28. Third Age 2990 - Part One
"You know not of what you speak," Boromir heard his father's angry voice coming from the study. "I have seen things that I hope you never will. Your trust in Adrahil is misplaced. He gathers an army to himself, leaving Gondor's defenses to us. He had promised, Indis, promised that he would replace the men he called back two years ago. No matter my urgent pleas for replacements, he refuses. Not directly. Oh no, direct would reveal too much. He uses subterfuge, rumors of impending attacks as excuse; he sends Dol Amroth's regrets, but I do not believe him. I have seen no threat of attack, nor heard reports of enemy movements. I have my ways, Indis. Spies and other such tools. Gondor's weal does not concern him."
"He is not a fool, Denethor. He knows if Minas Tirith falls that Belfalas will be next."
"I am not saying he is a fool. I am saying he expects Minas Tirith to fall and is preparing to protect his own lands. The other fief lords watch him and use him as an example. None of them want to send their sons to serve Gondor."
"And Finduilas?" she whispered. "Was her death a part of this?"
"She married me against his will, in the end. Though he made as if to give it, begrudgingly. For her to die under my care..." He could not continue.
Boromir quietly knocked on the door, ashamed he had listened so long. His father admitted him with a word.
"My Lord. Forgive me for disturbing you, but, you did ask to me to come?"
Denethor's face lit with joy when he heard Boromir's voice. His enthusiastic response was met with a smile from Indis. He turned to her. "Mock me not my love for Boromir, dearest sister." His mood had changed from anger to delight in a moment. "Leave us now, if you would not mind. I would speak to Boromir of his appointment."
She smiled at Denethor, turned and warmly hugged Boromir as he stepped into the study, then left them.
"Sit down, here beside me. Yes, I did ask you to come and am grateful for your promptness." Denethor sat on the settle across from his desk, motioning to the lad to sit. "How are you, my boy? Are you prepared?" His excitement mirrored Boromir's.
"I will never be as ready as I wish, Father, but I am striving to learn all you have asked of me. And more." He smiled in the delight of his own initiative. "I have spent the last few months, whenever I have had a moment from studying the ceremony and the duties that will be mine upon commissioning, visiting the Great Library. Father, I have found some wonderful books on the battles of our land. Did you know there is one whole room devoted to the Battle of Dagorlad?"
"Have you given up your studies of the Elves, then?"
"Stories of Elves are for children, Father, along with other myths. I want to study battles. I want to discover why we won many and lost others. I want to be prepared for when I go into battle."
Boromir's fervor heartened Denethor, but his mind flew back to the time of Amdir's most desperate shame. He willed his son would be spared such a thing - to have left a battle in fear and cowardice. Yet, Amdir had recovered and had become a warrior of renown in all of Gondor. Would that Boromir would become such a warrior. One was desperately needed. Denethor knew he himself was not the warrior that Amdir and Thengel had been. He felt his own lack most acutely.
"I have read of the battle. How could it last so many years, Father? How could the men of Gondor not have given up and been defeated?"
"Do you think Gondor battled alone, my son? Those very Elves that you decry brought King Isildur victory. The hearts of men are courageous, Boromir, but none are as resilient as the Elves that fought at our side an age past. Do not forget that, nor that Elves were once our allies. Mayhap, the time will come when Gondor will look again for aid from the Elves."
Boromir hung his head. "Yes, Father. I will remember it."
"You like the Great Library?"
"Not as much as Faramir. I find the books I need and leave immediately. I take them to the parapet and study there, with the wind in my face, and the sounds of Minas Tirith in my ears. He sits for long hours in the dust and the dark. I do not know how he stands it!"
Denethor laughed. "How I used to love the Great Library, never leaving it." A sudden chill filled him. 'Until Curunír,' he shivered. 'Is the wizard still about?' Would he assail his own son, as Denethor had been? He turned to Boromir. Speaking as casually as he could, he asked him about Faramir and the library.
"Naught keeps him from there. Indis has fits, at times. And Listöwel is so funny; she knows where he is. Whenever he seems lost, she sends me to the library and he is there, nose pressed to a scroll. Then I have to drag him back to the nursery."
"It is his mother's fault," Denethor said quietly. "She instilled such a love in him."
Boromir placed his hand on Denethor's leg. "I know, Father. They would sit for hours and read. I could not do that. I could not sit still so long. My body needs to be moving about."
Denethor embraced his son. "'Tis true, Boromir. That is why the Valar gave me two such sons: one to be my warrior and one to be my counselor."
"Is that what I am to be Father, your warrior?"
"Yes, Boromir. That you will be, for your eye is quick and your body is broad and strong, even now."
"And Faramir, Father?"
Denethor smiled. "He is second son, Boromir. He will be trained in Gondor's ways, but you are Heir. On your birth anniversary, you will be appointed Esquire of Gondor. Then, on your twenty-first, I will take you to a certain place, and you will pledge your loyalty to Gondor. There, I will name you Heir to the Steward. Faramir will receive no such title."
Boromir looked at him with tears in his eyes. "Faramir is my equal, Father. He has the same heart as I do. Would you leave him out like this?"
