Hands of the King: 26. Kinship

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26. Kinship

Minas Tirith, Early March, 2976 T.A.

Borondir was a regular guest in the Stewards House for the rest of winter and into the mild spring. Denethor would meet with the quartermaster at least once a week, usually twice, and they would attend to the condition of Gondor. Often, their meetings would last through supper and into the night, and Borondir would sleep there rather than return to the sixth circle. They never spoke again of Thorongil and the Steward's plans for the Captain-General. As the days became warmer, Borondir's grief lifted.

Denethor's own melancholy clung to him like a cloak pressed close by the wind. For five days after he first saw Finduilas in the stone, he would slip into the Tower in the late afternoon and steal up to the top chamber. There, he would gather the palantír to himself and watch her while there was still light. The two days of journey from Linhir to Ethring he treasured, for he could see almost all of her face, but when the Swans turned south, Denethor could watch only her back and a few glimpses of her cheek when she turned to speak to her sister. The day they drew close to Edhellond it must have been cold, for Finduilas had her hood drawn up, keeping him from seeing even her hair. The day after the Swans returned to Dol Amroth, he went to the Tower again, but there was a servant sitting in a chair at the foot of the stair and Denethor withdrew, knowing his actions had drawn notice. Since then, he had managed only a handful of secret trips to the palantír, and only once did he see her.

Even so, he could not help but feel his spirits rise with the spring. For one thing, he spent most of his days in the archives. It was a merry place. Aiavalë smiled and laughed and hummed to herself as she ordered her realm, content that all of her plans had come to fruition. The archivists delighted in their mistress' cheer and in the thought that their dear friend would soon be their Lady, and Denethor often heard laughter and song echo through the staid caverns. He did not think Beregar had stopped smiling since yestarë. The only sign of disappointment he had seen in Beregar was when he insisted that the youth would remain Aiavalë's servant. The young man ran errands for him during the day while Denethor worked in the snug room Aiavalë had given him for his own, near the Númenórean books so he could conduct his research. 'And to dissuade you from borrowing things that never manage to be returned,' she had wryly noted when he thanked her for the space.

For another thing, he would soon journey to Dol Amroth himself. The betrothal announcement had been so sudden that there had been no time to prepare rings. Neither Adrahil nor Luinil would discuss Finduilas's dower, let alone wedding dates, in the short days between the announcement and their departure. Letters exchanged between the Steward and the Prince had struck an agreement that the actual betrothal and exchange of rings would occur in Dol Amroth in the first week of April. Denethor would travel to Pelargir in late March to confer with Baragund, then sail from that port to Dol Amroth. The only wretched news had been that Maiaberiel and Brandir would accompany him on the journey to represent the Steward's house and to negotiate the dower. He had no doubt but that Maiaberiel would try to disrupt things.

The most joyous thing, however, was that Alquallë sent him letters. Every week, he would receive one from her. They were always very proper, almost formal, and most certainly had been read by Adrahil before being sealed and sent. Denethor did not care.

Lord Denethor,

I hope this finds you well, my lord.

Our journey home was cold, but there was no rain, so the roads were fast. We had no mishaps on our way, and are now safe in Dol Amroth. I am glad to be home so I may see my grandfather again. Once we have rested from the long trip, the ladies of the Swan House will have much to attend to in the keep. It has sorely missed our care during our absence.

Please give my regards to your noble father, the Lord Steward, and to your lady sisters.

Your beloved,
Finduilas

He would read each letter, letting his eyes linger on the final words, then would fold it and slip it in between the leaves of her book. At night, before he lay down to sleep, he would reread each missive. Your beloved… Denethor liked reading that. His own replies were in a similar vein, knowing that the Prince would probably read them, too.

The letter that had arrived for him yesterday, however, was not so pleasing, for it reminded him of a task left undone. In the middle of the letter, she had written,

I hope that you have found suitable homes for the cat and the dog, so you will not need to concern yourself over them.

The cat was Telperien, of course, and the dog could only refer to Beregar. Denethor had been avoiding Finduilas's request that he release Beregar to join the Tower Guard. In truth, upon hearing her request, he had thought it a sign that she was smitten with the young man. But that was not so and he was obliged to obey her wishes. As he walked to the archives, Denethor considered what to do about Beregar. An idea took shape. When he arrived, it was a simple matter to locate the young man; Beregar always waited near the front of the archive, ready to run errands. He stood expectantly when Denethor walked up.

'Come with me.'

The two walked back to the Citadel and took the steep stairs inside the gate to the top of the wall. They walked south, past the Stewards House, until the wall curved back north and they stood near its westernmost point. Below them in the sixth circle was the practice yard of the Tower Guard; there was not room for it within the Citadel. Denethor said nothing, just looked down at the soldiers in the yard. After a minute, he glanced over at Beregar, who was wholly entranced by the sight. Watching him, it was not difficult to see how much Beregar longed to be among them. Denethor cleared his throat to get the other's attention.

'Yes, my lord?'

'Before my lady left for the south, she asked a boon of me.' Denethor paused, studying Beregar's face. The young man looked at him expectantly. 'Lady Finduilas asked me to release you from my service so that you could join the Tower Guard.'

'My lady is most generous.'

'Your lady has no authority to make such decisions. Only I do, and I am not going to grant her request.'

Beregar's face fell momentarily, then a determined look came over him. Denethor was pleased that there was no sullenness or resentment, only challenge in Beregar's expression. You are tenacious, I will give you that. 'As you command, my lord. Why then are we here? What do you require of me?'

'I do not grant my lady's request, nor do I want you as a servant.'

'Then I am dismissed, my lord?' Beregar's face showed no dismay, and he did not drop Denethor's eyes.

'In a manner of speaking. You are no more a servant of mine, so now you may choose for yourself.' Denethor pointed down at the yard. 'There is one choice. If you wish to join the Tower Guard, I will see that you are accepted.'

'And the other choice, Lord Denethor?'

'You will guard the Lady of the White Tower.'

Beregar smiled. 'That is no choice at all. I am the Lady's Hound. Of course I will guard her.'

'I thought you were mine.'

'You dismissed me, sir. I am hers, now. We both are.'

We both are. Is there anyone's heart that you do not possess, Alquallë? Denethor turned away from Beregar and walked along the wall, watching the practice yard to hide his unease at the thought. Borondir had been right – the City was abuzz with joy over the new Lady. There was no end to the happy chatter over her beauty and kindness, how she would be a great Lady of the City. Even more than a king, they wish for a queen. They wish for you. Denethor kept walking, Beregar following him, until they came to a stair and descended to the floor of the Citadel. They walked across the circle in silence. It was only when they came to the sixth circle that Denethor spoke.

