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Ch. 24 - Third Age 3017 - Part Ten
They sat, nearly silent, for three hours. The wizard’s smoke, though the casements had been thrown open, still covered the high ceiling, as if some mighty cloud were in the room.
At last, Denethor called, “Check.”
Mithrandir smiled. “It appears that the loss of my Steward has put my King in jeopardy.”
Denethor’s lips tightened. “It is a move that bears remembering.”
The wizard blew another circle of smoke and watched it waft to the ceiling. He moved his castle and Denethor breathed out. One small move, one knight shifted, and Denethor had him, “Checkmate.”
“So it is. Well,” Mithrandir started to stand, “a thoroughly pleasant evening.”
“Stay,” Denethor forced himself to say.
Mithrandir looked up, his brows sticking out as they shot into the air. “The hour is late.”
“I am delighted you noticed. Morgoth’s breath!” he swore. “Where were you during the Battle of the Dagorlad?”
Mithrandir’s bristly brows lifted further.
“Did you have a hand in it?”
“Do you think my hand reached that far?”
“I believe it can reach where you will.”
“You seem fond of that word.”
The wizard said naught.
“If you were at the Dagorlad, which side would you have been on – the side of the servant of your own? Or the side of Elves and Men?”
“Little you know me, Lord Denethor,” the wizard said evenly.
“Mayhap if I sent for Faramir, you would reveal the answer.”
Mithrandir leaned forward with quiet vehemence. “The lad has a good head on his shoulders. He listens and learns. His mind is open to all possibilities. He has his mother’s heart.”
Denethor stood and walked firmly to the sideboard and poured himself more brandy.
“The last of the cherry brandy?”
“So, you were listening this afternoon?”
The wizard again remained silent.
Denethor brought the carafe and poured a little more for Mithrandir. “May I be forthright?”
“It is, for the moment, your Citadel.”
Denethor clenched his hand around the glass, which promptly shattered. He looked down in surprise. His servant stepped forward, cleaned him quickly, and took the broken glass away, replacing it with another. Denethor sat, twirling the new glass. “Where have you been these past years?” he asked, his tone conversational.
Mithrandir chuckled. “In a place safe from flying glass.”
“Safe from everything!” Denethor challenged.
“You do not wear your victory well, Lord Denethor.”
“What mean you?” he asked in consternation.
“Our game, ‘Stewards and Kings.’ You won handily and yet you snarl as if you had lost.”
“I believe I have lost. At least, it would appear so.” He sighed wearily. “Faramir will return for Mettarë. He asked that you delay your departure until he returns.”
“I would like that.”
Denethor stood. “Then, I will send for you when he returns. You will spend your time in my library?”
Mithrandir stood and nodded. “Mayhap, the next time we meet, we might be forthright again. I hope it will be before Mettarë.”
Denethor stood silent, waited till the wizard left, then flung his glass against the door. His servant stood and waited.
As quick as lightening, Damrod stepped into the blade, a small grunt forced from him at the impact. He stumbled against Faramir, but grit his teeth and forced himself to remain standing, protecting his lord with his body, hoping Imrahil would be able to subdue the man. Galador fell back in disbelief. Imrahil shouted for his guards and grabbed Galador’s arms, pinning them to his side. The man did not struggle; in fact, with a sob, he crumpled into Imrahil’s arms.
Faramir turned and held Damrod to him. “Do not even think of leaving me,” he whispered through tear-trembling lips. “Boromir will kill us both.” Damrod attempted a smile; then collapsed. Faramir, brought to his knees by the dead weight of his friend, sobbed.
Four guards jostled their way into the room. One, seeing blood on Damrod’s back and Faramir’s hands, shouted commands and shoved one of the other guards out the study’s door with orders to return with Dol Amroth’s healer. Imrahil handed Galador over to two guards, whilst the third ran to Faramir’s side, thinking the prince of Gondor was hurt. Faramir looked up. “It is Damrod. Help me lay him down.” Instead, the knight picked the wounded warrior up and placed him gently on Imrahil’s settle. Faramir knelt at his side. He moved Damrod’s body and found the dirk still imbedded in the warrior’s back. The blade effectively stopped the flow of blood.
“We will leave the dirk in until the healer arrives,” the knight said.
Faramir nodded, still stunned, perplexed, and heart-broken by what had occurred.
Imrahil insisted that Galador remain. The guards seated him and tied him to the chair; they stationed themselves on either side. The Swan Prince wanted the man to see the injury and damage that his deed had caused. For one very brief moment, he looked at the lord in wonder; then quickly strode to Faramir’s side. “How fares he?”
“The wound is deep. I know not what hurt has been done.”
At that moment, the healer entered the room and walked, at Imrahil’s command, to Damrod’s side. He did a quick assessment of the wound; then sighed. “He will be well.” An assistant stepped into the room carrying a satchel. He knelt at the healer’s side and opened the bag; then he went to the fire, took the hot water boiling there for tea, and poured it into a bowl. He brought it to the healer’s side.
“Lord Faramir, I believe?” At Faramir’s nod, the healer continued, “The wound is deep but has missed any vital parts. He has hardly bled. I will clean and stitch him now. If you would move and give me a little room?”
