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Ch. 11 - Third Age 2973 - Part One
'I am not myself,' he thought. 'How will I ever be able to tell father?' He had asked for, and received posting to the garrison near Dol Amroth, but for three years only. He had not told his father the real reason he wanted posting there. It had been part of his plan, once he had set eyes upon her at that night's ball.
There was now the duty of attending the inevitable party in the Hall of Feasts after the affairs of state were completed. He stood at the great entrance doors and watched the lords and ladies of Gondor as they danced. He wanted no part of this. Prince Adrahil had come to Minas Tirith for some function or the other and had brought his family with him. She was twenty - great gray eyes, blackest hair, fairest skin - she took his breath away. He remembered the times when she was but a child; she always mesmerized him, not by her beauty, though that was exquisite, but by the light that shone about her, through her and emanated outwards. Amdir laughed when he told him, saying it was probably an Elvish air. 'It could be,' he thought. 'There are rumors, old tales told of an Elven ancestry for the house of Dol Amroth.' Whatever it was, it filled him with a peace, a joy, and a sense of wonder. When he realized that he was falling in love with her, he asked to be transferred. Up until that time, he made it a point to join as many family activities as possible, and had been warmly welcomed by the prince.
Now he could laugh, for he remembered how he had chafed at the thought of the party, knowing his father required his attendance. He had felt he was being used, as fodder for cattle. His face had blazed at the humiliation of it. Ecthelion was determined to marry him off, and Denethor was determined not to be! Let Indis' progeny carry the title. As the years passed, and his role as Heir to the Steward became more and more public, the great Lords of Gondor fawned over him. Not a day would pass, when he was in the City, that one or another of them would not 'bump' into him, towing an eligible daughter behind. 'Simpering fools,' he called them, 'Duty!' his father called it.
Yet, there was a place in his heart that ached for a love such as Thengel and Amdir had. To his chagrin, not one of the women presented to him held a candle to the strength that was Indis, the compassion that was Listöwel, or the warrior that was Morwen Steelsheen!
And then - she walked into the Hall, her hand resting on her father's arm, and the light that surrounded her dazzled him. Amdir tried, numerous times, to swing his attention away from her, but Denethor's whole being was caught, as in the great fishing nets of the men of Pelargir, and he knew he did not want to be released. He would not even struggle.
It was well into the night when his father came to him, chiding him for not dancing, not mingling with the guests. He barely heard him. How could he dance? His body would not obey him; his feet would not move. He heard his father's exasperated groan, and breathed a sigh of relief when Ecthelion left his side. Amdir had long ago left him for the pleasure of Listöwel's company.
He realized Prince Adrahil was coming towards him. She was again holding her hand lightly on his arm. He wanted to take that delicate hand and hold it. He wanted to run away. 'I am not myself,' he thought.
"Lord Denethor," the prince saluted, hand to chest. Denethor returned it, but found his mouth incapable of movement. "May I present my daughter, Finduilas? Finduilas, the Heir of the Steward of Gondor, Lord Denethor." He turned towards Denethor. "I have been reminding her of the times you were stationed at our humble garrison, and were considerate enough to visit Dol Amroth from time to time."
Denethor's brow creased. 'Is that all I am? Heir of Gondor? Can I not be a man? Can I not have feelings? Can I...?' His thoughts were interrupted by a startling smile that took away whatever breath was left him. Never before had he begrudged being named heir; in fact, he relished the title when it was used, but never before had he been in the presence of a Vala, for surely, she must be one.
"My Lord." She gave a small curtsy, though her eyes laughed and sparkled. It was as if the Star of Eärendil itself blazed from her eyes. He realized, through the fog that blanketed his mind, that he should make some response. He bowed deeply and feared that the sudden dizziness that assailed him would not pass ere he straightened. 'This is a dream,' he told himself. 'This cannot be Finduilas, child of laughter and light.'
Not realizing that he had spoken the last words aloud, he started at her gentle laughter; then she spoke. "I remember my dear friend, Denethor, now Captain of Gondor. Do you remember, my Lord? You used to call me 'Jewel' when we would walk by the shore."
"I remember our picnics," he said as he tried to push aside the thoughts of his Jewel, for now, she had truly become one, sparkling, radiant, precious, and valuable. "Our picnics were delightful."
She laughed again; the sound burned his ears, so sweet was it. "I am very grateful for your kindness. Father, did I tell you of the little breads I would make, covered with the spreads of the bounty of Belfalas, packed for our picnics?"
Adrahil was silent, watching in surprise as his 'child' matured before his very eyes. 'Or had she been grown?' he wondered, 'When had this happened?'
"Lord Denethor would join my companions and me at the shore, and we would eat these little morsels - he with his large hands holding such tiny delicacies - covered with wind-blown sand!" She smiled again and it pained him to see the beauty in it. "You were most courteous, my Lord. The food was really not palatable, Father, now that I think on it."
"It has been ten years, my Lady Finduilas, since last we met. I am honored that you remember."
She looked up at him, black lashes hiding those eyes, gray as the Star Sapphire in the treasury. He lost his breath again.
"I would not forget you, my Lord Denethor. Once you were a dear friend of mine. May we not renew that friendship?"
Prince Adrahil stepped between them. "Perhaps we shall see you again, before we leave? Now, I fear, it is time to retire." He turned towards Denethor. "My Lord, it was a long trip. Forgive our leaving so early. Please give my respects to your father."
