Black Wing: 1. Black Wing

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1. Black Wing

'Like the Prince.'

Pippin sat on a stool in the corner of the Steward's chamber trying to remain unobtrusive while the barber sheared Denethor's hair close to his head. It made him look more fierce and severe, if that was possible. The Steward examined the barber's handiwork in a mirror the man proffered and directed that his hair be cropped closer still. Finally satisfied, Denethor dismissed the barber with a motion of his chin. The man departed with alacrity.

As soon as the door closed, Denethor walked over to the bed and dragged a chest out from under it. It was leather with metal edges and was secured with a black lock. Pippin could not quell his curiosity as the Steward began pulling things from it – a stained and patched green cloak that reminded Pippin of Bilbo's, a big leather belt, a long knife in a weathered sheath, a sturdy pack, and clothing that looked like it belonged to Strider.

'What is this for?' Pippin asked.

Denethor did not spare him a glance. 'For tomorrow,' was all he said. The tall man examined all of the items from the chest, tossing some of the clothes into a basket near the clothes press, putting other items into the pack. 'Stay here, I will be back.' Pippin tried to stave off sleep but was woken from his doze by the sound of Denethor speaking to someone at the door of the room. 'Yes, Gethron. Say nothing, but be at the gate.' A murmured assent and footsteps, then a door closed. Denethor had a bundle of clothing under his arm and a small wicker basket in one hand. He was soon settled in on his bed, sitting tailor-fashion with his back against the headboard and the clothes across his lap. 'You should get some sleep,' he said to Pippin as he rummaged through the wicker basket. When Pippin walked towards the door, Denethor said, 'No. Stay here and sleep.'

'Why?'

'We will need to be in the first circle early on the morrow,' Denethor replied as he threaded a needle he had taken from the wicker basket. 'The army marches out with the light.' Finally the grim man looked at the Hobbit, his eyes glinting in his gaunt face. His voice was calm, even gentle. 'There is not time for you to go to the guesthouses and be fetched in the morning. Your gear will be waiting for you in the first circle garrison. Sleep across the foot of the bed here.' Pippin nodded, yawning, and clambered up onto the high bed. He was soon asleep.

***

A hand grasped Pippin's shoulder and shook him awake. It was still dark, though Pippin was by now used to rising at that hour. 'It is time, Master perian,' Denethor said. Pippin jumped down from the bed and neatened his clothes. The Steward paid him no more attention, but knelt down next to his pack stowing a few last items. Gone were the robes the Steward usually wore, replaced by Strider's clothes.

A little more dirt and that could be Strider. Denethor buckled on his sword, shouldered the pack and cast the old cloak over it all. Pippin trotted after him when he left the room. Denethor led them through the Tower, past the dead tree in the somber court and down to the sixth circle and the Houses of Healing. Pippin hoped the Steward would give him time to check on Merry before they went down the City. As they entered the dim room where Faramir lay, a huge grey hound rose from the floor next to the captain's bed and bared his teeth at the intruders, making Pippin jump back into the hall.

'Stop it, Huan,' Denethor said sharply but softly, not dismayed by the guardian. His cloak swung and blocked Pippin's view of the bed. When he could see again, the dog was gone and Beregar was kneeling next to the bed, his grey head bowed.

'I did not recognize you, my lord,' the man murmured.

'Has he been dreaming?' Denethor asked, going to his son's side.

'No, Hollë has not stirred. '

'Good.' Denethor went to the bed and stooped over Faramir, smoothing back a lock of hair that had fallen across his son's face. 'You should see to your kinsman.'

It took Pippin a moment to realize that the Steward was speaking to him. 'Oh, yes, thank you, yes! ' he stammered, earning a glare from Beregar. Denethor paid no mind, all of his attention on Faramir. Pippin backed away from the door and hurried down the hall to Merry's room.

***

Faramir felt his father's warm hand on his brow. 'Faramir, wake. I need to speak to you.' The face he saw when he opened was strange, not his father, and he tried to sit up and ward the stranger off but the sudden move sent pain lancing through his wounded shoulder. 'Shh, shh, Hollë, it's me, Papa,' the man said.

Faramir looked more closely. 'Yes, I see now. What? Why?' Faramir stared in confusion at the hair as close-cropped as Uncle Imrahil's and then with an unpleasant suspicion when he saw his father's attire. 'Father, what is this?'

Denethor sat on the edge of the bed and helped Faramir sit up. 'A final duty.'

'My Lord Steward, you speak dire words.'

 'Yes. The host departs for Mordor this morning.' His father smiled grimly. 'It appears I will be Captain-General and take the field with Thorongil a last time.'