'We shall see if you are sufficient to the task. From now on, when I do not need you for something else, you will train with the Tower Guard. I expect you to be the most accomplished of them all.'

'I will be.' Beregar's voice was firm.

'To guard the Lady will require more of you than that. You are to observe and to think. I expect you to see all that happens, hear all that is said, be alert for things that are not right. Do you understand?'

'Yes, my lord. I do.'

'You will remove to the Stewards House as soon as another boy can be found to serve the Archivist and her household.'

'I know of one.'

'Who?'

'Targon. He is the youngest son of the goldsmith, and Lady Aiavalë already knows him, for she taught him his letters.'

One of Primrose's children. Denethor nodded, liking the suggestion. 'Good. See that it is done.' The two soon arrived at the practice yard. The yardmaster trotted over when he saw Denethor standing near the gate. He did not so much as raise an eyebrow at Denethor's request to have Beregar trained, merely nodding and telling the young man to present himself that afternoon to be fitted for his practice gear. They were almost back to the archives when Denethor remembered another thing.

'Hound.'

'M'lord?'

'At the end of March, you will accompany me to Pelargir, and then to Dol Amroth.'

'I will?' Beregar exclaimed, both surprised and happy. 'But what of my train…'

'That is for when I do not need you. You will be needed on this trip.' Beregar's eyebrows went up upon that news, but he simply nodded in reply. Once back in the archives, Denethor lost himself in a scroll on steel bows. There were only a few such bows to be found in Minas Tirith and they were not in any condition to be used. He wondered if one could be made for him, just so he could see what wielding one would be like. A knock on the door caught his attention. It also made him aware that much time had passed and that it was close to dinner. Denethor's stomach growled as he said 'Come in,' hoping it was Beregar with his meal. Unfortunately, Hador was the visitor.

'Pardon me for disturbing you, my lord.'

'What is it?'

The bookbinder beamed. 'I knew you would wish to see this.' Hador reached into a pouch in the front of his work apron and pulled out the once ruined book of poetry, now restored. Denethor took the book and laid it on the desk. The binding was a little stiff when he opened it, but all else was near perfection. Only on a few pages could Denethor make out stains or marring from the book's immersion in the waterfall. The cover itself was a fair copy of the original. Hador reached into the pouch again and produced a leather case. Denethor slipped the book into it.

'This is beautiful work, Hador.' Reluctantly, Denethor handed it back.

'Thank you, Warden. I was worried for a few days when the weather was too damp for the pages to dry properly, but I knew by mettarë that all would be well.' Hador peered intently at his handiwork before placing it back in the apron pouch. 'I shall show it to the Master Archivist today. It will need her approval before I place it back on its shelf.' The bookbinder gave Denethor a crafty look. 'Though it does seem a shame that a book meant for travel would spend its life in a library.'

'Yes, it does. Good day, Hador.'

'Good day, my lord.' With a satisfied smile, the portly man bowed and left. Denethor pondered how long it would take Aiavalë to forget about the book, then neatened his desk and went to find something to eat.

***

The days passed quickly, though not quickly enough for Denethor's taste. He was to depart for Pelargir in four days. A single day to travel down the river, several days in the city, then the sea voyage to Dol Amroth. Depending upon the tides, the winds, and the waves, that would take four days – one to reach the Ethir, one to pick their way through the dangerous channel to the bay, then two upon the Sea itself. The Prince was sending Seabird to bear him to Dol Amroth, and Denethor was very eager to travel upon the Sea.

Beregar now attended him in the Stewards House, though Sador doggedly refused to relinquish his post as doorward. Denethor supposed he could have ordered the man away, but he could not remember a time when Sador did not serve in the house in some manner, and it did no harm to leave the old man his dignity. Beregar minded the door at night, and Sador dozed next to it through the day.

'I will not need you this morning, Beregar.'

'Yes, sir.' Beregar did not pause as he laid out Denethor's breakfast. 'Do you have any special errand for me?'

'No.' The young man bowed and left. Denethor ate quickly, glancing over messages that arrived since last night, and was soon on his way to the third circle. Almost as soon as he walked into Morwen's house, the Matron greeted him and escorted him up to the Mistress' office. Morwen gave him a stern glance and did not rise or offer her hand.

'Morwen.'

'I am not pleased, Denethor.'

'You are not alone.' He met her grey eyes steadily until she sighed and gestured for him to take a seat.

'No, I suppose not. Even so, the loss of the house has hurt my business sorely.'

'It cannot be a surprise.'

'I thought you were going to prevent this from happening.'

'I have concerns greater than you, Morwen. They must be attended to or I will be of no use to anyone.'

'I am losing business here in the City, as well.'

'That is not my concern.'

'I thought this was a concern to us both.'

'The captain's rise to power is what concerns me, not your trade. I have done what I can to slow this decision, but it was something on which I was willing to compromise.'

'I do not care for your compromise.'

The closing of the whorehouse at Osgiliath had never been in question. Thorongil had waited one week after yestarë before sending notice to the Steward that he wished it removed. Denethor had not bothered to dispute the request. It was the garrison surgeon, Galdor, who had argued to keep it open, saying that the women there made good nurses, which freed up the healers for true healing work, and that lying with the women appeared to make the men less susceptible to the evil effects of the vapors that came out of Imlad Morgul. Galdor did uphold Denethor's rule that only unmarried men should be allowed visits. The Matron from the house had journeyed in and spoken to the Steward, reminding him that the presence of the house kept young men from straying from the garrison and discouraged them from importuning the women of the farms to the west. She also brought a letter from Morwen spelling out the contract between her business and the City. Thorongil refused to compromise, and Denethor advised the Steward to buy out Morwen's contract and allow the house to be closed. He knew Morwen's complaints were rather exaggerated given the amount of gold she had received.

Denethor shrugged. 'As I did not care for the captain's promotion, but there was naught I could do about it. Since I could not prevent it, I seek to diminish its effect.'

Morwen's look shifted from sour to thoughtful. 'Hmm. Denethor, is there anything in particular you wish for me to do to diminish the captain's power?'

'I leave it in your hands. I believe you once said that whores would not speak well of him, should he rise too high?'

She nodded. 'Yes, but it must be carefully done. He must be mocked, not attacked. There are not a few of my own rivals who are pleased at seeing my pocket harmed, and it will take time to show them how this is a danger to all whores.'

'He shut down all the houses of Pelargir when he had a chance. It would be a shame were he to talk the Steward into doing the same here in Minas Tirith.'

