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Ch. 24 - Third Age 3017 - Part Five
Denethor opened his eyes, straining to see about him, to find where he was. His mind reeled, the pain so fierce, he knew not if he would survive. Closing them did naught but make the pain sharper. He gritted his teeth to quell the throbbing, but that motion only sent him over the edge and he screamed. Blood filled his mouth, the scream silenced by the biting of the soft inner skin. Slowly, inexorably, the pain lessened, the throbbing dulled to a quiet roar, the wound quickly closed. His lips shook as he tightened them. His fingers trembled as he frantically pulled his cloak tighter about him. The marble had turned to ice, his body burnt by its freezing tendrils.
An hour passed, maybe more. He did not believe he survived the onslaught of such agony, but he had, and a grim smile flitted briefly across his face. He was still alive; he was still sane; he was still in control; he was still his own lord. The smile grew into a hideous grin and he screamed his defiance. ‘You will never have me! You will never have my sons!’ His head fell back against the wall; his body swayed and fell to the side. A low, deep moan swelled from his gut and passed his lips ere darkness once again took him.
The guard, two flights down, ran up the stairs as the cries echoed through the stairwell and out into the night. Desperately, he tugged at the handle but it would not turn. He heard the moan and grew frantic. He crashed his shoulder against the door, but it was built to keep out an enemy; it would not budge. He called again and again, “My Lord Denethor! Steward! Open the door! My Lord?” But there was no answer. Only one thing to do. He ran down to the very bottom of the Tower, shouting as he exited for the Warden of the Keys. The cry went up in the High Court. At last, Húrin was found and brought to him. Soldiers crowded around them, straining to hear what had caused such bedlam.
“What? What has occurred that I have been brought from my bed this late at night? Are we under attack? Where is Lord Denethor?” The Warden’s words, in the terror that filled the Steward’s stronghold, cut through the desperation of the guard.
“The Steward, Lord Denethor, is locked in the Tower room; he is hurt or ill. Something has attacked him. I know not what.” The warrior’s eyes were wild with grief and fear. “I heard his screams. Never, even in battle, have I heard such screams. Do you have the key?” He clutched the Warden’s cloak and tried to steady himself.
“I have no key for that room. Bring a timber and men. We will open it by force.”
The guard gave a short, choked laugh. “Nothing will open that door but the key. All is lost. Our Lord is dead.”
The wind swirled across the Citadel, the moon’s light darkened by a black, scudding cloudbank. All who saw it shivered; some cried out in fear as they heard the guard’s last words.
“The Enemy nears!” “He has killed the Steward!” “We are lost!”
Imrahil, running from his chambers in the guest hall, shouted above the furor, “The Steward lives! We will rescue him. Be still while we go to him.” He dragged the guard with him as he ran towards the Tower. “Bring the men and the timber. We will do what we can.” He motioned and Húrin joined him.
Six men followed the Prince of Dol Amroth; Húrin brought up the rear, fingering the keys upon his belt in helpless frustration. Imrahil heard him muttering to himself, but could not make out the words. He turned his attention from him and ran up the Tower stairs, two at a time.
“Why do I not have a key for that room? When this is over,” the Warden vowed, “I will have a key made, whether the Steward wills it or no!”
They reached the topmost room. No light shown under the door, only silence greeted them. Imrahil motioned for quiet. Gently, he knocked on the door. “Denethor? It is your brother. Please open the door.” He leaned his ear against the door, but heard nothing. Knocking loudly, he called again. “Denethor! It is Imrahil, Prince of Dol Amroth. Open the door!”
There was no response. The guard moaned as Húrin took the keys and held them to the lock hole. Imrahil nodded in approval. The Warden tried each key, but attempt after attempt failed. At last, Denethor’s cousin looked at the Prince in despair. “None fit,” he whispered. “It is as I feared.”
Imrahil shook his head. “Bring the timber.” The warriors brought it forward. In the close confines of the winding stairwell, it was hopeless. They could not even manage enough room for the men to stand never mind have room to wield a piece of wood. The timber itself was too long; there was no room to position it. If they had a shorter piece, he thought, it would probably break in the onslaught against the heavy oak door. Imrahil stood, undecided. One last desperate attempt was needed. “A fire! Bring hot coals, oil, kindling, and small pieces of wood. We will burn the door down!”
The guards ran back down the stairs as Húrin’s eyes filled. “How did you think upon that?” Imrahil saw the hope in the Warden’s eyes and wished he had as much in his heart. These doors were heavy and thick. It would take hours to burn through.
“It will work; it must!” the Warden cried.
Imrahil nodded, his own eyes blurred by tears. Only moments later, the guards returned with a pail full of red, hot coals. Kindling was placed on the floor along with bits of old parchment. Then they soaked the mixture in the oil and the coals were poured over all of it. Swiftly it caught; the soldiers carefully laid the pieces of wood, one by one, upon the flames. The red tendrils rose, engulfing the door more quickly than any had expected. They stepped back to escape the deadly heat. It would be but mere minutes, Imrahil realized, before the door went fully up in flames. There was hope!
By the time Boromir finished inspecting the men he would take with him, night had descended. He dismissed them, then walked slowly back towards the garrison’s office. Wearily, he pushed open the door and was greeted by the warmth of a blazing fire. He walked to it and took his gloves off. The cold of what was turning into a bitter spring had crept through the leather and into his fingers, making them stiff and sore. He flexed them and heard a slight cough. Turning, he found Captain Guilin looking at him. “Aye?”
“Are the men satisfactory, Captain-General?”
