54. Third Age 3019 - 9th and 10th of March
Denethor heard the horn winding from the Tower Room and pulled himself away from the globe. He had failed; the Halfling and Saruman must be lost to him, somewhere in the wilds. Even if he had ten thousand more men to scour the borders, the Wizard's magic would keep them hidden. He shook in frustration; what further could he do to save Gondor?
So - Boromir had died for naught; as had Théodred; and now, Gondor would fall. Isildur's Bane would be placed in the Nameless One's hand.
Sobs tore through the Steward as he watched the blackness of Mordor coursed through with the blood red of the spewing mountain. How had it come to this? He had asked himself this, it seemed, since the very day he had been born. No matter what he did, no matter what sacrifice he made, it all came down to the fact that he was but a man against a force that even the Elves could not vanquish.
He let go of the globe and walked to the window, holding tightly onto the sill, trying to find the courage to leave the Room and face his men, rally them to another level of bravery, when, in fact, he knew all was lost. As his sightless eyes looked out upon the Pelennor, the sun caught the top of the broken Dome of Stars in the midst of decimated Osgiliath, and Denethor thought of Faramir, ruing the fact that his son knew, in the very depths of his heart, that his father had lost all hope. How could his son battle without hope?
Another blast of the horn and Denethor's grief-fogged mind realized it was the signal announcing that Mithrandir approached the City. His eyes turned towards the North Gate, but he could not see. He placed the cloth over the stone and walked from the Room, locking it after him. Descending the stairs, he wondered why the Wizard had come. The last Denethor had seen him, he had been riding next to Théoden and Thorongil on the plains of Rohan. Had Théoden triumphed at Helm's Deep? It seemed inconceivable!
He turned and ran up the stairs, unlocked the door and pulled the cloth off the globe, letting it fall to the floor. He sent his mind towards Helm's Deep and saw only a small contingent guarding the battlement. His mouth opened in wonder. There were no signs of burial grounds. No, there were, but so few. The guards watched the walls in silence, and in victory! Rohan had won. Somehow. He caught no sight of Théoden nor of Thorongil. Where were they? Had they died in the battle and another led Rohan's forces? Would it be Éomer? Too young.
Another horn blast. This time from the Third Level. The Wizard was almost to the Citadel. Denethor looked once more, towards Edoras, but saw naught. He bit his lip. 'Where are Rohan's forces?' He could find no answer. He shook his head in consternation. How could he face the Wizard with such little information? He took a deep breath and left the Room, the cloth placed, before he left, with reverence upon the globe.
As he walked from the Tower into the Great Hall, he heard the shouts of his men, crying out the Wizard's name, and his heart stopped. Cries of dismay. The Wizard brought horror and despair with him. He gritted his teeth as anger replaced his own sense of hopelessness. His men needed to be strong now, stronger than ever they had been before and this… this Wizard rides into His City with despair as his cloak!
He pulled his guards from the paved passage that the Wizard would walk, and entered the Great Hall. He knew Mithrandir would understand the gesture: that Denethor had no fear of the Wizard. He called to the Chamberlain to have the horn brought to him, both pieces, and his Rod. He strode towards the Chair without a look, neither left nor right, to the kings that lined the Hall. He had no time to even consider what they might think. If he could have, if he had been free, he would have spat at the feet of each one, reminding them of their dereliction to their people and to their City. How they had failed Gondor. He would not. Until his last breath, he vowed, he would fight, even though Gondor had already lost.
He thought again upon Isildur's Bane as Boromir's horn was placed in his lap. Lovingly, he stroked it, while he waited for the announcement that the Wizard was at his door. He needed to let his grief free, he needed to beguile Mithrandir and discover what part the Wizard had played in Boromir's death.
Húrin ran into the Hall and to the Chair. "A Halfling rides with the Wizard."
Denethor clenched the horn tighter. A flare of hope engulfed him in its fire. 'Does he carry Isildur's Bane? Does he have this thing with him?' A small whimper of excitement escaped his throat. 'Does he bring it to me?' He heard the great metal door open and he tensed, waiting for the battle to begin. He kept his head bowed, trying mightily to keep any thoughts away from the Wizard.
"Hail, Lord and Steward of Minas Tirith, Denethor son of Ecthelion! I am come with counsel and tidings in this dark hour." *
The Steward of Gondor looked up, his eye immediately drawn to the little creature that walked beside Mithrandir. His skin crawled at the manifestation of countless legends - and Faramir's dream. For a moment, he swore he 'knew' this creature, but that was impossible. 'Ah! The Halfling in the Palantír!' This was the little creature he had seen just a few short days ago, being tormented by the Witch-king. He kept himself in check.
Denethor could not remember the words he spoke, but the Wizard introduced the Halfling to him. In the midst of the introduction, Mithrandir let slip that Théoden yet lived. The Steward, so used to hiding his very spirit these many long years, never flinched, but stored the information for later use.
The next thing he knew, he was in a verbal battle with the Wizard over Faramir! How he should have known; Mithrandir still considered himself the better and dared to malign Boromir. His Boromir. Who had given his very life... He chided himself for not realizing the Wizard would use the same tactics with him that he had used with Ecthelion. In the depths of his abused heart, he cursed Faramir and the Wizard and this Halfling that witnessed his son's death and yet lived.
At last, he lifted the horn, at the Wizard's questions, and showed it to him, and was astounded when the little creature shouted. "That is the horn that Boromir always wore!" In response, he reeled off the history of the horn and the fact that he had heard it before. Oh, how his heart hurt when the Halfling agreed with the time of its winding. Denethor spoke viciously, and regretted it, but he had to hear how this little helpless creature could have survived the attack that took his stalwart son, the Captain-General of Gondor! As he listened to the tale, short though it was, a small glimmer of esteem came into his heart for this little one that had stood by his son's side. In fealty. And love. Then he found himself being looked upon with no little pride.
"Little service, no doubt, will so great a lord of Men think to find in a hobbit, a Halfling from the northern Shire; yet such as it is, I will offer it, in payment of my debt."