'Would Maiaberiel support him on this?'

'Possibly. She is going through a rather chaste period right now. She knows I frequent your house and it would please her to do something to annoy me.'

'You will not be frequenting here any more.' Morwen gave him a warm smile.

'To the contrary; I wish to be seen here regularly.'

'Why?'

'My own reasons.'

'Will your wife be accepting of your reasons?'

'Yes.'

Morwen said nothing for a minute. 'Maiaberiel. You said she was being chaste. They are not lovers, then?'

'No.'

'Why not? Taste or kinship?'

'I suspect the former more than the latter.'

'Too bad. That would have been very useful. Is there anything else that could be used to make men look askance at Thorongil?'

Denethor hesitated. What had also been decided at the last meeting between the Captain-General and the Lord Steward was the question of Thorongil's allegiance. Ecthelion had not put the question to Thorongil for two long months. Denethor said nothing and simply took the reports of Henneth Annûn and all of the other secret operations, monies, agreements, and so forth that he himself had been entrusted with when he was made Captain-General.

After the decision over the whorehouse last week, Thorongil had been asked to remain behind to speak to the Lord Steward. Denethor left Beregar to skulk in the halls until the meeting ended. The Hound reported that Thorongil had left abruptly after a short time, grim-faced. Later, whispers about the Tower let them know that Ecthelion was in a wrathful mood the rest of the day. Though Denethor did not know for certain, he suspected Thorongil had refused to foreswear the Lost. However, this was a fact he preferred to keep silent on for now. If it was true, it would come out; best to let others carry the tale. Even so, there was no harm in letting Morwen know that there were things to know. She would be that much more determined to ferret them out.

'Nothing I care to share.'

She gave him a sly smile. 'I'll find out for myself. I am curious, however. I thought the captain was the one wooing the daughter of Dol Amroth, not you.'

Denethor smiled slightly in return, curious at how Morwen knew of Thorongil's intent. Probably through Isilmo. 'He was.'

'Why did he fail? Simply your precedence?'

'For the most part. Dol Amroth worried over his origins. All possibilities were… problematic.'

'The rumors have been strong through the winter, though they fade with the spring.'

'I do not care if they continue, Morwen. It is not bad that people see a younger son put in his place. Or whatever he is claiming to be this season.' Now that he knew the truth, Denethor found it useful to confound it, just as the Steward and Maiaberiel did.

Morwen set down her cup and asked, 'Do you have a reliable courier going to Pelargir in the next few weeks?'

'Why?'

'I need to send my son to Marach. It is time. I would keep him near always, but he is too old to be here.' Whatever she saw in Denethor's face left her amused. 'There are children here, Denethor. Every whore has at least one. We love them very much, even if others look down upon them.' Her amusement faded, replaced by wistfulness. 'We always have to send our sons away. They don't return.'

'And daughters?'

'They marry. Or stay on.' Morwen looked him straight in the eye. 'My daughter will inherit a very good business in time, if I can keep the captain from ruining it.'

'You wish your daughter to be a whore?' He did not try to keep the disgust out of his voice.

'I thought you were not concerned with my trade. Do you have someone my son may travel with?' was her cool reply.

'I leave for Pelargir myself three mornings hence. Have him present himself at dinner at The Messenger's Rest the day before and ask for Beregar. My man will take him to Harlond that night, with the baggage. Marach is back, then?'

'Yes, he sent word just this week.' She stood, motioning Denethor to stay seated. 'He sent something for you. Wait.' She left the room, but soon returned with a small wooden box. When Denethor opened it, he found polished discs of glass carefully wrapped in velvet and well-padded with wool. There were five discs in all, in varying sizes. He held one up, looking through it to see how well it magnified.

'These are magnificent. I will have to thank him for this gift when I am there.'

'He also sent his congratulations over your good news.'

'I merely follow his advice from last spring.'

'When?' Denethor looked up at the eagerness in Morwen's voice. She gazed back, eyes alight and a smile on her face. 'When will you bring her here to be our Lady?'

'I go to Pelargir to sail to Dol Amroth. The dower will be negotiated, then the betrothal done for certain,' he replied off-handedly, holding up another lens for inspection. 'When the wedding will be I cannot tell. Probably not for some time.'

Morwen plucked the lens from his hand and glared. 'You sound as though you do not care if this wedding happens at all.' Denethor stood and retrieved the glass from her, storing it back in its box. Morwen shifted so she was partly in front of the door, preventing him from leaving. Crossing her arms, she continued, 'You are not even wed, yet you already think to dishonor her by coming here.'

'I do not and never shall behave as our sire has done.'

She did not blink at Denethor's mention of their kinship. 'I know you do nothing wrong when here, Denethor, but you wish for others to think you lustful. You shame her if you come here.'

'I come here to protect her. Too many watch to see what is dear to me, and then seek to do harm.'

To his surprise, Morwen embraced him and looked at him with pity, cupping his cheek with a cool hand. 'I understand what you attempt, Denethor, but you are mistaken. You will only do our Lady a discourtesy, and you will not save either of you from harm.' She gave him a kiss on the cheek before turning him firmly towards the door. 'Go. You shall not come here again to speak to me. You are no longer welcome in this house. The Matron will turn you out if you try. I will meet you elsewhere if there is need. Besides, it is for the best that you are not seen consorting with me when the whores begin to complain of the captain.' Morwen walked him down to the ground floor before giving him a another sisterly kiss on the cheek. 'Take care of my son. You will like him.'

'I am sure that I will.'

Denethor left the whorehouse, box of lenses in his pocket, and headed for the second circle. Morwen's words left him wondering. Just like Borondir. So eager for me to bring Alquallë back, so much longing for their queen. If you can win over a whore's heart, you can rule any. Perhaps Maiaberiel would not dare threaten Finduilas. Perhaps you have captured that heart as well. He mulled these thoughts over until he reached the alleys of the jewelers almost at the back of the circle and entered Primrose's shop. A girl sitting in a chair jumped up when he entered and ran into the back. Denethor waited only a few minutes before Primrose walked in. Her hair was pulled sharply back from her face and her forearms were bare. Her leather apron was stained and supple from years of use.

'Good day, Warden.'

'Good day, Mistress. Is the ring ready?'

'Right here.' Primrose dug into a pocket on the apron, pulling out a cloth-wrapped object. They moved to a small high table under a lamp. She unwrapped the silver ring, placing it on the smooth leather top of the table. Denethor did not touch it, preferring to admire its beauty as it shone under the lamplight.