Faramir shook his head. 'No. You cannot. You are the Lord Steward. You must remain here.'

'And who else will lead Gondor? You are too wounded.'

'Anyone. Uncle Imrahil. Captain Gethron. Not you. You are Steward and there is no one else for…'

Denethor took Faramir's hand firmly in his own and pulled something from beneath his cloak. He laid the White Rod across Faramir's palm and closed his son's hand around it. 'Yes there is. You.'

'Father, this is madness…' Faramir fell silent at the haunted look on his father's face.

'No, Hollë. Madness is done.' Denethor's hand was shaking as he touched Faramir's cheek. 'I have broken troth. I am no more a steward. What my hand would have…' The words faded away and his father bowed his head in shame.

'I beg you, father and lord, do not do this,' Faramir whispered.

Denethor sat for several heartbeats, face averted, then sighed. 'My time is near done and I would reclaim some honor.' His face was composed when he raised his head. 'All of time is done, Faramir, and doom waits to master us. Yet estel is here, and so I ride.' The grim smile returned. 'It is not quite the folly it might seem, captain. On a hope and a chance, we take a token force and a ragged king to capture the Enemy's attention for a short time. You know this.'

'Yes, you told me the council's decision.'

'This force will not return.' Denethor put his hand over Faramir's and the White Rod. 'With luck, the sacrifice will work. I have seen greater miracles.' Faramir glanced at Beregar, who nodded agreement. 'But if there is no luck, then Gondor will need someone to lead her in her darkest days. Our house may not lay aside the charge placed upon us, to defend Gondor. '

'Is that not what you are doing?' Faramir demanded.

'I place Gondor into your hands and no matter our fortune before the Black Gate, she is defended.' Denethor stood and turned to Beregar. 'Hound, I charge you to defend the Lady's son.'

'She'd want me with you.'

Denethor shook his head. 'Nay, Huan. She wants me with her. And Morcollë.' With that, Denethor turned and left the room.

***

Imrahil stood with Calmacil and Marlong, quietly surveying the men gathering in the pale light of the impending dawn. Marlong's son, Mablung, stood near, waiting to be of use to the captains, as did Imrahil's man Borthand. Master Mutt had a shallow gash on his temple and many bruises and scrapes from the battles but was otherwise sound.

Imrahil's dreams had kept him from sleeping more than a few hours the last few nights and his head felt stuffed with wool. It was still difficult to accept that Thorongil had returned. Marlong hailed Gethron and limped over to talk to the other captain, Mablung trailing. The two elder men went towards the ranks of Gondorian soldiers getting into their companies in preparation for the march.

'Imrahil.' The Prince turned quickly at the sound of Denethor's voice and froze, shocked at his brother-in-law's appearance.

 'Denethor?' It was wrong to see the Steward like this. Imrahil tried to remember a time when Denethor had cut his hair short, and could not. It did not help that Denethor was wearing an amused expression, obviously enjoying Imrahil's startlement. Then Imrahil noticed what else the man wore and confusion became dismay. 'What are you up to?'

'Doom.'

'Oh, no, brother. I am not letting you…'

'You cannot forbid it, Imrahil, so you might as well help me.' Denethor's eyes glinted as they did when he knew he had successfully executed a clever plan.

'My Lord Steward…'

'…is resting comfortably in the Houses of Healing,' was the genial assurance Denethor tossed over his shoulder as he began striding off to the soldiers, the young perian Pippin trotting after him. Gethron waved at Denethor, motioning his lord to come over. So you are in on this madness. Imrahil sighed in exasperation and hastened to join them. I might as well know how deep the conspiracy goes. Mablung darted away just before they came to the group, sent on an errand by Marlong. Imrahil eyed a furled banner one of the soldiers held, knowing it was familiar but not being able to place it.

'Denethor, would you care to enlighten me as to how much foolishness I shall need to defend?' he said when he was close enough to speak.

'No foolishness,' was the too-mild reply. 'Faramir has not recovered enough to take the field, but there is naught wrong with his head, only his shoulder, so he has consented to serve as Steward and I take up his task as Captain-General.' Denethor's eyes strayed across the field, searching. A grim smile settled on his lips. 'I look forward to a final campaign with Captain Thorongil. '

***

Aragorn spoke to Borlas before dismissing the man to see to the ordering of the Grey Company. Elladan stood silent nearby, gazing at the scrim of mountains taking shape against the eastern dawn. Aragorn joined his foster brother in his contemplation of their fate. Folly. You have thought that before. Helm's Deep. Moria. Umbar. Success did not make them less folly. Elrohir walked up, trailed by their horses. Aragorn nodded a greeting to his other brother and offered his shoulder for Roheryn to rub his forehead against. Never more than a chance to begin with. That was all they ever had, of course, an opportunity to exploit the weakness of an insurmountable foe for a brief advantage. Now you sound like Denethor. Aragorn turned slightly and glanced up the walls of the City to the Citadel battlements where the Stewards' banner flew. And how is he wrong?