“They are. I… I see you gave me your finest.”
The man shrugged and Boromir smiled. “Would you like to come with me?”
“To Rohan?” The startled expression seemed filled with longing.
“Aye. You have not been to Rohan, have you?”
“I have not, my Captain.”
“Then, as you will continue to deal with the Rohirrim in your capacity as captain of Amon Dîn, I think it only fitting that you set foot upon their land. It is in the touch of the land that one knows her people and the Rohirrim love Calenardhon. How could they not, was it not once Gondor’s soil?” He laughed at the joke of it.
Guilin swallowed dryly. “But, who will you leave in charge of the garrison? It is a dangerous time, my Lord.”
“Who do you suggest?”
“The best would be Baranor, my aide. He has been here since before my time. The men trust him.”
“Beregond’s father is here?”
“You know him?”
“Not well, but I have served with his sons. Both of them are considered friends. They are now stationed at Osgiliath. Bring him to me.”
The captain nodded and left. Within moments, a huge man entered the room. His shoulders were broad and his hair black and straight and long; arms, covered in mail, showed scars running from the hands on up. The soldier’s crooked smile mirrored both of his sons’ crooked smiles. Boromir grinned. The man saluted and waited.
“It is good to see you again, Baranor. I cannot even remember the last time you visited our home. Please, sit,” Boromir offered him a chair at the captain’s table. “Captain Guilin, your hospitality has been outstanding, but I fear I worked through the daymeal. Is any food left?”
“Of course,” Boromir noted the man’s look of chagrin. “Forgive me, Captain-General. I should have noted it. There will be food in but a moment’s time.”
“Have enough brought for both Baranor and you also.” He sat at the table with the old warrior and smiled. “You have been in my family’s service for a very long time. Father told me you were a comfort to him when his friend, Amdir, died.”
“We were close, your father and I. I have incurred his displeasure.”
“Why say you that?”
“It is long since I have been stationed in the City. I deem, if not disfavoured, then forgotten.”
Boromir’s eyes watered. “If all I know of Amdir is true, his loss was beyond sorrow to my father. Mayhap he recalls the grief when you are near.”
“Two days after your sweet mother passed,” Baranor reminded him. “Aye. I have thought that the reason for my banishment.”
“If you deem it banishment, I will go to father immediately and have you recalled.”
“I am overly dramatic. If my Lord Steward needs me away from him, then I am glad to be of such service.”
“Nay. It is not right. Long have you fought for Gondor; now is the time to return to her City and savour your reward.” He beamed as the soldier bowed his head. “I have seen your sons. I spent time with them just a few short weeks ago in Osgiliath. Beregond guards the Causeway Forts and Iorlas the bridge. They are good men and true. You have much to be proud of.” The old warrior’s huge grin delighted Boromir. “They are also quite good at Kings and Stewards. I have lost to them a time or two. But now, I have a task for you. Will you stay here and command Amon Dîn until your captain returns? It should be less than a fortnight.”
“I will, Captain-General.”
“Then it is settled.” He stood and helped move maps and books and such off the table as Guilin and some aides brought in trays of food.
They sat and talked for most of the night, for Boromir was not concerned. The road to the Mering was straight and well kept. It would be an easy ride. Baranor regaled him with tales of his father and Boromir learned much that night, much that furthered his respect and love for the Steward, his father.
If there was ever a time Faramir needed his strength, it was now, and now it failed him. He had gone to the stables, it had been too long, and began grooming his mare, but within a very short time, he found himself weaker than a babe. The groomsman had had to come and help him to his rooms. A great fire was lit, the servants turned down the bed, and a warmer was used to take the chill from the covers.
Now, he lay on his bed contemplating his future. The shoulder was beyond sore. True, there had been poison in the arrows, but he thought he would have been further along in healing. He fell into a deep sleep, aided by the healing tea left him. The despicable groomsman, once he had seen him on his bed, had sent for a healer. He didn’t want his father to know he was still so weak, yet the healer would certainly report this relapse. ‘There is so much to do before I journey south. I need to go to Osgiliath, at least to start what Boromir has planned for its defense.’ But sleep came and quickly; blessed drugged sleep that kept all outside noise from the Steward’s youngest son.
The conflagration at the door quickly died as the greedy flames ate through the old oak. Imrahil jumped through the last of the fire and ran to Denethor’s side, but upon the Prince’s gentle touch, the Steward opened his eyes, pushed him away and crawled towards the other end of the room. Imrahil sat back in utter astonishment. After a moment, he ran after him. Denethor was wrapping his cloak around an object; Imrahil could not make out what it was. In a moment, Denethor leaned back against the wall and took a deep breath.
“Leave me be. I am well.”
“You are not, brother,” Imrahil said gently. “We will take you to your room. Húrin,” he motioned to the Warden, “Let us help him stand.”
The healer made to examine Denethor, but Imrahil stopped him with a shake of his head. “Leave him till we reach his chambers. He is gruff now and will not agree to such help.”
Denethor growled and shoved him. Imrahil raised his eyebrows in surprise. ‘So much strength still here!’ The Steward made to stand, but his legs refused. Imrahil took one arm and Húrin the other. Denethor, the Prince noted, had decided to allow their help. They started toward the door. Denethor stopped and looked at the burnt entrance. “This must be replaced immediately.” His voice still rang clear.
“Aye, my Lord Steward, it will be replaced immediately,” one of the guards said. The healer who had come with them said naught and followed them down the stairs. One of the guards ran ahead to call for servants to prepare Denethor’s chambers.
