36. Third Age 3017 - Part One
"Thorongil!" he hissed. 'It cannot be.' The Steward brought his face closer to the shimmering globe. 'In the Dead Marshes. What is he doing there? I have not seen him before. Where has he been? Ah! He is searching, searching for something.' Moving his gaze northward, Denethor saw naught. He brought the vision back to Thorongil and then searched westward, eastward, and finally looked to the south. 'Naught!' He should have been surprised to have even found the man in the midst of the smoke and flames. Yet, there he was. He heaved a sigh. 'It is getting late; Boromir is due home soon. I cannot stay here, yet I cannot leave until I discover what he is doing!'
He stepped back for a moment. He found it easier and easier to control the thing. Long hours had he spent since... Prickles ran through his mind as he contemplated the bits and pieces of evidence against Grima... Arciryas, almost beaten down when seeing his beloved Indis dead, had intimated that other than flux caused her death. The Master Healer spent the year listening to all who would tell him what had happened, studying various poisons, and trying to discover why she had succumbed when Rohan's leeches were well-versed in the care of those stricken by this malady. Then, late last year, Denethor's Master Healer and friend had died, the grief and guilt too much for him.
Denethor had bent his will towards Rohan, towards that slimy creature, towards even Isengard. Still he had no answers, but Théoden was failing, and quickly. Did Grima have the temerity to poison his own king? He had seen Théoden send Théodred off to the west and Éomer off to the east, leaving him quite alone with... Wormtongue? Is that what Faramir had said his name was? Suitable. He scowled. 'Did you murder my sister, you snake?' His lips curled in anger and frustration. He put his hands to his face and tried to rub away the sight of the tower of Orthanc, his people's tower, now held by the wizard.
But, nay. There were more important things to focus on for the moment. Thorongil! And Boromir? Nay! Boromir was indeed returning from a patrol of the Cormallen. And Thorongil was only leagues from him in the Dead Marshes. Denethor's brow furrowed. Had they met? Was a rendezvous planned? Could he not trust...? 'Nay! I will not think that.' He grit his teeth and once again held the Palantír. 'Boromir is true to me and to Gondor. It is a lie.' But his hands shook as he watched his foe walking slowly across the marshes.
Finally, the man bedded down for the night. Denethor breathed a sigh of relief. Whatever it was the man looked for, it had yet to be found. Denethor pulled away from the globe and walked slowly down the steps. Boromir met him on the landing before Denethor's own chambers. He wondered if his own face shone with delight, as Boromir's now did. Striding forward, he grasped his eldest in a fierce embrace, shame for his earlier thoughts lending strength to the embrace. Boromir returned it.
"I was concerned that you had left the City," Boromir said, brow furrowed. "None seemed to know of your whereabouts."
"If I had left," Denethor smiled, "all would know. It has been quite some time..." His own brow furrowed. He would like to go to the Anduin, but the memory was too painful. To Belfalas, but that way led to more painful memories. To Rohan - no longer a welcome there. He had nowhere to go. He shook his head, smiled at Boromir and said, "You must be famished. Go. Wash yourself and return to my chambers. I will have supper waiting."
"Faramir, Father? Is he in the City?"
"He is not. He is still in Pelargir. I would speak with you concerning him. But, go now. It will wait."
"He is well?"
Denethor smiled indulgently at the concern in Boromir's voice. "He is well."
Boromir hugged his father once again and left. Denethor entered his chambers, nodding to the guard who opened the door for him. He pulled the rope and, moments later, his manservant appeared. "Help me out of this." The coat and tunic were easily removed; at last, the heavy mail was lifted over his head. Denethor stretched.
"Boromir will be joining me shortly. Please have some food and wine brought up. Then return." He strode towards his bedchamber as the man turned and left.
Denethor went to the washbasin, took off his undergarments, and sponged himself down. Drying himself off with a heavy towel, he walked towards his bed, grateful to see fresh clothing laid out. Dressing quickly, he moved into his study. He pulled a map from the wall behind him and spread it on his desk. There! There were the Dead Marshes. He chided himself for looking, but he had to. There also was the Cormallen. Not many leagues apart. His brow furrowed. Just then, the servant entered the room, carrying the mail with him.
"I..." he stopped.
Denethor looked up. "What is it?"
"Naught, my Lord."
A slight smile lifted the corners of Denethor's mouth. "You wish I would not wear it? Does it disturb you?"
"Yea and nay," the man said shortly. "A rest from it may do your body good. You appear o'ertired this evening."
"My body is fine as it is. Besides protection, it keeps me strong. I am stronger than I was seven years ago, when first I started wearing it all day."
"But now you wear it at night also, my Lord. Surely you would sleep better were you not to wear it to bed." He helped slide it over Denethor's head.
Long ago, when Denethor would put it on, a feeling of exhilaration would fill him. Now, he only felt the weight of it, crushing against the bones in his shoulders, preventing him from taking the long strides he once loved, preventing deep breaths, and keeping him from sound sleep in the night. But it was worth it, all worth it, for did not he need to protect himself, to strengthen himself as he battled Gondor's enemies?
"You speak out of turn. Is the meal ready?"
"It is, my Lord. I have set it up in the parlor."
"You may go now. I will not need you further."
The man stared at him for a moment, as if he would speak again, sighed gently, bowed and left.
"Father?" He heard the call just as the man left. "Where are you?"
Boromir strode into the study and Denethor's heart leapt. "My son!" he cried, "It is good to have you home again."
Boromir's glance told Denethor that the warmth of the greeting surprised his son, but his heart had been heavy since leaving the Tower and now it was lightened. "Come. Let us eat. Then we will talk. I am famished."
Fingering the goblet after they had supped, Denethor looked up and found Boromir staring at him. He smiled. "You know me too well, my son. If I had left the goblet sitting in peace in my hand, you would not now be concerned." He sat forward, all pretense of calm gone from his face. "I had hoped to bring this matter to you when peace had settled upon our land. But things grow worse instead of better. As your reports aptly describe." He stood and Boromir sat straighter.
"I was late myself in marrying," he began and stopped as Boromir stood. "Nay, my son. Sit and give me the grace of your attention." He strode towards the fire, the goblet still in his hand. He looked at it as if at a strange devise. His face saddened. "Théoden King thought that Éowyn might hold your interest. But that was many years ago." He turned back towards Boromir. "I have seen the King of the Mark stumble."
He walked back towards the settle and stood before his eldest. "When the king comes. You know that saying well, my son. If there were a king, if he came, you could marry at will, for the blood of the Steward need not be as pure as the blood of the king." He sat and put his hand on Boromir's shoulder. "You have read the accounts of the Kin-strife and understand what caused it. You know the devastation, for every time you are sent to Osgiliath you walk in the blood of your forefathers. Until the king comes, you cannot marry other than pure Númenórean. Is your heart set upon Éowyn, my son?" His smile faltered.
Boromir lowered his eyes. "Éowyn was a child when last I saw her, Father. She holds no sway over me nor my heart." Boromir paused for a long time and Denethor gave him the time needed. "I would wed, if that is your will. However, I do not think this is the right time. As you have said, the Enemy has grown strong and our battles are many." He smiled. "There is hardly time to woo someone."
Denethor leaned back against the settle and closed his eyes. "I cannot have another child. First, because of the honor I hold for your mother, but secondly, because my body grows old, even by the standards of Westernesse, and I am too tired to even attempt such a thing. You are the heir. If... if fate would have it so, and you passed without a son... There is always Faramir, I suppose."
Boromir gave a short laugh. "You speak of him as if he is a last choice, Father. Someone you have to settle for. His blood is purer than mine." He held up a hand to stop his father's rebuttal. "You know it, Father. You can see it in his eyes; his mind is sharper than mine, on a par with yours." Boromir shrugged. "I am the warrior, Father. Your bloodline should be continued through Faramir."
"I will not have that. Oh, I would have Faramir wed and with children. No man should be without children. But you are the heir. Is there any other who has caught your eye?"
