HASA Playlists

A Writer Reads

Playlist Navigation Bar

Middle row links go to story overviews. Bottom row links go first chapter of a story.
At Playlist End
  
  
At Playlist End

 

Hands of the King: 60. Time

The Great West Road, below Calenhad, 10 January, 2980 T.A.

The dryness made the cold more bitter, even as it made the road fast. Denethor said it would be but four more days to Edoras as long as the weather held. Brandir, familiar with the winters of west Anórien, had smelled the air and said the cold spell would hold for several weeks. 'It is dry here at the edge of the grasslands,' he had explained to Finduilas, 'for the western storms rarely get past the Gap of Rohan and Ered Nimrais blocks southern rain.'

Denethor allowed Finduilas and Gull to set the pace for the journey. The mare kept them moving briskly, rarely slowing to a walk, alternating behind a ground-eating trot and a gentle canter. When they stopped to water their steeds and rest, Finduilas felt a little tired, but never weary, and knew Gull was mindful of her rider. Denethor and Gaerhûl stayed at her stirrup on her left, and Brandir kept to her off side. Immediately behind came Thorongil, Aiavalë and Imrahil. Beregar, Wren and Gethron completed their small vanguard. A few horse lengths back rode thirty Guardsmen, the largest number who could be mounted on such short notice.

When Imrahil returned from the Great Council with news of Thengel's death, Finduilas said she needed to go to Rohan to be with Queen Morwen. Aiavalë and Wren had been with her and said they, too, would ride. 'I will go north anyway, to spend the rest of the winter with Wren,' the Archivist had argued, 'so we will go with you and be your maids.' Finduilas had expected a terrible argument with Denethor over her wish, but he simply heard her out and nodded.

In two days, all was ready, and they departed at first light on the seventh. As he had during the plague, Borondir moved into the Stewards House, this time to watch over Boromir. While most were happy with the marriage between Morvorin and Luinmir, Borondir was downcast and Finduilas hoped that tending his small cousin would ease the man's sorrow at losing Luinmir and Anna.

Gull dropped from a trot to a walk, letting the horses cool before the midday stop. A shout from the rear made them look east. Beyond, a troop of horsemen was galloping towards them. They could just make out the white horse of Rohan on the banners, and soon the éored drew up next to them. The mounts were steaming and looked spent. At the head, the leader pulled off his helmet and Finduilas recognized Éomund.

Thorongil urged his horse forward. 'Éomund, your men have ridden hard.'

'Need drives me.' The young man's face was grim.

'When did you leave Poros?'

'Four days ago.'

Denethor gestured for Éomund's attention. 'What route did you take?'

'Up Ithilien and over the bridge, then along the river until we could cut straight to the road.' He donned his helmet, his eyes flicking towards the beckoning road. 'I must not tarry...'

'Have you any messages for us from Osgiliath or Anórien?' Thorongil quickly said, but Éomund was already urging his horse forward.

'No. We didn't stop.' He offered no parting, but called to the éored to follow him. They soon disappeared from view. Thorongil gave Denethor a long look before shaking his head and returning to his position. Gull snorted in a way that sounded disapproving.

Dinner was cold, as it had been the day before, but there was hot tea. Finduilas sat close to Denethor, letting him be a windbreak for her. As she hoped, Thorongil came over at once and took a seat facing Denethor. 'I don't like it,' the captain said without preamble.

'The entire éored,' Denethor answered.

'I cannot blame the men for returning...'

'...but their captain is another matter. Did he...'

'...warn Baragund? Not likely. He would have gathered the men as soon...'

'...as he heard and set off. Right through south Ithilien...'

'....where his absence is now known to all,' Thorongil sourly concluded. Finduilas was amazed at their conversation. No one looking on them now would think anything save that he watched two close brothers. 'Halmir will have warned Baragund and the Steward.'

'It's too dry,' was Denethor's answer. The two men looked at each other and exchanged a grim nod. Thorongil left, but soon returned with dinner for them all. Wren and Aiavalë joined them. 'He will be to Edoras day after tomorrow at that pace.'

'Making that éored useless for two months,' was Thorongil's sour reply. 'The éored at Cair Andros also came, but left some men behind.'

'Not enough.' When he finished his bread, dried meat and hard cheese, Denethor pulled out his knife and cut a map into the dirt. It was of eastern Gondor, from north Ithilien to Poros and over to Lebennin. Thorongil drew his own blade, and they silently marked the map, occasionally pointing or signaling. Imrahil and Brandir drew close, watching intently. Denethor grunted and sheathed his knife. 'Yes, that will do. Imrahil, get the walking desk. I have messages.'

'Do you need a second desk?' Wren asked. 'I have one.'

'Yes.' Denethor and Thorongil were soon writing swiftly, setting down three letters each. Two Guardsmen were told to ride back to the garrison and give the letters to the messenger riders stationed there, then follow to Edoras. That night, in their cramped and lumpy bed at the small inn near the Mering ford, Finduilas asked what messages had been sent. 'Thorongil notified the Steward that Poros was left unguarded, and gave Halmir and Baragund directions for what he wished done to cover that opening. I wrote instructions for Marlong, Anbar and Calmacil for the northern marches.' Denethor growled under his breath. 'The fool. Not even enough sense to ride up the eastern bank.'

'You said it was too dry. Do you fear an incursion from Harad?'

'It is wet to the south, so it is doubtful, but dry here. This is where we need men, but must now move them south or Harad will move, storms or no. There are none to spare.' He did not speak again. Neither slept well that night.

***

Riding through the Eastfold, Finduilas remembered the story Thorongil had told in the parlor of Vinyamar years before. The memory itself seemed more tale than true. The hills were bleak in winter's grasp, and she wanted to ask him to speak of flowers and spring to drive away the barren sight before them. There were no towns or villages upon the road once they passed the Mering Stream, and the road itself was little more than a dirt track slightly wider and deeper than the occasional path that led away up into the hills to the south. To the north, the land fell away to a great plain, sere and windswept. It reminded her of the Sea. In the wind, Finduilas fancied she heard a flute. The wind was stronger and colder here than in Anórien, slowing their pace. Everyone veiled their faces against it, and they all looked like Aiavalë.

They reached Edoras not long before sundown on the fourth day past the Mering Ford. Finduilas looked at the town in dismay as they walked up the single street to Meduseld. It was drab and mean. Edhellond and Ethring were mighty cities in comparison, and she could not recall a single village in Gondor, no matter how small, that was as backwards as Edoras. She glanced at Thorongil, who was smiling as he looked about. How does this compare to your own home? Is this what you grew up in? Finduilas could not imagine a place even less civilized than Edoras. People came out of their houses to stare at the company as they passed. Some called out greetings to Brandir and to Thorongil, whom they named Ælric. By the time they reached the hall, the sun was almost gone and a cutting wind whistled across the porch. Finduilas shivered, waiting for the ritual exchanges and handing over of weapons to be done so they could go inside. The interior of Meduseld was dim and smoky, though it was warm.