Denethor, his tongue now tied and his face blazing, merely nodded as the couple turned and walked away. He yearned to have that little hand on his arm.
The prince and his family left early the next morning. That is when Denethor started to put his plan into effect.
Three years now he had been at Dol Amroth, stationed at the garrison outside the city. Days were spent on patrol, on diplomatic missions to the lords of the near-by fiefdoms; nights were spent in agony, wishing he were with her, and when he was with her, they shared the starlit nights of Southern Gondor. When he was not on duty, he found that he haunted the halls of the castle of the prince. He walked along the corridors in the palace, hoping that there might be a chance meeting, a short moment to drink in the essence that was Finduilas. Then, he walked the gardens, the porticos, the gazebos; the landscape of the castle leant itself to the mystery that was this woman. Great slabs of marble, dark-hewn and gray, lined every surface. The great rounded portico leading out of the palace on the seaward side with its twelve stately pillars looked towards the sea; the large stairwells that a mûmak could pass down so wide and deep were they, curved from the portico on each side, then led down to the sea; the tree-lined alleys, covered with drooping wisteria and clematis plants, spilled into the sea; and the rock walls with their ledges and sculpted swans leaned forward into the sea. All around, the salt-smell of the water overcame all the scents of the roses, wisteria, clematis, and simmleri. Never had he seen such a profusion of flowers; blues, violets, yellows, scarlets, mauves - a feast of colors. His mother's gardens were put to shame.
He turned as she came towards him. 'Nay,' he thought, 'all these are put to shame by this one before me.' And he drew in his breath.
"Ada would like to see you now, if that is possible," she asked with deference.
Now that she was here, the loneliness that had pervaded his heart just moments before, fled and was replaced by a great joy, so great he thought his heart would burst with it. "Did he... Is it urgent?"
She gazed at him quizzically and he hoped that the sweat he felt on his brow did not show. "He did not say, but there were some shipbuilders with him."
"Would you sit here, with me, for a moment? I will rush to his side if you but give me one moment."
She sat on the wall and he sat beside her.
His face burned and hers shone. 'I cannot do this,' he thought, miserably. 'She will never accept me. My tongue is tied every time I am with her. I trip over my own feet. I sigh continuously. I am not myself, when she is near. By the Valar, how will I govern in this state?' He tried to move away, but her hand caught his and sent shivers up his arm. His ears seemed to have gone deaf. He knew gulls cried and birds sang and the sea roared, but he heard naught.
She accepted his request for her hand. She would be his wife. Tears sprang to his eyes at the wonder of it all. Never had he thought that such a thing would be possible. He would not upbraid himself nor look to his many failings. She knew them, after these past three years, knew him better than he knew himself. Yet, she still accepted. He would concentrate on her 'yes.' He had to let the breath out. It crushed his chest. Every sinew of his body was affected by the mere thought of her. If he could not breathe now, nor function with any rationale thought, how would he ever - when she was at his side?
They agreed that they would not speak to her father until he had asked permission from Ecthelion. It seemed only wise. He would leave in the morning. Yet, he found it incredibly hard to leave her. His heart soared at the magnitude of his love for her. And groaned at her love for him. How could she? Nay, he would not think on that. Suffice to say, she had said yes and willingly, with nary an argument from him. A simple yes that changed the world, made it bright again, made a future seem possible. At last he left her and hurried to his meeting with Imrahil.
He would travel light, with only one company as an escort. What excuse would he use when he faced his father? Why had he left his post? It was almost time for the monthly errand-rider to return to Minas Tirith with the numerous reports required by the Steward. He would take them himself, saying their import was such as to not leave to the hands of an errand-rider. Hmm. That did not hold. Errand-riders were capable of taking any message. His mind whirled. He must act now. There had been rumors that others had been to Adrahil on behalf of their sons. Well, haste must be had, and he would risk his father's anger for his Lady's hand. His mind raced and he heard not a word. As soon as the meeting ended, he was at his garrison, horsed and out the gate before any hardly knew.
He stood before his father, wondering how he would broach the subject. But there was no need to wonder, for his father was paying no attention to him. Thorongil had been giving some report. Ecthelion turned towards Denethor and asked his opinion. He blushed slightly. He had not been listening.
"Once again, I ask, what think you of Captain Thorongil's theory?"
'Captain!' thought Denethor. 'When had Thorongil become a captain? When had anyone, not a citizen of Gondor, been appointed a captain?' He scrambled for a coherent sentence. "My Lord, having just returned from Dol Amroth, I have not read the report. I have not even received a copy of it."
"You do not need to read it," Ecthelion said, his lips pursed tightly. "I have given you a summary and I would have your opinion."
"If I would be of service to my Lord Steward, I would be remiss to speculate on a report I have not read. I trust your summary, my Lord, but knowing 'Captain' Thorongil's attention to detail, I must ask to read it first before commenting."
"Very well. Read it and return after the evening meal. I will expect your 'wise' words!" Ecthelion snarled the word and turned to go to the Hall of Feasts. Denethor moved to follow. Ecthelion stopped, turning swiftly towards him, and said, "I want your opinion when I return from dinner. Now, go." He turned again towards the Hall and motioned for Thorongil to follow him.