All around the band Primrose had etched a design of waves and a single swan upon them. The delicacy of the lines was breathtaking – thin, yet deep into the silver. There was no stone set into the ring. It was becoming the fashion to adorn betrothal and wedding rings in such a way, but Denethor did not approve of breaking the custom of a solid band. Primrose agreed when she heard what he wanted. "A wedding band is like a marriage, unbroken by anything outside of itself," she had said. Denethor's only regret was that he could not have Finduilas's ring made of mithril, like the crowns of the first kings.

'It is all you promised, and finer still.'

Primrose smiled at the compliment. 'I hope the Lady will also approve.' She wrapped the ring back up and handed the tiny bundle to Denethor. 'If you know, how is Targon faring? I have heard nothing since he went to serve the Archivist.'

'Beregar says he does well.'

Primrose breathed a sigh of relief. 'I am glad to hear it. He has no talent for smithing or gem-craft, and I wondered where we could place him.'

'Leave it to Aiavalë. She will see he ends up where he should.' Denethor pulled the box out of his pocket and set it on the table. 'Here is something I received. What do you think?'

The jeweler opened the box and took out a lens. Making a sound of appreciation, Primrose dug into the wool and removed the other four lenses, laying them in a row on the leather, then pulled a loupe out of an apron pocket and positioned it against her eye. Denethor waited patiently while she examined the discs. One by one, she held each up to the lamp, scrutinizing them through her own glass. When she finished, Primrose looked at Denethor with a grin.

'Perfect. Each one. Where did you get them?'

'Here and there. What can you do with them?'

'A number of things, but I recommend a spyglass.'

'How many lenses do you need for that?'

'That depends on the spyglass. Some use more than others.'

'I know of diagrams in the archives for very powerful spyglasses, using a number of lenses. I will have some of them redrawn and sent to you.'

'I would be most interested in seeing them,' Primrose said as she rewrapped the lenses in their velvet and wool. When she handed the box back to him, Denethor shook his head.

'Keep them so you may make a spyglass. Let me know when one is ready.'

'As you wish. When do you leave for Dol Amroth?' Her expression was happy and expectant.

'Soon.' Denethor pocketed the ring, nodded good-bye, and left. He returned to the Stewards House and unwrapped the betrothal ring, wishing to admire it more. Soon. Telperien jumped up onto the desk to see what he was doing. She sniffed the ring, then patted at it with a forepaw. 'No, your majesty.' He picked her up and set her on the floor. After a moment's thought, Denethor took the knife from his belt and cut a strip from the fine white cloth the ring had been wrapped in. It took a few tries to make it work, but he soon had the cloth wrapping the ring itself tightly, leaving the center open. He took the chain with the key to the palantír chamber from his neck and strung the betrothal ring on it.

***

The sun was only a promise in the east when the boat pushed away from the Harlond dock. They would be to Pelargir by early evening. On the southern trips, Anduin's current did the work, carrying the boats swiftly downstream. There were a few rowers onboard, to keep the boat on course and help it dock in Pelargir, but most of the vessel was given over to passengers and baggage.

Denethor stood on the forward deck, doing his best to ignore Maiaberiel and Brandir on the other side of the boat. He had not exchanged words with Brandir outside of council chambers since their confrontation in January. Surreptitiously, Denethor touched the ring and key under his shirt, pressing them to his heart. He had not been able to get to the top chamber in the last week and his dreams had been unsettling. Never could he see Finduilas's face, and often she walked away from him. His only solace was that Huan trotted after her so that she was guarded.

The east bank was too dark to make out clearly; only the bulk of Emyn Arnen was certain while the lowlands hid were hidden by mist. After a quarter-hour, Denethor left the prow and walked back to the rear deck where soldiers were making themselves comfortable, waving them to remain as they were when they would have stood at his approach. He took a seat on the water barrel at the stern and watched the City wake. When he was in the Osgiliath garrison, he enjoyed standing on the walls and seeing the first rays of morning strike the white spire of the Tower while all below was still in the shadow of the mountains. Slowly, the City itself would shed her grey mantle, emerging like a pearl set upon stone, proud and beautiful. He never tired of it. The perspective from the boat was less dramatic, for the City was in profile, but she was still beautiful. Denethor heard someone approach but did not turn away from Minas Tirith until she was clothed in light. As he expected, it was Beregar.

'Yes?'

'Do you wish breakfast, my lord?'

'No.' Beregar nodded politely and retreated to a corner where he would be out of the way but able to watch for a summons. Another boy already squatted there and the two were soon in conversation. Morwen's son was a younger version of Beregar. Denethor returned his attention to the City, watching until Minas Tirith disappeared in Anduin's haze.

Once the City was gone, Denethor motioned for the young lieutenant in charge of the soldiers to come over. The two talked quietly about the man's new posting with his company to Pelargir, relieving another group that had been stationed there since last spring. The soldiers were having their breakfast of bread, cheese, cured ham, and brandy. Denethor and the lieutenant soon had tin cups of the brandy which loosened the young officer's tongue a little, as Denethor had hoped it would, though the man never stooped to gossip. By noon, they were at the Erui, most of the soldiers were dozing, and Denethor had a junior officer's view on how the new Captain-General was doing.

There was not much new to be learned. The lieutenant was mostly satisfied with Thorongil's leadership. January had been challenging, for the captain had gone on the offensive in Ithilien, rooting out all remnants of the orc army that had attacked Osgiliath. Patrols were more common and more aggressive, confirming the official reports. Even so, the man was glad to be going to Pelargir. Denethor found this the most curious, and asked why.

'A sober-minded commander is good to have, but Captain Thorongil is a grim one. Around him, you get the feeling that you dare not smile, or think of anything save the next patrol.'

Denethor thanked the lieutenant for his time and dismissed him. He stood and stretched before wandering over to where Beregar and the other boy sat. The three were soon eating a simple meal. Denethor decided he wanted to know more about Morwen's son.

'What is your name?'

'Magor, sir.'

'How old are you?'

'Fourteen. I will be fifteen this summer.'

In Haradic, Denethor asked, 'Have you been beyond the City before?'

'No,' Magor replied in kind, 'not even to the Harlond.'

Denethor did not reply, but stared at the youngster until Magor became nervous. Beregar was looking at them both curiously. 'Never reply like that,' Denethor said very softly. 'You were not paying attention to who might be listening. A slip of the tongue in Pelargir could brand you a traitor, and your accent is poor enough that you could never fool a native speaker. Play ignorant even if you know what was said.'

Magor nodded. 'Yes, my lord,' he replied, then glanced around before murmuring, 'I speak the other tongue so poorly?'

'Poorly enough. You will need to practice if you wish to go beyond Pelargir.'