Her thoughts fled when she saw Morwen. The woman stood near a simple chair set beside a carved wooden throne. She was dressed in black, her face lined by grief, and a gentle light illumed her from within. With a cry, Finduilas darted forward to embrace her cousin. For long, they stood holding each other tightly, ignoring the sounds around them. When they finally parted, there were more torches and a table had been laid in the center of the hall near the fire pit. Théoden was speaking to Brandir and Denethor. There were lines on the prince's face as well. Morwen led Finduilas to a seat at the table and called for the others to join them. 'You have ridden long through the cold, dear friends. Eat and drink. There is time for talk on the morrow.' Aldwyn and a younger, fair-haired girl came to greet Finduilas. The young girl was Théodwyn, Morwen's youngest daughter.

Supper was soon over. Théoden led them to a guest house not far from the hall and bade them goodnight. The guest house was a single room with six sleeping booths along three sides. Thorongil and Brandir said to use the two nearest the door for baggage as they would be coldest. They shared one, Beregar and Imrahil shared another, as did Wren and Aiavalë. It was only when Finduilas was almost asleep, burrowed against Denethor, that she realized she had not seen Théoden's wife Elfhild.

***

The morning meal was much like supper the night before - meat, bread, cheese and ale. Aiavalë ate little and carefully, but did not veil her face. They were almost done when there was a polite rap on the guest house door. Beregar let in a pale young man, short and plain, with dark hair and odd features. He bowed deeply to them. 'Good morning, honored guests. Lord Théoden has commanded me to wait upon you,' he said smoothly in Sindarin, surprising Finduilas. From his rustic look, she had assumed he would speak only Westron.

Brandir rose from his chair and embraced the man. 'Friend Gríma, it is good to see you, though the reason be sad. Théoden honors us greatly by lending his favorite counselor.'

Gríma bowed again. 'My lord gladly stints himself for your comfort, my lords.' It was a strange answer, said politely, yet with no small pride at being named a favorite of the king-to-be.

'I do not remember you speaking our tongue the last time I was here,' Denethor said.

'I did not know it, then, Lord Denethor. I said to my king that I would learn it, and he instructed me himself.'

'You speak it well.'

'Thank you. Prince Théoden asks if the lords would join him as soon as it pleases you. My lord...'

'It pleases us now,' Denethor answered, cutting Gríma off. When the men had left, Wren helped Finduilas and Aiavalë prepare to meet Morwen. Aiavalë covered her hair and her lower face with a light scarf. It pleased Finduilas to see how brave Lady Lore had become in the last few years. Gríma soon returned and led them to a warm, dim room behind the main hall of Meduseld. Beregar glanced quickly around to room to see if there were any other doors, then nodded to Finduilas and stepped outside to guard in the hallway. Morwen, Aldwyn and Théodwyn were there with several other women, all sewing. After they were greeted and a bench brought near the fire for them, Morwen and her ladies spoke to the guests of polite and pleasant things - if they had rested, how their journey had been, whether the Yule feasts had been grand, how greatly Boromir had grown. Finduilas herself had many questions she wished to ask, but was wary of pressing Morwen, who looked weary, almost frail, so kept her own answers gentle. She was glad when they were called to dinner.

Gríma was standing in the hall with Beregar when they left the sitting room. Morwen brushed past him without a glance, though the other women at least nodded, and Aldwyn said his name. Tables and benches were pulled from the sides of the great hall and many people filed in and took seats. Finduilas wondered if it was always so, or if this was part of the mourning. From the ordinary manner of the people, it seemed a common thing. Beregar attached himself to Gríma and sat next to the counselor at a table nearby. Théoden arrived within a few minutes, his guests in tow, and offered Finduilas warm greetings before taking his own seat. As soon as he did, the eating began. It was odd not to rise for the standing silence. Finduilas glanced at Denethor, who observed the hall with a set expression she knew hid contempt. She took his hand under the table to get his attention. With a slight smile, she bowed her head for a few moments over her food, giving thanks. Denethor, Aiavalë, Wren and Imrahil followed suit. Beregar did likewise, but Brandir and Thorongil simply broke their bread and chatted with their neighbors.

At the end of the meal, the hall was quickly restored and the townsfolk left after paying respects to the guests. To Finduilas's relief, Morwen said they should sit here in the hall and not return to the small, smoky room of the morning. The men remained, as well. Brandir spoke first. 'Dear friends, forgive the words I speak if they are too cruel to bear, but I would hear of the king's passing.'

'Nay, friend Brandir, you may ask, though it is a sad tale to tell,' Théoden sighed. 'And sorrow starts another year. On yestarë, the king rose from his bed and knew his last days were upon him, yet he did not grieve. He laughed and called his daughters to him to break bread and to tease them, for he wished them to be happy. I came to his side, too, as did his counselors, Gálmód and Gram, Walda and Aldor, and all who were here in Edoras. To our eyes, he was stronger than he had been since the frost had returned. He asked for our thoughts and heard our counsel, then said he wished to ride up the slopes above Edoras.

'Thengel would take no companion, but consented that I should walk to the gates with him, where he whistled for Thunderhead, his steed, master of the mearas. When the stallion came, the king did not wait for harness, but asked his horse to bow and let him mount at once. For a moment he sat, as fair and proud as Eorl himself, and gazed upon Edoras, then laughed again. At a word, Thunderhead wheeled and set off into the hills. I went to the flat rock before the walls, and waited for his return.

'Just past noontide, a cry went up from Meduseld, then the mearas came to the gates, whinnying piteously. My mount, Snowmane, charged to me and bade me ride and I did, the mearas following. We went as a storm through the fields and came to a high hill. There he sat at Thunderhead's feet, looking out upon the Mark. No death bed for Thengel, son of Fengel, for he would not be unmanned; behind him, his horse, beneath him, his land, before him, his people. I gathered him in my arms, Snowmane knelt for me to mount with my burden, and we returned to Edoras.'

Thorongil bowed his head and said something softly in Rohirric, joined by Brandir. Théoden replied similarly. Morwen sat, still as stone, and stared at the empty chair at the end of the hall. First came the cry from the hall. You knew. When your love left, you knew. I will know. When Théoden began to speak again, Morwen rose and walked from the hall. Finduilas did not think twice about following her cousin. Just as she reached the doors to the hall and felt the frigid wind, Finduilas heard footsteps behind her. Denethor had his cloak wrapped around her before she could turn around. In his eyes, there was sorrow and something else she could not place. Finduilas kissed him fiercely, not caring who watched, then hurried after Morwen. The woman stood upon the porch, unmindful of the cold, staring across Rohan as her husband had done. Finduilas draped Denethor's cloak about them both, pulling Morwen into an embrace.