Faramir swallowed hard, squeezed the unconscious Damrod’s hand, stood and walked to Imrahil’s side. The prince took his arm and forced him to finally sit. Pouring them both brandy, he sat next to his nephew. “My healer is very good, Faramir. Trained in Minas Tirith under Arciryas.”
Faramir nodded, cleaning his hands off with a proffered tea towel, then swallowed the brandy in one gulp; his eyes never left Damrod’s body.
Damrod’s eyes fluttered; a moan left him as he tried to move. Faramir was instantly at his side. “Be strong, Damrod. The healer is almost finished. Just a few more stitches.”
Damrod clutched Faramir’s hand, his panicked eyes devouring Faramir. “Are you safe?” he croaked.
Faramir smiled at his friend. “Again, because of you! Your medal lust knows no bounds, Damrod. The other soldiers will be vexed at the ease with which you earn them. They will think we are in collusion.” He broke down and sobbed, feeling Damrod’s hand crush his own.
The healer sped his work and quickly finished. He motioned and a litter appeared in the doorway. Damrod’s eyes widened. “Nay! I cannot leave my lord!”
“It is imperative that you rest. The wound was deep, never the mind that you escaped alive!”
Damrod still shook his head. “Nay! I will not leave.”
He struggled against the healer’s hands until Faramir grabbed his once again. “You will lay here quietly. I will not make you break your vow to Boromir.”
The healer’s eyes widened in understanding. “I will leave my assistant with you. When you deign to return to your rooms, avail yourself of the litter, Lord Damrod. I beg you.”
“He will.” Faramir’s tone was firm and Damrod lay back quietly.
The healer left whilst his assistant brought tea and helped Damrod drink. Faramir stood and found that he was shaking. He looked helplessly at Imrahil who took him in his arms and walked him to a chair by the fire. He called and the assistant came to him. “Faramir’s head wound is bleeding again. Will you look at it?” Faramir, soaked in sorrow, lowered his head and succumbed to the assistant’s ministrations.
“There is enough tea for you, my Lord Faramir. Please, stay seated and drink it. The wound has re-opened. I must send for the healer.”
Faramir groaned in frustration. At the noise, Galador looked, the first movement he had made since being secured to the chair. His eyes widened, but he said naught.
Soon, the healer returned and placed a few more stitches in Faramir’s wound. “Stay still yourself, my Lord. Do not push beyond your body’s endurance. You have a good blow to the head; it must be allowed to heal.” The assistant put fresh bandages on it. The healer handed Faramir the tea. “If you would, please drink this.” The Steward’s son sipped it. “Good. I have decided, Prince Imrahil, that my presence might still be needed here.”
Imrahil nodded in agreement and motioned for the man to take a seat. The healer sat next to Faramir, whilst his assistant sat next to Damrod.
Silence filled the room. Imrahil stood at the fireplace, his hand resting upon the mantle. ‘Denethor said Gondor is under attack from within. I did not believe it this serious. Lies and deceit. I see now how Númenor fell. The same could happen here, if we are not diligent, if we do not fight against it.’ He turned his back to those in the room and let his tears fall. That his own beloved nephew, whom he swore to protect, should be attacked in his palace!
Nerdanel entered, assessed the room, and walked to his side. “My husband.” Her tone carried warmth, love, courage and strength.
He took her in his arms. “Thank you for coming! Faramir needs you now. His wound is not grave, but Damrod’s is serious.”
“I know not of what you speak, Imrahil. I came because I heard the news of Míriel’s death. What else has occurred?”
He held her away from him. “Míriel’s death?” he whispered. He heard Faramir’s gasp. “What say you?” He turned towards Galador. “What is this news?”
Galador hung his head and wept.
“Hirgon. Well met. I needs must ask you one question before we continue. How many missives did you receive asking you to report to me?”
The lieutenant looked wonderingly at his Steward. “One, my Lord. I received it today, left the Causeway in charge of one of my men, and came here straight away. I suppose it was nigh unto four hours ago.”
Húrin nodded. Denethor motioned for the lieutenant to sit. “I need a captain for my errand-riders. Húrin has shown your records to me. Coupled with your fine showing when I visited Captain Faramir, I have decided to make you captain. I have a missive of the utmost importance for Captain-General Boromir, one that I will only send with someone I trust. He is stationed at Cair Andros. You will leave within the hour.”
Hirgon saluted, took the missive, and left the room.
Húrin laughed loudly. “Focused that one is.”
Denethor sighed. “Tarostar?”
“He is a traitor, my Lord, as you surmised. I have signed statements from his men. He deliberately sabotaged Arthad’s governance of the riders. I have since found that four of his own men, over the past two years, were found murdered: two the first year, one at the beginning of this year, and one when Arthad took over his duties. Long hours have I spent investigating these accusations. The evidence is irrefutable. He personally executed each one of them.” The former captain of Osgiliath spat. “I cannot believe any would wound us so deeply.”
Denethor read the statements. “Give the order. Have the military tribunal meet today. If they find him guilty, and I do not doubt it, I want him executed before morning.”
“It will be done. My Lord, I have five companies from the Tower Guard and three from the Third Company prepared and ready to join Boromir against the Easterlings. Shall I send them forth?”
“Send them now. I want them in Cair Andros tomorrow morning. I want them fully outfitted, Húrin. I know not how long they will be away.” Their luck, if one would call it such, had Boromir winning his battles quickly and decisively. “The Dagorlad lasted seven years. I will not have that happen now. Unless Mordor sends out His beasts from hell, we should prevail.”
