12. Third Age 2948 - Part Three
The noise was deafening - howls of laughter, flagons clinking, chairs scraping -and the innkeeper beamed. Denethor sat back, bemused. Life was good! He watched as his friends competed in arm wrestling, shouts of encouragement ringing in his ears. This lot of soldiers was a valiant group; he was glad to name them among his friends. Smiling, he shook his head. Soon enough they would be going out to battle, mayhap to death, but that did not deter them from enthusiastically encouraging Amdir in his forthcoming nuptials. Denethor laughed as he watched his friend, eyes slightly glazed, huge smile on his face; Amdir would have to be walked home, or mayhap, carried. Denethor himself remembered the time he had taken too much and almost burnt himself and the Steward's House down. He would not be so foolish this night. This ritual, was it brought from Númenor or adopted from the folk of these lands? His mind could not envision the Númenórean Kings doing such things. He grew more thoughtful and shivered. He remembered the tales of the kings of old, the last ones before the great wave engulfed Westernesse, sacrificing their children to... to what? Some dark force. He could not remember. But he knew there had been human sacrifice. What would drive a man, nay a king, to such an action?
A hint of sorrow assailed Denethor, though he was not quite sure what elicited it. They all looked the same, these comrades of his, stalwart and brave, those married and those not. There seemed to be no difference. Why would one want to pledge to a woman with all the attendant problems, when there seemed to be no difference in countenance? Yet, he knew this to be untrue for a select few. He marveled at Thengel and Morwen. They seemed uncommonly close. Spoke often together. Missed each other when they were separated. Peculiar. He wondered about Ecthelion and his mother. Were they once as his friends? His father's moments of melancholy - were they to be attributed to Rían's loss? He wished, not for the first time, that he had known her. Always, Indis had been his mother, but now, with the thought of pledging to a woman, he wished he knew more. He thought he understood the courting time - the body had a tendency to need certain things when a man came of age and appetites were whetted. Once the troth pledge took place, though, he noticed ardor seemed to fade for most. Yet, not with Thengel and Morwen. Would it be the same for Amdir and Listöwel? A far corner of his mind wished it would be for them as it was for Thengel and Morwen.
His chair was knocked out from under him as one of the combatants went flying, to the uproarious laughter of the others. Laughing, Denethor hailed the maid, took another mug to replace the broken one, and found a quieter corner a little further from the merriment. Just as he sat, Thengel joined him, pushed his chair slightly to the side, and straddled one across from him.
"What say you to the high spirits of the men, my friend?"
"'Tis a good thing to see," Denethor replied with a smile.
"'Tis better than a good thing to see. You should be there with the wrestlers. Your arm is strong now. Get yourself up and join the battle."
"Nay, the left arm is strong, but the right... It will be strong soon. I do not see you offering your body for torture."
"I am Captain," Thengel snorted. "Do you think one of them would not let me win?"
Denethor laughed. "Nay, it is not that you are captain, but that you would conquer in a thrice. They may be full of ale, but they are no fools."
Thengel started laughing in earnest. "Look. They are now showing each other their battle scars. Should we join them? We have a few here and there."
Just as Denethor moved to stand up, Findegon entered. Thengel's laughter caught in his throat. Here was a man who had the right to show off battles scars. His face - battle worn with tough, hardened skin, wrinkles everywhere - showed pride and courage and rock-solid strength. A doughty man. Life shone from his eyes. They did not quiver; they did not turn away. Focused and steady, they looked at Denethor and Thengel. Denethor immediately gestured for the man to join them and hailed the maid. The friends felt embarrassed at the thought of showing off their paltry scars. The man who stood before them was scarred both mind and body. Both men stared at this soldier and realized that Findegon was a man worthy to emulate. His face still bore the sorrow of his lost family. He waved aside the ale, but Denethor insisted.
"Just one toast, my friend, before the night is o'er."
Denethor stood, scraping the chair back in his fervor. There were things that should be said, that should have been said before the night started, but better late than never. His heart blazed within him. Such was his presence at this moment, that, unbeknownst to him a shade of the kings shone in his face; the room quieted immediately.
"My friends," he raised his flagon, "Today we celebrate many things, friendship, good times, and most especially, the upcoming troth pledge of our friend and comrade, Amdir. Time has been set aside later in the night to lift our cups to that event. For now, I would bid you stand and remember with me the fallen dead, our comrades who have passed. Almost, we had lost our friend that day, but others fell. Their doom was such. Not only soldiers, schooled and ready for death, nay, innocent women and children. None deserving of such a death." There was silence. He lifted his flagon higher. "To the fallen of Gondor!" he raised and emptied his cup and all the men with him.
Hard enough to put aside such thoughts, but another day would be upon them, while this day was a day for celebration. "Now," Denethor bellowed, "let us sing of Gondor!"
