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Ch. 19 - Third Age 2990 - Part Two
He remembered staggering, falling forward, his hand slipping from the stone. What had assailed him? One moment he had been looking towards the Plains of Gorgoroth, the next his mind had burst into a thousand different colors. Nay! He had pulled himself away from the globe. It did not control him. It did not. It did not! He trembled. A cool hand touched his forehead. He opened his eyes and Indis stared down at him. He smiled. "I am sorry. I took ill. Perhaps something I ate," he hedged.
"Never the mind. The healer left some tea for you to drink. It should help." She refused to tell him of her all-night vigil, watching him toss and turn, screaming in his sleep. She forced a shudder away. This was no food illness. She had seen terror and despair. "The sun is shining. Would you command Faramir and I to ride with you today? Mayhap the warmth will rid your body of this ailment?"
A long shuddering sound passed his lips. He found himself shaking violently. "I do not think I could sit a horse this day. Mayhap tomorrow?"
"Yes," she smiled. "Tomorrow you will have recovered. Faramir waits outside for your morning tea. May I allow him entrance?"
"It is morning?" When she nodded he continued, "Nay. I do not feel quite well enough. You break the fast with him; I will try to sleep a little longer."
She kissed him lightly and left the room.
Faramir ran to her as she closed the bedchamber door. "Is Ada better?"
She knew the lad had seen the healer leave as the boy had entered the antechamber. "Yes. But not well enough for you to join him this morning. Come," she kissed his forehead to comfort him, "we will eat and then we will go to the training circle. Boromir is to practice his bow today. Would that not be pleasant? To see him, even if we cannot speak to him?"
Faramir hugged her. "Oh! That would be so wonderful. Thank you."
They walked to the dining hall and met Listöwel. "I saved you a seat," she smiled. "The entire guard seems to have taken over the hall. The cooks are furiously baking. 'Twill be a little time before the griddle cakes are ready." She laughed at Faramir's look of long-suffering. "Do not be concerned, Faramir. The cooks know you are famished. You will not have to suffer o'erlong. Besides, you have some studying to do."
Faramir looked up in surprise. "Indis said I might go to watch Boromir shoot his bow."
"Oh. May I join you? We may discuss the part archery played in the history of Gondor while we watch."
Faramir moaned. "Always history. I am tired of history. I want to read of Vëantur."
Listöwel sighed. "We have read Vëantur so many times I have lost track! You need to read of the line of your adadhron. We have hardly touched the history of the Swan Prince. Your mother is descended directly from the line of the Kings of Númenor. Have you not wondered why your adadhron is called 'Prince' Adrahil? We shall read about that this morning. But not too early," she saw the look of chagrin on the lad's face and laughed. "I promise. We will watch Boromir, but then we will read of the Princes of Númenor."
The three met again at the third bell at the entrance to the training grounds. Indis obtained permission for them to enter. Faramir started to run, but Indis caught him by the arm and held him back. Whispering, she said, "Thou art the Steward's son, Faramir. Remember that."
Faramir nodded in understanding. "I wilt."
They walked in quietly. Indis was shown to the Steward's box; Listöwel and Faramir followed. There were scarce fourteen people in attendance; most were of the same ilk as Indis - relatives come to watch their own.
The floor of the courtyard was immaculately kept, the sand sculpted in the traditional spiral shape of Minas Tirith and at the center, as always, the White Tree. Other parts of Minas Tirith might be in a state of disrepair, but the Sixth and Seventh Levels showed no sign of age nor neglect. Tradition was kept.
They sat in the cushioned seats and waited. The first part of the practice consisted of pairings of esquires. As he waited for Boromir, Faramir kept his hands folded. Indis laughed quietly at his composure. The lad's legs were too short and thus stuck out straight before him. His expression screamed of boredom. She leaned over, "Boromir will be up shortly. He is third on the list." Faramir nodded. Soon, Indis noted him twiddling his thumbs. She put her hand over them, not speaking. Faramir shrank a little into the chair and stopped the movement.
Suddenly, he jumped up; a cry of "Oh!" escaped his lips, and then, "Boromir!"
Indis rolled her eyes. As far as Faramir was concerned, the only reason to be here was to watch his brother. She had hoped the lad would pay attention to the techniques of the esquires as they brought their swords together. Denethor would expect such a report from his son. She saw Faramir's wide-eyed adoration; his little mouth was opened in joy at the sight of Boromir. She smiled and sat back. There was no use trying to shift Faramir's attention. Watching closely, she noted that Boromir appointed himself well. He handled the training blade with ease. Denethor had been correct; the boy was a natural swordsman. She smiled again. He would soon pass her in skill. Then, too soon for Faramir's liking as noted by his heavy sigh and the sudden thrusting of his body back fully into the seat, Boromir's turn was over. Another three pairings and the first part of the training session was complete for the day. As the esquires left, eight men strode forward carrying four great round targets; they set two at one end of the courtyard and two at the other end. Two groundskeepers ran forward with rakes to smooth the sand. At last, all preparations were complete.