Húrin nodded. “My Lord, all know of your foresight. Do you think… are the enemy’s forces such that Boromir will be so tested?”
“I think not. I am sending my best men. What disturbs me, makes me reconsider the battle before Boromir, is the fact that the Easterlings just launched a full-scale attack this spring. It is not their way to fight like this. Not time after time. They should still be in Rhûn licking their wounds. It is as if they are totally under the thrall of the One we do not name. Their subjugation must be stronger than I imagined. And that does not bode well for Boromir nor Gondor.
“Give the men marching orders for ten hours a day. They should make Cair Andros by tomorrow evening if they hurry. They will not wait for their supply wagons. Order full battle gear and extra weapons. Who do you have as their captain?”
“Ragorn. He has served under Boromir before; in fact, they battled a mûmak together.”
The errand-rider reached Boromir almost five days later. After reading the missive, Boromir motioned for Arthad and Anborn to join him. He read the note aloud, then said, “The Easterlings will be upon us shortly. I deem our forces too small to battle them here. I will call a retreat. We will head back to Cair Andros for more men. Denethor is sending a battalion and then some. We will meet them there.” His shoulders hunched in defeat. “If only we had known sooner!”
“I have another missive,” Captain Hirgon said. “It is from Captain Hador.”
Boromir took the missive and read it. “Hador has ordered three companies from Amon Dîn and three from Cair Andros to join with the Steward’s men. That will make our army two battalions strong. Denethor states there are at least that many Easterlings. It will be a battle to remember.”
“Are not they all,” Arthad murmured.
Imrahil knelt before Galador. He tried to take the man’s hands in his, but Galador drew back with a sharp hiss. “What tale is this, Galador? Nerdanel, tell me what you know.”
“I know very little, my Prince. A rider came from Galador’s home with a missive. The rider was distraught. The missive was open. I read it. It only said that Míriel was dead.”
“Galador,” Imrahil tried again. “Tell me what has happened.”
The man tried to stand, fury contorting his face, but the bonds held and he fell back – defeated. He screamed, then pointed a finger at Faramir. “He did it! The one who would steal his own brother’s wife. He killed her!”
Imrahil looked in wonder at Faramir whose eyes held only puzzlement and pain.
“He has been here all day,” Imrahil gently spoke to Galador. “Was Míriel murdered?”
Faramir gasped and made to stand. Nerdanel went to his side, put her hand on his shoulder, and bid him sit.
“She fell,” the whispered words made no sense to Imrahil.
“I do not understand, Galador. How, where, when?”
“She was wild. She said he promised to come to her tonight. When he did not, she stamped… her little… foot,” the man sobbed brokenly. “When he did not, she rode out across the cliffs.” The man stared at the floor for a moment. “I followed her, but she has always been a better rider than I. I could not catch up with her. She was headed here. To confront him!” A shaking finger pointed again towards Faramir.
“Then what happened, Galador?” Imrahil asked quietly, soothingly.
“She fell. One moment she was in front of me, the next she and her horse were gone. My soldiers caught up with me and we searched the cliffs. There was no sign of her. At last, I heard a shout and I knew. I knew I had lost her, lost the love of my life, my own, my precious daughter. They brought her to me, laid her sweet body in my arms. It was broken.” Sobs pierced the room. “She did not wake. I called her.” He raised his eyes to Imrahil. “I have lost the only thing I have ever loved.” He slumped in the chair, bereft of the comfort of hiding his face with his hands, and sobbed.
Imrahil sat back on his heels. “Bring the errand-rider from Galador’s company to me.”
The guard nodded and left. The room fell silent. Nerdanel held Faramir’s hand. He wept. The rider entered. Imrahil stood and took him to a far corner, spoke with him for a few moments, then dismissed him. He walked to Faramir’s side. “It is as Galador stated. She is dead. They have taken her to her mother.”
Faramir nodded; grief overwhelmed him and he leaned into his aunt, burying his head in Nerdanel’s skirts.
“Lord Galador,” Imrahil pulled a chair in front of his councilor. “As your liege lord, I need you to listen to me.”
Galador looked up. He blinked a few times, then straightened himself in his chair.
Imrahil continued. “You must listen to me. Your oath requires it. You know I do not lie.” He raised a hand to stay Galador’s response. “In Minas Tirith, Míriel behaved abominably. She let all who would listen know that she was most unhappy with Captain-General Boromir as her spouse. Even he, to her shame, heard her ask what would happen if he died. Could she have Faramir in his stead? I did not tell you, the shame for me was so great. Faramir did naught to garner such thoughts from her. Nerdanel or I were always with her during her visit. Faramir conducted himself as a brother, never giving Míriel cause to think that he had affection for her other than as his brother’s wife nor did he have designs upon her. I had warned you at that time of her behavior and forbade her to approach Faramir. You agreed.
“However, when Faramir arrived here just this afternoon, she accosted him in my sister’s personal garden.” He noted Galador listened and raised an eyebrow when he mentioned her trespass. “As your liege lord, I will tell you what happened here today. There were witnesses.” Galador swallowed hard. “They had not met whilst he made his way to Dol Amroth. She breached my sister’s personal garden and accosted Faramir,” Imrahil reiterated. “In his attempts to distance himself from her, he sustained a head wound. She left and he was taken to my healer for stitches. He has been there until just an hour ago, when his aide brought him to me.” Imrahil sat back in his chair.