Denethor stood back, trying desperately to keep his face clear of any emotion. His arms fairly shook with rage. He had been dismissed! He, the Heir of Gondor, had been dismissed and that... that Thorongil had... 'Nay!' he thought. 'I will not do this. I will not fall into anger or jealousy. This is not Thorongil's doing. My father, as always, has decided this is a propitious time to discipline me. For what, I do not know.' He turned on his heel, seized a copy of the report from a scribe, and walked to his rooms.
The report, as he had expected, was well written. He had to laugh; yet it was bitter. Some of the suggestions were ones he had given his father nigh unto fifteen years ago. Cair Andros would be refortified - this time, with more men and more weapons. 'So,' he thought, 'Ecthelion has forgotten the times we spoke of these very matters. He takes the advice of a man from the north. Well, it matters not where the advice comes from as long as it is taken. And I am glad. Cair Andros will be our first defense, if the One we do not name attacks from the northeast, coming from the Morannon. Thorongil will do well in preparing it for such an attack. Though I still do not understand how he has become a Captain of Gondor.' He shook his head. What other things had changed since he had been gone?
The bell rang for the hour. He was in the Great Hall. No one was about. 'The daymeal must be long over,' he thought, 'yet, where is the Steward?' Just then, Thorongil came through the entrance hall. He strode quickly towards Denethor, his arms opened wide.
"My Lord Denethor. I am sorry we did not have time to talk before the Steward's meeting. It is so good to see you again. I have missed your company." And Denethor knew, by the tone of voice and the smile on the man's face, that what he said was true and heartfelt.
He returned the embrace and laughed. "So, you are now Captain of Gondor! I am very happy for you. What garrison are you captain of?"
"No garrison. I am in charge of Ecthelion's personal knights."
Denethor stepped back, stunned.
Thorongil quickly said, "I am sorry. I thought you knew."
"Nay, I did not. I am just surprised. It is well deserved, I am sure." Yet his mind could hardly grasp the enormity of the posting. He was next in line for this posting. He had expected to be called home months ago and it given to him. He walked towards the vestibule and Thorongil followed.
"Is there something amiss, my Lord?" Thorongil asked gently.
"Nay. It was a long journey from Dol Amroth and I am tired. I had hoped I could report to the Steward and then be off to bed. Yet, I see this will not be so. I must wait for his return, for I have promised to give him my opinion on your report." He turned to Thorongil. "By the by, it is a good report, well-written. The advice you have given is fine. I myself have thought long and hard about the defenses of Cair Andros. You have explained the need very well indeed. You should be proud of your report."
"There is naught to be proud of. I read some of your papers and expanded upon your ideas. I said as much to the Steward."
'Ah,' Denethor thought, 'it is as I believed. Straightforward and true is this man. Not a back-stabber.' He smiled. "Whoever sways the Steward to action is not important; what is important is that he acts."
"Yes. But I would not have you think that I would take your words and make them my own."
"The thought never crossed my mind, Thorongil. You have been a friend since the Drúadan Forest. I will not doubt you."
They walked out the great doors of the Hall and stopped at the Court of the Fountain.
"Do you think the king will return?" Denethor suddenly felt impelled to ask.
This time, it was Thorongil's turn to be startled. "I have not thought of it much. It is not my place, as a simple man in Gondor's service, to think of such things."
"Yet, it seems right to ask it of you. You have been in Gondor for thirteen years now. Does it not seem strange that we wait for a king long lost?"
"I do not think it strange. I hear the words of hope from your father. He believes the king will return. Do you not?"
"I do not know what to think. I know I will keep Gondor as strong as I am able. If the king returns, he will find a people of courage waiting for him."
"Would you deny him his throne?"
"Nay, if proof is sound. Have you ever heard the tales of the Kin-slaying?"
"Yes, I have. Yet Gondor still survives."
"Because of the Stewards," Denethor spoke with more vehemence than was his wont. He softened his voice. "The Stewards have held Gondor in trust for the king for twenty-five generations. If not for Mardil Voronwë, when King Eärnur foolishly went off to answer the Dark Lord's challenge, Gondor would be in the thrall of evil and there would be no kingdom to return to!" Again, he had raised his voice. He apologized.
"I understand what you say, my Lord, but..."
"When I received posting to Dol Amroth, did we not leave each other as friends? Why, now, do you continue to say, 'my lord'?" Denethor wondered.
Thorongil laughed. "Yes. I consider you friend. Your subject is weighty however, and therefore, I spoke as befits such a discussion."
"Then, let us leave weighty discussions to another day. It has been too long since we have visited a certain inn. As soon as I report to father, I would very much like to share a drink or two with you. Is Amdir still at Pelargir? And where is father?" he wondered, looking about him. "I will go back to the Hall and wait upon him. Perhaps you will save me a seat?"
Thorongil laughed. "Indeed I will. The Steward spoke of going to bed, however. I do not think he planned on going back to the Hall tonight."
Denethor's face blazed again. He turned his back upon his friend and bit his lip. 'So, I am not worth eating with him, nor giving my report.' He shook his head. 'Nay,' he thought, 'I cannot, I will not let my thoughts sway to these feelings. Finduilas loves me. She has said yes to my proposal and we will be wed. That is what is important tonight.'
He turned towards Thorongil and apologized. "I am sorry. I forget. I must see my sister. Will you meet me tomorrow night at the sixth bell?"
"Of course. Good night to you then."