He had listened to Gandalf's account of Denethor's madness, first horrified, then relieved, and finally shaken at the account of the Steward's attempt to kill himself and Faramir. Pippin's version had been less harsh towards Denethor and Aragorn thought it to be closer to the truth. I left you alone for too long. Gandalf was becoming irritated at his refusal to require Denethor to step aside. "Press this advantage," the wizard had urged as they watched Denethor sit at Faramir's side in the Houses, bowed in grief and shame. "He will accede. He is guilt-ridden for his crime. In a few days, he may not be so amenable." Gandalf had not been amused when Aragorn pointed out that in a very few more days than that, they might all be dead.

Across the field, men were mounting up and banners were unfurled behind their lords. A small cheer was heard when Borlas shook out Arwen's banner, and several other banners were dipped in acknowledgement of the claim of the tree and stars. Aragorn looked for Imrahil's Swan. It did not move. Another reason not to humiliate the Steward, Gandalf. Not everyone is pleased at my return. The wizard himself he could see approaching on Shadowfax. With a sigh, Aragorn mounted Roheryn.

Back by the gate, a murmur of voices swiftly grew into a roar. Along the first wall, horns were winded and drums were beaten as the cheers grew louder. Gon-dor! Gon-dor! Gon-dor! Aragorn watched a banner pass from the shadow of the gate and into the first rays of the rising sun and felt his heart rise and sink in the same moment. It was Finduilas' black wing and he knew who would be riding beneath it. He watched it pass the Swan banner, which dipped in submission before falling in behind it. The ranks of soldiers hurried to flank the road from the gate to where Aragorn sat beneath his own. As the black wing passed, every lord of Gondor acknowledged the device.

'Aragorn, what is this?' Gandalf demanded, looking at the approaching banner with suspicion.

'Gondor.'

Aragorn waited patiently for Denethor to join him. The close-cropped hair was startling at first, but everything else about the man was so familiar – his eyes, his seat on the horse, the stained cloak, the sword, the air of command, and the expression made of equal parts arrogance and amusement – that the shorn head quickly became who Denethor had always been. 'Captain-General,' Aragorn genially offered in greeting, ignoring the wizard's sound of exasperation.

Denethor did not take his eyes from Aragorn's face, though a corner of his mouth quirked up. 'Captain,' was his equally polite reply.

'And what do you think of our plan?'

The Steward looked at him a long moment, expression odd. 'That we shall find out if our faith in you was well placed, after all.'

Aragorn had to swallow to make sure that his voice would be steady. 'Then let us not tarry.' He motioned for the Grey Company to fall in behind him. Denethor moved to his right hand, Imrahil to his left. With another signal, the three captains set out towards Osgiliath. 


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.

Story Information

Author: Anglachel

Status: General

Completion: Complete

Era: 3rd Age - Ring War

Genre: Drama

Rating: General

Last Updated: 08/01/10

Original Post: 08/01/10

Go to Black Wing overview

Comments

WARNING! Comments may contain spoilers for a chapter or story. Read with caution.

Black Wing

Nath - 01 Aug 10 - 7:37 PM

Ch. 1: Black Wing

*heh* One cannot help but think that Denethor is enjoying himself a lot more than Aragorn, and that Gandalf is not having fun at all.

Black Wing

maeglin - 07 Aug 10 - 10:16 AM

Ch. 1: Black Wing

Awesome.  Instantly the best Denethor-survives story.  Hope there'll be a chapter 2!

maeglin

Black Wing

Anglachel - 07 Aug 10 - 10:47 AM

Ch. 1: Black Wing

Nath - Denethor is clearly having the most fun. Aragorn, however, is handling the situation best, I think.  He's the only one whose heart has not hardened.

maeglin - The entire AU is written out in my head. I'm not sure it will make it to virtual paper, but maybe.  Bilbo is tapping his foot impatiently and giving me The Eye to remind me I have some unfinished work in the Shire.

Ang

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Julie - 03 Sep 10 - 1:34 AM

Ch. 1: Black Wing

In middle of the night I had an urge to reread a HotK scene, and happily found this. Thanks for more Denethor ... and a *snerk* for the Gandalf bit.