The fire sputtered and one of the guards put another log on it. Faramir remained seated, but another guard pulled a chair up next to him and Nerdanel sat. Tears coursed down her face as she held her nephew’s hand.
“I did not know,” the Swan whispered. “She said he promised, told her that he loved her, would take her from Boromir, would…” He choked.
Imrahil let him ponder his words. At last, he leaned forward again. “Boromir and Faramir are Knights of Gondor. Is this the behavior of a knight? What she told you? They are sons of the Steward. Do you imagine that either would incur the wrath of Denethor by shaming him in this way? He signed the betrothal agreement himself. Would Faramir dare aggrieve his father in this manner? Would he dare disobey the Steward?”
Another long silence filled the room.
“What will you do with me?” Galador asked, his voice thick with tears.
Imrahil stood and walked to the fireplace. “It is not my place to deal out judgment. You have impugned the loyalty of Lord Faramir. You have impugned the Steward, intimating that he does not command his sons’ loyalty nor abides by his agreements. Lastly, you would murder a Knight of Gondor. The son of the Steward. I must return you to Minas Tirith. Hand you over to Denethor for sentencing and punishment.”
“Then I go to my death.”
“Nay!” Faramir stood. “The guilt is mine also.” Nerdanel took his arm and tried to force him to sit, but Faramir gently loosed her hold and stood next to Imrahil. “She was young and infatuated. I should have seen it. I did not know, not until the betrothal ceremony. I tried to befriend her; she misunderstood. I cannot let her father die because I did not stand firm.”
“Faramir. Her father knew, was ordered to keep her from you. When she returned to her home this afternoon, he should have severely chastised her for her stupidity and willfulness, ordered her to her rooms and locked the doors. He is culpable, not you.”
Faramir knelt before Galador. “My Lord, I am sorry. I would that I lay at the bottom of the cliffs, if that would have saved her.”
Galador stared at the Steward’s son. “My Prince rightly speaks. It is my shame that I now bear. I loved her so.” He choked. “I knew she was willful. I knew she wanted you, not Boromir. How could I see my only daughter unhappy? I am to blame.” He looked up at Imrahil. “When will you send me to Denethor? I would fare well my wife.”
“Uncle,” Faramir cried, “Banish him! You spoke of it before. Send him to Athrad.”
Galador’s eyes widened. “Nay! I would rather death!”
Imrahil’s brow furrowed. “All your long life, Galador, you have served Belfalas and the Swans, my father first, and now me. Faithfully. A madness came upon you for one moment, spurred by a father’s grief. Should you die for that one moment? Still, the Steward should judge you.”
“If you send him to father,” Faramir interrupted, “he will be hanged.”
Imrahil rubbed his forehead with his fingers. The creases in it were deep. “I cannot release him.”
“Nay. Just wait. Hold him here. I will return to father and beg his case.”
“It will be done. Damrod needs at least a few days to recover from his wounds.” Imrahil suddenly stopped. “What do we do for her funeral? Her father cannot attend. You, Faramir, you could not. There might be a scene. Her mother will undoubtedly be distraught. I cannot attend, if it is known that I hold her father under arrest.”
“I could go in your stead,” Nerdanel spoke quietly.
“Our family does not have public interments, Prince Imrahil,” Galador said apologetically. “Yet, I would attend. She is my only daughter.”
“She is the Heir’s intended. She should be embalmed and a state funeral held. I do not know how we will manage this.”
“Damrod will attend as Denethor’s representative,” Nerdanel offered. “Faramir has a head wound. He cannot attend.”
“Galador,” Imrahil motioned for the man’s hands to be unbound, “you will be allowed to attend but only with guards surrounding you. I will have the interment here in Dol Amroth, so that none of your knights feel compelled to exact revenge or try to free you, but it will be private, as your family requests.”
The battle was not going well. They had fought into the night and still neither side prevailed. As the moon rose, both sides paused to regroup and claim their dead. Boromir sat in his tent, his head in his hands, weeping silently. He had lost another mount, but he was becoming accustomed to that misfortune. He had not allowed himself to love a horse in a very long time. His father had warned him and he, foolish child that he had been many long years ago, did not believe him. After the loss of Tarannon, he had found another stallion, one with fire in his hooves and great battle sense. Boromir had loved it dearly. He could not now remember which battle he had lost it at. A succession of horses quickly followed.
Nay, this time the loss was more profound. A sob tore from him and he bit his lower lip to stifle it. His men did not need to know his grief; they needed him strong. He swallowed as Egalmoth, his newest aide, entered.
“The pickets are set and the men rest. Is there aught you need before I find my own bed?”
Boromir smiled at the weariness in the man’s voice. “Nay. Sleep now. Wake me before dawn. We must needs discuss some of your duties before we return to the battlefield.”
The man saluted and left; Boromir stood and left his tent. He walked slowly amidst the camp, noting how his soldiers slept, how the cooks even now were beginning to prepare for the breaking of the fast, how the horses, what were left of them, nickered and whinnied as they tried to settle their nerves for the night. He walked over to the hobbled horses, rubbed their noses, and spoke gently to them. At last, he found Arthad’s and laid his head upon the horse’s shoulder. He wept bitterly.
