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Hands of the King: 69. Seeking

Minas Tirith, Late September, 2981 T.A.

Denethor could not help but smile as he walked down the mountain, Boromir on his shoulders and Finduilas at his side. Aldwyn and Mírwen were chattering away just behind them, while Hunthor and Beregar brought up the rear. The City was about its business all around them, though none was so busy that he or she could not stop to bow or wave to the Lady as she passed. Her black wing was present even more than usual, just as Denethor intended. And soon, there will be no corner of Gondor that does not sport your favor, Alquallë. In Anórien, it took no effort at all. Aside from Maiaberiel's stronghold in Minrimmon, every village and farm already gave her their loyalty, remembering her perilous ride to raise the alarm and even more how she shared their danger in the retreat from the invading Orcs. The Pelennor was likewise eager to show its devotion, its inhabitants calling it the Queen's Garden.

The garrisons throughout the southern fiefs had been given instructions to show her flag prominently, and every soldier was given a coin on his payday to purchase ale for toasting the Lady. In taverns, spies would buy drink for strangers, saying they were moved to generosity for love of the Lady, and others would often follow suit. Village headmen were encouraged to rename their alms the Lady's Grace, and those who did found themselves rewarded with gold. Minstrels were sent out to sing Finduilas's praises. With another year of peace and plenty to celebrate, the kingdom was willing to let fade its memory of a certain mysterious captain and ascribe their good fortune to the blessings of their kind and beautiful Lady.

And how is that untrue? Denethor mused. Has she not brought joy to the hearts of all who know her? When have we lost a battle since she came to Minas Tirith? Have any harvests failed? Are there not more children born? Only the enemies of Gondor had reason to rue the last seven years. And even they will learn of your benevolence. Another shipment of grain had been sent to Umbar a few days after they had returned from Rohan. Cloth and olive oil had been sent as well. The barges had flown her banner and there had been a single message for the lords of Umbar - "The Lady's Grace is for all children." Marach was right. They will bow down to you, too.

But that was in the future and for now, Denethor was content to enjoy a splendid autumn day with his wife and son. They were on their way to the stables outside the Great Gate so Boromir could ride the pony Théoden had given him. It was a sweet-tempered and patient beast, calmly enduring Boromir's loud attentions without so much as a toss of his head or a stamp of his hoof. Finduilas had named the piebald gelding Boots for his black fetlocks and lower legs. Boromir had loved the pony the moment he laid eyes on him and insisted on visiting Boots every day.

Finduilas had insisted just as strongly that she would accompany Boromir on these trips. At first, Denethor had objected, disliking the idea of her going beyond the walls of the City, but changed his mind when he watched her. There was nothing weary or weak about her on these outings; she was as gay as her maids and only coughed a little. She seemed to like teaching Boromir how to ride the pony, talking to him and holding him more than she did in the Stewards House. Denethor did his best not to interrupt the two of them, wanting Finduilas's affection for her son to grow.

'Put me down, Papa!' Boromir commanded as soon as they passed through the Gate. Denethor swung Boromir around a few times before setting him down. With a quick kiss, Boromir turned and trotted over to Finduilas. They walked the rest of the way to the stables, hand in hand. Guardsmen and regular soldiers who were along the way, some training, some idling, called out and waved to the two as they passed. They bowed more formally to Denethor when he walked by. Aldwyn and Mírwen stopped at the archery yard, saying they would follow shortly, Hunthor following them. As had become routine on these mornings, Gethron just happened to be near the yard and had time to speak to Aldwyn about nothing in particular. Denethor frowned as he watched the two talking. He had no doubt that Gethron was a completely honorable man, but he was not noble, let alone a lord, and Aldwyn was the sister of a king.

Finduilas and Boromir had already taken Boots from his stall by the time Denethor caught up with them. Gull had let herself out of her stall and was waiting for them in the tack area. Finduilas did not ride when Boromir was on Boots, but Gull always accompanied them, enjoying the walk. Finduilas held Boromir up so he could brush the pony's back. Denethor groomed Gull while they finished with Boots. Boromir was a quick learner and already knew how to hold the pony's bridle so that Boots could slip his head into the headstall and also how to tighten the buckles just so. He proudly led his mount out the stable door, careful not to let the reins drag and walked to Beregar, who boosted Boromir onto the pony.

Denethor was almost as loath to let Beregar beyond the City walls as he was Finduilas. All spirit had left the man since the attack on the Eilenach path, leaving him wan and withdrawn. Beregar had shaved his face smooth after returning to Minas Tirith and had his hair cropped close like Imrahil's. He would not allow meat to pass his lips and was becoming gaunt. No more was he the proud Huan guarding Lúthien, but a pitiful creature who needed shelter. It was hard to reconcile this flinching man with the carnage he had left strewn upon the woodland trail - throats torn, bellies slashed, entrails gnawed. Gaerhûl's hooves had crushed them afterwards, but the Hound's fangs had taken their lives. Denethor wondered what else had been brought down and destroyed in the blood soaked mud.

Gull led the way out of the stable and towards the busy road. Denethor walked beside Boots, a hand on the pony's back to steady Boromir if he needed it, Finduilas's hand in his other one. Beregar wandered behind them.

The yáviérë feast was a week away, but already a tent city was spreading before the walls of Minas Tirith. It was greater than the loëndë feast, which had amazed even Denethor with its size and variety. A second year with no significant warfare accompanied by unparalleled harvests had set people upon the road. Every tinker, trader, merchant and cut-purse between Belegaer and Khand was here. Denethor was certain there were even spies from Mordor come to enjoy the festival and do a little bargaining. Word from the ports and crossroads said that there were more yet to arrive and that they would stay as long as there were goods to exchange and coin to earn. Hallas and Núneth were delighted at the news, for they knew that the kingdom's purse would be greatly fattened with the tariffs, taxes, and tolls the traders would pay, both here before the City and along the roads as they journeyed on. Denethor had told Borondir to seek out the traders who could provide rare goods in regular amounts, especially those from eastern lands, with whom contracts could be made and among whom spies could be recruited.

Denethor began to speak to Finduilas about his concern over Gethron and Aldwyn's growing friendship, but decided it was better to hold his tongue for now. Instead he asked, 'How goes the romance between Borondir and Moraen?'

'It isn't,' she answered with a sigh. 'Even with several weeks with no one but each other for company, I can see no dram of affection between those two. Your cousin is more cheerful than I have seen him since Luinmir and Anna left, but he has no eye for Moraen.'

'Has any other man caught her fancy?'

Finduilas sighed again. 'Not that I can tell. There are several young fellows who always seem to have an excuse to accompany their mothers or sisters when the ladies pay a visit to the Stewards House, but she is merely polite to them. She will not go to dances or parties and seems to have decided to become an old maid. All she wishes to do is order the Lady's Houses.'