Faramir straightened in his seat. Indis noted the keen look in his eyes. Two lads stepped forward, bows in their hands, full quivers strapped to their backs. They stood side by side waiting for the signal. At last, it was given. Quickly they strung their bows and shot. Eight times the signal was given and eight times their arrows were loosed. Another signal and they bowed and left the grounds. Two more took their places on the other end of the yard. The sun had reached its zenith before Boromir stepped out. Indis quickly put her hand over Faramir's to stop the lad from clapping. Four times Boromir missed the center, but, with each turn, the arrow came closer. Indis sighed. The boy's stance was wrong. She would have to speak with his trainer. Then she noticed he did not stand at ease. His whole body was stiff. He would not be a natural archer; he would have to practice long to master the bow.
She looked at Faramir. The boy was enraptured. After Boromir loosed his last four arrows, she made as if to leave, but the child sat. "It is time to leave, Faramir. We have been here longer than I expected. You are late for your lessons."
"Just a little longer," he pleaded.
She was surprised at the force of his entreaty. She smiled at Listöwel who nodded her approval, then sat back and watched Faramir watch the esquires. He sat on the edge of his seat, never moving. At last, the final pair concluded their practice and left. The spectators started leaving; the targets were removed, and the groundskeepers returned to begin their cleaning.
Indis touched Faramir on the arm. Startled, he jumped. "'Tis time to leave, Faramir."
"Is it over? So soon?" He looked crestfallen.
"May we come back tomorrow? To watch Boromir? And the archers?"
"Tomorrow we will ride with your adar onto the Pelennor. He is most anxious to be with you."
Faramir's face lit up. "Oh, Indis. I would very much like that."
Tears were in the boy's eyes and she hugged him tightly. "He loves thee very much, Faramir, but affairs of state press down upon him. Thou must remember that and help him."
"I wilt, Indis. I promise."
His memory was returning. He had been in the Tower room. He had held the Palantír in his hands. He... He had seen something. Shuddering, the memory, accompanied by a painful bright white light, filled his mind. Ecthelion! He had seen his father, stern and cold, looking down at him. He had seen the Pelennor on fire and his father berating him for letting Gondor fall. He moaned and thrust his head into the pillows, but he could not hide from the eyes, staring at him in fury, the lips stretched taut in a deep scowl, the brow furrowed. He threw the bedcovers off and stood up, but found he was still weak. The stone had not affected him like this the first time he had used it. What foul magic was this? He walked slowly to the window and sat upon the sill. The sun was at its apex; he had slept long. If he closed his eyes, he still saw the scene played before him. Yet, the sun hurt his eyes. He held his hand over them; then looked down at the Courtyard of the Fountain. None were about except the four Guards of the Citadel, standing their watch upon the White Tree. He breathed a sigh of relief. Then, wondered what he had expected to see.
The memory flooded back. He had seen his sons. Faramir stood in front of Boromir; Boromir was holding him around the chest; Faramir's head came well below Boromir's chin. He saw them standing thus and he ached to hold them both. But then he recollected Mithrandir. Faramir had run to greet the wizard and then sat on his lap! Why? Faramir had disobeyed. He wondered why Boromir had allowed this and then remembered seeing the lad sitting on the lip of the Fountain, hands crossed over his chest, obviously angry. Denethor chuckled. He knew Boromir's stance when angry; always the arms were about his chest and his eyebrow cocked to one side. But Faramir! Faramir had disobeyed him. Anger overwhelmed him for a moment. He shook his head. 'Twas not the lad's fault. Nor Boromir's fault. Drawing in a deep breath, he stood. He must speak with Faramir. He had not voiced his opinion of the wizard fully. The child did not understand. He would be more forceful. Forbid him to see Mithrandir again.
Indis entered the room. "I had hoped to share your noon meal?" He stared at her for a few moments and she felt uncomfortable. "Have you already eaten?"
"He calls me 'Adar' now. Had you noticed?"
"Boromir. He no longer calls me 'Ada.' I think I will miss that."
"He grows up, my brother. Come and eat with me." She pulled the rope and, almost instantly a servant brought a tray in. "I took the liberty of ordering our food."
He smiled quietly. "You always take care of me, do you not, my dearest sister?"
She did not like this stillness of his. What had caused it? Where was his joy? "I love you, Denethor. It is as simple as that."
"Is it not because I am Steward?"
She shivered. "I have always cared for you, even before you became Steward."
He stared at her. "I was Heir."
Indis grew angry. "Who stood beside you when Ecthelion would have made Thorongil Captain-General?"
He blinked, drew in a breath, and shook his head. "My mind is not my own today. Forgive me, Indis."
"You have not yet eaten. Come, join me."
She sat at the table and he sat with her. After a few moments of silence, he spoke. "I seem to remember Faramir wanting to break fast with me this morning?"
"Yes. He stood outside the door, waiting."
"He was here?" he asked doubtfully.
"I told him you were ill and would ride with him tomorrow."
"I did not know he was here. I saw him with the wizard, the one named Mithrandir. Did you see him?"
"I did not. I did not know he was in Gondor."
"He is here now. I saw him this morning."
Indis knew of Denethor's meetings with Curunír. How he had grown up fearing wizards. She also knew of Mithrandir's support of Thorongil. Mayhap the wizard's visit is what caused his change. She had thought he had grown out of his fright.
"I have asked the boys not to associate with any wizard, yet I saw Faramir in the Courtyard on his lap." The tone was quiet, but Indis heard the anger scarcely contained.
"Mithrandir is pleasant. Faramir is kind. If the wizard had approached him, he would be hard-pressed to be discourteous."
