11. Third Age 2948 - Part Two
In the morning, preparations were underway for the battalion's departure. The fires had been put out, the dead were buried and the cart had been prepared. Amdir was placed next to Denethor and Thengel. No sound had passed his lips, nor was there any movement from the burnt body. They had laid him on his stomach and in so doing, part of the bandage became dislodged and Denethor caught a glimpse of the damaged back. He cried out in horror, "Amdir!" but there was no answer. Thengel took Denethor into his arms and held him close as his friend wept over the wreckage before them. Arciryas quickly jumped into the cart and rearranged the bandages.
"This is an order. You will both drink this before we begin our journey or we will not begin it." Authority rang in his voice. Húrin stood by the side of the cart. Thengel and Denethor drank the draught and lay back. The grim procession started towards Osgiliath and soon sleep overcame the two friends.
It took a full day to reach Osgiliath. The cart rode slowly with its precious cargo. Three times Arciryas called for rest. He changed bandages, heated prepared tea, and administered it to his charges. Then they started forward again.
When they reached Osgiliath, they found Ecthelion waiting for them. He permitted Arciryas to take the wounded to the battalion's barracks. He allowed no one to tell Denethor or Thengel that he was there. Húrin brought him to his own quarters, ordered dinner to be brought, and closed the door, telling his aide they were not to be disturbed. Ecthelion gave him a moment to lave his hands and face and prepare tea. When Húrin finally sat before his Captain-General, he found a very angry man across from him.
"First, tell me how it is that no errand-riders were sent to me as I had ordered?"
"My Lord, I have disobeyed you. May I give my full report before you pass judgment against me?"
"It matters not what caused this disregard for my orders, Húrin. You know yourself that obedience is everything in service to Gondor. There must be punishment for this."
"Well I know it, my Lord, yet punishment should be tempered with wisdom."
Ecthelion gave a soft smile. "Perhaps if you would offer your Captain-General a cup of tea, punishment could be stayed?"
Húrin jumped up, chagrin written plainly upon his face; Ecthelion laughed warmly.
"Nay, dear Húrin, I will serve myself. And while I am doing so, please tell me what you have found."
So Húrin sat and told of the village, the wounded, the lost patrol, and all the while Ecthelion feigned being thoroughly engrossed in the making of tea. At the end of Húrin's report, he went to the door and ordered the aide to bring Arciryas to him, if the healer was not needed. Húrin started to speak again, but Ecthelion held his hand up for silence. The two men sat, both deep in thought. At last, the gentle steps of the healer broke the silence.
"My Lord," Arciryas said as he bowed his head and placed his hand on his chest. Ecthelion nodded and Arciryas reported on his movements during the battle and afterwards, the state of his patients, and what the recovery for each would entail.
Ecthelion nodded when he was finished and excused him.
Húrin sat in wonder. At last Ecthelion spoke. "This has been a hard few days for us all, has it not?" Húrin knew he was not required to answer.
Both men jumped as Denethor burst into the room. "Father!" he cried, hugging him close. Ecthelion, startled, remembered Cranthir's burial day, the day he and Denethor had been reconciled. He held him at arm's length. "My son," he said warmly, "it is good to see you. Here, sit at my side. Arciryas said you were resting."
"I was, Father, but I knew you were here. I... I had to see you." He suddenly blushed at the remembrance of the exuberance of his greeting.
Ecthelion smiled at his discomfiture. "As I said, it is good to see you."
Húrin stood as if to leave. "Nay, please stay. Our greetings are done. You have relieved the Rangers?"
"Yes, my Lord. The Orc band has not been found. We deemed it prudent."
"Yes, it would seem so. Yet now Ithilien is empty of her soldiers and those who live there are unguarded. I cannot leave Ithilien unprotected."
"Nay, my Lord, I see your point. Perhaps we should abandon Ithilien entirely?"
Ecthelion looked up, sharply. "That will not happen! Ithilien is part of Gondor and will be under the protection of Gondor." Vehemence sharpened his voice.
"Father, Captain Inlach has been preparing the Rangers in Minas Tirith for the last year. He has five full companies, well trained. Two companies - one hundred and forty men - can be sent to Henneth Annûn. It will be a tight fit, but the men are stalwart. Another two companies may be stationed at Emyn Arnen and another company at Cair Andros. The forces at Pelargir will be able to patrol South Ithilien. If we could devise a long-distance signaling system, like the one Captain Vëantur had for his ships." Excitement tinged Denethor's words as his thoughts raced to the great sea captain of Númenor. "They used a system of flags, Father, dipped a certain number of times for words. We could make shields, perhaps coat their surface with mithril, or put polished crystals on them - anything to reflect the light of Anor - then device some code to communicate between the three garrisons. Well... I have not thought it all out, but it would work."
Húrin clapped Denethor on the shoulder. "I do believe it will work. Where did you read about this code?"
Denethor blushed. "As a youth, I spent quite some time reading of the sailors of Númenor. The accounts are all in the Great Library."
Ecthelion sat back; Denethor could not tell if he was angry or interested. He held his breath. His father stood, poured tea, and set it before Denethor who looked up in surprise. "Drink this," Ecthelion said. "Arciryas left it for you. And then retire for the night."
Walking back to his barracks, Denethor did not know whether to laugh or cry. He knew they could devise a system. The captains of the ships out of Pelargir used a system that was close to what they needed. It should be easy enough. And Ithilien must not be abandoned. It was now too dangerous for errand-riders. What would Ecthelion do, he wondered as he fell into bed? His heart was still racing at the joy of the challenge, but his body succumbed to sleep almost immediately.
"Why are they not back yet? Why were no errand-riders sent? Where is Ecthelion?" Morwen wrung her hands. Dawn had found her pacing the little garden of their apartments. Indis stood by, waiting patiently, letting her friend spend her anguish in words and motion. Finally, Morwen looked at her, and smiled apologetically. "I am sorry, Indis. I know Ecthelion is doing all he can. I just need word."
"I know you do. Word will come when it is time. I believe we should go to the Houses of Healing after our meal and help prepare for the wounded. The battalion will probably have spent the night in Osgiliath. They should arrive here around noon. Father did send an errand-rider with word that there were wounded, but no other word did he send."
Morwen blanched. "My heart tells me that all is well, but the vision stays with me. I will go with you to the Houses."
After breaking their fast, the women walked slowly down to the Sixth Level where Adanedhel met them.
"We have come to help," Indis answered his unasked question. "Morwen will take her time and do only tasks that require sitting. I myself, along with Listöwel and Elleth when they come, will prepare salves, unguents, and teas, with your instruction, of course."