'When you leave,' Morwen said softly, 'you will take Aldwyn with you.'

'Should she not be with you during your grief?'

'She is never to come back,' Morwen answered as though Finduilas had not spoken, 'nor Hilda. I will write Luinil and tell her to make a match for Hilda upon the coast. And when Théodwyn is of age, I will send her, too.'

'Why?'

'So they do not die here.'

Finduilas made guesses she did not like. 'Théoden spoke of the king's death as more sorrow. What else has happened?'

'Death. Stupidity. I begged him. After we lost Éowyn, I begged Thengel for one of the midwives of Minas Tirith, a true healer, not the filthy witches they use here!'

'Éowyn?'

'My granddaughter, Théoden and Elfhild's first-born.' The one Brandir spoke of, who died when Thengel married us. 'He would not allow it. Elfhild followed her daughter less than two years later, though Théodred lives. Then Folcwyn and her babe this summer.' Finduilas hugged Morwen to her. 'Two daughters I have buried for no reason save to make peace with the mongrels of the Mark!' The woman's frame shook as much with anger as grief. 'Two daughters you slew, for what? For the stench of dung. For wind unceasing. You would wed them to dirt and death.' Morwen spat on the stone flags. 'It was time you died, before you killed your other children!'

Finduilas stood, shocked, for many minutes after her cousin stormed away. 'Alquallë?' Denethor came out of the doors. 'Where is Morwen?'

'I don't know. She left.' Finduilas allowed him to lead her into the hall, and told Aldwyn she needed to return to the guest house, claiming weariness from the journey. Wren and Aiavalë went with her. They were all tired, in truth, and the three curled up together in a booth and slept the rest of the afternoon.

***

Edoras, 17 January , 2980 T.A.

The barrow was finally ready for its king. There were no embalmers in Rohan, so Thengel had been placed in a small outbuilding where his corpse remained cold and free of corruption until the burial could be held. Thousands were gathered in the fields below the village. Finduilas disliked the raw tomb. The stone was rough and open across the top, with dirt partway up the sides. Compared to the simple crypt of the keep at Dol Amroth, let alone the majesty of the Hallows at Minas Tirith, this was insultingly crude. She did not see how it could keep a determined dog from digging it all up. It seemed wrong to lay a great man in this pile of rocks.

First came men of the household, who set a trestle inside the tomb. Women came afterwards, each bearing something - a length of cloth, worked iron, bronze set with gems, a tightly woven basket of food, a bridle - to lay beside and below the trestle. Spears were used as rods on which to hang tapestries on the sides of the stone. Why? Who will see them? This looks like a wagon loaded for a trip. At the last came the bier itself, carried by many men. Théoden was one of the bearers, as was Éomund. Thorongil and Brandir had asked leave and were permitted to share the burden. The small, shrunken form, arrayed in rich cloth and furs, bore no resemblance to the hale and kind old man Finduilas knew. Gently, the bearers laid the bier upon the trestle. More goods were brought and piled around Thengel. When there was no more room, men came forward and laid several thin, solid slabs of stone across the top of the tomb to give it a roof. The entrance was walled up and turves laid over the whole. The grass on the turves was sere, and many clumps of dirt broke because they were so dry, but soon the barrow was finished. Poking through the dead grass were small white flowers like stars or snowflakes.

After the last block of sod was placed, the singing began. Men on horses circled the barrow, chanting. Aldwyn stood forward and sang something, as did Théoden, and Finduilas imagined it was like the hymn of passing. Once Thengel's children sang, the men who bore the bier approached. Each stepped forward and chanted something, then saluted the barrow and step aside for the next. Finduilas tapped Denethor's chest to get his attention. 'What are they doing, friend?' she whispered.

'They each say a short poem in honor of the king, recounting some act of valor, wisdom or kindness they witnessed him perform,' he murmured back. Brandir stood there now. 'Brandir tells of the charge Thengel led against the forces of Morgul, when the Enemy declared himself and attacked.' If it was odd to hear him speak Rohirric, it was even stranger to imagine the sweet Fool in battle, yet he rode at Thengel's side. When the next came forward, Denethor whispered the poem. Gálmód spoke of a return to ancient customs, Thorongil told of the trust shown a wanderer, Walda praised Thengel's judgment in a dispute over land, Éomund told a funny tale of being outwitted in a horse race, and so the poems went, presenting deeds great and small. The crowd scattered after the poems, some going to wagons and tents spread below the hill while others climbed towards the hall.

From the river, a small herd of horses approached. Gull was among them and Finduilas knew this must be the mearas. Each horse paused before the barrow, then circled it. The last horse was a tall, old stallion, one eye blue and blind. He did not circle the barrow, but lay down next to it. A few of the steeds nuzzled him before turning and walking back to the river.

Through all of this, Morwen watched, dry-eyed and stony-faced.

***

Edoras, 19 January , 2980 T.A.

They were to depart on the morrow. Finduilas was glad to be going. Morwen's silence had deepened. Aiavalë was not disturbed by the queen's dumbness, having had much practice in holding her own tongue among strangers, and Morwen did not object to the Archivist's veiled company. The only thing that roused Morwen from her brooding was her grandson. Théodred was only as tall as Boromir, though he was several months older, and he was not as stout. Finduilas noticed that Morwen only spoke to him in Sindarin. She also noticed that she herself had not thought about Boromir since leaving the City.

Yesterday and today had been taken up with raucous games before the walls by the young men and quiet counsels in warm corners by the elders. When Morwen's silence became too much to bear, Finduilas went with Wren, Aldwyn and Théodwyn to watch the games. She listened to the girls gossip, paying attention to how they spoke of different families and leaders, and from this gained insight into the politics of the Mark. Morwen was respected, though not always loved, and people wondered if the young king would pay more mind to the Mark than to the wars of Gondor. The great question was whether Gálmód would remain in Edoras to counsel Théoden, or whether he would return to his lands in the Westfold.

'He should go, and quickly,' Théodwyn declared.

'Wouldn't it be foolish to lose a long-serving man when rule is changing?' Finduilas asked. 'My lord father made no change to his privy council until he had been Prince for a full year.' She did not mention that Adrahil had appointed most of the counselors in the first place.

Théodwyn rolled her eyes. 'He's Dunlending.'

'He's no less Eorling than you or me, brat!' Aldwyn hissed, tugging one of her sister's braids. 'Father trusted him, and that should be enough for anyone!'

