25. Third Age 2988
In the early part of the year, an illness had swept through the Houses. The source was unknown; a cure was unknown. More and more of those already deathly ill or battle wounded fell to its unchecked rampage. Arciryas worked night and day, not with healing, for naught seemed to heal, but with herbs and incantations to ease suffering, then with spending hours pouring over ancient books trying to find anything that even remotely displayed the same symptoms, but to no avail. Gondor's Master Healer came to the conclusion that he would have to evacuate the Houses. The malady could not be stopped. Yet, as suddenly as it had started, as suddenly as the filth of it sped through the Houses of Healing, it ceased. No new patients were touched by it for over a week. Those in the last throws of its hold lingered. Some lived. Some did not.
Ioreth was one of the last to be infected by it, but her youth seemed to lessen its hold on her. Firieth came to the Houses to care for her daughter, and instead, succumbed herself. One of the last to die, she clung to life for hours. Finduilas screamed to be allowed to care for her, but Denethor could not, would not let her near. Indis went instead, much to Denethor's horror. He was trying to save his wife, why would his sister tempt fate? At last, Firieth surrendered. Ioreth held her mother in her arms; her lips silenced for once. Indis sat by her side.
Finduilas was nigh unto inconsolable. Firieth had come to her the day she had arrived in Minas Tirith, welcoming her with a lavender nosegay and a warm smile. They had become friends almost immediately, even before Arciryas asked Firieth to become Finduilas' handmaiden. Denethor remembered Firieth's discomfiture at such a request. She had spoken of her humble lineage, saying she was not worthy. Then, when Boromir was born, the bond between the women firmed, solidified into deep friendship. 'Ah,' Denethor remembered, 'they called each other sister-friend.'
She would not let him hold her. She stayed in her bed, pulling her arms around her, moaning quietly. He called for Arciryas who brought teas to ease her heart and potions to help her sleep. After a time, it seemed she improved. Indis was able to convince her to walk in the gardens. At last, Denethor sent for his sister.
"Indis," Denethor sat opposite her on the settle, twirling the flagon in his left hand. She smiled. He always did that when he had something unpleasant to ask. She loved him dearly, but he would have to speak; she did not know what he wanted.
He heaved a sigh. "I know Arciryas loves working in the Houses."
Indis started. She had not expected this to be about her husband.
"I also know he loves to study the old books and formulas and such to find new cures for what ails the men of Gondor."
She waited, not knowing what he wanted to say, what he wanted from her or Arciryas.
"Finduilas is... not well. No matter what I do for her, she fades. Father's death has been hard for it has changed my life completely. I cannot spend the time I used to with her nor with the children. Sometimes, I work from dawn to dawn. There is naught else I can do. You know full well that the defenses of Gondor must be reinforced. I have met with the Council every day, trying to convey to them the desperate needs of our land before the needs of their own fiefdoms, but it is trying work. Besides the meetings, I spend much time reading Father's logs, trying to find what was done and what has not been done. On top of that, troop movements... I do not know why I am saying all this. You know, better than anyone else in all of Gondor, what the duties of the Steward entail." He paused and took a long swallow, put down the flagon, and turned to her, brow furrowed. "She also has not fully recovered from the loss of Firieth. I cannot be with Finduilas as I would wish, nor as she would wish. I hope to ask Arciryas to become my family's personal healer. Do you think he would agree? Would you agree?"
Indis sat back. "Yes, he will, if you command it. But I do not know if he will be happy with the decision."
"Would you be? I would do naught to harm you. He is most valued as Master Healer. I do not want to do this, but I see no other way. I cannot send her to Dol Amroth. I could not live with her gone. Yet, she needs constant care, more than I can give. I have given much thought to this. I have tried to discover another solution, some way to help her live here in ease and contentment."
"I know you have, dearest brother. I too, have tried to help her."
"Yes. Her reading to the soldiers has been told to me. Their gratitude is profound. But she does not seem to think it worthwhile, or helpful. She has not been back to the Houses since Firieth's death. Nor do I want her there, at least for a time."
"What did she do in Dol Amroth, Denethor?"
He laughed ruefully. "I do not know. She is not a child. I do not know. All I know, Indis, is that I love her and I must do everything I can for her, short of shirking my duty to Gondor."
She put her hand on his knee. "There may come a time, Denethor, when you will have to chose between Gondor and Finduilas."
He shuddered. "I hope not, Indis. I hope not."
Gondor's Steward knew his wife suffered. It had now been almost a year since Firieth passed. Was it Boromir and Faramir? Him? Did they require too much care? It seemed a deep melancholy lay over her. She sounded well when he asked after her, but the Elvish sparkle, the one that had caught his heart when first he saw her in Dol Amroth - that sparkle had left her eyes. She walked as an old woman, barely picking up her feet, where once she had run gaily, lighter than the wind. Her skin was sallow, dry, and hung off her body like lifeless bark on the river birch. Her hands, the precious hands that soothed his brow - so kissable and dainty - could hardly pick themselves up from her lap. Dead members hung from them, pretending they were fingers. He shuddered violently as he watched her from the window overlooking her private garden. She had not seen, or, having seen, had not the energy to greet him. Tears fell in heavy torrents from his eyes. Arciryas stood beside him.
"What ails her?" he asked his healer, overwhelmed with the change that had come upon her this last year.
"I do not know, Denethor. There seems to be no malady of body to explain her state. I have tested her, using every tool at my disposal, but I have learned naught from them."
"Is she dying?"
"I cannot say," the healer stared, helplessly.
Denethor turned to him, shoulders sagging in defeat. "I cannot lose her," he whispered.
Arciryas took his friend into his arms and held him. "We will not lose her. Mayhap, if she went to the sea for a time..."