Denethor bid him good night, then chided himself for forgetting Indis. He ran up the Citadel steps two at a time; he turned towards her chambers. His face hurt from the smile that had covered it as soon as he left Thorongil. He could not wait to tell her. How he wished she had been there. But now, she would share his joy. Warmth filled him as he thought of Indis - the love he had for her, her steadfastness, and her courage. He stopped at her chamber door and knocked gently. The hour was late; he hoped she was still awake.
Her chambermaid answered the door and gasped to see him. "My Lord, we were not told you had returned. I will get my mistress. Please, enter and sit." She turned and ran to the bedchamber's doors.
"Denethor!" Love and joy filled her voice and he rejoiced in the love of a sister. "Why did not father tell me you were ordered home?" She quickly hugged him and gestured for the maid to bring food and drink.
"Father did not know I was coming," Denethor stated flatly. "I needed to speak with him; I did not ask his permission."
"It must have been an urgent matter, for you to do such a thing," she whispered. "I have not known you to flaunt his authority. Except perhaps," she laughed gently, "when Arciryas and I were wed. Tell me now, what caused you to return so unexpectedly?"
He pulled her down to the couch and held her hands tightly. "Indis," his hands shook slightly and she looked upon him in amaze. "I... by the Valar this should easy! I have asked Finduilas to be my wife."
"Oh!" She looked deeply into his eyes. "And did she accept?"
He burst out laughing. "Yes! Yes, by all the Valar she said yes! I cannot tell you the joy that fills my heart, dearest sister. I cannot begin to tell you what she means to me. I have spent the last three years courting her, carefully, trying not to frighten her. I know I am not the easiest man to live with. She has learned all my weaknesses, all my moods, and all my worst habits. Yet she still said yes! I cannot believe it." He sat and held her hands tightly.
"Brother, my dearest brother. You are noble and kind and good. Why would she not say yes?"
"Nay, sister. You see me in a different light than others. You have always loved me, cared for me, and accepted me as I am. But others have not." The image of his father caused his brow the crease.
"Brother, I know of whom you speak. Father... father knows your strengths and relies upon them. He needs more. Gondor needs more. You will never be able to give as much as is needed. No one man can. Do not chastise yourself for something you cannot change."
"Let us not discuss father or Gondor now. I want to discuss her, tell you about her, and revel in the delight that is Finduilas. She is so beautiful, Indis, so kind, so loving. And she is wise too. Many nights we spent discussing Gondor, its history, and its future. She knows what needs to be done. She agrees with me, not because of who I am, but because she has considered the problems and has come to the same conclusions that I have. It is amazing to me. I can share so many things with her. Not feelings, though those I have shared, but more than that, my hopes and dreams for Gondor and what we might do, together, to save her. I tell you, it is a dream come true. A dream I did not even know I had." He slumped back into the cushions on the couch, a smile on his face.
"Denethor. I am so happy for you. What has father said?"
He shook slightly and she knew he had not confronted their father with the news. "When will you ask his permission?" she asked quietly as the maid entered the room, placed cheese, bread and wine on the table in front of the settle and withdrew.
"I had meant to tonight. I wanted it done and over with, but when I reached the Citadel he was in the midst of a meeting with his counselors. I deemed it not the right moment to broach the subject, though my heart was near to bursting with the need to ask. I cannot tell what he will say; ever has he been a puzzle to me. I know you have felt the same; therefore, I sit here before you in trepidation. I do not know what he will do."
"Let me invite him here for nuncheon tomorrow. I know he will come. And you, too. After we eat, I will leave the room on some pretense and you can then ask him."
"Would you do that for me?"
"Of course, little brother. It will be perfect."
"Bless you, dearest Indis. I will see you on the morrow. Now, I find exhaustion o'ercoming me. I rode as fast as the wind. There are others who are courting her. I need an answer immediately. I will rest now and see you on the morrow. Good night, my dearest sister, good night." He hugged her tightly, apologized for not eating, and kissed her forehead.
Arciryas came into the room, yawning. "Denethor! It is good to see you. I am sorry, I did not know you were here."
"I am leaving. Forgive me for disturbing your sleep. We will speak in the morning. It is very good to see you again, Arciryas." He bowed low and left.
"What was he here for, Indis?"
"I will tell you in our chambers. Come, it is late and I need your warmth." She shivered at the thought of tomorrow's assignation.
"You dared to make an alliance without my permission?" his father bellowed. "Did you think I have not been preparing someone for you already? The Lord Amandil's daughter has come of age. He traces his lineage directly to Númenor, and he is the wealthiest man in Gondor. He is owed allegiance from many lords of Gondor. He is a formidable foe and would be a welcome ally. Yet, you look to an Elvish tag and rag as a bed partner. Have you considered what kind of offspring she might bear?"
He clenched his fists as hard as he could to keep from swinging at Ecthelion. 'Tag and rag! How could he call her...?' He could not even think the words again. A fire crept through his entire being, yet he did all he could to keep it in check. This was not the time for violence; nay, even screaming would do naught to sway his father. So this is where his distrust of Elves came from - his father. He spoke not for fear the scream echoing in his mind would be released.
Ecthelion seemed to struggle to control himself. "The answer is nay. You will not wed the girl. You will look to Lady Almarian. An alliance is needed between our houses. Or, if she truly is repugnant to you, we can speak with Thengel King and look to his daughter, Hild. She has yet to marry. Your friendship with Thengel seems to have cooled some. Perhaps this will rekindle the bond between Gondor and Rohan. Through her mother, she has the blood of Númenor in her." He stood and walked about Indis' room. "Yes, perhaps Hild would be the perfect candidate, though I had forgotten her. I will write to Thengel this forenoon. Is that not better? I know Almarian is a little capricious. Hild will be a better match for you. It is settled. I will relieve you of command of the garrison of Dol Amroth and you shall prepare for your betrothal." He called Indis, kissed her cheek, and left the room.