Presently, morning birds began to sing; he patted the horse on its hindquarters and walked back to his tent. There was no sign of Egalmoth and Boromir grimaced. He drew fresh water and washed his face and neck and pitched the dirtied water outside his tent. He took off his shirt and put on a new one and still Egalmoth did not come. He heard the noises of the camp rising and pursed his lips. He walked slowly towards the dining tent, greeting awakening soldiers on his way. The cooks scrambled to bring food to him as he sat near the large tent’s flap. He wanted his men to see him as they entered, to gain confidence from the fact that he was with them in all things. But he found himself tired beyond belief. He loved a battle, loved the sounds and smells of battle, but could never reconcile himself to the losses. He would hold in his anguish until they returned to Minas Tirith; there, in the dark recesses of the Tower, he would hide and grieve for Arthad.
Egalmoth ran into the tent a quarter of an hour later, just as Boromir was finishing his morning tea. In his panic, he did not note Boromir’s presence. He ran to Captain Hador who was standing in the mess line waiting for his dish to be filled. “Captain Boromir is missing. His tent is empty. He has not slept in his cot.” His voice rang loud throughout the tent and soldiers looked up in alarm.
Hador looked straight at Boromir and grimaced. “Captain Boromir,” he said loudly, “seems to have done well without your attention. He sits yonder, already finished breaking his fast. Personally, I would not break my own fast until I had at least acknowledged his presence.”
Egalmoth’s face reddened. He turned in the direction Hador pointed, discovered where Boromir sat, squared his shoulders, and walked to his captain. “Forgive me, Captain Boromir. I o’erslept.”
“Indeed you did and if you had slept any longer,” Guilin said through clenched teeth, “you would have slept through the battle itself.”
Boromir put his hand on Guilin’s shoulder and the captain quieted. “Get some food and eat. I will see you in my tent in a quarter hour.” He waved the man away. “Guilin. He is young and tired. We do not know how the fighting in his part of the battle went. We will give him the benefit of the doubt and hope he was sore-pressed to stay alive and is just exhausted, not addled.”
Guilin chuckled dryly. “I would not be so tolerant, Boromir. He will cost you your life if he is so inattentive on his first day of duty! I remember when first I became an aide. I did not sleep for three days. My captain finally had to order me to rest.”
Boromir gently chided the captain. “You did not become on aide on the battlefield. He will learn.” He finished his food and rose. “I will meet with you and Hador when you are finished.”
“We will be there shortly, Captain. I see you did not sleep.”
“Not today. Today we will crush them and then, I will sleep.”
Boromir walked back to his tent and laid himself down on his cot. Putting his arm over his eyes, he fell asleep.
Denethor paced the parapet. Naught was going well this day. He had seen a funeral cortege leading from Galador’s home to Dol Amroth. This did not portend well. If Galador was dead, he would have to postpone the wedding. He would wait until his errand-rider arrived. He should receive word within the week of what was happening in Dol Amroth. Faramir was due to return shortly. He hoped the lad would bring him a full report. He smiled, despite himself. The report would probably be twenty pages long.
As for the Nindalf… The battle had been joined, of that he was certain. The last time the globe would let him see that part of his lands, the Easterlings were still camped. The lack of any further viewing only meant that Boromir and his troops were now on hand and probably battling them. Did he send enough men? Was Boromir rested from his dealings with Orcs from the Emyn Muil? Were there enough supplies to sustain a longer battle, if one occurred?
Húrin was at his side at his motion. “My Lord?”
“Send another two supply wagons to Boromir.”
“Yes, my Lord.”
The man turned and ran off as Denethor strode towards the Great Hall. He sat in his Chair and waited. His hands were tied; he could do no more until he knew more. Hirgon entered and Denethor motioned him forward. ‘Where is the Chamberlain?’ he wondered.
“My Lord Steward. There have been no reports from Boromir nor Faramir in the last two days. Shall I send riders?”
“You take your duties seriously, Hirgon. I am impressed. Yes, send riders to Dol Amroth and Cair Andros. Do not go yourself. I would speak with you, once the riders are sent.”
“Yes, my Lord.” Hirgon saluted and left him.
The never-ending queue of supplicants, sycophants, and scroungers came forward, one by one. He dealt with them, hating every moment wasted here while Gondor suffered grievous injury in the north. If ever he wished he were once again only the son, not the Steward, it was at times like this. He wanted to be at Boromir’s side. He wanted to wield his sword again in mindless combat, feel a horse under him, relish the wind in his face. Now, all he felt was disdain for the people who stood before him. They had fallen so far, so very far.
Baranor stepped forward, last but one in the line of supplicants. Denethor leaned towards him, immediately sensing the man’s inherent goodness. He motioned and Baranor came even closer to the Chair. “Speak, Captain. What is your need?”
Baranor saluted. “You honor me greatly by entrusting your esquires to my care. I would do my best for them, my Lord Steward.”
“I expect only that.”
“I would not bring this matter to you, my Lord Steward, unless I deemed it important. The esquires’ armory needs replenishment. The swords the esquires receive at their commissioning are not of the best quality. I would ask your benevolence upon these men as they go out to serve Gondor. Some parents cannot afford a good blade or strong armor to gift their sons.”