"I cannot sway you, can I, Father? Well, if that is your wish, there are none. I bow to your will; find her and I will wed her. The acceptable time is one year prior to commitment. I will wed next summer, if that is what you wish."
Denethor raised his glass. "To my son's child."
He had meant to speak with Boromir about so many things that night. But the subject they did discuss weighed heavy upon both men and Denethor thought it prudent to wait a day or two before discussing his other concerns.
The weekly Council meetings were becoming bitter; the discussions more heated. The Lords of Gondor no longer wanted to send their sons in service, to let the blood of their sons be spilled upon the land, and Denethor could not fault them. Though this was nothing new, the vehemence with which the lords spoke against conscription had increased. Denethor sat silent and listened.
Boromir, being home on leave, was left by his father to defend Gondor's cause within the chambers. Denethor watched with pride as Boromir's passion pushed him from his chair to place Gondor's case before the lords of the Council. He walked avidly back and forth, gesturing occasionally, his voice strong and firm. Many a lord felt Boromir's keen love for Gondor, remembered that love from their youth - for were not all the lords former warriors of Gondor - and once again rallied to the cause. Men were pledged for the spring offense and funds were pledged for repairs to the southern roads. The road to Pelargir especially had become a gaping hole from the winter storms.
Denethor watched. To see the light that Boromir kindled in these men's eyes sent his spirits rising. The full Council would meet within the week. With his councilors behind him, Denethor was sure the other members would have to agree to his plans.
At last, on the third day since Denethor had first espied Thorongil upon the marshes, he found him again. His brow furrowed in confusion. Thorongil had acquired some animal as a traveling companion. A short, gangly creature walked in front of the man. Try as he might, Denethor could not make out what kind of creature it was. It seemed there was a rope or some such tied around the animal's neck and Thorongil held the other end. Swearing softly, Denethor let go of the globe and rubbed his hands over his eyes. Looking once again, he realized Thorongil was nearing the Emyn Muil. He stepped away from the Palantír. Boromir was waiting and Thorongil would be many days in the hills; he would not lose him.
His heart grew heavy. What next he had to discuss with Boromir was grave - Faramir. His eldest would be angered at Denethor's next plan of action, but it must be done. A sob stole from his throat, but he quickly stifled it, grit his teeth and walked down the Tower's steps. He had only a little more to give to Gondor - but he would give it.
Boromir walked slowly up the long stairwell towards Denethor's private quarters. He had been summoned to supper, but not in the family's dining hall. His brow furrowed as he looked, once again, at the missive. The tone was stilted, formal, and boded ill for Faramir, in Boromir's mind. The last time Boromir had met with him, his father had hinted at some dire pronouncement for Faramir, but what it could be Boromir could not fathom.
Reports from Pelargir confirmed that the garrison was well run and that the city thrived. 'So, father's call cannot be about the garrison, or can it? Have others reported problems? Nay!' he thought emphatically, 'As Captain-General, I would have received copies of such reports.' He paused his upward movement. 'Unless father has someone watching Faramir, someone who only reports to him? I would not be surprised. That would be beyond cruel for Faramir, but it would also mean father does not trust me. Nay! That is not possible.' He started forward again; he did not want to irk his father by being late.
He stopped for another moment at one of the stairwell's windows, and looked, unseeing, at the landscape before him. Blinking a few times, he opened himself to the sight that met his eyes - once he cleared them - the shoulder of Mindolluin. Tears filled his eyes; many the times, he and Faramir had climbed up this very side of the mountain, laughing in the joy of being together and away from the confines of duty. His brother had grown; they would no longer be free to climb together. Each sent his separate way to serve Gondor.
'Their love has changed,' he thought miserably. 'Nay. Not so much their love, but their trust. Faramir has proved himself a dolt too many times when it comes to his mouth. He is ever the diplomat in the Council chambers, but when he is with father, it seems he loses all caution.' He smiled. 'He does lose all caution; he knows father will listen with approval to his words. But as soon as he brings up anything to do with Mithrandir, father bristles. I do not understand why Faramir does not take my warning words to heart on this one issue.
'I miss him. He has been gone too long from the City. And when he is gone, I cannot protect him.' He sat heavily on a cold marble step. 'I cannot protect him anyhow. I cannot even protect my own men.' He swore quietly, then hit his fist against the stairwell's wall. Even with his eyes open, he could see his men lying about him - dead.
They traveled through the Nindalf, close to the bottom of Rauros Falls, when Orcs struck. He lost sixty-seven men. Sixty-seven strong, doughty men of Gondor. He checked himself. Sixty-three at that time, for they did not find the bodies of the other four until a fortnight after the battle. He turned his three companies towards home, camping near the borders of North Ithilien. There, hanging from trees, they found the bodies of his missing men. They had not been eaten, a surprise, but had been gutted and hung. The carrion crows had ravaged their remains. When they cut them down, Boromir and his healer inspected them. Their tongues had been cut out, their finger and toenails pulled out, their...
He shook his head, not wishing to think further. Denethor was well aware of the barbarism of their foes, Boromir knew, had seen it too many times imaginable, especially with the Haradrim. Denethor knew of the exquisite tortures that Orcs, when not eating their captives, visited upon them. How many times their father had warned Boromir and Faramir not to be caught alive. No matter what happened, to cut their own throats before allowing themselves to be captured.
Boromir had given the same instructions to all his men. Not for Gondor's weal - the men did not know enough of Gondor's secrets to be of any use and the Enemy knew that. But for their own sakes. Orcs held no mercy for their foe, had no compunction to let a captive free. Captivity was for torture, mocking, and entertainment. And eventually death - mindless, hopeless, long-suffering, pain-filled death. For Orcs did not kill their captives easily. They would cut out a tongue and wait a few days. Break their arms and legs another day. Then pull the nails from... Then more days and more torture.
Even after all these years, Boromir was still not able to see the evidence of such torture without retching. They quickly buried what remained of his men and turned south. As they rode, Boromir again demanded death from his men, demanded that they remember what they had just seen, and remember to take their own lives if all hope was gone, if they knew they would be captured.
He visited each one of his men's homes, those he had lost, and spoke with their wives, their children, their mothers and fathers. How many years had his father done the same duty? How had he not succumbed to grief and bitterness? And Boromir had wanted to say, 'Your son was killed in battle,' 'Your husband fought well and died well,' 'Your father died bravely.' But he could not. He could only tell them they had fallen and try to hide the manner of their loved ones deaths. However, the people of Gondor were not fools; most knew exactly what he meant and cried in pain, disbelief, and horror.
Boromir screamed aloud in helpless frustration and pain, and the sound echoed through the stairwell as once again, he hit the wall.
Denethor stepped out of his room and looked down upon his son. "Come, Boromir," he said gently. He turned back into his room so as to give Boromir time to wipe the tears from his eyes.
When Boromir finally entered the room, his father offered him a goblet. "Some of the finest from Dorwinion," he said, turned and walked to the fireplace. "Sit, please," he said without turning.
He waited for a quarter of an hour. The bells sounded. He turned. "The battle was hard?"
"It was no more nor less than others," Boromir stated firmly.
"But something about it has harmed you," Denethor was matter-of-fact. "Torture?"
"Four men captured, four men tortured, four men hanged." Boromir sat for another moment, then stood and walked to his father's side. Placing his hand upon Denethor's shoulder, he gently turned him to face him. "How many hundreds, Father, have you seen?"
Denethor's smile was bitter. "I lost count after your mother passed." His eyes were far from Minas Tirith.
"And you still stand firm?"
"How can I not? Who will care for Gondor?" Denethor motioned towards the settle and they sat. "I do not believe your adadhron suffered such things during his time. Oh yes, there were death and battle. My uncle was a great warrior, killed before his time; he and all his men killed in an ambush in Osgiliath. I remember his funeral well.