Denethor bit his lip. "I do not trust them."
"Nor do I, my lord. I will speak with Faramir."
Denethor's mind was made up. He must meet with his captains. Their meeting in Osgiliath had been canceled twice now. Never the mind that Adrahil, he grimaced at the thought of that man, had invited them to the birth ceremony for his newest grandchild. Gondor's weal was of more import. He would not go. But when he had discussed the invitation with Indis, she had suggested sending Boromir as Gondor's representative.
"The lad has just begun his training. He is only six months into it. I do not want him interrupting it for such a little thing."
"Adrahil is his adadhron. But more than that, he is Prince of Belfalas and a Lord of Gondor. We must send someone."
"Send Listöwel. She can visit her family while there."
Indis smiled. "Denethor! You are the most stubborn man I have ever known. We cannot send Listöwel as Gondor's representative. She holds no title. Better to send Boromir. Listöwel can accompany him."
He paced up and down in his study. "It is not good for the lad to interrupt his training. I am being honest. I do not like Adrahil. For Prince Imrahil's sake, I will send Boromir. His training must continue while he is in Dol Amroth, otherwise I will not send him."
"I agree. Listöwel will be given a missive for Prince Imrahil. He will make sure Boromir has time and opportunity for training." She smiled again. "He will be most pleased at Boromir's progress. I was at practice yesterday and he did well. In fact, he did better than well. He wields the sword as if born to it. You would have been proud."
"You mean," he said sternly, "I should have been there."
She took a deep breath. "I did not say that, nor did I think it. What has come over you these last days? You are gruff and not yourself." He stopped his pacing. Pain filled his eyes and she gasped. "You still suffer from your illness?"
"I am concerned about our meeting. You will be accompanying me?"
"Of course. I have the papers together. The mapmaker has created a whole new set of maps of Ithilien, based upon your journal entries. We will be ready. When do we leave?"
"Before first light tomorrow."
"Then," she asked, perplexed, "when will you send Boromir to Dol Amroth?"
He shrugged. "It cannot be helped."
"Faramir will be alone for at least five days."
He looked at her quizzically. "And?"
"And he should not be alone that long. You speak of sending Boromir off and Listöwel with him. Whom do you see attending Faramir? What with the both of us gone too."
"He is..." He paused, shook his head and sat on the settle. "I cannot seem to think straight, Indis." He hated showing her his weakness. He did not understand it, nor where it came from. Nor the anger that smoldered in his mind. But she had always been his counselor.
"What have you been about, Denethor?" He looked down at his hands and she continued. "Do you not trust me?"
"I have found a tool, brought by our ancestors from Númenor. It is powerful. I used it the day I took ill. Ever since, I have needed to return to it. It is powerful," he reiterated. "Yet, it drains me. I am not as strong, I suppose, as those men of Númenor who brought it across the sea, but Gondor needs to use every tool available to fight this evil that assails us."
"So. You have used the Palantír?"
"How do you know of it?" he snapped.
"I was counselor to our father. Do you not remember? I was afforded access to all areas of Gondor. I saw the Palantír, though our father never used it."
"I know that. Yet, Gondor's plight is worse than before. I deem it necessary to use it. And every other tool at my hand." He did not tell her that Curunír has suggested its use, many years ago.
"Have you researched it?"
"Do you think I picked it up one day and just opened my mind to it?" His tone was churlish. "Of course I read of its uses."
"If it presents your mind and body with aftereffects, might it be better to use it infrequently?"
"I could have prevented the attacks upon our patrols if I had only looked before."
"You cannot know that, Denethor! You cannot be everywhere at once."
"With the Palantír, I can. And I will continue to use it." He paused, walked to his chair and sat. "I must endeavor to strengthen myself so it does not affect me so profoundly." He did not tell her of his vision, nor that he looked into Mordor's valley. "We will send Faramir with Listöwel and Boromir. The time in Dol Amroth will do him well. Send a rider immediately. Then, have two companies go with them. I would have them well-protected." He looked at her. "I know you are concerned. The Palantír did not harm me the first times I used it. I will be more careful, use it more wisely, I promise."
"Thank you, my Lord." She left the room.
"He promised to take us riding today, Indis." The child's chin quivered. "I went to the stables already and brushed my horse. They are saddling him now."
"I am sorry, Faramir. He prepares for a meeting and you must pack for your visit with your adadhron."
"I do not want to go to Dol Amroth. I want to stay here with Ada." He sat, stubbornly in the middle of the nursery floor. "I will not go."
"Faramir. Let us go to your ada's study. At least we might take tea with him."
His eyes lit; jumping up, he ran to the door.
"Might you wash the jam from your face before we go?"
He licked his lips. "There! It is clean."
She laughed loudly. "Nay, it is not. Come with me. It will only take a moment."
It did only take a moment and before she could move, the boy was out the door and running down the stairs. 'Oh,' she thought hurriedly, 'I hope Denethor has a moment for him.' By the time she reached the Steward's level, she ran into Faramir. The lad was crying.
"His door is locked and he does not answer." He flung himself into her arms.
"Let me try, Faramir."
"But I called to him, and he did not answer." His crying turned to sobs.