Denethor looked upon the man, stalwart and brave in all his long years of service to Gondor, and he would have smiled, if he did not fear his people would think he had weakened. It was refreshing to find a man concerned for Gondor and not himself. ‘Too rare nowadays,’ he thought ruefully.
“Chamberlain,” he called and the man came forward. Húrin entered the Hall at the same time and Denethor motioned him forward. “Húrin, swords and armor are needed for our esquires. The foundries in Osgiliath are producing quite a number of good pieces. Procure enough to suite Baranor.” The swords and armor made in the City were of the finest quality and only to be given to those who had earned such weapons. Húrin nodded, took Baranor by the arm and led him from the Hall, their heads bent in deep discussion.
A woman stood before him, head bowed low. The Chamberlain looked guiltily at Denethor. “She has waited for almost a week, my Lord Steward. I have told her over and over that you will not see her.”
“Who is she?”
“Mother of Tarostar.”
“He has been hanged?”
“A week ago.”
Denethor looked long and hard at the woman before him. Finally, pity stayed him and he motioned her forward.
“You have a complaint?” he asked his tone low.
“Nay, my Lord Steward,” the woman cried as she spoke but did not wipe the tears away. “My son was a traitor, as all now know, though I myself and his brother did not. His punishment was right and just. I only ask a small favor.” She continued in a rush. “The law states his family must be banished. My other son is loyal to Gondor, my Lord Steward,” she gulped frantically. “I will leave, if that is your will, but please, his life is serving you, serving Gondor. Please let him stay.”
Denethor turned to the Chamberlain. “Who is his brother?”
“Hirgon, my Lord Steward.”
Denethor raised his eyes in surprise. “I gave Hirgon his brother’s post?”
“Come with me, gentle lady.” He held his hand out and she, with eyes dazed, took it.
“Chamberlain. We are done for the day. Dismiss the people.”
The Chamberlain bowed. “My Lord Steward?”
Denethor stopped in surprise; rarely did his Chamberlain stay his orders.
“There is a lieutenant here from Amon Anwar. He said he is to report to you. He is called Belegorn.”
“Ah, finally! Tell him to come to my private study after the daymeal. Now. Dismiss the people.”
The Chamberlain did as he was asked, pounded his staff upon the floor; the room quieted and Denethor left, leading the woman out the back of the Hall, down the narrow pathway to his own study.
“There are ugly rumors. I cannot even think where they come from, but they are directed mostly at the Steward.” Imrahil’s face burned with shame. The interment of Míriel had been accomplished with nary a hitch, but the aftermath of rumors and whispers filled the city.
“There is naught you can do about them, my love,” Nerdanel held his hand as they looked out over the Bay. “It is as a summer storm, swift and violent, but gone within an hour’s time. They will forget when something else comes along.”
“I would not have Denethor besmirched in this fashion. Nor Faramir.”
“I know your love for Faramir, Imrahil. He is strong and will survive this. His company leaves tomorrow?”
“At first light. I think Faramir would prefer to leave in the dead of night. The rumors are ugly.” He gritted his teeth.
“No uglier than when Finduilas died.”
“That is a harsh thing to say, my wife. Bitter was that time. Are the rumors the same? That Faramir murdered Míriel?”
“Why would they not be? Those who speak them are the very same that spoke them about Denethor. Narrow-minded, vicious people. What will you do with Galador whilst Faramir returns to Minas Tirith?”
“Faramir assures me that Denethor will allow my will to prevail. I am not so certain. Denethor was livid whilst we were in the City; her behavior was detestable. His love for his oldest is deep. If he feels this is an affront to Boromir, he will be less malleable.”
Nerdanel laughed. “I do not ever recall Denethor being malleable. Much as I love Faramir, I do not give this endeavor much likelihood for success.”
“I must hope. The man was grief stricken.”
“The man tried to kill my nephew,” Nerdanel spoke softly. Imrahil knew enough not to anger her with platitudes and excuses for the man. She stood as Faramir entered the garden.
“I am sorry to disturb you. I need to speak with you, Uncle.”
“Please, Faramir, sit.” He motioned to a small seating area and a servant brought tea.
Nerdanel poured. Faramir sat with his hands clenched. Imrahil stood and walked to the edge of the garden overlooking the water. At last, Faramir spoke. “I would ask you, Uncle, to send Galador and his family to the outpost at Ras Morthil.”
“His wife has begun sending me notes.”
“What kind of notes?” Nerdanel asked in surprise.
“Malicious ones. Packaged with the notes have been daggers, poisons, and other… She wishes me dead; I believe she is asking me to take my own life,” he said, painfully. “I do not blame her, but once I am gone, I am afraid she will send the same to you, Uncle. Her grief is great. She will share her thoughts with others and more rumors will fly. Mayhap, she would even want your death. I would spare you this, but I cannot.” He put his elbows on the table and rubbed his fingers over his brow. “I cannot believe all this is happening.”
“Give it no further thought, Faramir,” Nerdanel said quietly. “Others have been so maligned and have survived.”
“Of whom do you speak, Aunt?”
Faramir shivered. “When Naneth passed, I was too young to understand things I heard. So father was smeared in this way also? Did people actually believe he would kill his wife? His beloved?”
“There are small people in this world, Faramir. No matter what the facts are, they will dispute them. In their little, ugly minds, they will twist anything to fit their small-mindedness.”
