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Ten Thousand Years Will Not Suffice  by Agape4Gondor

Ch. 26 - 9 March - Third Age 3019

Denethor heard the horn winding from the Tower Room and pulled himself away from the globe. He had failed; the Halfling and Saruman were lost somewhere in the wilds. Even if he had ten thousand more men to scour the borders, the Wizard’s magic would keep them hidden. He shook in frustration; what further could he do to save Gondor?

So - Boromir had died for naught as had Théodred; and now, Gondor would fall. Isildur’s Bane would be placed in the Nameless One’s hand.

Sobs tore through the Steward as he watched the blackness of Mordor course through with the blood red of the spewing mountain. How had it come to this, he had asked himself this, it seemed, since the very day he had been born. No matter what he did, no matter what sacrifice he made, it all came down to the fact that he was but a man against a force that even the Valar and the Elves, according to the old tales, could not vanquish.

He let go of the stone and walked to the window, holding tightly onto the sill. He searched within his heart for the courage to leave the Room and face his men, rally them to another level of bravery, when, in fact, he knew all was lost. As his unseeing eyes looked out upon the Pelennor, the sun caught the top of the broken Dome of Stars in the midst of decimated Osgiliath, and Denethor thought of Faramir. He regretted the fact that his son knew, in the very depths of his heart, that his father had lost all hope. How could his son battle without hope?

Another blast of the horn and Denethor’s grief-fogged mind realized it was the signal announcing that Mithrandir approached the City. His eyes turned towards the North Gate, but he could not see. He placed the cloth over the stone and walked from the Room, locking it after him. He descended the stairs, wondering why the Wizard had come. The last Denethor had seen of him, he had been riding next to Théoden and Thorongil on the plains of Rohan. Had Théoden triumphed at Helm’s Deep? It seemed inconceivable!

He turned and ran up the stairs, unlocked the door and pulled the cloth off the globe, letting it fall to the floor. He sent his mind towards Helm’s Deep and saw only a small contingent guarding the battlement. His mouth opened in wonder. There were no signs of burial grounds. No, he was mistaken; there were, but so few. The guards watched the walls in silence, and in victory! Somehow, Rohan had won. He caught no sight of Théoden nor of Thorongil. Where were they? Had they died in the battle and another led Rohan’s forces? Could it be Éomer? Too young.

Another horn blast. This time from the Third Level. The Wizard was almost to the Citadel. Denethor looked once more towards Edoras, but saw naught. He bit his lip. ‘Where are Rohan’s forces?’ He could find no answer. He shook his head in consternation. How could he face the Wizard with such little information? He took a deep breath and left the Room, the cloth placed, before he left, with reverence upon the globe.

As he walked from the Tower into the Great Hall, he heard the shouts of his men, crying out the Wizard’s name, and his heart stopped. Their cries were of dismay. The Wizard brought horror and despair with him. He gritted his teeth as anger replaced his own sense of hopelessness. His men needed to be strong now, stronger than ever they had been before and this… this Wizard rides into His City with despair as his cloak!

He pulled his guards from the paved passage that the Wizard would walk, and entered the Great Hall. He knew Mithrandir would understand the gesture: that Denethor had no fear of the Wizard. He called to the Chamberlain to have the horn brought to him, both pieces, and his Rod. He strode towards the Chair without a look, neither left nor right, to the kings that lined the Hall. He had no time to even consider what they might think. If he could have, if he had been free, he would have spat at the feet of each one, reminding them of the dereliction of their duty to their people and their City. How they had failed Gondor. He would not. Until his last breath, he vowed, he would fight, even though Gondor had already lost.

He thought again upon Isildur’s Bane as Boromir’s horn was placed in his lap. Lovingly he stroked it, waiting for the announcement that the Wizard was at his door. He needed to let his grief free, he needed to beguile Mithrandir and discover what part the Wizard had played in Boromir’s death.

Húrin ran into the Hall and to the Chair. “A Halfling rides with the Wizard!”