The Steward watched as the Halfling flung aside his gray cloak; the creature drew forth his small sword and laid it at Denethor's feet. The Lord of Gondor began to smile, but something about the Halfling caught Denethor's eye and he looked upon him in wonder. 'Amdir!' his mind shouted. The little creature had Amdir's sweet, kind eyes. 'How could this be?'
Already, he had felt some comfort, knowing that such a friend stood at Boromir's side in the last hours of his life, and now, now he felt the comfort of Amdir surround his heart. His friend had promised to always be at his side. How this feeling was possible, Denethor did not know, but he grasped it and held it close. He smiled, bent his head and held out his hand, laying the shards of the horn aside. "Give me the weapon!" he said.
When he held the small sword in his hand, Denethor listened to the tale of how it had come to the little one. His wonder, and respect, grew. At last, he drew himself up and said, "I accept your service. For you are not daunted by words; and you have courteous speech, strange though the sound of it may be to us in the South. And we shall have need of all folk of courtesy, be they great or small, in the days to come. Swear to me now!"
"Take the hilt," said Gandalf, "and speak after the Lord, if you are resolved on this."
"I am," said the Halfling.
Denethor laid the sword along his lap, and the little one put his hand to the hilt, and said the oath, slowly after Denethor, and then Denethor said his part. Another small smile graced his lips. Stalwart indeed. He gave back the sword and the Halfling sheathed it. Denethor bid him sit, ordered food to be brought, and commanded the Halfling to tell him everything. Every moment of what he could remember of his son. For a moment, he wished mightily that Faramir were with him. That the boy could hear this tale and be comforted by the friendship obvious between this one and Boromir.
Before the little one… before Peregrin, son of Paladin began to speak, Mithrandir interrupted. With barely contained fury. Denethor listened to the whining of the Wizard. He took some perverse joy in discomfiting the one who had spent so many years extolling Thorongil's virtues to Ecthelion. He did not want to reveal too much, yet the Wizard's barbs of Gondor's ignorance rankled him and he spoke.
"Yea," he said, "for though the Stones be lost, they say, still the lords of Gondor have keener sight than lesser men, and many messages come to them." In the end, Denethor relented and turned his attention back to the Halfling. "But sit now!" He noted Peregrin twitched when he spoke of the stone and realized he had, in truth, been correct. This one had dared to touch the Palantír and live. His regard grew. "Now tell me your tale, my liege," said Denethor, half kindly. half mockingly. "For the words of one whom my son so befriended will be welcome indeed."
For over an hour, Denethor sat and listened, questioned the Halfling, and watched, with no small delight, as Mithrandir fumed and raged at being disregarded. But Denethor did not ignore him. He watched every nuance, every twitch, every growl that escaped the Wizard's lips. Try as he might, though he questioned long and hard, he did naught to harm the Halfling, just extracted every piece of information from the guileless little thing.
At last, he released the Halfling, reminding him of his oath, and ordering him to present himself later in the day, but Mithrandir would not leave with his thoughts unspoken. Denethor lost his temper and reminded the Wizard of the one thing that galled the Steward of Gondor the most. His secrecy!
"If you understand it, then be content," returned Denethor. "Pride would be folly that disdained help and counsel at need; but you deal out such gifts according to your own designs. Yet the Lord of Gondor is not to be made the tool of other men's purposes, however worthy. And to him there is no purpose higher in the world as it now stands than the good of Gondor; and the rule of Gondor, my Lord, is mine and no other man's, unless the king should come again."
Another sharp word and Denethor watched as the Wizard left in a fury, the Halfling desperately running to keep up with Mithrandir's long strides. If Denethor had not been so angry, he would have laughed at the sight. But again, he chaffed at the silence of the Wizard upon the things that mattered most to him – the weal of Gondor. How he hated the machinations and schemes of this being.
When he had rung the gong, the servants came and one tried valiantly to lead Mithrandir, but he also could not keep up with the Wizard. Denethor looked away, suddenly exhausted. It had been a battle, as he had envisioned, but he had not dared to think he would engender such information. If it had been the Wizard he had to question, he would never have learned what he did. And for that, he was most grateful. He felt a deep sorrow for the Halfling. He had endured much. He promised himself he would be kind to Peregrin, son of Paladin.
Denethor sat on the great Chair in the Great Hall in the great City of Minas Tirith and waited for his stomach to settle and his head to stop spinning. The incongruity of it all bemused him. He was Steward and yet… his brow rose… still a boy to the Wizard. His stomach would not cease its roiling; much as he willed himself to calm, his body still shook, trembled, in fact, by what had just transpired.
A battle he had called it. A battle already lost. The Wizard had always had the upper hand; there was no denying it. Yet, someway, somewhere, Denethor had hoped he might somehow win. This day, his very bones told him all was lost. Had been lost since Thorongil had entered the Great Gate as an unkempt ranger who soon commanded Ecthelion's army.
Ecthelion was dead. He had listened to the Wizard, took his counsel, and thrust his own son aside for the love of the Northerner. Thorongil was Ecthelion's son, had been since he arrived in Minas Tirith. No matter what Denethor did, Thorongil did better.
Finduilas was dead. He had not won over her decline into despair. No matter what he had done, she had left him. She only looked to the mountain, let it sink into her spirit and darken it, and lost all hope.
Amdir was dead. Fighting for him. All that mattered to his dearest friend was that Denethor suffered grief and Amdir came to his aid. And because of that, when the Orcs attacked, Amdir protected him with his very life.
Indis was dead. Probably poisoned. He loved her with his every thought. She had been mother, sister, friend, confidant – everything. He had accepted all she gave him as if it were his due, and he failed her. Murder unavenged.
Boromir was dead. Sent off on some foolish quest that should have been Faramir's. His youngest son would have known how to deal with Elves. Cunning, conniving creatures. Boromir was as a babe sent into the lion's den. A warrior in a bramble patch. The stone had not lied; no matter what Denethor did, Boromir died.
"My Lord," Húrin stood before him, touching his knee and looking at him as if he were some strange beast. "My Lord. Are you well?"