Denethor strode to the balcony, his hands still balled into fists. Indis walked quietly behind him. She had, of course, heard everything. He looked towards the Ephel Dúath and shrugged. "I cannot believe he would wish Almarian on anyone." He tried to laugh to ease the strain. "I have never liked Hild. She was always a little horror when she lived here. What am I saying? There is no one else. Only Finduilas." He shook his head. "I must think. There must be a way to sway him. I cannot marry, you know I cannot, Indis, without his permission." He hung his head. "I must have her," he whispered hoarsely, the tension in his body constricting his throat. "I must."
"I know, dear brother. We will think of a way. I was so proud of you. You showed your quality. He was nonplussed; I know it. He expected you to lash out. This will be for the good when you approach him again."
He looked at her in shock. "Approach him again? How will I ever approach him again on this subject? That is the question. I must think. Whenever did he acquire this hatred of Elves?"
"Come. Sit by me. We will find some path to walk that will bring us to our destination."
Two hours later, he left Indis' chambers, no closer to a plan than when they had first begun. He turned towards the Great Treasury. He needed something done and he had better do it now, while he still had the courage. Once the task was complete, he walked slowly to the crafters' level. He found the bench jeweler's shop and walked in. Semi-precious gems were displayed in cases all about the dim lit room. He walked towards the desk at the back. "I have a ring here that I would like repaired and sized to fit a finger of this dimension." He passed over the ring and the circlet of paper that he had made before he left Dol Amroth. "I have brought a small square of mithril which I would like layered over the gold of this ring. The stone needs polishing. How long will it take you to complete this task?"
The jeweler looked up, stunned at the beauty of the ring being handed to him, and awed by the mithril square. Never had he held real mithril. "I cannot say. I have only worked with mithril one or two times," he lied. "Perhaps one month?"
"Where is your master?"
"He is in the back."
"Then get him, and quickly." The man ran and returned in a moment followed by a very old man.
The older man adjusted his eyepiece and looked at Denethor. "My Lord," he said in confusion. "You have not been here in an age. What is your pleasure? What may I do for you?"
"The ring you made for my sister has only brought her joy. I have a ring," and he took it from the hands of the apprentice, "that I need resizing. I would also like the golden band covered with mithril. Would you be able to do this?"
"My Lord, I recognize this ring. I made it myself. If you would indulge me? I would like to melt it, instead of just coating it with mithril. I would like to intertwine the two metals, the gold and the mithril and remake it. Would that be acceptable?"
Denethor was joy-filled. "I would most appreciate that."
The jeweler shooed his apprentice into the back room and lowered his voice. "It is for a special occasion, my Lord? When is it required?"
Denethor blushed. "It is for such an occasion. One week," said Denethor. "No longer. Thank you! By the way, your apprentice is a liar. I would be rid of him, if I were you." With that, he left the shop. He ran into Thorongil as he turned the corner. Both men laughed. "I was making my way towards 'The Three Fishermen.' It is almost the sixth bell. Are you still able to meet with me?"
Thorongil smiled. "I was going there myself. I wanted to reserve a table towards the back. I would speak with you on matters that a more public area would not allow."
They sat at the back of the inn, cold draughts of ale in their hands. Denethor sat back after a mouthful and looked quizzically at Thorongil. "What matter weighs upon you so heavily?"
"Your father has asked me to take a missive to Thengel King."
Denethor drew in his breath. "I know what missive he is sending. I am surprised he has acted so quickly. And I am surprised that he is sending you."
"He asked me to take it first thing tomorrow morning. I thought, perhaps, that you would like to accompany me."
Denethor laughed bitterly. "Was that father's suggestion?"
"Nay," Thorongil answered puzzled. "It is long since we have had time to ourselves. I thought we might stop at the little river near the beacon-hill at Nardol. There is good fishing there, I am told, and I would most enjoy a few hours sport. We can push the horses a little faster from there and reach Edoras still within a good time. You would like to see your friend, I presume?"
"Of course," Denethor furrowed his brow. "I thought there might be another reason. That perhaps Ecthelion ordered me to accompany you."
"Why would he do that?"
"Because he has determined that I am to wed Hild."
"Hild! She has been promised to Walda's son, Éofor. They are to be wed this coming summer."
Denethor's laughter rang through the inn. Then, he stopped short. "That means I am to wed Almarian." Sighing, he called for another flagon.
"Almarian is pretty," Thorongil tried to sound positive.
"Yes, she is pretty enough, but that is all that speaks for her. Though I would obey father and marry her if not for..."
Thorongil kept still. The silence lengthened.
Afraid to share something so intimate, Denethor hesitated. Then he remembered the friendship that had grown between the two of them these past thirteen years, and he relented. "I have asked for the hand of Finduilas, Princess of Dol Amroth." He let out a sigh.
Thorongil sat back, waved for another flagon, and waited until he had taken a mouthful. "Your father is against the alliance?"
Denethor snorted. "He would flay me alive if I so much as breathe another word of her."
"So that is why you have been so quiet tonight. I should have guessed."
"Humph. How could you know? I just approached him at noon."