Once they reached the Steward’s private quarters, Húrin sent the guards, but one, away. The healer took his place at Denethor’s side and together, Imrahil and he walked the weakened man to his bed. By this time, the Steward’s own chamberlain had arrived and quickly took over. Denethor refused his bed; he pushed himself away from the men and walked to his wardrobe. He rummaged around inside for a moment, then closed and locked the door. Only then did he return to Imrahil. The healer gently sat Denethor on the bed and his chamberlain began to undress him.
“Leave me be. I am well. Just tired.”
“We will be in your out chambers. When you are ready to speak, send for us.” Imrahil saluted and left with Húrin close behind.
The two men walked to Denethor’s private study, leaving the healer behind to fight with the Steward over his care. Húrin sat heavily in the settle before the fire while Imrahil stood at the window, looking out upon the Pelennor. Slowly, he turned, his face drawn and white.
“He… I have never seen him like this. His face has aged ten years. His hair is more white than black. I cannot understand this. What evil lurks in that room? What has he been doing?” Tears streamed down the young Prince’s face. “It is unbearable to see him thus.”
“Aye. There was horror in that room.” The Warden looked up and grimaced. “The common people say the Lord Steward wrestles with the Enemy in that room. Is that possible?”
“Anything is possible,” Imrahil spat in his anger and frustration. “He has great powers; that he can use them so far from Barad-dûr I find hard to believe, but my eyes do not deceive me with the change that has come over Denethor. He looks to have faced death.”
Húrin nodded in misery. “Aye.”
Imrahil entered Denethor’s bedchambers and waited. The healer had gone, as well as Denethor’s manservant. The Steward did not open his eyes, so Imrahil crossed the room, moved a chair from near the fireplace, placed it next to the bed, and sat. He waited, for he knew that, though the Steward seemed to sleep, he had been the one who called him here. It was almost the mid night hour. ‘A very long day,’ Imrahil thought grimly.
The Prince of Dol Amroth almost wept as he saw the devastation upon his friend’s face. Pain, grief, fear… Was fear there also? He was surprised. When he had been a young soldier and served under Denethor, he thought he would never see fear upon the great warrior’s face, but now, it was definitely fear. “What have you seen, brother?” he asked quietly.
“Death,” the voice was strong and the eyes that quickly opened were clear. “I have seen it all my long life, but never in this fashion.” Denethor’s head tilted slightly. “I thought mayhap I was accustomed to it, but I am not.”
Imrahil leaned closer, resting his hand upon Denethor’s arm. “We have both seen much death.”
“Not like this, Imrahil. I,” he shuddered. “None other is to know this, especially my sons, do I make myself clear?” He continued upon Imrahil’s acceptance of the command. “I saw Boromir dead in a boat on the Anduin and Faramir dead on a cot in the Tower.” The Steward’s mouth was held in a tight, straight line. No emotion was in his words nor in his mien.
Imrahil clutched Denethor’s arm tightly. “It is a lie,” he hissed. “Like unto the lies he told in Númenor and before that. It is lies like those that turned the Elves from Valinor. Listen not to him, Denethor. I will support you in all you need to do to protect them. I swear on the grave of my sister, my father and my mother!”
“As do I, but it will be for naught.” He waived his arm as Imrahil attempted to protest.
“Nay. I know it is lies, but the images, the sounds, the feel…” He shuddered. “Lies or no, it is possible, Imrahil, and we must do everything in our power to stay such horror.” He paused for another moment. “None know this either, my brother, and none ever will, but I have seen the Pelennor covered with the armies of the Nameless One. Their war machines were many; they drove before them Mûmakil and other beasts; Uruk-hai led the battle, too numerous to count. Imrahil!” Denethor took the Prince’s hand and held it, almost crushing the small bones, “I could not see the green of the land beneath their feet, there were so many!” He lay back, exhausted.
“Do you know when?”
“Nay.” The Steward whispered. “That is the rub, is it not? But soon. The landscape of the Pelennor was not much changed. I noted some trees I am familiar with; they are about the same size. It will be within five years at the most.”
Imrahil dared not ask how the Steward knew.
“Go now and rest yourself, Imrahil. Tomorrow, we begin towards the end.”
“Nay. Towards the beginning of a new day for Gondor, Denethor. I promise. The men of Gondor are doughty. We will not fall. Minas Tirith will not fall.” He lowered his voice, released the strong hold he had on Denethor’s arm, changed it into a light touch and said, “Rest well. I do not want to have to answer to Boromir when he returns!” He smiled down at his friend. Denethor’s eyes were closed. Imrahil turned and left the room.
“How fares he?” Húrin stood, strode forward and asked as soon as the Prince came out of the bedchambers.
“He carries a heavy burden. I see hope in his eyes though. He continues to do battle, and we must stand beside him with swords drawn, Húrin. Else Gondor will fall.” He bid the Warden good night and walked slowly back to his own quarters.
Húrin sat upon the settle once again, his hand held a goblet of mulled wine. He had decided to keep watch, but only a moment had passed when Denethor’s cry rang out. He jumped from the settle and ran into the bedchambers.
“I must have an errand-rider. Boromir awaits my missive. He must ride now.”
Húrin tried to calm the Steward, but nothing but a promise to send for one immediately calmed his cousin. Húrin ran to the door and summoned the guard. He then ordered him, loud enough for Denethor to hear, to fetch an errand-rider. The man saluted and left.
Denethor lay back in the bed and sighed. “I need writing paper.”