'He is still so wounded,' she thought. 'He misses Finduilas so.' She held him close. "We must wipe your face again, Faramir. You do not want your ada to see tears." He succumbed to her ministrations.
She knocked, loudly, on the door and called, "Denethor. It is I, Indis. And I bring your son, Faramir, with me. Would you allow us to enter?"
A heartbeat's time and she heard wood scraping against wood. She turned to Faramir and smiled. "He probably did not hear you, my sweet. The doors are heavy."
Denethor opened the door, a frown upon his face. When he noted the pleading in Indis' eyes, he relented. "Faramir. It is good to see you, my son. Why are you here?"
'Oh!' she wanted to slap him. "We have come to say our farewells. Faramir will leave on the morrow," she said as pleasantly as she could. "He desires a hug."
He put his fingers to his forehead. "Of course." Turning to Faramir, he took his hand and walked him to the settle. 'I do not have time for this,' he thought, chafing at the knowledge of what had to be done for tomorrow's meetings.
"Ada. Can we not go riding today?"
Denethor swallowed. "I cannot. When you return, we will go. I promise." The boy looked at him, tears welling in his eyes. Something in his memory awoke. "Come with me, Faramir. Let us to the garden." Taking the lad's hand, he smiled at Indis and walked past her, through the doors and into Finduilas' apartments. He opened the garden doors and walked through. Sitting on the stoop, he pulled Faramir into his lap. "I have not been feeling well these past days, Faramir. My duty calls me to Osgiliath. You understand duty, my son..."
"Ion nîn," Faramir interrupted him.
"Ion nîn," Denethor said and smiled. "I have not been keeping my promises, have I?" The lad looked down at his fingers and twiddled them. "I know. I am sorry, Faramir. When you return from your adadhron's, we will go riding. And I will keep this promise."
"Ada, must I go? I want -- to stay -- with you," the boy had begun to sob.
"I will be gone, too, Faramir. You would be lonely here, all alone in the Citadel, waiting for me." His son turned and buried his face in Denethor's tunic, crying unabashedly. "I will miss you, Faramir." He put his hand on the lad's hair, bent and kissed his head. "I will miss you terribly. Remember that."
The sun caught and held him as they passed the Causeway Forts. It had remained hidden behind the Ephel Dúath since before they began their journey. Now, Denethor was heartened to see it. He looked towards Indis. Her smile told him its affect upon her was the same. Much as he loved Minas Tirith, he knew he belonged in Ithilien. His heart always lifted when he crossed the Anduin. This day, he would stay on the west side of the river.
His captains, those from East and West Osgiliath, from Cair Andros, the northern fortress of Henneth Annûn, and the southern fortress of Henneth Amrûn, all gathered. His heart lifted. Brave and stalwart men were these, the best of Númenor. Indis sat near his right. When the dining hall quieted, he stood.
"There have been numerous attacks, as of late, upon the lands of Gondor and of Rohan. Théoden King says they are sore-pressed. They will not be able to protect our western border as we would like. That is all well and good... and I suppose to be expected. Ever it seems our allies are sore-pressed." Quiet laughter greeted this subtle jest. "Prince Adrahil," he used the title though it stuck in his craw to give the man any measure of respect, "reports the same problems in Belfalas. Thankfully," he smiled, "we have our own men at Pelargir. I deemed it wise to keep Captain Gwinhir there, instead of ordering him here. The Haradrim devils have been too quiet of late. I do not trust them." Murmuring assent greeted this statement. "I want the garrisons here in Osgiliath reinforced. The Rammas Echor at the Causeway has been rebuilt this past summer and raised by ten handbreadths. It will protect Minas Tirith, to a degree." Mutters greeted this pronouncement; most agreed. Denethor raised his hand for silence.
Captain Durahil stood. Denethor nodded to the warrior from Cair Andros and sat down. 'Twas better to let them speak, think they had some say in what was to happen to them. He would suffer the captain this small amount of time and then do what needed to be done.
"My Lord Steward, I deem it wise to withdraw our people from the farmlands north and east of Amon Dîn. We cannot protect them."
Denethor, not expecting such a statement, began to rise, thinking furiously of the implications of the man's suggestion. However, Indis stood first and spoke.
"The men of Cair Andros are known for their courage and sensibility. Food, however, is desperately needed for that garrison and the garrison at Henneth Annûn. If the lands you speak of are abandoned, from where will you receive food?"
"More supply wains can be sent from Minas Tirith. The farmlands of Lebennin and Lossarnach will furnish all our needs."
"Lebennin and Lossarnach supply the entire southern part of Gondor, along with Minas Tirith and Osgiliath. The supply wains are already spread too thin. They also take supplies from the southern fiefdoms to the garrisons near the southern beacon-hills. They cannot possibly add your garrisons to their routes."
"What of Rohan? Cannot they supply the garrisons east of Edoras?" Captain Amlach of West Osgiliath asked. "Mayhap they cannot supply men, but food?"
"Rohan is recovering from a drought. Their fields have not produced their normal yield. They will not be able to help us," Denethor said quietly. "We will not abandon these farmlands. Not yet. But we will draft as many men as possible. I want the conscript age lowered to sixteen. Do not, however, leave the farmers with too few men to work the fields." He turned towards Durahil. "I will expect weekly reports from your garrison, Captain Durahil."
The captain knew he had best sit. The look on Denethor's face brooked no further arguments.