"Indis called me to her chambers at the ninth bell. She asked me to find you."
The hairs on Denethor's back stood. "Is that why you were outside the jeweler's?"
"Nay. I told her I would not; I told her I was meeting you here. She said naught as to why she wanted you found."
"Forgive me. My heart is distraught. I know not what I am thinking or doing since my meeting with the Steward. How am I to persuade him to let me wed her? I cannot disobey him on this. It could mean war."
"Yes. You are probably correct when you say that. Perhaps there is something I can do?"
"What? He seems to have a distrust, nay, a hatred for Elves. I cannot understand why. This is his reason for forbidding it."
"'Tis only a rumor. Yes, the house of Dol Amroth prefers to spread that rumor. As it is, it has been nigh unto twenty-five generations or so since Elvish blood mixed with a man of Dol Amroth. If the tales are true. Mayhap we can dissuade your father from that line of thought. We can malign such a rumor. Once that is done, we can persuade him that an alliance with Dol Amroth would be propitious. What think you of that?"
"It sounds wondrous, but will it work?"
"Give me time. I will see it done, my friend."
"I am not sure how much time we have. The Princess is quite beautiful. There are others who are vying for her hand. We agreed not to approach her father until I had the Steward's permission. For all I know, she could be promised to another even as we speak."
"Then I will leave you and go to your father. It will take a few days time, I think. Will you trust me for that long?"
"I cannot thank you enough, Thorongil. You save my life in one moment, and my heart in another."
"Nay, do not say that yet. Your father is strong-willed. But we will hope. There is always hope!"
"You took the ring from the treasury?" The horror in her whisper chilled him, but he would not be shamed.
"Yes! It was mother's and she would want me to give it to my own wife."
"I cannot believe this. How do you ever think that father will agree to your betrothal if you stubbornly rebel against his authority, his wishes, at every turn? You are mad. Some fey mood has overcome you. I do not know how to help you."
"I need no help," he said between clenched teeth. "You have not asked for the ring for yourself. It sits and gathers cobwebs and dust. It means something to me! I would have her have it. Is that so strange?"
She shook her head, thoroughly exasperated. "I cannot believe your temerity. How did you even get the keys?"
He pulled himself up haughtily. "I am Heir to the Steward of Gondor and received the keys at the Ceremony. I had only to ask the Warden and they were mine."
"You can keep your conceit to yourself, little brother. I know you better."
He collapsed a little at that. Yes, she knew him well. But with Finduilas, all thoughts of sane action left him. He would do anything for her. He tried to explain his feelings to Indis, but she interrupted him.
"I am delighted that you are standing up to father. However, I do not agree to the manner you have done it. The Treasury is revered, Denethor. It is not full of things to be handed down from one to another. Yes, mother's ring was there, but the ring symbolized more than the marriage of two people; the ring symbolized the coming together of two families, two countries... two people."
"Is that not what I am proposing? Could it not be any clearer? In my brashness, I may have done wrong, but is it not for Gondor that I do this? Is not an alliance with Dol Amroth more important than an alliance with some besotted lord of Minas Tirith?"
"Now you would say that doing an evil for a good is to be commended? I do not think so, dear brother." She shivered slightly. "You are twisting my words to justify your actions. I will not have you do that."
He sat down hard on the ledge.
She came over to him, smoothed his hair back, and sighed. "You would not do this if not for the anger in your heart over father's refusal. You must look beyond the actions of others, Denethor, not use them as an excuse for improper actions on your own part. No matter the reason, your actions must be just and pure. As you said yourself, you are Heir to the Steward of Gondor." She stood still, hoping her words would weave their way through the hurt and despair she saw in his eyes.
He held her close to him. For a moment, he felt as a child again. All he wanted was Finduilas. All he cared about was Finduilas. Finally, fate had given him something wonderful, and he wanted it, desperately. "I... am... sorry. Long have I obeyed every one of father's orders. Long have I subjugated my needs for Gondor's. Is it too much to ask for one thing?"
"Nay, dearest brother. It is not. It is the way you are trying to make it so. You said that you have spoken with Thorongil. In your absence, Thorongil has become a great captain and father respects him. He will think of a way to make this happen. Trust him, Denethor."
Denethor looked up into her eyes. "I have seen this myself." He shuddered. "I am not sure... I am not sure that this is a good thing. Do you not wonder that he was made a captain? Never has a man not of Gondor been made a captain. Father respects him, you say. Yes, I see that and wonder why a man from the north commands more respect than the son of the Steward." A note of bitterness crept into his voice.
"Denethor." She shook her head. "I have never understood father. I know you do not either. Thorongil is an honorable man. He has done naught to usurp your rightful place. He will do naught, of that I am sure. Do not degrade yourself by thinking ill of him."
He hung his head in weariness. "I will trust him. I am close to despair. I will lose her if we do not act quickly. I know it."
"Do you have such distrust for your beloved, Denethor? Do you not think she is, at this very moment, doing everything she can to assure that the oaths you have made to each other will be kept?"
"Indis. Ever wise Indis. You are correct, as always. I have been a fool. She will stay her father's hand. I will wait for Thorongil."
"My Lord Steward? May I have a moment?"
"Of course, Thorongil. I need merely to finish signing these papers; then we may take a glass of wine and sit and enjoy a moment's peace. How strange. Gondor has been peaceful this last year. I believe it is your influence, Thorongil."