Flagons were filled again and cups and voices lifted in the ancient song.
Beloved land we sing
Realms bright honor
Cherished soil, to thee we cling.
Hail, Dome of Stars
Osgiliath the fair
Jewel of this realm of ours
Watched o'er with loving care.
Minas Ithil, Hail the strong
All salute her blazen'd sky
Her banners ever unfurled long
Among the crags so high.
Hail, Minas Arnor
Clothed in marble armor
Spike'd tower shining in the moon.
Beloved land we sing
Realms bright honor
Cherished soil, to thee we cling.
Hail, Gondor! Hail, Gondor! Hail, Gondor evermore!"
At long last, they all sat, tears in the eyes of some, pride shining forth. Quietly, Amdir walked to Denethor's table and began to sing another tune, long and low.
"When I return
I will find her
I will hold her ever close
In her ears I much prefer
To whisper sweet and tender prose.
She is precious, oh most cherished
To no other love I'll turn
I will love her till I perish
For her alone my being yearns.
Nevermore will I leave her
Nor forsake her nevermore.
How I ache to touch her raven hair
How I long to see her face
In the light of the fire's glare
Full of beauty and of grace.
As the battle rages round me
Still I hear her gentle voice
She would comfort and console me
At her touch I would rejoice.
Nevermore will I leave her
Nor forsake her nevermore.
As an arrow strikes deep within me
Through the flesh it gently tore
Yet so softly does she tear me
I will love her evermore.
Now the light of day is leaving
Final breath my body makes
She will wither and go to grieving
That fair maid who my heart takes.
Nevermore will I leave her
Nor forsake her nevermore.
When I return."
The old soldier's song hung over the air long after Amdir finished. He sat at table with Thengel, Denethor and Findegon. None spoke for some time. At last, Denethor turned to Amdir.
"You have always sung well, my friend. However, tonight you sang exceptionally well. It was from your heart, was it not?"
Amdir blushed. "My heart is taken, truly. I would have it no other way. She... she fills me. She gives me breath. She..." He went to drink, then set his cup down. "I think I will go back to the Houses now. Would you accompany me?"
"Of course you will not go alone; I will accompany you. It is early though and your friends have come to prepare you for the event. Would you not stay a little longer?"
"I am tired."
Denethor jumped up, alarmed. "Forgive me. Need you a hand to rise?"
Amdir laughed. "Nay, I am well enough. I think the pace up the hill will be a little slower tonight, though." He stood and Denethor watched, anxiously.
Thengel stood and embraced Amdir. "Sleep well, my friend. We will see you on the morrow."
Denethor had hoped to spend time with Findegon. He desperately wanted to speak about the Rangers and Ithilien, but Amdir came first. "Mayhap tomorrow, Captain Findegon, we may meet?"
"Yes. I am staying in the Rangers quarters on the First Level. I am at your disposal."
Walking up the road to the Sixth Level, silence enveloped the two. Denethor's thoughts were awhirl with the song. The sentiment held him spellbound. A thousand times before he had heard it, yet, tonight, it held a different quality about it. His thoughts again went to Amdir and Thengel. He had no jealousy, but a feeling of discontent filled him. He tried to wish it away. All he needed was to get out of Minas Tirith, to feel his horse under him, his sword in his hand.
"Denethor, will we go on patrol again soon?"
"Yes, the Company will. Alas, I am sorry to say, my dear friend, you will not. Arciryas will surely not give approval for you to return yet. You are still staying in the Houses. Another month? Perhaps two? Though you are sorely missed. The barracks have been silent and cold. Laughter is rare."
"There has been naught to laugh about. Who is Ecthelion sending to replace the men Captain Húrin lost?"
"He has said naught to me. There was a captain and a lieutenant, besides the men." Denethor shook his head, visions of the dead patrol swimming before his eyes. "It would seem that only a full company will be safe on any of our roads from now on. This is a hard thing. There are not enough men - never enough men. I would lay it at the feet of the kings. Even before their line fell, they did naught to encourage planning for Gondor's defense." Bitter was his tone. "Now, we pay with our lives, and the lives of our people.
"But let us put our thoughts to merrier matters. Tomorrow is the last day of Yavannië and your troth pledge day. I will come for you at the sixth bell. We will meet Thengel and Ingold at the Citadel and have nuncheon. After that, we will go to your home where we will meet Listöwel and Elleth. We will meet Indis and Morwen in the White Tower. Do you have everything you require for the morrow?"
Laughing, Amdir said, "I require naught but my friends and my beloved."
Denethor heaved a sigh. This would not be an easy task. Indis had offered his mother's garden for the ceremony, but would not ask Ecthelion's permission. Denethor thought it a mistake. Amdir had no inkling as to what they were about. 'May the Valar protect us,' Denethor thought. Ecthelion was busy with preparations for the harvest-feast day, Yáviérë, and would remain in seclusion with his advisors the entire day. He was surprised Indis could get away for the day. But, their little party would be long gone 'ere he came back to the White Tower. A shiver ran up Denethor's back. Amdir looked at him quizzically as his body betrayed him.