"Weapons are another difficulty. The forges of Minas Tirith are being run day and night as it is, and still we need more. It is time to build a forge here in Osgiliath. I have already commissioned one for Pelargir. Our workmen cannot keep up with the demand. A call must be sent out to find smithies to man these new works."
Captain Gelmir of Henneth Amrûn stood. "There are many young men in southern Ithilien whose mothers refuse to allow them to join Gondor's armies. Let me speak in the villages, my lord, and recruit these men for this duty. It is not dangerous and their milk-mothers can rest at ease, thinking their sons are protected." He spat as he spoke of the cowardly women of the southern fiefdoms. Shouts of approval rang out. "I will conscript as many as possible and send them to the smithies of Minas Tirith. They should be trained and ready for the new steel works in three month's time. Granted, they will not have the skill that those who forge swords for the garrisons of Minas Tirith have, but almost any sword can kill an Orc, if it be wielded by a stout and courageous warrior of Gondor." A roar of approval greeted this pronouncement.
Denethor smiled himself. "When you return to your garrison, send out two of your aides. I cannot have you hopping about from village to village. You have a little more worth to me than that."
Gelmir bowed. "Thank you, my Lord Steward."
"We are in agreement then? The draft age will be lowered; the farmlands will be scoured to bolster our garrisons, and two forges will be built and manned," he smiled warmly at Captain Gelmir, "by the sons of the mothers of Southern Ithilien."
Laughter greeted the decree. Denethor rued the fact that he had waited so long for this meeting. 'Well,' he thought, 'it could not be helped what with Boromir's ceremony.' The cooks opened the shutters for the serving area and the men pounced on the food set before them. Denethor smiled at Indis. "Thank you. That was quick thinking." She smiled back and offered him her hand. He took it and led her to their table.
The sea stretched out before them - calm, dark with the sky graying itself and touching the sea, making the line between sky and water indistinguishable except for a few touches of pink interspersed throughout. One large patch of washed out color showed where the sun would touch the sea and disappear. Boromir stood on his Naneth's balcony, his eyes straining, dry and burning, looking for the ship. It was past due and worry prodded at the corners of his mind. Faramir sat next to him, fast asleep, his head leaning against Boromir's leg. Adar had promised, in his last letter, that he would come to Dol Amroth and bring Boromir and Faramir back to Minas Tirith with him. Denethor had told his son to watch the waters; he would come from Pelargir. Two months had passed since his Uncle Imrahil had given him the letter. He breathed a sigh of relief; he was most grateful that he had said no word of Denethor's promise to Faramir. A tear rolled down his cheek. His uncle had told him how his Naneth would stand on this very balcony, watching the sun set. He missed her terribly. The flowers in the garden that spread below him filled the air with the same fragrance that encompassed her. The sun inched closer to the sea; he wanted to turn and go to his adadhron's hall. There was another celebration there tonight. He knew Faramir and he were expected, but he could not pull himself away. He rubbed his hands over the teak balcony, knowing his Naneth's own hand had touched this very wood, that she had rubbed her hands along it, just as he was doing, as she watched the sun set. His heart broke. Where was Adar? Why did he not come?
His adadhron, Prince Adrahil, had been more than kind as were all his relatives, but the family was busy with the ceremonies associated with the new prince's birth and to the care of Prince Imrahil's firstborn, Elphir, who was a handful by himself. Boromir felt lost, at times, in the whirlwind of activities that abounded in the royal family's home. He needed Denethor. A fortnight ago, they had been taken to Finduilas' crypt, buried deep in the bowels of the palace. Someone thought it would be good for the boys to visit it. But Faramir had cried for hours afterwards, and Boromir found the child in his bed every night since. Listöwel, had she been about, would have been furious, but she had gone to visit her own family in one of the little towns that flanked Dol Amroth.
"Boromir," the whispered voice caught him by surprise, making him turn quickly. Faramir's head slid down and bumped the floor. The boy's eyes opened in shock; he began to cry, very quietly. "Faramir!" Boromir knelt next to his little brother and took him in his arms. "I am sorry!" He stroked his brother's hair and kissed him gently on his forehead. "Please forgive me?" Faramir looked up and tried to smile, but the tears made the smile look ludicrous. "I am sorry, Faramir," Boromir repeated.
Prince Imrahil moved from the doorway and sat next to them. "Nay, Faramir. 'Twas my fault. I startled your brother. I am the one to ask for forgiveness. I was concerned. The banquet is ready and neither of you were in your appointed seats. So I came to find you."
"Then 'tis truly my fault, Uncle, for I wanted to see the sun set from Naneth's balcony and lost track of time."
"Then come with me now. Your adadhron has refused to begin until you are both seated." He picked Faramir up. Looking down at Boromir, he saw pain etched into the lad's face. Grief lay as a burden on the lad's body. He took Boromir's hand and walked out of the chambers. Boromir heaved a sigh and left the beloved room.
"We should never have gone to Cair Andros," Denethor stated bitterly. "I promised Boromir I would be in Dol Amroth over two months ago." He hissed. "I seem to be spending my time breaking promises to those boys."
"I too am anxious to see them again; however, the boat will go no faster than the winds that fill the sails." Indis had to bite her tongue to keep from lecturing Denethor. Three months it had been since last he had touched the Stone. He had become himself again, and for that she was grateful. His return to his old impatience wore her thin, though.