'Mother doesn't, and that should be enough for you,' Théodwyn snapped. 'You just like Gríma!'

That brought red to Aldwyn's cheeks. 'I do not! I mean, there's nothing wrong with him. He's a good man. But I don't...' She bit off her next words and glared at her little sister, who stuck out her tongue. After a short round of braid pulling, Aldwyn hissed, 'Father liked Gríma, too! And you're flirting with Éomund!'

'You would, too, if he'd look at you,' Théodwyn taunted, 'but you're a dark storm crow. You suit Gríma. Are you sure you're not part Dunlending?' That earned her a twisted ear.

'Éomund's a fool! His horse is smarter than he is! He lamed the poor beast.'

'He rode to his king's side!'

'His king is not happy.' With a frosty glare, Aldwyn walked off. Théodwyn stuck out her tongue at her sister's retreating back before stalking off in another direction.

By supper, the girls had made up and sat with their heads together, giggling and whispering. Morwen remained a statue, eating little. Théoden spoke cheerfully, but his gaze kept wandering to the queen. Denethor watched everyone. When the meal drew to an end, Denethor caught Théoden's eye. 'King Théoden, you asked today if there was a gift I would ask of you. There is one.' Denethor gestured down the table to Gríma. 'Come here.' The young man walked over. All eyes at the table were focused on them, even Morwen's. 'The last time I came to Rohan, Théoden, your man asked me about Gondor. Let me take Gríma to Minas Tirith, so he can see for himself, and not learn of Gondor through travelers' tales and books.' Gríma's face was alight and he looked beseechingly to Théoden.

'No.' Morwen and Gálmód said the word together. Morwen looked at Gríma and his father contemptuously, a slight curl to her upper lip. 'Do not waste your time, Denethor. Whatever he learns would be worthless here. Not that he would learn much.'

Gálmód said something in Rohirric to Gríma and motioned his son to return to his seat. The young man's cheeks were more red than Aldwyn's had been, and he dropped his eyes. Théoden laid a hand on Gríma's arm, keeping him from returning to his seat, smiling at the shamed man. 'You ask too much, Lord Denethor, for I cannot be without him. This is the wisest man in the Mark; he knows what he does not know, and he dares to learn more. Gríma, I need you here, to be the chief of my counselors, but I have not your wisdom. Perhaps it is best that you go to Mundburg.'

The pale man knelt. 'May I be accursed should I ever leave your side, my king. I am your faithful Gríma.'

***

Pear Hollow, Anórien, 24 January , 2980 T.A.

Théoden sent thirty Riders with them as escort for Aldwyn to Minas Tirith. They would continue on to Poros. Thorongil and Denethor had made it clear that they did not wish Éomund back even after his éored recovered from its punishing ride. Aldwyn was glum the first few leagues out of Edoras, but Wren soon distracted her by making the girl promise to teach her how to use a bow from horseback. The two were now fast friends. Gálmód had left Edoras the same morning they departed. Morwen stood on the porch before the hall and smiled as she watched him and his men ride off. Gríma's face had been unreadable, as though he had borrowed one of Thorongil's masks. Denethor approved of Théoden's bold stroke to replace Gálmód with his son. 'Théoden has put all of the counselors on notice by raising up Gríma. He will not be ruled by those who are hostile to Gondor,' he had said that night when they were in bed. Finduilas thought it more done to please Morwen. The queen would not want Gríma accompanying Aldwyn to Gondor. That it also drove away Gálmód was so much the better. She hoped Morwen would be more kind to Gríma now.

They arrived at the farm in the late afternoon. The sky was overcast, which made the air slightly warmer, and the light was soft. The barn could not hold all of their horses, so they were picketed in a fallow field near the house. The Guardsmen and the Riders started bonfires at the edge of the field near the woods that reached from the farmyard down the long slope to the Onodló a half a league away. After seventeen days of wind on the road and at Edoras, Finduilas understood why the farms of Anórien all had trees to their northwest. She watched the men settle in, then smiled when she recognized the footsteps behind her. Denethor circled her with his arms, resting his face against her hair.

'Alquallë.'

'Friend. I am glad we are going home.' She took Denethor's hand and tugged to make him follow her. 'For all that we have been together this month, I have scarce had time for a word with thee, love. If you do not mind the chill, I would walk with you ere the sun sets.'

He smiled. 'If you are not too tired.'

'Tired of riding, yes! A walk will be good.' She followed a path into the woods, wanting to stay away from the wind. Her face was dry and her lips chapped, even though she had veiled as much as Aiavalë. 'When we return, I think I shall spend the rest of winter underground, like a mole.'

'Or under covers,' Denethor blandly offered, though he wore a sly smile. 'That would be warm as well as dark. Snug, too.'

Finduilas laughed. 'You can be sure that I expect a good deal of burrowing this winter.'

'We'll have a bed, indeed an entire room, to ourselves tonight.'

'Indeed we do, husband.' Finduilas smiled. A night of making love would be wonderful, even if they could not do all that they would wish. That will wait for home. They spoke quietly about Rohan and Gondor, of the loss of Thengel and Denethor's measure of Théoden. Finduilas did not speak of Morwen's savage words, but said that Morwen looked to make matches for her daughters in Gondor. 'That should bind Rohan even more tightly to Gondor, if houses are joined.' Before them, the land fell away steeply and there was a clear view over shrubs and low-lying willows to the river. Finduilas looked about, and realized they had wandered a long distance from the farm. 'Friend, I think we should return. It will be dark under the trees very soon.'

'One kiss,' he said with a smile, 'to tide us over until the night.' Finduilas could not refuse. The feel of his mouth on hers made her moan, and he replied in kind. His long fingers, rough from the cold, stroked her face, then one slid under her cloak to cup a breast. She wondered if she would be able to wait until night. Denethor pulled away from her, breath heavy and face flushed. He glanced toward the river and a change came over his face. Clapping a hand over her mouth, he pulled her down to the ground.

'Orcs.' He said it calmly. Denethor raised himself up a few inches, peering over the bank. 'Scouts coming this way. Follow me. Stay low.' They scrambled up the slope, hunched over and trying to stay hidden among the trees. After several minutes, they paused. Denethor pulled himself up in a tree, looking back the way they came. He said a foul oath and jumped down. 'They've caught our scent.' His hand went to his belt, but carried only a knife. 'Up the tree. Get as high as you can and don't make a sound.' Finduilas clambered up as far as she could. Below her, Denethor broke a length off a downed branch and stationed himself at the foot of the tree.