"I do not think there was as much, or as many killed, during Ecthelion's time. And I do not recall such tortures as now are visited upon our men. Your great-adadhron, Turgon, was the lucky one. Fate, or whatever it is that punishes us, was kind to him. There was peace, for a time, upon our land. But come, my son. I have not seen your face so cheerless. The battle was many days past. What brings it to your mind now?"
"Ah." Denethor took a long deep breath. "Faramir indeed."
They sat in silence. At last, a knock on the door roused them. "Come," Denethor called.
"My Lord," his manservant asked, "supper is getting cold. Shall I send for more?"
"I am sorry. I forgot it was ready." He turned towards his son. "Boromir, forgive me. You must be famished and I have forgotten."
"I am not hungry, Father. I would discuss what was hinted at in your invitation. I cannot eat until we have finished that, if that meets your approval?"
"Yes." He turned towards the servant. "Bring food in an hour and tell the kitchen I am most sorry for the waste."
The man bowed, turned and left. They heard the clinking of dishes in the outer chamber. Denethor smiled, for he knew the noises were made loud to remind Denethor of his servant's long-suffering. He began to chortle and Boromir joined him. After a moment, they quieted.
"Faramir has excelled at Pelargir. The garrison is better than when I was there. The reports I receive swell with praise for him. The city is more prosperous than ever and there have been no attacks against it nor the surrounding countryside. I am most proud of him, Boromir. I have sent a missive to him, carried by Captain Angbor recalling him. Angbor is from Lamedon and will be grateful to be stationed nearer to home. He only has another two years in service to Gondor's army. This will suffice."
"Why do you recall Faramir, then, if he captains Pelargir well?"
"I... I have need of him closer to home."
"Osgiliath!" Boromir almost spat the name.
"Yes, Boromir. Osgiliath."
"Father - "
"I know what you would say, Boromir, and it pains my heart to do this. However, his own renown has earned him this. I could not keep it from him, if I wanted to."
"Earned?" Boromir cried. "Condemned, rather. Do not do this, Father. Please." Boromir knelt at Denethor's feet and took his hands into his own. "It is a death sentence. The captains of Osgiliath die within a year of their stationing there. Please, Father," he begged again.
"Not every one dies, Boromir. You exaggerate." He stood and lifted his eldest to his feet. "Do not speak this way."
"How else am I to speak when my heart twists within me, when my gut wrenches at the very thought?"
"Listen to me, Boromir. I will not send him to Osgiliath garrisoned the way it is now. I plan to expand the stronghold. Return it to a full battalion's strength. And I will forbid him to lead any patrols or sorties. His captains will do that. He will be... administrator of the garrison. I need him there; I need his wisdom and his knowledge of battle," Denethor emphasized the word need with his teeth clenched. "If we lose Osgiliath wholly, we lose Gondor."
Boromir sat. "He will not stay administrator," he said quietly. "You know him, Father. Even if you order it so, he will find some excuse to venture forth. And then he will be killed. Are we so strapped that we must e'en sacrifice my brother?"
Denethor walked towards the fire. Leaning against the mantle, he sighed. Tears filled his eyes. "E'en my son, Boromir. E'en both my sons."
"I would gladly die for Gondor, Father. You know that well. But Faramir."
"Would he have it any other way, Boromir? Would he allow you to be sacrificed and not him?"
"Will you station me with him?"
Denethor's face quirked into a mirthless smile. "I cannot. You are needed elsewhere."
Boromir stood and walked to the door. "If you do not mind, Father. I will leave you now. I have much to think about."
Denethor turned in surprise. "I have not dismissed you."
"I will say things I do not think you want to hear, if I stay, Father."
Denethor noted Boromir's jaw tightened and that his hand clutched at the pommel of his sword. "I have said the same things to myself, Boromir. Do you not know that? Do you think I receive pleasure in sending him there? Please," he motioned to the settle. "Please sit."
Boromir took his hand from the door and straightened his shoulders. He walked to the sideboard and poured himself more wine, then he stood next to his father. "I do not question you, Father." He smiled sadly. "Not as Faramir questions you. However, I do not agree. I am selfish, I know. Is it right that you send another man there to die instead of my brother? That Faramir and I receive assignments that are not as dangerous as others receive?" He turned Denethor to face him. "We are sent on dangerous missions. We are sent to die. As are all warriors of Gondor. But Osgiliath, Father, Osgiliath is ever in the Enemy's mind. If you send him there, you will condemn him to death. The One we do not name will know he is there. He dogs our every step. Will he not be tempted beyond endurance once he knows that Faramir is there? Will he not send army after army against the fallen city in order to capture Faramir? I cannot let that happen." Boromir's hands tightened painfully around Denethor's shoulders. "I cannot let him die. Send me instead, Father."
"I cannot. We need more men, Boromir. And you are adept in persuading our fief lords to send them. You must be about that work. I will do everything I can to protect Faramir. I know of what you speak regarding the Enemy. He will not prevail. And I will send my most experienced captains with him."
The manservant stepped into the room and announced the meal was ready.
"Come, let us eat." He took Boromir's hand and led him into the outer chamber.
A table had been set; Boromir had not noted when first he had entered. "When will Faramir arrive, Father?"
"Probably tomorrow or the next day."
"So this decision was made before I returned?"
"Because the latest Captain of Osgiliath is dead?"
Denethor lowered his head, but said naught.
Boromir stabbed at his food, his anger simmering. At last he sighed. "I cannot agree, Father, but I cannot gainsay you. I will support you, but let Faramir stay in the City for a few weeks at least. We have time for that, do we not?"
Denethor heard the longing in his son's voice. "Of course we do. And there are preparations that you can help Faramir with. Preparations that will shore up Osgiliath's defenses. We will meet once a day to discuss our objective. I say 'our,' Boromir, for I know what your objective is." He smiled warmly. "With the sons of Gondor busily preparing, the Enemy will be thwarted. Trust me, Boromir. I will not, willingly, send either of my sons to their deaths. How could you even think this of me?"
And prepare they did. Faramir returned from Pelargir the very next day and the Hall rang out with the joyful shouts of brother greeting brother. Denethor watched them and a smile played upon his lips. Only when his sons were with him, did he smile.
Faramir turned from Boromir's arms and stepped forward. "Forgive me, Father, but the great brute would not let me pass him without his strangling me." Faramir's laughter rang out and warmed the columns lining the Hall. He stepped before the Chair, bowed low, then saluted the Steward. "The Captain of Pelargir wishes to report to his Steward."
Denethor accepted the salute with a nod of his head. "I will listen to your report when the full Council convenes three days from now. Come with me to my chambers. I have nuncheon ordered." He led the way from the Chair towards the back of the Hall and then up the stairs to his private quarters. When they entered the room, he gestured to them to sit and went to the fireplace, poured the wine, and returned. After giving each a goblet, he sat in a chair opposite the settle. "Your brother has missed you."
Faramir's eyes grew moist. "I have missed him too, Father." He struggled not to say more, for, of late he had noted, the Steward preferred to be more formal in his dealings with his son. "I hope the reports you have received from Pelargir have been satisfactory?"
Denethor's eyes pierced his. "I see you are ever aware of my plots, Faramir." He waited a moment. "Yes, I have had you watched." Another pause.
Faramir did not stir nor flinch, but Boromir squirmed in his seat as if he were once again a child. "I think I hate the both of you!" he finally exploded.
Denethor raised an eyebrow; Faramir flinched.
"We have no one left. It is only we three. And yet the two of you speak as if strangers. I will put up with this behavior no longer. Kiss and make up, if you must, but do something to make me believe I have a father and a brother!"
Denethor began to laugh. "It is better that Faramir attends the Council meetings, Boromir. Your eloquence and fervor always win over those who would oppose us, but you cannot keep a civil tongue. Nor know your place." His laughter stopped. "Faramir is mine to deal with. I do what I must for Gondor."
"You do not have someone watching over me, do you?" Boromir asked incredulously.
"Of course not. First, they would not be able to find you. No matter where I send you, I suddenly receive a missive from another part of Gondor saying you have strayed from your course. Secondly, I know you..."
