1. The Hours
Vigils, 3:15 a.m.
Denethor sat, a damp piece of cloth in his hand, gently caressing his son’s fevered brow. Two flickering candles stood sentry at the top of the makeshift bed, providing the only light in the cavernous stone room. Through the still-standing thick walls, the Steward heard the noises of unnumbered foul hosts who were tirelessly forging the destruction of his city.
His city. A shudder of anger rushed through him, and he clenched his fist around the cloth, causing two drops of water to roll onto Faramir’s cheek. Denethor steadied himself and leaned over to dab at the water with uncharacteristic gentleness, then smoothed back a sweaty tendril of hair from his son’s steamy skin.
Faramir uttered something unintelligible, his eyes moving back and forth under closed lids.
“Hush, my son,” Denethor murmured. “We shall soon join our ancestors, and be done with this never-ending dark.”
“Lord Steward!” A clerk came bursting in, then stopped, riveted to the spot by Denethor’s look of unchecked rage.
“Penick, I did not call for you.”
The Steward’s icy words found their target as the man winced.
“Now get out.”
The clerk wavered. “But Lord Denethor, the Prince Imrahil bade me ask about his nephew…”
His voice trailed off into the gloom.
“GET OUT,” Denethor hissed.
The clerk turned and ran.
The Steward rose and walked to the door, shutting it with a firm hand. He returned to Faramir’s side, intertwining his hand with one of his son’s. Faramir’s skin was hot, his palm slick with sweat. A ghost of a smile flitted across Denethor’s face as with his other hand he stroked the bruised fingers, wondering how many years it had been since he had touched his second son. It was all so achingly clear now. With clarity of purpose came freedom; he felt liberated, finally able to express his love for his family even as he offered to the fire the deadwood of his spirit. Here, in the gloaming and hush of stone he could, at the last, let his affections wash over Faramir, in a silence bought at terrible cost.
Lauds, 5:45 a.m.
Eyes closed. Eyes open. Eyes closed.
Merry was awake, but even with his eyes open the forest was so dark that he couldn’t see anything. He pulled his blanket over his head, breathing in its earthy scent which was now as familiar as his own pungent odor, the consequence of riding for days back to chest with another person, and no chance to bathe. He was sure that no matter how happy Pippin would be to see him that his cousin would immediately make some raunchy and well-deserved comment about him smelling so ripe.
Pippin. Merry took another breath from within his small cocoon before casting the blanket down. He missed his cousin. He longed for the company of anybody who would talk to him, or even acknowledge that he existed, just as likely to suffer the fate of the Rohirrim on the battlefield. The healing scar on his forehead from his days with the orcs throbbed, and he rubbed at it, frowning into the too-quiet stillness of the early morning. For a few moments he wallowed in self-pity and loneliness. Since Dernhelm said almost nothing to him, Merry was beginning to wonder why on earth the young Rider had bothered to approach him at all. The Rider acted only as though he was an additional piece of luggage, and just as mute. He speaks more to Windfola than to me! Merry mused, indignant and pitiful.
He closed his eyes again, listening to the increasing noises around the camp; the tinny rustle of Riders waking and putting on mail shirts, whickering and snorting of horses as they were tended and fed, the crackles and snaps of wood set alight. None of it was necessarily comforting, but it was routine and predictable; familiar sounds, tastes and odors. It was in the afternoon of his second day spent riding in silence save the incessant rumbling of horse’s hooves, his thighs and backside throbbing in pain, when he realized that he had become quite fond of one scent in particular: oiled leather.
The Rohirrim rode their horses hard and as swiftly as possible, but each night after their meager meals Merry would catch the scent of leather being oiled, drifting through pockets of it as he wandered on the perimeter of his éored, ignored by Elfhelm and everyone else. It was a warm smell, affection and heat rubbed into its tangy scent, one which made Merry think of a particularly potent and peaty ale served at The Strongbows in Buckland.
His imagination started meandering down dark thoughts of never having a pint of ale again, of reliving Boromir’s death, the stench of sweating orcs -
Suddenly Merry heard an odd sound. He rolled over and saw Dernhelm, his face contorted, murmuring something he couldn’t understand, squirming in his blanket. Merry cautiously wriggled over to the Rider and shook him on the shoulder.
“Gríma!” Dernhelm hissed, his grey eyes instantly wide and full of fear.
Merry stared at him for a moment. “Were you having a nightmare? You were talking in your sleep.”
The young Rider nodded curtly, then shocked Merry by placing his oddly delicate hand on top of his, which still rested on Dernhelm’s shoulder.
“It was just a dream.”
Terce, 7:30 a.m.
She was almost at the bottom of the switch-backing trail before she noticed how much her jaw ached. The creaking of the wheels of the wagon-cart behind her had managed to find reciprocal grinding in her young teeth, though once she became aware of it, she made every attempt to loosen her mouth. And yet, the wood would not be silent. Her teeth clenched again.