Black Wing

Rugi - 26 Feb 11 - 5:49 AM

Ch. 1: Black Wing

I am a sucker for stories where Denethor survives the pyre.  Because I love Denethor and also because I'm fascinated to see how such a proud, intelligent, and strong man would deal with what he'd done.  I loved getting this glimpse of your HotK characters grown - seeing Holle in Faramir and vice versa.  And I also enjoy your slightly jaundiced take on Gandalf and, to a lesser extent, Aragorn.  Aragorn's " I left you alone for too long," really cut me to my heart.  Loved it.  Like everyone else, I'd be interested to see more, although this story works beautifully as a stand alone.

Black Wing

Agape4Gondor - 26 Feb 11 - 1:36 PM

Ch. 1: Black Wing

Very glad for the comments section on the front page! I don't know how I missed this on it's first go-round, but glad I found it today.

Wonderful piece. I loved the 'cutting,' the clothes, the surprises, and especially, the ring of secret. I love that you put the little bit about 'look-alikes.' It is very important to me - that bond that must connect them somewhere.

Well done! Now - waiting for chapter two, though I do so want more Bilbo.

Black Wing

Anglachel - 26 Feb 11 - 9:19 PM

Ch. 1: Black Wing

Hi Rugi,

Sorry for not answering sooner. I'm traveling at the moment and only look in sporadically.

As I wrote HotK, it became clear that there were two loves in Denethor's life - Finduilas and Thorongil. Yes, he was jealous of Thorongil and resented the usurpation, but by Umbar, he was ready to acknowledge the king because he loved and trusted the man. What I didn't realize until quite late in the story was that Thorongil returned that respect and affection, but not the trust. It's probably only in hindsight that he grasps what his flight did to Denethor, and he is profoundly guilty. I left you alone for too long.  To him, Denethor was a big brother, much as Boromir was to Faramir, the powerful, decisive, elder who never stopped being the younger's defender. It shocks him to see this person fall so far. Even as he knows how and why Denethor's flaws led to his downfall, he has no less love for his big brother. He knows Denethor well enough that, without anyone saying a word, he instantly grasps what Denethor has done, addressing him correctly as Captain-General.

Denethor knows this. It is a source of solace and of anger. If you love me why did you go? Can you really forgive me, or is this just pity? Hence his reply that he wishes to see if his faith in Thorongil was well placed - the path to redemption for both of them (the flight after Umbar, the suicide/murder attempt) lies is getting this right. 

Anglachel

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Anglachel - 26 Feb 11 - 9:25 PM

Ch. 1: Black Wing

Hi Agape,

Heh. Denethor is always ready for a good secret, especially at the Captain's expense. As I said in the previous comment, to me they are brothers or almost-twins, manifesting different facets of the traits they share. No second chapter being planned, though I did think through a scene of Denethor meeting Eowyn for the first time. He rather approves of her.

Anglachel 

Black Wing

helga - 30 Nov 12 - 8:54 PM

Ch. 1: Black Wing

Yay  - omg!  I discovered this awhile ago, but jut now read it.  "Hands of the King" is one of my all time favorites, and I really love this "extension."  After creating such an intriguing Denethor - that the reader wants to like - I was so glad to see what you did with this alternate ending.  Or, if you need any encouragement, if this isn't yet the end, I will be looking forward to the next episode.  It would be interesting to get Denethor's reaction upon meeting Eowyn, especially if she ends up as his daughter-ion-law.  I'd kind of like to see him remain in Minas Tirith after it's all over - what would he do?  Set up an alchemy/science lab?  Translations from Haradic?

Black Wing

Anglachel - 24 Sep 13 - 7:42 PM

Ch. 1: Black Wing

Hi Helga,

I'm so sorry I missed the comment you posted, um, last November. (Hides head in shame...).

Denethor likes forward, strong-willed women, having been brought up in a clan of them, so Eowyn would be right up his alley. He'd always maintain that Faramir was not quite good enough for her (though not really - he'd be proud of the kid for winning over such a cool wife). And the grand-babies would be spoiled like no one's business.

I don't think he could stay in Minas Tirith, especially after Arwen showed up, but he would do interesting things elsewhere. Much to Thorongil's annoyance. Kind of a permanent thorn in the side of the new king. The dynamic between them would be interesting, to say the least, with Denethor pulled between seething resentment and helpless devotion, while Aragorn tries to win his "brother" back and gain Denethor's trust, despite the opinion of pretty much everyone that the former Steward's hatred is implacable.

It all hinges on forgiveness, as the mariner said.

Thanks for reading,
Anglachel


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