose Thorongil's battered chest, a glint of gold reflected the candlelight. He reached down and fished the end of a gold chain from the waistband of Thorongil's trousers, seeing that it was attached to a small leather drawstring pouch that must have hung from Thorongil's neck. The hasp of the chain had been broken, probably from tumble down the cliff. Resisting the temptation to open the drawstring bag and look inside, Denethor instead tucked it for safe-keeping into the carry-pouch he wore at his own waist.
The candlelight illuminated deep red bruises that spread across Thorongil's entire left side, from his shoulder and chest all the way down to the bottom of his ribcage. As Denethor probed the area of the darkest bruising, Thorongil flinched, gasped, and drew up his knees, curling curled inward to protect the injury. His eyes fluttered open, the confusion in them slowly yielding to recognition as he focused on Denethor. A frown creased his brow as he took in the white rock above him and the blackness beyond the circle of candlelight. "Where are we?" he asked, his voice barely a rasp.
"In a cave." Denethor pressed him down as he tried to raise himself up on an elbow. "Don't try to move."
Thorongil collapsed back to the ground under his touch, hissing as he braced his side. "My men – are they all right?"
"One is dead." So far, thought Denethor.
Confusion still lingered in Thorongil's expression. "What are you doing here?"
Denethor suppressed a smile. Normally, Thorongil was much too politic to pose such a tactless question. "You disobeyed a direct order," he answered coolly.
Adding to the incomprehension on Thorongil's face was now a measure of disbelief, which he seemed to muster himself to a greater degree of alertness in order to contemplate. "Am I to believe you came all the way out here to reprimand me?"
"Your men follow your example," Denethor said brusquely. "If you cannot be bothered to obey an order, why should they? Besides," he said slightly more gently, "I was under the impression that you sent for help."
Thorongil conceded the point with a sheepish nod. "You're right. I did."
"It has arrived." Denethor unstoppered a water bottle and held it out. "You had better drink, and rest. If help does not arrive by morning, we will have a long journey back to the crossing, and I suspect your left leg is broken." Concerned that removing the boot would aggravate the injury, he slipped the blade of his dagger beneath the boot and the skin of Thorongil's calf and prepared to cut away the leather.
Thorongil caught his hand. "Leave it on."
"It feels like the ankle is broken," Thorongil said, twisting slightly to get a better look at his leg. " But unless you have something with which to splint it, it is better to leave the boot on for now."
Denethor sheathed the knife, slightly annoyed at Thorongil's accurate assessment that he had not thought to gather something for a splint. "Very well, then," he said. "Where else are you hurt?"
Thorongil indicated his left shoulder. "My left collarbone is broken, and my hip pains me a great deal on that side, although I think it is just badly bruised. Bind my left arm across my chest. It will hold the ribs and the collarbone in place until a healer can be found. But tell me, did you see a slave? I was fighting to free him from the orcs when I went over the cliff with one of them."
Deferring to Thorongil's evidently competent self-diagnosis, Denethor abandoned his fumbling attempt at examination and turned his attention instead to slicing his spare blanket into strips. "Ah, yes," he said, "Tilkar, I believe he said his name was. I sent him for help with your lad Cirion." It seemed best for now to avoid mentioning that both the slave and Thorongil's young messenger had most likely been killed by orcs. Lifting Thorongil to a sitting position, Denethor wound strips of cloth around his chest, binding his left arm securely. He unfastened Thorongil's sword belt and wrapped him in his cloak before easing him back down onto a blanket. Displaying the healer's kit Cirion had insisted he carry, he nudged him lightly on the shoulder. "I am no herb-master," he said. "Show me what will ease your pain."
Thorongil opened his eyes. "This one," he said, reaching gingerly to extract a small packet of folded waxed paper. "Bring me a cup." Taking a pinch of the brown powder between his finger and thumb, he dropped it into the cup Denethor provided and instructed him to mix it with water.