"I am not 'leaving him out,' Boromir. He will be trained. He will become an esquire, as are all sons of the lords of Gondor, but he will never be Heir. Only you will. It is as you were fated to be. By your birth. Do you understand? No matter the love we have for Faramir, he will always be the younger. We must help him accept that."
"Oh! He does, Father. And it makes me angry."
"Why, Boromir, when that is what his future holds?"
"Because he sometimes thinks circles around me!"
Denethor sat back, smiling. "It is good that he does, Boromir. He will keep you alert. Now, enough talk of Faramir; we must look to the ceremony itself. Have you memorized the oath?"
Listöwel sat with Faramir, holding his carven'd horse in her hands. The head had been separated from the body and she was hard-pressed to consider how to fix it.
"Papa can fix it. Might I take it to him?"
"He is with Boromir now. They are studying together."
"I wish I were with them. Am I not old enough, yet?"
She heard the exasperation in his tone and smiled. "'Tis not that you are not old enough, Faramir, but that it is not yet your time. Boromir is learning of his duties as esquire. It will be many years, my own, before you will become an esquire. Do not concern yourself about that yet. Let us try to fix your horse."
"A fastening of some kind, perhaps a nail, would hold it together. Or some pitch?"
"A nail would - "
"To the smithy!" Faramir suddenly yelled. "To the smithy!" And slapped his hand on his thigh as he galloped around the nursery.
She laughed and agreed while holding her hand out for him to take it. He 'rode' past her, all the while urging his 'horse' onward. Shouting back over his shoulder, he pressed her to walk faster. They entered the Courtyard and Faramir still 'rode' his horse.
He slowed down as they entered the tunnel. "I miss Snowflake. A wooden horse is acceptable for children, but I am now six. I think I should have a horse. What do you think, Listöwel?"
"We could write a letter to Théoden King asking him. Though that would be impolite - to ask for a gift."
He sighed. "Mayhap we could visit again?"
"We have just returned," she laughed. "It has only been three months."
"But I am so much taller now and stronger, too." He lifted his arm to show her his muscle. "I could hold on better and ride faster; I know I could."
"I am sure you could. The winter winds and snow are falling on Rohan. It would be a very difficult trip to take." She was trying desperately to think of excuses. Denethor would never allow such a journey at this time of year. She wanted to spare Faramir the disappointment.
"I like snow. I like sliding down it. I like the taste of it."
"Of course you do. So do I. Yet, it is very cold and very difficult for horses to travel in. Would you want to put your pony through such a trip?"
"No," he said hesitantly. "Snowflake is extremely brave though. And very strong. I have a difficult time holding his reins sometimes. He can pull very hard."
"You have always ridden him well, Faramir. Your father is quite proud of your skill."
"Someday, I am going to learn to shoot an arrow from a horse, just like Éomund. We must go back," he looked up at her, seriously, "There is no one in Gondor to teach me such things!"
"Traditional ways of fighting in Gondor do not include shooting arrows from horses, Faramir. Do you know why?"
He thought for a moment. "The grasslands. We do not have the grasslands."
"That is correct, Faramir. We do not have the landscape for such fighting." It seemed strange to be speaking of battles with a six year old. If Finduilas were alive, she would be sickened. Listöwel tried to turn the conversation. "Would not a carpenter be a better choice for our horse, not a smithy?"
"Horses are always tended by smithies, Listöwel." He smiled gently at her lack of such knowledge.
"Here do I swear fealty and service to Gondor, and to the Lord and Steward of the realm, to speak and to be silent, to do and to let be, to come and to go, in need or plenty, in peace or war, in living or dying, from this hour henceforth, until my lord release me, or death take me, or the world end. So say I, Boromir, son of Denethor of the House of Húrin."
"And this do I hear, Denethor, son of Ecthelion, Lord of Gondor, Steward of the High King, and I will not forget it, nor fail to reward that which is given: fealty with love, valor with honor, oath-breaking with vengeance."
Boromir received back his sword from his father's hand and sheathed it. The hall erupted with great shouts of joy and approval. The bells that hung in the tall towers rang, while trumpets blared their agreement. Hundreds of birds were released from dozens of cages, and the uproar caused the peregrine that nested in the high towers and the very peaks of Mindolluin to flit about above the Courtyard, seemingly calling out their sanction of the vow. The White Banners of the House of Húrin flew from every parapet, every window, and hung on every door. The City was bathed in jubilation and joy.
Indis beamed, tears flowing down her cheeks and wetting her bodice. She took no notice. Listöwel clapped her hands, dancing a little in pure joy. "Ah, to have such a day. So long o'erdue; so long needed," Indis cried and Listöwel turned and hugged her.
Denethor beamed. Boromir had not forgotten one word, one bow, one clasp of his hands, nor failed to acknowledge one of the Lords of the Council. Everything had gone as planned. None could say his son did not appoint himself well. He choked a few times during the ceremony, stifling the tears that would fall. None could see how overcome he had been by the words his own son, his very own son had said to him. His heart burnt from the joy of it. 'To speak and to be silent, to do and to let be, to come and to go...' The words echoed through his mind. His son, his Boromir, headstrong and willful had pledged to die to himself to serve his father. Denethor shook at the depths of the vow. Did Boromir realize what he had promised? 'Yes,' Denethor thought. They had gone over the vow and the meaning of each and every word until Boromir could say it as a catechism in his sleep.