Denethor clenched the horn tighter. A flare of hope engulfed him in its fire. ‘Does he carry Isildur’s Bane? Does he have this thing with him?’ A small whimper of excitement escaped his throat. ‘Does he bring it to me?’ He kept his head bowed; he heard the great metal door open and he tensed, waiting for the battle to begin.

"Hail, Lord and Steward of Minas Tirith, Denethor son of Ecthelion! I am come with counsel and tidings in this dark hour." *

The Steward of Gondor looked up, his eye immediately drawn to the little creature that walked beside Mithrandir. His skin crawled at the manifestation of countless legends - and Faramir’s dream. For a moment, he swore he ‘knew’ this creature, but that was impossible. ‘Ah! The Halfling in the Palantír!’ This was the little creature he had seen just a few short days ago, being tormented by the Eye. He kept himself in check.

Denethor could not remember the words he spoke, but the Wizard introduced the Halfling to him. In the midst of the introduction, Mithrandir let slip that Théoden yet lived. The Steward, so used to hiding his very spirit these many long years, never flinched, but stored the information for later use.

The next thing he knew, he was in a verbal battle with the Wizard over Faramir! How he should have known; Mithrandir still considered himself the better and dared to malign Boromir. His Boromir! Who had given his very life... He chided himself for not realizing the Wizard would use the same tactics with him that he had used with Ecthelion. In the depths of his abused heart, he cursed Faramir and the Wizard and this Halfling that witnessed his son’s death and yet lived.

At the Wizard’s questions, he lifted the horn, and showed it to him, and was astounded when the little creature shouted, "That is the horn that Boromir always wore!" In response, he reeled off the history of the horn and the fact that he had heard it some days past. Oh, how his heart hurt when the Halfling agreed with the time of its winding. Denethor spoke viciously, and regretted it, but he needed to hear how this little helpless creature could have survived the attack that took his stalwart son, the Captain-General of Gondor! As he listened to the tale, short though it was, a small glimmer of esteem came into his heart for this little one who had stood by his son’s side. In fealty. And love. Then the Steward of Gondor found himself being looked upon with no little pride.

"Little service, no doubt, will so great a lord of Men think to find in a hobbit, a Halfling from the northern Shire; yet such as it is, I will offer it, in payment of my debt."

The Steward of Gondor watched as the Halfling flung aside his gray cloak; the creature drew forth his small sword and laid it at Denethor's feet. He began to smile, but something about the Halfling caught Denethor’s eye and he looked upon him in wonder. ‘Amdir!’ his mind shouted. The little creature had Amdir’s sweet, kind eyes. ‘How could this be?’

Already, he had felt some comfort, knowing that such a friend stood at Boromir’s side in the last hours of his life, and now, now he felt the comfort of Amdir surround his heart. His friend had promised to always be at his side. How this feeling was possible, Denethor did not know, but he grasped it and held it close. He smiled, bent his head and held out his hand, laying the shards of the horn aside. "Give me the weapon!" he said.

When Denethor held it in his hand, he listened to the tale of how it had come to the little one. His wonder and respect grew. At last, he drew himself up and said, “I accept your service. For you are not daunted by words; and you have courteous speech, strange though the sound of it may be to us in the South. And we shall have need of all folk of courtesy, be they great or small, in the days to come. Swear to me now!”

“Take the hilt,” said Gandalf, “and speak after the Lord, if you are resolved on this.”

“I am,” said the Halfling.

Denethor laid the sword along his lap, and the little one put his hand to the hilt, and said the oath, slowly after the Steward, and then Denethor said his part. Another small smile graced his lips. Stalwart indeed. He gave back the sword and the Halfling sheathed it. Denethor bid him sit, ordered food to be brought, and commanded the Halfling to tell him everything. Every moment of what he could remember of his son. He wished mightily that Faramir were with him. That the boy could hear this tale and be comforted by the friendship obvious between this one and Boromir. 

Before the little one… before Peregrin, son of Paladin began to speak, Mithrandir interrupted. With barely contained fury Denethor listened to the whining of the Wizard. He took some perverse joy in discomfiting the one who had spent so many years extolling Thorongil’s virtues to Ecthelion. He did not want to reveal too much, yet the Wizard’s barbs of Gondor’s ignorance rankled him and he spoke.