"What need have you?" Denethor pulled himself from the mire of grief.
"Your captains are assembled. Would you meet with them here?"
"I did not hear the bell."
"It rang the third hour from sun's rise."
"Come with me, then. It is time to order the evacuation." He handed the Rod and the broken pieces of Boromir's Horn to the Chamberlain.
Húrin nodded and followed his Lord, saying naught.
When they came into Denethor's study, the chief captains, their aides, and those in charge of the evacuation saluted and moved aside for him. He returned their salutes and stood at his desk. He motioned and they sat in various chairs settled about the large room, their aides standing behind them. The fire was not lit, as the morning was already growing warm. Denethor had his great cloak still wrapped about him.
"It is time. You have your assignments for this day's work. The people have already assembled at their waiting points. We must begin the evacuation."
They all nodded. "Then, are there questions?"
"The wains from the Fourth Circle are greater than we expected," Captain Mardil said. "I have put another company on detail to help them."
"How could this be? The plans have been set since last year."
"The refugees from the Pelennor, my Lord, and Anórien," Húrin interposed. "They have swelled our ranks. Even with that, all is proceeding as planned." Gondor's Warden of the Keys stopped as Mithrandir entered the chamber.
Denethor watched as the grizzled old man took a pipe from his mouth and blew smoke into the air. His skin prickled, wondering what new devilry the Wizard was about. Silently he screamed his frustration, but none could see it in his physical form. "Lord Mithrandir," he motioned for the Wizard to take a seat to the right of him. He watched as Mithrandir walked steadily forward and sat. 'White?' Denethor chided himself; he had not noted that the Wizard's garb was different. 'As is his hair and beard. What betook him to evidence such changes?'
"The North Gate is just now being strengthened?" The Wizard's voice was smooth, non-committal, but Denethor felt its chiding.
"The last of the fortifications to be done." How the Steward hated the fact that he was explaining himself. "The Rammas has been raised. As you well know."
The Wizard nodded and continued to smoke.
"The evacuation will begin." Denethor stopped himself. He would not further enlighten this one, for he felt Mithrandir already knew all his plans. "Those of you who are in charge of the evacuation, leave us now. The road must be cleared for a league before the noon hour, for we need it open for those who come to our aid from the South." Seven men stood, saluted, and left the chamber. Denethor pulled forth a scroll and unrolled it. "Here is the Enemy, as far as reports can tell."
His chief captains stood and moved toward the map, murmuring to each other as they came forward.
Mithrandir never moved, but Denethor knew the Wizard could see clearly enough from his seat next to the desk. None of the soldiers moved close enough to hinder his sight. Denethor bit the inside of his cheek.
A rider entered. "My Lord Steward." He bowed and offered a missive.
Denethor took it, read it quickly, and handed it to the Wizard who nodded as if he expected what he read. Once again, Denethor's aggravation at Mithrandir's penchant of hiding all knowledge from him grew. He turned to his captains. "The darkening spreads. It now covers the Ephel Dúath." His skin prickled as he spoke. 'How could the Enemy control the very skies?'
He watched as several of his captains blanched. Others stood, hands on the hilts of their swords. 'These are the ones I can trust,' he thought. "Come. Let us continue." He turned his back on the window, tempted as he was to look out and see for himself the progress of the darkness, but instead, poured over his maps once again.
"They will bring siege weapons. We must ensure our trebuchets target these first." He looked up and was heartened to see the calm courage covering the faces of his captains.
"Will they dig trenches, my Lord?"
"They will. I would have them stopped before that, but, though the range of our weapons is great, they will dig, hide, then dig some more. Ever moving forward. That is when we must have our archers ready."
He heard an aide ask his Captain, "Can they not dig under the walls and enter?"
"We have flooded the lower caves, the dungeons, and the sewers. None can enter below." He motioned, and the Captain ordered his aide gone. "Any other questions?" He was gratified to see the remaining aides shuffle and bow their heads. 'Another Faramir,' he thought bitterly, questioning what he does not know!'
Well into the day's planning, Denethor looked towards the Wizard and paused. Mithrandir's eyes were wide, the hand holding the pipe stilled in mid-air, and his head was cocked towards the window. 'What now, Wizard? What do you hear or see in the depths of your cold heart? But no, you will not share it; ever is your purpose kept unto yourself. Even if said purpose may have some small impact upon Gondor's safety, yet you would keep all to yourself.'
Another messenger entered, panting, eyes wild. "There has been a sighting, my Lord. Some strange creature riding in the sky. Its fell voice has frightened the horses."
Denethor stared at Mithrandir. The Wizard, after another moment, seemed to pull himself together, bringing the pipe to his lips, sucking the hideous thing, and releasing dense, foul smelling smoke. For one moment, Denethor remembered the smell that lingered upon Thorongil's clothing and missed his once-friend. With an imperceptible shake of his head, he turned back to the maps.
At last, the noon bells rang and Denethor straightened. "We now are as well prepared as possible, until we know the number of those who come from the south to our aid. Take this time to rest and refresh yourselves. I would have you return here after the daymeal." He stepped away from the desk and walked to the window. Finally, he looked upon the sight that had been skewering his back these last three hours.
"So the darkening begins." The Wizard spoke as if he were commenting upon the quality of Denethor's wine.
"You did not see it?"
"I was here with you, Lord Denethor. The darkening had not begun when first I entered Minas Tirith."
"Well, then, come join me and look upon it. And if you may, tell me your thoughts."
The Wizard stood and moved towards the window, standing next to Denethor. "It is still far enough away."
"That it is. I wonder when it will encompass the entire sky. Tell me, Mithrandir, does it have purpose?"
"You know as well as I, Lord Denethor. Terror is the Enemy's main weapon. He uses it well."
"You felt the creature?"
"I did. I have felt it before, upon the plains of Rohan."
"And what can you tell me of it? What defense might we use against it?" he asked impatiently.
"I am told an Elf took one such and with only one arrow."
Denethor choked on laughter. "How many Elves do you imagine I have in Gondor's army?"