"She is too ill! What if aught were to happen on the road? I cannot lose her."
"Denethor. You would do anything to save her, would you not?"
"You know I would. How can you even ask?"
"Then you must consider this. I believe she longs for the sea and all it stands for. She hates the mountain. Do you not see her, even now, staring at it? She must have peace around her. And the only place, in all of Gondor where she will find peace, is Dol Amroth."
"I know," Denethor choked on the words. "I will send her away with the children. Listöwel will accompany her."
"Yes, but as you said, she is too weak, at the moment, to travel. If you but tell her the news, that will surely lighten her mood. She will have something to look forward to."
He straightened himself. "I know you speak wisely, my friend. Always, you have counseled me well. How long before she is well enough to travel?"
"It is hard to say. When the times comes, I will tell you."
'The sea,' Denethor thought, walking along the escarpment after Arciryas left him. 'She needs the sea.' Suddenly, his eyes lit up and he ran to the Great Hall.
He carried Finduilas down the hall from their chambers, kissing her brow and making small talk, sharing Faramir and Boromir's latest adventures, their lessons, and such. His heart broke as he noted how she tried to listen, but fatigue overwhelmed her and he saw the dull glaze of her eyes. He quietly set her on her feet at a closed doorway. "My love, thy needs are mine. I have created a place for thee. I wouldst that I could give thee all that thou needest, but please, accept this as a token of my love for thee."
With that, he opened the door and she gasped and would have fallen had he not been behind her and quickly held her close to him. He picked her up again, walked into the room, and closed the door behind them. Gently, he placed her upon the beach chair. He sat next to her, letting her drink in his creation, and then, with the softest pride, he began pointing out the features of the room.
"The sky. I hope 'tis the right shade? See - it fills the entire ceiling. And dost thou see the clouds and the little gulls, painted there and there? The plants along the walls, are they not like unto the plants that grow in the rocks at Dol Amroth? And here and here," he pointed again, "dost thou see the creatures, crabs and starfish? And in the little rock pool painted over there - there are the seahorses thou lovest so. Look over here, my love. See the waves crashing against the rocks; over there is the shore, which leadeth into the room. The sand on the floor wast brought from our little beach in Belfalas. Thou must remember it, my love?" He could not read her face, so he continued, desperately pointing out more and more. "There are the chairs and table where we used to sit and drink honeyed wine." He started to sob. He had commissioned the finest artists in the land to create the room, to make it look exactly like the seascape looking out her window at the palace of Dol Amroth; yet, she gave no reaction. He left his chair and knelt in the sand at her feet, laying his head upon her lap. "My love?"
She was silent. He could speak no longer. He had poured out all his love upon this room, hoping it would fill her and bring her back to him, from whatever place she had gone to.
His body trembled when he felt her hand touch his head, slip through his hair, and gently caress his cheek.
"Thou didst all this for me?" Her voice, unused these last months, cracked as she questioned him.
"Yes, my love, solely for thee. We mayest sit here," hope flared in his heart and the words stumbled over each other, "listen to the water and drink wine..."
"The water?" she asked.
"Yes, my love, listen."
She could hear it, water gently falling over rocks, and she turned and saw that a small waterfall played its music almost directly behind her. She sighed. "It is most lovely." Then she closed her eyes and slept.
He knelt back upon his heels and watched her. Her sleep was deep. Long had it been since she had slept so deeply. He covered her with a shawl and then sat again in the chair next to hers. Soon, his head fell forward.
"She has been there for hours. The boys are with her. I believe your ploy has worked, Denethor. She walked without help this morning. I cannot believe the change in her!"
Denethor's eyes sparkled with unshed tears. "Yes, it was worth every coin and every hour of work. Speak truly, Arciryas. She does seem to be getting better?"
"Yes, Denethor. I am most pleased with her progress."
"If thou leavest me and returneth to Dol Amroth," Denethor choked on the words, "thou wilt not return."
The mountain had spent the entire month foaming and spewing noxious fumes into the air, shaking the halls of Minas Tirith. She had cowered more and more. Not even her hideaway helped keep the fear from her. At last, he knew he must send her away.
"What art thou saying, my love? Thou art my life, my very breath. To thee I will ever return," she promised.
He took her in his arms and held her very close. The thinness of her body once again startled him. He had to be so very gentle. Almost - he was afraid she would break in his arms. When had he first noticed this gauntness? He felt her lean against his embrace, the warmth of her body next to his, the bones of her shoulders jutting out into the palms of his hands. Hope seemed to flee from him, but he dragged it back and clung to it. He turned his face away from hers, as the tears, unbidden, fell. He moved his arm so his tunic would catch the tears and she would not feel them. She could not see him weep. She could not know the despair that flitted at the corners of his mind as he held her. She must think him strong, think that she could rely upon him in all things, that he would survive while she was gone, think that he would be able to care for their sons. Faster the tears came at the thought of his dependence upon her. How was he to bear this time apart? And yet, Arciryas thought the sea air would revive her, would help her to heal. Arciryas had always been right before. The forced separation must be the cure for her malaise. It must be!
She gave a small groan and he realized his vehemence of thought had transferred to his arms. "My love, forgive me," he cried.
"Nay, 'tis I who shouldst ask for forgiveness. To be forced to leave thee. My heart shouldst be stronger. My will falters. Thou deservest more, better..."
"Shush," he said as he put two fingers to her lips. "Say naught foul about my love, my own. Thou art the fairest, strongest, bravest woman in all of Gondor."
She smiled up at him and saw the tracks of his tears. "My love!"' she cried.
"Shush," he bid her again. "Think only of thy return to me. Thou knowest I wilt be here waiting."