'If that is what pleases her...' Denethor shrugged. 'Perhaps she will be like Aiavalë.'

'Oh, I hope not that, friend. Lady Lore may be happy now, but only after much grief.'

Gull led them a few paces off the road to avoid an ox cart, Boots following her obediently. 'Giddy-up!' Boromir commanded, flapping the reins and his legs. Boots gave a snort and jogged a few steps before settling back into a smooth walk. Boromir did not bounce or slip at the jouncing, but kept his seat, not even needing to reach for Boots' mane.

'He is riding well, isn't he?' Finduilas said, looking indulgently at her son.

'Yes. I thought Théoden to be jesting when he said it was time for Morcollë to learn to ride, but it seems he was right.'

'I was riding horses by his age, friend. I had a pony like this and was riding by myself by the time I was five,' Finduilas said. 'When did you first ride a horse?'

'Mmm, older than five,' Denethor admitted, 'but by the time I was ten. I started with a horse, not a pony.'

'How long do you think it will be before Boromir can go for a long ride?'

'How long of a ride is long?'

'Long,' she answered. There was a twinkle in her eye.

'Alquallë, what are you thinking?'

'I think I have not seen Dol Amroth in a very long time, and Morcollë has never been there.'

'The Prince would send Seabird at ...'

'No. Not by the Sea. By land or not at all.'

'A year? Two years? It depends on how fast the ride is.'

'I will think on it.'

***

Minas Tirith, 30 September, 2981 T.A.

Tomorrow was yáviérë and there would be a great feast and dance in Merethrond in honor of the occasion. Today, Denethor was walking with Golasgil, the bookseller, to see what written and printed things could be found in the bazaar. Golasgil had a small cart with a locked lid in which he placed his treasures as he scoured the stalls and tents. Denethor was not certain what he himself expected to find, but he knew he was most likely to find it in the bookseller's company. So far, there had been a few books and maps from Harad, but nothing of great interest. They moved among the traders from beyond Rohan and there was little to see. This was a poorer and meaner group than from Harad and Khand or the silent traders of Rhûn. They dealt mostly in pelts, cured meats, cheese, and leather work, and most were Dunlending or some other kindred tribe.

At the edge of the northerners, there was a wagon, once brightly painted but now faded and stained, a number of boards cutting brown and grey lines across the peeling paint where the wagon's sides had been patched. A scrawny white horse was tethered to the side. In front, its equally scrawny owner squatted before a tarp spread on the ground. The canvas looked like a jackdaw's nest, with bits of metal, a few hanks of yarn, some wooden things, a couple of cook pots and other scraps scattered across it. Something shiny caught Denethor's eye and he stooped to look more closely. It was a silver cloak pin in the shape of a swan, but lighter than a silver pin should be. It was not hollowed out on the back. With a grunt, Denethor tossed it back on the tarp.

'Tin.'

'Silver,' the dirty trader snapped. He - she? - once had blondish hair, but it was faded with age, and had the consistency of broom straw. Its eyes were of an indistinct color.

'Too light for silver. Tin.' Denethor picked up a dagger in a disintegrating leather sheath and pulled it out. The blade on it was exquisite, and still sharp. 'Where'd you find this?'

'My business.' Golasgil was pawing through a stack of paper near the wagon. Most of it looked moldy.

'I don't recognize the work.'

'Old north stuff.' The trader shrugged. 'Lot's of metal like this up there.'

Grave robber. Denethor looked at the filthy creature in disgust. 'If there is so much, then this is cheap, yes?'

'Up there, yes. Not after I bring it here.'

Golasgil gave a grunt of success and held up something bound in leather. 'This for sale, too?'

'It all is. Except the horse.' The trader looked at the spavined beast speculatively. 'Nah, the horse, too.'

Denethor kept hold of the dagger and joined Golasgil. The man held a book composed of many books, pages bound together haphazardly. There were some pages from a ledger, what looked like a diary, and then a few printed pages scattered here and there. 'I'll give two tharni for it,' Golasgil said.

'Ten!'

'Three.' Denethor left them to their haggling and went through the mound of paper. Most was worthless, stained and rotted. Golasgil had found the only book with whole pages, it appeared. A packet of parchment, tightly folded, poked out from between sour smelling sheets. Denethor worked it loose and opened it.

It was a map. The parchment was dry, so he had to be careful so as not to crack it. He could only see a small portion with some lines. He turned the parchment and lifted another fold, peering inside. "Bree." Denethor refolded the map, tucked the dagger in his belt and scooped up the swan pin. He pulled a small gold coin from his purse and tossed it to the decrepit trader. 'How much are you in the north?'

'Depends.'

'Can you get me more like this?' He held up the map.

'Maybe.'

'Do you know of the Lost?'

'I don't get lost,' it growled.

'Dúnedain. In the north.'

'You mean Rangers?' Its shoulders hunched. 'Nobody knows about them but them.'

'I want to know, and that's what I want from the north.' Golasgil was done with his haggling and had locked away the book, so they left. When they were out of earshot, Denethor said, 'I want that book and everything in it.'

'May I examine it first, my lord?'

'Yes, but remove nothing.' The bookseller bowed. They walked east towards another area of the encampment. As they walked, they heard some shouting and other sounds of excitement. Hoping it was not a fistfight, Denethor pushed his way through the throng toward the cause of the hubbub. Setting up a tent were ten dwarves clad in leather and chain mail, hair and beards intricately braided, and each bearing an axe at his belt. The leader of the troop was a greybeard with a broad face and a quiet voice.

Their tent had a frame of metal that fit cunningly into pockets reinforced with leather and metal rings. It required only a few short guy ropes to secure it to the ground. Denethor drew near, peering closely, fascinated by how the structure was built. In a very short time and with seeming little effort, the large and multi-chambered tent was erected. A flag surmounted the highest point. On it was a hammer and anvil beneath a crown and seven stars. Two dwarves tied back the front flaps of the tent while others put together some tables within, the furniture as cleverly crafted to fold and flex as the tent, though made of wood. Denethor walked inside to watch this as well, admiring that the tables were beautiful as well as efficient and compact. As soon as they were set up, another set of the travelers began opening small chests and laying out delicate and shiny objects.

Someone behind him gently cleared his throat. Denethor turned to see the greybeard watching him, an amused twinkle in the elder dwarf's eye, but also a look of pride. The dwarf bowed. 'Nori, at your service,' and bowed again even more deeply.

Denethor bowed slightly in return. 'I am Denethor, High Warden of the White Tower.'

The dwarf's eyes widened and he performed a third bow. Another dwarf who had just walked up immediately followed suit. 'I am at your service and your family's, Warden,' Nori said in a formal tone, remaining bowed over.