“Yea,” he said, “for though the Stones be lost, they say, still the lords of Gondor have keener sight than lesser men, and many messages come to them.” In the end, Denethor relented and turned his attention back to the Halfling. “But sit now!” He noted Peregrin twitched when he spoke of the stone and realized he had, in truth, been correct. This one had dared to touch the Palantír and live. His regard grew. “Now tell me your tale, my liege,” said Denethor, half kindly; half mockingly. “For the words of one whom my son so befriended will be welcome indeed.”

For over an hour, Denethor sat and listened, questioned the Halfling, and watched, with no small delight, as Mithrandir fumed and raged at being disregarded. But Denethor did not ignore the Wizard. He watched every nuance, every twitch, every growl that escaped Mithrandir’s lips. Though he questioned long and hard, he did naught to harm the Halfling, just extracted every piece of information he could from the guileless little thing.

At last, he released the Halfling, reminding him of his oath, and ordering him to present himself later in the day, but Mithrandir would not leave with his thoughts unspoken. Denethor lost his temper and reminded the Wizard of the one thing that galled the Steward of Gondor the most. His suppression of all the things Denethor needed to know! “If you understand it, then be content,” returned Denethor. “Pride would be folly that disdained help and counsel at need; but you deal out such gifts according to your own designs. Yet the Lord of Gondor is not to be made the tool of other men's purposes, however worthy. And to him there is no purpose higher in the world as it now stands than the good of Gondor; and the rule of Gondor, my lord, is mine and no other man's, unless the king should come again.”

Another sharp word and Denethor watched as the Wizard left in a fury, the Halfling desperately running to keep up with Mithrandir’s long strides. If Denethor had not been so angry, he would have laughed at the sight. But again, he chaffed at the silence of the Wizard upon the things that mattered most to him – the weal of Gondor. How he hated the machinations and schemes of this being.

When he rang the gong, the servants came and one tried valiantly to lead Mithrandir, but he also could not keep up with the Wizard. Denethor looked away, suddenly exhausted. It had been a battle, as he had envisioned, but he had not dared to think he would engender such information. If it had been the Wizard he had to question, he would never have learned what he did. And for that, he was most grateful. He felt a deep sorrow for the Halfling. He had endured much. He promised himself he would be kind to Peregrin, son of Paladin.

~*~

Denethor sat on the great Chair in the Great Hall in the great City of Minas Tirith and waited for his stomach to settle and his head to stop spinning. The incongruity of it all bemused him. He was Steward and yet… his brow rose… still a boy to the Wizard. His stomach would not cease its roiling; much as he willed himself to calm, his body still shook, trembled, in fact, by what had just transpired.

A battle he had called it. A battle already lost. The Wizard had always had the upper hand; there was no denying it. Yet, someway, somewhere, Denethor had hoped he might somehow win. This day, his very bones told him all was lost. Had been lost since Thorongil had entered the Great Gate as an unkempt ranger who soon commanded Ecthelion’s army.

His father was dead. Ecthelion had listened to the Wizard, took his counsel, and thrust his own son aside for the love of the Northerner. Thorongil was Ecthelion’s son, had been since he arrived in Minas Tirith. No matter what Denethor did, Thorongil did better.

Finduilas was dead. He had not won over her decline into despair. No matter what he had done, she left him. She only looked to the mountain, let its evil sink into her spirit and darken it, and lost all hope.

Amdir was dead. Fighting for him. All that mattered to his dearest friend was that Denethor suffered grief and Amdir came to his aid. And because of that, when the Orcs attacked, Amdir protected him with his very life.

Indis was dead. Probably poisoned. He loved his sister with his every thought. She had been mother, sister, friend, confidant – everything to him. He had accepted all she gave him as if it were his due, and he had failed her. Murder unavenged.

Boromir was dead. Sent off on some foolish quest that should have been Faramir’s. His youngest son would have known how to deal with Elves. Cunning, conniving creatures. Boromir was as a babe sent into the lion’s den. A warrior in a bramble patch. The stone had not lied; no matter what Denethor tried to do, Boromir died.