"This will be a good day, my friend. You and Listöwel will be pledged, we will laugh, eat and drink, and all will be right with the world." They had reached the Houses. Denethor gave Amdir a quick hug and turned to leave.
"My Lord," he heard a voice calling him. As he turned back, Arciryas stepped from the shadows of the doorway. "My Lord," he repeated, "may I have a moment?" Amdir had gone into the Houses.
Denethor's heart skipped a beat. "Is there aught amiss?"
"Nay, my Lord, all is well. I have a... a personal matter I wish to discuss with you. Is this an inappropriate time?"
Brow furrowed, Denethor bowed his head. "'Tis fine. Would you speak here?"
"Nay, I have a workplace where we may sit and share some tea."
'What could Arciryas possibly want?' Denethor mused. Arciryas was Thengel's company healer. All Denethor's dealings were with Adanedhel, Healer to the Steward. The only concern between them was Amdir's health. Was there something wrong? Perhaps Amdir was not strong enough for tomorrow's ceremony. His heart raced a little faster and he wished they had sat on one of the benches by the entryway. At last they reached the little compartment that was Arciryas' and entered. Hot water was already bubbling on the fire in the corner as Arciryas motioned Denethor to the only good chair in the room. Denethor's frustration was starting to mount at the silence from Arciryas, but he tried to hold his tongue.
As Arciryas passed him a cup of tea, Denethor could contain himself no longer. He tried to be civil, but anxiety coated his words. "Amdir is well?"
"Oh, yes, my Lord," Arciryas looked startled. "Amdir is healing well. Not at the speed that he would wish, but better than I had thought. I am quite pleased with his recovery. Of course, he will have scars but we are using blueberry, grape and wild pansy extract on the burns. That will help minimize the scarring." Arciryas stopped and took a deep breath. "I asked to speak with you on a personal matter, as I have said." He stopped again and took another breath. Denethor almost laughed at the healer's discomfiture. 'What matter could be so grave...?' Denethor's breath caught. Not Ecthelion? There could be naught wrong with his father! "I beg of you, Arciryas, please do not hesitate. Tell me what it is that is causing you such distress." He tried to keep his voice even.
"Your sister, Indis."
Denethor jumped to his feet. "What is wrong with her?"
"Naught!" Arciryas stated as loudly as Denethor's shouted question. "Please sit, my Lord. I am doing this very badly. Indis and I," he plunged forward, "we would... we want... we are seeing one another. She has been most kind and accepted my feelings towards her; I would that you would know before..." Arciryas had never felt so tongue-tied in his entire life, not even during his testing by Adanedhel when he had applied to become a healer. "I love your sister very much." His face turned various shades of red. "I know I am younger than she is, and that she is of the House of Húrin, but my forebears' lineage is of some worth."
Denethor sat back, his hand brushing his hair from his forehead in hopes to hide the smile upon his face. He had not known, had not surmised anything of this sort. Indis! He could contain himself no longer. He jumped back up, grabbed Arciryas by the arms, and gave the man a mighty hug. Arciryas' gray eyes widened in surprise.
"Does this mean that I have your support when I approach your father?"
The sigh that escaped Denethor's lips could not be hidden. He sat back down. How could he tell Arciryas that Ecthelion would never give his approval? How could he himself have even given the poor man a moment's hope by his exuberance?
Arciryas noted the change of countenance. He was a healer after all. Was not he trained in such observation? So this would be harder than he had thought. Once Denethor had responded so positively, his heart had swelled with joy. Now, the pallor on the lieutenant's face told more than words. "There is a problem," he stated flatly.
"My father... How can I say this? He has come to rely heavily upon my sister. She is, and has been for some time now, the Lady of Gondor. You look very high in this pursuit." He tried to keep his tone flat. He valued Arciryas as friend and healer. His blood was Númenórean. Yet, he was not a Lord of the Court, nor was his family high placed.
"Is there aught that can be done?"
"My sister's feelings are the same as yours?"
Arciryas nodded, miserably. Even the sweet thought of Indis did naught to allay his torment. There did not seem to be much hope for their future.
"There must be something we can do," Denethor groaned. "If Indis loves you... But I cannot see a way out of this. Even as Master Healer you would not be deemed worthy enough for her."
"I am not worthy of her, of that I am certain," Arciryas cried, "but I love her nonetheless."
"Come with me." Denethor rose and pushed him through the doorway.
"Where are we going?"
"You will see. Be still whilst I try to think."