As Denethor set the empty cup down and straightened the blanket covering Thorongil, the snow began to fall more heavily. Blown by a rising wind that whistled through the bare treetops, it soon dusted the ground just outside the overhang with a coating of white. Denethor did not know whether to be thankful for the concealment the snow would offer or to curse it. As much as he did not want to be found by orcs, he had very much hoped to be found by Turgon come morning. Thorongil, despite being lean of build, was no feather, and carrying him back to the Poros crossing would take days, if he survived it. For that matter, Denethor thought darkly, assuming they avoided being slaughtered by orcs along the way, the cold would probably kill them both. He shook snow from his hair and reached down to brush a light dusting of it from Thorongil's blanket, surprised to see the captain watching him. He had hoped that whatever was in the brown powder would allow him to sleep. "Try to rest," he said. "I will keep watch."
"I will," Thorongil said. "But first – I owe you my thanks. And my apology."
"Apology – for what?"
"For committing insubordination," Thorongil's voice carried a hint of amusement. "I meant to obey your order, but when I realized the orcs were tracking men, I had no choice but to pursue them."
"I know." Slightly annoyed at having his last shred of self-righteous indignation so handily thwarted, Denethor reluctantly resigned himself to a truce. Leaning back against the wall, he gathered his cloak against the cold and watched the snow for a moment. "I suppose I should thank you, as well."
Thorongil, who had closed his eyes, cracked one open. "For disobeying your order?"
"For saving me from the Mettarë ball."
"You have always seemed to greatly enjoy the Mettarë ball."
"I always have," he admitted. "But I have uncovered a plot, you see. My lady is traveling to Minas Tirith this Mettarë with a mission to ensnare me in matrimony."
Thorongil seemed to find this terribly amusing. "I would not have guessed marriage to the Lady Finduilas to be such a terrible fate."
"Now you sound like Turgon," Denethor said, taking satisfaction in Thorongil's mortified wince. "You would have love and marriage be such a simple matter. Why then do you not marry, if marriage is such a desirable state? You could have any lady in Gondor, save perhaps for a few of the highest breeding, and yet you seem to delight in frustrating their attentions." Denethor was fully aware of the rumors surrounding the captain's masterful skill in deflecting female advances - some argued he was cold; others more romantically maintained that his heart had been broken by a lady long ago, and he could never love another. He himself had never put much thought to the matter – some men, he observed, were made for war, others for love, still others for politics or letters. Denethor respected a man who knew his strengths and weaknesses, and avoided the disgrace of meddling in matters beyond his ken.
For a long while, Thorongil lay as silent as the falling snow. "I do not desire to marry a lady of Gondor," he said finally.
Denethor raised an eyebrow in challenge. "And yet you would counsel me to do so."
"Since you are free to follow your heart," Thorongil said, "so then I would counsel you. Unlike me," he went on, seeming amused again for some reason Denethor could not fathom, "you may have the hand of any lady in Gondor, no matter how lofty her breeding. Do you love the Lady Finduilas?"
He averted his gaze from Thorongil's piercing stare, looking instead at the flickering candle flame. "I suppose I do."
"And she loves you."
"She does," Denethor said, "but I fear that in time she will find the price of loving me too high."
A surprised wince darted across Thorongil's pale face. "What do you mean?" he asked
Already, Denethor regretted opening his mouth. After wisely keeping his own counsel in matters of the heart for so long, he was a fool to speak of such things with the last person to whom he should have revealed weakness – a man so much like himself as to inspire outrageous rumors of marital indiscretions on the part of his father. While dismissing such gossip as absurd, Denethor himself found their similarities unnerving; so much so that he increasingly, as Thorongil's unprecedented ascent through the ranks proceeded, found himself struggling with the absurd suspicion that like a changeling left in place of a stolen baby, Thorongil hoped to take his place. Such worries, he had reassured himself countless times, were not only irrational but completely groundless: a foreigner like Thorongil might be prove an apt commander, useful in time of need, but not even Ecthelion could bestow on him the Numenorean lineage that bought legitimate standing in Gondorian society. He would rise so high, and no further.
Realizing Thorongil was still waiting for an answer, he reasoned that out here, together in the dark and the cold, sharing the uncertain prospect of rescue or the greater one of orc attack, there would be no harm in letting the curtain of their rivalry slip for a while. "I loved her from the moment I saw her," he found himself saying, "standing atop the sea cliffs behind the castle of Dol Amroth, with her dark hair streaming in the wind. Her face was glowing from sunlight and salt breeze; her eyes reflected the sparkle of the waves below." Realizing he had shut his eyes dreamily to summon the memory, and that he sounded like a love-struck fool, he opened his eyes sheepishly and looked down at his hands. "She is a wild creature, made for the raw winds and the salt spray of the sea coast. To her, Minas Tirith would be a sterile prison; a bitter cage for a wild gull."