Faramir –

“My Lord,” Húrin stood before him, touching his knee and looking at him as if he were some strange beast. “My Lord. Are you well?”

“What need have you?” Denethor pulled himself from the mire of grief.

“Your captains are assembled. Would you meet with them here?”

“I did not hear the bell.”

“It rang the third hour from sun’s rise.”

“Come with me, then. It is time to order the evacuation.” He handed the Rod and the broken pieces of Boromir’s Horn to the Chamberlain.

Húrin nodded and followed his lord, saying naught.

When they came into Denethor’s study, the chief captains, their aides, and those in charge of the evacuation saluted and moved aside for him. He returned their salutes and stood at his desk. When he motioned, they moved forward and sat in various chairs placed about the large room, their aides standing behind them. The fire was not lit, as the morning was already grown warm. Denethor had his great cloak still wrapped about him.

“It is time. You have your assignments for this day’s work. The people have already assembled at their waiting points. We must begin the evacuation.”

They all nodded. “Then, are there questions?”

“The wains from the Fourth Circle are greater than we expected,” Captain Mardil said. “I have put another company on detail to help them.”

“How could this be? The plans have been set since last year.”

“The refugees from the Pelennor, my Lord, and Anórien,” Húrin interposed. “They have swelled our ranks. Even with that, all is proceeding as planned.” Gondor’s Warden of the Keys stopped as Mithrandir entered the chamber.

Denethor watched as the grizzled old wizard took a pipe from his mouth and blew smoke into the air. His skin prickled, wondering what new devilry he was about. Silently he screamed his frustration, but none could see it in his physical form. “Lord Mithrandir.” He motioned for the Wizard to take a seat to the right of him. He watched as Mithrandir walked steadily forward and sat. ‘White?’ Denethor chided himself; he had not noted that the Wizard’s garb was different. ‘As is his hair and beard. What betook him to evidence such changes?’

“The North Gate is just now being strengthened?” The Wizard’s voice was smooth, non-committal, but Denethor felt its chiding.

“The last of the fortifications to be done.” How the Steward hated the fact that he was explaining himself. “The Rammas has been raised. As you well know.”

The Wizard nodded and continued to smoke.

“The evacuation will begin.” Denethor stopped himself. He would not further enlighten this one, for he sensed Mithrandir already knew all his plans. “Those of you who are in charge of the evacuation, leave us now. The road must be cleared for a league before the noon hour, for we need it open for those who come to our aid from the South.” Seven men stood, saluted, and left the chamber. Denethor pulled forth a scroll and unrolled it for his remaining captains. “Here is the Enemy, as far as reports can tell.”

His chief captains stood and moved toward the map, murmuring to each other as they came forward.

Mithrandir never moved, but Denethor knew the Wizard could see clearly enough from his seat next to the desk. None of the soldiers moved close enough to hinder the Wizard’s sight. Denethor bit the inside of his cheek.

A rider entered. “My Lord Steward.” He bowed and offered a missive.

Denethor took it, read it quickly, and handed it to the Wizard who nodded as if he expected what he read. Once again, Denethor’s aggravation at Mithrandir’s penchant for hiding all knowledge from him grew. He turned to his captains. “The darkening spreads. It now covers the Ephel Dúath.” His skin prickled as he spoke. ‘How could the Enemy control the very skies?’

He watched as several of his captains blanched. Others stood stalwart, hands on the hilts of their swords. ‘These are the ones I can trust,’ he thought. “Come. Let us continue.” He turned his back on the window, tempted as he was to look out and see for himself the progress of the darkness, but instead, poured over his maps once again.

“They will bring siege weapons. We must ensure our trebuchets target these first.” He looked up and was heartened to see the calm courage covering the faces of his captains.

“Will they dig trenches, my Lord?”

“They will. I would have them stopped before that, but, though the range of our weapons is great, they will dig, hide, then dig some more. Ever moving forward. That is when we must have our archers ready.”

He heard an aide ask his captain, “Can they not dig under the walls and enter?”