He was a fool. The thought slapped him in the face, hard, as he grit his teeth. How long had this been going on? How long had he been blinded to his own sister's anguish? On the road from Emyn Arnen, he had vowed that he would spend more time with her, listen to her, and now, further evidence of his disregard, his selfishness. He could hear the labored breathing of Arciryas behind him, but Denethor could not slow his steps as he made his way towards 'The Three Fishermen.' He had put himself before all those he loved, and now that his eyes were no longer blinded, he would put things to right, if he could. 'How do I begin to notice? How do I school myself to pay attention to others' needs, others' wants? How do I become wise in things other than battle?'
"We will do what...?" Thengel exploded. He quickly lowered his voice as half the company still in the inn stared at them. "We cannot. What fey mood has you in its sway that you would even consider such a thing?" he hissed, and then turned towards Arciryas in frustration, but the poor healer's face was as white and drawn as he imagined his own to be. "Do you have some remedy to heal him of this madness?"
Denethor's lips quirked into a small smile. "I am not ill. There is no other way. I have pondered it from the Sixth Level to here; there is no other way. Ecthelion will not hear of it; that way is shut. So, we must find a new path, a new way. I believe this is our only course." He sat back, holding the flagon in his hand. It was the only thing that felt solid as his mind tried to pull itself together from the whirl it had been in. The course he had suggested was madness, he knew, but there was no other way. The consequences for him would be terrible, but too long had he allowed his sister to bear the weight, the fury of their father. He remembered how she had brought them together after Cranthir's death. She had stood up to Ecthelion. Now he was going to crush any repair that had been done.
"It is the only way," he stated again, the smile now wiped from his face. "I will bear the brunt of my father's displeasure, nay, anger. Too long has Indis loved me with no recompense. Too long has she suffered for Gondor, given all of herself to its affairs, to my father, to our family. I will not let this continue. I know I speak madness," he paused, "If I could, I would go to Ecthelion, plead her case before him, but he will not listen. Thengel," he put his hand on his friend's shoulder, "you know I speak the truth."
Thengel sat back; the horror of the action planned was almost too much to bear. "If you do this, you will be banished from Gondor, not Arciryas, not Indis."
Silence deafened Denethor. "I know too well, but am I not accustomed to this kind of treatment? Nay, I will not be banished from Gondor. Mayhap I will be banished to some odious garrison, some unwelcome duty. I can bear that. In time, he will reconsider and order me home." He paused as the remembrance of his three-year banishment when he was a mere lad assailed him. The loneliness, the shame of that time was almost too much to bear, but he was a man now. Would he be banished that long? Or mayhap longer? He tried to hide the shiver that ran through him, but Arciryas' healer's eyes caught it.
"I cannot let you do this for me, for us."
Another slight smile played on Denethor's lips. "It is for me, too, my friend. Too long have I listened to my sister weep alone, too long have I seen my sister's drawn, sad face. If what you say is true, that happiness has come to her, then it is my duty to help her."
"Then let us go find her," Thengel said. "Let us see what she thinks of this madness."
They walked slowly towards the White Tower, all three ensconced in their own thoughts. As they approached, Denethor saw that there was no light in Indis' quarters. 'She cannot have retired yet,' he thought. 'Nay, she is at Elleth's.'
"Come, we are at the wrong place. She is with Elleth, Morwen, and Listöwel at Captain Ingold's home. They must still be preparing for the morrow."
As they walked through the door, the fire swept its warmth and light into Denethor's heart and he knew what he contemplated was only right. Indis ran to him, questions in her eyes, but he hugged her tightly and whispered in her ear, "I love you, my sister." She pulled herself away, sudden tears spilling down her face.
"Brother, is there aught amiss?"
"Hah," he whispered softly. "I am the fool even more, if you think I come to you only in time of danger or in time of need."
"Thengel, what has come over my brother?" She turned and saw Arciryas behind them and her eyes widened. "Amdir?" she whispered.
"Nay," Denethor said quietly. "But I must speak with you alone." He turned towards Elleth. "May we?"
The group went out of the parlor and left brother and sister to themselves. Denethor could hear the whispers as they went into the kitchen. He was grateful that Thengel would explain his plan to the others. He did not have the strength to even think that far.
"Sit, my love," he said and walked to the settle. She sat next to him, wonderment still upon her face. "Indis. I need you to be forthright with me. I need you to answer my questions truthfully."
She was silent and bowed her head. 'What could he want of me? What questions?' She wondered.
"Are you in love with Arciryas?"
Her head flew up, mouth opening, cheeks flaming red, and he knew. He put his fingers to her lips. "Nay, say not a word. I understand now." They sat in silence. "You have ever been my help, my comfort, my support, Indis, and now I would make it up to you." She tried to interrupt, but his fingers flew again to her lips. "Please, let me say what must be said. When I returned from the carnage of Emyn Arnen, I vowed that I would place you before me, your needs and your wants. You became - nay, you always were - all that I hold dear in this world. Now, I wish to repay you. I have an idea that might seem foolhardy to you. But you will see the wisdom in it, once you consider it fully."