He kissed her gently and then carried her to the carriage. The children were waiting beside it, their new nanny wringing her hands in fear. He wanted to flail this woman who would replace Listöwel. How dare she so openly evidence fright, especially in front of the children?
Listöwel came forward and touched his arm. "We will return shortly, my Lord. I will do everything in my power to make her well again and to bring her home soon."
He kissed Amdir's wife on the forehead and spoke to her words of praise and strength.
"I am deeply grateful that you are accompanying her. I would be hard-pressed to let her go with anyone else."
Listöwel opened the carriage door and he gently placed his love inside. He lifted their eldest to the seat next to her. The lad's eyes were large and tear-filled, but the tears did not fall.
"Thou must care for thy Papa, Boromir. He wilt need thy strength until I return. Wilt thou do this for me?"
"Of course, Mother." Tears threatened the little face, but blinking stopped them.
"And thy brother? Wilt thou comfort him in the night, wilt thou promise not to fight with him, and wilt thou love him until I return?"
"Oh Mama!" This time the tears fell and Boromir angrily batted them away with his sleeve. "Thou knowest I wilt love him as thou dost. I wilt never leave him, not let him cry out in the night, nor suffer any harm to come to him, whilst thou art away." His chin shook and she took it gently in her hands and kissed his sweet lips.
"Thou art a true son of Gondor, my Boromir. I knowest that thou wilt keep thy word. Knowest thou that I love thee."
He took the child from her, stood him on the ground, and passed their youngest to her. Faramir tried to climb onto her lap; she had not the strength to lift him, and so Denethor picked him up and placed him there.
She held him close to her chest, rocking him ever so gently, and then kissed his forehead, his cheeks, his lips. "Thou art my sweet and precious son, Faramir. Obey thy Papa, love thy brother, and wait for me. I love thee."
The child clung to her and wept bitterly. His little heart knew not what was wrong, only that somehow his whole world was being torn apart. Then he felt his father's hands pulling him away and he howled in surprise and pain, "Mama!"
Finduilas turned her face away and the mountain looked back at her. She shivered.
Denethor stepped quietly into the carriage, took her tiny hands into his large warrior ones and covered them with kisses, then he kissed her forehead, her eyes, her ears, her nose, her cheeks, her chin, her neck, and finally, with tender passion, her lips.
"Heal quickly, my love. I will wait for thee."
And then he left her side, stepped down from the carriage and helped Listöwel into it. With a signal to the driver, the carriage started to move away. Faramir tried to run after it, but he picked him up and showed him how to wave fare well. Boromir stood close, his hand clutching his father's tunic. Listöwel's heart broke as the coach drove away. Finduilas never looked back, never saw the little trio standing in the Court of the Fountain with the dead White Tree behind them.
The errand-rider arrived before the sun set. Denethor heard the hooves on the marble of the courtyard and his heart turned cold. He sat on the Steward's Chair, his hands clutching the black marble. His mind screamed, 'Nay! This cannot be. It is news of someone else. It is not of her. It cannot be of her.'
Baranor stood behind him, tears streaming down his face.
"My Lord," the errand-rider said, "we have lost the Lady Finduilas."
The Steward did not blink an eye; he stared forward and the rider, thinking he had perhaps not heard, repeated the message. "My Lord, we have lost the Lady Finduilas."
Baranor motioned him to silence. An hour passed; the three men had not moved.
Denethor sighed. "Where is she now?"
The errand-rider jumped at the suddenness of the question, the breaking of the silence. "The company has turned round and should be here by morning." Silence.
The Steward motioned for the rider to leave. "Baranor?"
"Do not let them bring her back. She does not belong here. She belongs by the sea. Send a rider to the Company and tell them to turn around and go to Dol Amroth. Have another rider prepared. I will give him a missive to take to Imrahil."
Baranor turned and walked out as Denethor stood and turned towards his study.
He sat at the desk, Thengel's oaken desk, and pulled out parchment and pen. As the sun hid behind Mindolluin, Denethor pulled out parchment, dipped the pencil in the inkwell, and began to write.
'To my Friend and erstwhile Brother,
She is gone, taken from us, the fairest flower of all Middle-earth, indeed of even Westernesse itself. I would tell you all that is in my heart, but you, dearest Brother to my Beloved, know it all, for oft have we spoken of the quality of that fair Lady.
I try to think, but find my mind is empty. There is naught left. Her departure has swept every vestige of sanity or thought from it. It aches with the violence of her life's removal. My heart has been stabbed as if by a Morgul-knife. The pain is beyond words or thought or comprehension. I can hardly swallow for the constriction that unshed tears have forced upon my throat. I can say these things to you and no other, for I know as you read this, that you are now my Brother in sorrow.
I will survive this, for my mind, what little is left of it, tells me I must go on, for our sons, for Gondor, but I tell you, my heart recoils at the thought of living without her sweet presence... The days stretch before me and I quake at the thought of the loneliness that lies there, the desolation of the time to come.
My lips tingle with the remembrance of our last kiss, gentle lips pressed to mine, and I would shut my eyes, and put out everything but that remembrance. Imrahil! May the Valar be with me. I cannot do this alone!'
He lay his pen down and leaned back, resting in the great oak chair that Thengel had helped him build. Dead these past eight years, but not forgotten. Another face drifted before him. Amdir, his friend, his right hand, his brother-in-arms. He must call Amdir home from Osgiliath. Tears finally stung his eyes. He did not sob nor shake; they just fell in torrents unbidden, uncontrolled, unhealing... Never had he felt such tears. They reminded him of the falls of Henneth Annûn, flowing constantly, great torrents of water, eating away at the cliff. He could feel the tears now eating away at his face, carving great gullies where they ran. In the back of his mind, he wondered, 'Where do all these tears come from? Is my body being squeezed like the sea sponges? Will I look like one after, if there is an after, the tears have stopped? Shriveled up and full of holes and hard to the touch? How will I hold my sons if I am hard and shriveled and scratchy?' At the thought of his sons, the tears, impossible to think it, fell even harder.