“We have flooded the lower caves, the dungeons, and the sewers. None can enter below.” Denethor motioned, and the captain ordered his aide gone. “Any other questions?” He was gratified to see the remaining aides shuffle and bow their heads. ‘Another Faramir,’ he thought bitterly, ‘questioning what he does not know!’

Well into the day’s planning, Denethor looked towards the Wizard and paused. Mithrandir’s eyes were wide, the hand holding the pipe stilled in mid-air, and his head cocked towards the window. ‘What now, Wizard? What do you hear or see in the depths of your cold heart? But no, you will not share it; ever is your purpose kept unto yourself. Even if said purpose may have some small impact upon Gondor’s safety, yet you would keep all to yourself.’

Another messenger entered, panting, eyes wild. “There has been a sighting, my Lord. Some strange creature riding in the sky. Its fell voice frightens even the horses.”

Denethor stared at Mithrandir. The Wizard, after another moment, seemed to pull himself together, bringing the pipe to his lips, sucking the hideous thing, and releasing dense, foul smelling smoke. For one moment, Denethor remembered the smell that lingered upon Thorongil’s clothing and missed his once-friend. With an imperceptible shake of his head, he turned back to the scrolls.

At last, the noon bells rang and Denethor straightened. “We are now as well prepared as possible, until we know the number of those who come from the south to our aid. Take this time to rest and refresh yourselves. I would have you return here after the daymeal.” He stepped away from the desk and walked to the window. Finally, he looked upon the sight that had skewered his back these last three hours.

“So the darkening begins.” The Wizard spoke as if he were commenting upon the quality of Denethor’s wine.

“You did not see it?”

“I was here with you, Lord Denethor. The darkening had not begun when first I entered Minas Tirith.”

“Well, then, come join me and look upon it. And if you may, tell me your thoughts.”

The Wizard stood and moved towards the window, standing next to Denethor. “It is still far enough away.”

“That it is. I wonder when it will encompass the entire sky? Tell me, Mithrandir, does it have purpose?”

“You know as well as I, Lord Denethor. Terror is the Enemy’s main weapon. He uses it well.”

“You felt the creature?”

“I did. I have felt it before, upon the plains of Rohan.”

“And what can you tell me of it? What defense might we use against it?” he asked as impatience flamed his anger.

“I am told an Elf took one with only one arrow.”

Denethor choked on laughter. “How many Elves do you imagine I have in Gondor’s army?”

The Wizard, to his credit, chuckled. “If an Elf can take one down, so can a man. The archers of Gondor are well known and prized for their skill.”

Denethor looked once more upon the graying sky and turned away. “Would you join me for nuncheon?”

“Yes.”

For a brief moment, Denethor looked upon the Pelennor and wondered where Faramir was and how he fared; then he turned and led the Wizard towards his dining chambers.

~*~

Denethor stood up and went to his window, opened it, and sighed in deep gratitude as the air was filled with shouting, dust and huzzahs. ‘The men of the South are come to Gondor’s aid.’

While he waited for Húrin to bring the report of their numbers, their equipment, and their horses, he poured himself wine. The Wizard had left him an hour before, and he did not know nor care where he had gone. He felt safe and strong, now that Mithrandir was away from him; sometimes, when the Wizard was about, Denethor felt more like the scorned captain of his father’s time. Though he expected the Wizard to return for the daymeal, he took great comfort in being alone for the nonce. He returned to the window and drank in the sound of his people as they shouted out what he presumed were the names and fiefdoms of those who marched in through the Great Gate; he was too far to hear anything but joy-filled noise. He sat on the window’s ledge and quaffed his wine.

After many long hours, Húrin entered and found his lord back at his desk poring over reports. “Forlong the Fat, my Lord, of Lossarnach,” Húrin began, “brings two hundreds, horsed.” He blanched at Denethor’s look. “They are well armed,” he explained. “Their battles axes shine.”

“I had expected ten times that number. The black fleet proves deadly and it has not yet touched the Harlond.”