It was distinctly awkward speaking to the grey crown of Nori's head, but Denethor did not know what to say to make a dwarf stand upright and stay that way. 'I and my house are honored by your service, Master Nori. And I am intrigued by the excellence of your shelter. Will you not show it to me?'

Nori bounced up from his bow like a spring, a broad smile on his face. 'Yes, of course, Warden Denethor.' Denethor spent the next hour following the elder about the tent, having the secrets of the tent revealed, the operations of the folding tables demonstrated, and other small bits of craft presented for him to admire. The precision of the work was impressive. Other people had entered the tent by now, but they paid no mind to the shelter and were going over the treasures on the tables. Primrose and Urgon were there, intently examining gold work. When the old dwarf appeared to have run out of things to show off, Denethor motioned for them to step outside and around the back of the tent.

'Master Nori, you must have come a long distance. Where is your home?'

'Dwarves think little of walking,' Nori shrugged. 'We are from Erebor. My lord and kinsman, Dáin, King under the Mountain, bade me to gather a company and come south to see if a way could be found to trade with our friends of old.'

Both Thorongil and Mithrandir had spoken of Erebor. There was more Denethor wished to ask, but not with so many ears about. 'Gondor, too, wishes to renew ancient friendships and trade. Lord Nori, please be my guest for supper tonight in the Stewards House. I will send my men to fetch you.'

'May I bring two of my fellows?'

'Yes, of course.'

'And, if I may be nosy, where did you get that dagger?' Nori pointed to the blade Denethor had purchased from the grave robber.

'From a trader. It is northern work. Is it dwarvish?' Denethor handed over the knife.

'No.' There was a look of admiration on the dwarf's face. 'Where is this trader? Does he have more?'

'Over there, about a furlong,' Denethor pointed west, 'in a peeling wagon pulled by a near-dead white horse. Most of what he had was rubbish.' He fished in his pouch and handed over the swan pin. 'Except this.'

The dwarf's eyes nearly popped from his head. He caressed the pin with his rough thick fingers, and touched it to his cheek, eyes closing reverently. They sprang open again, and Denethor found himself pinned in a dark stare. 'I have six perfect diamonds. They are yours, plus all of my silver, my sapphires, and whatever knives we carry. Nay, you may choose what you wish from all of our goods. I reserve only my axe.'

'It is a gift for my wife. I will not part with it for any price.'

Nori gazed lovingly at the pin, kissed it and handed it back to Denethor. 'Please, have your lady wife wear this at supper.'

'I will.' The dwarf bobbed his head in lieu of a bow and scurried off in the direction of the trader. Golasgil had wearied of waiting long before and had disappeared into the crowd. Denethor walked back to the City, pleased with himself.

***

By the time Hunthor and a score of guardsmen escorted Lord Nori and his companions to the Stewards House, footstools had been found and chairs had been cushioned to accommodate the stocky guests. The dwarves were neatly brushed and braided and wore silver belts and chains of fine metal and gems. The other two dwarves were young with relatively short beards, and were called Thorin and Borin. They brought gifts with them - a fine chain set with a sapphire for Finduilas, a tin whistle and a small carved and painted wooden horse for Boromir, and a silver belt like to their own for Denethor. They bowed many times to Finduilas, until she could not help but laugh at their bobbing. Boromir was doted upon as though he were their own child, and Denethor did not think it just an attempt to curry favor with himself. At supper, Denethor asked how they had come from their mountain to his.

'We came with pack ponies down the River Running and trod the Old Forest Road towards Anduin,' Nori said. 'We followed the river south, striking a path between the wicked elves of the Golden Wood and the Tower of the Necromancer. After skirting the Brown Lands, we forded the river at the Undeeps and crossed the grasslands of the Horse-lords until we came to the great road and turned south.'

'You came all that way through such peril just to trade with Gondor?' Finduilas asked.

The dwarves exchanged a surreptitious look. 'Lady Finduilas,' Borin said, 'it is naught for a dwarf to make a journey of a thousand leagues simply to please himself. Our routes to the west lead only to elves, poor men and hobbits. My father, Balin, and me, we are always scouting new trade routes and paths to prospective mines. Word of peace and plenty came to our ears, so our feet brought us here.'

'The men to the west are poor?' Denethor asked.

'They do not want for much,' Nori answered, smoothing his long beard, 'but neither do they have much. Farmers, mostly, and some tavernkeeps.' The Dwarf looked appreciatively about the room. 'None who work stone and build great things. All of their towers lie in ruin.'

'What kind of men are they?' Denethor pressed.

'Of three kinds, and one kind is not really a man. There are the low men, like the Lake men and the Breelanders. They are broad and simple. There are the high men, like to you of Gondor, but there are almost none of them now. You see them in the Homely House or the inns along the road. They buy blades from us with southern coins. Then there are hobbits, the Halflings, and they are the best. They have always been hospitable to the dwarves, even in our time of exile, and we owe them a great debt.'

'What debt?' Finduilas asked.

Nori turned to her. 'After supper, if you will permit it, I will tell you the story.'

Denethor steered the conversation back to what concerned him. 'Your trade in the north is not all that you would like, then?'

'It grows slowly,' Nori admitted as the other two nodded their heads. 'With the dragon dead and Mirkwood less fearsome, we look to richer lands with whom to do real business. We cannot be bartering gems for chickens all the time.'

'The path you took, along the river, how was it?'

'It would be better for having more travelers upon it.'

'Undoubtedly,' Denethor agreed, 'but we knew not that there was valuable trade to be had beyond the Emyn Muil.'

Nori sighed, nodding. 'They are a barrier. We had no boats - is the river passage better?'

'To a point, then you must portage around a great waterfall. There is a way, though it is in poor repair.' He took a sip of wine, mulling how to approach his true interest. 'The treasures you laid out upon your tables must only be a fraction of what you can provide.'

'As the entire fair can only give us a glimpse of the bounty of the south,' Nori politely replied.

'Once a trade route is secure, many will wish to use it for their own enrichment, as indeed wise traders should.' The dwarves exchanged another look, knowing a bargain was being offered, 'but there are some goods that only a few may deliver. People who travel widely and observe carefully.'

'And what might this be, High Warden?' Nori asked.

'To know what the different men of the north are doing, where they go, who they ally with, if they will be friend or foe.' Denethor let that sink in, then smiled. 'Our eyes must always be on the south and east, so we are in need of friends who will tell us how things fare in the north.' He looked deliberately at the swan pin Finduilas wore, then to Nori. 'And for news of special interest, we will be very grateful.'