Baranor stepped into the room. "My Lord," he said gently. "The errand-rider is ready."
"Give me another moment," he said.
He wrote again:
'I cannot come to you, to Belfalas, to Dol Amroth. I cannot. I would have you place her in the Houses of her Fathers in the Númenórean way. Princess of Dol Amroth, as she deserves - not Steward's wife. Nay, she was much more than Steward's wife, though she deigned to be that for a time.
I know not when I will come. Give Listöwel my leave to stay in Belfalas for a time, if that is her wish. If she deigns to stay, please give her all my love and tell her I will never forget her or her kindness to her Princess. Tell her I will station Amdir at the garrison of Dol Amroth.
I bid you fare well for now. With my deepest sympathy to you and your family, I remain
Ithilien - always it had been a place of sunshine, sweet smells and refuge. It had also been a place of pain and death. However, Denethor needed to be alone; he could not bear to stay within the confines of Minas Tirith, and Ithilien would give him that solitude. He left the City in the care of the Council and prepared to ride out with Baranor.
As he started to mount, he heard a child's voice calling, "Papa!" It was Boromir - how had the boy escaped his nanny? When he returned, he would get rid of that woman. Twice in the past twenty-four hours she had failed him. He took the child in his arms. "I must leave thee for a time, my son, but I promise thee, I will return."
Boromir placed his chubby hands upon his father's cheeks. "May I not come with thee, Papa? I am almost of age."
Denethor lifted his eyes away from the boy's intent gaze. If it had been Faramir, the child would have known immediately that something was wrong, like to himself be that boy. Boromir only wanted to be with his father and away on some adventure. How...? When was he to tell them? He bit his lip. He would not let the boy see him cry. "I have important duties to perform. Thou canst not come with me. I wilt return shortly," he apologized. The word 'duty' silenced Boromir, as Denethor knew it would. The child understood duty - not like Faramir. 'Ah, but Faramir is so much younger,' he thought. 'He will learn in time.' He put Boromir down, ruffled his hair as he always did, mounted and waved as he turned the horse into the tunnel by the Sixth Gate.
The Steward rode hard and fast across the Pelennor, hoping the speed, the wind in his face, would flush all thought from his mind. The wind only slid the tears faster across his face, turning his hair sodden. They would not stop, these tears. He did not even need to be thinking of her. All these tears needed was a moment - a time when he was thinking of naught, and they would fall in torrents. Large tears. He had not known there were different sized tears, as there were raindrops. It made sense. He thought them all the same, but since yesterday, when the sky had fallen and the rain had entered his mind, he knew sizes. He disliked these great drops. He preferred his childhood tears - small, quickly fallen and then stopped as quickly as they started. But these - these were quick to fall and would not stop. 'No sobs either,' he thought. He was surprised by that. The tears would fall and, not till they were almost spent, did the sobs come. But the sobs were so great they racked his entire body, and he had to hold on tightly with his thighs to his mount else he fall.
This ride was useless. He only hoped when he reached the garrison at Osgiliath he would find some distraction. She only came here once - he never allowed it again. Soldiers hailed him as he rode through the ruins. He could smell the morning fires. The men would soon be breaking their fast. He would not stop here though. This was not his destination. Emyn Arnen. His ancestral home - the burial place for Cranthir and Almiel. He started to cross the bridge when he heard his name called. All these distractions - were they not what he wanted? But he had discovered, as soon as he passed the Rammas Echor, that distraction did naught to ease the pain in his chest, the burning in his eyes. Single-minded he was today. He had no wish to converse with anyone.
"My Lord," the voice called out and Denethor recognized Ciramir's voice.
"I am in a hurry. What is it you need?" he snapped. A hand on his horse held him up.
"My Lord, is it true?" Ciramir saw the look in his Steward's eyes and stopped. "My Lord, I am so sorry. She... Where are you off to my Lord?"
"Just a short ride to Emyn Arnen. I will return before night falls."
"My Lord, you know the law. The Steward must not be about without an escort. Who is stationed at the Great Gate that let you leave with only one attendant?"
Denethor wanted to scream. Long years at the command of Ecthelion, however, had taught him control. "I do not wish, nor will I countenance, an escort further than I have. Leave me be," he almost begged.
"Yes, my Lord," Ciramir said, "but wait just a moment, please." He did not wait for a reply, but ran off. In the space of Denethor's fuming, he was back, mounted on a horse with a small sack, his bow and quiver, and a sword hitched to the side of his horse.
"What are you doing?" Denethor cried.
"I am going to Ithilien myself. Mayhap you would like to accompany me?" Tears were in his eyes. "Amdir has taken a patrol out. I would meet with them."
Denethor sat back in his saddle, not having realized he had been standing in his stirrups. As much as he wanted to, he could not order the man back. "Ride behind me, if you must," he growled, hit the reins to his horse's neck and plunged over the bridge, followed quickly by two friends.
The landscape started to change as the forest of Emyn Arnen came into view. They rode into the middle of it and then past to the land of the House of Húrin, and up to the tombs. Baranor and Ciramir stopped their horses a little way back, dismounted and walked to a clearing far enough from the tombs to give privacy, but near enough to guard their Captain-General. Denethor rode to Cranthir's tomb, dismounted and sat heavily on the stone. Next to Cranthir's was Almiel's. The whole area was in disarray. 'Who had been commissioned to care for these,' he wondered and again wished their remains had been placed in the Steward's House.
