16. Third Age 2960 - Part Two
"The Wild Men have a just complaint, my King," Denethor heard the voice saying. "In times past, the Rohirrim have hunted and killed them. I do not believe they tried to kill Denethor, just question him. To their mind's eye, we were trespassing."
At this, Denethor tried to pull himself up. "This land belongs to Gondor," he snorted, his eyes wild.
"Yes, my Lord, of course it does, but the Pukel-men have lived here for ages before your people stepped foot on this land. They feel it is theirs."
"Do not try to coddle me, to placate me. I see through your words. No matter what they feel, this land is not theirs. We will teach them whose lands these are!" Denethor shouted, then fell back upon his cot, coughing violently.
Thorongil stepped closer, bent and touched his forehead. He looked towards Thengel. "Fever," he whispered. "I had hoped he would be spared. The poison and the dunking in the icy mountain stream have weakened his body. He must be taken to the Houses of Healing, and quickly."
"Thengel," Amdir spoke for the first time, "you should return to Edoras. My men will take Denethor home. There is no need for your full compliment. The Orcs have been killed, the Wild Men run off; they will not bother us further, and so great a company as yours will only slow us down."
"I would not leave my friend in this state," Thengel sighed.
Denethor snarled, "Talk... not here... must... think."
Thorongil raised him slightly and held a cup to his lips. "Drink this, my Lord. It will help you think." The eyes that looked back at him were suddenly clear and Thorongil started, respect growing in his own eyes. "It will help you think clearer when you have awakened," he corrected himself.
Denethor smiled, acknowledging the respect shown, drank, and slept almost immediately.
"I would ask a great favor of you, Thorongil." Thengel took his arm and led him out of the tent. "Amdir is right. This great a company would move too slowly. And my counselors would rail if I attempted to go ahead alone. Though my heart will be with my friend, I deem it prudent that I return to Edoras. The favor I would ask... Would you go with Denethor, care for him until he is received into the Houses of Healing? My heart would be much at ease, if you were with him."
"Yes, my King. I will go to Minas Tirith."
He could not shake this darkness. Denethor left the festival and headed for the cliffs. Sitting down, he tried to calm himself in the sound of the sea. It crashed against the rocks at the base of the cliff and the sound stilled his heart. Where had this sense of doom come from? The sky was whitewashed blue. Gulls flew overhead, not a sound came from them. He thought this odd. The gulls in Minas Tirith were forever screaming their complaints. Here, all was silence. Slate gray fingers of clouds drifted overhead. The sun was just beginning to set; however, a low cloudbank, hidden due to its coloring being the same as the sky, suddenly started to hide the sun itself. There were only pieces of the crimson light left showing. Denethor, though his eyes were wide open, drifted. His mind was not his own any longer. The cloudbank and the half-hidden sun turned into a mountain spewing forth fire and smoke. Higher and higher the flames reached until its red and malevolent light covered the entire sky. A darkness started to creep from it, filling the sky, moving closer and closer to where he sat. A hand touched his shoulder and the darkness was gone, replaced by bright white light.
"Indis," Arciryas took her in his arms. "What must I do to earn your trust?"
She averted her eyes; she could not look at him, and he grieved.
"Come, please. Sit here beside me." She made as if to leave, but he pulled her closer to him. "Listöwel is sleeping; the horses are bedded down for the night. We will not leave for at least another three hours. The way to Amon Dîn is rough. We must wait for the sun to rise." He gently pulled her to the bed. They were in the captain's quarters at the garrison of the North Gate. The captain, once he had ascertained who his late night guests were, had given Indis and Arciryas his room.
She sat, her back straight. He could feel the faint shivers of fatigue and grief running down her arms. "My love," he whispered, "have I been so cold, so unfeeling a husband that you will not turn to me in your time of need?" He wanted to cry out, his pain was so great, but he held his tongue. If someone under his care was wounded and could not speak, he used other means to discern how to treat them. Whispering her name, he sat quietly, stroking her hair.