"What, Father?" Faramir asked quietly.
"I know he can take care of himself, not be swayed by others, obeys me." Denethor's lips pursed.
"I can take care of myself, Father."
Denethor stared long and hard at his youngest. "Perhaps."
"You and Boromir have taught me everything I know, Father. Do you not know that, when I make a decision, I weigh your counsel, even if I cannot ask it? I know you, Father. I know you well. I believe I know what you would do in most of the situations I must deal with. Yet, you do not trust me?"
"You listen to the wizard. I know he was in Pelargir only a month ago. I received no report of his visit."
"He did not come on state business, Father. He came as a friend. We sat and talked about music."
Denethor made no sound, but his eyes flamed.
Boromir put his hand on Faramir's arm. "Music? What sort of music, Faramir?"
"The kind Elves make. He taught me a few of their songs as we watched the stars. He said Elvish music must be sung under the stars. It was a pleasant evening. But only one, Father. I swear, we spoke of naught else." He watched Denethor closely then shivered. "You look at me as if I were one of the lords on your Council."
"You are a Lord of Gondor. I am disappointed. I would say that I have not made my wishes clear, but I have, countless times. I do not trust wizards, Faramir. I especially do not trust this one, though I have had few dealings with him."
"If you spent some time with him, Father. He thinks you are a great and wise man. He has told me on numerous occasions."
Boromir bit his lip, swearing to himself. 'I cannot believe you, Faramir. You dig the knife in deeper every time you open your mouth.' He stood up. "Father, let us invite the wizard here. You say you do not know him; you need to spend time with him. He is alleged to be mighty. He could become Gondor's friend. And, barring that, if he be Gondor's enemy - one should keep one's enemies close, should one not?"
"He is not an enemy!" Faramir stood also. "He is a friend who speaks highly of the Steward of Gondor."
Denethor motioned for both men to sit. "Faramir. You will contact Mithrandir and ask him to attend us."
"I... I am not sure when he might be available, Father. He is headed towards Mirkwood. To the realm of Thranduil."
"Ah!" Denethor took a deep breath. 'To the Elves. Mayhap that is the path Thorongil takes.'
"Nuncheon is ready, my Lord."
Denethor looked up. The door to his study was open and the servant waited. He stood; his sons followed him.
"So," Denethor began after they had eaten. "You are going to take the captaincy of Osgiliath."
Faramir beamed. "Thank you, Father. I am looking forward to it."
Denethor's eyes grew thoughtful. "As a child, I was oft there. Well," he paused and his brow furrowed. "For a few short years, I was allowed to visit my uncle. We would play..." He looked up. They watched him quietly, expectantly. "I have not told you, but that is where I learned to play 'Kings and Stewards.' Your great-uncle, Cranthir, taught me. We would play all day. The game took many months to finish as I only was allowed one day a month in Osgiliath. My father deemed training and other duties more important. I loved Osgiliath, though one of my greatest shames came from a visit there." Pain crossed his face and was gone as quickly as it formed.
"You will love Osgiliath, Faramir. You can smell the forests and fields of Ithilien from there. The spices are incredible. There was such game - rabbit, pheasant, duck, partridge, quail, deer, turkey... Though, of course, the number of wild has diminished as of late. Boromir has been going over the city's plans, devising better uses of the men and weapons. You will spend the next few weeks with him, if that is amenable to you," and the Steward smiled, "I will be giving you a full battalion. In your adadhron's day, the garrison was always full-stocked. It will be again." He looked down at his hands. "Your sword and bow are needed in Osgiliath, Faramir. But more importantly, your battle knowledge. I have been pleasantly surprised at your grasp of the needs of Pelargir. I expect the same for Osgiliath."
Faramir nodded, but remained silent; the unexpected compliment caused a slight blush.
"When I was stationed there, we devised a... Well, that will not be feasible now. East Osgiliath must remain in our hands. Though I will not station any men there. But it must be watched closely, Faramir. If the Enemy gets a foothold there, it will be easy enough to spill into West Osgiliath. Once they are over the river, and Osgiliath is the only feasible place to cross south of Cair Andros, they will be free to run rampant over the Pelennor. I cannot impress strongly enough our need."
"I understand, Father. We will hold Osgiliath. All of Osgiliath. Give Boromir and me time to formulate a plan, then we will bring it before you."
"Good. That is all I can ask." Denethor took a deep breath. "The Council will meet in three days. Your Pelargir report will be given then. We will not speak of Osgiliath at that time. I want everything in place before I bring this to the Council. Now, be off with the both of you. Spend some time together on Mindolluin, but," and he looked warningly at Faramir, "I do not want any more falls. Climb with leisure." He smiled and rose.
Boromir embraced Denethor, then the Steward turned to Faramir. "Welcome back, my son," and hugged him warmly.
"What have you got there?" Boromir asked as they approached the guard of Rath Dínen.
"Flowers." Faramir's sad smile surprised his brother.
"Oh!" Boromir stopped. "Are there enough for me?"
Faramir chuckled. "Of course. She will know you meant to bring some. It was thoughtless of me not to tell you that I planned stopping at her bier on the way."
"My thoughts were on other things, but that does not excuse me."
"I know. You are not happy with my captaincy."
"That is not true, Faramir. I am happy for you."
"Then what is it?"
The guard saluted, opened the door for them as they acknowledged his greeting, and let them pass into the Hallows.
"You are all I have, Faramir." Boromir's voice dropped to a whisper in deference to the inhabitants of the place. "All I have of mother, of Amma... I rely upon you for so many things, things you do not even know about."
Faramir looked at him questioningly and so Boromir continued. "Father would have me perform feats of wizardry and save all of Gondor... Nay! All of Middle-earth. And I would do it, Faramir, but I cannot. But I would save you!"
"Boromir," Faramir looked kindly at his brother. "You do not have to save me. As I told Father, and you both refuse to acknowledge it, I can take care of myself. I am not being cocky, as the look upon your face would say, and I do know that the forces that assail us are greater than you and I, but I know when to duck," he smiled. "You taught me that. And I will duck when the need arises. I cannot hide away in Osgiliath, Boromir, though that is what you would wish me to do. I must lead my men in the way I deem fit. But I promise you, big brother," the smile lit his face, "that I will be careful, for myself and for my men."
"I wish there were some other way, Faramir." He stopped before the tomb that held Indis, daughter of Ecthelion, and put his hand on the cold marble. "I wish so many things. One of which is that she was still with us." He bit his lip. "I still cannot believe she is gone. Did you know she was the first to teach me to hold a sword?"
Faramir's eyebrow lifted and he smiled. "The same here."
"Father had promised and promised and still I did not have one. So, she took me to the armory, found an old beaten down little thing, and we went to the dungeons." Boromir smiled broadly. "She learned her own swordcraft in the dungeons with Listöwel and Morwen Steelsheen. She talked the whole time, which was unusual for her. But I think the memories flowed through the room and tugged at her heart. I wish she were here."
"You see, Boromir," Faramir said as he laid the bouquet upon the crypt, "She would have tried to save us too, but she could not even save herself."
Boromir brushed away the tears. "Nay! And Father could not even save her, with all his knowledge and wisdom."
They stood for more than a few moments, listening to the quiet, remembering their beloved aunt, rejoicing in the moments spent together. At last, Boromir turned. "Let us be away from here, Faramir. My heart will grow weary if we stay. And we have so little time." They turned, gave the tomb one last pat, and walked towards the back of the street.
The guard saluted and unlocked the further door for them. "You know the signal for this week?"
Boromir nodded and walked through the door onto the vast mountain. Faramir followed.
He was surprised, extremely surprised, but incredibly happy. He saw them; saw them in the Palantír as they climbed Mindolluin. Now, at last, his heart could be at peace; he could watch over them. He began to pull away, look towards the north, towards where he had last spotted Thorongil, but ever he came back to the sight of his sons enjoying each other's company.