The Wizard, to his credit, chuckled. "If an Elf can take one down, so can a man. The archers of Gondor are well known and prized for their skill."
Denethor looked once more upon the graying sky and turned away. "Would you join me for nuncheon?"
Denethor wondered where Faramir was and how he fared; then he turned and led the Wizard towards his dining chambers.
The Steward stood up and went to his window, opened it, and sighed in deep gratitude as the air was filled with shouting, dust and huzzahs. 'The men of the South are come to Gondor's aid.'
While he waited for Hurin to bring the report of their numbers, their equipment, and their horses, he poured himself wine. The Wizard had left him an hour before, and he did not care to know where he had gone. He felt safe and strong, now that Mithrandir was away from him. Though he expected the Wizard to return for the daymeal, he took great comfort in being alone for the nonce. He returned to the window and drank in the sound of his people as they shouted out the names and fiefdoms of those who marched in through the Great Gate, though he was too far to hear anything but joy-filled noise. He sat on the window's ledge and quaffed his wine.
After many long hours, Hurin entered. "Forlong the Fat, my Lord, of Lossarnach," Hurin began, "brings two hundreds, horsed." He blanched at Denethor's look. "They are well armed; their battles axes shine."
"I had expected ten times that number. The black fleet proves deadly and it has not yet touched the Harlond."
"Lord Dervorin's son," Hurin continued, "and the men of Ringló Vale striding on foot: three hundreds. Morthond's Lord, Dúinhir with his sons, Duilin and Derufin, and five hundred bowmen. From the Anfalas, Lord Golasgil brings a long line of men of many sorts, hunters and herdsmen and men of little villages, scantily equipped, From Lamedon, a few hillmen without a Captain. Fisher-folk of the Ethir, some hundred or more spared from the ships. Hirluin the Fair of the Green Hills from Pinnath Gelin with three hundreds of gallant green-clad men."
Denethor's deep sigh echoed through the chamber. "Imrahil?" he asked, his voice weighted with apprehension.
"Imrahil, Prince of Dol Amroth, kinsman of my Lord, with gilded banners bearing his token of the Ship and the Silver Swan, and a company of knights in full harness riding gray horses; and behind them seven hundreds of men at arms."
"I suppose they were singing?"
Hurin smiled. "You know the men of Belfalas."
"We of Minas Tirith should be singing a dirge. Less than three thousands. My people must be dispirited. They are not fools, Hurin. They know full well it should have been at least ten thousands. At least." He bit his lip. "We cannot allow despair to fill our City."
Hurin nodded, unsure of what reply his cousin and Steward would have him make.
"Lamedon came not, as I expected. They will come once the ships have passed by." Another sigh passed his lips. "It is dusk, Hurin, and these men must be billeted."
"It will be as has been arranged. The lords and captains will meet with you at the beginning of First Watch."
"Make sure they are well fed. We begin rationing tomorrow." His brow furrowed. "Though the need will not be as great, what with the lesser numbers of men. Will you join me for tea? No. I am sorry. You should not. Go to your wife and son."
"My wife was in the wains that left for Tumladen. My son eats with his friends and the esquires left in the Tower. I would be pleased to join you." He did not ask about the Wizard. After all these years, though Hurin knew he was not as quick-witted as his cousin, he was wise enough to know not to bring the Wizard into any conversation if he could possibly help it.
"Mithrandir will be joining us, as will Imrahil."
"I will arrange the meal then?"
"Yes. Ask Belegorn to join us."
Hurin nodded and left the room.
Denethor heard the trumpet for the closing of the Gate and waited. A bitter smile swept across his face as the sundown-bells tolled. He could not see, but knew the lights in the quarters of those left in the City were being lit. Faintly, he could hear the sound of song as the men of arms of his beloved Gondor, and those few women who helped in the Houses, filled the air and wafted up to the Tower. Night dropped like a cloak about him and the sky was black, compounded by his order to dim the lights and cover the windows. Not a star broke through the blackening.
Mithrandir entered upon his order and walked to the fireplace, the ever-present pipe securely held between teeth almost as white as the Wizard's hair. Denethor had not asked and Mithrandir did not tell what happenstance had made his visage change. The Wizard had the grace to bow and Denethor motioned for him to sit. He half-smiled as Mithrandir took the most comfortable chair in the study. They played one game of 'Stewards and Kings.'
Merethrond was well appointed this night. The hall was full as Denethor walked through the large doors. All stood and saluted. A faint memory, of one of his father's council meetings where none rose when he entered, sent shivers up his spine. He acknowledged their obeisance and sat.
He did not speak but motioned for the repast to begin. Servers ran forward with great decanters of wine, others brought out covered bowls with all sorts of breads filling them, while others carried great casks filled with ale and placed them on the sideboards. The lords began their meal.
Imrahil sat at Denethor's left with Mithrandir at his right. The Prince of Dol Amroth took the proffered wine from a servant's hand without looking. His focus was on his brother by law. "Denethor," he said at last, "where is Faramir?"
Drawing in a breath, the Steward said, "He will be here by morning, at the latest."
"Good. I wish to see him. How fares he with the news of B…? I am sorry."
"He does not sit idly while Ithilien is o'er run, Imrahil. He does what he must. He comes when he may."
"Denethor, well I know that, but he belongs here this night, with the lords of the land, to discuss the war plans. He is your Heir."
Denethor all but hissed. Those seated nearby looked away, wondering at Imrahil's temerity. The Wizard smiled, which only exacerbated Denethor's impatience.
Quaffing his wine, Denethor put down the glass and turned to Imrahil, his face white. "Faramir is well-loved by you and your wife."
Imrahil shrugged. "As was Boromir."
"I think not. Your deference has always been upon my youngest. Boromir knew it."
"My Lord," Imrahil said, his voice deep and quiet. "Your deference was always upon your eldest."
Denethor pushed his chair back and stood. He motioned and turned, striding angrily from the room. Imrahil followed him into the Steward's study.
"You would chide me now! While Boromir lies dead in some marsh!"