There were three. They stalked Denethor, creeping close to the ground, scimitars held out before them as they spread out to surround him. He stood still, the branch in his right hand. They were small compared to him, perhaps half of his height, but they had blades. Their battered armor jingled at each step. The one to the left lifted his sword and threatened. Denethor took a step towards it and it charged, then fell back. He lunged after it. Finduilas bit her sleeve to keep from screaming, for the beast to the right charged him from behind. Smooth as water, Denethor whirled and cracked the right-hand Orc across the side of its head, knocking the creature off its feet. The blow also cracked the branch in two. The other two Orcs charged.

Denethor allowed the power of his strike to turn him completely around, meeting the left-most Orc with the broken branch. The beast flinched and Denethor stabbed it in the eyes with the end of the branch, making it shriek. He dropped the branch, grabbed the Orc's wrists, and swung it around into the path of its fellow's sword blow. The scimitar dug into the first Orc's back and the shriek turned into a scream of agony. Denethor shoved the wounded Orc into the sword and sent both creatures tumbling. Seizing the sword the wounded one had dropped, he whirled around just in time to face the third Orc, who had recovered from the clubbing and was attacking. Denethor took off the top of its skull and hacked it a few more times, severing its head, before stalking back to the two on the ground. The first was still screaming while the second raved in a foul tongue and tried to shove it away. With two swift chops, Denethor hacked off the second one's sword arm, and then its head before beheading the first.

At first, all that could be heard was the gurgle of blood leaving their bodies, then Finduilas heard shouts to the north. 'Get down!' Denethor called, 'We have to run!' She skinned both her hands on the rough bark and nearly fell, but somehow made it to the ground in one piece. The earth was slippery with black blood and the stench made her heave. Denethor grabbed her hand and yanked her after him. It was fully dark now, and she prayed Denethor knew which way the farm lay, for she was lost. Finally, through the trees, she saw the bonfires. As they burst onto the field, Denethor bellowed 'Orcs! Coming from the river, Orcs!'

Every man was on his feet, belting on a sword, grabbing up a quiver of arrows, pulling torches out of the bonfire. Thorongil ran up to them. 'How many? Are you hurt?'

'Hundreds. Maybe a thousand. No, I killed three scouts.' Denethor gave Finduilas a shove. 'Get into the farmhouse, now!' With that, he was running back to the soldiers. 'Get the horses saddled,' he shouted. Finduilas could not move. A thousand? Here?

Wren was running from the farmhouse towards her, Aldwyn on her heels. 'Finduilas! Oh, Valar, no!' Wren cried when she saw blood on Finduilas's clothes.

'I'm not hurt! It's Orc blood. There's hundreds of them.' Beyond, Finduilas saw people coming out of the farmyard. The men had swords, while the women and older children carried axes and scythes. Finduilas felt worse than useless. If she used a bow, she would probably hit her own people. She knew she dared not pick up a sword or even an axe. From the woods came the sounds of approaching Orcs. Her eyes fell on the picket lines. I can saddle horses as good as a Rider! 'We need to get the horses saddled. You guard me!' Wren and Aldwyn raced for their bows.

Gull had already taken command of the horses, neighing and biting them to make them hold their line. She whinnied at Finduilas. 'I'm here girl! Keep them calm so I can saddle them.' Riders were among their steeds, but only a few Guardsmen were there. Gull grabbed Finduilas's sleeve in her teeth and dragged her over to Gaerhûl. 'Him first?' The mare snorted. The stallion stood stock still, staring at the fires and making a deep sound in his chest like the snarl of a war mastiff. He was wet with sweat. The moment his girth was tight, he reared, bugling a challenge, and charged towards the fires. The Orcs burst from the trees at the same instant, many dropping under a rain of arrows. There was not another moment to watch, for Gull took Finduilas to the next horse. One after another, she got the animals saddled. Thorongil's steed could be turned loose, just like Gaerhûl, but the rest had to remain tied until they were led to a rider, for they were not war horses. As soon as one was finished, she went to the next, and forbade herself to watch the carnage. Finally, only Gull herself was left. Finduilas started to mount, but Gull butted her with her head and snorted, indicating she should wait.

'Don't mount up yet,' Aldwyn said at her shoulder. The woman had an arrow nocked and had her eyes glued on the battle. 'You'll be a target that high up. They've a few archers.'

'Stay behind us, sister,' Aiavalë ordered. She also had her bow. Finduilas realized that she was circled by Aldwyn, Aiavalë, Wren and Beregar. The Hound and the shield maiden had swords as well as bows. To the west, there were fires near the next farm.

'Beregar, what is happening?' Finduilas asked.

'An army of Orcs came across Onodló. They march east and bands of them are coming up from the river to attack the farms,' he answered without turning. His quiver was nearly full. Finduilas hoped that meant there had not been many Orcs here. She could see Denethor shouting orders to the Guardsmen, Gaerhûl nearby. Thorongil was mounted on his horse and the Riders were near him. She no longer saw living Orcs. At a motion from Denethor, the captain whistled and set off west with the Rohirrim towards the burning farm. A single Rider went east. Gethron yelled a command. Most of the Guardsmen went to him and they ran into the trees. Denethor was left with Brandir and Imrahil, a handful of Guardsmen, and the family who tended the farm. The Guardsmen spread out across the field, making sure the Orcs were all dead. The others came to the picket line.

'What are you doing here?' Denethor demanded. His face was streaked with sweat and blood. More blood and other things clung to his clothes. Behind him was Gaerhûl, as gore-spattered as his master.

'The horses needed to be...'

He angrily motioned for her to be silent. 'Did anything get back here, Beregar?'

'A few. We dropped them before they got close. What now?'

'Wait for the woods to be cleared and the scouts to return. Move closer to the farmhouse.' Denethor did not look at or speak to her again, but stayed in close conversation with Brandir. Like Denethor, he was filthy and blood-soaked, looking anything but a fool. Gethron's troop returned inside the hour, reporting that the woods were clear down to the river and that they found the trail taken by the army. Thorongil led the Riders back not long after. His face was grim.

'They were taken unawares. We killed the Orcs, but they had already done their worst.' He looked west. 'They came over the upper marshes, taking advantage of the dry weather.'

'And the inattention of the Riddermark.' Denethor's voice was harsh. The Riders exchanged looks. 'Gethron, how many from the look of the track?'

'Too many. About a thousand, like you said.'

Denethor looked at Thorongil. 'Too many to take on...'

'...by ourselves. But we can raise the...'

'...farms. Get them out of the way, but...'

'...we need the garrison. And there's possibly more...'

'...in the fens. So alert, then...'

'...attack.' Thorongil turned to the Riders. 'The fastest of you will go to the garrison...'