Adanedhel sighed. "There are only three wounded and a babe, orphaned. Perhaps you will deign to take the child?"
Morwen gave a cry. "A babe? A babe has been found? But how? Why?"
"I know none of the details. Nor the names of the wounded," he said as he noted Indis' open mouth. "You will have to wait, as I must."
"I believe I can speak for Elleth. She will take the child. Know you not its parentage?"
"Nay, as I have told you, my Lady, I have no further details. We must needs wait."
Morwen and Indis left the Houses with no clear idea as to what they would do next.
By late afternoon, Indis and Morwen were sitting by the escarpment on the Seventh Level watching and waiting. Dust became visible in the distance and they knew a great company was approaching from the direction of Osgiliath. A quick hug and then they ran to Elleth's home, found Listöwel with her, shared their news, and proceeded towards the First Level and the Great Gate. They paced their steps to assure Morwen did not tax herself beyond endurance; they must protect the babe. Sober were they and quiet. Each woman walked silently, engrossed in her own thoughts, afraid of what each would find. At last they reached the Great Gate, which was opening as they approached. Holding hands in solidarity, supporting each other through their touch, they searched the faces of the soldiers. Morwen crumpled into Elleth's arms as her eyes told her Thengel was not with the riders. Indis ran to the cart. The entourage was so long, the cart had yet to pass through the gates.
Denethor smiled wearily up at her. She cried out in relief. Though the ride had been long and hard for the wounded, it was a joy to see her face, in all its state of worry. "Your hair is a mess," he laughed quietly and held her hand. Tears sprang into both pairs of eyes as she gently took the bandaged hand. Denethor loved his aunt dearly. Always, he could rely upon her for support, love and counsel. Did she know of his love for her? Life was so short, he had discovered. He must tell her. He would pick a night and meet with her, share a meal and remember times, friends and family. He would be in Minas Tirith for awhile. He could not hold a sword and was useless to his company until he was healed. He would use this time to spend with her. He started to tell her of Amdir when she caught sight of Thengel, seated behind him.
"Thengel," she cried. Immediately she turned towards Morwen. The smile on Indis' face told her friend all she needed to know. Morwen pulled herself out of Elleth's arms and ran towards the cart, with Elleth running after her trying to slow her down else she trip and fall. The driver by this time realized he must stop or run over the group of women descending upon him. Listöwel made her way past her friends, a smile upon her face. She knew Amdir was safe if he was with Denethor and Thengel. She cried his name as she ran forward.
Indis stopped her. "Just a moment, dear one, let me help you up." She had seen the small nod of Denethor's head towards the body lying next to him. She knew whom it was and that the injuries were serious by the pain in her brother's eyes. How was she to help her friend? She stepped down from the running board and turned to Listöwel, gently taking her in her arms. "Amdir is seriously injured, Listöwel. I will help you up to him, but you must not touch him," she whispered in her ear. Tears started streaming down both women's faces.
"Yes, I understand," Listöwel whispered, scarce able to breathe and hugged her friend. Two soldiers took her arms as she reached up and helped swing her into the cart next to Amdir. She bent low, found a clear space on the burned forehead, kissed it gently, then sat down next to him and waited for the cart to continue its journey to the Houses of Healing, his hand in hers.
Indis turned towards the people in the square as the contingent of soldiers hurried up the street, Morwen and Elleth beside her. "My people, another battle has been waged for good by the men of Gondor. The enemy is at bay again, fearful of our strength. It is now our turn to come together under our beloved Steward and stand firm. There is no need for fear or panic. Return to your homes, prepare the evening meal, and commit yourselves again to Gondor's defense." She turned, gathered her friends and followed the entourage. Thengel looked back at her in amaze.
Firieth hushed Denethor for the tenth time. "You will sit here until I deem your wounds are fully cleaned, bandaged, and you have drunk the teas prepared for you. I have just now finished your hands. The burns on your back still need unguents poured upon them. Then they must be covered with clean bandages..."
"Please, Firieth. I must to Amdir's side. At least stop your chattering, do quickly what you must, and release me!" He chafed at every word she spoke, every movement she made. He grew tired of the constant ministrations. He had been treated by Arciryas; was that not enough? He hated the Houses of Healing - always they seemed to him a prison. This time, of all times, he must be with Amdir. He knew secret ways that would take him to the room where his friend lay, but the woman seemed aware of his thoughts of escape and would not leave him alone for a moment, always using others to fetch supplies, teas and unguents.
Suddenly, tears filled his eyes. He grabbed her arm. "Firieth, I do not know if my friend lives or is dead. I promise you, I will remain here, quietly, and endure your ministrations, but please," with his freshly bandaged hand he turned her face towards his, "send one of your drudges for news, please!"
Thengel stood with the women in the little courtyard off the main door of the Houses. Morwen was seated on a marble bench near the hedge of aloe that protected this recess from the wind. The smell was soothing; she had not noticed that a small peace had descended upon her. Indis sat next to her, holding her hand. She was grateful, more than words could tell, that Thengel had not been burned too badly. Yet her heart was broken for Listöwel as she stood clinging to Elleth. Thengel had told them in glowing words of Amdir's bravery but the women were not concerned with bravery. Bravery was become a euphemism for death in Gondor. Now they looked for a word of hope from him, but Thengel had none to offer. He had seen Amdir's back as the healer had stripped the bandages off, one by one, had seen the look of horror in Ecthelion's eyes, and had to leave the room to empty his stomach. When he had returned, Ecthelion had motioned him out. Now he found himself here with the women, looked upon for strength and feeling weak.
"I will go to Denethor," he said quietly. "The healers must be finished with him by now. We will then go to Amdir. As soon as I am able, I promise, I will return with news." He bowed his head, gave Indis and Morwen quick hugs and strode through the main doors.
As he walked towards Denethor's room, he shook his head. How were the women of Gondor able to endure this constant contact with death? They were the brave ones, left to send their men to war, left at home to raise the children, make the bandages, and keep a measure of sanity to lead the people by their example. He knew the four women he had just left were leaders in the City, unbeknownst to themselves and others, but at times like this, when fear ran rampant through the streets, he knew these four leaned upon each other and became an example for all the women of Gondor. He had seen Indis grow from a terrified child, at last standing up to her father, to a strong woman whom others turned to for comfort and courage. He remembered the sight of her in the square and he shook his head, wonder filling him.
"There are three places that greatly concern me," Adanedhel said pointing them out to Arciryas. "These two spots on the flesh that cover the bones of his lower shoulders and this one further down on the left side of his back. These are different burns than the rest and these will be the burns that will kill him, if we do not treat them vigorously."
"But my Lord Healer, are not the others as bad - they blister and weep?"