"I loved Boromir with my whole heart, Denethor. He knew it well. He knew I gave an added portion of love and affection to Faramir to counter your cold-heartedness. He was grateful, not envious!"
Denethor grappled with sanity. His whole being poised as if to pounce while his hand clenched and unclenched the sword hilt at his side. "Does my youngest whine when he is with you? Does he complain of my treatment? Does he show you bruises?"
Imrahil turned away in disgust. It was a mistake.
Denethor grabbed him by the shoulder and flung him around. "Do not turn your back on me!" A dagger pointed at Imrahil's throat.
"Denethor." Imrahil's voice was low but steady. "What is this about? Why are you angry with me? We are brothers." His voice faltered and his brow knit. "Do you doubt my loyalty? My love? Did I not come when you called? Did I not bring my Swan Knights with me?"
The Steward of Gondor swallowed visibly. He dropped his weapon and moved away from Imrahil. "All night, I have been accosted by visions of my father. Council meetings, practice sessions, nights in his study with the Wizard and…. And Thorongil. I am shaken." His face blazed.
"You have never drawn a weapon against me before, Brother," Imrahil said. "Why tonight?"
"I fear I am encompassed about by enemies."
"Your lords are not your enemies, Denethor. They obeyed you quickly enough, even sending their own sons to battle for you. The Enemy is across the Ephel Dúath. Not in Minas Tirith. Have you slept?"
"I thought as much. Lie on the settle, here in your own study, and rest for but a moment. I will sit with you and guard the door so that you be not disturbed. The night will be long, brother. You know that. Each lord will want his own say in where his men are posted. The arguing will go on into the dawn. Rest now."
"Speak not, brother. I know your heart. Rest."
Denethor nodded; his head felt as if a Mûmak stood upon his neck, crushing him. He moved to the settle and lay upon it. Fidgeting with a throw, he grunted, then smiled as Imrahil took the unruly thing and draped it over him. "Thank you," he said and immediately slept.
Imrahil sat in a nearby chair and wept.
Dark covered the Tower room as Denethor pulled his hands from the Palantír. Though the days were become warmer, the nights were still cold, and dawn yet to come upon the City. He pulled his heavy cloak about him as he stepped back from the plinth. He could hardly remember walking up the stairs – so heavy was his heart.
The meeting with the Council the previous evening had been as fruitless and frustrating as he had imagined. The lords quibbled long into the night. It sickened him as many of them vied for postings where the fighting would not be fierce. Dúinhir, Hurluin, and Imrahil said naught, leaving the placement of their men up to the Steward of Gondor. 'If only more lords were like these three,' he thought. At last, holding his anger, he dismissed them and proceeded to ascend to the Tower Room.
The Lord of Gondor spent the night there in another kind of battle. Despair clawed at his shoulders as he put the cloth back upon the now-silent stone and returned to the Great Hall. As he walked along between the statues of the kings, a great lassitude filled him. He sat and accepted the Rod from his waiting Chamberlain. Soon the Hall would fill – for now, he took some comfort in the quiet, willing himself to fight the ache in his head that the Palantír always induced. It slowly subsided.
A few minutes later, Denethor found himself strangely pleased when the Halfling entered with Mithrandir. His heart lifted and, though he did not at first acknowledge the small one, he watched him from the corner of his eye, smiling to himself as Peregrin fidgeted, shifting from one hair-covered, shoeless foot to the other. But at last, Denethor felt the little one could bear the wait no longer. The Steward of Gondor turned and asked of his day, noting with pleasure the Halfling's surprise at his mention of the scarcity of food for the breaking of the day's fast. 'This one is so very easy to read.' Denethor breathed a bit deeper to keep from laughing aloud at Peregrin's obvious discomfiture.
However, the weight of the day returned with the appearance of four or five lords at the Door. "I understand, Master Peregrin," Denethor began, determined to let them wait, "that my soldiers think less of me for the lateness of the lighting of the beacons?" The Halfling started in surprise, but said not a word. The thought of soldiers filled Denethor with a deep sadness. He suddenly wished for a song, like unto the ones he and his company oft sang on a long march. He had not thought of his old days in a long time – his days with Amdir and stalwart men like Duilin and Derufin. He vowed to meet with the sons of Dúinhir before the battle began. For a brief moment, his thoughts strayed further, wondering upon Faramir and where his youngest – his only son – now rode.
Denethor steeled himself, as he had learned to do when he was but twelve, and knew that not even the Wizard, for all his wiles, could sense the longing in his heart for simpler times: with his soldiers as a young, almost care-free lieutenant, with his beloved Finduilas as they rode out upon the Pelennor, with Boromir… His jaw clenched imperceptibly. He had, under his father's hard hand, become adept at presenting an impassive exterior to the world.
The Steward of Gondor finally took pity upon Peregrin, sending him off to the armories, for he found he could not bear the sight of the ragged, homespun clothes and travel-stained cloak that covered the Halfling. He stifled another smile as the little thing ran from the room – and was surprised to find the same such urge for escape in his own heart. To be free from care and duty!
Imrahil entered without announcement as the Halfling ran past him. Húrin followed closely behind the Prince of Dol Amroth. The Warden of the Keys brought with him Forlong and Dervorin. The Chamberlain stepped forward and announced the other five lords who stood now in apparent impatience. Denethor beckoned and they came forward. The Lord of Lossarnach saluted, then sat on one of the seats set up in front of Denethor's Chair, releasing a loud belch.
Denethor turned to him as Imrahil and the other lords sat. "I see you had sufficient food for the breaking of your fast."
Forlong squirmed, trying to settle himself comfortably. At last he gave up the attempt.
"Lord Chamberlain," he called, forgetting Denethor in his discomfort. "Bring me a larger chair, will you? This seat is not fit for a warrior such as myself." He grumbled loudly. "Could hardly fit my wife."
Remembering that Denethor had questioned him, he stood and faced the Steward. "My Lord, I brought my own meals, knowing we are probably in for a long siege. Though we have paid extra taxes these past three years to furnish supplies for just such an inevitability, I thought Minas Tirith might yet be pressed to provide the meals I need to keep up my strength. No offense meant."