Denethor, Ciramir and Baranor returned to Osgiliath the next morning and, as the sun finally fell in the West, the Steward left them and walked to the Anduin, then headed north. He could not be among his men. Their looks of concern and pity drove him mad. The waters of the Great River were cool and pleasant. They washed tears away with ease, but they did naught to comfort his heart. The pain was still vicious. He had yet to return to Minas Tirith; it had been two days. He had bedded in the garrison, using Amdir's rooms. He could not go back to the City, to their room... He could not. He ducked his head into the water again. When he came up, a hand was on his shoulder.
"Your children wait for you," a voice said quietly, with no hint of condemnation.
Denethor turned. His breath caught and he stood still. The tears had not stopped. He tried mightily, but to no avail. "I cannot..." 'What! What can I not do?' he thought. "I can do naught. I cannot even breathe. I cannot even think. I cannot go on..." He realized he had been screaming the words, his thoughts betraying him aloud.
Amdir moved closer and took his friend, his Captain-General, in his arms. "I am so very sorry, Denethor. I would that I had been there and not on patrol. What can I do? What can I say? I am so sorry." He buried his head in Denethor's shoulder, his own grief spilling out in hot tears.
Both men sank to the damp bank of the river, the river that brought life, peace, joy, death; all things unto itself. Clinging to each other, they knelt and wept.
Baranor watched from a discreet distance, as he had watched his Steward try to assuage his grief in the rushing waters of the river. A sound to the north took his eyes from the scene. He screamed, "Orcs!" and pulled his sword. Denethor ran to retrieve his own as Amdir rushed towards Baranor.
'There are only three,' Denethor thought ruefully, wishing there were more; battle always cleared his head. He dove for his own sword. Amdir killed the first, but an Orc ran past Baranor and rushed him, its weapon aimed at Denethor's head. Vaguely he wondered why the Orc did not shoot. Mayhap, he smiled wickedly; it did not know how to fire the weapon. He quickly ducked and slid in the mud of the riverbank. The Orc slipped and fell also, but never lost hold on the crossbow in its hands. The Orc lay on its back. Denethor jumped up, straddled it, his dirk pressed into the creatures throat. At that moment, the arrow released and shot out. Amdir stopped it with his chest. His eyes opened wide, a grunt escaped his lips, and he fell to his knees.
"Amdir!" the moaned name dragged out for an age, the only sound that Denethor's grief-torn ears could hear. He sliced the creature's throat and in the same motion caught Amdir as he fell forward. Cradling his friend in his arms, he looked in horror at the wound, gushing blood onto Amdir's tunic and Denethor's hand. He looked from the wound to his friend's face. The eyes were already glazed, blood spewed from his lips, and breath rasped from a mortally wounded lung. "Amdir!" he sobbed, but life departed. Denethor fell forward, clutching as much of his friend's body as he could and bringing it as close to his own as possible. He knelt, keening softly, his whole body trying to be one with Amdir's, trying to give some of his own life to his friend. But no transfer of spirit could be realized. He pushed back the black hair that had fallen over Amdir's face and kissed the white forehead.
Baranor reached them after he had killed the remaining Orcs, despair filling his heart and his mind. "Nay!" he screamed. "No more! No more!" He stood guarding his friend. Yet, the failure he felt assailed his whole being. 'What good have I been? What guard have I been for him?' Sobs tore through him and tears fell. "Amdir," he quietly sobbed, "Amdir, my friend."
At last Denethor let go Amdir's body. He stood up, his face livid with rage. "Kill the guards who let them through," he screamed and when Baranor did naught, confusion rampant on his face, the Steward grasped him by his mailed sleeve and brought his face nose to nose with Baranor's. "Kill them, I said! Do you not understand me?" he continued to shriek. "Or you will be next! Do as I command."
Baranor knelt before him in the mud. "My Lord. That will not bring Amdir back."
Denethor struck him full in the face, the force of his anger and the motion of the strike sending both men into the mud. He tried to pick himself up; Baranor reached a hand to help, but as their legs straightened, they both slipped and fell again. Denethor's screams tore the air. "Nay!" he wailed. "I cannot... I cannot!" He crumpled into the mud, held his head in his hands, and sobbed. Every fiber of his body grieved. "I cannot..." he whispered. "I cannot..." Baranor held him close, sobbing as they knelt on the muddy bank.
Ciramir ran from the high grass along the river's edge where he had watched the ambush in horror and shock. "Oh no," he gasped, thinking all three were mortally wounded. "Nay, this cannot be." He ran towards the bodies and stopped. He recoiled from the grief he saw in Denethor's eyes.
'Alive, yes, but mayhap 'twould be better if he were dead,' the harsh thought flitted through his mind. He realized that it was Amdir who lay dead. The blood on Denethor's body was that of his friend. "My Steward," he said quietly, reaching out to help him to his feet. But Denethor's body was heavy as if in death, and he could not raise him. Guards from the garrison at Osgiliath heard the commotion and sent reinforcements. Ciramir motioned for two of them to come forward. They put arms under each of their Steward's and lifted him to his feet. Ciramir helped Baranor stand. Another four soldiers went to Amdir's body, gently lifting it up and carrying it towards the barracks. They walked in a silence that was broken every now and again by a sob from one or another of the men. 'Fate is beyond cruel,' Ciramir thought. 'To lose Finduilas and Amdir in the space of days...' He shook his head.
Denethor woke to screams and flailed his arms, trying to defend himself; from what, he did not know. The screams turned to moans and he realized the voice he heard was his own. A torrent of tears fell and he found himself overcome with grief. Sobs racked his body. Why was he sobbing like some grief-stricken child? He kept his eyes tight shut. He had no idea where he was; he did not want to know. He wanted to solve this mystery, to find why grief assailed him so. 'My mind must be playing tricks on me. Surely I am home in my own chambers, safe and secure.' He slowly forced his eyes open. He was in Osgiliath, in the infirmary. He recognized it immediately. Thorongil was at his side. Nay, it could not be Thorongil. The Northerner had betrayed him many years ago. Amdir! It was Amdir; he knew it. It must be. He tried to choke out the name, but no sound would come.