"Nay, though their look is not pleasant, they are not as serious as these three places, and will heal in time. This is your first burn patient, is it not?"
"Yes, my Lord."
"I wish it were your last, but alas, the enemy appears to grow bolder each day." He turned to Ecthelion. "What say you to this now? Is it not time to override the Steward's Council and protect our people?"
"You speak unwisely for an old man," Ecthelion stated, surprised at the healer's boldness.
"I am old - yes. I have no more purpose in life than to care for Gondor's people. I can no longer hold my tongue. Would you cause more of our people to suffer this and also death? A whole village wiped out, my Lord. The defenses in Ithilien are weak and the soldiers too few. You continue to throw lives away by your cowardice."
Ecthelion froze. He breathed in slowly and deeply. He would have struck the healer, though his words rang bitter and true in his heart. "I would have you remember," he hissed, trying to keep from shouting, "your function is to care for the wounded. You are not on the Steward's Council nor are you a soldier. You do not know all that pertains to these matters. I will speak of it no more."
"And that has been the problem," Adanedhel spat out. "No one speaks of what must be spoken to. Not only are the soldiers, the Council, and the Steward affected by the paths our Steward leads us on. It is the people themselves. And it will not stop in Ithilien. Are you too blind to see that? The evil will spread. Next will be Osgiliath, then Minas Tirith and the whole of Gondor. Orcs run rampant through our land and naught is done to stop them. Remember when the Corsairs attacked Thengel's company in Lossarnach? There was no reprisal. None of our enemies fear us. We are looked upon as weak. And I am forced to care for more and more of our people and the underandfónd bury more and more of our dead."
"What would you have me do?" he whispered curtly as he pulled Adanedhel away from the bed. "I have no authority. I have spoken to my father. I have placed my thoughts before the Council and I am rebuffed at every turn. Go back to your patient, which is where your responsibility lies. Leave me to my father." He strode from the room.
Denethor and Thengel heard the angry voices as they approached Amdir's room. They stood with mouths wide, watching as Ecthelion stormed out. Had they heard right? Had Adanedhel not just berated their Captain-General? Denethor's face burned with shame. How dare he? How did his father not strike the man? Then he shook his head. Was violence his only recourse when he was angry? And why was he angry? Did not a citizen of Gondor have the right to question? Did not Denethor have the right to question? Yet he knew the obstacles that faced Ecthelion and pondered what could be done. He glanced at Amdir, quiet and unmoving on the bed. He turned to Adanedhel.
"My Lord, you speak wrongly to my father." He said quietly. "He has endeavored, seriously, for years now to open Turgon's eyes to the dangers present. The Council seems to be more afraid of war than protecting Gondor. These lords have been too long from the battlefield. Their memories cloud their judgment. They forget that all will die if this evil is left to grow. I do not know the answers, but Father needs your support now. You are his healer, Master Healer for all of Gondor. If others hear you speaking thus..."
"Well am I aware of your father's words, but no deeds have sprung from those words. Denethor, this cannot continue." He paused, "I am tired," he wiped a bloodied hand across his forehead. "I spoke in the heat of my grief over the villagers. I... my sister-son had family there."
"Adanedhel!" Denethor cried, "I am sorry."
"Nay, 'tis I who am sorry. I will go to your father. There is naught I can do for Amdir. He must fight this battle alone. I will return in one hour. Please send someone to me if his condition changes. I will be in the Steward's Hall." Denethor watched the healer retreat, shoulders bowed. His heart ached. So much death, so much sorrow.
The men stood at the foot of the bed. Adanedhel had left an attendant to sit and watch over Amdir. Denethor did not understand why there had been no movement from him, no sound issuing from his lips since they had found him. What kind of death was this? The attendant moved at Denethor's request and he sat and took his friend's hand.
"Amdir. It is I, Denethor. Thengel and I are here with you. Do not lose hope, my friend. We will stay and fight this battle with you. You are not alone. Amdir? Amdir, please, do not give up. Do not leave us. We have much to share yet, many adventures and battles and drinking and dancing and laughing. Why - Listöwel is waiting for you as we speak. They have started to make her gown. Is not that true, Thengel?"
Thengel stepped closer to the bed. "Yes, Amdir. I just left the women. Your mother and Listöwel have been quite busy with the preparations for your troth taking. You have much yet to do, my friend. Please wake up."
"Perhaps he is waiting for his captaincy, Thengel; I am sure we can do something about that after his deeds in Emyn Arnen." He tried to keep his voice light, the fear from it.
"Amdir?" he tried again and was rewarded by a stirring, a low moan. "Amdir!" he bent low and put his mouth near his friend's ear. "Amdir, it is I, Denethor. We are here for you."
Another moan and the eyelids flickered in the pale face before him. Denethor held the hand tighter, the pain in his own burned hands negated by his concern for his friend. He kissed Amdir's brow and called his name again. At last, the eyes opened and pain flashed across them. The moan turned to a cry and Denethor wished with all his heart that he had not awakened his friend.
The attendant quickly came forward and pressed liquid to Amdir's lips. Through his thrashing, Amdir swallowed some of the drought. Fear flickered in his eyes and Denethor forced his face in front of him.
"Amdir, you will recover. You have been injured, but you are mending. Drink what the healer is giving you. It will help ease the pain."
Amdir's eyes did not convey recognition and Denethor took his friend's face into his hands. "Amdir, I am here. Drink this," he had taken the cup from the healer, "It will help ease your pain. You will be well soon," he kept repeating as some of the liquid made its way into Amdir's mouth. The fear seemed to lessen.
"Send for Adanedhel," Thengel demanded and the attendant ran from the room as Thengel knelt by the bed. "Amdir, we are here. Do not give into despair and fear. Your friends are with you."
There was recognition - Denethor was sure of it. The thrashing had lessened and the eyes were focusing, no longer rolling wildly. Once again Denethor gave him the cup and Amdir drank of it, slowly. His eyes were wide now, but clear.
"Do not speak, my friend. Lie still and rest. We will not leave you." Amdir's eyes closed, then opened and a smile, small, touched his face. The eyes closed again and the breathing became slower, quieter. Denethor sat back, relief flooding his entire body. He turned towards Thengel. Through tears, both men smiled.
"How do I say this without you thinking me mad?" Denethor spoke quietly to the still figure on the bed. The others had left the room, their ministrations done for the moment. "How do I say this and retain your friendship, your love. You will hear it and only hear the words - not what my heart is speaking, but I must say it, if only in the hope that one meaning will seep through the words, the hurt."