Supper ended shortly after that and they moved to Finduilas's study to drink wine and let their meal digest. When the dwarves were all settled in their chairs, Finduilas asked for their story. Nori began, 'Just over two hundred years ago, the dragon Smaug seized Erebor, forcing the children of Durin into exile. Long we wandered, and many spurned us, both our enemies, the elves and the Orcs, and those who should have been our friends, high men and low. The Halflings of the Shire alone made us welcome, though they had little to offer beyond food and pipeweed. We let the hard hearts of others be the whetstone for our determination to take back our home.

'Forty years ago, we set out from the Blue Mountains, our lord Thorin Oakenshield and twelve hand picked warriors, to attempt to retake Erebor. Our path lay through the Shire, and we were told by the wizard, Gandalf, that among these gentle folks, a very clever burglar could be found.'

'Gandalf? The wizard Mithrandir, do you mean?'

Nori nodded. 'Gandalf Greyhame, the fiery wizard. And he was fiery to Thorin! Nearly did his pride and sharp words make us leave without Baggins, Lord of Burglars, but Thorin trusted to the loyal hearts of the Halflings and took him in our company.

'We journeyed east with few troubles until we went over the High Pass of the Misty Mountains. There, we were set upon by Orcs and battled them in their caves until we sliced our way through to the other side. Our little burglar got cut off from us in the dark, but won his way back through his cleverness. The Orcs pursued us at nightfall, and barely could we hold them off, not even with the wizard's fire, so huge was the force they sent after us! But the Lord of Eagles and his people swooped down and plucked us from danger. They bowed to the might and majesty of Thorin Oakenshield and asked to ease our journey. They carried us many leagues and set us down where we could enlist the aid of Beorn, the skin-changer, part man, part beast.' Denethor felt Finduilas shiver at this description. 'Beorn also honored our lord in exile, and guided us to a secret path through Mirkwood.

'All went well on that trail until one of our fellows mistakenly drank from a stream poisoned by the elves. We carried him for many leagues, seeking aid. After some terrible days, the elves finally showed themselves and pretended friendship, offering the hospitality of their halls. When we accepted and were their guests, they made us prisoners!' Nori was red-faced and indignant at this, and his younger companions added their imprecations. When the elder dwarf had composed himself, he continued, 'Our little burglar was our salvation, for elven spells have no effect upon Halflings. He tricked them and stole the key to our dungeon. Just barely did we escape, clinging to barrels in an underground river where we came near to drowning before seeing the sky again.

'On Esgaroth, the long lake below Erebor, we gained the friendship of the Lakemen. They bowed to our king and succored us, letting us rest until we recovered from the harsh treatment of the elves. Renewed, we marched to the mountain and the dragon.

'Upon the far side of the mountain was a secret door that only the dwarves knew of. We slipped inside, and sent our burglar to scout. So small and silent he was, he could spy upon the dragon, and found his weaknesses. We drew up a plan and assailed the beast as he slept. It was a fearsome fight, and Smaug withdrew before our onslaught. Alas! He turned his wounded rage upon Laketown, destroying the town. But not all was lost, for we were able to tell a thrush of a patch upon the dragon's belly where his armor was gone.

'The bird spoke to Bard the Bowman, one of the high men, descendent of a long line of Kings of Dale, a hidden lord who allowed lesser men to rule until it was time for him to leave the shadows and be the salvation of his people. Bard brought low the dread foe with an arrow straight to the monster's heart, and Smaug came crashing down into the lake. And so in a single night were Erebor and Dale returned to their rightful lords.

'But the elves, they saw how dire the situation was, and they attacked, hoping to seize all of the treasure for themselves, to enslave the men and kill the dwarves. We sent for help from our kinsfolk in the Iron Hills, and they marched to succor us. The men had no choice but to surrender to the elves at first, but when they saw the army of Dáin, they rebelled. The wizard, who had abandoned us ere we entered Mirkwood to do battle with the Necromancer, reappeared and threatened the elves with fire and magic. An army of Orcs had heard of the dragon's demise and was coming to seize all. The elves joined forces with the dwarves and the men to battle the Orcs, but our faithful allies, the Beornings and the Eagles also joined us and we were victorious. A greater sadness came upon us, for Thorin Oakenshield, King under the Mountain, died of his wounds from the battle, and so was his cousin Dáin made king, who rules to this day.'

Nori rose from his chair and bowed to Finduilas, then to Denethor, to show his tale was done. She exclaimed at the delightfulness of the tale and praised Nori extravagantly for his bravery in fighting a dragon. The old dwarf turned red and mumbled that he was but one of a valiant company, and then said that he, Borin and Thorin needed to return to their fellows. After the three dwarves left with their escort of guardsmen, Finduilas went to the top floor to visit with Aldwyn and Moraen. Denethor retreated to his study to think.

The dwarves' story was half lies, but boastful rather than deceitful. It was not possible that a handful of them could drive out a dragon when their entire population had not been able to defend against the beast, but that is not what interested Denethor. He cast his mind back to a conversation in this very room.

'From Thorongil. He said you taught him of it, and that it was a stronghold of the Enemy.'

'It was for a time. He was driven from it.'

'When?'

'Years ago...'

'When?'

'Almost thirty-five years ago.'

'Shortly before he took up again his abode in Barad-dûr.'

The Necromancer and Sauron were undoubtedly one and the same, so the Tower Nori spoke of was Dol Guldur. Bard the Bowman, then the king, was of Dúnedain origin, most likely. A secret king, biding his time... The wizard seemed to attract such men. Biding time, or awaiting orders? Now he knew more of the little burglar Mithrandir had mentioned. A perian, perhaps a friend of the wizard, but obviously a person of some resourcefulness. The wizard has his hand in all of this, and none of this is by chance. He roams the north and prompts men and others into journeys of his choosing. I am too ignorant of those lands. Even if he had the palantír, he could not see up there. Denethor looked over at the old map sitting on his desk. Maps, traders and spies.

***

Minas Tirith, 15 October, 2981 T.A.

There were men using the archery range, but Denethor ignored them. He adjusted the quiver of arrows on his back before unlacing the top of a narrow leather case. From it he withdrew a long slender object, wrapped in silk. A few men craned to get a better view of what the High Warden was doing. Denethor slipped the top piece into the lower socket and gave them a twist to secure them, then pulled a bowstring from a side pocket on the case and strung the steel bow.

It was the most beautiful bow Denethor had ever seen. It was slender and almost flat, rounding out where his hand should grip. In the hand piece was a locking socket that held the upper and lower portions together. It was a deep grey in color, with tiny threads that shimmered in the depths of the metal. The surface was highly polished and slick, like glass. It could bend a great deal, yet was rigid enough to hold its shape. Denethor wondered if it was steel, for it did not weigh as much as this much metal should, nor did it smell or taste like steel. It was to steel as mithril was to silver, a substance made perfect. True steel.