Húrin ran to the study and brought a writing board, parchment, a quill and ink to the bed. Denethor took it and began writing furiously. By the time he had finished, the errand-rider knocked on the door. At Denethor’s bidding, Húrin found the seal and the wax, melted it on the note, and handed it to Denethor, who set his seal on the note and handed it to the rider. “Take this to Amon Dîn immediately. Let no one stop you and personally hand it to Captain-General Boromir.”
The rider saluted, took the proffered note, turned and left. Denethor lay back against the pillow, his face white as marble. “Thank you, Húrin. I will sleep now, I promise.” The shadow of a smile graced his face.
Húrin, thoroughly flustered, went back to the settle and poured himself a large goblet of wine. He sat and shook his head. ‘This is going to be a long night!’
Denethor pushed the covers back and stood. He walked to the window and looked out upon his beloved land. He clenched his teeth as the vision shown him in the orb threatened to overwhelm him, and then bent over to mitigate the pain that shot through his mind. ‘Too long did I look; I will not do that again,’ he thought miserably. The White Tree stood in the Courtyard. Not a leaf clung to it, but was not that the way it had looked all his life?
Yet, the Pelennor beyond was green in the flush of springtime, albeit a dry one. He watched as the land undulated under the stars in its slow drop to the river. It took his breath away, as always. A few lights twinkled in the dark to mark a farmhouse, a vineyard, or the occasional hostelry. He could not remember the last time he had ridden out and felt the clean wind on his face, the feel of his mount under him, and the smell of the rich soil of the farmlands. His head dropped in inconsolable grief. If this fell, if this fair land was trampled and raped by the Enemy, could he yet live? He bit his lip and turned from the window.
The Pelennor was not the only target for the Enemy. He quickly dressed. ‘Where is my hauberk?’ he thought in irritation. ‘They have taken it away; that wretched servant of mine finally has had his way and has removed it from me.’ But no, a moment later he found it and put it on, then his tunic. He found his belt, scabbard and sword and quickly finished. At last, he found his overcoat, the fur-lined one that warmed almost any night on the parapet. He put it on and walked out the door.
He stopped as suddenly as he had started. Húrin sat by the fire. He swore under his breath, but then smiled grimly. The man was sound asleep; the goblet had fallen to the floor. Denethor squirmed at the thought of his faithful cousin. He should send him off to Belfalas or somewhere to lead a life of ease. Yet, here he had charged him with one of the most grievous duties in the realm, Warden of the Keys. He touched the man’s forehead in love as he passed.
The guard’s face openly showed complete surprise. Some part of Denethor wryly thought of the confusion of the guard: should he stop his Steward and send for aid or should he let him pass? ‘Well, I have no time for that now,’ Denethor thought, and barely nodded as he passed the man by. He knew, if he was quick and firm in his step that the guard would be nonplussed enough not to venture any action. He was right.
He walked the two flights up and found the door unlocked. He walked into the outer chamber and saw the fire was near spent. The room was cold and Denethor wrapped his coat closely about him. He walked through the outer doors and into the bedchamber. The fire here burned even lower. He put a few logs onto it and looked for a chair. One stood near the window. He brought it to the bed and sat down. A smell assailed him, familiar and unpleasant. ‘Ah, valerian tea. But why? What need has Faramir for this?’
He looked more closely at his son. Faramir did not stir. A slight sheen of sweet covered the boy’s forehead. His face looked as it did in the vision. Fear drove him to touch the boy’s chest. The slow, steady, though shallow rhythm eased his concern. Denethor swallowed as tears stung his eyes. He vowed, in the Tower room, that he would not cry again. Never would he be pathetic enough to allow the Enemy to do what he had done this night, find him weak and easily o’ercome. Never again.
A cock crowed somewhere in the vast expanse of Minas Tirith and Denethor stirred. ‘I should be away before he wakes, else he be concerned.’ But he had been too late in the thought; Faramir’s eyes looked at him quizzically.
“Ada… Father,” he noted the boy corrected himself. A shaft of pain pricked his heart.
“I was on my way to the Great Hall and decided to look in on you,” he lied fluidly. “Are you well? I see the tea?”
“I am weak,” Faramir’s voice spoke volumes. Dejection and frustration vied for control.
“It is the poison. One arrow laced thus would kill many a man, my son, yet you have taken two such hits. It is not unexpected, though frustrating.”
Faramir looked up in surprise. “It is frustrating! I went to groom my horse and had to be nigh carried back here.” A scowl lit his face and Denethor quelled a laugh.
“I understand such frustration.”
Faramir smiled tiredly, “I am sorry, Father, of course you do. Above all other men in Gondor, you know frustration. I seem to be a large part of it, of late.”
“Nay,” Denethor took Faramir’s hand and held it. “You are a large part of my life, that I will attest to, but not my frustration. This is a hard time for a soldier, Faramir, to be laid low, knowing there is much that needs your attention. Gondor will wait for your recovery.”
Faramir smiled, closed his eyes and slept again. Denethor stood, kissed his brow, and left the room. The walk to his own study on the first floor lasted a year at least, he thought miserably. ‘I am as weak as Faramir.’ He paused with his hand on the door, changed his mind and walked out onto the Courtyard. Passing through the tunnel, he entered the Sixth Circle and turned left. The training grounds lay before him. He walked into the building and found the armoury.
After a moment’s work, he was fully equipped; he walked into the sandy circle and faced the padded practice pole. He raised his practice sword, swung it time and time again, and grimaced as the thuds reverberated through his body. He could feel his frustration leave him and a sense of calm finally return. He would beat the Enemy as he beat this pole. No harm would come to his sons.