“Lord Dervorin’s son,” Húrin continued, “and the men of Ringló Vale striding on foot are three hundreds. Morthond’s lord, Duinhir with his sons, Duilin and Derufin, come with five hundred bowmen. From the Anfalas, Lord Golasgil brings a long line of men of many sorts, hunters and herdsmen and men of little villages, though scantily equipped. From Lamedon, a few hillmen come without a captain, along with fisher-folk of the Ethir, some hundred or more spared from the ships. Hirluin the Fair of the Green Hills from Pinnath Gelin with three hundreds of gallant green-clad men.”

Denethor’s deep sigh echoed through the chamber. “Imrahil?” he asked, his voice heavy with apprehension.

“Imrahil, Prince of Dol Amroth, kinsman of my Lord, with gilded banners bearing his token of the Ship and the Silver Swan, and a company of knights in full harness riding gray horses are come, and behind them seven hundreds of men at arms.”

“I suppose they were singing?”

Húrin smiled. “You know the men of Belfalas.”

“We of Minas Tirith should be singing a dirge. Less than three thousands. My people are not fools, Húrin. They know full well it should have been at least ten thousands. At least.” He bit his lip. “We cannot allow despair to fill our City.”

Húrin nodded, unsure of what reply his cousin and Steward would have him make.

“Lamedon came not, as I expected. They will come once the ships have passed by.” Another sigh passed the Steward’s lips. “It is dusk, Húrin, and these men must be billeted.”

“It will be as has been arranged. The lords and captains will meet with you at the beginning of First Watch.”

“Make sure the men are well fed. We begin rationing tomorrow,” his brow furrowed, “though the need will not be as great, what with the lesser numbers of men. Will you join me for the daymeal? No. I am sorry. You should not. Go to your wife and son.”

“My wife was in the wains that left for Tumladen. My son eats with his friends and the esquires left in the Tower. I would be pleased to join you.” He did not ask about the Wizard. After all these years, though Húrin knew he was not as quick-witted as his cousin, he was wise enough not to bring the Wizard into any conversation if he could possibly help it.

“Mithrandir will be joining us, as will Imrahil and the other lords.”

“I will arrange the meal then?”

“Yes. Ask Belegorn to join us.”

Húrin nodded and left the room.

Denethor heard the trumpet for the closing of the Gate and waited. A bitter smile swept across his face as the sundown-bells tolled. He could not see, but knew the lights in the quarters of those left in the City were being lit. Faintly, he could hear the sound of song as the men of arms of his beloved Gondor, and those few women who helped in the Houses, filled the air and wafted up to the Tower. Night dropped like a cloak about him and the sky was black, compounded by his order to dim the lights and cover the windows. Not a star broke through the blackening.

Mithrandir entered upon his order and walked to the fireplace, the ever-present pipe securely held between teeth almost as white as the Wizard’s hair. Denethor had not asked and Mithrandir did not tell what happenstance had made his visage change. The Wizard had the grace to bow and Denethor motioned for him to sit. He half-smiled as Mithrandir took the most comfortable chair in the study. They played one game of ‘Stewards and Kings.’

~*~

Merethrond was well appointed this night. The hall was full as Denethor walked through the large doors. Those gathered stood and saluted. A faint memory, of one of his father’s council meetings where none rose when he entered, sent shivers up his spine. He acknowledged their obeisance and sat.

He did not speak but motioned for the repast to begin. Servers ran forward with great decanters of wine, others brought out covered bowls with all sorts of breads filling them, while others carried great casks filled with ale and placed them on the sideboards. The lords began their meal.

Imrahil sat at Denethor’s left with Mithrandir at his right. The Prince of Dol Amroth took the proffered wine from a servant’s hand without looking. His focus was on his brother by law. “Denethor,” he said at last, “where is Faramir?”

Drawing in a breath, the Steward said, “He will be here by morning, at the latest.”

“Good. I wish to see him. How fares he with the news of B…? I am sorry.”

“He does not sit idly while Ithilien is o’er run, Imrahil. He does what he must. He comes when he may.”

“Denethor, well I know that, but he belongs here this night, with the lords of the land, to discuss the war plans. He is your heir.”