He pulled up his knees, shrugging deeper into his cloak, expecting Thorongil to make some derisive comment, but the captain looked thoughtful. "Could it not be that the lady loves you more than her sea cliffs? Should the choice not be hers?"
"The lady is drunk on the honeyed wine of new love," he answered. "She does not yet imagine that it will someday taste bitter. Someday, when she is tamed by her choice, she will hate me for letting her make it. I should release her, let her marry some young knight of Dol Amroth who will carry her off to a windswept beach and wade with her barefoot in the tide pools and devote his life to making her laugh."
"Why do you not do it yourself?"
"Because I cannot," he said. "You call me free, Thorongil, but I am not free. The night the mountain of Mordor burst into flame, I swore my life to the struggle against the Enemy. No other wish or desire can take precedence; not even love."
"All in these dark times must struggle against the Enemy," Thorongil said. "And it is not only Gondor that resists the will of Sauron. Do you truly believe that in this you stand alone?"
Denethor's jaw tightened and a familiar burning rose in his gut. "And when Gondor falls, who then will stand? What is Gondor to you, but a place to earn your fame and glory? You fought under Thengel's banner, now Ecthelion's. Soon, some other fortune will beckon you, and Gondor will become nothing to you but a fading memory. Where will you be when the army of Mordor comes marching forth from the Black Gate to knock at the gates of Minas Tirith? Whose banner will you fight under then?"
"I swear to you," Thorongil answered, "on the honor of all my fathers, that I will never forsake Gondor in its time of need."
Denethor shut his mind to the conviction behind the words. "An empty vow, coming from the lips of a baseborn vagrant," he said. "How do you expect me to believe you?"
Thorongil's expression conveyed more sadness than offense. "After all these years, do you still think so little of me?"
"If you would have me think more highly," Denethor answered, "give me a reason. I ask you again - what is Gondor to you, a foreigner?" It was more than a goad – he wanted the answer locked behind Thorongil's wary stare.
He did not answer at first, though Denethor got the impression there was much he wished to say, but did not. "Hope," he said finally.
"Hope?" Denethor repeated. "Just hope? Hope for what?"
Seeming weary, Thorongil simply shook his head, shifting slightly under the blanket, as if to make himself more comfortable. Suddenly his expression froze, and he pushed the blanket away from his torso, reaching his free hand first to his throat and then, frantically, to his bandaged chest.
Denethor leaned over him with concern. "What is wrong?"
Thorongil's motion abruptly stilled and he looked up with a stricken expression, like a boy caught stealing pies from the baker. "I was wearing a chain around my neck," he said finally, his voice carefully level but his eyes – Denethor had never seen them like this before - panicked. "I don't suppose you saw it lying on the ground where you found me?"
The space between two breaths was all the time Denethor had to make his decision. Flakes of snow fell and melted on his hand where it rested on his belt pouch, as still and frozen as Thorongil's expression. Two breaths, and he did not do what would have been so simple – open the pouch and remove the chain. And then the moment was gone, and it was too late. "A chain?" he said, knowing the words were irrevocable. Having uttered them, he could now not pretend to have no idea how Thorongil's chain ended up in his belt pouch. It made him a thief, and a liar, yet he was too intrigued by Thorongil's obvious distress, too curious about the contents of the pouch, to pass up this one chance to delve further into his secrets. "What did it look like?" he asked innocently.
"It was a just a simple gold chain," Thorongil said, carefully but obviously guarding his reaction, "with a small pouch of leather attached to it."
Denethor shook his head. "How unfortunate. You must have lost it in your fall. I hope it was not something extremely valuable."
Thorongil had looked weak before. Now he looked sick. "No," he said, though it sounded like a lie. "I suppose not. It was quite old, but its value was purely sentimental."
"A shame, losing something like that," Denethor said. "Irreplaceable, I suppose." He pulled the candle from its mount and made a show of looking around on the floor of the rock shelter. "I don't see it in here anywhere. It is too dark to look outside for it now, but in the morning, if Turgon finds us, I will send some men to search the area where you fell. I am sure it will turn up."