“No harm will come to Boromir. No harm will come to Faramir. The Pelennor will remain clean and beautiful. Minas Tirith will stand till Arda itself falls.” Over and over he chanted these words until his breath came in short gasps and his arms felt like lead.
An arm grabbed him as he pitched forward. “Brother,” Imrahil’s quiet voice pervaded the haze of exhaustion.
“Brother,” he replied. “How kind of you to rescue me, again.” He heard Imrahil chuckle as darkness spread.
Riding slowly out of the garrison at Amon Dîn with Captain Guilin beside him, Boromir mused on the cryptic message from his father. True, the direction he needed was contained in the missive, but naught else: no greeting, no small scribble about Faramir and wedding plans, no fare well. Not oft did his father write so blandly and that worried Boromir. Trying to read behind the lines was useless – there were no lines to read! He swore under his breath and his brow furrowed even deeper. His horse, noting the disquiet of her master, took to snorting and pulling at the reins. Boromir had to shush her a number of times.
“She will not quiet until you do, Captain-General.” Guilin spoke low so none other could hear.
“I am tempted to return to Minas Tirith.”
Guilin looked at him in surprise. “Something in the Steward’s missive gives you concern?”
“There is naught in the missive but where Marshal Éomer is and that is enough to concern me. If our mission were not so vital, I would turn around right now.” He shook his head and bit his lower lip. “I do not understand it.”
“You sent a rider to Captain Faramir this morning, right after you received the missive. There should be a reply within days. Cannot you wait until then?”
“I must.” He heaved a sigh. His father had not looked well the last time Boromir had seen him, and though he had begged Imrahil to watch over him, Boromir was not sure if any could stop the Steward from doing anything that his father deemed necessary, no matter the hour or the danger. After listening to Beregond’s tales last night, and some of the hasty, yes that was the word, hasty actions of his father when he was a youth, Boromir was not certain that flair for adventure and danger did not still linger in his father’s mind. Would he in actuality go to Osgiliath himself? He had been headed that way after Faramir’s wounding. ‘Nay! He has more sense.’
“We could return to Amon Dîn and wait for your brother’s reply. We are only gone an hour.”
“Nay.” Another deep sigh. “We will ride at an easy pace. We might have a reply before we break camp tomorrow morning. I would that were so. But now, let us speak of Éomer and the Rohirrim.”
They rode with only three breaks, once in the morning and afternoon, and once for nuncheon. At last, as Anor set behind the mountains, they pulled up to the garrison of Eilenach. The men camped outside while Boromir was given the captain’s own quarters. Food and drink were rationed, as the winter had been hard. The men of this outpost were grateful for the oranges from Lebennin that Boromir brought with him. But more, they seemed awed that their Captain-General should deem fit to visit them. That same Captain-General found himself ruing the fact that he had not been to the Beacon Hills for a very long time. As soon as was possible, which meant near to the mid night hour, Boromir took himself away from the main gathering and went to bed. He fingered his father’s missive as he closed his eyes.
He had not been asleep more than an hour when there was a furious knocking on the door. He sat up and called ‘enter’ whilst wrapping a robe about him. ‘The errand-rider,’ he sighed as the man stood before him. He took the missive, thanked and dismissed the man.
I have not seen Father all day. Uncle Imrahil states he is well, but I understand your misgivings and have tried diligently to ask towards father’s welfare. None gave it, until late this afternoon. Hence, the delay in the messenger’s arrival.
He is not well, Boromir. I feigned a relapse so that he would come to me. When he did not, I took myself to his chambers. Húrin sat in the parlour and barred my way. After a small bit of shouting, of which I am not proud, Uncle entered the room from father’s bedchambers. He saw I would not be swayed in my endeavor to speak with father, so he let me through.
The paper looked crumpled and Boromir spent a moment smoothing it out. At least, that is what he told himself; in fact, he needed a moment to steel himself before reading further.
I know not what has befallen him, Boromir. I would have sobbed if not for the look in his eyes, as if he dared me to show weakness. I pulled myself straight and saluted. Eru forgive me, I wanted to fall at his side and weep as a babe.
He spoke calmly and chastised me for causing an uproar, for my disrespect of his Warden, and for many other things. I was… surprised by his vehemence. But I will forgive that, I already have. It is the state of his body that causes me alarm. I cannot even describe it to you, Boromir. It is as if our grandfather stood before me – not our father. He has aged by ten years at least since last night.
I spoke of mundane things, Boromir. He knows I saw the betrayal of his body. To speak of it in the open would have been fruitless. I suggested I might go to Osgiliath and begin the work you planned for the garrison. He agreed immediately and told me to leave on the morrow.
Boromir shook his head in surprise!
He knows I have no strength. He was with me last night. I did have a small relapse. Nothing to be concerned about, brother, for it is only the weakness of the poison. It has not quite washed completely from my body, but I am well enough. But not well enough to go across the Pelennor. I only tell you this so you will understand my concern… Nay! My alarm over his condition.
Do your best to complete your mission as quickly as possible and return to Minas Tirith. I leave for Osgiliath on the morrow. I promise, and at this Boromir smiled, to ride slowly.
Boromir crawled back into bed, pulled the covers over him, and shook. The Enemy had somehow reached Denethor. The lies were not enough. How could he have entered the Citadel? When he returned, he vowed, he would place extra guards in Denethor’s detail, he would search the Tower itself for secret passages, and he would secretly set his own guard upon his father, one who would only report to him. His anger flared. ‘We will leave for Rohan at first light. We will stay only long enough to discuss the lies of the Nameless One, then I will return home and make some sense of what is happening. Enough of this madness!’