She leaned closer. Sobs shook her body. He said naught. At last, she surrendered herself to her grief; he let her cry. "I... I thought I was over Almiel's death; I am not. I cannot endure more death. I cannot."
He continued whispering her name, saying naught more, hoping she would pour out her heart so that healing could begin.
"I think if Denethor dies... If he is dead... How will I bear it? How will I continue to live?"
He leaned back against the wall, pulling her closer to him, wiping the tears from her checks with his gentle hands, as he continued to whisper, "Indis, my love, my own."
"You are too kind," she sobbed, "I have not been the wife you had hoped for, I know. It is hard for me to speak of the things of my heart. Long have I had to protect it, to protect those whom I love. I cannot stop being strong. But, I so want to stop. I want to hide, to scream, to cry and be protected. I am so tired." She hiccupped and he smiled.
"Wait one moment, my love." He gently leaned her back against the wall, walked to the captain's table, poured water from a jug, and brought the cup to her. She drank, closed her eyes, and leaned back against the wall again.
"I would protect you, if you would allow it," he said quietly, speaking into her hair as he sat and held her in his arms. "You are strong, Indis," he emphasized the word 'are.' "You will always be strong and I love you for that." He kissed the top of her head. "A soldier cannot always fight without rest. He must trust those around him: someone to cover his back, someone to sharpen his sword, someone to fetch arrows to replace those he has let fly, someone to stand guard. Yet you, my love, have fought without rest since your mother died. May I take this watch for you? Will you not rest for a time? Will you not trust that I will protect those you love? Do you not know that I would die to protect you and them?" He put his hand under her chin and turned her face up, towards him. "I too love Denethor. He has been my friend for many a year; he has been my brother and my captain. I will do everything I can to help him, to protect him. Will you let me carry some of this burden?"
She drew in her breath. Oh, the love and pain she saw in those deep gray eyes! How could she have doubted him? She threw her arms about his neck, burying her face in his shoulder. "I am so sorry, Arciryas. I will try. I will try."
Thorongil poured a little more of the draught down Denethor's throat. Within a few hours, they would be at the garrison of Amon Dîn. Amdir promised him that they would only stop long enough to procure fresh mounts. Thorongil had done everything in his power, with the few herbs he had with him, to stay the progress of the poison. Denethor's fever slowly rose and he was becoming incoherent. Thorongil's supplies, especially the dried athelas, were dwindling.
Amdir dismounted and walked towards Denethor's litter. "He is worsening," he said, his brow furrowed in concern.
"Yes. He was chilled to the bone by the dunking in the icy stream, the lying in sodden clothes for hours, the eating of the poisoned food. All these are now fighting against anything I do. We should light a fire to warm him, the blankets are not enough, but we do not have the time."
"Are you saying his time is short?"
"Yes, I am afraid so." Thorongil stood and stretched. He had not slept since they had rescued Denethor, and the lack was starting to affect him.
"Are you finished with your ministrations?"
"Yes. We can go forward."
"Then let us!" Amdir shouted and the company mounted. "I have sent a rider ahead to warn the garrison of our coming and to prepare fresh horses for us." He turned Hros' head and motioned for the company to follow.
Arciryas, Listöwel, and Indis finally reached the beacon-hill and the garrison of Amon Dîn. A small contingent of knights was there. As they entered the compound, they were surprised to see much activity. Arciryas quickly dismounted, and grabbed the arm of one knight as he ran past them. "What is happening?" he asked.
"Lieutenant Amdir approaches. We are preparing fresh mounts for the main company.
They are going on, immediately, to Minas Tirith. Now let me do what I must do," and he tore himself away from Arciryas' hold.
Indis dismounted and ran over to where the two were. "What of Lord Denethor?" she cried to the knight's retreating back.
He turned, recognized her, and spoke. "I know not, my Lady. I have only received orders from Lieutenant Amdir." With that, he turned and ran to the stables. Men were leading saddled horses out of the stables into the courtyard.