"My Lord," Baranor leaned over as he saw the eyes open. He brushed back the black hair that had fallen into his friend's eyes during his thrashing about.
Denethor looked wildly about the room, eyes straining from side to side. "Where has Amdir gone? He was right here beside me. Amdir!" he screamed, "Amdir!" Baranor knelt, trying to hold him down. The garrison's healer came into the room and knelt on the other side of Denethor's cot, helping.
"My Lord," Baranor said over and over, hoping with every fiber in his body that his Lord would finally be comforted by the sound.
"Amdir!" he screamed the name over and over until finally, he fell back, taking in huge ragged breaths. The tears continued to fall and Denethor knew Amdir was dead. His face fell. "Amdir," he whispered once more, "my friend." Sobs began to shake his body. The healer attempted to pour a liquid past his lips, but he spat it back into the man's face.
He tried to sink deeper and deeper into the cot, trying to lose himself as if in a tomb. Baranor ordered the healer away. When Denethor heard the man's retreating footsteps, he opened his eyes. He stared into Baranor's face. 'Oh! Such pain,' Baranor cringed.
Denethor took his arm and clenched it tightly. He took three deep breaths. "If Amdir is dead," he sobbed, his voice breaking, "then... then she is dead? It was not a dream?"
Baranor sucked in his breath and sobbed aloud. He put his hand on Denethor's and held it tight.
"Nay!" The piercing wail split the night air. "Oh nay, nay, please, nay..." He kept murmuring again and again until his body, overcome by exhaustion, took him into sleep.
Baranor bowed his head, the sobs continuing into the night. The garrison lay still, shock and horror filling every heart.
Ciramir finally came into the room. Helping Baranor into the cot next to his captain's, he pulled his boots off and covered him. "Sleep now. I will stand watch."
Denethor's eyes were swollen and they burned when he tried to open them. His mouth was parched; he tasted blood as he his tongue ran over cracked lips. It felt swollen, too. His throat ached as if he had screamed for a thousand years. But naught felt like his chest. The pain was still there, like a knife embedded to the hilt; so great he could scarce breathe. He turned his head sideways and saw Ciramir sitting on a chair next to his cot. His feet were up and the man was deeply asleep. So too was Baranor, he saw when he looked further left, asleep in the cot next to him.
'I should feel happy to have such friends by my side,' Denethor thought lugubriously. "I do not want friends," he mumbled. "Never again do I want friends." His throat started to constrict, but he willed it not to. "I will have no friends." His eyes turned hard. Taking a deep, ragged breath, he swung his legs off the cot, and stood up. He put on his boots, picked up his sword, along with the Horn of Gondor, and quietly walked out of the room. Guards saluted him and quickly moved out of his way as he crossed the courtyard to the stables. Picking up his saddle and blanket, he put them on his horse and pulled himself up. Turning west, he headed towards the City, not noticing that the sun, just coming over the mountains behind him, blazed like a spike of pearl on the White Tower.
Boromir had been fidgeting all morning. The tutor finally gave up and sent him out to play. He ran to Faramir's room, caught his hand in a grip that made the little boy cry out, startled, and said, "Papa may be coming home ere long, Faramir. Please, wilt thou come with me to the point? We may see him coming." Faramir, who had been miserable these past three days since both mother and father had left them, clapped his hands in joy. If Boromir was going to the point, he would not be left behind. He quickly pulled on a woolen tunic and ran to catch up with Boromir who was already out the door and bounding down the stairs. The two boys ran past the White Tree and out onto the parapet. At last they reached the point. Boromir laughed. "I beat thee again, Faramir. Thou must learn to run faster," and he hugged his little brother in the joy of the day, in the hope of his father's home coming.
As the sun rose higher and higher, Boromir's enthusiasm started to wane. He pulled finger tops from his pocket and gave one to Faramir, then started to twirl his own, counting how long he could keep it spinning.
At last, Faramir started to cry. "I am thirsty, Boromir, when mayest we leave here?"
Boromir's face fell; he bit his lip in the same way his father did. "I have promised Mother that I would care for thee. We wilt go to the kitchen for a snack." His face brightened again. "We may return here once thou art refreshed!"
Faramir stuck his hand in Boromir's as they walked away. Neither noticed the dust on the road from Osgiliath.
The sun shone brightly. The wind blew gently. His horse rode silently towards the Rammas Echor. Turning his stead to the left, he passed through the guarded gate and rode south. His mind was numb. He must find Listöwel. It became a rune that ran through his mind, the only thing that he heard or felt. He must find Listöwel. She would know what to do. She would... 'Nay,' he thought. 'I must find Indis.' His brow furrowed, his mind trying to clutch at some anchor that he could hold onto in the midst of the pain. He pulled up and looked about him.
'Where am I?' he wondered. 'How came I to be here?' He dropped the reins and clutched his hair, pulling it back. 'I am going mad,' he thought. He shuddered and jumped off his horse. Kneeling on the ground, he bent over, holding his stomach and retched. Finally, the sickness passed. He sat back on his heels and looked up. The sun caught the Citadel, shining on the White Tower. Sobbing, he held out his hands, trying to touch her, his City. Then clouds sped over the sun, and the sight was gone. He lowered his head again, sobs tearing from his throat. At last, he fell over, exhausted. Sleep came.