He muttered again under his breath, though loud enough for all to hear him in the echoing Hall: "Though from the scant dole I saw Dervorin receive this morning for his portion, I was more than right in providing my own. Not enough for even a mouse." He sat upon the larger, stuffed chair that a servant had brought while he was speaking. "This is much better." Another belch echoed through the Hall.
At that moment, Peregrin, in full livery, returned. Denethor, however, did not note it. The Steward's eyes were filled with fury at Forlong's insult. "My men ate what all in the City ate." His voice, though low and quiet, barely hid his anger. "Perhaps if the taxes agreed upon had been paid…" A barely noticeable shiver ran through him; Faramir had almost died on that march to collect the lords' promised coin. His son still suffered from bouts of the fever that had raked his body last year. Controlling himself, he turned to Imrahil. "Is there a possibility you brought trained trebuchet men with you?"
Imrahil looked up in surprise. He had been clutching the hilt of his sword as Forlong spoke. The Lord of Lossarnach was a good leader, valiant warrior, and loyal fief lord, but his avarice for food and coin, though legendary, was ill suited for this grave hour. "Forgive me, my Lord." He stood but immediately sat at Denethor's motion. "I have brought a half company. I regret it is not more. My own keep must be protected with so many of my Knights here."
"They are experienced?"
"The youngest has ten years under his belt."
Denethor nodded. Imrahil never failed him. "Húrin, have them sent to Captain Ragnor. Tell him to take first pick and then send the others off to the other stations." He turned again to Imrahil. "Those of your men who are horsed will be stationed in the First Circle, in case a sortie must be sent out upon the Pelennor. The others I would place at the Second and Third Gates. None have ever breached Minas Tirith, but I will not tempt fate."
Imrahil saluted. "I will command my Knights."
"I would have you here at my side. I value your counsel."
"It will be so, my Lord."
"Dervorin…" Denethor stopped as Mithrandir stood, gave him a stiff bow and left the room. Striving mightily to keep from calling the Wizard back, Denethor continued with the placement of Dervorin's men.
The morning went on. None of the lords received the postings they had so fought for the night before. At last, the Chamberlain stepped forward. Denethor nodded and the man announced nuncheon. The lords filed out of the Hall to Merethrond, their discourse none to gentle.
Peregrin looked about him. Denethor smiled. "That livery fits you well. Go with Húrin and see that the men are fed. After they are done, you may eat. Go." With alacrity, the little one left him. Denethor held Imrahil back with a look. "Come with me," he said and left the Hall through the back door. They walked along the cold inside corridor until they reached Denethor's private chambers. The guard saluted and opened the door. "Have nuncheon brought here," the Steward ordered then closed the door behind him.
"Will not the other lords be affronted?"
"Húrin will see that they are well fed and the wine flows – for today. "
Imrahil sat and accepted a glass of wine. Denethor sat opposite him. A fire crackled in the brazier. "I cannot seem to rid myself of this chill." Denethor sighed. "I hope it is not too warm for you?"
"No. Are you not well, Denethor?"
"Well enough. Just chilled. The Hall is cold, even on the warmest of days, and today is not one of those."
The food came; two men stayed and served them. They ate in silence. When finished, Denethor sat back. The servants stepped forward, removed the platters, dishes, linen and such and left. The silence stretched until it became uncomfortable.
"If you wait for an apology," Imrahil began but stopped when Denethor rose; the high-backed chair fell back with a deafening thud.
"Morgoth take you," the Steward whispered. Pain-filled eyes skirted across Imrahil's face and then quickly turned away.
The Prince of Dol Amroth stood, strode to Denethor's side, and took his arms. "Denethor!" Concern skittered across his proud face. "You are ill!"
"Not ill but tired. Beyond tired, my brother." He swayed into Imrahil's hands and cursed himself for this show of weakness. "I have not slept the night since Boromir left us."
Imrahil pulled him quietly to the settle in front of the brazier, took his wine glass, and replaced it with a shot glass filled with whiskey. "Drink this."
Denethor accepted it gratefully and downed it quickly. A hot fire filled his stomach. He laid his head back against the settle and closed his eyes.
"You did not sleep last night?"
"When? Gondor's business does not end when a Council meeting does."
Imrahil sat on a chair at Denethor's left. He waited.
"It is I who must apologize," Denethor said, his voice tired and low. "I know you love Boromir. Loved." He nearly choked. "I have held his Horn and tears will not come. My mind tells me he is dead but my heart refuses to believe it. How Faramir endures this, I cannot say. He doted upon Boromir. I can only hope he does nothing foolish in the midst of his grief. I can ill afford to lose him."
"He is a good son - and Captain."
"If I could, I would keep him here, but I could not do that, even for Boromir. Imrahil," Denethor sat forward, "Faramir should be here shortly. After he finishes giving report, will you not go to him, spend some time with him? I cannot. There will be another Council meeting where I will share the news he brings."
"I will go to him, Brother."
Denethor leaned back, his shoulders slumping. "It is time to return to the Hall."
The Steward motioned to Húrin as he entered the Hall and his Warden walked soundlessly to his side.
"I know the love Boromir had for Beregond, and that Faramir now holds for the guard," Denethor began slowly, "but the man speaks treason. Take him aside, then report back to me."
Húrin's mouth hung agape. "He is as loyal to the House of Stewards as any soldier I have ever known, my Lord. Who speaks ill of him?"
"I saw it in the Halfling's eyes. Doubt has been sewn there – and not by the Wizard. Peregrin spent the day in Beregond's company. His Captain told me there are reports of a loose tongue. The guard questions me – the lighting of the beacons, the shoring of the North Gate, the…"
"But my Lord, he knows not that the Rohirrim were in battle and could not possibly come! That we still are not sure if Théoden King lives. That the North Gate was left till last, due to our trust in our Rohirric ally."
"Do you question me, Húrin?" Denethor's tone held that edge of harshness that often quailed his cousin.
"My Lord. You know I do not. I trust you."