He had begun to weep openly. "Amdir, my friend, my brother. You must not die. You must not. Gondor has need of you, of your courage, your goodness, if only to tame me, to keep me in check, my pride, my stubbornness, my anger. You know of what I speak. Ever have you been the gentling agent in this mass that sits here before you. I ask not for myself, that you live, but for Gondor, for it is my fate that I will one day rule Gondor as her Steward. I see things before me that terrify me. Things that I will do if you are not with me."
He could hardly speak for the sobs that wracked his body. "If all else fails, I will fail. I can see it, Amdir, in my mind's eye." Fear constricted his throat. He found it painful to continue speaking, but he pushed through the pain. "I fear Isildur's Bain." There! He had said it. "Is it real? Is it in the hands of our enemies; is it as terrible a weapon as I imagine it? Will Gondor fall because of it?"
He wet his lips. "There is a presence in Mordor; I can feel it. It is thoroughly evil. It will destroy Gondor and I know of no way to stop it. Yet, left unhindered as it now is, it will only grow and feed on us. And it feeds on my fears. Amdir, I want desperately to have you live for me, for our friendship, for our love. But it has gone beyond that now. You are Gondor's hope - not I. I will be the one who sits on the Steward's Chair, but you will be the one behind me, guiding me, controlling me, softening what I do so that I will rule in wisdom, not in frailty. I know my faults. I know they are many and I will fail without you. Amdir, you must not die." He buried his head in the blankets that covered his friend, sobbing uncontrollably, fatigue and fear overcoming him, until sleep finally took him.
Ecthelion sat alone in his study. The words of the healer burnt him. His face was flushed though he had laved it as soon as he had come into the room. 'I am at a loss,' he thought. 'I have tried every conceivable approach to change Turgon's mind. Yet all for naught. Our defenses are useless; our men die upon the battlefield; our people suffer daily. None of this has changed his mind. He lives in a dream world. And his counselors with him. I have just reprimanded Húrin for his disobedience. Disobedience, no matter by what disguise or name I would use, would still be disobedience. But I must to do something. Mordor - there is now an evil presence there.' Denethor had told him such and he knew the gift that Denethor had been given - some sense of events unknown to other men, some sense of the future. 'How am I to defend Gondor while not Steward? And now my men look askance at me, those in authority distrust me, and I sit, weak and incapable of doing what must be done, my hands shackled.'
Indis had quietly entered the room. "My Lord," she said, "is there aught I can do to help? I note your disquiet."
He stood and walked towards her. Fiercely he took her into his arms and hugged her. "I am most in need of your comfort, your support." A chill ran through her. "Nay," Ecthelion reassured her, "Denethor is healing. I have heard no news of Amdir as of this morning. It is Turgon who causes me this pain. Well you know his state of mind. You have become my helper, my right hand in the affairs of Gondor, unbeknownst to others, and I have need of your counsel. I believe the time has come for drastic measures, measures which some would say are treasonable. Yet, where Gondor's weal is involved, I must consider all alternatives. I will call my captains to me. We will meet in secret. But where? Osgiliath." He gave her no opportunity for comment. "Will you come with me and act as servant, listening to all that is spoken of?"
"Of course, my Lord. Will you send missives today? When do you propose this meeting? I would spend some time with Denethor before we leave, if that is possible? As it concerns him, will Denethor be one of those commanded to attend? He is only a lieutenant, but he is your heir."
Firieth heard the cries of the Steward's heir and ran to find the healer. Adanedhel knocked gently on the door. When there was no answer, he pushed it open and found Denethor slumped over the foot of the bed. 'At last, he sleeps,' he thought, 'at last.' He moved towards Amdir and noted the pale, glossy skin, the shallow breathing. His forehead was hot to the touch. He understood why Denethor had cried out. Amdir was failing. It had been four days since the company had returned from Ithilien. Adanedhel had seen signs of recovery and been heartened by them. Now, all seemed lost. He sent for Arciryas and unguents, herbs and fresh bandages. And Thengel. He had been sleeping in a room nearby and was with him in an instant.
"Thengel, help me move Denethor - but gently. I do not want him to wake. If I am correct, this is the first time he has slept since your return."
"Yes, Thengel shook his head. "I have never seen anyone with such will. He would not leave Amdir's side."
"We will place him on this cot. Then you must help me with Amdir. Fever has taken his body. We have a new enemy to fight, besides the burns."
Quickly and quietly the two men undid Amdir's bandages. The sight of the ruined back once again made Thengel ill. "Be strong, Captain!" Adanedhel cried. "I have need of you. Breathe through your mouth. That will help. You cannot tell, but the burns are indeed healing. One of the three most severe has changed for the better. I had truly hoped we were well on the path to recovery. "
Seeing his men injured was difficult, painful for Thengel, but to see his friend like this took the very breath from him. Flashes of memories of other warriors brought low by the evil that surrounded Gondor caused him to lower his head in grief. He marveled at Adanedhel and said so aloud.
"Nay, my Lord, I do naught special. I have a talent for healing and must use it, just as you have a talent for leading men. You would not be happy doing anything else, as I would not." The gentle words of the healer, Thengel discovered, helped give him the strength to continue aiding him. Arciryas had come into the room and moved swiftly towards the unguents set by Firieth on the sideboard, mixing them with honey, dissolving herbs in hot water, and preparing healing tea. All the while, Adanedhel spoke of bravery and duty and men. He had long ago discovered that words could also be used for healing and some sense told him Thengel needed healing at this moment. As soon as the last bandage was removed, Arciryas scooped the unguent and lavished it upon the burns.
"There is fever," Thengel heard the healer tell Arciryas and noted the grave looks that passed between them. "It is time for harsher measures."
Arciryas nodded and left the room. He soon returned with drudges carrying a large tub. Others followed carrying buckets of water. The tub was placed in the center of the room and filled with the water and Thengel wondered what the old man was doing. Next, buckets of ice from the ice chests in the kitchen were brought in and dumped into the water. The drudges left. Adanedhel wrapped a sheet of cloth around Amdir and he and Arciryas started to lift him from the bed. Thengel quickly stepped in to help, but, as they started to lower Amdir into the tub, he cried out in concern.
"Hush!" Adanedhel whispered. "The fever will kill him. We must needs stop it. This will reduce the fever quickly. It is a harsh treatment, for other risks become involved, but it must be done."
It seemed only a moment that they left Amdir in the frigid water, and then quickly they stripped the wet cloth off him, and wrapped him in a blanket made of soft fleece. They laid him in the bed and Adanedhel felt his forehead.
"A little cooler," he said with satisfaction. "We will wait a quarter hour. If the fever rises, we will do the same again. If not, there is possibility for recovery."