Denethor nocked an arrow and let fly at a near target. The arrow went wide as the bow shivered in his hand. He adjusted his grip and tried another. The bow stayed in place, but the arrow fell short. He thought about this for a minute before trying another arrow, and this time the bolt was true, hitting the target center with a resounding thud. A few more arrows and Denethor found the balance in the bow and where its heart led it. It liked distance and height. This was not a bow to fire quickly, but it would send an arrow flying more truly than any other he had wielded. It took less pull to fire a great distance while demanding an extremely steady hand. When he finished, the men watching clapped in approval, crowding around to see the weapon.

'Where is from, my lord?' one asked. 'Did you have this made?' chimed in another. 'Are there more?' said a third, which raised a murmur of agreement.

'Nay, none,' Denethor answered. 'This is from an old treasury and has been kept well. I know of no other.' He carefully disassembled the bow and wrapped it before sliding it back into its case. 'It is from Númenor.'

Denethor walked slowly through the streets back to the Citadel, looking at the City. Occasionally he stopped to examine a carving or to touch a block of stone and listen for a voice. From Númenor. The foundation of Minas Tirith was the Land of the Star; its fortunes had brought the City into being, and its downfall had founded the kingdom that revolved around the white walls and high towers. Ships and stars adorned her walls, ancient treasures filled her holds, and the roots of a tree joined it to an even greater past.

He paused a moment in the sixth circle near the messenger stables and let his heart seek Finduilas. She was south, in Laanga's garden. Reassured, he continued up to the Citadel to his study. Telperien greeted him loudly, twining between his ankles and demanding to have her ears scratched. He was soon sitting at his desk, feet up, cat on his chest, a cup of wine in hand. The bow lay on his desk resting on its silk wrap. From Númenor, yes, but not as any other thing from the drowned land. This was plucked from the blood drenched mud near the path in the Druadan Forest. Yet it was of Númenor and not ancient at all. Denethor was still trying to comprehend what had happened that day.

We were there. He had no explanation of how that could be so. They had traveled not just miles but ages. Before his eyes, he had seen Finduilas transformed into Queen Míriel, regal beyond words, with a white stone bound to her brow and arrayed in a corselet of silver. Is this the truth of the queen's doom? That she perished saving the Tree, not seeking shelter? If Míriel was like Finduilas, then that was how she would act. The presence of the Drúedain had confounded Denethor until he researched these elusive people in the archives. They, too, were among the Faithful, and some had gone to Elenna with the Edain. They were greatly skilled in herb lore and loved all growing things, so they tended the White Tree and were dear to the house of the King. Even when Tar-Atanamir had taken the throne and King's Men spoke boldly in repudiation of the West, none dared to interfere with the Drúedain's care of the Tree. Though he scoured every account of the Hallows he could find, Denethor found no description of Drúadan stone men on the path to Meneltarma's summit.

If Sauron's eye had been upon them, he was not the only watcher. Denethor fished the pouch holding the mariner's lanyard from the desk drawer, laying it on the desk next to the bow. The mariner had watched and intervened, as had the eagles, though they had not been pleased at Denethor's presence. Who among you knew that there would be a need for someone to tread that path and save the last fruit of the tree? Was it fated, or just a chance? Was it known that the Tree brought by Isildur would fail? Perhaps that was how to understand all that had happened since the return of the Enemy. It was not possible to flee him, and no aid would ever again come out of the West, so he had to be faced. For that to succeed, Gondor must be renewed. The heir of Isildur had come to try his hand, and had failed.

Denethor stood, cat in his arms and strolled over to the maps now hanging in the study. One was the map of Gondor that Finduilas had given to Thorongil. Denethor removed it from the house last year when he had the building emptied and locked shut. The other was the restored map from the north. It was plain and crude, just black marks on a yellowed sheet, but instructive. After Hador had performed his restorative arts upon the parchment, Denethor had taken it to the map room to compare it to the others of the north Given what did and did not appear on it, he placed its age as no more than four or five hundred years. There were no boundary markings of the old Dúnedain kingdoms, though there was a spot labeled "Annúminas" and another dot named "Fornost." This was no different than one could find on any late map of Arnor. What was interesting was a dotted line to either side of the great East-West road near the western end, with the word "Shire" written within it. Just beyond its borders was the elusive Bree of Mithrandir and Thorongil's tales. A circle labeled "Weathertop" was probably Amon Sûl, though the distances on the new map were not in proportion to the older maps. There was a place between two rivers named "Angle" with many dots, but no indication of what the dots represented. The map was torn off at the eastern edge along the line of the second river, and only went as far south as Tharbad. To the west, the ancient Elf haven Mithlond was clearly marked.

Where now do you wander, Thorongil? Where is your house in the north? Is it in Bree? Annúminas? One of these dots in Angle? The captain had said himself it was a poor and desperate land. Something tugged at Denethor's heart and he wished he could go north himself and see. I could find him. If I simply rode out, my heart would lead me to him. If I had the palantír, I could know at once. He cannot hide from his steward.

A shiver ran down Denethor's spine. Since standing upon Númenor, his dreams had been filled with the memory of the night he watched Umbar burn and confronted the Enemy in the stone. Almost had the secret been wrested from him. Should the door to the chamber be opened, did he dare look in the stone again? He fled. Am I bound to preserve his secret? Even as he thought it, Denethor turned away from the betrayal. To Finduilas alone could he speak plainly of this. Mayhap the captain had failed in his duty, but Denethor would not. Not until you stand before me and unbind my tongue shall I speak, not even to one who knows your secret. And when Thorongil finally spoke the truth, it would be to the Queen.

***

Minas Tirith, 2 January, 2982 T.A.

'Brandir! Imrahil! How good it is to see you!' Denethor rose from behind his desk to greet his brothers-in-law as they entered his study. Their faces were still red from the cold outside and their clothes were chill when Denethor embraced them. 'Sit by the fire and I will have warmed wine sent up.'

'Just a cup, brother,' Imrahil cheerfully replied, holding his hands out to the hearth. 'I want a clear head when we go to give regards to the Steward.'

Brandir gave Denethor a long hug. 'None for me. Where are the ladies and Boromir?'

'Paying a call on the Lady's Houses, I think. We missed you at Yule.' Denethor could not recall a happier, more festive yuletide in all his days. Every evening from mid-December until mettarë itself had been a different party given in Finduilas's honor. They must have danced a hundred times and he never tired of holding her in his arms and looking in her eyes. Aiavalë had thrown a large and boisterous birthday party for him and Boromir at Widow Almarian's house. Finduilas had presented him with a fiendishly difficult wooden puzzle. Three pegs were drilled into a thick board. On one peg was a stack of eight wooden discs in ascending sizes. The trick was to move the stack of discs from one peg to another, one at a time and without a larger disc resting on top of a smaller disc at any time.