His soldiers found him that way. Lifting him gently onto his saddle, Ciramir joined him on the horse, and the Knights of Gondor moved towards Minas Tirith. Their Steward did not wake. The trumpet, as the group approached the City, sounded and Denethor stirred. Ciramir hushed him, hoping that his Steward would not wake till they reached the Houses. But the long sleep had revived him. He pulled up with a start.
"My Lord," Ciramir said, "please stay still, else we will both end up on the road."
"What has happened?" Denethor asked, blinking in the sunlight.
"We found you on the Pelennor, my Lord. You succumbed to fatigue. We could not leave you there. I deemed it proper to bring you home. Indis will be waiting for you. She has been distraught since you left."
'Indis!' He remembered; he had wanted to see Indis. "Yes," he said with fervor, "I must see Indis. You will take me to her?"
"Yes, my Lord. As quickly as your mount is able."
"He would make better time if he only carried one," Denethor said pragmatically.
Ciramir was relieved to hear the tone of voice. "I will dismount, my Lord." He wanted to ask if Denethor would be all right, but he dared not.
Denethor clicked after Ciramir alighted and his horse went forward. By the time he reached the Citadel, his head was hurting. A soldier took his mount when he reached the Sixth Gate.
Ciramir took another horse and followed Denethor to the Citadel. He quickly dismounted, caught up to, and followed behind his Steward.
Indis ran from the White Tower. "Denethor," she whispered as she held him tightly. "I have been near to distraction waiting upon you. Please, come to your chambers. I will have a bath drawn and send your servants to help."
He sat down heavily upon the steps. She looked about wildly and fixed her eyes upon Ciramir. He put his finger to his lips and looked sadly at Denethor.
"Amdir is dead, Indis." Denethor whispered forlornly.
She would have fallen down next to him, eyes wide in horror, if Ciramir had not caught her.
"What say you, my brother?" Tears glistened in her eyes.
Ciramir sat down beside them. "It is true, my Lady. Orcs attacked at the riverbank. Amdir was mortally wounded. A company is bringing his body back, e'en as we speak."
Denethor looked up at that. "Are they now?" he said hopefully. "Thank you, Ciramir. Loyal and trustworthy have you always been. I thought you would have gone with Thengel, when he was called back to Rohan to become king. I am grateful you did not."
Ciramir sighed at the sound of Denethor's voice. Hoarse still, but strong and sound. He was relieved to hear it.
Arms flung themselves around Denethor's throat and he jumped in surprise. "Papa! Papa!" the little voice cried. "How happy I am to see thee. I thought thou wouldst not return. Boromir and I waited and waited and waited..." Squealing again, the arms tightened. Denethor sat in silence. He did not know what to say.
Indis grabbed the little one away and walked him towards the door. "Faramir. Papas tired from his ride. He will come to you after you have your nap. Now go to your chambers and wait for me. I will tuck you in."
"But Papa... I want to see Papa," the little one wailed. His nanny had come to the foot of the stairs and waited for Indis to give him to her. They walked up the stairs, the child's wails echoing off the walls.
Indis returned and helped Denethor to his feet. "You will find the words, Denethor. Go to your chambers now and refresh yourself. I will send up food. Then, I will make arrangements for Amdir's body."
"He must be embalmed, Indis. Please, see to that. And reserve a place for him... I would have him in the Steward's House, but that is not possible. Find a house nearby and have a place prepared for him." He turned and slowly walked up the Tower stairs.
Boromir could not understand why their father would not see them. Faramir had come running into their chambers announcing that their father was home and would not play with him. 'Something has happened,' the lad thought. 'I must know what it is. I will find Indis; she will tell me.' He hugged Faramir and took him to the nursery. "Faramir is hungry. It is past nuncheon. See that he is fed," he told the nanny. He heard Faramir crying in the background, but he could not wait. Some sense told him that he could not bring Faramir with him.
Once outside, Boromir made his way to the Great Hall. If anyone were about, they would be there. But the Hall was empty. His father must be in his own chambers. Where should he look next? He could go to Indis' chambers, but he did not think she would be there. Perhaps she would be with his father. He started to walk back to the Citadel when he noticed activity by the Sixth Gate; soldiers milled about. As he walked up, they immediately stopped talking. No one hailed him, and he began to be frightened. No small thing had occurred if the men were so quiet. He smiled anyhow and asked for Indis. One of the men pointed through the Gate and said she was in the Houses. Boromir thanked him and walked down the path. Silence lay at his back. The hairs on the back of his neck started to stand up. 'What has happened?' his little mind asked.
An assistant at the door stopped him. "You are too young to enter the Houses without an adult, my Lord Boromir. You know that."
"I must see my Amma, the Lady Indis. Would you please tell her I am out here waiting?"
"I will. Sit on the bench and I will bring her if I can." The man turned and went into the building.
Boromir sat, his legs still too short to touch the ground, so he swung them back and forth, clenching and unclenching his little horn as his father did with his sword.
Indis came and sat next to him. She remained silent so he said naught. After what seemed an age to him, he started to fidget. She turned towards him, picked him up, and placed him upon her lap. Now he was really frightened. He had not sat on anyone's lap since he was seven. He started to cry.
"Oh," Indis cried, "I am so sorry. Your father has told you the news," she assumed from his tears. "Your mother was a great lady, dearest Boromir, and I loved her as much as you did. We will all miss her greatly." Indis tears joined with Boromir, who sat, stricken.
What was his amma saying? Why would Indis miss his mother? He sat bolt upright, taking her hands from around his waist. "What are you saying? What has happened to my mother? She will not return? Why? Why? Is she angry with me? Have I done something wrong?" His voice rose. He tried to jump out of her lap, but she realized her mistake and held him close.
"Oh, dearest Boromir. I am so sorry. I thought you cried because your father had told you. Oh, Boromir, Boromir." She could not speak but the child was furious.