'No.' Denethor turned, grabbed Finduilas, and tossed her onto Gull's back, leaving her smeared by the gore clinging to him. 'You're going. You have the fastest horse. Tell Marlong that there are a thousand Orcs following the line of the river, marching west. Intercept above Minrimmon. We will harry them and empty the farms. What did I just say?'

'A thousand Orcs go west along the river. He must intercept at...' she floundered.

'Minrimmon!'

'Minrimmon. You will harry, empty the farms.'

'Again!' She said it again, not making a mistake this time. 'Again!' Satisfied, he nodded and told Gull, 'Run. Do not stop for anything. To the garrison, go!'

Gull wheeled and cantered to the lane before the farm, then picked up speed until she was at a full gallop. Finduilas held the reins only enough to keep them from flapping, trusting Gull to know the road. She began to sob, clinging to the pommel to stay upright. Stop it, goose! You're out of danger now. You're riding away from it. The thought made her weep harder, for all whom she loved best were still there. Behind her, there was the sound of a horn, demanding that she come to its call. Gull pulled up and neighed, crab-walking down the lane, looking back towards the sound. Denethor. He raises the land. North and west, she saw flames. Determination seized her. 'We can't answer that, Gull. We must fly!' Gull snorted and soon they were racing along the dark track. Again and again came the horn. Please, someone, answer that call, she prayed, Do not leave them in darkness and alone. Hear us and pity us! Soon, the road before her grew brighter. Above, the clouds parted and the stars shone brightly. The moon added his rays, bathing the hills with silver. The land rose steadily from the river bottoms towards the foothills. As she looked east, Finduilas saw bonfires start up, and heard faint horns. They are warned.

Only twice in the night did Gull slow her pace to rest, but she never stopped. Finduilas shivered with cold, for she had dropped her cloak in the flight from the Orcs, and hoped she would not collapse from weariness. They made the main road near Minrimmon just after midnight. Gull ran even faster on the well-kept way. In the early dawn, Finduilas saw the bulk of the Druadan Forest ahead, and knew they were near the garrison. Gull slowed to a trot and whinnied to announce their arrival.

'A messenger!' Someone ahead in the gloom approached, lantern held high. Finduilas closed her eyes and hunched over Gull's neck, trying to keep from falling out of the saddle. 'What news, man? We've been hearing horns, and... It's a girl! Gundor! Gundor! Get the captain! It's a girl, she's hurt!' 'Make way! Make way! Get a healer.' 'Bring the horse around, Haldar. That's a Rider girl. Hang on, miss, you're safe.' Hands pulled her from Gull's back and the lantern was brought near her face. A cry went up. 'No! Captain! Captain! It's the Lady!'

Finduilas struggled against the arms holding her. 'Put me down!' Someone - Gundor? Haldar? - obeyed. Grabbing the man's coat for support, she looked around until she saw Marlong. She pointed at him. 'Denethor sent me to tell you. A thousand Orcs have invaded. They came over the fens. They march west along the river. You must intercept above Minrimmon. Denethor harries them and empties the farms.'

Marlong repeated what she said, then said it again and several of the men said it with him, then more whom she could not see. Finduilas felt surrounded by ghosts. 'Form up!' Marlong called, 'Men, out and armed! We march at once.' He grabbed Finduilas who was swaying. 'Come with me. Can you walk?' Another man supported her while they went to the garrison itself. 'Are you hurt?' She shook her head. 'What else may you tell me?'

'Wren was unharmed when I left. That was an hour past sundown.' Marlong covered his face for a moment. 'There are also thirty Riders with us, so the numbers are greater. Messengers need to go to Edoras and Minas Tirith. Probably to Cair Andros and Osgiliath.'

He held up a hand. 'The messages are already being written. Please, you must rest now. A woman has been sent for to help you.' She was led to a seat near the hearth to wait, and fell asleep before the woman arrived. Finduilas woke only enough to allow the woman to guide her upstairs, pull off the dirty and bloody clothes, and help her into bed.

***

The sun was well up when Finduilas woke. Luckily, her packs had not been removed from Gull's saddle before the attack, so there was a change of clothes. A spare cloak was found to replace the one she lost. As she was eating, a messenger from Minas Tirith clattered into the garrison yard. He was startled to see her. 'Where are you bound?' she demanded.

'Rohan. Is Lord Denethor here? The message is for him.'

'No, he is north. There was an invasion of Orcs last night.'

'Alas! That is the news. Armies have issued from the Black Gate and the Accursed Vale! There is even word of Haradrim advancing on Poros. I was to find the Warden and then carry word on to Rohan.'

'Give me the message for Denethor. I will see it gets to him. I have a message for King Théoden.' Finduilas quickly set down all she knew of the Orc attack, including that the Riders were under Thorongil's command and that Aldwyn was safe. She prayed the latter was still true. He was on his way in a few minutes. The letter to Denethor was sent with one of the few men left behind to tend the garrison. He seemed pleased to be going. Nor do I wish to sit here. Finduilas went to the stable to check Gull. The mare did not seem at all tired. 'What about it, girl? Ready for another ride?' The mare whinnied and pawed the ground. 'I should go to the City. Denethor would say so, and it is wise. But we can't leave Wren and Lady Lore on their own, can we?' Gull shook her head and opened the stall door. The few soldiers left at the garrison protested, but she ignored them, filling her pack with food. She and Gull were on the road west within the quarter hour.

All along the northwest horizon, smoke rose in brown plumes and the land was silent. Even the wind was gone. The air smelled of smoke. Gull set a steady but slow pace. When night fell, they were below Erelas. Finduilas did not dare light a fire for fear of what might be attracted - ruffians were just as dangerous as Orcs - and ate a cold meal in a thicket a stone's throw from the road. Gull lay down, providing a warm windbreak to sleep against. At noon the next day, she neared the crossroads near Minrimmon and spied a long train of carts and people coming up from the countryside. Wren spotted her first and thundered up, whooping, Aldwyn on her heels. Beregar and Aiavalë soon joined them. After assuring each other everyone was unharmed, Finduilas asked Beregar what had happened after she left.

'Lord Denethor sent out Riders to warn ahead of the Orcs, and get the farms cleared. The lowlands near the river, wherever the grass was dry enough, it was set ablaze. He left us to gather the people from Pear Hollow and alert the upland villages. Many have joined us. The rest, the Guard and the Riders, they are harrying. There's more Orcs than we thought.' He looked at her sternly. 'You should not be here!'

'Yes, I should. There needs to be someone to order this retreat. And there is dire news from Minas Tirith - Ithilien is assailed and the South moves.' Finduilas had been considering this news for two days, and did not like it. When the caravan reached the crossroads, they stopped for dinner, and Finduilas asked the leaders to eat with her. Most of the adults in the train were women, as the men had answered their lord's call to defend the land. Elders and children made up the bulk of the people, though there were some wounded in the wagons. The women were ready to defend their charges, however; almost every one bore a weapon, usually a bow or an axe, though a few had swords. Finduilas spoke plainly of the news from the east. 'The Enemy has attacked, and there will be no peace until he is beaten back. This will not end quickly.'