"Ah ha! Therein lies the rub. I strove to earn my men's trust. And in most, I deem I have it. And loyalty! Yet, there will always be ones like Beregond…" His mind whispered, 'And Faramir.' He pulled his cloak tighter, "who believe they know better."
"But not Beregond, my Lord. Boromir trusted him, completely."
"Beregond does not trust me. I should have banished him when I discovered his disobedience two years ago, but I let Boromir dissuade me and had the man only lose his rank!"
Húrin bit his lip – obedience and loyalty had always been of paramount importance to his cousin.
"Keep him under watch, Húrin, and report to me any further transgressions."
"I will, my Lord, though he is away from the city on errand to the Guard Towers upon the Causeway. With Hirgon and two other riders away, I had to send him. He will not return before sun sets. Nuncheon is over. Would you have me call the lords together?"
"No. Let me have a moment's rest; we will meet again at the ninth hour."
Peregrin came into the Hall, ran forward when Denethor beckoned, and stood slightly behind and to the left of Denethor's Chair. After a little less than an hour, Denethor motioned the Halfling forward. Putting the maps aside, he said, "Though you have told me something of Boromir's death, I know naught of your times together on the journey here. We have one hour." He hesitated. "Ingold told me my eldest saved your life?"
Uninvited, the Halfling sat on the bottom step, much to Denethor's surprise, and began. The Steward listened to the account of near-death on Caradhras. At Denethor's encouragement, Peregrin launched into the tale of his first meeting with Boromir and how much he had liked him – a lordly and kind man.
"The other man who helped my son carry your party from the blizzard, did he have a name?"
"Strider," Peregrin said without hesitation. "We met him in Bree. We'd never have reached Rivendell if not for Strider."
The bell rang for the ninth hour. Denethor looked up towards the entrance and noted Húrin stood waiting. "We must leave further tales aside for now. And even thought of song." The Steward stifled a smile at Peregrin's obvious look of horror. Denethor had noted the little one's shiver when first he had mentioned it earlier in the day. Peregrin stood and moved to his appointed place near the Chair. Denethor motioned and the lords came forth, occupying their former places.
At the eleventh hour, Denethor released them and the Halfling. As the lords passed by, the Chamberlain strode forward and whispered in Húrin's ear. The Warden came back through the metal doors and strode to the Chair. "Beregond returns."
"Do as I ask," ordered the Steward.
Húrin paused. "The darkness grows."
Denethor, nodded, turned and left the Hall.
The Steward of Gondor sat in his private chamber, allowing the anger and disappointment of the last few hours to leach from him. The room was warm, the brazier had a few coals left upon it, but Denethor was in need of more comfort than a fire could give him; his fury at Faramir's treachery lay upon his heart, unabated.
His City still swayed after the onslaught of the great beast's calls from the sky. Though he had been deep within his chambers, the knife-sharp cry of the winged Riders reached him. He had sat, near frozen, and waited. At last the sound faded. He had heard it before, many times in the Palantír; it did not quite immobilize him, but it still caused the hairs on the back of his neck to rise.
Húrin, visibly shaken, had reported what he had seen. And brought the news that Faramir had returned alive, only it seemed, by the hand of the Wizard. Denethor had ordered the relighting of the brazier, the bringing of bread and wine, and the room arranged before Faramir came to him.
When his son first entered the room, Denethor had noted the dark circles under Faramir's eyes, the leaden cast to his walk, the dirt-spattered riding boots and cloak. But what caught and held Denethor most was the look in his youngest' eyes. He blanched in sorrow. 'Old before his time,' he thought sadly. 'By the end of all this,' he considered, 'Faramir, if he survives, will be forever changed.' The eyes that looked back at him were Finduilas', but where her's were frightened as a stalked doe's, Faramir's were proud and brave.
Denethor remembered sitting with his hands held lightly upon the arms of his chair, waiting for the Wizard and Faramir to sit. The Halfling followed behind. Faramir ate a bit of bread and drank some wine before he sat on his father's left. The Wizard took a chair on Denethor's right as the Halfling stood behind the Steward.
Denethor's heart stopped at the remembrance of Faramir's report; nothing that the Steward did not already know until Faramir looked at the Halfling. The air in the chamber fairly crackled with tension.
Sitting back, Denethor willed himself to look once again upon the meeting with open eyes unclouded by the bitter disappointment he felt. In Ithilien, Faramir had betrayed him. It was a simple enough thought, but not easy to swallow without a fire raging through his belly. He near wept at the recollection of his son's pandering to Mithrandir. The sight still stuck in his craw, over shadowing even Faramir's flaunting of the Steward's edict.
The Lord of Gondor was tired beyond description, yet the night's work had just begun. Still stinging from the Wizard's contempt… No, not contempt. The Wizard's belief that the Steward of Gondor was helpless when it concerned Isildur's Bane, Denethor walked the Tower stairs slowly, leaning wearily upon the iron balustrade. He chided himself for expending so much energy against the Mithrandir, when in truth, the die had already been cast. There was nothing further he could do but wait for the Nameless One to capture and kill the wretched Halfling that Faramir had failed to hold, and to turn the Ring's power against Gondor. Well, he had vowed he would fight to the end, and so he would.
The Steward reached the Tower Room and opened the door. Flames greeted him. Stepping back, he covered his face with his arms and realized there was no heat but that cast by the torch he held. He lowered his arms and watched the Pelennor, bathed in fire. The Enemy had dug great trenches and fire filled them. Siege engines of all kinds were poised, ready to strike. The ground itself was covered with thousands of men, Orcs and beasts, so numerous with the Enemy's forces that he could not see the fields nor even a blade of grass beneath their feet. In the distance, he saw Mûmakil silhouetted against the horizon, their great shapes made larger by the looming war-towers atop their backs. All were moving forward, encroaching upon his City. He gasped at the sight, reminiscent of the vision he had seen but as a new lieutenant; now the scene before him was ten times worse. His legs shook.
This was what Faramir did not understand. It was not just one company of soldiers, nor even one person who was affected by his foolish, headstrong actions, but all of Minas Tirith. After that, Gondor. Faramir had let their one sure weapon fall through his fingers. If it had been any other Captain that had done this thing, he would now be hanging from a noose in the First Circle!