'I do.' The boy's words were said firmly.

Denethor nodded and dropped the conversation. The boy's accent was quite good, and he looked a Dúnadan. Magor would be very valuable in Umbar at some point.

The afternoon passed swiftly and the sun was still in the sky when Pelargir came into sight. By the time they docked, disembarked, and waited for things to be retrieved from the hold, however, it was close to sunset. Brandir and Maiaberiel were whisked away by one of the local lords to be his guests during their stay before the voyage to Dol Amroth. Denethor declined the invitation, saying he would stay in the barracks.

Baragund was nearby, waiting for him. 'Captain.' They exchanged their usual nods. Denethor slung his pack over his shoulder and set out for the garrison, Baragund falling into step beside him. Beregar and Magor followed. As he strode towards the Haven Wall, Denethor could hear the lieutenant calling his soldiers to order at the dockside.

The walk through the streets to the garrison was different this time. Denethor paused as they passed the gate in the Haven Wall and touched the black stone. It felt – familiar. Suddenly, he knew the city the same way he knew Minas Tirith or Osgiliath. He recalled his eagle's view of Pelargir when he had first sought Finduilas in the palantír, and understood the deep order that lay in the stone of the city. Just as he had always known where the streets of Osgiliath ran – without seeing a map or even seeing the streets long-drowned – he now knew with certainty the ways of Pelargir as they once had been. For a moment, he wished to drop his pack and simply move about this known yet unapproachable place and try to touch all that had been and would not be again.

'Captain?'

'When was the last time these gates were closed?'

'Sir?' Baragund looked at him in confusion. 'I have never known them to be closed.'

'But once, they were…' Denethor touched the stone again, and almost he thought he knew when they had last defended the city, as though the stone itself whispered its tale to him the way he would tell Turgon the tales of Gondor that went with the pebbles from his pocket. Something beckoned beyond the gate and he followed it. Unhurriedly, Denethor walked through the streets, letting the stone murmur its life to him. As he passed through the garrison door later, he felt half-drunk on the voice of the stone. Nodding dismissal to Baragund, he wandered towards his usual quarters in the garrison. By the time he reached the rooms, much of the dream-like feeling had left. Denethor rang a bell on the desk in the outer room and told the soldier who appeared to show Beregar and Magor where things were so they could tend their master.

After supper, Denethor accompanied Baragund to a meeting room where they could talk. Baragund poured them both wine, as he always did, then sat, waiting for Denethor's questions. This time, Denethor asked nothing. Finally, Baragund spoke.

'I still do not understand, Captain.'

'There seems not much to know.'

'Captain-General?'

'He's competent.'

'He's Lost.'

Denethor sipped his wine. So, it matters to you, also. Anbar, Marlong, Baragund, Borondir, and a double-handful of lesser officers were all wary of an unsworn Thorongil. Brandir will know if it is as I suspect. I will have to speak to him. He doubted that Brandir would lie or refuse to answer if asked directly. The two men sat in silence for several minutes.

'Isilmo?' Baragund asked.

'Surprised?'

'Pleased. Why did you wait?'

'It needed to carry a message.'

Baragund's eyes gleamed. 'Was it heard?'

'Those who needed to hear it are warned. What of down here?'

'There's none. They know who marched into South Gondor last summer.' Baragund hesitated, before asking, 'Did you choose him?'

'What happened was my choice.' I told the Steward to be rid of me. I forced their hands when caution might have held this off. 'I have other concerns, and he will do well enough.'

A smile came to Baragund's face. 'And good concerns they are, sir.'

'Tomorrow, an inspection.'

'Yes, captain.'

'Has Seabird docked?'

'No. Still down-river.'

Denethor drained his cup and rose. 'Good night.' Baragund walked him back to his quarters and departed after a silent bow. Beregar and Magor were dicing in the front room, waiting for him to return. He bade them get some sleep and retired to his own bed. He could not sleep, however; the stone sang a song too low for him to understand, but it teased at his mind and would not let him rest. Close to midnight, Denethor slipped out of the room, past the boys sleeping on their pallet next to the door, through the barracks, and out into the main court of the garrison. It took only a few minutes to find a way over the garrison wall and down onto the tangle of rooftops. Denethor did not return until the sky was grey.

The inspection the next day was thorough. They began by taking the ferry across Anduin to the fortifications on the east bank. They ended late in the day at the western edge of the city, looking at the gates upon the road to Linhir, designed to keep brigands out. The song of the stone was less strong this far from the ancient center, but the Linhir road made Denethor long for other things. If Baragund noticed the odd mood that came over his lord, he did not say anything. The evening was spent with the nobles of Pelargir, gathered at the sprawling house of the lord hosting Maiaberiel and Brandir. The villa lay between the second wall and the outer defenses and was but a few hundred years old. When Denethor touched its walls, they said nothing. There were only two topics of conversation that evening; the betrothal and the threat of Umbar. The first was celebrated with many toasts while the second was scornfully dismissed.

Once again, after the garrison slept, Denethor slipped away to walk among the stones. Their song no longer left him dazed. It was more like walking in Osgiliath save that lanes ended in blank walls instead of drops into the river. He walked tangled streets, climbed upon the Haven Wall, passed over rooftops, and looked down upon alleys older than Gondor. This time, he came back with the sunrise. Beregar and Magor were standing near the garrison door, anxiously looking for him. Denethor half-expected Beregar to take him by the scruff and give him a good shake, but the Hound contented himself with a glare at his wayward master.

When they entered the mess, Denethor saw a familiar face and gestured for the soldier to come over.

'Yes, sir?'

'Bard?'

'Yes, sir.'

'Where is Lark?'

'At home, sir.'

'Send her a message and tell her to present herself at the eighth bell.' Denethor did not wait for an acknowledgement. He ate breakfast, listening carefully to the conversations around him. It was typical soldier chatter – who was on duty, who was in trouble, who won at dice, who had a girl, who had lost one. After reviewing messages, Denethor napped the rest of the morning. In his dreams, he walked the streets of newly-founded Pelargir and looked upon a haven full of ships.

Shortly after the eighth bell, a soldier came and said there was a visitor for the Warden. Denethor walked to the room where he and Baragund had spoken two nights before. Lark was on the far side of the room, looking out a window. Her head was wrapped in a blue and yellow scarf in the style of the city, and she wore a golden-brown robe over a thin, plain white dress. Lark looked over her shoulder at him for a second before returning to her study of the view through the window. Denethor sat on the edge of the table.

'Why did you send me here?' Lark did not turn around.

'Should you not be with your husband?'