"What has happened to my mother?" he screamed. "What has not my father told me? Tell me!" he screamed even louder, "Tell me!"
"Thy mother is dead, Boromir. She was most ill. Thou knewest that. She died on the way to Dol Amroth. She wilt be buried in the tombs of her fathers."
The lad sat in silence, his mouth moving, but no words came forth. The tears had stopped. His mind could not fathom what she was telling him. "My mother is not dead," he said quietly. "Father sent her to the sea to heal her. She will return soon. She promised," he said pragmatically. "Mama always keeps her promises."
"She would if she could, Boromir, but she cannot keep this one. The sickness o'ertook her and she will not return. I am so sorry, little one."
Boromir looked down at his hands. "I do not believe you. I will ask my father."
"Yes," Indis sighed. "We will both go to your father." She placed him on the walk, took his hand, and started towards the gate.
Denethor sat at his desk, fingering the leaves etched into it, remembering Thengel.
He had returned from Edoras for a visit; it was the year that Finduilas had come to Minas Tirith for the state party. They sat in this very study, and Thengel had laughed at Denethor's desk.
"You cannot use that desk as Steward's Heir. Let us go to the Drúadan Forest. We will harvest a great oak and make you a desk and chair befitting a Steward. What say you to that?"
And so they had gone, found a tree that Thengel thought worthy and brought it back to Minas Tirith with them. For weeks they labored on it. It was an excuse for Thengel to stay a little longer in the City he loved. Morwen, too, had been happy for the extension of their visit. It gave her the opportunity to rekindle the friendship of the four sisters. It had been a glorious time. The desk and chair were more magnificent than he had thought possible. At last, the time to part came. It seemed harder than ever to say fare well to his friend.
But Thengel was gone now. Denethor heard a commotion at the door. Sighing he stood and walked forward. He did not want to be disturbed.
"Papa!" he heard the young voice scream. Fearful as to what might have happened to occasion such a scream, he reached the door and flung it open. In front of him stood Boromir and Indis. Indis had tears streaming down her face, but Boromir's was red with fury. "Papa!" Boromir screamed again. "Indis has lied to me. Tell her she is wrong. Tell her, Papa!" Denethor knelt down and Boromir beat his chest with his little hands. Denethor took them into his own, held them tight, and looked into Boromir's eyes.
Indis eyes beseeched him for forgiveness. Denethor immediately understood what had happened. 'By all the stars, I had not wanted this moment to come so soon,' he thought. He knelt in front of his son. "Boromir. Indis has never lied to you. Apologize to her."
"Nay!" Indis cried. "Do not make him, Denethor!"
Boromir's eyes widened. "She tells the truth, Papa?"
"Yes, my son. She tells the truth. Thy mother is dead. She hast joined thy grandfather. She wilt not return." He held his tears at bay. "We must be strong, now, Boromir, strong for Gondor. Our duty bids us to set aside mourning. Wilt thou be strong, my son? Wilt thou help me for Gondor?"
Boromir's tears fell. Struggling, he said, "Papa. I want to be strong." Sobs racked his little body. "I wilt be strong. I promise, but not now, Papa, please not now." He wrapped his arms around his father's throat and clung to him.
Denethor sat on the cold marble floor, holding tight to the lad. "All right, Boromir. We wilt wait a bit before we are strong."
A/N: - 1) See Tolkien's notes below... regarding the familiar form I use for Denethor, Finduilas and their children.... Forgive me if I am wrong, but it brings warmth to my heart to hear them speak thus. Also, I have researched the terms, leavest, thinkest, lovest, wilt, etc. These are all used as I have used them by Shakespeare in his works. I figured they might have spoken as those in Shakespeare's time. 1a) Appendix F - I The languages and Peoples of the Third Age - So that at the time of the War of the Ring, the Elven-tongue was known to only a small part of the peoples of Gondor, and spoken daily by fewer. These dwelt mostly in Minas Tirith and the townlands adjacent, and in the land of the tributary princes of Dol Amroth. 1b) (The Rohirrim) They still spoke their ancestral tongue .... But the lords of that people used the Common Speech freely, and spoke it nobly after the manner of their allies in Gondor; for in Gondor whence it came the Westron kept still a more gracious and antique style. 1c) The Westron tongue made in the pronouns of the second person (and often also in those of the third) a distinction, independent of number, between 'familiar' and 'deferential' forms.... This was one of the things referred to when people of Gondor spoke of the strangeness of Hobbit-speech. Peregrin Took, for instance in his first few days in Minas Tirith used the familiar forms to people of all ranks, including the Lord Denethor himself. This may have amused the aged Steward, but it must have astonished his servants. No doubt this free use of the familiar forms helped to spread the popular rumor that Peregrin was a person of very high rank in his own country. 2) Morgul-knife is what Tolkien calls the weapon, not Morgul-blade as PJ uses in the movie. 3) This chapter was written from a deep-seated belief that I am unable to change or help a person who has chosen to die. I can do everything in my power to try to help them, from prayer to forcing them to seek counsel, to personally attacking them, to whining, to tears, to separation, to loving them. I can do everything - but they must chose to live. Someone near and dear to me chose not to live. I have lived through the description of the tears and the odd questions that surface in the midst of despair and heartache and death. I ran from writing this part of 2988 because of this. But standing upon the rocks of New Zealand, with my dear friends Indis and Elentari above a seashore that could have been Dol Amroth, Denethor cried out to me - write of her death, tell of my sorrow, speak my pain. And so, after three days of tears in the midst of the beauty of that island, I wrote of Finduilas' death. May Eru be praised that I was able to write it. Amdir's death just happened. One morning, I woke up and knew he had to die. Sometimes, I hate my muse.
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.