A loud commotion drew their eyes towards the garrison's gate. It was Amdir. Indis cried out, but Listöwel, at a signal from Arciryas, ran to her friend's side and held her close. When Indis saw Denethor on the litter, she cried out in pain. Amdir quickly dismounted and ran towards them.
"What are you doing here? Did Ecthelion send you?" he asked in confusion.
Arciryas, in the meantime, ran to the litter. Thorongil reported to him all that had happened, along with what he had done to slow the effects of the poison and the fever. "We must get him to the Houses of Healing as quickly as possible," Arciryas said. Then he turned to the man standing before him, "Thank you, whoever you are."
But Thorongil spoke not, bowed and walked towards Amdir.
Once they passed through the Rammas, they rode as swiftly as possible towards Minas Tirith. Finally, Denethor was placed in the care of the healers. Amdir, accompanied by Thorongil, went to the Great Library to look for legends, tales, or lore books that would help the healers combat the poison. The warden pulled all his assistants from other chores, and placed them on the task at hand. After too many long hours, the poison, and its antidote, were found. Amdir sent the information to Adanedhel. Then, he took Thorongil by the arm and led him to the Fourth Level, stopping at a familiar haunt.
"I will report to the Steward within the hour," he stated as they sat at table, "however, I wanted to have a moment with you. I must thank you."
"There is naught to thank me for, Lieutenant. My liege, Thengel King, requested my aid. I could not deny him." The maid passed their drinks to them, eyeing the stranger appraisingly before she left them.
"You did more than many would have done. I would think you had used some sort of magic to keep him alive. I saw his face, heard the labored breathing. If not for you, he would be dead. Where did you learn your craft?"
Thorongil looked long at the man seated across from him. 'Is this a trap?' he wondered. He knew Amdir was close friend, besides first lieutenant, to the captain. "I have served many long years in other armies, besides those of Rohan. I have learned much in that time. The craft comes from here and there," he said, evasively.
"Where e'er you learned it," Amdir said, placing his hand on the man's shoulder, "I care not. Only know that I am glad you brought the knowledge with you to the Drúadan Forest when it was most needed."
The sincerity in Amdir's voice and eyes quelled Thorongil's suspicions. "Your captain has earned my respect, Lieutenant. He is a brave man. And one that is not to be toyed with, if I read his eyes truly. He has suffered grievous wound, but will recover."
"Again, thanks to you. I have a house on the Sixth Level. Let us finish our ale and I will take you there. I would be most grateful if you would deign to stay with my wife and I?"
"Yes, I would be obliged."
Ecthelion strode into the room. The healers bowed and backed away. Indis rose from her place next to his bed, still holding Denethor's hand. "Adanedhel has told me he will live. For that, I am glad," Gondor's Steward said quietly. He sat on the opposite side of the bed. "Is he awake?"
"Nay, Father. They have given him a sleeping potion. He is beyond all endurance. His body needs rest. I am sure Adanedhel told you that."
"Yes," he said. Looking down at his son, the image of his beloved Rían, he wept quietly. "I am an old fool. I am worse than Turgon was in his blindness. Always, I put Gondor before those I love. Forgive me, my daughter."
"I am not the one to ask forgiveness from, Father," she stated crisply. She could not keep the anger from her voice. "Mayhap, when Denethor is healed, you can ask for his forgiveness."
"Yes. Would you mind if I sit with you for awhile?"
Denethor gasped and looked around. The bright light that had been about him had moved off. It was the Elf - he could just barely see him moving swiftly north. It was the same Elf that he had found in his room; it was at least a year ago. He awoke from a deep sleep; the Elf stood over his bed, great gray eyes staring at him. He jumped from his bed, but the Elf disappeared, gone quickly out the window. Denethor ran to follow him, and discovered that the window led to a sliver-thin ledge overlooking the rocks of the Bay of Belfalas. He looked to his left and his right, but could see naught in the dark of the storm-laden air. Yet, here again was that self same Elf. He called to him in Sindarin, then Quenya, but the Elf never swayed from his path. He screamed again. "Stop!"