'We missed you as well, but were too happy to notice until we arrived,' Imrahil teased.

'Imrahil was kind enough to stay with us in Minrimmon,' Brandir added. Though he smiled, there was no light in his eyes. Denethor was glad for the wine that arrived just then.

While Denethor poured cups, Imrahil rooted in a saddlebag he had carried in. 'Here are letters and reports for you, Denethor. Some from me, some from Morwen and Théoden, and most is from Marlong. He will not come in for the Great Council, he said, as Wren is ill.'

'Not serious, I hope?'

'No, but he does not wish to leave her until all of the fever is gone.' They drank their wine and spoke of the ride in (cold, a little rain this morning) before the men left to call upon the Steward. Denethor searched through the stack until he found a carefully sealed letter from Morwen. Within it was another sheet of paper, old and falling apart at the folds, but with its seal intact.

Denethor,

Forgive my long delay in answering, but I wished no less honorable and trustworthy a messenger than Imrahil to give this to you.

Alas, my news is sad. There was a little boy who came to Fengel. He was fostered with Walda and his wife Hilde, who had a boy of their own almost the same age. Thengel brought the boy himself at Steward Turgon's request, Hilde recalls. They called him Gárulf, for he was fearless. He died of a fever in his eighth year. Hilde mourns him still, for he was as dear to her as her own child.

Walda gave me this, which was given to him by Fengel. It was to go with the child if he returned to Minas Tirith.

Morwen

The ancient paper was in Steward Turgon's hand:

My Lord Steward,

I have been on a long journey and am washed clean by the rain of time. Let it remain so.

Denethor read the note several times. Turgon had expected the boy to return, as the ravens were wont to do, and had left a warning for Ecthelion. Melancholy came to Denethor's heart. I had a brother after all. He imagined the boy had been much like Boromir, sturdy and adventurous. Had you a true name? You must have. He took the tattered letter and slipped it into the pages of Finduilas's book, returning to his work with a sigh.

The penalty for all the nights of merriment was much work to be done in the few days between yestarë and the fifth, when the Great Council was to be held. This morning had been given over to reviewing garrison records, so Marlong's reports were delivered just in time. Denethor picked up Captain Anbar's reports on the Osgiliath garrison's strength and sighed again. It was a complete enough report, but had none of the careful notes that Thorongil always supplied, observations of the men and the situation that captured not just numbers but spirit. He began to reach for Marlong's Anórien reports when a detail at the bottom of the scroll caught his eye.

There were only twelve Lost left. Usually there would be a score of the men, plus Thorongil and Halmir, and four would change every year. A quick check of the other garrisons showed the missing eight had not been relocated. They were gone and none had come in their stead. Denethor considered this, then wrote a brief note and had one of the pups take it to the messengers.

Just past dinner, he heard the sounds of feet on the stair. Imrahil and Brandir entered the study, followed by Hunthor with a tray of tea and wine. 'The Steward sends his fondest regards to all in this house,' Brandir said as he fixed them tea, 'and hopes he will have an occasion to see you ere the Council.'

'What may you tell me of Anórien and Rohan?' Denethor asked as he accepted his cup.

As soon as Brandir sat, Telperien jumped into his lap and settled in, purring loudly. 'Of Anórien, there is little changed. The garrisons have Marlong and Calmacil to inform you, of course. No doubt Borondir has already tallied the harvest down to the last grain of corn and pound of pig. It was excellent.' Denethor nodded. 'The market at Minrimmon grows. The Eastfold and East Emnet bring their goods, for it is much closer than Minas Tirith. We have even had traders from the north come in. Since the éoreds remain within the Mark, we have formed our own patrols along the river.'

Denethor raised an eyebrow at Imrahil. 'King Théoden sends his greetings. The Mark had a better harvest this year than last, though it may not be enough. They will need to trade at Minrimmon.'

'How do the grain prices compare between Minrimmon and Minas Tirith?' Denethor asked Brandir.

'They are greater for we have not so much to store and must bring more in from the City.'

Denethor nodded. 'There will not be a great deal to spare this year. The towns have grown along the coasts and they clamor for grain. Harad has need to buy much, for their war with Khand did not go well.'

'Should not our surplus go to our allies before being offered to our enemies?' Brandir asked

Denethor turned to Imrahil. 'What think you, prince? How should Gondor use its grain?'

Imrahil sipped his tea, eyes downcast, looking very much like his father. When he looked up, his face had lost its carefree cast and Denethor glimpsed the Prince who would one day rule Dol Amroth. 'Our enemies need to learn that we are powerful, wealthy and merciful, in that order. It will teach them why they will always lose in a contest with us. As for our allies, Théoden is not yet master of his land. Until he is, he cannot safely lend us strength, for he risks rebellion among his men who resent the claims of Gondor upon the Mark.'

'Does Théoden resent those claims?' pressed Denethor.

'No,' Imrahil answered, 'but he has not Thengel's freedom. King Thengel was seen as the master of Gondor, an equal to the Steward in their dealings. King Théoden knows that he is unproved in battle and rule.' The young prince tilted his head and now it was Finduilas whom he resembled. 'There should always be enough to buy, but for full coin.'

'They have not much coin, Denethor,' Brandir said.

'Then King Théoden will need to be wise in his use of it.'

'You need not make the price high. The coin will go fur...'

'Did you not say to me, almost a year ago, that you counseled Théoden to withdraw his éoreds, the main source of gold for Rohan, so as to keep the king from falling under my sway?' After a moment, Brandir sighed heavily and nodded. 'He is free of my influence. That also means he is bereft of my mercy.' Denethor gestured to the stack of work on his desk. 'There is little chance of war this year, certainly nothing greater than what our own forces can handle. Our greatest threat is pirates upon the coast. Adrahil and Angrist have that defense well in hand. The éoreds will remain in Rohan and Théoden will learn to govern.'

Brandir did not protest, but sighed again and rubbed the cat's ears. Any greater discussion was cut off by the arrival of the women. Denethor bade his kinsmen to entertain the ladies while he finished his work for the day. The sound of merriment rose from Finduilas's study through the afternoon. Near supper time, Denethor went downstairs to join them. Finduilas sat on a couch near the hearth talking quietly to Brandir, Boromir asleep in her arms. Imrahil sat on the floor before the other couch, regaling Aldwyn and Moraen with outrageous tales of his months in Rohan, Aldwyn supplying old gossip about and necessary relationships between the Rohirrim he named.

Beregar stood near the door, keeping cups filled and the hearth burning. He was less wretched than he had been in early fall, though he was still too thin and refused to eat flesh, not even fish. Denethor had noticed that when Finduilas drank her special tea, she would call for Beregar and give him the last swallow or two. It irked Denethor that she gave away any of her medicine, but knew that if he protested, Finduilas was likely to give Beregar entire mugs just to spite him.