Horse and rider, a cortege of two, bore their slight burden into the valley below them, toward the still grasses as blanched and bleak as the grey sky above. There were many mounds now, for none could be buried up on the Firienfeld. The plain was the last eyrie for the Rohirrim who could not, due to sex or age, fly away south to Gondor. Unseen thistles and briars clustered menacingly in the spirits of those who remained; leaderless, abandoned.
She reached the hillocky earth, stopped her filly with a quiet word, then dismounted and loosed the cart from her horse. Walking to the wagon, she pointedly ignored the cloth-wrapped figure, took out the shovel, and began digging. The sun had travelled part of its arc through the dim sky when she decided there was enough depth in the loam to bury her cousin. Her horse was within eyeshot, grazing on new spring grass. She approached the wooden wagon, leaned over, and with arms throbbing from overuse, gingerly picked up the body she had brought down from the Firienfeld.
She laid him as softly as possible into the earth, though as his caretaker and only a few years older than his at fifteen years, she was exhausted. Her cousin had fought at the battle at Helm’s Deep, and there had suffered many wounds. Mere hours before her funeral ride down the statue-marked path, he had succumbed to infections. She used her shovel to cover him up to the shoulders, then sank to her knees.
May the grasses sigh with your name
The wind throb with your heart which beats no more
Your light in the night sky shine down on us…
She was unable to finish the lament. Instead, she took a knife from her belt, and after sizing up her hand, chose her least-useful digit and made a light slash on her fifth finger, letting a few drops of blood fall onto the freshly-turned earth.
Be carried to our kin, and know us by this.
Head lowered, she sat still, unkempt hair lightly teased by a mocking whisper of breeze. She looked at the dark ground, then in a fog of blurred grief, dug her fingers into the upturned earth, and shoved it into her mouth.
Bitterly she chewed for a few moments, trying to rationalize the grit on her tongue before she spat it out, swearing as she did. She took a finger and scraped the tiny pebbles and foul-tasting ground out of her mouth, then stood, wiping her hand on her skirt and spitting after running her tongue around her teeth once more.
As she walked back to her horse to retrieve her water-skin, she was struck that she would never get used to the taste of death.
Sext, 12:15 p.m.
Not-here not-here not-here not-here
With but a little practice, she became an expert at willing herself away from what was happening to her. She refused to recognize the smell of scorched flesh as her “proud” feet were branded with an S and a B by the filthy men who had so humiliatingly hauled her off in broad daylight. She forced herself to remember every nook and cranny of Bag End and the plans that she had for the space when she began to hallucinate due to starvation and light deprivation.
At first she had fought them, wielding her umbrella as a weapon as best she could. This only made them laugh, which infuriated her. Then the brutes had decided “the old hag didn’t know her place” after she had yelled once too often that she was a Sackville-Baggins and they would pay. Instead, they tied her hands behind her to the umbrella itself, making her bond to it a permanent one.
Then they found the branding irons and decided to have a little fun.
She had decided a while back that her son could not have known anything about what was happening to her, that this Sharkey monster had corrupted his mind. She was rather unable to contemplate any other alternatives.
The hobbit matron nurtured her indignation and her anger. With every intake of breath of rancid air, filled with the scent of rotting turnips in one direction and her body’s waste in another, she smoldered.
She was Lobelia Sackville-Baggins.
By surviving, she would have her revenge.
None, 2:15 p.m.
The gaze of the guard’s amber eyes roamed restlessly over the lands across Anduin. Even with Elvish sight, honed and undimmed despite his years, the view before Haldir was hazy and indistinct. Once already the orcs from Dol Guldur had attacked, surprising the Elves of the Golden Wood in their monstrous numbers and ferocity. The power of Galadriel held fast, however, and not many Elves had been slain, but the focused brutality against the woods was horrible in its unexpected slaughter.
Eastern Lórien was now a sacrificial pyre. Once-thriving mallorns, centuries old and yet youthful in the stasis lovingly imposed on them by their mistress and caretaker, shimmered in shameful heat radiating from hundreds of pitch-smeared torches. Haldir wished that he could shut his eyes; that with a quick shake of his head and one long intake and outtake of breath he could simply will the vision before him away. Instead, the wind shifted, and for a quick instant, his heart seized in anticipation.
“Rain,” he whispered, hope tripping on his tongue even as it was whisked away by the heated pant of the consuming breeze.
His tireless eyelids closed, dark lashes resting on soot-dusted skin. He opened his mouth for a moment, nostrils flaring. The wind shifted again, and his mouth chafed with the taste of ash, delicate and grating. Haldir reached to his side to grasp for his water-skin, then drank greedily. He yearned to quench his thirst even as he wished that he could command Ulmo to wring rain from the clouds, to change the obscuring smoke caused by hungry flames to steam.