"Hush, Denethor. All is well," Indis whispered, putting her head close to his. "You are safe. Trust me! You are in the Houses of Healing. I am here by your side. Please, little brother, wake up."
His eyes still hurt from the brightness of the light. He could see it, in his mind's eye. He tried to lift his hand, to cover his eyes e'er he opened them, but his hand would not obey. He felt a cool cloth on his forehead, and heard the whispering voice of his sister. Again, he tried to open his eyes, and this time, he was successful. Looking down upon him was Indis' beloved face.
"I was in Dol Amroth. I saw something..."
"Nay, my sweet brother, you have been held captive by the Wild Men. Thorongil, Thengel's captain, saved you. He brought you back to me, to Minas Tirith."
He touched her cheek. Finally, his body was responding to his will. "You have been crying," he said softly. "I am sorry to have caused you pain. Forgive me."
"Their is naught to forgive!" she cried. "Were they terrible to you? Did they...?" She could not ask.
"Thorongil." Denethor said in wonderment, finally realizing what she had said. "Yes, I remember him now. He was kind. He did not lie to me. I knew I was in great danger, yet he did not hide it from me. I owe him my life."
"Yes, that is true."
"Would you ask him to come to me? I would speak with him for a moment."
"Yes, brother. Rest a little longer and I promise, I will bring him to you."
At last, Denethor moved from the Houses to his own chambers. Thorongil, feeling quite uncomfortable, sat in an overstuffed chair that had been pulled up to the bed. Denethor was finishing some broth, while Indis watched, militantly. Thorongil hid a smile when she chided her brother to finish the last spoonful. She quickly kissed him on the forehead, took the bowl from his hand, smiled at Thorongil and left them. Thorongil sat back in the chair, trying to hide his discomfiture. Denethor, he could tell, seemed to feel the same way. Neither man appeared ready to begin any kind of a conversation. Thorongil wished he had a pipe. He could not have smoked it, though; he had noticed that none seemed to smoke, here in Minas Tirith.
"I thank you for coming," Denethor started. "I wished to thank you for all you have done for me." Thorongil started to speak, but Denethor held his hand up. "Please, this is most difficult for me and I would like to... I am sorry. How can I say this is difficult when it is my life that has been saved! I am a poor wretch that did not deserve saving. I have harbored ill will towards you. And for that I am most sorry."
"I well understand your feelings. I was discourteous too many times while you visited in Rohan. It seemed there was much to do, and I was very new to the Rohirric way of life. I was brusque and rude," Thorongil said. "Forgive me."
Denethor hung his head. Would this man not let him thank him properly? He was becoming upset again. He shook his head. 'I am an idiot,' he thought. 'Why does this man seem to continuously aggravate me?'
"Let us stop now and begin afresh. Perhaps if we shared a little about ourselves, we may find some common ground?" Denethor said, politely.
Thorongil was immediately suspicious. Though Denethor spoke courteously, the Northerner deemed there was purpose behind the question. "My Lord, if you would begin..."
Denethor smiled. This was not going to be easy. "My life is public. You must know much about me already. I am Heir to the Steward of Gondor, in the line of Anárion, of the House of Húrin. I am Captain of the garrison at Amon Dîn, just having returned from a five-year stint at Dol Amroth. Indis, whom you have already met, is my sister. I..." He took a deep breath. "I lost a sister to the Corsairs many years ago. Thengel... Thengel King was my commander for a time, while he lived in Gondor. That is all that is pertinent. Oh, yes. I served under Walda many years ago. And - I am a hideous fisherman."
Thorongil laughed. "I am a good fisherman, I am sorry to say,"
Now it was Denethor's turn to laugh. "Then you must go fishing with Amdir and Thengel. I go with them to stoke the fires. I am utterly useless when it comes to the sport, but they seem to like my company. You also have the hands of a healer, it would seem."