His eldest stood next to the Chair as one after another of the Lords of Gondor, then the guests, then the people, came forward to congratulate him. Adrahil and Imrahil were first in line though, their status as Princes of Dol Amroth earning them this rightful place. Denethor had been stunned when Adrahil had ridden up to the Citadel. Not many were allowed to ride their horses onto the very Courtyard of the White Tree, but Adrahil would not be put off. An affront to the customs of Minas Tirith, but Denethor, even knowing that Adrahil did it on purpose, would not let it tarnish this day for his son. He would not chastise Finduilas' father. Boromir bowed low to his grandfather and to his uncle. Both smiled. Adrahil handed the lad a sword; Denethor scowled. He had already given the lad a fine sword, but Adrahil again seemed bound and determined to denigrate anything Denethor did. The sword was of Elven make, Denethor noted, and beautiful. Clean lines, but too large for the lad. 'Ah,' he thought, 'this is a sword for when Boromir goes into battle.' Denethor stood and bowed to the old prince. Adrahil acknowledged his thanks and moved on. Imrahil gave Boromir a fine mithril baldric of Elven make that held a water flask. "When you receive the Horn of Gondor, you can use this," the prince whispered. Denethor almost stumbled. The gift was beyond priceless. The smile that the young prince gave Boromir was as brilliant as the belt.
Théoden and Théodred both congratulated Boromir, as did Éomund and Erkenbrand. Their gifts were throws made from the hides of bears from the White Mountains. Denethor nodded his thanks as Boromir embraced each in turn.
Gondor's newest esquire stood for hours, straight and tall, accepting the plaudits and praises, never faltering once. Finally, the last person in line came forward. 'Indis,' his heart cried out. She bowed low to him and then handed him a rose, yellow as the sun. It was from his mother's garden. He cleared his throat, trying to keep his composure. Bowing to her, he took the flower, hung it on a tie on his tunic, and stepped forward. He slung his personal horn over his back, moved his sword to the side, and hugged her fiercely. Tears fell. He could not help himself. He buried his head in her shoulder so that none would see, but he knew she felt the sobs that shook his body.
Faramir ran up to him. "I am hungry, Boromir. Now can we go eat?"
Boromir laughed and swiped the tears away. "Yes. Let us go before our guests eat everything in Merethrond."
He took Faramir's hand, and both boys bowed to their father. Boromir moved the horn so that it swayed and bumped him as he walked. It was an incredible feeling to have a horn on his body at last. He had thought his father would not give it to him until he was older.
But Denethor had smiled this morning as he helped Boromir dress, and handed him a kine's horn. It was not the great Horn of Gondor, but Boromir's very own, nonetheless, with its own unique sound. "I would that you have this now. Each warrior of Gondor carries their own horn, one that is attuned to that particular warrior. It is used to signal your coming and going from Gondor, to raise the hearts of our people as they hear you wind it, and to make your enemies quail before you." Denethor embraced him firmly and with passion. "I am most proud of thee, my son. Thou hast done well, thou hast prepared well, and thou art ready. Do not question thyself in this. Do not question thyself in thy service to Gondor. Thy heart is good and full. By the Valar, I pray that when thou goest, thy steps shall not be straitened; and when thou runnest, thou shalt not stumble. Thou art strong and pure. Lay hold on instruction, do not desist; keep her, for she 'is' thy life. Listen to those above thee, obey always, and know that thou wilt never disappoint me. I find no want in thee, my son."
A lump came to the lad's throat as he felt the lingering embrace. 'It is good to be alive,' Boromir thought and giggled as Faramir tugged and pulled and exhorted him to walk faster.
He was so tired that his head hung heavy. 'Will this practice never end?' Boromir thought. His arms ached and his legs cramped. Denethor watched, a frown upon his face. Drawing a deep breath, Boromir bowed to the Swordmaster and lunged forward. His sword went flying. Cursing to himself, he bowed again, retrieved the sword, and stepped into the training once more. Denethor called out. "You are not holding..." he fumed in silence. "Here!" He stepped forward and the Swordmaster handed the Steward his own sword. "Boromir. This is how you hold your hand if you are going to parry. You are holding it wrongly. See?" and he thrust at the lad whose eyes opened wide.
"Yes, Father. I see. Like this?" and he stepped into a parry with his sword held just right. He smiled as his father's face broke into a grin.
"That is how it is done in Gondor, my son." And he laughed and hugged the lad. "Come now. It is time for nuncheon and Faramir awaits." He bowed to the Swordmaster and gave the sword back. "Thank you," he smiled at the man.
"To do and to let be..." the man reiterated his own vow and bowed to his Steward.
Boromir shivered. His father was the greatest man in the whole of Gondor. In the whole of the world.
Just then, Théodred slipped onto the practice ring, keeping well away, and hiding in the shadows.