He sat back, put his arm around her shoulders, and held her close. "Tomorrow is the troth pledge for Amdir and Listöwel. Tomorrow, if you agree, I would make it your troth pledge to Arciryas." She tried to pull away, but he clung tightly to her. The fear in her eyes burnt him as much as the fire in the hut. "There is naught to fear. Father will be able to do naught, once the formalities have been accomplished, once the pledge has been made. You and Arciryas will slip into Morwen's suite to complete the pledge. After that, there is naught even the Valar could do to separate you."
Tears streamed down her face. "And who will tell Father?" she whispered.
A smile creased the corners of Denethor's eyes, but no smile touched his lips. "I will, my dear sweet sister. And he will punish me for it. But it will be light and naught will be able to dim the joy I will feel at your happiness. Please, let me do this for you."
She hugged him closely, her tears wetting his tunic. He smiled. It would all be worth this moment.
The day dawned with the sun brilliant, even hurtful to the eyes. Warmth already filled the streets of Gondor; it would be hot for this time of year. Thengel met Denethor for breakfast in the barrack's dining room. Thengel was quiet and withdrawn. Denethor smiled. He had an inkling of the thoughts that raced through his friend's mind, but could do naught to assuage the fear he saw in his captain's eyes.
"I thought we were being brave using my mother's gardens for the ceremony. Such a little thing now compared to what we will be doing," he laughed.
Thengel shrugged and looked away. He was angry with Denethor, nay, furious, but he could think of naught to do or say to sway his friend's resolve. Thengel loved Indis too, but the cost of this enterprise seemed too much. Of all times when he needed his lieutenant by his side, this was it. They were scheduled to begin patrol immediately after the harvest-feast. Denethor would not be with them, of this he was sure, and neither would Amdir. 'A double blow. Arciryas? Would Arciryas even be allowed to go? What healer would Adanedhel send with our Company, if Arciryas is not allowed? Nay, Ecthelion will be eager to get Arciryas out of the City, away from Indis. Perhaps he will try to convince her to reject the pledge? Ah, she would not.'
They ate in silence; Denethor hurt by Thengel's turned back. There was naught to be done, however. All their plans, nay, his plans, were in place. Both ceremonies would take place today; tomorrow he would be sent off to who knew where. But his heart was light. Indis would be happy.
Many chores had lain before them, but the sixth bell finally rang. Denethor was at the door of the Houses. Amdir and Arciryas stood waiting for him. Amdir's eyes were bright and his cheeks were flushed. Denethor looked at Arciryas in alarm, but Arciryas smiled.
"Our friend Amdir is quite ready, methinks." He laughed and Amdir's cheeks become rosier still.
"Then it is time we met your father, Amdir. He waits in the Citadel with Thengel."
"My stomach is roiling and I do not believe I could eat anything. May we just, perhaps, sit by the parapet, look out on the fields of the Pelennor?"
"Whatever suits you, my friend. It is your day. They will find us when the need arises. We are to meet at the White Tower at the eighth bell."
Amdir had not been told what other event was going to be happening this day. Denethor had questioned whether or not to tell him, just let it happen and answer questions when the time came, but this appeared to be the opportunity he needed. And he would use it.
Once Amdir's mouth closed, Denethor smiled. "This does not take from the pleasure of your day, does it? I had not thought you would mind sharing this day?"
"Nay, I am... at a loss for words. I did not know."
Denethor laughed. "None of us did. But the women did. They had no trouble changing Indis' gown into one more appropriate. They spent the night laughing and singing. To hear them, you would have thought all Gondor knew and rejoiced. In fact, I do believe all Gondor will rejoice when the news is released."
Amdir placed his hand on his friend's arm. "Yes, all Gondor will rejoice, except those lords who had hoped to advance their careers, or the careers of their sons, by a match between their houses. And what of Ecthelion? Do you seriously believe there will be rejoicing from the Steward's House?"
"Leave that to me, Amdir. All will be well." He gave a smile to Arciryas. "You both have much to rejoice at."
The garden was in full bloom. Flowers cascaded from the windows and the embrasures above, benches had been placed, and music floated through the air. Indis had done everything possible to make this day splendid for her friend. How strange that all the preparations had been for herself too. The dress fit well, but the alterations made her uncomfortable. It brought to mind exactly what she would be about this day, and the thought still took her breath away. Her love for Arciryas was strong, surprisingly sudden, but strong, and she blushed as she thought of it. He had been assigned to Denethor's Company only a year after he came to the Houses. When was that? Just two years ago. Rarely did they have opportunity to meet, until this year, these last few months when she took turns visiting Amdir. Indis' blush deepened. She remembered when first they had sat in the garden on the vestibule outside the Houses. She had been concerned for Amdir. Denethor had been distraught and she needed to know whether Amdir would live or die. She had to be prepared to help Denethor if the answer was hard. Arciryas had taken her hand, purely to offer comfort, and the touch sent tingles down her spine. She saw his eyes widen at the same moment, and they were lost. Or found. A tear slipped down her face. She truly loved him. Yet, the course that Denethor was leading them on... She was still terrified. Denethor had promised there would be little repercussion to this action, but she did not believe him. How could she not hurt her brother and hurt her affianced? Or how could she not hurt her affianced and hurt her brother? She should run away. Or tell Arciryas she did not love him. Nay, he would not believe her. And running would do naught! Ecthelion would find her or she would die in the wild. Her frightened eyes swung right and left, looking for some escape.