Arciryas took the tea he had prepared, checked to ensure it was cool, and sat with Amdir, gently forcing drops into the cracked lips. The silence in the room was oppressive - Denethor, making no sound in a sleep of exhaustion and Amdir, making no sound, his breath so shallow none could hear it. The vigil continued.
"If we are not allowed to visit, at least they must tell us what is happening," Elleth hissed between clenched teeth. "I will go mad with this silence."
Listöwel looked at her in amaze. None of the women had been told of the progress of Amdir. Twice Thengel had come and spoken with them, saying all would be well, but there was an undercurrent in his speech that did not assuage their fears. They were gathered in Morwen's chambers, trying to sew, trying to uplift each other, but as the days passed, fear gripped them. Denethor was well on the way to recovery, according to Thengel, but the healer had forbidden them to visit either man. Their only contact was through Thengel and his guarded tongue did them no good.
"Where is Indis?" Morwen asked. "I have not seen her since we broke fast this morning. She could go to her father and demand that we be allowed to visit the Houses of Healing. I was under the impression that we were to help in the care of our men?" Her embroidery sat in her lap, untouched for the last hour.
"She was going to Ecthelion. She said she would plead our case before him, but she has not returned," Elleth said. "If he had not allowed her an audience, she would have returned by now. Her absence gives me hope."
"She has changed this last year. Have you not noticed? She seems stronger and yet more distant, as if she knows things she will not share with us," Morwen whispered. "I miss our times of laughter and... silliness. She does not laugh as often nor as warmly as was her wont. What do you suppose has happened, Elleth?"
"She spends more time with Ecthelion than she used to. I do not think she is any longer taking care of the physical work as Lady of Gondor, but more she spends her time with him. I find it strange. He will not give his time to Denethor, yet he will to Indis."
"That is because she is a strong and wise woman and besides, Denethor is off with his company. He has other duties that take him away from Minas Tirith. There is no opportunity for him to spend time with Ecthelion," Morwen stated.
"If Ecthelion wished it, Denethor would be stationed here in the City learning what he must as future Steward. Has there been some disagreement between the two?" Elleth asked.
"I think that is not our concern," Morwen said flatly, then smiled. "The plotting of the Steward's family is legend. Has been for eons. There is naught we can do, dear friend, to... What are you doing?" she asked, her eyes wide as Listöwel took up Thengel's practice sword.
"It is heavy, heavier than I thought," she giggled nervously. "Do you honestly think, if the battle comes to Minas Tirith, that we will be allowed to stay?"
Silence greeted her. Morwen and Elleth looked at each other. Indis had come in and they rushed to her side.
"Nay, sisters. I want to hear further of what Listöwel is asking."
Listöwel flushed. "Do you seriously believe that I will leave Amdir?" She looked pointedly at Indis, a challenge in her eyes. "If he lives," she faltered.
"He lives," Indis said, "though the battle being waged is deadly. His friends are at his side. So - you would let us leave Minas Tirith and you would stay?"
"I would not stop you and I would stay, but I would stay with a sword in my hand. I have discovered a secret, Morwen," she looked hard at her friend, "Your maidservant is from Rohan and knows how to wield a sword. One word from you and she will teach me. What say you?"
Morwen's mouth opened in surprise. "Yes, she is from Rohan, a sister of one of Thengel's friends, but I know naught of her training."
"She said she was trained as a shieldmaiden. What is that?"
Morwen blanched. "It is a name for a woman who has renounced relations with men to become a warrior for her people. Shieldmaidens are specially trained in the art of self-defense and war." A gleam shone in Morwen's eye. "If only I were not with child..."
"Morwen!" Elleth cried. "How can you say such a thing?"
"Because I can see it in your eyes. You are all lusting after such training. Therefore, I will be sent from Gondor with the other useless women and children, and you will stay and fight for Gondor."
At last, Adanedhel could contain his anger no longer. "Why does not Ecthelion give Denethor some task to keep him busy. I have told him of Denethor's recovery. Light duty would not harm him. But this vigil is killing his spirit. He needs to be elsewhere for a part of the day. Yes, his mind will be here, but activity is needed - some surcease from the fear that is tormenting him. I did not know the two were so close - almost as brothers."
Thengel looked up in surprise. He had almost been asleep himself in the quiet of the room. "Yes, they have been like brothers for a long time. And they have fought together, even as young as they are, and seen friends die on the battlefield. But this was a different kind of battle. It had already been waged and lost by the time our company arrived."
He thought of the babes and children's bodies strewn upon the ground, the half-eaten... Nay! He pushed the memory from his mind and started pacing the floor. "These two are hardened soldiers, even at their young age. They have battled the enemy for many a year. And yet, any hardened soldier would need healing from the memory of the sights we saw that day. You are correct, Adanedhel. Denethor needs to be doing something to take his mind off that carnage and the desperate illness that now assails his friend. I will speak with Ecthelion himself. But not until Amdir passes this crisis."
"That might be quite some time. Come," Adanedhel sighed, "we must needs try the remedy again. The fever returns."
"According to Adanedhel, you will be fit and able to join the company shortly. You must be tired of the honeysuckle mist. Granted, it smells lovely, but to have to breathe it every day to clear the lungs? Pure torture. I myself was very glad when that part of my treatment was done with." Denethor smiled as Amdir groaned at the thought. "Thengel and I have become tired of waiting for you to join us. We have missed you. I believe you linger here in the Houses to be nearer to Listöwel." Denethor shook his head. "I do not understand how being with her could possibly cause such a rapid recovery. Is it perhaps the thought of your troth taking?"
Amdir blushed furiously. "She comes only once a day..."
"And stays all day. Thengel and I never have time alone with you anymore. What you speak of during such long visits, I cannot imagine."
Amdir's blush turned a brighter red. "Just things. Plans. Hopes and dreams. Just things."
Denethor walked towards the window. He did not understand this whole process. Women were meant to take care of the home, the children, the affairs of their men while they were away at war. Or if called to service, then work in the Houses of Healing, or the kitchens, or the shops. What was there to speak of? And yet many a night he had seen Thengel and Morwen sitting by the parapet in deep conversation. Now Amdir and Listöwel did the same thing in the gardens adjacent to the Houses. It made him nervous. He had his friends to share with, his sister, when she had a moment. Why would he want to share with anyone else?
"How are your hands?" Amdir asked, mistaking the uncertainty in his friend's face.
"I am frustrated! I still have trouble grasping my sword. Arciryas says the strength will return in time." He shook his head. "I do the exercises daily, yet the hand seems slow to heal. My left one has no difficulty holding the shield, which I should be grateful for. The fire caused more damage than I thought."