Denethor clenched his teeth, turning his anger away from his only son and to Mithrandir. That fool Wizard! He thought the rest of Middle-earth, his supposed stewardship, would be saved! How? If Gondor fell, and this sight before him bespoke it, then Rohan and Belfalas, the lands of the Elves, and further west, all would be lost!
The Steward shuddered as the vision continued. Siege engines loosed; the City, his City, was bombarded with flaming projectiles. He cried out in horror, "Mithrandir!" and sank to the floor. The vision cleared and the Room glowed with the light of the torch. His cheeks flamed with shame. Why had he called upon the Wizard? Nothing could save his City, if what he saw were true. Yet, the Palantír had never lied to him.
"Faramir! Faramir!" he cried out. "What have you done?" He put his head in his hands, breathing deeply, and tried to steady himself.
At last, his heart strengthened and he pulled himself up, standing before the plinth that held the stone. He removed the cloth and began his nightly vigil. The globe wakened to his touch.
An army wended its way through the hills and vales of Northern Ithilien: the end of the column passed close by the Dead Marshes, the vanguard almost through the Wetwang. Their path turned and led directly south.
A shiver ran up and down Denethor's spine as he realized: the attack had begun. These would cross the River near Cair Andros. No time to warn the garrison there. They would be decimated. After that, probably into Rohan; that would be the tack he would take. Then… Minas Tirith. There was nothing he could do.
He turned his eyes southward. The Corsair ships still harbored in the docks of Pelargir. Soon, they would leave aside their plundering and make their way north – to Minas Tirith. How would he stay their forward progress? Imrahil had left his ships patrolling the seas of Belfalas. There were not enough to save Minas Tirith too. He hoped the forces that stayed behind would harry them as they sailed northward. It was a fool's hope and he knew it. Imrahil would be relieved at the news. Dol Amroth would be safe, for the nonce.
Thinking upon the Prince, Denethor pulled away from the stone, covered it and left the Room and the Tower. The guard in front of Imrahil's chambers saluted and opened the door. A servant appeared, offered wine, and stepped to the fire, lighting it without command, leaving as silently as he had arrived. The Steward sat before the fire and waited.
"Denethor!" Imrahil walked in and embraced him. "Have you eaten?" He did not wait for an answer but rang and ordered a light meal from the servant. The Prince poured himself wine, then sat by his brother's side.
"I sent Nerdanel and Amrothos west to the Edhellond. The garrison there is well hidden." He swirled the wine in his glass. "Elphir commands Dol Amroth in my absence; Erchirion captains Linhir." He waited, but Denethor only nodded.
The food came and was served. Denethor did not rise from the settle, so Imrahil prepared a plate and set it down before the Steward. "Eat something." He took a bite of bread himself and drank his wine. As Denethor made no move to join him in the meal, the Prince returned to the table.
"Faramir regrets causing you anger; he sorrows." Their was no reply, not even a raised eyebrow. "He was wrong, according to your will, Denethor, but do you not trust his judgment?" When Denethor did not speak, Imrahil stood in frustration. "I know not what he did that causes such anger, but you will send him out again to battle. Speak with him before you do."
"When the end comes, Imrahil, and my City falls, try to reach your wife and son. Stay with them and comfort them, as I am not able to comfort my own son." Denethor stood, then rubbed his forehead. "I know not how long you will have before the Enemy moves on. I believe they will spend at least a month here, enjoying the spoils of my City." Denethor swallowed hard. "Do not stay to burn my body; it will not matter, in the end." He turned and left the room.
'But it does matter!' he thought furiously as he walked across the hall to his own chambers. 'I do not want my body defiled, my head hung on a pike outside my walls!' His fists clenched. 'Nor Faramir's.'
When he reached his own rooms, he pulled the rope and waited. Within a moment, Belegorn entered. "Send for Haldan, then take some rest. Tomorrow will be long." He watched as his aide left him.
His manservant entered. "Haldan, what I tell you now must be kept secret. Take a cartload of faggots and oil to the House of Stewards in Rath Dínen. Pile them along the wall near the center table, enough to build a pyre to burn two bodies." He waved a hand as Haldan began to protest. "Do it! If the worst happens, find my body and Faramir's. Bring our bodies here and set fire to them. I do not want the Enemy finding us. You know what they do to their victims. Then, flee the City if you are able."
The servant wept. Denethor turned away, went into his bedchamber, and lay down. His hand stroked the cool linen next to him. "Finduilas," he whispered. "I have tried. I have done my best. I cannot save Faramir. I hope he will die at my side so that I might save his body from shame, but I do not know. I hope, when I come to you, that I will be greeted warmly."
He closed his eyes, willing the tears away.
A/N - 1) "Mithrandir! Mithrandir!" men cried. "Now we know that the storm is indeed nigh!" "It is upon you," said Gandalf. "I have ridden on its wings. Let me pass! I must come to your Lord Denethor, while his stewardship lasts. Whatever betide, you have come to the end of the Gondor that you have known. Let me pass!" RotK: Book V: Chapter 1: Minas Tirith. 2) From this point on, there will be many 'passages' taken directly from RotK. They will be noted here, but not in the body of the text. It is not an effort to make it seem these are MY words, but to keep the flow of the tale moving. For those who are familiar with this book, you will know. Those who are not familiar really, really should read the Book - it is a treasure, a blessing, a gift. It is precious. 3) 'But soon Pippin saw that all was in fact well-ordered: the wains were moving in three lines, one swifter drawn by horses; another slower, great waggons with fair housings of many colours, drawn by oxen; and along the west rim of the road many smaller carts hauled by trudging men.' RotK: Book V: Chapter 1: Minas Tirith; 4) According to Michael Perry in his 'Untangling Tolkien,' Théoden traveled as hidden as possible, to prevent the Enemy from seeing his troops and guessing they were going to Gondor's aid. Unfortunately, this also meant Denethor probably could not see that the Rohirric army was, in fact, coming to Gondor.
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.