They had lain down on the grass... 'Grass? It is early spring; the mountain should be covered in snow.' His brow furrowed as he wondered what wizardry this was. Another moment and he saw Faramir crashing down slowly and inexorably towards the sharp pikes laid out from the bottom, where the mountain and the City walls conjoined.
"Ah," he cried as horror and finally understanding enveloped him. 'This is the past. This is the day Faramir almost fell to his death - how many years ago? And yet, this thing shows me the past!' He could not take his eyes from the sight, watching Faramir fall closer and closer to the pikes. He shuddered. Knowing that Boromir saved him did naught to ameliorate the fear that wrenched at his gut. At last, the last possible moment it seemed to Denethor, Boromir reached out and grabbed his brother's hand. Breath drawn raggedly through clenched teeth, Denethor blinked hard. Neither son had told him that death had been so near.
He let go the globe and walked to the Tower's window. Staring unseeingly towards the Pelennor, he sobbed. "I cannot lose another. I will go mad." The words echoed through the chamber and soft laughter filled the room. Denethor looked up in surprise. Prickling skin told him he had not imagined it. He quickly stepped into the outside corridor. No one was there. He moved back into the room. It was a small apartment with no doors but one, no windows but one, and no closets nor furniture to hide in. The only thing in the room was the obelisk upon which sat the swirling stone.
He shook his head. He was not touching the stone and yet it swirled; a faint glow flowed from it. He stepped closer, cautiously. No further sound came. He touched it again. The stone was showing the mountains of the Ephel Dúath. His gaze was drawn further east, towards Mount Orodruin. Its mouth spurt smoke, flame and ash. His brow furrowed; he was not controlling the orb; it was controlling him! He tried to pull back and found he could not. Now, it directed his sight east of the mountain towards Barad-dûr! He stilled his breath and clenched his teeth. Pulling his hands slowly back towards his body, he felt the globe stick to his fingers, but he was not of the line of Mardil Voronwë for naught. He fought it and was finally free. Taking a step backward, he laughed. "You will not ensnare me. I know you."
He took the globe in his hands again and forced his mind to quiet. A sudden hope had filled him. If he could see Boromir and Faramir in the past, what could prevent him from seeing her! A shudder ran through him. The globe responded to his thoughts and, in a moment, he was in Dol Amroth. She stood before him, the wind whipping the hair around her as she stood on her balcony. He swore he could smell the sea breeze and hear her laughter. Choking back tears, he followed her every move. She was young, perhaps twenty-three. None were about her, but she had a letter clenched in her hand and her face was bright with joy. He recognized it. One he had sent; a small locket had fallen from it. She bent to retrieve it, then cried out in joy as she opened it. He had placed a small portrait of himself in it. He blushed now at his temerity in offering such a thing.
He fell in love with her again. Her smile, her raven hair, her slim waist, her delicate skin. He cried as his fingers clutched the globe, trying to reach out and touch her. But she could not be held, nor spoken to, nor kissed. Sobs wracked his body as he watched her grow, exchange vows with him, birth Boromir and then Faramir.
Her illness came upon her; he noted now how slowly and how inexorably it had attacked her. He saw the mountain's hold upon her; the fear it engendered in her. How could he have been so blind? Why could he not have whisked her from Minas Tirith? He could have made Dol Amroth the capital of Gondor and moved his little family; any price would have been worth her life.
To touch her one more time. His heart ached. He watched her, on the road to Belfalas, watched the cart slow and then stop. Watched Listöwel step from the cart and speak with the guard. Watched the guard blanch, then sob. Watched him get back on his horse and turn towards Minas Tirith. Watched as the carriage turned back.
He pulled away; he could look no longer.
"If we can, I would like to visit Uncle Imrahil."
"Faramir! We have only a month together. It would take almost that to get there and back again."
"But we would have the ride together and could also visit."
Boromir shook his head. He too loved his uncle, but there were so many things to prepare, not only for Faramir's posting, but also for Boromir's next trip. "I wish we could, little brother, but it is folly."
"It is not." Faramir was vehement, then changed his mind. "I suppose it is. Do you not miss mother's people?"
"Mother's people are here, Faramir," he gently chided.
"Of course, but she grew up there, Boromir. The people of Dol Amroth live differently than we do. I feel free when I am there. And it has been so long!"
Boromir smiled. "I feel free there as well, Faramir. But I feel disloyal to Gondor when I am there. We are so beset, Faramir. Forgive me for being dour, but it is true. I travel the countryside and see the needs of our people, the needs of our land, and any time taken away from them seems to be an indulgence. I cannot leave now. Mayhap, when summer comes, we can visit then. You will have been settled in Osgiliath and I can make that my southern sweep. Will that suffice, Faramir?"
What could Faramir say or do, it was Boromir asking. He smiled. "Of course. Now, we best return. We are very late." Their shadows indeed indicated that it was well past the evening mealtime. They hurried.
They had missed supper and knew their father would be put out. Faramir knew he would be more than put out, yet Boromir guffawed when he shared that sentiment. The Chamberlain at the Great Hall said he had not seen Lord Denethor all afternoon. The boys went to his private quarters. The guard there said that Lord Denethor had left shortly after they did and had not returned. Boromir's brow furrowed and Faramir bit his lower lip. They walked to the first floor of the Tower; the guard there stated that he had not seen the Steward at all this day. Tension began to build as brother looked at brother in dismay.
"Where can he be?" Boromir asked gruffly.
"Perhaps at the stables? Or in the buttery? The Council meets in two days. Perhaps he has gone to Merethrond to discuss dinner arrangements?"
"Where is his aide?"
An hour later, they walked slowly down the corridor into the Great Hall. The Chamberlain hurried forward.
"Does anyone know of Lord Denethor's whereabouts?" the man asked "I have some important missives for him. We still have not gone over plans for the Council." The man looked flustered and both boys were not surprised. Usually, the days before a Council meeting, Denethor was furiously scripting the agenda, ordering underlings about, and generally causing an uproar.
"We will find him. Give the missives to me. I will take them to the Steward's private study. He will read them tonight, I am sure." Boromir took the papers and strode from the room. Faramir followed.
"I cannot understand this and I am beginning to be concerned. Mayhap father left a missive on his desk." He took the stairs two at a time, closely followed by Faramir. The guard saluted them and let them in. Boromir walked quickly into Denethor's study. Searching furiously through the neat stacks, he found naught that helped him in finding the Steward. He swore quietly and sat in the leather chair. Drumming his fingers upon the table, he looked about, helplessly. "I am concerned, little brother. I have not seen his aide, there is no message here, nor with any who should know his whereabouts, and there is no sign of him anywhere. I dread calling out the guard, but I am afraid we should. After the attack just a few short years ago, I would deem this grave indeed."
"As do I." Faramir rubbed his face. A look of hope filled him. "Since the aide is not at his post, nor with his company, let us find his home and see if he is there."
"A good idea. But we will send a guard. In case father returns. It would not do to have him embarrassed by us running through the streets of Minas Tirith shouting his name out like a lost child."
Faramir smiled. "Nay. Embarrassing, indeed."
But there was no thought of embarrassment when the guard returned with Denethor's aide. "He sent me away. Said he had things that he needed to do. He did not tell me where he was going." The man's face bespoke fear and confusion.
Boromir's face was livid. "How could you leave him alone when seven years ago we almost lost him to an assassin!"
Denethor looked up in surprise. Sunshine crept slowly down the opposite wall. He grimaced in pain as he tried to stand. Never before had he felt the pains from his old wounds. He lifted his tunic; there was no blood, yet the wound felt as though he had just been cut. 'Cair Andros - that is where I received this one,' he thought, 'many long years ago.' He rubbed his hand across his forehead for a moment. 'What is happening to me?' Leaning his head against the wall, he took a few deep breaths, steeled himself and finally stood. The pain lessened. He covered the Palantír and went to his chambers.
Faramir stood outside with the guard. "Father?"