Faramir hung his head. Imrahil walked to him and placed his hand upon his most-loved nephew. “I have been maligned many times before, Faramir. It comes with my position. Fear not for me. I will, however, do as you ask. They will be sent to Arthad. I will not make the order a banishment; I will assign him to the coast guard at Andrast. When your father makes his decision… If he decides that Galador should die, I will bring him myself to Minas Tirith. If he decides to let him live, then Galador will serve Denethor at that outpost for the rest of his days.”
“There will be no state dinner for your farewell this night, Faramir,” Nerdanel sighed. “The period of mourning must be kept. However, your uncle and I wish you and Damrod would join us.”
“Thank you, Aunt Nerdanel. We will.” He stood, bent and kissed her gently, and walked away.
“I would that he not be so burdened.”
Imrahil walked to his wife’s side and took her in his arms. “As would you for our own sons. You are wise, my beloved; you know they will always be burdened in some fashion or the other. Our love will sustain Faramir. I will go to Minas Tirith for Yáviérë, if I do not need to go there for Galador. I will speak with Denethor about this unfortunate situation. I know Denethor will not hold the lad responsible.”
Denethor offered the woman a seat. She took out a handkerchief and wiped her eyes. “Forgive me, Lord, for my weakness. I have already lost my husband to war and now my youngest to his own folly. I would save my eldest.”
“The law is unequivocal. The family of a traitor must be banished. I believe my hands are tied.”
She sobbed quietly. “Hirgon loves you, my Lord. He loves Gondor. His father instilled that love into him when he was but a babe. When Tarostar was born, Berelach served you in the Great Hall. He did not have the time to raise our youngest; I raised him by myself. Tarostar was only fifteen when Berelach died and was a sickly boy. In my grief at the loss of his father, I spoiled him. I should be banished, but not my son, not my Hirgon.”
Húrin walked in after two unanswered knocks. He stood by the door and listened.
“Berelach! When did he die?”
“In the battle of Cair Andros of 3014.”
Denethor sat heavily in his chair. His eyes filled with tears. “I did not know. I… that year, my sister Indis died in Rohan. I do not even remember the battle.”
“It was while you were in Rohan, my Lord,” Húrin added the information.
“Berelach saved my life when an assassin tried to strike me down. I promoted him to captain and gave him Cair Andros.” He held his head in his hands. “I hanged his son.”
“He murdered four men and put Gondor itself at risk, Denethor!” Húrin’s voice rang hard and furious.
The room grew deathly still. Finally, the woman’s sobs began again. “Berelach would die for you again. He loved you, my Lord. I do not hold you responsible for Tarostar’s death and neither would Berelach. But have pity on Hirgon, I beg you! He knew not of his brother’s anger. Tarostar held you responsible for Berelach’s death. He was but a boy. He turned to deceit, thievery and other things, things I did not know of. I could not control him. At last, Warden Húrin came to me; he took Tarostar and made him an esquire. Soon after, I thought he had changed. He was happy and made lieutenant. But he lied to me, as always, and hid his dishonorable nature.”
“I will banish neither you nor your son. Berelach was a hero and... He was my friend. I did not know he died. I ask your forgiveness; I abandoned you and your sons.” He turned towards Húrin. “Why was I not told?”
Húrin remained still.
“Does Hirgon know…? By the Valar, does Hirgon know his brother is dead?”
“Nay, my Lord. Hirgon was riding errands. Unless his mother told him.”
“I did not. He only returned two days ago and has not yet visited me.”
“Surely he would have heard from his men.”
“They do not know him well, yet, my Lord. He was stationed at the Causeway Forts. You just promoted him and then immediately sent him out with missives for Boromir at Cair Andros. Mayhap his own men know not that they were related.”
Denethor’s jaw clenched. He turned and pulled the bellpull, ordered the guard to fetch Hirgon, and walked to the woman’s side.
“I would not have you here when I tell your son. Where…? Forgive me, my Lady, what is your name?”
“Zámin, my Lord Steward.”
“Lady Zámin, where are you living now?”
“On the Pelennor. Berelach had a small farm. I have tried to keep it.”
“Unsuccessfully, I deem. With both your sons in my service, you would be hard pressed to keep it yourself. Have you family besides Hirgon?”
“Nay, my Lord. My father was a guard. He died a long time ago. My mother died of fever. Berelach’s parents are long dead.”
“Húrin, find suitable rooms for her on the Fifth Level. Continue Berelach’s pay; send it to her.” Taking a ring from his right hand, he turned towards Zámin. “Take this. If ever you are in desperate need, send me this and I will help you. I am sorry.” He swallowed hard, took her hand in his, and led her to the door. Gently, he kissed her brow. “Your husband was beloved of me.”
She sobbed and left the room.
Denethor turned in fury towards Húrin. “Why was I not told?”
“My Lord Steward. You have the rosters.” Húrin’s face was bright red. “Would it have made a difference? Would you have done otherwise, knowing he was a murderer and a traitor?”
“You made Tarostar an esquire?”
“I saw how he was growing up. I thought that being a knight would help him. Would give him the discipline he needed. His mother smothered him. It was a mistake.”
“It was not. Forgive my displeasure. At least you tried to help him. Berelach never once mentioned that he had family.”
“He would not have, my Lord.”