As if finally overcome by tiredness and pain, Thorongil lay back heavily and closed his eyes. "Thank you."
Denethor pulled the blanket over his shoulders. "Try to get some rest. If help does not arrive by morning, it will be a long day of travel."
The potion he had prepared for Thorongil eventually took effect, as his guarded breaths gradually eased. When he was asleep, Denethor put out the candle to save it and sat beside him in the darkness. After a time, the snow stopped, the stars came out, and the night grew colder. Having wrapped Thorongil in both blankets, he was left with only his cloak to tug around him. He crossed his arms to keep warm, and it was not long after that when his hand, resting at his waist, crept to the flap of his belt pouch and slid it open. From there, his fingers made short work of the delicate knot holding Thorongil's pouch closed.
Inside was only one object – a small rounded metal case, flattish, smoothly finished, with a tiny loop through which the chain had been threaded. He could feel a seam running all the way around it, and two tiny catches, one on each side. He pressed them in unison, then in turn, then in various combinations. As a child, he had been gifted in solving mechanical puzzles, and he had never been able to abandon one without finding the key. Once, when he was nine, his tutor had given him a puzzle box that took him three weeks to solve. He had worked on it every waking moment, and then, after his mother banished it from her sight, all night long when he should have been sleeping, until finally, after many sleepless nights, he solved the puzzle.
He was beginning to think this one would take three weeks to solve as well. He had been working on it for the better part of the night, judging by the stars, reduced at last to absently fingering the latches in random sequences as he half-dozed in the freezing darkness beside Thorongil, when at last the latch popped with an almost inaudible click.
He started so abruptly that for a moment he feared the movement would alert Thorongil, asleep inches away. He kept perfectly still, holding his breath as he listened for any change to the captain's breathing. When he did not stir, Denethor released a breath and flipped open the locket. Inside was a ring. He slipped it onto his finger, tracing the design – some kind of intricate looping pattern, set with several small stones. He turned away from Thorongil and held the ring up, hoping to catch enough starlight to see it by, but it was so dark he could barely see his hand in front of his face. He could not risk lighting the candle in the shelter for fear of waking Thorongil, but he supposed there was little risk in lighting it just around the corner, out of view. Retrieving the candle, he crawled out from under the overhang and stood up, kneading a tight muscle in his back. His feet had gone numb from the cold; he resisted the urge to stamp them only out of fear of making noise. He realized belatedly that the cold could not be doing Thorongil any good, either, in his weakened condition. When he went back to the shelter, he probably ought to rouse him and make sure he was not in danger of freezing to death. But first, he could not resist getting at least a glimpse of this oddly-shaped ring. He was sure it must be valuable, despite Thorongil's denial, and based on his panic at losing it, a cherished possession. But where would he come by such a thing? Though the old, worn, cover story had never rung quite true - Denethor had never believed that a younger son from a poor family seeking glory in the service of greater men would possess the innate confidence and self-assurance that Thorongil, for all his overt humility, had never been able to conceal. Neither, however, had he ever arrived at an alternate explanation for Thorongil's background that would account for the presence of valuable heirlooms. Whatever Gondorian blood flowed through his veins was likely the result of a dalliance by an itinerant Gondorian trader with some gullible Dale milkmaid. Thorongil's more intriguing and anomalous qualities - the native fluency in Sindarin, the mastery of letters and lore, the ease with which he moved in high-born circles, Denethor could only attribute to the careful tutoring of a certain meddlesome wizard. Thorongil, he had long ago concluded, was nothing but a pet project of Mithrandir's, designed to infiltrate the Steward's inner circle and influence his policy.
Mithrandir. The ring might be no family heirloom after all, he realized, but some gift from Mithrandir. With this new suspicion fueling his curiosity, Denethor bent to shield the candle from the wind.
Because even wholly preoccupied with the mystery of Thorongil's ring as he was, Denethor retained the core instincts of a disciplined warrior, he habitually glanced about him one last time to survey the area before taking the risk of lighting the candle. If he had not done so, he would have missed the unmistakable glint of firelight reflecting off the surface of the river, just around the downstream bend.
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