"My Lord," he laughed. "You give me too much credit. Orcs still roam Ithilien, Corsairs still build ships to destroy Gondor, and your borders are still compromised. I have done naught to bring about peace."
"Yet with you at my side, Thorongil, I have confidence that we can overcome these things."
"My Lord. You are too gracious." He sat back in the proffered chair and sipped the wine. "Do you know aught of Dol Amroth, my liege? Its people, its customs?"
"Not as much as I would wish. Long have they kept themselves separate from Gondor. Yes, they give lip service saying they are loyal, but they do not send men to our army. Their sons stay at home, protected. Their daughters..." Ecthelion looked into the face of his captain. "So, that is why you are here - to wheedle permission for Denethor to wed?"
"Yes, my Lord. Will you not consider your own words? Long has Dol Amroth accepted the protection of Gondor with one hand and defied you with the other. How many times have you asked for assistance and they have not answered? Is this the way a fiefdom shows its loyalty? My Lord, Prince Adrahil is a good man and a wise ruler. He protects his people. But he must remain loyal to Gondor, not only to Belfalas. I am not saying that he is treasonous - far from it. He only does what he deems best for his people. He must realize that Belfalas is not a country unto itself. If Gondor falls, Belfalas will surely fall. That is his error, my Lord. Do you not see that an alliance with Dol Amroth is necessary? It is as if the Valar themselves have ordained this pairing."
"Yes. Yes. I believe you are correct. I do not like the thought that the blood of Húrin should be mingled with Elvish blood; yet I see the wisdom in your words. What matter it, the blood, when we wait for the king's return. Our focus should be on that. On keeping Gondor strong until the king returns."
Thorongil lowered his head to hide the color that rose on his cheeks.
He swallowed his pride a thousand times, because Ecthelion had agreed to the match. However, the Steward had insisted they wait three years. 'Three years!' Denethor moaned. 'How will I survive three years?' He would be stationed at Cair Andros, in charge of the refortifications, while he waited for the discussions to be completed. How he wished he could be with Thorongil in Dol Amroth. He did not wholly trust the captain, and yet, what recourse was there but to accept his father's will in this? He begged to be part of the nuptial negotiations, but the Steward laughed at him. 'A man does not do his own negotiations. It is not the way. Be grateful for what I have given you. Do not push me further!' And so, Thorongil had gone to Dol Amroth; he had gone to Cair Andros.
He lay awake at night wondering where she was, what she was doing. Were there dinners and balls being held in Thorongil's honor? His heart was torn from him at every imagined meeting between the two. Would she be overcome by Thorongil's charms as had Ecthelion? Would he woo her away? He could hardly bear the thoughts that assailed him and took to the ramparts of the fortress long before Anor rose. He would walk for hours, and when the first blush touched the sky, he would return to his bed in hopes that he could obtain a few hours rest. Oft as not, he could not.
He wished with all his might that Amdir was stationed with him, but Amdir was now captain of the garrison at Pelargir. Ecthelion, with the urging of Thorongil and Mithrandir, had decided to send more men and weapons to that fortress. Denethor shook his head. How often he had counseled the Steward to do such a thing, but it took a wizard and Thorongil to accomplish the deed. He could not fathom why Ecthelion would trust a wizard. His heart quivered at the remembrance of the many encounters with Curunír. Wizards were not to be trusted. He smiled a little; Amdir had said that so very long ago. He missed his friend.
His men were good men, well trained and of good spirit. The refortification was going well. He would lead a sortie out after nuncheon to survey the eastern side of the river. They would not go too far. He was at Cair Andros to refortify the garrison not recapture North Ithilien. Damrod, now his second in command, had hand picked a sturdy lot to accompany him. As they set out, Denethor's mood finally lifted. He loved Ithilien. To be going back was a joy. Reports from his Rangers told him that Orc activity had increased, but it was daylight, and he was wary. He was taking enough men with him, a full company. They would not dare to attack.
Four hours from the river, as the band of Easterlings screamed their filthy battle cry, Denethor rued his decision. Why would Easterlings be here? They did not pass the Dead Marshes. Never had he heard of any, for an age at least, that had dared to set foot on Ithilien soil. He swung his sword, but the enemy's armor was such that his sword was almost useless. He felt Rochallor's shudder before he saw the polearm connect. The curved spike on the top of the weapon had sliced through his steed's hamstring. Denethor tried mightily to jump away from the horse as it fell, screaming, to the ground. He wanted to cover his ears. Quickly, he drew his sword back and sliced through his friend's throat. Tears scalded his cheeks, but the attacking Easterling now focused his attention on Denethor. Drawing a quick breath, Denethor tried to work his way to his enemy's back, for only there was an Easterling defenseless. It was not to be. The enemy knew what Denethor was about and kept his back from him. As the scimitar came down upon him, Denethor turned and fell to the ground. He held his shield before him, but the Easterling replaced his weapon and drew forth his shorter polearm. Thrusting it at Denethor's wriggling body, he knew he would overcome the Gondorian shortly. Just as the last thrust was pulled back, the Easterling arched forward, an arrow in its back. Denethor rolled to his side, grasping the wound in agony while trying to stem the flow of blood.
"There were traitors, my Lord, that is how the Easterlings surprised us." Damrod's snarl told of his anger and sense of betrayal. "The two that served you at the garrison at Nardol. The same that questioned your orders there. They have been captured. Would you judge them now?"