Boromir grinned. "I thought you would sleep the day away," he called to him. "There is armor and a sword in the corner. Suit up and join me." For all his bravado, he hoped Théodred would turn him down. The sun was hot and his own armor grew heavier by the moment, but his friend walked resolutely over and donned a breastplate and helmet. He unsheathed his sword and smiled. Boromir knew that smile well. Self-assured, his friend probably thought a winded Boromir would be easy to best. Boromir ran to the well, drew a bucket of water, and poured it over his head. He had worn only a light shirt under the armor and he would not be weighted down. He walked to the center of the circle, feigning fatigue.
Boromir, out of the corner of his eye, saw the Swordmaster smile. The knight was accustomed to Boromir's ruses. Boromir had been winded, but he had reserves that he had yet to tap. He stood before his friend, saluted, and then moved back.
Théodred moved in immediately. Boromir stepped back, the swing wild. He tried not to smile. Théodred, again thinking he had the advantage, swung again, and missed again. After a quarter hour had passed, Boromir noted the catch in his opponent's breath, the slight lag between thrusts and recovery, and the sweat pouring down Théodred's face.
He moved in for the attack; he stepped forward and thrust. The blades connected as Théodred was able to react quickly. Théodred swung again, flailing with his own sword, and missing terribly. Boromir stepped in and again his sword connected, this time pushing Théodred's away easily.
Théodred stumbled, caught himself and smiled. "I seem to have underestimated you."
Boromir said naught, lunged and knocked the sword out of Théodred's hand.
The lad bowed. "I did underestimate you!"
"Nay!" Boromir laughed as he clasped his friend to him. "I had motive. I am starving and need sustenance. I wanted to end this quickly and partake of nuncheon."
Théodred laughed. "You jest, but you beat me well and good."
"I did not," Boromir became serious. "I took advantage of you. If we had been mounted, I would have been cut down in the first few moments of battle. You are not accustomed to the armor of Gondor, nor the sun and heat. I had only to wait until they took their toll."
Denethor called to them. They cleaned their armor and their swords, dunked their heads in the trough and commenced to wet each other down, hair flung wildly about. Denethor stayed five paces from them. Then, they joined the Steward, arms slung across each other's shoulders.
"How many times did you best Boromir during our last visit to Edoras?" Denethor asked the prince as they walked through the tunnel.
Théodred blushed. "I took advantage of him," he whispered.
Both boys laughed. Faramir joined them as they entered the Citadel.
"Did you have fun?"
Boromir picked him up, though his arms ached. "Yes, we did. And when will you join us?"
"Tomorrow," the boy said seriously. "I will be old enough tomorrow. I have a birth day coming."
Denethor took him from Boromir and placed him on his shoulder. "Duck!" he said as they passed through the dining hall door.
Faramir laughed. "I do not ever want to grow older," he suddenly said, "I want to sit on your shoulders, Papa, forever."
Denethor swung him down and kissed him soundly.
When the meal was complete, the four sat in front of the window; cool air blowing through it, refreshing their minds as well as their bodies. A knock on the door startled them all. Peace and quiet had softened them.
"Enter." Denethor called and quickly stood as Théoden King entered the room. "Have you eaten?" Denethor asked; then indicated a chair as Théoden nodded.
"Some time ago," he said quietly.
Denethor felt some hurt in the man's voice. "My lads, 'tis time you went to the library for some study. Your lessons have been neglected since our friends from Rohan arrived. And you, young man," he hugged Faramir, "away with you to the nursery. Listöwel awaits."
Heavy sighs followed his pronouncements, but they knew arguing was useless. Each in turn embraced both men and left the room, their noisy exit filling the room and the corridor beyond.
"I have some wine I think you would enjoy." Denethor walked to the cupboards. His skin prickled as he poured the libation. Sitting, he held the glass and stared deeply into it. When Théoden did not speak, he leaned forward. "What troubles you, Théoden King?"
The king looked up, startled. "You do have the gift of sight."
Denethor looked discomfited. "Some say I do."
Théoden laughed. "Do you know how oft I have been told of your insufferable pride? Yet, now, you act as one ready to hide."
"I have pride in Gondor, my sons, my knights and my people. Foresight is a gift that I do not take lightly. I have done naught to earn it. So how am I to be proud of it? You have stalled long enough, my friend. Your heart is not here. Are you ready to leave Minas Tirith so soon?" Denethor stood up and walked to the window, wishing he would not hear the answer.
Théoden joined him. "I am heartsick. A foolish old man, you would say, but I left a sister who is with child and I would be by her side."
"Théodwyn!" Denethor turned and embraced his friend. "She is with child?" He sat on the sill, wonderment written on his features. He had forgotten how easily the Rohirrim bred. "I am glad." A great smile covered his face, Théoden's beloved sister with child. "You must be away, though I am sore-pressed to lose your company so soon." He paused. "Boromir will be unhappy. I am most surprised at the ease with which he and Théodred renew their friendship each time they meet."
"It is as if they are destined to mirror each other. Théodred too will be forlorn. I do not look forward to the ride home." He laughed.
"Éomund must be chaffing, too. I cannot believe he has not ridden out of here himself. It was kind of him to come."
"He is patient," Théoden said and then laughed mightily. "What am I saying? The man has not one scrap of patience in his body. But he knows his duty. He will stay until I say it is time to leave. And I am saying now, it is time to leave."
"I would ride with you to the Mering, but it is not possible."