"I have been on my own for a good number of years. I learned, through expediency, the ways of healing. I would have preferred not to have had to learn them at all." The mood in the room had sobered quickly.
"Yes," Denethor said. "As a soldier, I know whereof you speak. Ever we must do things we would prefer not to."
There was silence in the room for a time; the fire crackled and snapped. Thorongil was not sure if Denethor had fallen asleep or not. He sat quietly, waiting.
"What have you done," Denethor's voice startled him, "that you would have preferred not to have done?"
Thorongil thought for a long moment. "I would not have left my mother alone, all those long years. I would have spent more time with her." He surprised himself with the answer. "My father had been killed when I was but a small child. She was left alone among those who were not kin. It occurs to me now, that she must have been lonely."
Denethor thought of the many years when, as punishment, he had been sent off amongst strangers. "Yes," he said, "that is a very difficult thing. And yet, you remember her well?"
"Yes. She was kind." He stopped. He would not continue this.
Denethor noticed the straightening of Thorongil's shoulders, and knew he would share no more. "Perhaps you would like to see something of Minas Tirith. Or has someone already shown you around my City?"
Thorongil smiled at the inflection he heard when Denethor said 'my' city. "Your city?"
Denethor returned the smile. "I have become possessive of this City. It is dear to me. Ever do we fight to protect her." A slight scowl crossed his face. "Orcs and other foul creatures continuously attack. Corsairs from the south and Easterlings from the East cross our borders with seeming impunity. Have you seen the mountain? The one that spews smoke and fire? It seems nature itself attacks Gondor. We fight, but desperately, it would seem."
"I have heard stories of the courage of Gondor," Thorongil said quietly. "Rohan relies upon Gondor."
"As Gondor relies upon Rohan," Denethor whispered. He pulled the bell and waited.
Thorongil realized his interview was over. He stood and bowed to Denethor. "Perhaps I may come and visit again?"
Denethor looked up. "Yes. I would like that, very much." He suddenly felt an overwhelming gratitude for the candor of the man.
"I do not understand," Denethor strode towards the White Tower. He had finally been allowed to leave his rooms, deemed well enough to return to duty. "How could Ecthelion open the ranks of the Knights of Gondor to outsiders?"
"Mithrandir counseled it. Your father agreed. It seems he has been most pleased with Thorongil's service."
"As am I," Denethor stated flatly. "He is a very good soldier. I am glad I asked Father to ask him to stay and fight for Gondor. Yet, I do not think it wise to have strangers in Gondor's service. I cannot imagine fighting next to a Corsair. I would rather cut off his head, than fight on his side. You remember the two of mixed blood in my company this past spring? Terrible men. I do not understand what Mithrandir hopes to accomplish by this."
"Were you able to speak with your father about it?" Amdir asked.
"Nay. It was decided without me. I should not be surprised." A heavy sigh escaped his lips.
"Orc attacks have been more numerous of late, the loss of knights has grown, and there are other considerations," Amdir said.
"Yes. The most difficult consideration is lack of men." He shook his head. "I should wed myself and give Father an heir, but there is no time and no woman who has even tweaked my interest."
Amdir laughed. "You are enjoying the life of the bachelor too much, my friend. Listöwel introduced you to that young friend of hers months ago, yet you have made no attempt to further the relationship."
"She was an idiot. Forgive me. She only talked of who was going to what party, or what new dance was the rage. She spoke of naught of substance. I could not abide listening to her."
Amdir hooted with laughter. "You have become too accustomed to Indis and her great knowledge of the things of Middle-earth, strategies, and battle talk. Having women around you, like Listöwel also, who know how to wield a sword, makes an ordinary woman pale in comparison, I must say."
"Well, let us to the buttery and see what food we can scrape together. I would eat on the escarpment today, not with the lords and ladies in Merethrond. They watch to see whom I will sit next to and then their tongues wag. I will never find a wife here."
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.