'I would have done anything to save him. Anything.' I stood at Elessar's feet after the others left.
"He was gone, Alqualondë. The Denethor you knew and loved was gone. But that is not why I am glad you are here. I must speak with you before we leave. You know; I saw you standing in the shadows whilst my captains and I just met. Mithrandir saw you too."
I smiled. 'The Elves knew too."
Elessar smiled back. "They are respectful. They would never say anything without your permission. I have told them a little about you, about your role in Gondor. Though I did not share your secret. They surmised it themselves, after watching you today."
'I was that transparent?'
"Nay, but they are Elves and see much."
I nodded. He called me to him. I did not move.
He sighed and for one brief moment, my heart cried out in yearning to be held, to be comforted, but I steeled myself.
"You know that we journey to the Black Gate. With all that we face, I cannot leave knowing of your hatred for Gandalf."
I began to walk away. I wanted to hear naught that dealt with the wizard. I was still trying to sort my feelings out.
Command in that voice, though the tone be gentle. I turned back.
The King sat on a small stool in his tent and motioned for me to join him. I sat at his side, far enough away that he could not touch me. I feared what he would say. Feared for the memory of the one I had loved. Were Mithrandir's actions justified? I could think of no reason nor excuse that could explain his treachery. Except the horrid one that kept niggling at my mind.
"I do not wish to cause you pain; however, I must ask you to remember Denethor's last moments, Alqualondë. Did he have his wits about him? What did he hold at the very end? Do you think Mithrandir did not suspect that Denethor used the Palantír?"
I nodded my head. I knew the wizard's cunning; he would know. Lord Faramir himself suspected, once Boromir was sent off.
"We both believe the Palantír took Denethor's hope. Showed him only the worst parts of what was coming. Alqualondë, he saw the Black Fleet, but I commanded those ships. He was shown them coming, not that they were filled with allies. He saw Frodo in Cirith Ungol, but both Gandalf and I believe the Hobbit is free and still bound to the Quest. Denethor believed in the Stone, believed because it was an Elven gift, but he thought he could fight against the danger of who held the other. And, Alqualondë, he knew who held the other."
At this, my back arched; I hissed and screamed in denial. 'He had the right!' I screeched in protest. 'He was of Númenor!'
"He had every right. As Steward. Yet when the wizard had the opportunity, Mithrandir would not look. He knew Sauron would use it against him if he could. Denethor knew that also, but thought himself impervious to it. He thought that he could best Sauron. He could not. Yes, Alqualondë. Others greater than he refused to use it, greater than a mere man. I can say no more. You must accept that."
"The Rohirrim were only six thousand strong. Even if Gandalf thought that Denethor could hear what he was telling him through the madness, he would still have been disheartened at the number of the response. He had hoped for double that amount." He leaned back. Tears filled his eyes. "I am sorry. Mithrandir did as I would have done. Denethor's fate was sealed the moment he took the Palantír into his hands."
I closed my eyes as grief overcame me. He was unstoppable; he continued.
"One more thing, Alqualondë." He paused and I listened more intently. "You knew him well; would he have given Gondor to me? Would he have accepted me as his King?"