"I would have been delighted. Mayhap, we would have thrown a line in once we reached the river?" He laughed loudly.
Denethor smiled. "You heard about today's contest and that my Boromir bested your son. So, now you want to best me at the river!"
"All know of your lack of skill, Denethor, when it comes to fishing. It gives me joy to fill my creel while yours remains empty."
Indis, Listöwel and Morwen had spent the last few hours packing the gifts they had made for Théodwyn. Morwen laughed. "I wonder when Théoden will finally tell your brother," she said to Indis. "I have never understood men. The important things they leave to the last, whilst the trivial things they speak of first. They have discussed fishing at least ten times since we arrived."
"Nay. 'Twould seem so, dear friend, but their minds and their speech have been ever upon hard things. Life is not so simple, as you well know. I heard Théoden speaking of heightened Orc attacks from the north. How often do they strike?"
Morwen laid down the embroidered tunic. "More than twice a fortnight. And in larger bands than ever before." A shiver passed through her and Indis gave her a quick hug. "I fear for Rohan. I fear for my daughter and the life she holds. Will we never have peace?" she cried.
"Denethor speaks often of the peace he finds in Rohan. It comforts him to think on it. Mayhap the attacks have increased because it is soon to be winter. Orcs, I think, hate the cold and the snows of the plains of Rohan. They wish to do what damage they can now, before hiding again in the Misty Mountains."
"They hate naught but men!" Morwen spat. "We are too spread out. What with guarding the borders on the east and the west, and watching the north, we have spread ourselves too thin. We cannot lose more of our men."
Indis nodded. "We know the same loss of men here, Morwen."
"I know," the Steelsheen said, "but it does not ease my heart. What of the other fief lords - do they send men?"
"Not enough. Never enough. Denethor constantly battles their stubbornness. They fear for their own lands. I understand them; however, it ill behooves them to let Minas Tirith fall. They will quickly fall themselves, once the City is undone. But come now, we have so little time together. Tell me of Edoras."
"I will tell you of the Simbelmynë that grows on the graves of our dead." She bowed her head. "Forgive me," she whispered, "I fear for Théodwyn. If only she would come and stay with us, at least until the babe arrives."
"She refuses. Her place is beside Éomund, she says. I agree. But not now. Now she should be in Edoras where the leeches can watch over her."
"And protect her from Orcs?"
Morwen looked up in dismay. "I know. It is Orcs I fear, not the birth."
"Is there naught we can do," Listöwel asked, "but let those we love go to battle after battle? Is this how life is destined to be for the sons of Rohan and Gondor?"
Indis looked at Listöwel, sadness filling her eyes. "Unless some device can be found, some tool to fight He whom we do not name, we must proceed as we always have done."
"With weeping and wailing women!"
Morwen's tone was so harsh that Indis went to her side and held her. "Do not fear for Théodwyn. Éomund will care for her. He will let naught happen to her nor to the babe. If danger comes too near, he will send her to Edoras. You know that."
Morwen lowered her head. "More and more do I wish I were a man, to go with the Riders and fight for those I love."
"You have done that and more, Morwen. Your name, dearest sister-friend, brings comfort and joy to your land's heart. Your people call you Steelsheen. Do you not know they give you that title because you fill them with hope! Do not let despair o'ercome you."
"There is none who can help us?" Listöwel asked. "There are two wizards that we know who dwell in Middle-earth; there are the immortal Elves. Cannot they help?"
"Curunír has stayed away for a very long time. When he was here, he dwelt only in the Great Library. Mithrandir is no friend to Denethor. There is a wall of distrust built up between them these past years that will not easily be torn down. As for the Elves - have any even seen an Elf since the Battle of Dagorlad? I have not. I do not think they care for the world of men, if ever they did."
They sat in silence. Finally Morwen spoke. "We best finish our packing. Théoden has made up his mind to depart. I will miss you both very much!"
"I will say my fare wells to you this evening," Indis said as she embraced Morwen. "Tomorrow, Denethor and I ride to Osgiliath. We are to meet with his captains. He hopes to rebuild the city. Now that the bridge has been repaired and both eastern and western Osgiliath are garrisoned, it is safer there."
Théoden King was gone and a gloom settled upon Denethor's heart. He had meant to go to Osgiliath at first light, but Théoden, Éomund and he had tarried at the breaking of the fast. He sent a message to Indis that they would leave after nuncheon.
He missed Rohan, the quiet of the great plains, where one could ride for days and see no one, no sign even of a hut to blemish the landscape. Where the sky was always blue and the ground never shook. He had not long for contemplation this day, nor for melancholy. They would not travel to Osgiliath for errand-riders brought news that Easterlings had struck and killed an entire patrol out of Cair Andros; Orcs had attacked another patrol out of Amon Dîn. He spent the next day and night in closed meetings with his captains and the Council.
By morning, he had made up his mind. Climbing the stairs two at a time, he rued the fact that he had neglected this tool. Mayhap his men would still be alive had he spent time in the Tower room. He unlocked the door. It sat there, looking at him with disdain. He shook his head. This was not a being; it was just a tool. Mayhap he should wait until he was in a better mood before using it. 'Nay,' he thought, 'how many more warriors will die before my mood improves? Now is the time.'