Faramir lay back, exhausted. His walk to his father’s chambers was not, however, the reason. His mind reeled once again as he thought of the sight that had greeted him upon entry to his father’s bedchamber. As he had written Boromir, it seemed Ecthelion stared back at him. His father’s breathing was soft, but strong; yet, Faramir noted a slight trembling in Denethor’s hands. His face was waxen and covered with a slight sheen of sweat. His hair was more silver than black and deep furrows creased his brow accompanied by deep wrinkles along his eyes and mouth. Imrahil was wiping the sweat when Denethor batted his hand away. He had seen Faramir enter the room and wanted no show of weakness for his son. ‘Too late,’ thought Faramir. ‘He is beyond weak. What has caused this?’ He dared not ask.
“Father. I believe you have disobeyed Boromir.”
Denethor’s eyes steeled.
“Uncle Imrahil,” the Steward’s son turned to the Prince. “I see you are caring for my father as my brother asked?”
The hint of anger in his nephew’s voice stung. “I am, Faramir. As well as I am able.”
Faramir nodded, a half smile graced his face. “Mayhap I should let you rest and take your watch?”
“I need no watchers!” Denethor spat furiously. A touch of his old vigour helped him push himself up on his arms to sit up in the bed. “I need no nursemaid!” Then, much to his dismay, his arms gave way and he fell backwards into the pillows. “Wizard’s pus!”
Faramir laughed out loud. “Father. I do not believe wizard’s have pus.”
Denethor drew in a deep breath. “They certainly do, for every time I find myself in their presence, I find myself wiping spittle and pus from my mind!”
“Oh! I like that phrase, Father. May I use it when next I write to Mithrandir?”
At once, Faramir realized he had taken the jibe too far. His father’s experiences with Saruman flashed across Denethor’s face and Faramir knelt by his bed. “Forgive me, Father. I jest about something that causes you discomfort.”
“Get off your knees!” the Steward whispered, hoarsely.
Faramir stood. “May I sit with you for awhile? In all earnestness?”
“Aye. If you bring some tea with you. I am parched.”
Imrahil nodded and walked out of the room as Faramir sat in the chair by the bed. He bit his lip in faint imitation of his brother and Denethor could not help but smile.
“Tell me what happened, Father.”
“I stayed up too late. In fact, I do not believe I slept. I wanted to expunge some anger I was feeling and went to the training grounds. I spent some time hitting the practice pole. I went too far. Imrahil helped me save face by letting me collect myself before I walked back here. The people did not see it.”
Faramir had to blink back tears. “I am grateful for my uncle’s care. I think I have an apology to tender.”
“We do not deserve his love, nor his friendship.”
Smiling, Faramir took Denethor’s hand and winced at the paper-thin feel of the skin. “You are worth ever bit of love and friendship any have to give, Father. You do not stint yourself in your love for Gondor. Who cannot admire that? Who cannot love you?”
Denethor closed his eyes at the unexpected tribute. “I would rest, Faramir. You will leave for Osgiliath tomorrow?”
Faramir started in surprise. “If that is your command, Father.”
“It is. Your brother’s plans are on the desk in my private study. Take them with you and begin the process of rebuilding the garrison.”
“Aye, Father. I will return in time for the betrothal?”
Denethor did not answer. Faramir stood, gazing one last time on his father, then turned, shoulders hunched, and left the room. He passed Imrahil in the outer chamber without a word.
“Have you lost your mind,” Imrahil hissed between clenched teeth, his hand painfully digging into Faramir's arm.
Faramir turned Steelsheen's head around and stopped, well away from the supply caravan heading for Osgiliath. “What do you know of loyalty and obedience?” he snapped, fatigue overwhelming him. “I am bid hasten to the garrison by my Steward; therefore I am as you find me.”
“You are not yet recovered from your wounds.” Imrahil let the harshness of his nephew’s words pass over.
“The wounds are healed. The poison will work its way out in time. I am not helpless.”
“Faramir,” Imrahil clenched his hands on his reins. “You should have told your father of the weakness of your body. He is not himself these days. He is not thinking clearly.”
“It is not that difficult a ride, Uncle,” Faramir smiled, moistness filling his eyes at his uncle’s concern. “I must do as father asks. It was not an order, not in the usual sense, but he needs me there. Do you not understand that? Whether he is himself or no, I owe him my allegiance. I am well enough to travel at the pace the caravan sets. Will you stay with me when we stop for nuncheon?”
“I cannot understand either one of you.” Imrahil shook his head. “At least Boromir is straightforward. He does not play games with me or with himself.”
“So you would that I be more like Boromir?”
The Prince fumed. “That is not what I meant. I would that you would stand up for yourself, at least in circumstances such as these.”
“As I said, I am not helpless. Perhaps weak, but that will pass. There is much to be done, Uncle. I want to be back home for Boromir's betrothal. I want to meet the lady.” Faramir smiled.
Imrahil returned the smile. “Since your companions set an easy pace, I must be content with your decision. Remember this, Faramir, you are not readily expendable. You are needed and most important to Gondor and to your father. Do not sell yourself short.”
“Let us continue this journey then. Tell me more about Míriel. Was she raised in Dol Amroth itself or is she from the lands nearby?”