"Step inside." Denethor and Faramir entered the front room, then Denethor led his son into his study. "What do you need?" he asked wearily.
"We were concerned. The Chamberlain said you had not met last night to go over tomorrow's Council arrangements."
"Tomorrow," he sighed.
"Might I pour you some wine, Father?"
Denethor looked up in confusion. "Your nana loved you very much."
Faramir had to grasp the carafe with both hands, else it would have fallen. He said naught, but swallowed furiously. Turning to his father, he offered the goblet. He sat then, hoping Denethor would do the same. "Boromir is searching for you. May I tell the guard to send for him?"
Denethor looked at him quizzically. "Why is Boromir looking for me?"
"You missed your meeting with the Chamberlain, you did not sleep in your bed, no one has seen you since yesterday morning, and we were supposed to sup together last night. You did not meet us."
Denethor's eyes flashed brilliant and cold for a moment; Faramir found himself shivering.
"Send for him and for food. I have not yet broken my fast."
"May I join you?" he asked when he returned.
Denethor nodded, then held out the goblet. "Another."
Faramir kept all his senses in check, nodded, stood and filled the goblet. He decided to sway Denethor's mind from thoughts of Finduilas. "Father, I will leave for Osgiliath in a fortnight. The maps I have been given are out of date. I know you made maps some time ago. May I see yours? May I have them copied so I may take them with me?"
"You look like her."
The hairs on the back of Faramir's neck stood straight up. He did not understand what his father spoke of this day. He stood abruptly and walked to the windows; his mind awhirl. 'What has happened to him? Why does he speak of mother and then of other things of no consequence? He appears older and sadder. His eyes seem wild.' He drew a breath and turned back.
"My maps are in those tubes by that bookshelf." Denethor pointed.
Faramir swallowed again. He walked to the bookcase and pulled the leather tubes out. There were at least fourteen. He laid them on Denethor's desk. His father still sat on the settle, fingering his drink.
"Father," Faramir sat next to him. "Have you had ill news?"
Raising his eyes, he took Faramir's face into his hands. He ran his finger under Faramir's chin. Tears ran down his face.
Faramir stayed as still as granite.
Denethor started. "Boromir!"
"Might I join you? I have not yet broken my fast and your meal seems to have arrived with me." Boromir shot a look of confusion towards Faramir, but his brother just shrugged.
Denethor's face brightened. He shook, as if to rid himself of something, then stood and hugged Boromir. "It has been sometime since last we broke our fast together." He smiled, grabbed both boys by the arm, and marched them into the outer room where their meal waited.
"What was that about, Faramir?" Boromir sat in Faramir's chair by the fire.
"What?" Faramir offered his brother a goblet of wine.
"Father! When I walked into the room. He was... He was..."
"I do not know. He was strange the whole time I was there alone with him. Once you entered, he seemed to come to his senses."
"Did he say where he had been?"
"Nay." Faramir bit his lip. "I do not understand him some days."
Boromir smiled. "Neither do I. At least he promised he was going to bed once we left."
"He did. Boromir? He has changed. I have been gone for some time, I know, yet, I find him very changed."
"As do I. His shoulders slump a bit. Never had I thought to see him slump. And his hair is grayer, much grayer than last I remember."
Faramir sighed. "Is there naught we can do for him?"
Boromir stood and walked to Faramir's desk where his brother was sitting rummaging through papers. "Obey him. Trust him. Give him our loyalty."
Faramir looked up in consternation. "I will not sever my relations with Mithrandir. Father misunderstands."
"Nevertheless, if it was me, I would sever the friendship."
Dismay filled Faramir's face. "You would. But I deem it foolish, Boromir. Mithrandir is wise and sees beyond Gondor's needs. We cannot live just for Gondor, Boromir."
Boromir's eyes grew cold as steel and his hands clenched at his sides. Faramir stood and walked around the desk, taking Boromir's arms in his hands and holding him close. "Do not be angry with me, Boromir. If Gondor falls, the world as we know it will fall, but if other lands fall, Boromir, how do we accept that?"
Boromir pulled himself away. "We do not accept it. We fight for Gondor. And when we fight for Gondor, other lands will be saved. Do you not see that?" The anger in Boromir's face drained. "Faramir. It is by our blood that the lands around us are saved. Do not look to other lands now. The need is too great to look elsewhere. Keep your focus on Gondor, Faramir, else it fall and all we do be in vain."
"Look." He pulled out the maps Faramir was looking at. "Look at this. This is Gondor. This is Rohan and Belfalas and even the northern lands of legend. WE stand between them and Mordor. WE are the Citadel that protects them. WE are the blood-givers, the oath takers, the protectors of these other lands. If WE fail, Faramir, all is lost. Concentrate on Gondor and its needs."
Faramir looked down upon the maps. "Are we alone in this?"
Boromir looked at him in confusion. "Who else comes to our aid? Have you seen an army that I have not, coming to help us? Have you seen warriors spilling through the Great Gate in support of Gondor? Have you seen any but our father striving to prepare Gondor for the battle ahead? No wonder he wanders. He is alone. And sometimes, he thinks his sons consider him less." Boromir whispered the last words. "Are you prepared, little brother, to cause the fall of our father? The fall of the Steward of Gondor? Do you see a king coming to save us? Mayhap I have missed him in my travels." Boromir realized his words were bitter, but he felt a knife through him as if Faramir had put it there.
"Bitter are your words, Boromir. Mithrandir says - "
"Hang Mithrandir!" Boromir shouted. "What does a wizard know that father does not?" He bowed his head, put his hands to his face and began to weep.
"Boromir!" Instantly, Faramir was at his side. "What ails thee?" he slipped into his mother's tongue, unaware.
Boromir looked up in surprise. "I am tired. I am weary of worry. I would ride through the Pelennor and not consider the needs for fortification. I would walk the embrasure and not contemplate the need for further arms for the trebuchets. I would bring all my men home with me. I would sit on the heights of Mindolluin and hope that my brother would not fall off." He smiled at the last. "Forgive me. I speak out of hand. I know you understand. I... I trust you, Faramir. If you deem your alliance with the wizard of import, then I will respect that. I do not think father ever will. I hope, nay, I pray to the Valar that that friendship does not sever you from father."
"As do I, Boromir. I do everything in my power to show him my respect, my love and my allegiance. Someday, I hope he will understand that."
"Come, let us look at these maps and try to decide where you should place your men."
Boromir stood at the end of the Hall watching his father as he sat on the Steward's Chair. Many milled about him, lords of Gondor, traders from other lands, even an Easterling or two, all looking for the Steward of Gondor to help them, to give them what they needed. 'Hanged be what Gondor needs,' Boromir thought bitterly. Since his disagreement with Faramir, he had walked the halls contemplating his own vision of Gondor. It was not the same as Faramir's, he now realized that. Faramir loved Gondor, of that Boromir was sure, but his focus was too broad for these times. Gondor and Minas Tirith were where their focus must now lie. He felt more than saw Faramir come up behind him. His brother laid a hand on his shoulder and Boromir turned, trying to shake the anger from him.
"You are still upset with me?"
Boromir's eyes filled with tears. "Look at him." He pointed to their father. "He sits on a plain chair at the bottom of the steps. He has no crown. He has no throne. He has no scepter. Mother," at this Boromir choked. "Mother had not even a chair to sit beside him. He is bereft of any comfort." He shook and knew that Faramir felt it.
"Even a man of lesser birth, lesser nobility is called king. Théoden. Even his spouse had a chair at his side, held the title queen." Again, Boromir choked. "His sons are called princes. How much must a man give before he is deemed worthy enough to be called king?" Boromir's chin trembled.
"Is that what you want, Boromir? To be called a prince?"
His brother whirled on him, batting the hand from his shoulder. "Do not speak to me of what I want!" he hissed. "I want my father king. I care not what happens to me. Nor to you." He stopped as he saw the pain flit across his brother's face. Grabbing him in a fierce hug, he cried, "It is not true. I care what happens to you. You are graced enough to be called prince, though I am not."