'You could have sent him to Anórien. Or kept him in Minas Tirith. This place reeks of fish.'

'Are you not happy?'

Lark turned and came over to him. 'I am happy with my husband. All else here is wretched!'

'How so?'

'It stinks. You can't see anything. There is nothing here but soldiers and fishnets. I miss…' Lark bit her lip and did not go on.

'That is the lot of a soldier's wife. You should be grateful Aiavalë saw to give you that much honor.'

'She made me an archivist, and you sent me away!' Lark snapped. She drew herself up and crossed her arms, looking very much like Aiavalë. 'Give me something to do. Set me a charge.'

'Is not your husband your charge?'

'I can do more.'

Denethor studied the woman before him, then stood and walked away. 'As you wish.' Lark followed him out of the garrison. Beregar would have followed as well, but Denethor told him to remain. The two moved swiftly through the streets, and came to a tall, narrow building of intricately carved stone. Inside, the building was cool and dark, a few poorly kept lamps set in sconces in the walls. The great lanterns hanging from the ceiling had not been used in several lifetimes from the look of them. An old man shuffled out from behind a dusty desk a few paces from the door. He peered at the two visitors, then bowed deeply when he recognized Denethor.

'My Lord Warden, I am honored. How may I assist you?'

'I bring the new Master Archivist. This is Mistress Lark. She is trained by the Master Archivist of Minas Tirith, and comes to order the library here.' The old man looked at Lark, then bowed.

'Mistress. I will call the other archivists.' When the old man disappeared into the gloom of the building, Lark whirled on Denethor, face alight.

'Master Archivist? You mean this?'

'I do. There is not much here worth tending. Anything of true value is already in Minas Tirith, so you cannot do harm. You might even do some good.'

Lark growled something unpleasant under her breath and turned her back on him. She walked around the room, inspecting things. They did not wait long before the old man returned with two others, a man and a woman, each nearly as old as himself. They bowed to Lark and Denethor, then stood, looking expectantly at their new mistress. Lark glanced at Denethor, who simply shrugged, curious to see how she would handle things.

'I am Mistress Lark, sent by Master Archivist Aiavalë to restore this archive. There is much to be done, I see.' The archivists agreed. 'I will return at the third bell on the morrow, and you shall show me the library. I need to make a report to Mistress Aiavalë on the condition of things here.' Farewells were exchanged and Denethor and Lark left. He led them to the top of the Haven Wall. They stopped where he could see the harbor. Seabird was docked, having come in late the night before.

'Enough of a charge?'

'Probably.' Her look was defiant.

'That is not what I need you to do, however.'

Lark cocked her head. 'What, then?'

'Did you see the young man with Beregar?'

'Yes.'

'His name is... '

'I know who he is.'

'You are that familiar with Morwen's house? I thought you were supposed to stay away from such places.'

'Save your insults. What do you want?'

'He will bring you news. You are to deliver it to Aiavalë.'

'It will be done.'

'You should send a message to Morwen.'

Lark's eyes narrowed. 'Why?'

'She lost the whorehouse at Osgiliath. She could do well setting up a new one here. Maybe there's an old whore there that no one wants anymore who can be trusted to be the Matron here. Someone who really should have had the decency to leave the City years ago.'

Lark stared at Denethor coldly for several heartbeats, then spat on him. 'That is for all the men of your house.'

He caught her under the chin and made her look at him. 'I have done you no ill. You have both husband and archive because I permit it. Would you prefer to be a whore like your mother?'

'She fell in love!' Lark wriggled out of his grasp.

'She sold herself. She could have done as you did, found a soldier who would make her wife, and have redeemed her honor. She chose to be a whore.'

'She. Loved.'

'He did not. She was a fool. And she is a whore.'

'You are vile. Leave me be.' Lark walked off.

Denethor went to the docks and found the captain of Seabird. The man said the ship would be ready to leave mid-day the day after tomorrow. Denethor took his time strolling back through the city to the garrison, taking note of the shops along the streets and the markets set up in every square. He had to admit that Pelargir did smell of fish, particularly this close to the docks. When he returned, he told Beregar to attend to getting their belongings put aboard Seabird and Magor to be ready to accompany him that night.

Near sunset, one of Maiaberiel's servants presented himself at the garrison and asked if the Warden would please accompany him to a gathering at a noble's house not far away. Denethor declined, but gave the man a note for his mistress saying when to be ready to depart for Dol Amroth. Not long after, he and Magor set out. They had gone only a few furlongs through the streets when Denethor felt a certain prickle on the back of his neck. A careful glance around revealed Beruthiel's servant from earlier, slinking along a few dozen yards behind. Denethor slowed somewhat and led a tortuous route through one of the market areas, to be certain the man was following. Magor tugged his sleeve.

'What?'

'We are followed, my lord.'

That was good – the lad noticed without being told. 'I know. Stay very close to me. Can you climb?'

'Yes.'

'When we turn the next corner, follow quickly.' Denethor sauntered around a corner where the road broke into three different lanes. Quickly, he darted down the least used lane, into the doorway of an abandoned building, and up a dilapidated flight of stairs. Magor stayed right with him. On the roof, they peeked over the edge. The servant stood in the cross-roads, looking down each street, trying to figure out where they had gone. The man walked a few yards down each street, peering into the growing dark. Finally, he set off down the busiest street at a trot.

'Lost him,' Magor said with a grin.

'Did you ever use the rooftops in Minas Tirith?'

'Of course!' the boy replied with no small pride. 'I was the best in the circle!'

'Let's go, then.' They had to be careful to avoid the walls and roofs where there were people, but that just added to the challenge. An hour later, they clambered down a half-ruined staircase near the storefront in the Merchants Quarter. As Denethor tapped out the code, he noted that Magor paid close attention to the raps. Their wait was short. Marach's wife, Zarih, opened the door, shooing them in.

'Yusil, welcome to our house,' she said warmly, kissing Denethor on both cheeks, before turning to Magor. She kissed him also and smoothed his hair. 'Here is another lost lamb! You are Magor, yes?' The boy nodded. 'A babe for me to mother, when I am long past such things. You will call me Auntie.'

'Yes, Auntie.'

'Ahnkoral waits. You are late,' Zarih scolded over her shoulder as she led them further into the house. They passed by the usual meeting room and were brought to a larger room well furnished with hangings, carpets, and low tables. Denethor was pleased to see Ragnor as well as Marach present. There were several men and women in the room, sons, daughters, and daughters-in-law of the brothers, and a large assortment of children ranging from older than Magor to infants.

'Yusil!' Marach called out from his seat, waving them over. Denethor knelt for the man's blessing, motioning Magor to do likewise. When they sat up, Marach looked Magor over with a keen eye.