"You have had too many brushes with fire, my friend. I am starting to think fire is Denethor's Bane," Amdir laughed as he gently hit Denethor's arm.
"Nat, it is not," Denethor snarled. "Twice now, it has tried to engulf me and twice now I have won over it. I will not die in fire." Again his thoughts flew to Curunír's words the last time they had met.
Immediately, Amdir regretted his words. "What causes you to such anger over such a little jest, my friend?"
Had he never told Amdir of that meeting? The skin prickled on his arms. He tried to quell the fear and nausea that assailed his stomach. It was - what? Only a year ago. When Amdir and Thengel were in Dol Amroth. The same year Amdir had met Listöwel. That is why he had never discussed it with his friend. Amdir had returned from Dol Amroth a changed man. All he talked of was this vision of charm that he had met. How he wanted her to be his forever. Denethor had given up trying to talk with him about anything that mattered.
To Amdir's credit, Denethor himself had been caught up in trying to find Henneth Annûn at the time. It had been early spring; he had returned from Ithilien. He had returned to the City very much ashamed. Húrin had surprised him in the forest and Denethor was still smarting from the chastisement in front of Osgiliath's battalion. He needed to find the old manuscripts; he needed more definite direction as to where the cave lay. He had gone to the Great Library, the first time since Thengel's troth pledging. He had heard no word that the wizard was in Gondor, so he had steeled himself and gone, for great was his sense of urgency. He found the manuscripts almost immediately and should have brought them with him to his room, but he had been fascinated by the very first passage he read and had sat down, oblivious to everything around him.
"My Lord Denethor," the whispered voice caused Denethor to jump from his chair and face the wizard. "You are studying late this night." Denethor looked at the candles; they had burnt down almost to their ends. He started gathering up the material around him and tried to head for the door. The wizard stood in front of him - Denethor could not recall him moving. "I understand you have been allowed to run free through the fields of Ithilien?" His voice dripped with scorn. "What have you found there, my friend?"
His tongue stuck to the roof of his mouth. Finally he was able to squeak out, "I found naught but herbs and soldiers."
"Ah, but that is not what you went looking for, was it?" The wizard moved towards him. "You were looking for things that do not concern you. There is another who is close to becoming Lord of Ithilien, One whom you would do well not to cross. I would warn you to stay away, but you are yet headstrong and proud. That pride will cause you great sorrow in the future. It might even cause your death." He paused, turned and moved away. After a moment, he turned back towards Denethor. He held out his hand and there was a ball in it, round and obsidian black, yet beautiful, dark and baffling. It seemed to shimmer as if it had a life of its own. Denethor felt strangely called to it. "Perhaps you should be looking for other things. Tools that will help you know what people refuse to tell you. You might even be able to see into their hearts."
"I see just fine now," Denethor was able to blurt out.
"Yes, and so you do. I have noted the gifts of Númenor that have been given to you. You might consider developing them further, just as you have developed your military skills. There are tools available from the ancient ones that, as future Steward, are your right to use."
"Is that...? Is that a Palantír?" Denethor asked in amaze. Fear was gone and intense curiosity filled him.
The globe vanished. "I know not of what you speak, my Lord," Curunír smiled.
Denethor suddenly felt weak. He knew he had been tricked. "You see much, Wizard," he snarled and was surprised at his tone. "What do you know of me? Of my fate?"
The wizard laughed, loud and long. "What is your fate? I see fire and ash and soldiers with flames mirrored in their helms. I see a man lying on a byre with a dead black stone in his hands, flames licking those hands, that stone. I see despair and death."
"Denethor?" Amdir asked for the third time. "Are you well?"
Denethor smiled bleakly, rubbing the sweat from his forehead. At least after this last encounter, he had not hidden under his bed! "Of course I am well. It is just... I do not like to think about that fire."
However the rest of Minas Tirith might have felt, there was one who was terrified. And that one was Morwen of Lossarnach. When first she suspected, she went to Adanedhel and tried to explain her fears to him. He waved them aside, telling her she was strong and young and built to bear children. She next turned to Indis, but Indis was totally taken in the affairs of state - Ecthelion leaned more and more upon her for counsel.
She was afraid to go to Thengel. She remembered his white face as he stood beside her during the long wait for Hild's birth. Besides, there was no use in speaking with Thengel. He and Denethor spent most of their time in the Houses of Healing with Amdir, or planning which rooms to move the ever-increasing family into, what toys needed to be made. Morwen felt miserable, frightened and alone.
As she sat in the garden of the Houses, Almiel came to her. She was startled. She had not seen Denethor's older sister for some months. When she had, the woman had quietly glided past with only a nod of her head. Thengel had told her that Almiel spent all of her time caring for the old Steward.
"My Lady," Denethor's sister started to speak. "Forgive me. You do not look well. Is there aught I may do for you?"
Morwen looked at the kind face and burst into tears. "I am frightened, my Lady Almiel. I..."
"Please, just Almiel. If we are going to share as friends, we should address each other as such. Now - what frightens you, Morwen?"
The tone of the voice, the kind hand gently laid upon hers, all lent strength to the words of friendship and Morwen found herself pouring out her heart, her fears, her foibles to the calm woman beside her. "I feel so very foolish. I am no longer a child, but I would cower under my covers if I might. Mayhap if life had moved in a different path, I would not now be so fearful. To lose my child at the Crossings broke my heart. And the pain... I could barely stand it. Then Hild was not an easy child to birth. The pain and fear of her coming are still branded into my mind and my stomach. I do not want to go through that again. I have spoken with Adanedhel and he bids me be quiet. As if I am a wayward child." She wiped the tears from her eyes. "I feel like a wayward child. Lost and alone. Forgive me, My... Almiel, forgive me, I am whining. I am wife to the Captain of the Horse Guard who is confidant to Ecthelion's heir. How do I learn courage? How do I learn patience?"
Almiel moved closer to her. "You are most courageous, my dear Morwen. Everyday you take up the challenge of living in Gondor, when you could have stayed in Lossarnach with the green fields all about you and peace and soft rains and joy. Yet, you follow your lord and live in this city - a city some love with a passion, but a city nonetheless, dirty, smelly, noisy, with untended gardens and abandoned homes looking out at us. You do it for love of your lord. You will birth this child in the same way. Do not be ashamed of these feelings. It is good to share them - bring them out into the open where we may dispel them. Adanedhel is old and has forgotten the ways of women. He is now ever consumed with tending battle wounds. His duties have changed from physician to surgeon. The women of Gondor rarely give birth. Those in the lower halls use midwives and those in these halls... Do you not notice that it is only your babe that runs through the halls of the Citadel? Gondor is failing. Her men look to creating statues in remembrance of themselves before they have even passed beyond; they think not of creating children. The women are left to their own devices." Her face turned hard as she spoke. "It is now the custom of the men of Gondor to wait until they are well into their prime before they even consider taking a wife. By that time, the women are weak and spent and have lost all hope. Nay, my sweet Lady, you are most courageous. I am proud to know you."