"Stop it!" Faramir shouted and people turned to look at the sons of Denethor. Faramir pulled him away from the door and through into one of the inner chambers that lined the entrance hall. "I will not hear you speak such words as those again. You should listen more to our father. You are the one who is worthy here. You are the heir. You are held in high esteem."
"I am not blind, Faramir. I see you as you are, not as others see you. Nay. Father sees you too. Though you turn towards music and art and scholarly reading, I know you. I know your quick wit and your wisdom. It surpasses mine in a thousand ways. I do not deprecate myself, little brother," and at this, he smiled, "but I know where my worth lies. You, when I am Steward, will be my advisor. I will make another Captain-General, for I would be lost without your counsel."
Faramir smiled. "So you will be around long enough to become Steward?"
"You will not be rid of me easily, little brother. And remember that - you are the little brother. And when I ask your opinion, I expect you to give it civilly and with respect." He punched Faramir in the stomach, not enough to hurt, but lightly, teasingly.
Faramir grappled him to the ground. They tussled for many moments. At last, Faramir cried, "I yield!" and Boromir let him go. "I will remember to respect you, Prince Boromir!"
Boromir growled and lunged again, knocking Faramir, who had just regained his feet, to the floor again. A gentle cough stopped his pummeling of his brother's arm. He looked up, laughing, "What?"
Húrin, Warden of the Keys, smiled. "Your father calls for you both."
Faramir cried, holding his hand out to their long-time friend, "Help me, Húrin. I am besieged."
Húrin only shook his head and left them.
"When did he become father's errand-boy?" Boromir asked in surprise.
"If he heard you call him that, dear brother, you would be on guard duty for the rest of your life, Captain-General or no!"
Boromir stood and offered a hand up.
Faramir grabbed it and pulled Boromir down. The eldest was quickly turned over and his head pushed into the carpet. "Yield?" Faramir asked with a snicker.
"I would not yield to you if you were the last man in Gondor, nay, in all Middle-earth!" Boromir cried, and with that, he deftly maneuvered Faramir onto his back. Faramir's eyes widened. Cursing loudly he yielded. "Your strength always surprises me. Do you lift kine in your spare time?"
Boromir laughed and helped his brother up. "Kine, dragons and mûmakil, little brother, so do not think that you will ever supplant me."
They left the room laughing and entered the Hall, arm around one another's shoulder as they walked forward.
Boromir and Faramir sauntered towards the Chair, their arms still wrapped around each others' shoulders; Denethor had to call up every ounce of control, else all would see his joy in these two. Thus would end the career of the Terror of the Tower. Mirth bubbled through him at the thought. He must send these two off again; they were corrupting him!
Boromir flourished a bow; Faramir saluted. "You require our presence?" Boromir asked for them both.
"Tomorrow," Denethor said with as straight a face as he could muster, "is the Council meeting. Have you discussed your plans for Faramir's next assignment? I have placed it on the agenda."
"We have, Father. We still have some maps to go over, but we planned on doing that this evening. Would you care to join us?"
Denethor's half-smile left him. "I needs must meet with the Chamberlain. For some reason, preparations are not yet finalized for the meeting, nor for the activities, nor for the..."
"Why cannot I take care of that, Father?" Faramir interrupted.
Denethor looked at him in surprise.
"Have I not attended a number of these meetings? I know what is needed. So do your people, Father. All in the kitchen are well aware of your wants, as are the chambermaids, the horsemen, the entertainers - all have been well trained by you. Might I please do this for Gondor?"
Denethor's eyebrow shot up. "For Gondor?"
Boromir stifled a groan. Faramir never flinched. "For Gondor, Father."
He leaned back in the Steward's Chair with his hand upon the arm. The other held the Rod. Denethor gave a quick look to Boromir, who smiled. "Very well. I will meet with the Chamberlain regarding the seating arrangements..."
"Father, I beg your pardon, but the Chamberlain knows the seating arrangements by heart. Let him do it."
Again, Denethor raised an eyebrow. "What would you have me do, Lord Faramir?"
"Meet with Boromir and me regarding the maps," Faramir said quietly. "I have great need of your wisdom in this matter. Boromir does not know the region as you do. If anyone were to be missing from this meeting tonight, better it would be Boromir."
At that, his brother leaned forward. "Little brother," Boromir whispered loudly, "I deem your insolence..."
"I do not deem it insolence, Lord Boromir." Denethor stood and the Hall quieted.
"You will both meet with me for the daymeal. We will discuss that - and other matters. Be prepared." He waved them away. The noise in the Hall immediately picked up. Lords strode forward to place their names on the lists of those who needed to speak with the Steward. Others resumed their little enclaves and spoke of matters urgent to them. Denethor did not notice; he watched as his sons departed the Hall, smiling inwardly as Boromir obviously was giving Faramir a tongue-lashing.
Once his sons had left the Hall, Denethor stood. The Chamberlain rapped his staff upon the cold marble floor and all stopped their talk. "I will see you on the morrow," Denethor quietly spoke to his attendant. "Faramir will be your contact regarding the Council meeting. I will not be available for the rest of the afternoon. If you have need, turn to Boromir. Have the daymeal served in my quarters at the proper time. And make it substantial. I will not be eating nuncheon. Send for Boromir and Faramir once the meal has arrived." He turned quickly, before those in the Hall had time to bow, and left through the back passage. He walked to the Tower stairs and climbed. Soon, he reached the room, unlocked the door, and strode purposefully in. 'This must be done. I must, for Faramir's sake, risk the eastern view.'
He pulled the cloth off the Palantír and took it forcefully in hand. After sometime, his brow creased, sweat beaded upon his forehead, but he held it firmly. The globe shimmered brightly, the brightest ever that Denethor had seen, but he did not let it daunt him. The ruins of Osgiliath came into view. A storm had just blown through and the streets were covered in puddles, glistening in the cold early spring sun. Dust lay dark and spattered in hallways and ruined buildings, covered from the storm's whims. He noted that men were slowly coming out from their shelters and his brow furrowed in anger. How dare they hide from a storm? How dare they leave their posts? He hissed and his arms shook with the anger that filled him.
Taking a deep breath, knowing that he must be in total control before he moved any further eastward, he closed his eyes. He heard a sound and it startled him. A whisper and his eyes flew open. 'These are silent stones; I should hear naught.' His skin prickled. 'The Enemy!' He refused the bait, refused to look further than was his wont.
Slowly, he looked towards the bridge over the Anduin. All was quiet; further along, the Morgul-road was empty. He turned his attention to Emyn Arnen; swooping down closer and closer, he saw naught. Then he turned to South Ithilien and followed the Harad Road to the Crossings of Poros. The garrison there was busy, but only with the normal day-to-day activities of an outpost. He followed the Anduin north again, went past the Harlond and Osgiliath and ended at Cair Andros. Patrols were returning to the garrison there. Denethor knew that it was now close to sun set.
He turned his attention to the secret garrison of Henneth Annûn. There was no activity and Denethor wondered. He kept his eyes upon the area. At last, he was rewarded. A small patrol, about six men it looked like, was making its way north to the hidden cave. Their hands were full. A replenishment patrol, Denethor realized. That gave his heart some ease.
As he paused to wonder if he should continue, a small movement to the north caught his eye. Easterlings! At least a company of them and headed towards the patrol. He shouted, then cursed at the futility of it. What good was this stone if he could do naught but watch? And watch he did; the patrol was decimated within moments. The Easterlings took the provisions and turned north. Denethor looked at the twisted bodies that lay upon the pristine grass of the fields of Ithilien and wept. He would send out a rider, but it would take a full day before the garrison at Henneth Annûn could be warned. By that time, they would know their patrol was late. He rubbed his thumb over the vision of one of the bodies. 'Just a boy,' he thought, tears blinding him. 'Mayhap sixteen at best.' He forced himself to follow the retreating band. They did not pause, hurrying away from the kill; they had a permanent camp set up in the Nindalf! He would send a rider immediately; since they had not left the area, Henneth Annûn must be warned. He pulled himself away, covered the globe, and ran down the stairs after locking the door behind him.