He stood on the deck and watched the land go by as the boat swept out into the Bay of Belfalas. They had embarked on the schooner at Harlond. Denethor had made his wishes about speed known to the captain, but there was naught the man could do. There was no wind. They had been on the river too long; the winds had failed them and the captain had been forced to use oars. The trip south had been tedious and boring. Indis and Denethor had spent most nights perusing their handiwork on the newest maps. The roads between Osgiliath, Henneth Annûn, and Cair Andros were perfect. Every river, every hillock, every ruin had been painstakingly added to the existing maps. A copy had been made and sent to the cartographers. Whatever happened after this, at least the Captains of Gondor would know where they were at any given moment. The winds had finally picked up, coming from the north at about twenty knots, according to the captain, as they entered the Ethir Anduin. It had taken them only a half-day to reach the bay. He could see Tolfalas before them. 'At last,' he thought, 'we are truly on our way.'
He smiled ruefully. He should be enjoying this trip. How often had he wished to make the same, but as captain of his own vessel! Never had the dream been fulfilled. It never would be. Mayhap someday Boromir.... Nay, his son would be too great a captain to confine to one ship. Faramir? Denethor had to laugh. 'I cannot even imagine that,' he smiled. 'Though the boy tries to be courageous, I think the first great wave to hit his ship would cause him to run in terror.' Suddenly, his brow furrowed. He knew that Faramir oft ran to his brother's room after a nightmare or during one of the monstrous storms that assailed the mountain city on occasion. How to break him of this habit? He could not, in good conscience, do what his own father had done. He could not. A slight shudder swept over him. 'The wind,' he thought, but his heart cried, 'Thy father.' He turned away and went below deck.
Prince Adrahil watched as the children of Denethor entered the dining hall. He rose and greeted them personally. "We have been waiting," he chastised Boromir gently. "Would you sit now?"
Boromir's face burnt with embarrassment. "I am sorry, Adadhron," but Faramir interrupted him.
"We were watching the sun set from Naneth's window. I fell asleep," the boy lowered his head and Adrahil had to bite his lip to keep from laughing.
"I can understand that, my lad, the sea breeze weaves magic upon those who watch from that window."
Faramir's eyes opened wide. "Ada said the same thing a long time ago," he breathed quietly. "He saw an Elf from that very window." The boy's voice had raised almost an octave as he said the word 'elf.'
Adrahil stepped backwards. Quickly regaining his composure, he indicated where the boys were to sit. Then, he cast a sharp look at his son. Prince Imrahil only shrugged. He had heard no story of such an event himself, he quietly told his father. 'But,' he thought to himself, 'I will learn more from Faramir before the night is o'er.'
When the Steward reached the quay, Prince Adrahil himself was there to greet him. A Swan Knight offered his hand to help Denethor out of the skiff. The Steward forced the laugh back that threatened to engulf him. He knew his way about boats and how to disembark from one. Had not Adrahil himself taught him many long years ago! He motioned for the man to help Indis. Of course, she needed no help herself, but Denethor knew she would be gracious and accept the offer. The lines had already been tied off to the pilings; the boat stood still, and he stepped up onto the dock.
Denethor offered the Gondorian salute and Adrahil accepted it. He motioned for Denethor to walk ahead of him on the slim dock. When Denethor reached the end of the pier, he stopped and waited for Finduilas' father.
"It is good to have you back in Dol Amroth, Denethor. It has been too long."
Denethor bit his tongue to keep the hot retort back.
Indis joined them. The prince smiled and took her in his arms, his eyes wet with unshed tears. "My daughter spoke often of your friendship and what it meant to her; your kindness to her from her first moment in Minas Tirith. I thank you."
She returned the hug, tears spilling from her own eyes. "I loved your daughter from the very beginning because of my brother's love for her," she felt the prince tense and continued, "but I soon grew to love her for who she was. We became the best of friends. Nay, more than that even, for we called each other sister-friend."
"I know." He let his grip loosen and stepped back "Oft she wrote of your adventures together. Though you never did convince her to lift a sword."
Indis laughed. "She would rather we buried them in the ground than wield them, but she never spoke a word against our practice."
Denethor stood looking at the sea in front of him, the white and gray clouds scudding across the sky. He bit the inside of his cheek to keep from sobbing. He had not spoken nor heard her name spoken by another in many years. The pain cut through him like a knife. Would this wound never be healed?
Indis turned towards him, ever aware of her brother's moods. "Will we go directly to the palace, my Lord?" she asked Prince Adrahil.
"I have a carriage waiting." He started forward, but was stopped by a hand on his arm.
"Would you excuse me? I would find my sons. Are they playing at the beach?"
Adrahil started. "They are not, my Lord Steward. Nor are they at the castle of Dol Amroth. They are," he paused for a moment, "they are on an adventure with their Uncle Imrahil."
Denethor's eyes stormed, but he kept his voice low. "Why did you allow this when you knew I would be arriving today?"
"I knew no such thing, Denethor." Adrahil forced himself to speak calmly, but abandoned the Steward's title. "We have had no missive from you for two months. I know how your duty to Gondor has delayed you in the past." The hint of anger rang in his voice. "I supposed your neglect of your wife had spilled over to neglect for your sons."