He stepped in front of it, his back to the window. A cold shiver ran down his spine. 'Just a breeze from the window,' he thought, ruefully. 'Naught to do with the stone.' He had used it only twice this past year. Once, only a fortnight ago to ascertain where the Rohirrim were as they traveled to Gondor for Boromir's ceremony. A smile lit his face as he thought of his firstborn. Pulling his thoughts away from pleasantries, he touched the globe. It was cold, as usual. Taking in several deep breaths, he steadied his mind and focused on his City. The stone grew warmer and Minas Tirith lay before him. He paused for a moment, drinking in the beauty of his City. Mindolluin marble gleamed, banners still hung from the celebration, and his people smiled. It warmed his heart.
He turned his mind to Cair Andros. The island fortress lay quiet. Moving further north and east, he espied a dust trail. Pushing his mind further, he saw them, a large troop of Easterlings with many wains following, headed east. He breathed a sigh of relief. They were probably headed home to replenish their supplies. But, he noted the path they took. 'Knights of Gondor will meet them when next they dare to enter our land,' he thought grimly. 'I must come here more often; we must be ready when they return.'
He stepped back for a moment, feeling utterly drained, and let his hands slide from the globe. 'Have I not eaten?' He wondered at the fatigue that filled him. 'Never the mind, I will when I finish here.' Another shiver ran down his spine and he considered stopping. 'Nay, the day is new; there is time before we depart for Osgiliath.'
Moving forward again, he willed his mind calm and placed his palms on the stone. It was easier to control this time. He saw his City as soon as he touched it. Willing to see the beacon-hill and the fortress beyond, he moved northward. The outpost seemed quiet, though he noted the weekly supply train headed towards it. He looked further north, towards the Entwash. No sign of Orcs. Finding that he held his breath, he let it out slowly. 'Théoden,' he thought suddenly. He would be able to see his old friend one more time. He turned his eyes westward and the Rohirric caravan came into view. They were already past Nardol, not yet traveling this day. Another smile creased his face. Suddenly, he wished with all his might that he were there with his friend. Denethor's mind's eye saw Thengel and Walda before him, sitting by a fire.
Denethor had been exiled from Gondor, a punishment from Ecthelion, but the time spent on the borders of Rohan had been one of the happiest of his life. They were near the Mering; Thengel was cooking their gullfisc, rather cooking Thengel and Walda's gullfisc. Try as he might, Denethor had never been good at fishing. He saw Walda leaning back on his saddle, feet stretched before him, sword twirling in his hand. And Thengel - he had burnt his fingers tasting the tender fish, and was sucking on them, easing the pain.
The Rohirric column moved and Denethor was pulled back to the present. Both men were dead now. A wave of grief overcame him. He sighed and let his eyes swing eastward, back towards Gondor. A quick look at the Entwash and then, further east. His brow furrowed. There had been no attacks from the mountains of the Ephel Dúath. 'Why?' he wondered. Quickly skipping past Osgiliath, he viewed the mountain range and the Harad Road. Naught moved. He had never looked past them before, but now he felt an urge to further his gaze. Another chill ran through him, but he dismissed it.
Boromir grabbed Faramir's shoulder and pulled him tight to his body. Protection bristled from him as quills from a porcupine. "Father says to keep a distance from wizards, Faramir."
"But I like his hat," Faramir exclaimed excitedly. "How does it not blow away in the wind?"
"Pitch, my lad," a warm, gravely voice said.
"Nay," Faramir giggled. "I see no pitch."
"Ah," the wizard smiled, "then it must be magic."
Faramir's eyes widened, but he said naught, mesmerized by the kind eyes that stared down at him. He had to bend his head far back to look up into those eyes. 'This must be the tallest man I have ever seen.'
Boromir tried to pull him back, but Faramir dug in his feet. "May I touch it?" he asked, pointing to the hat sitting high atop the wizard's head.
The man sat down on a bench near the very point of the parapet. Faramir shyly climbed upon his lap as he was handed the great hat. He squealed in delight as he put it on his head. It fell down over his face and ended up around his neck. Boromir tried to stifle a laugh. "It smells," Faramir said, "but I like it, like grass and cinnamon and smoke - not smoke from the fireplace, but smoke, like when the fields, after harvest, are lit."
"We must leave here," Boromir tried to pull Faramir away, but the lad would not leave. Boromir stalked away, hoping Faramir would follow. He was angry; they had such little time together and Boromir had saved this afternoon to play with his brother. He walked to the Fountain and sat, watching warily.
"Obedience is a fine thing, Faramir," Mithrandir stated quietly.
"I am obedient. I will not go with you, but I like your smell. May I keep your hat?"
Mithrandir chuckled. "No one would recognize me without my hat," he said, "therefore, I cannot give it to you, but you may wear it for a little while longer."
Faramir pushed the rim up and the hat rested on his forehead, but every time he moved, the hat fell forward again, covering his face. Every time it did, he squealed in laughter, as if he were playing hide 'a seek. The wizard's laugh echoed across the Courtyard.