Supper passed pleasantly. Brandir would not stay afterwards, even when Finduilas begged him. 'I will stay with the Steward. He has no company,' Brandir said, 'but I shall return on the morrow.' Denethor walked him to the door downstairs, then looked in on Imrahil. Borthand had been at work through the afternoon making his master's rooms habitable. The youth was cultivating a small moustache which looked ridiculous, but was obviously a source of pride to its owner. Denethor told him to leave them alone. When Borthand left, Imrahil looked at him expectantly.

'What is Brandir doing in Rohan?'

'Avoiding his wife.'

'Does he counsel Théoden?'

'Some. Mostly he distracts Queen Morwen.' Imrahil's nose wrinkled. 'A few have the temerity to whisper that Brandir woos the queen.'

'Who is whispering?'

'Hard to tell, but I think Wormtongue the most likely. He wishes to discredit any who have the king's ear, and that describes both Brandir and Morwen.'

'What does he say to Théoden?'

'Only the truth. He does not lie to his king. And he advises Théoden well,' Imrahil admitted, 'so there is no ground for complaint there. Morwen hates him and a number of the elder lords distrust him, as much for his youth as his blood...'

'Dunlending.'

'...yes. He takes pleasure in making fools of others.' A mischievous glint came to Imrahil's eye. 'He reminds me of you, more than anyone.' Denethor allowed one eyebrow to creep upwards, which made Imrahil grin. 'He thinks ahead, which is more than the others around him can claim.'

'Does Théoden take his advice?'

'Always.'

'What of Morwen?'

Imrahil sighed. 'She hates Edoras now. I know Mother begged her to come to Dol Amroth and live with her, be near Hilda. I don't think she will leave as long as Théoden remains unwed.'

'How weak is he?'

Imrahil smiled. 'Not at all. His people love him and his counselors' fights are with each other.'

'You mentioned rebellion earlier.'

'It is a possibility if he cannot learn rule, but he is a sensible man and already has learned much.'

'I can see you are weary. Anything else that will not wait?'

Imrahil shook his head. 'No, nothing, except....'

'Yes?'

The prince's voice dropped to a murmur. 'What has happened to Beregar? He looks a cur, not a hound.' Imrahil gave Denethor a sharp look. 'Has he earned your displeasure?'

'No. Never has he more been in my favor,' Denethor said in soft reply.

'Has he been afflicted by some contagion?'

'Did you hear that ruffians had set upon us last year when we returned from Rohan?'

'I had heard something of that, but not until I passed through the garrison and there was no time to linger and hear the full story.'

'I went with Finduilas to the beacon on Eilenach, or at least we tried to ride there. We were attacked by dark creatures in the forest.'

Imrahil's face went pale. 'As in Ithilien? Finduilas lied to Mother, but Borthand told me the truth of it.'

'Exactly like that, and you must remain silent. Beregar defended us as Huan did Beren and Lúthien. He took no wound to his flesh, but his heart and mind have been shadowed by their presence.'

'Ah, how cruel for so brave a heart! Is there naught to be done?'

'Finduilas tends him and he is better...'

'Better?' Imrahil was if anything more horrified. 'He has been worse?' Denethor nodded. Imrahil scrubbed his shaggy silver head with both hands, sighing. 'Alas, Sir Hound! Well, Borthand and me, we will lend our strength to my sister's ministrations.' Bright grey eyes caught his own. 'And of yourself and Finduilas? Took you any harm?'

'Nay, none that has not healed. Beregar bore the brunt.'

'All the more reason to treasure the man.'

Denethor bade Imrahil good night and went upstairs. He checked on Boromir, tucking in the blankets more and placing a soft kiss on the sleeping child's brow. Finduilas was already in her bed. It was the middle six days, the time for them to be chaste. When Finduilas told him of Luinil's counting scheme, it made perfect sense, for it was exactly as a tide, the height being when a child could be conceived and the low point when the blood intended for the child spoiled and was washed out. It pleased him that there were times to be chaste and times for mating; he liked the order of it. Finduilas stirred when he slipped into bed beside her, rolling over to give him more room. He nestled against her, drawing her into his arms.

***

Minas Tirith, 3 January, 2982 T.A.

Denethor let Halmir stand before the desk for a few minutes before giving the man his attention. The Lost bowed and waited, face betraying nothing. His hair was still close cropped but he had grown a short beard. There was grey at the corners of his mouth.

'You told me once, Halmir, that you Lost don't need Gondor's gold.'

The Lost answered slowly. 'We do not... need... gold. It is... good to have and we do not spurn it. But should it pass from our hands...' He ended with a shrug.

'But quality steel is expensive and you have need of blades.'

'Aye.'

Denethor did not let his eyes stray to the small battered map on the wall just beyond Halmir. He had studied it enough. 'Where else do the Lost serve? Aside from Thorongil,' Halmir's eyes narrowed at the name, 'none of your kind have served in Rohan. Surely all of your gold cannot come from Gondor.'

'Most. Where there's a need, we serve. But only here is it for coin.' Denethor raised his eyebrows. 'You have it. Others don't. Orcs don't care if your purse is full.'

[Him back not. You?]

[Go.]

'Your service ends in August.' [Back?]

[Go.]

'In the absence of Thorongil, who commands in the north?' [You?]

'Not your business.'

'Anything that affects Gondor is my business, and as the captain chose to inject himself into the ordering of Gondor, I think I have some right to know how you are ordered.'

Halmir shook his head. 'No you don't.'

'Who tells the Lost not to come here anymore?' Halmir's face was stony. [They him look?]

A long pause. [Yes.]

[Need all back, yes?]

[Yes.]

'It is not clear to me that we need the Lost to return. Any of them.'

[Him here back.]

[Why?]

[Love. Love you.] Halmir glanced north, expression bleak. [Home never. Stupid.]

[You find?]

With a shake of his head, Halmir said, 'If that is the case, Lord Denethor, then the Lost will no longer seek service with Gondor.'

'The Lost go as they please, but they will return to Gondor. And when they do, it will be to stay.' With a shallow bow, Halmir turned away and saw the northern map. He walked over to it, looking intently. Denethor came to his side, watching the man's face to see where his eyes went on the map. The Lost scanned the parchment, his gaze lingering most over the right-hand edge and the portion marked Angle. 'I got it from a trader. Is this accurate?' Denethor asked.

'Parts of it, maybe.'

'Should I go there?'

'You said the Dúnedain will come to Gondor to stay. Why should you leave?'

'To see what is there. Thorongil once said he loved what is there...'

[Lie! Him wrong me.] Halmir's motions were sharp, like knife thrusts.