Denethor's hand flew to his sword, his face grew livid red and his breath came in short gasps.
Indis held his arm tighter and pulled him, as well as she was able, away from Adrahil. She turned a withering glance upon the prince. "That was totally uncalled for, my Lord Prince," she said with as much dignity as she could muster. "If you will excuse us, I believe the Lord Steward and I will stay here in town this night. Mayhap your manners will have returned on the morrow."
Adrahil turned on his heel and strode towards the carriage. Entering it, he shouted to the driver to move on.
Denethor bent over, his hands on his knees, trying to calm himself. He felt run through by a sword. Tears ran down his face. Indis rubbed his back and waited.
At last, Denethor straightened. "If it had been my daughter, I would feel the same." He put his arm around Indis' shoulders and steered her towards the quay. As they walked, he felt his heart slow and a greater, deeper grief reach into him. He gulped back the sobs that threatened him. When they were near the dock, he stepped down onto a walkway and helped Indis down. They walked along the beach; he held her tightly to him.
"You are too magnanimous, my brother," Indis finally spoke.
"Nay. My pain must be like unto his. His daughter was given to my care and now she is dead. What have tongues been saying to him? What rumors of her treatment at my hands has he heard? Did I even come to bury her? To offer my sympathy? Did he ever hear from my lips the circumstances that led to her death?" He choked back another sob. "Nay! I was remiss. I should have come." He looked deep into Indis' eyes. "I have never been to her tomb," he whispered. "I still do not think I can go there."
She held him for a moment. "Listöwel was with her body when Finduilas was brought to Dol Amroth. She told Adrahil of Finduilas' last days. She would have said naught to him that was untrue. Where he gets this notion that you neglected his daughter, I cannot say. But he is wrong, Denethor. You know it in your heart. Let not grief and false guilt assail you."
"Rare were her visits to his home. How was he to know how she fared? I did naught to assuage his fears for her. I was too proud. He was too angry at my father's disdain for the house of the Swan. As much as I have endeavored to create a bond between Gondor and Rohan, I should have done the same for Belfalas." He sat heavily on a piling sticking out of the sand. "My grief kept me from her people. Now I pay for it."
One of Prince Adrahil's knights came into view. Denethor turned his back. The man stepped up to Indis and handed a note, affixed with the seal of the Swan, to her and stepped back a few paces, waiting, she noted, for a reply. She opened the missive and read it. She turned to Denethor. "Prince Adrahil sends his regrets at his behavior. He has sent another carriage for us and begs us to stay with him at the palace." Denethor turned towards her. "That is what it says, Denethor. 'I beg you to accept my hospitality.' What do you think of that?" she said, her voice mirroring the amazement in her eyes.
The road to Edhellond was not well tended; therefore, the party had to ride slowly, which was better for Faramir anyhow. He was not used to bumpy horses, he had told his uncle, and giggled as Imrahil laughed. "Bumpy horses, you say. I am sure you are used to the horses of the Rohirrim. Ours are not as good, I must admit, but they do love the sea smell and that is important for a Swan."
"Why are you called Swans, Uncle?"
"I do not really know. Except that swans have always lived in Belfalas, great fleets and herds of them. Shall I call you Cygnet, Faramir?"
"That is a funny name," Faramir giggled. "Why would you call me that?"
"Because that is the name for a baby swan."
"I am no baby!" Faramir shouted.
Imrahil held his ear. The shout reverberated painfully.
"I am sorry, Uncle," Faramir whispered. "I will not shout again."
"Thank you," Imrahil said with a slight bow of his head. "I would most appreciate that. And I was impolite to liken you to a baby swan. You are almost grown."
Giggling louder, Faramir bent down and kissed his uncle's hand. Then he sat up again and patted those rough hands that held the reins. "You can call me a baby if you want to, Uncle Imrahil," he said quietly. "I love you."
A lump caught in Imrahil's throat: he had to swallow to stifle the sob, and blink to stop the tears that threatened to fall. He had missed these boys so much. Their family had been ripped asunder after his sister's death. He knew not whom to blame: his father or Denethor. His heart ached to offset the damage done to these little ones. 'Swans mate for life,' he thought. 'Yet, once the sweet Swan of Dol Amroth perished, we left these little ones at the mercy of...' He stopped himself. He listened too often, of late, to his father's harangues about the Steward of Gondor. He knew Denethor, had served with him, and found him honorable. And the love Denethor had for his children surpassed most that Imrahil had seen. Looking down at the ebony head that leaned against his chest, Imrahil vowed he would watch over these two, that he would do all in his power to reestablish the bonds of family broken by death, grief and pride.
Eärendil shone brightly the further from land they traveled. Denethor had not been able to sleep; thoughts of Boromir and Faramir haunted him. Their last parting had not gone well. Though Faramir seemed to understand why they were to be separated, Denethor knew the lad had not understood a thing. He had been more than brusque with his youngest. The memory of it drove him to the deck. Adrahil had been most kind to lend him this barc to take him to his sons. He had not known what had surmounted the prince's obvious anger at Denethor. Perhaps Indis had spoken with him. He only knew that, the morning after he arrived in Dol Amroth, the prince whisked him onto a boat to rendezvous with Prince Imrahil at Edhellond.