Almiel stood before her, took her in her arms, and hugged her tightly. "My sister, you look like a frightened rabbit. What ails you on this day? Do you doubt yourself, or Arciryas?"
Indis sobbed. "I cannot save him, nor Denethor. This is madness. I should never have agreed to it."
"Yes, this is madness, a blessed, marvelous madness and I am most happy for you. Time enough you have given to Gondor, to Father. Time now for your own happiness. I watch Turgon and I see life slipping from him. I would have life for our family. I will not give children to the line of Ecthelion, but you will; you must. I would see a sweet babe, laughing in your arms. Time now to put aside fear, my beloved sister. Time now to take the happiness given you." She wiped the tears from Indis' eyes as their friends entered the garden.
Sweet and precious were the words as each couple spoke the pledge. The music had been stilled, not a sound but the voices of each as they made their pledge, and then the kiss. Tears flowed and arms hugged and voices cracked in joy and love and friendship.
A trio played with flute, crumhorn, and harp, gentle music as the revelers ate the simple repast the women had prepared. Their talk turned to laughter and laughter to dancing. Indis and Arciryas were pushed forward as was Amdir and Listöwel. The benches were moved out of the way and the pledge dance begun. Slow and rhythmic went the music and the dancers followed it. Their hands were held together above their heads, then brought down and around from left to right and then right to left. Their feet lightly marked the time in small circles. Then arms encircled waists and kisses were gently placed on foreheads. The dance lasted only a short time, yet all were enthralled. Slowly, each couple dropped their hands, turned and bowed towards their friends, smiling shyly.
Gracious clapping greeted the end of the dance, but the trio of musicians had other thoughts in mind and quickly started a livelier tune. All joined hands and started the circle dance. It had been so long, Thengel and Morwen's ceremony, since any had danced. Toes were stepped upon, groans were heard, but laughter filled the day. The circle started slowly, with hands again clasped and raised, then all swung in towards the middle and then out again, while the men started to stomp their feet and the women gently kicked out and back again. Denethor liked these dances. No partner was needed. All joined together and most made mistakes. He did not feel self-conscious. Amdir's smile was bright as he nodded towards him. It was good to see such laughter and joy. The twisting of his stomach had stopped as soon as the pledge had started. Morwen and Thengel sat for most of the activities. Arciryas' presence gave them both ease of mind. The babe was not due for another two months; Morwen would be fine. For more hours than Denethor had expected, they danced and sang and laughed. At last the sun was waning and Denethor gave thought to his father. It was time they left this garden. If Ecthelion came and saw them, he would be livid, but Denethor and Indis felt that their mother would be most happy to have it used for such a purpose. Too long it had lain unused - a testimony to naught. Now, fond memories trailed through their minds as they wandered out the door. Elleth called the servants and the area was cleaned 'ere the last guest left. She gave the garden a quick look, Almiel came and hugged her, and they left, feeling a smile from Rían covering them.
"Esquire!" Denethor heard and turned around. He had recognized his father's voice, but wondered whom he was addressing. As he turned, his eyes met Ecthelion's and the storm in his father's eyes told him exactly whom he was addressing.
"My Lord," Denethor placed hand on chest and bowed. So this was the punishment, or a part of it. Ecthelion had finally discovered what had happened. It took him all of fifteen hours.
"Did you think naught would come of your total disregard for my wishes?" Ecthelion hissed so low none could hear but Denethor.
"Nay, my Lord. I would wish different, but that is not to be, I see."
"Do not bandy words with me, you little..." Ecthelion took a deep breath. "It does not stop here, either. When I call you, I would have you come to my chambers. There we will discuss your career." Ecthelion turned brusquely and headed for his place at the head of the festivities.
A silver trumpet called out for attention and all heads turned towards the temporary Steward's Chair, placed at the foot of the Great Hall's stairs. "Today is the feast of Yáviérë," Ecthelion began. "Today we rejoice in the bounty of our land. My deepest thanks to all for coming, for bringing their wares, their harvest, their friendship. Today we celebrate. And, as is traditional for this day, I will announce promotions within the ranks of the knights who protect us. First, bring forward Ingold, my Captain of the Tower Guard."