Denethor drew in his breath at the news. "I do not understand. Tell me of what you speak, Damrod. It makes no sense!"
"My Lord," Damrod started more slowly. "Forgive me. The healer told me I might speak with you, but if you are not well enough...?"
He held his hand to his head. "What you have just told me is more important than my healing," he snapped. "I cannot lie here with treachery afoot. Tell me of what you speak!"
Damrod knelt closer to Denethor's cot. "I sent the Rangers after..."
"The Rangers?" Denethor would have shouted had not his head hurt so badly. "What Rangers? What do...? I remember naught after I fell. You must begin at that moment."
"Yes, my Lord. I am sorry." He drew in a breath. "We were lost, my Lord, and would have been Easterling fodder if the Rangers of Henneth Annûn had not arrived when they did. As it is, we lost nigh unto forty-seven men. The Rangers descended upon our foe with ease and dispatched them all. When the battle was done, scouts were sent out; two men were discovered hiding near a stream only a league from the battle site. They were brought back and found to be soldiers under your command. We thought they were just cowards, men who had not faced battle before and knew only to run. Not one of us ever suspected treachery. But Captain Dúinhir did. The Rangers took them away, they confessed, and were brought back here. What means were used to acquire that confession, I do not know. We have them under guard and awaiting your judgment."
Denethor realized he had half-risen from the cot and now lay back upon it. His breath was shallow and pain-filled.
The healer, one he did not know, came forward. "My Lord, you must rest now."
His pain-glazed eyes looked up. "Rest? Be gone from me." Silently he cursed himself for not knowing the man's name.
"My Lord," the healer said more sternly. "You must rest. You are under my care and I will not allow further converse. I let your second speak with you only for a moment. That moment is long past and you will rest."
The authority in the man's voice rang out; Denethor was pleased to see such fervor. It reminded him of Arciryas; he placed more trust in the man's orders. "Yes. If you command, I will rest - but for only an hour." He turned towards Damrod. "Come back to me in one hour's time. We will finish this discussion." He closed his eyes, fervently wishing for sleep to quickly overtake him.
The healer stepped closer. "My Lord, I would that you would drink this. It is Valerian tea. It will help you sleep and ease the pain."
"I know full well what the tea will do and I will not drink it. I would be asleep for much longer than the hour I require. Now leave me be so that I may take as much rest as I am able in the short time I have left." He tried to turn on his side and immediately, pain lanced through his entire body. He stiffened and the healer dropped to his knees beside the cot.
"'Tis weak tea, laced with honey, my Lord. You will sleep for only a short time. You must needs relief from the pain else you will not be able to even think, once you wake."
When he did wake, the camp was being struck. Men were mounting their horses; trumpets were blowing. He wondered, for a moment, where he was. Then, slowly, his memory returned, along with the pain. The hiss of his breath caused the healer to come to his side.
"I am glad to see you awake, my Lord. The draught must have been more potent than I thought."
Denethor looked askance. Was the man lying? Had he tricked him into drinking a heavier sedative than he had promised? The contrition in the man's eyes belied those thoughts.
"I must have needed the sleep. Send Damrod to me." The healer turned and swiftly ran towards Denethor's second. He felt very tired at this moment, more so than his forty-three years should feel. Of course, it was the wound, his responsibilities to his men, the thought of the forty-seven dead, and the treachery of two of his own. Nay, it was naught but treachery that made him feel as old, wizened, and dead as the White Tree.
Damrod stepped forward. "My Lord, I hope it does not go against your will, but I deemed it wise to strike camp and leave this area. The healer said you are well enough to travel. The Rangers wish to return to their patrols. We cannot stay here with our number so diminished."
Denethor's short laugh was swallowed in the pain the laughter caused. He clung to consciousness by a thread.
Damrod knelt next to him, "My Lord?" and turning, screamed for the healer.
Denethor put his hand on Damrod's shoulder. "Just give me a moment. I am better. I must learn not to laugh when wounded." He started to laugh again at the incongruity of it all, but bit his lip to silence himself. 'I am giddy. I must be injured more than I had thought.' He lay back on the cot. Opening his eyes again, he looked towards his second. "How were you planning on getting me out of here? I see now that I cannot straddle a horse."
"The healer ordered a cart from Cair Andros. It was a little difficult getting it across the Anduin, but we succeeded. It will serve its purpose."
He smiled. "Thank you, Damrod. There was mention of treachery, if I recall rightly?"
"Yes, my Lord. Two of our men. They are bound and under close guard."
"We will convene the trial once we have returned to Cair Andros. We will need the Rangers who questioned them." He thought for a moment. "Nay, we cannot do it there. We will have to wait until we reach Minas Tirith. The men's Fief Lord must be present, along with myself, and Captain Ciramir, the commander of our branch. This must be done correctly. I want them dead. I want their heads severed from their bodies. And I want every man not born of Gondor to know that treason means death!"
"Yes, my Lord. It will be done correctly. Do you want them taken directly to Minas Tirith?"
"Nay, we are too few as you rightly pointed out. When we arrive at Cair Andros, you will dispatch a detail. Make sure their orders are to immediately throw them into the dungeons of the Citadel. Neither food nor water is to be given to them until I return. Do you understand?"
"Yes, my Lord. It is time we begin our journey back. The men are ready."
"Damrod," how he hated to do this, "you take command. I cannot." He lay back on the cot; it was gently lifted to the cart, and the decimated company turned westward.
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