“He was Thorongil’s aide. I… I was concerned when he returned alone to Minas Tirith. I watched him, for signs of disloyalty, and saw only a man of courage and honor. A stalwart knight, if ever I saw one. He was always there for me. When Boromir…” Denethor stopped and shook his head. “Boromir almost drowned when he was but five. Berelach rode to my side, helping. I must be away from here.”
He strode to the door, flung it open, and walked furiously across the Courtyard and to the parapet. He stood, leaning against the embrasure, watching the mountains in the distance as the fires of Mount Doom glowed behind them. Húrin walked up behind him. “Ever the Nameless One taunts me,” he whispered. “Ever He spreads His lies and we believe Him. My people believe Him. Mayhap He dwelt in Tarostar’s heart.”
“You give him too much credit, Denethor.”
Denethor turned and sat heavily on one of the marble benches that lined the escarpment. “I once said the same thing to Indis, but I was wrong. He sends out His lies as wisps in the wind and they settle upon weak ears. Our people grow foolish, Húrin. They once were proud and strong; now, they are easy prey.”
“You are doing all you can to combat those lies, Denethor. Did not Boromir almost lose his life to fight those lies in Rohan? Is not Faramir away from us doing the same in the southern realm? The people will listen to you. They know your strength and your worth. They will change.”
The evening bell rang.
At last, Denethor stood. “I believe my newest aide is waiting for me. Thank you, Húrin, for your words. I will heed them.”
He walked to his study and nodded to the young man standing next to his guard. “You are Belegorn from Amon Anwar?”
“I am, my Lord Steward.”
“Have you eaten yet?” At the ‘nay,’ Denethor led the man into his private dining chamber. Hot food was arrayed on the sideboard. “Help yourself.”
Belegorn shook his head. “I believe I am to be your aide?”
“Then I would have you sit, my Lord Steward. I will bring your food.”
Denethor’s small smile was hidden, but his thankful sigh was heard.
Beregond, Hador and Guilin stood outside Boromir’s tent. Guilin swore quietly. “No aide in sight!”
“He left the mess tent some time ago,” Beregond shrugged. “I will find him.”
“I deem it wisest if we meet with Captain Boromir and not go scurrying about trying to find a wayward aide!” Hador said. “I would the onus fall upon Egalmoth for his dereliction of duty and not upon us for tardiness.”
Guilin laughed. “I agree. Captain Boromir,” he called quietly. There was no answer. The men looked at each other, nodded in silent agreement, and entered the tent. Boromir lay asleep on his cot. Guilin swore under his breath, “Exhausted.”
Hador strode forward and touched Boromir’s shoulder. “Captain Boromir. It is almost dawn. The battle will begin again shortly.”
Boromir was instantly awake and sat up. Beregond offered a cup of hot tea. Boromir smiled and took it. “Beregond. You are no longer an aide nor a lieutenant. You are a captain in the service of Gondor; you should not be bringing tea to your captain.”
“Noted, my Lord,” Beregond smiled. “I have still to thank you for my promotion.”
“‘Twas my father’s doing, Beregond, but well deserved. Now,” he turned and unrolled a map. “Here is where we met the enemy yesterday. The terrain is too rough. I would have our men surprise them, come over this outcropping and attack them here. Have my scouts returned from their morning surveillance?”
“They have, my Lord Boromir,” Guilin said. He pointed to the map. “The Easterlings settled for the night here. It will be easy to draw them here.” He pointed to where Boromir planned their attack. “I agree. The terrain is better suited to our way of fighting.”
“Good. Then let us away.” He stopped as he was putting on his belt and sword. “Has anyone seen my aide?”
They shook their heads and he laughed. They joined him. “Well, mayhap he will show up in time for the battle. Beregond, forgive me, would you bring my horse?”
“He is tethered outside.”
Boromir threw back his head and laughed loud and long. “I wish that I could take back the promotion and have you as my aide!”
The men about the tent were smiling as Boromir came out; they had heard his laughter, Hador told him, and were heartened. He saluted them, looked up at the sun, and smiled. “A good day to finally finish this! Hoy, my lads. We go to battle and we go to win!”
The men cheered. Scurrying, they geared themselves and strode forward to battle. It was quick, this day, for Boromir’s moving them to easier terrain proved propitious for Denethor’s forces. The battle went well and swiftly. By nuncheon, the enemy was routed, what was left of them, and Boromir stood, in the midst of the carnage and smiled. “At least I did not lose my horse. Nor my aide. Balrog’s breath! Where is Egalmoth?”
Guilin strode forward, his hand held high in jubilation. “Well done, Captain-General, well done indeed. Hardly any of our men lost!”
Hador joined them. “A good battle, my Lord. Quick and deadly.”
“My Lord Boromir,” Beregond shouted. “We have found your aide.”
“Good! Bring him to me.”
“That I cannot do, my Lord. He is in the healer’s tent.”
Boromir’s face drained. “He was wounded?”
“He never made the battle,” Beregond smiled broadly. “He spent his time in a ditch being sick!”
“Is this his first battle?”
“I think so.”
Boromir put his hand to his head. “I was not very kind. Making him my aide was probably too much for the boy. Let us be away from here. Beregond, the men of Amon Dîn are good men. You will find your time there worthwhile. As your first command, if you need counsel, send a rider. I will come.”
“Thank you, my Lord,” Beregond blushed. “I will do my best. I will make you proud.”
“No need. You have already!”
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