After an hour of announcements and congratulations, Ecthelion completed his work and left the Chair. He motioned towards Denethor, who bowed and started to leave his comrades. It was time to endure his father's wrath. Thengel put his hand on his shoulder to stop him. "I would come with you." Amdir and Ciramir stood behind him, resolute.
Denethor laughed. "You are now Captain of the Tower Guard. Is this part of your new duties or do you wish to be demoted as I am and spend your days in the stables? And, before another has the occasion, I would be the first to wish you congratulations. You also, Ciramir, for becoming Captain of the Horse Guard. Well you both deserve these positions. Gondor is strengthened by my father's wisdom in choosing you. Amdir, give your father my deepest regards on becoming Captain of the Armies. I would no other. Who would have thought those many years ago! This means your family will be moving into the White Tower! How delighted I am for Elleth too. She will finally have a casement that looks out onto the east and south. But she will have to leave the iris garden behind." Sorrow touched his voice.
"It will still be in the family, Denethor. Father is giving me their home. Listöwel and I will make sure the garden flourishes; you may come and visit those flowers anytime."
"And now I must take orders from you, Lieutenant! Will wonders never cease!" He laughed uproariously. Naught could take from him the joy of Amdir's promotion.
"We will meet at 'The Three Fishermen' at eight bells. If you are able, please join us," said Thengel and Denethor smiled. "I will be there, if I am able."
"You will never do such a thing again," Ecthelion shouted. "You have trod on my plans. You have placed yourself above me. You have placed yourself above Gondor." His father's wrath was tangible. His neck tensed as his hands clenched and unclenched. Never had Denethor seen him so angry. Spittle spewed from his mouth as he screamed.
"Father, that was not my intent."
Ecthelion spun around as if to strike him, but held his hand. His voice shook. "I will not allow such disrespect. Too often have you spoken of the Council in this same manner and I allowed it. I see now that was a mistake. Your disrespect has turned from the Council to me! You will leave immediately for the beacon of Amon Anwar. One of the tenders has passed. Another is needed. The head tender and his family will not know who you are, just a drudge sent from Minas Tirith to replace the one who was lost. You will leave your livery here. You will not need it where you are going. You will stay there until I bid you return. You will not show your face in Minas Tirith. Do you understand me? If I see you in the City, you will be banished from Gondor. Do I make myself clear?" All the pent up rage of years past exploded as his voice rose again to fever pitch. "Heca!"
"Yes, my Lord." Denethor bowed and walked from the Tower. The beacon-hill. There was no further outpost in all of Gondor, except perhaps the seaport at the mouth of the Lefnui! He felt a flush rising in his cheeks and tried to shake off the feeling of shame. He had never expected to be demoted. Nor had he expected being sent to one of the farthest outposts of Gondor, but neither had he expected better. His friends - he would send a note. Ecthelion, his fury enkindled to an extreme state, had sent a guard with him to escort him out of the Citadel and out of Minas Tirith. Thoughts of his last banishment flooded through him, and the shame of the ten-year old burned in the man's heart. Once again, an escort to sunder him from his City, his friends, his family. He was not allowed to send the note.
Silence cut through the inn like a sword through soft butter. None of the men smiled, nor spoke. Most of the others who frequented the inn had left, the feel of anger and alarm rank in the air. The bell had rung four times, the middle of the first watch, and still no sign of Denethor. "He is gone. I feel it. Ecthelion knew we would meet and he has sent him off with no chance for farewells." Amdir's voice was bitter.
"Yes, I believe you are right in that. Well, there is naught to do for it, but to go back to our homes. Tomorrow, we will find where he has been sent. What happens after that I do not know."
"Well, at least you will be here for the birth of your child," Arciryas said. "Had you known you were to be promoted to Captain of the Tower Guard, Thengel?"
"Nay, Ecthelion said naught to me of this. I almost wish it were not so. At least as Captain of the Horse Guard I was able to leave Minas Tirith. I am now fixed to her and know not when I might be able to visit Denethor, wherever he is."
"I too will not be leaving Minas Tirith any time soon. I have been appointed as permanent healer at the Houses. I will no longer go on patrol with our Company. I find this most disturbing. I... have enjoyed field learning. Though I cannot quite believe Ecthelion has allowed me to stay here. He has not announced Indis' marriage and I fear for that too."
"Has there been no word? Naught of where he has gone?" Elleth asked.
"Nay, my father has not spoken to me since my troth pledge. He sees me in the halls and turns the other way. I am sore pressed to understand this. There was love for my mother during their life together. I had thought he would understand." Indis' boot scuffed at a wisp of dust in front of Elleth's fireplace. "Arciryas has been banned from the Seventh Level and I am barred from the Sixth." Her laughter turned slightly hysterical. "I am held prisoner in all but name."