Morwen burst into tears. "You are too kind. You know not what you speak of. I am..."
"You are the beloved of the next King of Rohan!" Almiel chided her. "You will remember Gondor and make certain that Rohan and Gondor are always joined in friendship and fealty."
"Yes, My Lady, my friend. I will remember your words and your kindness and the kindness that we have ever felt here in Minas Tirith. Thengel will not leave Gondor, even when his father passes beyond. His love and loyalty to Denethor run deep in his heart. So you will not be rid of me soon, Almiel." She smiled. "And for that I am grateful."
She leaned her head against Almiel's shoulder and sighed. "Thank you. I am no longer afraid. What were you doing here in the Houses of Healing? I have not seen you here before."
"My grandfather, Turgon, has a slight chill and I had come for a remedy. Now, I see I had other reasons for coming. I am pleased that I was here at this moment. The Valar protect us in our needs."
Morwen sighed and closed her eyes. Gently, Almiel kissed her forehead as the dark haired woman fell into sleep. "Tears often cause fatigue. I must speak with Arciryas. He will be able to help her."
"Three months and still the sword feels foreign in my hand. My knitting needles fit better."
"Ah, perhaps that is our problem, Listöwel. Perhaps we should go to the armorer and request swords made that fit us?" Elleth wondered.
"If we go to the armorer, questions will be asked. And how do we respond? I need a sword for slicing the turkey. I need a sword for cutting my thread. I need a sword..."
"Be still," Morwen laughed. "Someone will hear our giggles and inquire as to why."
"We have giggled so much this past month, ever since Amdir started to recover, that I doubt anyone has any questions left for us. And it has been most good to laugh, has it not?" Elleth asked. "By the way, where is Indis? Did not she say would meet us here at this hour?"
"She did and she is not here, which means she is probably with Ecthelion - again," Morwen sighed. " I miss her. Have I said that before?"
"Yes, you have. But I wonder where our shieldmaiden is? I am ready to begin practice. We have such little time for this. Morwen, should you really be lifting that sword in your condition?"
"I spoke with Arciryas," she blushed. None had known she had gone to him, pushed towards him by Almiel and he had helped her. Helped mitigate her fear. She could not share this with her friends; they thought her strong. "He said he would advise me as to when I should stop doing this."
"You told him?" Listöwel almost shrieked in alarm.
"Of course I told him. Did you think I would enter upon such an undertaking, something that might harm my child, without counsel?"
Eledhwen strolled into the courtyard, her sword swinging back and forth in front of her. Slowly at first, and then faster, and the women gaped.
"I believe I have been lax in your training. You still hold your swords like women," the shieldmaiden sneered. "And where is your erstwhile captain. Does she think she is ready for what lies ahead?"
She was delirious with joy. Arciryas had watched over her like a pelican with her brood; Morwen felt well and rested and calm. This birth would be different; she felt it. She had given up training a week ago, but the sinews in her arms and legs felt strong and ready for any battle. She would still train with her sister-friends, but without sword. Arciryas had been adamant; Morwen had been respectful, and they had come to an understanding. She would obey his wishes and not use the sword, but he would allow her to continue the less strenuous fighting exercises that Eledhwen was teaching them. She would dearly miss the feel of the sword in her hand, but she would at least be able to hear the clash of sword upon sword as Elleth, Indis and Listöwel battled each other.
A smile lit her already luminous face as she thought of Thengel. She did not know what he would think. Nay, she knew. He would be angry - and concerned. How could she train thusly whilst carrying a child, he would ask. She giggled guiltily at the thought. How wonderful it had been for her to pick up the sword. Eledhwen had said that she had a gift for it. She knew not if it was gift or no, but she relished every aspect of the training. It had been difficult, at first, for the women to train in secret. Thengel's company was still recovering from the sortie to Emyn Arnen and so, left the City rarely. Thankfully, Morwen and the others used the excuse of wedding preparations to cover their long absences. Indis had secured an old chamber in the very depths of the Citadel for their practice. None ever came so deep of late.
Morwen giggled as she raced towards the Citadel. Gondor's weal was not the only matter on Indis' mind these days. She did a little leap of joy as she remembered coming upon them unawares in the garden outside the Houses of Healing. Arciryas must have forgotten her appointment with him for there he sat, holding Indis' hand and speaking quietly to her. Indis had dismissed Morwen's queries with a wave of her hand, but Morwen had seen the light in her eyes, the flush of her cheek, and heard the faltering speech of Arciryas as she greeted them. She had told no one, for her friend's privacy was most important to her, but she wanted to shout it to the whole of Middle-earth. Nay - she wanted to share it with her friend, this special time, but, until Indis was ready, she would remain quiet, hoping her friend would one day trust her and come to her. A small sigh, half happy, half sad, escaped her lips.
"We will meet at 'The Three Fishermen' at the setting of the sun. I will bring Amdir with me. I will feign a sadness, and as ever, he will suggest that we go and I will go - reluctantly." Denethor laughed. "What a night this will be. But remember," he turned serious for a moment, "we may be late. Amdir still does not have his full strength back. I will have to walk at his pace."
Thengel smiled. "But he is healing well. I could not deny him by putting off his troth pledge any longer."
"Have we orders yet?" Denethor asked. "It has been six months since we left Ithilien unguarded. My father shares none of his plans with me," he said bitterly, "mayhap he has said something to you?"
"Nay, he has not." Thengel sat next to his friend and laid a hand on Denethor's knee. "I understand your frustration for I myself feel it. It would have been easy enough for Inlach's men to be stationed at Henneth Annûn or at least sent to swell the ranks in Cair Andros. He was not happy when we brought Findegon's Rangers with us, yet, now he waits. Is Turgon still the problem?"
"I have not seen the Steward in months, but I do not believe my father goes to him any longer. I think Turgon is Steward in name only." He stood up, strode back and forth, gripping the pommel of his sword in anger.
Thengel stood up and advanced upon him, clutching his arm and forcing him to stop and look at him. "You are still young, my friend. Do not take this to heart nor as a sign of disrespect. Your father loves you and values your counsel."
"Hah!" Denethor laughed bitterly. "Little do you know." He sat again; his shoulders slumped. "I feel as if I am trapped on a child's seesaw. One moment he listens, even seems to want my views, and then he changes and keeps me away, turns to ice! I do not understand any of this."