'Where shall we shelter, my lady?' an older woman calmly asked. 'Our men will be called to the east, and these lands are no longer safe.'

'Minas Tirith,' Finduilas firmly replied. 'While battles rage, anyone who is not needed here must come to the City. Stores and livestock should be brought in as well.'

The farmers did not like her words, but their eyes traveled to the columns of smoke and they assented. Finduilas spoke with women who knew the area, getting an idea of how many folk would be uprooted, where foodstuffs might be stored near the road so it would not need to be transported to the City, and what to do about the herd animals. All agreed that the wounded, the elders and the young children must go to the City. Some older boys were sent off on horses to spread the word that all who could were to join the retreat.

The wagon train moved more easily upon the road. Each crossroad produced more people, more wagons, more animals. And more wounded - the men were now into their second day of battle. It was easy to see that there could be enormous confusion if the travelers went unordered along the way. A former lieutenant, now too old to fight, came to her aid, calling upon Beregar and women who had mounts to help him set things to right. Old soldiers gladly helped keep the lines neat.

That night, they camped and dared to have fires. The older children, girls as well as boys, were set as watchers. After a meal of bean soup and stale bread, Finduilas took Wren's walking desk and began penning messages. This to the Steward. That to Borondir. Another to Morwen and Théoden. Then, the longest, to Denethor, explaining what she was doing. He will be wroth that I remain out here, but it must be done. It was only when she finished that she realized she had a visitor.

'Lady Finduilas.' The old wizard bowed. 'I am relieved to find you well.'

'Lord Mithrandir, good evening. How is it you are here?'

'I came to Rohan when I heard of Thengel's death, and decided to continue to Gondor. A messenger upon the road gave me news of attacks, and I hurried.'

'What do you know of healing, wizard? There are wounded men in the wains.'

'A little. I will do what I can.' With another bow, he walked away.

***

It was ten days from the crossroad of Minrimmon to Minas Tirith. One man died of his wounds and was buried at the garrison. Word came to them when they were there that the invading Orcs had been killed, but that there might be a few hidden in the river bottoms, so the outlying farms were still being emptied. Denethor and Thorongil led their small band and half of the Anórien garrison east to Cair Andros to the Ithilien battles while Marlong used the rest of the garrison to root out any remaining Orcs and to secure the fens of Onodló. A messenger from Rohan brought word that a smaller band had invaded Eastfold, but had been defeated.

Each night, Finduilas spoke with the village heads, telling them of battle news and deciding the defense of Anórien. With the first fearful flight behind them, it was easier to plan. Most villages were within a few leagues of the road and were not likely to be attacked, so their people stayed in place. Farms within three leagues of Onodló were to be emptied of women and children, by Denethor's order. Most agreed that until the spring rains came and the rivers rose, Orcs might still be able to make their way through the fens, so the river lands were not safe. Those farmers with kin nearer the road would house there, while the rest would retreat to the City, as Finduilas had originally proposed. The wizard had said little, hidden in his cloud of pipe smoke, but he supported Finduilas and counseled caution. In the end, almost four thousand people followed her to Minas Tirith.

After the counsels, she wrote messages. Borondir and the Steward were apprised of how many were going to need shelter, and of what goods they would bring. To Denethor, she wrote of where the people in Anórien were gathered, how much food was to be brought to which locations, and where patrols were set. He had only time for one message in return. It told her which headmen to count on most, what kinds of supplies needed to be gathered for the fighting in Ithilien, and where they were to be held so they could be sent across Anduin as needed. The last thing she did before crawling into her blankets each night was walk around the encampment so all knew their Lady was sharing their misfortune. She always paused near the circle of children who gathered to hear Mithrandir tell a story about a little boy who went on an adventure with dwarves, and how the lad fought Orcs and spiders, talked to Elves and bears, and even stole some treasure from a dragon.

The ninth night put them a league inside the Pelennor. Borthand was waiting for her with a message from Borondir and a few things she had asked to have sent. She nodded grimly as she read over the note. As Denethor battles the enemies without, so will I have to do battle with those inside. She called her captains to her - Beregar, Aiavalë, and Wren- and explained what would happen on the morrow.

***

Below her, the armies formed. Tendrils of smoke climbed upwards, forming a charnel scented pall. The crown of stone weighed upon her, and her daughter clung to her, pulling on the belt at her waist. All around her, the walls were singing the hymn of passing. The ships of the City came unmoored, plunging down the steep hillside towards the river. In the distance, she saw herself upon the spire in the waste. The armies below each tower surged towards each other. Black ships, torn by the storms, sailed up the river, carrying the burned king to battle. Arms circled her waist and the silver demon laughed. The wind whistled around the spire, playing a mournful tune.

***

Minas Tirith, 5 February , 2980 T.A.

She rode in from the north as she had once before from the south, with her banner flying in the winter sun and thousands following behind. Borthand was her proud standard bearer. To her either side were Aiavalë and Wren, dressed in the tunics she had Aeluin send, captains wearing her badge. Aldwyn and Beregar followed. Behind them was the long train of carts and wagons. There had been much cheering when they saw her banner, and many carts now sported a pole flying black and white streamers. Everyone who had one of her badges wore it proudly. The road to the Great Gate was soon lined with the folk of the Pelennor, and they also showed off flags and badges, a good number joining the march to the City. People stood on the walls to watch her approach, while the stone shook with the sound of horns and bells. Borondir and her remaining Guardsmen awaited her in the first circle court.

After they embraced, she asked Borondir, 'Is all prepared?'

'Yes.' He cast a rueful glance at the gate. 'My hands will be full the rest of the day, my lady, but all will have a roof over their heads by nightfall.'

'And in the Citadel?'

'The viper waits.' Borondir looked at her with concern. 'Are you certain you do not need me? It is my fault...'

'No, cousin. You are needed here.' She kissed his cheek and motioned for her captains to follow. The Guardsmen escorted them up the mountain through the cheering throngs. It was only when she dismissed Borthand and Aldwyn in the Court of the Fountain that she noticed Mithrandir had also walked with them. 'Lord Mithrandir, I fear I need to speak with Lord Ecthelion now. I will send for you when I am done.'

'I wish to speak to the Steward as well,' he politely answered, 'so I will join you.'

Finduilas frowned at his forwardness, but nodded curtly. She led her captains to the Tower. Warden Hathol met her at the foot of the stairs to the upper chambers. 'My Lady, I am so glad to see you safely returned!' he cried. 'The Lord Steward awaits you in his chambers. Lady Maiaberiel is there as well, and your son.'