'Tell me, Yusil, what is your measure of this imp?'

'Better than most. He's agile, but needs to mind his tongue.'

Marach gave Magor a light swat on top of the head. 'That's high praise, boy. I am your uncle Ahnkoral and that is your uncle Ahnknor. You obey us both.'

'Yes, sir.'

'Uncle! Uncle, call me uncle,' the old man said, giving the boy a smile and a pat on the cheek. Magor smiled back.

'Yes, uncle.'

'Are you hungry?' The boy nodded. 'Then we should eat.' Magor was directed to sit with some similar-aged cousins, while Denethor took his usual spot at Marach's left hand. The meal was filling and the company boisterous. Ragnor was full of news over the ivory trade from Far Harad and Marach said that cloves from Khand were plentiful, though emeralds were hard to come by. Their explanation of the various goods, whether plentiful or rare, told Denethor all he needed to know about where things where peaceful and where there was war. At the end of the meal, Magor helped his cousins clear away the dishes. The room emptied so there was only Ragnor, Marach, and their wives left to speak to.

Keniha, Ragnor's wife, came over to Denethor and blessed him, then kissed his cheek. 'We were so glad to hear your news, Yusil. Finally, you are wed!'

'We sang for joy when we heard, nephew,' Ragnor assured Denethor, his weathered face wrinkling up as he smiled broadly. 'We have waited a very long time for this!'

'I am not yet wed,' Denethor protested. 'I am but betrothed. The wedding is later.'

'That is not good,' Zarih sternly lectured. 'You are far past time to have several sons, and you have no brother. Why are you not wed yet?'

'I go to Dol Amroth to be presented to my lady's kin…'

'And when they approve, you will wed?' Keniha interrupted.

'No, then a date will be set…'

'Don't wait,' Marach advised. 'If her kin say yes, marry her that day. Zarih is right. You need an heir at once. Things grow more dangerous by the day.'

'I doubt her father, the Prince, will agree to such haste.'

'If he says she is yours, she is yours,' Keniha replied matter-of-factly.

'My lady deserves no less than a grand wedding with all honor due to her. She is not a horse to have a lead rope handed over when a purchase is done,' Denethor shot back sourly.

'I suppose it must be this way if you are to keep Dol Amroth happy,' Marach mused, 'but it would be best if you wed soon.'

'Were it but my own wish, I would wed as soon as may be, uncle,' Denethor replied. 'There has been much turmoil and grief in the last year. A great celebration will cheer hearts.'

Marach looked at him, then sighed. 'I know. You aren't our Yusil. You are Denethor, High Warden, and may not always follow your heart. Or even good sense.'

'That is so, uncle,' Denethor wryly agreed.

They paused as a woman brought in black tea, lemon slices, and lumps of sugar. Denethor made up cups of it for them all, as the youngest should.

'If what I have seen over my winter travels is true,' Ragnor offered, 'this should be a peaceful year. Harad and Khand both need to tend to their affairs.'

'As Gondor needs to tend to its own,' was Marach's reply. The old man blew on his tea, then sipped, watching Denethor. 'I have heard an eagle spreads his wings.'

'And a vulture had hers clipped.'

'Hmm. The winter attack out of Mordor, unaided, that surprised me.'

'Not me. I knew by late summer that there would be an attack when they thought us unguarded. It was just a question of when.'

'What of the fire? Is that how you used my rock oil?'

'Yes. It worked, but only just. We were nearly caught in it ourselves.'

'You won't need more oil, then?'

'I am not certain. There are other things I am researching, and some of them use that.'

'How much?'

'Another two barrels. Three if you can manage it.'

'They will come more dear than last time.'

'Get them if they can be had.'

'Umbar is still closed,' Marach said.

'I think there is some illness among them,' Ragnor offered. 'A few times since mid-summer, caravans came across bodies in the dry lands between Umbar and Harad. The bodies had boils and poxes on them. We've also spied the remains of pyres just past the bazaars, very large burned piles. The stench of them cannot be hidden. When asked, the guards say it is straying traders being disposed of. I don't doubt that is true, but the pyres are larger than needed for a few foolish merchants.' Ragnor swirled his tea, brow furrowed. 'And there is sometimes a great spire of smoke to be seen from the direction of the city itself.' He looked over at Denethor, equal parts grieved and disgusted. 'I think there is a great evil at work there.'

They spoke for another half-hour on what Ragnor and Marach had seen on their southern journeys, then Denethor asked if they intended to travel again.

'I will remain in Pelargir this year,' Marach sighed. 'I am an old man.'

'Though no less foolish than when you were young,' Zarih teased her husband.

'Alas, both are so,' he replied dramatically, then laughed. 'Ragnor has a few trips left in him, but soon it will be time for our sons to venture out, not us.'

'Morwen has forbidden me to be seen near her house now that I shall have a wife,' Denethor said, 'and we need a better way to communicate between here and Minas Tirith. I have placed a girl as the new Master Archivist here in Pelargir – her mother is one of Morwen's women – and she is known to Magor. Send news through her. No one will wonder that the archivist here has messages for Aiavalë, particularly with so much work needing to be done on Pelargir's library.'

'I will. Did you get my gift?'

'Yes, uncle, I did. I have the lenses with a crafter now being made into a spyglass.'

'I will have a proper wedding present for you, too, soon, though much larger.'

'Send that to the Quartermaster.'

'Borondir?'

'The same. I fear I must go now.' They all rose, Denethor knelt a last time for his elder's blessings, then he kissed them all farewell and left. He did not return at once to the garrison. Instead, he walked along the Haven Wall until he reached its southernmost tower and sat there, gazing south towards Umbar. What do they do? The city had been a cruel place when he was there in his youth, but there were some limits then to what they would permit. Executions of the Faithful were elaborate and gruesome, of course. There had been several in the year he was there. At the third, he went to a hidden place, high up in one of the towers near the central square, and had put an arrow through the heart of the captive before her torment was too great. The leader of the Faithful had him beaten later for the danger he had put himself in and for increasing the wrath of the Black Númenóreans by ruining their sport. She also thanked him for the mercy he had shown the doomed girl. Do they follow all of their forefathers' ways, now? Ecthelion would not understand the horror of it, but Thorongil would. The Steward would only consider that we are saved by a plague visited upon our enemies, not that darkness is spreading. When a mist rose up from Anduin, Denethor returned to the barracks. Beregar was still awake, waiting for him to come back.