A knight turned to him as he left the Tower. "Send an errand-rider to me, in my study, immediately. One who is familiar with North Ithilien." The man bowed and ran off. Denethor walked towards his study, but was stopped by his Chamberlain. The worried furrow of the man's brow brought Denethor up short. "What is the problem?"
"Faramir has the Lord of Lossarnach seated next to the Lord of Lebennin. They have been disputing their border. I think it best if they are separated, but he insists."
"If Faramir says to seat them next to each other, then do so," he said and the cold tone in his voice sent the man scurrying away. Denethor cursed loudly. A guard nearby stepped towards him in alarm, but Denethor waived him away.
He walked to his study and was relieved to find food laid out. He took a cold piece of meat, wrapped it in cheese, and ate it, standing. His aide waited as Denethor quaffed some wine, then sat heavily at his desk. "Send for my sons." The aide saluted and left. After only a moment, the errand-rider entered. Denethor wrote a missive, folded it, sealed it, and gave it to the man. "To Henneth Annûn as if the very wolves of Morgoth were after you!" The man saluted and left. His aide stepped forward upon Denethor's motion. "Prepare a company for travel to Cair Andros."
Denethor sat in stony silence, berating himself for not having looked further yesterday. He would have noted the band coming from the north. Mayhap, there would have been time to warn the patrol. But, nay, he was looking to the south, to her. He shook his head angrily. "Well, Ecthelion, I have failed again, have I not?"
"You have never failed me, Father," Boromir said gently as he strode into the room. "Nor have you failed Faramir."
Denethor watched as Faramir, following behind, nodded his agreement.
"What is the problem?"
"A large band of Easterlings have set up what looks to be a permanent camp at the Nindalf. They have massacred one of the patrols out of Henneth Annûn. We must send help."
"Of course, Father. And I will lead them."
"I heard not the call of an errand-rider arriving, Father. Who sent the message?" Faramir questioned.
Denethor stared at Faramir, then nodded to Boromir. "You must leave now. I will not send men from here. They and their mounts would be too worn and tired to be effective. Take a company with you, I have already ordered the muster, and go to Amon Dîn. Take men from there; then, go on to Cair Andros and take men from their also. Do not leave these garrisons unmanned though."
"One concern, Father, with Osgiliath?"
"We will speak but for a moment, then you must be off. Faramir, how are you planning to shore up the Rammas?"
"I intend to build an additional half a fathom on top. Just by the gate itself, Father," he quickly added as he saw the look of surprise on Denethor's face. "On either side."
"How far would this raised portion reach?"
"Eight furlongs. On either side."
Denethor sputtered; his wine spilled down his tunic. His aide immediately ran forward and wiped the offending liquid off his Steward's chest.
"I think that might be excessive," Denethor managed to say once he was cleaned. "Mayhap a half furlong on each side?"
"I told you a furlong was too much to ask for," Boromir grinned.
"Father. There are really only three places that are open for attack. Forannest, the Causeway Forts, and the Harlond. The Rammas is not high enough."
"So you would build it higher along its entire length?"
"Do you know how long it took to build what we have?"
"I know, Father, but we must. Cair Andros will not hold, nor will Pelargir, if there is a concerted attack. The enemy will breach the Rammas at its weakest spots and those are its weakest spots."
"Where do I find the funds to accomplish this? Along with manning our army, feeding our people, and sending ships to Valinor?"
Boromir snorted. "Really. The two of you. It is a good plan, Father. If we start slowly, with the part that stretches from the Causeway Forts, then turn to Forannest, then to Harlond, it should take close to five years. But every foot brings us more protection. I think Faramir is right. We should begin immediately. I will endeavor to raise the funds. You have asked me to travel to the fiefdoms to request more men; I will add funds to that request. As soon as I return from Ithilien, it will be done."
Denethor sat back in his chair. He sipped his wine and watched, appreciatively, as his sons waited for his answer. "If we had a wizard we could trust..."
"Father!" Faramir cried. "That is uncalled for."
Denethor smiled. "It was. You still have not found your wizard, have you?"
"He is not my wizard, Father," Faramir sighed. "I have sent a few errand-riders in different directions looking for him. I expect them back before I leave for Osgiliath."
"You hope they return before you leave."
"Why, truly, Father, do you want Mithrandir here?"
"Is it not what we discussed? It is time I spoke with him at length. Never, during your grandsire's reign, did I speak personally with him. I believe now is the time."
"Then I will send more riders."
"Yes. Now, let us look towards Osgiliath itself." Denethor stood and left the study. His boys followed him as he made his way to his personal quarters. Once there, he passed by the food waiting for them, walked to his desk, and spread the maps before them. "There are too many places where the enemy can land on the river's western banks. I think we should fill those dock areas with the stone from the ruins. The bridge is ever a source of concern, but it must remain open, until the last possible moment. Patrols should continue into Ithilien. Do you not agree, Boromir?"
"I have spent little time in Ithilien, Father. You know it better than I."
"Faramir. Ithilien's landscape is varied. Your patrols must consist of men who are wise in each of its terrain. Find those who have patrolled on grasslands and send them south. Find those who have patrolled in forests and send them to Emyn Arnen. Then for the mountains..."
"A good plan, Father." Boromir pointed to the map. "And here, where the Rangers are stationed at Henneth Annûn, more men should be sent there. I have only visited it a few times; it is due for repairs, too, and should be enlarged. The attack that has occurred shows that we must better protect it.
"Father, Faramir." Boromir stood and turned away. "I would continue this discussion with you, but I leave within the hour." He stopped his forward stride to the door. "I am sorry, Faramir. I will not be able to finish our plans for Osgiliath. Will you..." He turned to Denethor. "Will Faramir be gone when I return?"
"Then I bid thee farewell now, titta hánonya."
Denethor's eyes widened at the use of Quenya, but he said nothing. 'How long,' he wondered, 'have my sons spoken to each other this way?'
"I will expect thee to visit my humble garrison from time to time, hánonya."
Denethor gasped at the phrases.
His sons embraced, then Boromir walked to Denethor and pulled his father up out of his chair, hugging him fiercely. "I will return in victory." He smiled. "And then I will take the daymeal that you are now denying me!" He turned and walked with a flourish out of the room.
Denethor sat back down, his mouth agape. "When did you...?"
"Father," Faramir said gently. "We learnt it at our mother's knee."
"I know that, but had I not... You are fluent in it."
Faramir smiled. "That is a high compliment from you. We have been told you are the best in the land with reading the old tomes." Faramir bit his lip in thought. "Mayhap, when life becomes more pleasant, we might read a few of the ancient books together?"
Denethor looked long and hard at his youngest. "There will be no pleasant times for us, my son."
Faramir shivered. "With Boromir as Captain-General and you as Steward, Father, there will come a time. Have hope. He will not desert you. Nor will I."
"The Rammas," Denethor changed the subject abruptly. "We will begin the fortifications immediately. I believe the Causeway Forts should be the first, as you suggested. We have funds enough to begin there. I will call the engineers to me tomorrow, after the Council meeting and set it in motion. I wanted to send a battalion to Osgiliath, but this changes things. I will send a regiment. The engineers will have a division for their work. The Causeway Forts must be completed quickly. I deem it wise to send out at least ten squads everyday in patrol of the areas we discussed. Do not send simple patrols, Faramir. The danger now is too great. I have... Half companies would be best."
"Yes, Father. It will be done."
They heard the horn and Denethor blanched. "He is away," he whispered. He pulled himself together. "Let us eat and then drink to Boromir's return."
A/N: Per Karen Wynn Fonstad's 'Atlas of Middle-earth,' the following measurements are followed:
Fathom = 6 feet Ell = 27 - 45 inches League = 3 miles
Furlong = 220 yards or 1/8 of a mile
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.