'...and I wished to look upon that.'

'There is no need. There is naught there you do not possess and in more perfect measure. He is mistaken.'

'He does not love what is there?'

'Not as he should, no. If he did, he would never have left.' Halmir reached a hand up and lightly touched the spot Annúminas, and his face twisted as though to ward off tears. [Him. Keep. Beg.]

Denethor did not know what to make of Halmir's words, or if the Lost even meant them for him. 'You will return to your own love.'

That brought a faint smile to Halmir's face. 'Yes. I should.'

'What is her name?'

Halmir was silent for several heartbeats, expression wary, searching Denethor's face as though looking for some hint of falseness or mockery. 'Tindómiel.' Her name brought back the smile.

'And why would you not return to your wife?' [Follow him?] Will you seek your wayward king?

The smile disappeared. 'Is there anything else you wished to speak of, Lord Denethor?'

'No.' With a bow, Halmir left.

***

Minas Tirith, 5 January, 2982 T.A.

The mild weather and full harvests ensured that this would be a well-attended Great Council. Only Prince Adrahil was absent of all the falas lords, and Imrahil ensured that none missed the elder prince's presence. Denethor did not remember Adrahil being so composed and commanding at a comparable age. Morvorin was present, though he had not brought Luinmir for their son was still too young for such a long journey and she would not be parted from him. Forlong occupied the seat across from Denethor; no greater contrast could exist between the current occupant of that seat and the one who used to sit there. Yes, this man is loyal. Hirgon, Gundor, Brandir, Angrist, and a double handful of lesser lords from Anórien, Anduin and western Gondor filled the table. Duinmir of Morthond was not present. He had not left his lands since Umbar.

All rose as the Steward came in and took place at the head of the table. Denethor noticed how closely the lords peered at Ecthelion, how they glanced at each other, how there were some surreptitious nods and nudges. The Steward thanked them for attending him and asked them to be seated. When the rustling died down, Ecthelion gestured with the White Rod towards Lord Hirgon of Pinnath Gelin. 'My lord, if you would please tell us how your lands fare?'

Hirgon droned on for some time, and then began protesting the higher taxes upon lumber from the Green Hills. 'May I not have some relief from this charge, my Lord Steward?' he asked.

Denethor began to make a note on his report while he waited for the Steward to ever so graciously reaffirm the tax. It had been set by Núneth at Denethor's behest to ensure that the sudden expansion of the fleet along the coast, triggered by the dearth of Corsairs, filled the kingdom's purse. 'High Warden.' Denethor's head jerked up to look at the Steward. The man gestured wearily. 'Would you please explain the necessity of this tax to Lord Hirgon?'

'Of course, my Lord Steward. Lord Hirgon, I am concerned that there not be a waste of lumber along the coasts...' The lord and Denethor exchanged a few parries over the matter, then Hirgon resumed his droning. When Lord Gundor asked to know about the levy for garrison soldiers along Anduin and why so many were being called up from the Langstrand, Ecthelion again called upon Denethor to explain.

After he finished, Denethor pretended to be absorbed in reviewing the next report, but was secretly studying the Steward. For the first time Denethor could remember, the Steward looked frail. His gestures were small, his voice thin, his face aged. Ecthelion's attention wandered, something Denethor could not remember ever happening before and at one point, during Forlong's recitation of the fortunes of Lossarnach, the Steward almost dozed off. Every time one of the lords asked for an explanation or a decision, Ecthelion turned to Denethor. 'The High Warden will resolve the matter.' 'High Warden, how shall this be done?' 'We shall abide by the High Warden's counsel on this.'

When they broke for dinner at midday, Denethor went to the Steward's side. Brandir was also there, offering his father-in-law an arm to help him stand. Ecthelion accepted the help gratefully. 'Do you know if Finduilas will bring Boromir to the feast tonight?' Ecthelion asked, showing more energy than he had summoned during the council. 'It would be good for the lords to see him, don't you think?'

'I do not think she was planning on attending, for she was to hold a supper for the wives of the lords.' The Steward's face fell. 'But I can ask for Beregar to bring Boromir near the end of the meal,' Denethor hastily amended.

'Yes, please do so!' Dinner passed quickly. The morning had been for reports on the fiefs and the afternoon was given over to what the Steward foresaw for the coming year. The Steward had his wits about him more clearly, though he mostly introduced plans and had Denethor explain them. When suppertime came, Denethor sent a note to the house with Borthand to have Boromir sent over. The child arrived just as the plates were being cleared and was doted upon by all. After the lords departed, Ecthelion looked fondly at his grandson, then sighed. 'I suppose you must take him to bed now?'

'There is time for a cup of wine before he needs to go to sleep.' Ecthelion walked away hand in hand with Boromir, listening to the boy talk about his adventures that day. A hand caught Denethor's arm as he tried to follow. Brandir watched the pair go off, looking like his old foolish self, so gentle was his expression. He embraced Denethor tightly and kissed him before going the other direction, whistling.

Denethor caught up with the Steward and Boromir in Ecthelion's chambers. He poured wine for himself and Ecthelion and took a seat near the fire. Boromir sat in his grandfather's lap and soon fell asleep. Ecthelion hummed a tune, sipping his wine and gently rocking his grandson. Against Denethor's breast, he could feel the small bulge of Finduilas's book. It was not right that he did not know his own brother's name. I know my sisters. I should know my brother as well. Denethor cleared his throat to get Ecthelion's attention. 'Once, you spoke to me of a child who was sent to Rohan.' The Steward's expression became wary and he nodded. 'Had he a name?'

Ecthelion kissed the top of Boromir's head. 'Yes. Voronwë. Though I called him Piglet. It was too large a name for someone so small.' He kept his eyes trained on the floor before him and his voice shook. 'I named him for what I was not. Have... Is he... You have looked, of course.'

'Walda fostered him. He died of a fever when he was eight.'

'I see.' They sat until Denethor finished his wine. Ecthelion handed Boromir to Denethor and wiped his eyes on his sleeve. 'Thank you, Warden.'

Denethor kept Boromir with them that night, nestled in between himself and Finduilas. In the morning, he went to the archives to the chamber where birth records were kept. Mallor was on duty that day and left when bade to. Denethor quickly located the ledger of his own birth year and that of the following. Each book was organized by fief and village, and then by month, so that every child born in Gondor was known. There were many spaces left in case a child was overlooked and had to be inserted. The name, parentage and date of birth was recorded. When someone died, if their name could be located, that was entered as well. His own entry read: Denethor, son and third child of High Warden Ecthelion, December 25. He emended it: Denethor, first son and third child of High Warden Ecthelion, December 25. In the following year, he wrote: Voronwë Gárulf, second son of High Warden Ecthelion, March 1, March 31, 2939.



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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