A third day passed in Pelargir, this taken up with messages and reviewing the soldiers at their drills. One of the messages was to Thorongil, in cipher, explaining what Ragnor had seen. Denethor had to tell someone of this. The reports to the Steward held none of that, only word that there might be a plague in Umbar. The morning of the fourth day went by excruciatingly slowly. When he could not wait another minute, Denethor gathered his pack, and went to Seabird. The captain showed him to the cabin assigned to him. Denethor shed his boots, cuffed his pants, and was back on deck a few minutes later. He was careful to stand where Luinil had showed him so he would remain out of the way of the sailors. Not long afterwards, Beregar came up from the hold where some larger items were being stored. He took one look at Denethor and copied his master's attire. Maiaberiel and Brandir arrived not much later; they stayed in their cabin until the ship was underway. The journey to the upper reaches of the Ethir was brief, and the captain dropped anchor in the deep center of the river. They had to wait until night to enter the one ship channel to the Bay of Belfalas so that they would arrive at the shallowest portion of the channel upon the highest tide.

Denethor was sorry they could not do this during daylight, for he had never journeyed all the way upon Anduin to the Sea. Even so, he perched himself upon a water butt and watched what he could. Beregar curled himself up near Denethor's feet and fell asleep not long after sundown. Seabird moved slowly down the river, with no sails, only oars. The captain came over and spoke to Denethor when he was not needed to give orders, and explained what they were doing – taking soundings to keep the ship in the deepest waters, watching the stars and the glint of their light upon the waves to keep to their course, watching for flags set on the banks as warnings and guides, feeling the strength of the wind, sipping the water to see if they could taste salt yet, listening for the cries of birds that lived on the river, in the delta, upon the shore, and so forth.

As they neared the entrance to the Bay, the captain could spare no time. Denethor did not care. He could smell the salt water, could hear something deep and great coming closer, like the song of the stones but more vast. At some point, the captain called for sails to be unfurled, and Denethor felt the ship leap forward like a horse given her head. Water hissed along the sides and the ship rolled with the waves. Denethor leaned his head back and thought he had never seen so many stars, for there was no end to them – they covered the sky and gleamed upon the water, reflected a thousand times. An hour past the Ethir, the captain called a halt and sank anchor. They would journey on again in the early morning with the winds.

***

Denethor woke as he had fallen asleep – to the song of the Sea. The sun was not yet over the horizon. He dressed swiftly and went up on deck, a yawning Beregar trailing behind. Ahead of them, Denethor could make out the dark bulk of Tolfalas. Sailors went about their tasks quietly, speaking only as much and as loudly as necessary to communicate with the others. A few whistled, but the sharpest sounds were the cries of gulls who glided past the ship.

Îbal, the captain, motioned for Denethor to join him at the wheel. The man was tall and lean, with skin wrinkled and weathered to a deep brown, though there was no touch of grey in his hair. Upon his bare forearms and along one cheek were thin scars, lash marks from flailing ropes, no doubt. He nodded courteously when Denethor drew near.

'Good morning, my lord.'

'Good morning, Captain. What can you say of our journey ahead?'

Îbal looked keenly at the bay and sky, then smiled. 'It will be a good journey and fast, if the sky speaks true. We should be to Dol Amroth ere sundown tomorrow.' The captain motioned towards Tolfalas. 'We'll sail east of the island and then due south for a time, then strike out to the deeps of the bay.'

Denethor was surprised at this news. 'Why not simply follow the coast? Would that not be more direct?'

'Perhaps,' Îbal replied with a shrug, 'but it is slower, requires we row a great deal, and you see little besides shore.' He gazed south for a while before returning his attention to Denethor. 'Seabird loves the deeps, not the shallows, and she'll fly faster where she can spread her wings. There's not a black sail that can catch her upon the waves. When we're far enough out, we'll find the south winds and turn north to Dol Amroth.'

This sounded adventurous. 'Very good, Captain. Thank you.' The men nodded to each other and Denethor walked to where he could watch the sailors at work without being in the way. After an hour, the sun was up, Seabird was moving swiftly, and the crew was taking turns helping themselves to a breakfast brought up from the tiny galley. Beregar brought theirs over. All the while, Tolfalas grew in size, her green northern slopes a great emerald set in the blue-black bay. To the east, the shore of South Gondor also wore the mantle of spring, though the color was dimmed and the further low hills were tinged with dun. Summer would come early to the south this year.

When the meal was through, Denethor went to the rail on the bow and gazed south. All there was to see was water and the southern coast. He could just discern a headland, then the shore swung east and south out of sight. How far is Umbar? If it is two days to Dol Amroth by sail… Denethor tried to think, but sunlight on the waves dazzled his eyes and the wind made the sails snap and ropes creak and beneath it all was the roll and voice of the Sea. As with the ancient stone of Pelargir, tales were being told, but here the sway and sound of the waves made the stories that much more powerful. He listened.

It was later, but still morning, when a nearby movement caught Denethor's eye. Maiaberiel was walking towards him, staring out at the sea, and did not appear to notice him. The sailors in the area certainly noticed her, casting less than surreptitious looks as she passed by. There was much to admire. She had abandoned her dress and clad herself in Brandir's clothes, trousers cuffed and feet bare. For once, Maiaberiel appeared oblivious to the men around her, watching only the waves. She wandered up next to where Denethor stood and stopped, resting her hands upon the rail. He copied her pose and waited for her to notice him. It was almost a minute before Maiaberiel looked at him.

'All you lack are the cats.'

She stared at Denethor, then laughed gaily, truly amused. He had to laugh with her, then yelped and jumped to the side as Beruthiel's heel made sharp contact with his shin. She grinned.

'Even?'

'Even.'

Maiaberiel laughed again and gave her hair a toss. 'It is so beautiful! I never thought bare water could be so alive. Anduin's not like this.'

'Not as much.' Denethor studied his sister's face and wondered how such a cruel heart could hear the sea. 'Beautiful things can also be barren. Yourself, for exam…'

'Shut up, Denethor.' Beruthiel gave him a cold glance before turning back to the sea. 'I almost like you today and I prefer to keep it that way.' Denethor nodded to her and strolled off. At first, he simply wandered the deck, trying to keep out of the way of the sailors. The more he watched them, the more curious he became as to what they were doing and why. Denethor shortly found himself standing in front of Îbal. The captain raised an eyebrow.

'Show me.'

'Show you what, my lord?'

'Everything.'


This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.

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

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A Writer Reads - 8 stories - Owner: 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.
Included because: 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.

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Hands of the King - 545 posts

Discussion centered on Anglachel's novel-length story, "Hands of the King," a look at the courtship and marriage of Denethor and Finduilas.

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