Boromir found it hard to keep a straight face. He wanted to join them, the wizard and his brother. He wanted to laugh, too. His days were spent in training, schooling and such. There was not much amusement as each esquire competed, drilled, fought and sweat to earn the satisfaction of their teachers. Boromir's brow furrowed. Why had Father asked them to stay away from the wizard? There was no sign of treachery or danger, as far as Boromir could tell. Mayhap the wizard was hiding something. His father was the smartest man in the whole of Middle-earth. 'I will ask him why we cannot visit with the wizard. It would be best if I knew the reason. Then, I could protect Faramir even better.' He watched and waited, hoping Faramir would grow tired of Mithrandir and come away with him. He had hoped they might look for treasures in the shops on the First Level. The day was growing old; he would have to return to his barracks soon. Boromir's heart grew heavier as the sun moved lower in the sky. Faramir played on.
The Ephel Dúath lay still and black in the distance. They called to him, these mountains, and some part of him wished to look over the last peak, to peer into the vale of Gorgoroth. The stone grew warmer still. Númenóreans had built the Towers of Teeth as they had the fortresses of Minas Anor and Minas Ithil. So much had been lost to the enemy, by Gondor's own neglect. 'Nay,' Denethor thought, 'not neglect, but lack of warriors to hold it. Always it comes back to that. Not enough men.' His anger stirred again as he thought of the fat lords of Lamedon, Lossarnach, Anfalas, and Belfalas. He chided himself. He understood their motives; he could not agree with them. The globe grew warmer yet. A part of him was surprised at the anger he felt. A part of him wanted to withdraw from the Palantír. He could not. He must see.
Once past the mountains, the valley of Udûn stretched before him, desolate ruins and rivers ran through it. Some of the rivers ran black as night, no movement stirred them; some ran red as fire. He realized he was looking at molten fire pouring from Amon Amarth itself, creating rivulets running from its peak and broken sides, down to the valley below. To his right, he saw the towers of Minas Morgul. He remembered the painting that hung in Merethrond, of the once proud and noble stronghold, Minas Ithil. What he viewed now was black and hideous. He wished he had not seen it. He turned towards his left. The great tower of Barad-dûr rose high. He stayed his eye, for a moment. A part of him did not want to draw any nearer. His mouth felt dry and his eyes burned. 'I should stop,' the distant thought said. 'Night must be nigh. The children await me.' But he could not leave without one closer look. He blinked rapidly, hoping the action would ease the pain in his eyes; it did not. He drew closer. The tower reached to the sky, black walls stretching in a grotesque shape. His skin began to prickle again. 'Something moves? Nay. Something is inside?'
Slowly, he moved towards the blackness before him. Now and again, he would breath; most of the time, he did not. The tower rose and came closer; his mind cried out, 'Run,' but he could not. He held on tightly to the globe, as if holding it tighter would protect him, from what, he did not know, but he would not let go. The walls were before him; he could reach his hand out and touch them. Black and beautifully polished, they shimmered in the moonlight. He shuddered, tried to pull back, and found he could not. He breathed deeply, forced his eyes closed, and pulled with all his might; his hands came free. He staggered towards the window. It was day still. Where had the moonlight come from? What had he seen? He gulped fear down. Sliding slowly to the floor, he sobbed. What caused the pain in his heart, he did not know, but he was filled with a deep melancholy, the likes of which he had never felt before. He pulled his cloak about him and huddled there; dark engulfed him in the Citadel's Tower room, and he shivered. After a time, he forced himself to stand upright. Staggering down the stairs, he tripped as he rounded the corner to his quarters. His aide, Berelach, caught him.
"My Lord Steward! Is all well? Shall I send for the healer?"
The look in the man's eyes nonplussed Denethor. How must he look if the man thought he needed a healer? "I have only tripped, naught more," he said brusquely, pushing the guard out of the way and then almost falling into the door. Berelach stiffly opened it and moved back. Denethor's heart ached. Why had he done that? Why had he been so cold? This man had served him for the last seven years. Faithfully. He tried to stand up straight. "Thank you."
He walked a little steadier into the room and went to the sink stand. After laving his face and his hands, he stood still, leaning against the table. His mind felt thick and his head heavy. Bowing his head, he cried again. Great tears ran down his cheeks and into the basin. He lurched back. The tears were black! He cried aloud and ran towards his bed. Berelach flung the door open and ran in.
Denethor shuddered. Using every ounce of his strength, he brought his mind under control, banished the fear from it, and sat quietly upon the bed. "I..." He could think of no excuse for the scream. "I would like to have some wine," he said lamely. Berelach stared at him. The look in the man's eyes hurt. "Leave me. I am well. And send for some wine and food." His aide nodded and left. Denethor shook his head. He could have pulled the rope and his servant would have gladly ordered food. Berelach must think him mad. His chin started to quiver again and a sob escaped his lips. He stood and walked towards the basin. 'I cannot have seen what I thought.' The basin was empty; no sign of tears at all, black or clear. He sighed in relief. He walked to the window and sat on the large sill. It overlooked the parapet. At the end of it, at the very point of the great stone walkway, sat Faramir. Someone was with him. Denethor strained his eyes. It was the wizard! Mithrandir!