"Then it is time for us to continue our lessons. If you have naught to do, we must use this time. It is prized. Morwen will not be with us, but come, let us find Listöwel and Eledhwen and begin. Too soon will come other duties." Day after day, the women practiced hard and long. Laughter was only found in short bursts as they focused more and more on the skills they were learning.
"How many times do I have to tell you, keep your hands below the crossguard? Otherwise you will find a finger missing! Your sword is too short for a ricasso; it is sharp blade down to the hilt."
Indis blushed. "I am sorry. I will try again." She held the sword by hilt and pommel and tried to raise it again. "This sword is too heavy."
Eledhwen scoffed at her. "This sword is too heavy," she mocked. "The other was too light and would not cut a hare's head if you had tried. You speak of protecting Gondor, of guarding those you love, yet you refuse to obey me and train as I ask. What of your resolve?"
Indis' blush deepened. "I am sorry," she repeated.
Listöwel giggled and Eledhwen turned to her in fury. "Who was it that let her sword fly from her hand last week? Who said the pommel was not wide enough to keep the sword in her hand? You are full of excuses, all of you. I am ashamed to be your teacher."
"Please, please do not say such a thing," Morwen begged. She had joined them this day, though the walk down the steep stairs had been difficult. "We are foolish women perhaps, but we know what gift you are giving us. Do not be discouraged. We will try harder." She looked pleadingly at her sister-friends. "Oh..."
Indis rushed to her side. One look at her drawn face and she ran to the stairs. "Lay her down and get her some water. I am fetching Arciryas."
Thengel took the cup of water offered by his aide and walked towards the window. Morwen's time was close and he found it disconcerting that she would disappear for hours. Where was she now? His aide had spread the roster for the coming week before him. This was not work that he enjoyed. He wanted to be on a horse, with his men, riding across the Pelennor. He snorted in disgust - a place of high honor, to be Captain of the Tower Guard. Why did he feel it was a bribe from Ecthelion for his service, nay his allegiance to Gondor? Gondor had his loyalty; did not Ecthelion realize that? He would not leave. There was naught in Rohan for him. His father's ways were not his own. He loved Gondor with a passion. He loved the people, the City, his friends, yes, even the language felt sweet upon his lips. Ah, Gondor. Now he must spend his time doing paperwork, not finding Denethor. "Where is Denethor?" he muttered under his breath. Two months had passed and not even a whisper of what had happened to him or where he had been stationed. Baranor had not been sent with him. This had stunned Thengel, but upon further thought, he realized a lowly ensign had no need of an aide. Baranor must be crushed.
A cry caught his attention. He saw Indis running across the escarpment, her skirts flying and her hair waving in the breeze. His heart flinched. "Morwen," he cried and ran from the room. Where could she be? He had seen Indis leave the White Tower, but had no idea where she might have come from. He could not go through the halls yelling Morwen's name. He ran to follow her; it was his only recourse. She had run into the Houses of Healing and was just reappearing as he came to the garden. "Indis!" he called.
"It is Morwen, Thengel. She is in one of the rooms at the bottom of the White Tower and I fear the babe is coming."
Arciryas pushed him aside. "Instruct the Guard to bring a litter," he shouted as he ran past him, "and quickly."
His knights had heard the screams and were already at his side. By the time he reached the White Tower, six men were close behind, one carrying a litter. Gratitude swelled at the discipline of these men. Ingold had done well. The Tower Guard was the brightest and boldest company of knights in all of Gondor. They reached the bottom of the steps and a cry greeted them. It was not a frail cry, but one filled with strength. His child! He ran into the room where the crying was coming from and saw the babe in Morwen's arms. Collapsing at her side, he pushed the hair from across her face, kissed her sweat-soaked forehead, and smiled in delight. She was smiling back at him, healthy and happy, though tired.
"It is a boy," Arciryas smiled as he wiped his hands. "Hail and fit. His lungs attest to that, do they not? And what name have you chosen for him?"
Thengel looked at Morwen. She smiled, turned her head towards the healer and said, "Théoden."
A/N - 1) Yavannië - September The ninth month of the year, according to the Stewards' Reckoning of Gondor, following Urimë, and preceding the autumn feast of Yáviérë. On a modern calendar, Yavannië ran between 22 August and 20 September, in a normal year. http://www.glyphweb.com/arda/y/yavannie.html; 2) Yáviérë - The harvest feast-day of the Stewards' Reckoning of Gondor, lying between the months of Yavannië and Narquelië. On a modern calendar, Yáviérë would have fallen on 21 September. http://www.glyphweb.com/arda/y/yaviere.html; 3) *Heca - Quenya command, "be gone." http://www.geocities.com/petristikka/elvish/other/q-essay.doc and http://www.websters-dictionary-online.org/translation/Quenya/heca; also, from a resource named Darth Fingon.
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.