“She has lived in Dol Amroth her entire life. Her father is on my council. Her mother is one of the social gadflies that love to stick their noses in everyone's business. Míriel is, fortunately, more like her father than her mother, else I would not have suggested her to Denethor. I like her. You will too, I am sure. As for Boromir,” Imrahil shook his head, “I do not believe there is a woman alive who can take his heart from Minas Tirith. She has a daunting task ahead of her. But I think she is ready for it. Court life in your city is not as convoluted as in mine. I think Indis had great bearing on that. She kept the intrigue to a minimum. Would not tolerate any. That was a blessing for Denethor. It was a grievous day, when she passed.”
“He misses her terribly. I think he has no one he trusts as he did his sister. I am told she was councilor to Ecthelion also?”
“That she was. Before my time. He turns to no one?”
“He listens to his Council, but usually," and Faramir's smile turned bitter, “Usually he does what he had planned before he even spoke with them. They grow frustrated. And bitter.”
“I can understand that. His spies and the other tools he uses to dredge information are unique. I cannot keep up with his thoughts myself. It must be very frustrating to not have the information he does and have to council him. I do not envy these lords.”
“Nor I. I know Boromir is becoming frustrated. He needs must have the reports father has, but father does not share them all. Boromir's hands are tied. At least now, I think, father has agreed to send all army related reports to Boromir. Father seems to know the enemies movements, but does not tell Boromir. How does one plan a campaign if one is blind?”
“Mayhap I can do something about that. When I return, if your father has recovered fully, I will discuss this matter.”
“Thank you, Uncle.”
The caravan pulled up and Faramir and Imrahil sat with the men and shared a cold meal and warm ale. Then, they broke camp and continued their journey to Osgiliath.
Imrahil hugged Faramir warmly before helping his nephew mount his horse. “I am still gravely concerned for your welfare. Boromir will be angry at your actions, you know.”
Faramir chuckled. “He will indeed. I have already sent a missive to him, so he will return to Minas Tirith, ready to tear me to shreds!"
“Return quickly, Faramir. Set the plans in motion and return to your warm bed. You will be needed for the betrothal, by me, if not by your brother.”
Faramir waved and set off after the supply wagons. Imrahil looked on, concern filling him. ‘I know not how to protect either man, Denethor nor Faramir. They are both stubborn. Mayhap, when Boromir returns, we can talk sense into these two!’ He shrugged and headed back to the city.
Derufin was delighted to see Faramir, then quickly frowned. “You are not well?”
“I am fine. Just a little weak. We have much work to do.” Faramir stumbled; Derufin caught him.
“A little more than weak, I think. Exhausted is more like it. Why are you here?”
“I am taking a short leave. I came to Osgiliath for its healing properties,” Faramir laughed roundly.
“‘Tis not a laughing matter. Are you taking over captaincy?”
“Nay! No such thing. I have plans that Boromir wants implemented. I will only spend a few days here. I hope this is not an inconvenience?"
“The only inconvenience is if you fall off your horse and crack your skull open. Which, from the state I see you in now, was a possibility on your long ride.”
“Damrod would not allow it,” Faramir smiled at the shadow behind him.
“Then come. Stay in my rooms. The bed is passable. Have you eaten?”
“We have. I would most appreciate a moment's rest.”
“More than a moment, Captain. We will discuss Boromir's plans in the morning, after you have had a good night's sleep and broken your fast.” He held up a hand to stay Faramir's response. “If you are stationed here for a year or a few days, you are under my command. And my orders are for you to retire to your quarters. I will not speak with you until the morrow.” The captain walked away.
Faramir did not miss Damrod's smug look. “So I am still to be treated as a babe.”
“If you act like one,” the Ranger said quietly.
“You wish Imrahil had talked me into returning to the City?”
“I do. This is... not my place to comment. I will order food for the daymeal when that time comes. I will be standing here if you need me.”
“Find quarters for yourself for the night. I refuse... " He swore loudly and a few of the men standing about looked at him questioningly. “Boromir will not let you find quarters, will he?”
“I think not, my Captain." Damrod smiled. “I am not going to share your room this time. I do not think you need a nursemaid any longer. I will be on guard in front of your quarters, if you need me.”
“Damrod,” frustration colored Faramir's mien, “I cannot have you standing outside of my quarters until we leave Osgiliath. You need your rest and your privacy, too. Please, find yourself a billet and stand guard when you feel you must, but then leave me. Please.”
“Aye, Captain. I think you are well guarded here. But I will remain at your side during the day. I wonder where Mablung is billeted? Mayhap, he will share a room with me.”
“Go and find him. I am going to sleep.” They had reached the captain's quarters by this time.
Damrod saluted and watched Faramir enter the building. He waited a few moments, then entered the room. It was as he expected; Faramir was asleep on the bed, uncovered, his boots and sword still on him. The Ranger shook his head, removed the sword, scabbard and boots, and covered his captain. He then left the room to find Mablung. He had promised Faramir he would not stand guard both day and night, but he had already decided he would watch during the day and Mablung would guard their captain at night. Boromir would be pleased.
The sun was well on her way to setting before Faramir woke. His body ached, not just his shoulder, but he put the pain aside when he noted the shadows in the room. Anger, frustration, and exhaustion took turns pummeling his thoughts. ‘There is so much to do,’ he moaned. He swung his legs over the side of the bed and tried to stand, but the room began to sway. He caught himself before he fell and lay back on the bed, cursing quietly.
“Captain?” Damrod opened the door. “Are you ready to break your fast?”
“I think five times over. I cannot get up,” he said, shamefacedly.