Indis hurried from Listöwel's room. Denethor's aide had sent a messenger to her, asking her to see him at her earliest convenience. She slowed as she came to the stairwell. Smoothing her dress, she walked up the three levels to Denethor's suite. Berelach's face lit up when he saw her. He stepped away from the door, courteously took her arm, and walked towards the back of the hall, where he could still guard the door, yet be out of earshot. She swallowed, wondering why the secrecy, but waited for him to speak.
"My Lady. Forgive me for calling you away from your duties. You know I understand duty and would not send for you for a triviality."
She nodded as fear flitted across her mind.
"The Steward came to his quarters staggering. It was not drink that caused his impaired gait, my Lady, but I know not what. He does not seem injured, yet, he walked as one with a head wound. I did not understand it, but tried to help him to his room. He..." shame covered his face. "He pushed me aside and reprimanded me. I let him into the room and stepped out again. Only a moment or two passed and I heard him scream. I ran in and his face was wild. He moved about the room as one under attack. There was no one in the room with him. Then he ordered me to serve him food!" The man stepped back, breathing hard.
Indis took a deep breath. "You did well to call me. Did you send for a healer?"
"Nay, my Lady, he refused one."
"Ah." She took another breath and let it out slowly. "Thank you. Return to your post. I will meet with the Steward."
They walked back to the door and Indis knocked, quietly. No answer came. She knocked again. She nodded to Berelach who opened the door. Stepping in, she waited until the guard closed the door behind her. Blinking her eyes against the light that shone through the wall of windows, she searched for him. He sat on a windowsill, head bent. She walked slowly towards him, cold shivers running down her arms. 'He sits so still,' she thought. Gently, she called his name. He did not reply, did not look up, did not acknowledge her. She called again. No response. Quickening her steps, she reached him and sat at his feet. She placed her hand on his knee. Looking up into his eyes, she cried aloud, "Denethor!" He said naught. The eyes that stared back at her were black as coal, distant and filled with pain. "Denethor!" she cried again. He blinked his eyes.
"Ah, Indis. How good of thee to visit me," he said in a hushed voice. "I have missed thee." He raised his eyebrow and looked closely at her. "What ails thee, dearest sister?"
"Thou hast missed thy supper, my Lord. I came to bring thee food. Art thou hungry?" She was alarmed that he spoke in Quenya, but kept her voice soft and light.
"Missed my meal?" He looked at her quizzically. "Have I missed Boromir and Faramir, too?"
"Yes, my Lord, thou hast. Shall I send for them?"
"Nay. I am most weary. I wouldst rest for a time." He leaned his head back against the window ledge.
"Let me help thee to thy bed, dearest brother."
He smiled up at her. "Please. I seem to have lost my strength this day." His voice grew quieter.
She helped him up, led him to his bed, and laid him on it. She pulled a duckdown from the nearby closet and laid it over him. He closed his eyes. 'Oh! By the all the Valar, what could be wrong with him?' she thought. She pulled the rope by the bed; Berelach entered. "Send for the healer," she said quietly. Denethor did not stir. "And send for Listöwel."
"Where is Papa?" Faramir asked.
"He is in his study. We are not to disturb him. I must leave you now. I must return to my quarters." Boromir tried to keep disappointment from his voice.
"But I do not want you to go. We were going to go to the First Level. You promised."
"You spent too much time with the wizard. It is late now. I have my duty to perform, Faramir. You knew that when first we met this afternoon."
"You are angry with me."
"Yes. You disobeyed Father, you wasted our time together, and now I have to return to my barracks. I wanted to spend time with you, Faramir." He meant to look as stern as possible, but the look on his brother's face melted his heart. "Walk with me to the Sixth Level. At least we can spend that time together."
Faramir's face lit up. "Did you ride your new horse, yet?" Faramir asked in excitement. "I have never seen such a beautiful horse. Why did Théoden King give you such a horse? I wanted my pony, Boromir. Do you think he will send me Snowflake? Do you?"
Boromir laughed. "You are trying to get all the words you would have said this afternoon into one sentence?" The shy smile on Faramir's face undid Boromir. "My dearest brother. Théoden King gave me the horse as a gift. You know that. For becoming an esquire. When you become an esquire, I imagine he will give you a horse too."
"But that is so long away," Faramir complained. "I want my pony now."
"We might send him a letter, Faramir, and ask him how much the pony is. Then, we can save up and buy him. Then, you will have your pony."
Faramir clapped his hands. "Will you help me write to him, Boromir?"
"The very next time we meet, Faramir. I promise. We are here now; I must go in." He hugged his brother tightly. "I will see you in seven days. You will count them?"
"Listöwel made me a counting table. I mark it every day. It takes a long time for a day to go by, does it not, Boromir?"
"Yes. A very long time indeed, little brother. Now, go home before they send the guard out to look for you!" He hugged Faramir one last time and went through the Third Company's doors.
Faramir stood there for a moment. He still had the wizard's smell about him, but he wished now that he had left the wizard when Boromir had asked him to. A tear ran down his face and suddenly he was swept up into strong arms. Mithrandir smiled down at him.
"Choices are hard to make sometimes. And we cannot always see what the choices we make will do to us. Come, I am going to the buttery. I am famished. Are you?"
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.