Is this to be our end? he mourned. All ancient elements of Elvish beauty, power, and affection in Middle-earth, ingested in a maw of fire more threatening than an arsenal of Balrogs?
He had to trust in his Lady and Lord. It was his duty. His place.
Disquieted, he resumed his vigilant, unmoving stance, his body taut and his sight flickering through swirls of distant burnished flame.
Vespers, 5:30 p.m.
The Dwarf hummed as he pedaled the grindstone. Though the words were meant to inspire, the melody was bitter, complementing the screeching whine of metal on rock as he sharpened the blade of his broadsword to a deadly edge. Gone now were Glóin’s white robes and necklace of diamonds; the old Dwarf wore his battle-ready garb of leather and iron. His round shield was just down the corridor, cradled in a stand in his room, along with his mattock. There had been no meeting, no call to arms, but without official words, the Dwarves of the Mountain knew to ready themselves for war.
Glóin stopped his foot motions, sensing that someone else was in the room. He looked up and saw a black bird perched on the stone ledge of the workroom window, leaning its head from side to side, onyx eyes fixed on him.
“Yes?” Glóin asked gruffly, his thick and calloused hands holding his sword with deceptive tenderness. “What news?”
“Orcs,” the raven croaked. “Swarming.”
The Dwarf made a thoughtful sound, a gravelly noise from deep in his throat. “That in itself is not news.”
The raven cawed irritably in response.
“Your folk believe they will attack soon, then?”
The bird nodded its head, its scaly talons scraping across the ledge as it delicately moved two steps.
“The men of Dale, too, have been warned.” Its voice was rough, unused to such speech anymore. “The thrushes have spoken to King Brand.”
Glóin nodded, hefting his weapon up from the grindstone, examining the blade. Still needs polishing, he thought. He turned his dark eyes to the raven as he stood, then lowered his head until his grey beard touched the floor, then straightened.
“Our thanks, winged comrade. May your feathers never fall.”
Black feathers glinted in the sunset as the bird turned its head right and left. “You fought at the Great Battle of Five Armies, did you not?”
There was a grating crash as the Dwarf lowered his sword onto a bench.
Silence drifted through the chamber until the raven spoke again. “Be prepared.”
Glóin thought briefly of his son, perhaps buried already, last seen while in the unexpectedly hospitable realm of a rather different Elven-king than Thranduil. Fingering a thick band on his finger, a memoriam to a marriage long sundered by death, he focused on the messenger.
The raven’s feathers rustled as it turned away, then took to flight. Glóin stood listening to the swooshes of beating wings, heavy and sure against the air.
Compline, 7:30 p.m.
The hobbit, quaking, had come in and hastily departed, bearing away Denethor’s message for his servants. He was free again to lavish his sympathies on his second-born son, his chilled fingertips tracing a belated line of respect from Faramir’s forehead, across a prominent cheekbone, down the sweaty neck.
It was not that he truly wished to die, not now, not even when the despairing visions from the hideously compelling seeing-stone forebode destruction on a scale that the Steward simply could not comprehend. He had spent his life looking ahead, calculating responses, noticing the smallest affectations of personality which could then be unraveled and thusly manipulated. He was not malevolent, merely observant.
He had, however, been called, and he would heed the summons. The fire which raged in his son had found a willing spark in his soul, and he could do nothing other than accept the unwitting proposition. Like their ancestors of old, he would burn, all imperfections refined in a purifying blaze. They were of a line of Kings. Stewards, yes, but as noble in spirit and heart as those who had been so supercilious and yet so absent for year upon year, generation following generation.
“Faramir,” Denethor murmured. He dipped the cold cloth into water and rested it above his son’s fevered eyes, watching Faramir’s dampened shirt as his son labored, panting in his need for air.
He took his son’s hand and held it to his own chest atop his cold velvet tunic, relishing the fortifying heat of Faramir’s clutching fingers against the chill of the room.
A rap sounded on the door.
“Enter,” the Steward commanded.
Six men stood in the doorway, paused, then walked forward in pairs.
“You requested our presence?” one asked, with wild eyes and fraying composure.
“Tarangil,” Denethor replied. “I need you to lay some blankets on my son.”
Footsteps echoed in the room as Denethor rose unsteadily, and let his gaze scour the room until he saw what he needed.
“Peregrin Took. My staff.”
Pippin placed it in his hand as Faramir’s pallet was draped, then raised. Denethor noticed that the hobbit’s face was smudged. Soot, perhaps? he pondered, then refocused his attentions. Such a small funeral, he mused. ‘Tis only fitting.
“To the Silent Street.”
Denethor’s authoritative voice rang through the room. He followed behind his son, ready to face the heat which would soon consume them.
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.