“I am not surprised. Almost six hours in the saddle and no dinner last night, no food yet today. I will return in a moment. Please, do not try to stand. Please,” and Faramir nodded. “Thank you. I will return with a meal.” The soldier stepped back out the door as quickly as he had entered.
Faramir did not move. His mind screamed at him to stand, to not lie about, but his body had other ideas. He took a few short gulps of air, closed his eyes, and drifted off to sleep. When Damrod returned, he smiled and turned to Mablung, who had followed him from the dining room. “Almost time for you to guard him. If he wakes, he will be furious, just to let you know.”
Mablung frowned. “We only do our duty. He does the same. He will not be angry. At least,” and the frown turned to a smile, “not when I tell him Boromir would gut us both if anything else happened to him!”
Damrod laughed quietly.
“Will he recover his full strength?”
“He will, Mablung. Potent are the poisons of the Enemy, but the healers assure Lord Denethor he will recover, and none would dare lie to the Steward.”
“Aye. I will stand watch. The meal is all cold stuffs. I will keep it here in case he wakes before morning. Will you report to Captain Derufin?”
“I will. Do you suppose I should send a missive to Lord Denethor?”
“Hmmm. That might be a good idea. Not mention Captain Faramir's weakness, but to...”
“To what? If I send a missive without mention of the captain's state, he will wonder why his son did not send a missive himself. If I send one and tell of the captain's weakness... I do not want to do that.”
“Have Captain Derufin send one. As part of his usual garrison report. That way,” Mablung shrugged, “The Steward will be none the wiser and we have saved Captain Faramir shame.”
“Aye. I will speak with Captain Derufin now. A good solution,” the Ranger sighed, but before he could leave, Faramir opened his eyes.
“Mablung, Damrod. It is good to see you both. Forgive me. I need to relieve myself.” He blushed furiously. “I will need help.”
Damrod strode quickly to the bed and helped Faramir stand. Then, holding his arm, he walked him out the door and to the privy. He left him standing before it and stepped out of the door, waiting. After a few moments, Faramir called him. He walked back in and helped Faramir back to the captain's quarters. A few men stopped and looked as they crossed the compound, but none said a word. Damrod hoped Faramir had not noticed.
“Thank you,” Faramir said, his voice almost a whisper. “If I had the strength, I would curse every Orc in Middle-earth.”
“There is food, Captain,” Damrod said and held a plate before him. “And ale.”
“Thank you. I will sit at the table. I am beginning to hate that bed almost as much as the one in the Houses.” He smiled, daunted.
Damrod and Mablung stood by the door. “Nay! Please, sit with me. There is too much food anyhow. I would ask that you would share this meal with me. I am not used to eating alone.”
The two men looked at each other in consternation. Shrugging, they sat. “Thank you,” their captain said. “And thank you for not cutting this,” and he held up a piece of cold meat, “for not cutting this into little pieces as if I was a child.”
The Rangers laughed. “Boromir did not tell us that we had that duty also!” Mablung said with glee.
“Good. And do not tell him that either,” Faramir said. After the first few bites, his head had stopped spinning. He took a gulp of the ale and sat back. “Where is Captain Derufin?”
“He took a patrol out this morning. He should return shortly. I think they were headed south, towards Emyn Arnen.”
“Hmmm. Where are the maps and documents I brought with me?”
“Here,” and Mablung stood and walked to the captain's desk. “All laid out and ready for you.”
“Would you tell the captain I wish to meet with him this evening?”
“Aye. As soon as he returns.”
“Has there been any word from Boromir or the Steward?”
“None, Captain. Would you wish to send a missive to the Steward?” Damrod asked furtively.
“Aye. I would. I think I can make it to the desk by myself.” He turned towards Damrod. “I am surly, at times, and do not know enough to thank those who help me. I am sorry.”
Damrod lowered his eyes. “There is no need for thanks.”
“Here. Come look at this with me. Especially you, Mablung. You have been in Osgiliath for the last few days. I am sure Boromir asked you to look around and see what changes might be needed.”
“He did.” Mablung stood up and stepped behind the chair where Faramir sat. “He was particularly concerned with the docks. They make it too easy for the Enemy to land his troops. He suggested we use timber and masonry from the destroyed buildings to block them. There are enough ruins nearby that it should not be a difficult task. We will need fulcrums and levers and such, but it can be done. Especially since the Lord Denethor has restored the garrison to full strength.”
A horn was heard and Faramir motioned. Mablung ran from the room and after a few moments, Derufin entered with the Ranger. “Captain Faramir. It is good to see you up and about.”
“Thank you, Derufin. Are you ready to take over your own quarters again?”
“Not until you leave. Do not ask again. I have found a nice little billet away from the dust and the noise of the compound, and not many can find me.”
Faramir burst into laughter. “So that is why you have given me your quarters – to hide?”
“Aye. And it has worked quite well. Now, I will find some food and return. You have orders for me, I believe?”
“I do. But Mablung will bring you food. We just finished our meal. Unfortunately, my hunger got the better of me and there is none left.”
Mablung saluted and left as Derufin sat at the desk alongside Faramir. “These are very good maps,” he said, wonder filling his voice. “Where did you get them?”
“The Steward made them some years ago. I believe not much has changed?”
“Nay. Though some of the buildings have crumbled even further. Still, the docks and the bridge and the defenses are the same. This is incredible. A copy should be left here at the garrison.”
“Aye. I will see it is done when I return to Minas Tirith. Now, eat,” he smiled as Mablung walked in with a large bowl of stew and thick slices of bread.
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