Denethor all but hissed. Those seated nearby looked away, wondering at Imrahil’s temerity. The Wizard smiled, which only exacerbated Denethor’s deep loathing.

Quaffing his wine, Denethor put down the glass and turned to Imrahil, his face white. “Faramir is well-loved by you and your wife.”

Imrahil shrugged. “As was Boromir.”

“I think not. Your deference has always been upon my youngest. Boromir knew it.”

“My Lord,” Imrahil said, his voice deep and quiet. “Your deference was always upon your eldest.”

Denethor pushed his chair back and stood. He motioned and turned, striding angrily from the room. Imrahil followed him into the Steward’s study.

“You would chide me now! While Boromir lies dead in some swamp!”

“I loved Boromir with my whole heart, Denethor. He knew it well. He knew I gave an added portion of love and affection to Faramir to counter your cold-heartedness. He was grateful, not envious!”

Denethor grappled with sanity. His whole being poised as if to pounce while his hand clenched and unclenched the sword hilt at his side. “Does my youngest whine when he is with you? Does he complain of my treatment? Does he show you bruises?”

Imrahil turned away in disgust. It was a mistake.

Denethor grabbed him by the shoulder and flung him around. “Do not turn your back on me!” A dagger pointed at Imrahil’s throat.

“Denethor.” Imrahil’s voice was low but steady. “What is this about? Why are you angry with me? We are brothers.” His voice faltered and his brow knit. “Do you doubt my loyalty? My love? Did I not come when you called? Did I not bring my Swan Knights with me?”

The Steward of Gondor swallowed visibly. He dropped his weapon and moved away from Imrahil. “All night, I have been accosted by visions of my father. Council meetings, practice sessions, nights in his study with the Wizard and…. And Thorongil. I am shaken.” His face blazed.

“You have never drawn a weapon against me before, brother,” Imrahil said. “Why tonight?”

“I fear I am encompassed about by enemies.”

“Your lords are not your enemies, Denethor. They obeyed you quickly enough, even sending their own sons to battle for you. The Enemy is across the Ephel Dúath. Not in Minas Tirith. Have you slept?”

“Little.”

“I thought as much. Lie on the settle, here in your own study, and rest for but a moment. I will sit with you and guard the door so that you be not disturbed. The night will be long, brother. You know that. Each lord will want his own say in where his men are posted. The arguing will go on into the dawn. Rest now.”

“I---”

“Speak not, brother. I know your heart. Rest.”

Denethor nodded; his head felt as if a Mûmak stood upon his neck, crushing him. He moved to the settle and lay upon it. Fidgeting with a throw, he grunted, then smiled as Imrahil took the unruly thing and draped it over him. “Thank you,” he said and immediately slept.

Imrahil sat in a nearby chair and wept.

~*~

A/N – 1) "Mithrandir! Mithrandir!" men cried. "Now we know that the storm is indeed nigh!"  "It is upon you," said Gandalf. "I have ridden on its wings. Let me pass! I must come to your Lord Denethor, while his stewardship lasts. Whatever betide, you have come to the end of the Gondor that you have known. Let me pass!"  RotK: Book V: Chapter 1: Minas Tirith. 2) From this point on, there will be many ‘passages’ taken directly from RotK. They will be noted here, but not in the body of the text. It is not an effort to make it seem these are MY words, but to keep the flow of the tale moving. For those who are familiar with this book, you will know. Those who are not familiar really, really should read the Book – it is a treasure, a blessing, a gift. It is precious. 3) ‘But soon Pippin saw that all was in fact well-ordered: the wains were moving in three lines, one swifter drawn by horses; another slower, great waggons with fair housings of many colours, drawn by oxen; and along the west rim of the road many smaller carts hauled by trudging men.’ RotK: Book V: Chapter 1: Minas Tirith; 4) According to Michael Perry in his ‘Untangling Tolkien,’ Théoden traveled as hidden as possible, to prevent the Enemy from seeing his troops and guessing they were going to Gondor’s aid. Unfortunately, this also meant Denethor probably could not see that the Rohirric army was, in fact, coming to Gondor.

 





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