"That is not all that is causing you distress, my friend. What else is there?" He sat down again next to Denethor.
Denethor took in a deep, slow breath. "It is the ceremony."
"The ceremony! My coming of age. It is in two years time." He stopped; bitterness contorted his face. "The only ceremony he has ever held was the giving of the Horn at my seventh year. I want this ceremony. I need this ceremony. Every Steward has held it since the line of the Steward's began. And the Kings of Númenor before that held it with their sons. I fear that he will again disregard tradition. But more than that, this ceremony is the most important, more so than even the conferring of the Stewardship, for it signifies the heir. With this ceremony, I will receive my final sword; I will receive the Horn of Gondor; I will receive instruction into the ways of Gondor and the secrets of Númenor. Without it, I am nothing."
"Feign sadness!" Thengel laughed warmly. "You do not need to feign it; it fairly leaks from you!"
Denethor looked up in surprise. "Verily, you speak the truth. I... I am sorry."
"Nay, friend, I am glad you shared this with me. Would you tell me more of this ceremony? Why it is so crucial?"
"It started when my people first came to this land as fugitives. All we loved and cherished had been lost. The very land even, disappeared from under our feet. If Elendil had not been aware of what Ar-Pharazôn's sailing westward meant, if he had not prepared the fleet, Gondor would not be as you see it now and only a few Númenóreans would still live in this land. The rest would all be at the bottom of the sea."
"How is that possible?"
"The Valar gifted us with the island of Westernesse with one restriction - we must never sail to the Undying Lands. My people lived there - free from fear, protected, and happy. But the Dark Lord was brought, as prisoner, to our land. Slowly he twisted the mind of the kings and pride engulfed them. Then the king, spurred on by the Dark Lord, took the fleet westward and broke the Ban. As Ar-Pharazôn's fleet headed west, Elendil boarded ships on the easternmost side of the island and waited. After more than thirty days, the mountain exploded, the wind roared, the waves grew to great heights - higher than mountains - and all in our boats were afraid. Would Ulmo himself come against us? Those who looked behind saw unspeakable horror. Our homeland, our cherished island, sank before our very eyes and was lost forever. Ever eastward our little fleet was thrown, struggling against the wrath of the Valar." Denethor started to sob.
Thengel sat - stunned. "You speak as if you yourself were there!"
"Nay, I was not," Denethor took a shuddering breath. "I have read many accounts of that time, written in pain and sorrow and tears. And I have dreamt. The message has been branded, white-hot, upon my heart. The saddest time in our history - though I fear worse is yet to come. Will we again lose our adopted homeland? The evil that encompasses us seems of the same ilk as that which assailed Númenor. Do you not see why, do you not understand the terror I feel from the east?"
They sat together - silent. At last, Denethor shook his head. "Tis a sad subject to be telling on such a momentous day."
"But you have told me naught of the ceremony," Thengel said.
"Ah yes. When my people landed, they were disconsolate. But Elendil was resolute. 'We will not lose our memories. Númenor will live in our hearts.' He made it law that the king, when his heir was of age, would take him to a revered place and there speak of Númenor, the duties of the king, and many other secret things. At this time, the keys to the Royal Treasury, the Great Library, and other places that I do not yet know of, were given to him. Before King Eärnur left for Mordor to foolishly answer the Dark Lord's challenge, he took the Steward, Mardil Voronwë, my ancestor, to the revered place, gave him the keys, told him the secrets and rode away, nevermore to return. The Stewards took up the tradition." He looked at Thengel. "Perhaps Ecthelion truly believes the king will return. Perhaps that is why there is no mention of the ceremony. There would be no need, if the king returns. Perhaps he has some foresight in this. I know not."
"My friend," Thengel said, "Why distress yourself over this? There is still time. Your father knows the importance of the ceremony. He will not break this tradition, of that I am sure."
"Then your surety will be mine! Let us go. I promised Amdir I would visit this morning. Listöwel is busy with the final preparations for the troth pledge."
"Nay, I will leave you two alone. I have errands for tonight that must be completed." And then Thengel, sensing the need for tradition, farewell'd Denethor with the Gondorian hand to chest. Denethor smiled, returned it and walked away, his heart lightened.
Indis finally decided that preparation for war was needed. As she and Ecthelion poured over maps and missives from Gondor and beyond, she realized the depths of evil in their land. She glimpsed a small portion of what Denethor had spoken of all these long years, and she was finally feeling the horror that she perceived in his eyes when he left himself unguarded. Her poor brother. The gift of foresight that was growing in him was a bitter gift indeed, and coupled with his years of knowledge of their past, gleaned from his many hours studying the books from the Great Library, perhaps were too much for him. She pushed that thought away. As Listöwel had said, she too did not mean to be sent off with the women and children, if the time every came to defend Minas Tirith. She would stay and fight next to her father, her lord. She was not as adept at the sword as Morwen was, but she was learning nonetheless.
"There will be no training today," Listöwel wailed. "Indis has an appointment, she cannot break it, and Elleth says we must sew. The troth pledge is too close."
Morwen laughed. "Then come, sister-friend, and we will sew and sing and enjoy this day."
"What has made you so happy?" Listöwel demanded and then blushed. 'Ah, the babe. Have you felt it?"
"Yes, oh yes! Many times now, Listöwel,' Her face glowed. 'I am so happy. Would you like to feel him?"
"Him - so you are sure it is a him?"
"Yes, I know not why, but I am sure. I have more to tell, but let us wait till we reach Elleth's."
Morwen fairly skipped as they turned towards the Sixth Level. Listöwel laughed and the women held hands and sang an old tune rejoicing in their friendship.
"Ah to be a' walking
A' walking in Gondor
And ah to be a' singing
In this fair land.
Land of sweet beauty
Land of rivers flowing
Land of mountains rising high
As a' walking we go by.
Ah to be a' laughing
A' laughing in Gondor
And ah to be a' playing
A friend held hand in hand.
Sweet Minas Tirith
Slender spike of pearl
Pure and bright your tower glows
In my loving heart."
They arrived at Elleth's breathless and laughing. She quickly ushered them into the parlor and held her fingers to her lips. "I believe I have a secret," she exclaimed mischievously. "Indis is in love!"
Listöwel squealed. "Who, what, when, where, how?"
"Hush now! I saw her with Arciryas in the garden by the Houses." Elleth's eyes brimmed with tears. "I have said naught of this to anyone, but my heart is so very glad for her. She knows I saw her and has said naught. Therefore, I feel I may tell you, as her dearest friends."
Morwen smiled. "I have seen them too." She started to cry. "Is not this most wondrous?"
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.