'I will see the Lord Steward in the council chambers,' she calmly replied. Without waiting for an answer, she led the others to the room. 'Huan, get Boromir and take him back to the house. If Beruthiel is there, say that Denethor will allow you to take her ear if she interferes.' With a dangerous smile, Beregar nodded and left. Finduilas sat down in Denethor's seat at the table and motioned for Aiavalë to sit opposite, with Wren beside her, their backs to the door. Mithrandir retreated to a seat in a corner. Barely were they seated before Ecthelion came in. Finduilas nodded agreeably, but did not rise. 'My Lord Steward, good afternoon.'

'Good afternoon to you, daughter, I am...' he answered.

'Daughters,' Finduilas answered in the same tone. Ecthelion walked to the head of the table before looking at the other women. Aiavalë wore no veil and looked on her father with proud disdain. When was the last time you saw her face uncovered? Wren spared him a single contemptuous glance, then gazed out the window. The door to the chamber opened again and Maiaberiel walked in. Eldest and youngest, and all the wrongs that lie between. 'But not that one.'

Like Ecthelion, Maiaberiel paid no attention to the others in the room. 'Your dog threatened me. You will correct him now, or I will have it done,' she snapped.

Finduilas did not waste a smile. 'Any harm done to one of my house will be inflicted upon you two-fold, Beruthiel, if I have any cause to think it was done at your order.' Aiavalë and Wren turned in their seats to stare at Maiaberiel. She backed a few steps from the table, dismayed. 'You know you are forbidden to come near my son, and I do not care for your slithering over when I am not here.' Finduilas turned her attention to Ecthelion. 'You have broken troth with me. I fear that will have consequences.'

The Steward looked at her for several heartbeats. He looked next at Wren, but could only bear her angry glare a moment before dropping his eyes. Next was Aiavalë. He gazed at her the longest. When his eyes turned to Maiaberiel, he did not study her, but said, 'You are forbidden to come near Boromir so long as I live. The Lady's punishment is just if you do mischief. You may go.'

'Father!'

'Go.' His voice was Denethor's. The look of bewilderment on Maiaberiel's face made her look very young. She backed to the door, shaking her head, then fled. Ecthelion watched the door for a while before turning to Finduilas. 'My apologies for that interruption, my lady. Thank you for your messages. I have been sick with worry over you, and grieved for the harm done to our people. What remains to be done?'

'Those who do not wish to remain in Anórien are being settled in the City. Borondir oversees that even as we speak. Wren has come back from Anórien to help me and Aiavalë order the City during this time of woe. You need give no thought to this, my Lord Steward, as you will need to give your attention to the battles. Once these incursions are stopped, it will be time for Umbar.'

Ecthelion nodded. He looked to Aiavalë. 'What is your counsel in this, Archivist?' For a second, Finduilas thought that Aiavalë would be dumb, but the woman drew a breath and spoke. For the next hour, the Steward listened to his daughters, asked them questions, and learned what they intended to do. At the end, he stood, gravely thanked them and left.

Finduilas stood to leave and saw Mithrandir. She did not want him in the Stewards House when Denethor was gone, but she had questions for him. 'Mithrandir, you said you wished to speak to the Steward. May I have a word with you before you do?'

'I think that would be wise for both of us.' She told the others to leave. As the wizard did not seem inclined to move from his chair, Finduilas came around the table and stood near him. He began preparing a pipe. 'I should know by now to expect unusual things from you, Finduilas,' he genially said, 'yet still I am surprised. What were you doing here?'

'Removing the fangs of a serpent. What are you doing here?'

'Waiting for Thorongil.'

'Why did you bring him from the north?'

He concentrated on getting his pipe lit. 'It made sense at the time. I was at a tavern and met a promising young man who wished to see the world. I said he should come south with me the next time I journeyed, and he did.'

'A poor young man who needed to earn gold for his family.'

'That too.'

'You brought him here to supplant Denethor. That was always your intent.'

'No.' He stared past her.

'Yes. Look me in the eye and deny it.'

The wizard's expression was fierce. 'No. Thorongil supplants no one.'

Finduilas weighed his words, and her own. 'It is true; he has no wish to be Steward. He has other wishes. Higher ones. You know this.' The wizard shrugged. 'It all depends on what happens in Umbar.'

'Many things will be decided then.'

'What does the Steward intend?'

Mithrandir's face became thoughtful, and he puffed on the pipe for some time before answering. 'He wishes to lay down his burdens. It is what old men wish to do.' The last was said softly, with a sigh.

In the curls of the pipe smoke, Finduilas saw things. The burning lands of Anórien. The fumes from Imlad Morgul. The reeking fires of her dreams. The Fire blazing like a star over Osgiliath. 'Stop them.'

'What?'

'They must not do this. I have dreamed. Of fires. The tree was burned before and the land was poisoned. We will be lost again. We will all be Lost.'

'I do not like the plan, myself,' the wizard slowly replied, 'but there is little else to be done. The Corsair fleet must be destroyed.'

'No. Not this way. It is wrong.'

'I agree with the Steward and with Thorongil that a blow must be struck so that other things may be saved.'

'No. Olórin, it is not time!'

Mithrandir's gaze made her shiver. 'How do you know that name?'

'What name?'

'Olórin. Who said it to you?'

'No one. I just...' The shiver turned into shaking and Finduilas backed away.

He rose, holding up a placating hand. 'Stay, child. Why isn't it time?'

'No. I don't want this! I don't want these dreams!' she cried. 'Stop speaking to me, you are driving me mad!'

'Finduilas, I mean you no...' But she was already bolting out the door.



Playlist Navigation Bar

Middle row links go to story overviews. Bottom row links go first chapter of a story.
At Playlist End
  
  
At Playlist End

 

In Playlists

Playlist Overview

Last Update: 10 Mar 12
Stories: 8
Type: Reader List
Created By: Aiwendiel


Of course there are thousands of stories out there, and I have only read a fraction of them. NOT intended to be a scientific survey! My picks of stories that I feel are particularly well written, stylistically interesting, lyrical... Regardless of era, topic or character.

Why This Story?

Truly exceptional writing by the very talented Anglachel, marvelously nuanced and mature, enriches understanding of the main characters as well as enhancing grasp of Gondor's recent history. Utterly believable backstory of Denethor II as portrayed by JRRT.

 

Story Information

Author: Anglachel

Status: Reviewed

Completion: Complete

Era: 3rd Age - The Stewards

Genre: Drama

Rating: Adult

Last Updated: 07/01/09

Original Post: 02/23/04

Go to Hands of the King overview