The captain had assured him they would be at the mouth of the Ringló shortly. After that, a short horseback's ride to Edhellond and then he would see his sons.
"You should arrive at the Elf Haven by nuncheon, though why anyone would want to go to a ruined Elven city, I know not."
Denethor kept his tongue. He had neither the time nor the energy to spend teaching a fool about the ancestry of the captain's forbearers. He had been surprised by the lack of knowledge of this son of Mithrellas. In fact, he had always been surprised at the utter ignorance of the people of Belfalas. Only the prince's family itself seemed the least bit interested in their ancestry. A cry pulled his attention away from these thoughts.
Boromir ran into the ruined building with Faramir right at his heels. Imrahil was hard-pressed to keep up with the boys.
"Slow down!" he called. "Wait for me."
But Boromir had seen something in the distance and was determined to get a closer look. Faramir would not be left behind. As they came closer, Boromir dug his heels in the ground, stopping so suddenly that Faramir ran into the back of him.
"Look," he whispered. "There is an Elf."
Faramir strained as hard as he could to see what Boromir saw, but all that lay before him was a statue. "Where?" he whispered back.
"There! Right in front of you," Boromir's voice rang with disappointment. It was only a statue. He was so hoping to see an Elf that his imagination had run away with him.
"It is a statue," Faramir said.
"Yes." Boromir would not let Faramir see that he had been fooled. "Of course it is a statue. Did you think there were real Elves left in Middle-earth?" He snorted to accentuate his derision.
"Oh!" Boromir turned to his little brother. "I thought it was an Elf too, Faramir. I am sorry." He took Faramir's hand and they walked through the building and back out into the sunlight. By this time, Imrahil had reached them.
"I would prefer, my gallant warriors, that you let your captain lead you on this expedition."
Faramir giggled and Boromir bowed. "Forgive us, my Captain," Boromir stated. "We will follow you wherever you lead us."
Imrahil returned the bow. "Thank you. I think it is time for nuncheon."
They landed on the western side of the Ringló and found a small garrison of Anfalas. The Swan banner that the captain's mate held convinced the fort's officer that they were in the employ of the Swan Prince and therefore, respectable. However, he looked sideways at Denethor. "You are no man from Belfalas by your tongue."
"I am not. I am a servant, however, of Prince Adrahil who has commanded me to lead this sortie up the river. May we pass?"
The man allowed it and gave them six horses for their journey after Denethor promised he would return them the next day. He said farewell to the ship's captain and set out with the five knights that Prince Adrahil had sent with him.
After a long climb up the steeps slopes of the river, the land flattened out and the ride was less strenuous on the men and the horses. Denethor's heart lightened. Though the land was quite different from that of Rohan, it reminded him of it - the wildness, the lack of habitation, the openness of it. He drew in a deep breath and realized the sea smell was definitely different from the plains of Rohan. Smiling, he urged his horse into a faster gait.
As the sun reached its zenith, he could discern ruins before him. Another hour's ride and they arrived at Edhellond. Denethor could hardly believe his eyes. Truly, these were the ruins of an Elven kingdom, like nothing he had ever seen before. He pulled his horse up and listened. Faintly, he heard noises in the distance. Children's laughter! He pushed his horse faster and rounded a building to be met with the sight of Faramir rolling on the ground, laughing hysterically, while a soiled Imrahil rolled with him. Boromir stood a little to the side; his stance looking as if he was not sure whether to laugh or scold.
Some sense made Boromir look up; he saw his father and came running forward with a cry on his lips. Denethor jumped from his horse and ran to meet Boromir. Both stopped within a hair's breadth of the other and saluted. Then, Denethor fell on his knees, grabbed his son and hugged him tightly. "I have missed you, boy!" he said gruffly, rumpling the lad's hair. "I thought you were going to watch for me... from your Naneth's balcony?"
"Oh! Adar. I so wanted to, but when Faramir told Adadhron that you had seen an Elf at Dol Amroth, he insisted upon hearing the whole story. And then they decided, Uncle Imrahil and Adadhron, that we must find the Elves." He stopped to catch his breath. "They said you were not coming yet." A look of pain filled the boy's eyes. "I waited, honestly I did, Adar. Until they said you were not coming." He repeated the phrase that had made him leave his watch.
Denethor hugged him fiercely. "I promised, did I not?" But then, at the look in Boromir's eyes, Denethor knew the lad understood that sometimes promises were broken. "I am sorry. I meant to come so much sooner, but the winds were not with us." He stood up and bowed. "May I have your forgiveness, my son?"
"Oh, Adar!" Boromir sighed. "Of course. If I break a promise, will you forgive me?"
"As long as you do not break your vows to Gondor nor to me, nor lose your honor, I will forgive you." He smiled and took Boromir's hand. Together they walked towards Faramir.
"Ada!" the boy screamed when he caught sight of Denethor and Imrahil held his ears again. "Ada! You came. You came." He ran to his father and grabbed him around the waist, hugging with all his might.
Denethor almost fell from the ferocity of the grip. "Hold, my son, you will knock me over. You are becoming quite strong."
With that, Faramir lifted his right arm, crooked it, and held it for Denethor's inspection.
Denethor put his hand around the little arm and gave it a small squeeze. "Yes, you are becoming quite strong."
Faramir's chest puffed out and he turned and looked at Imrahil. "You see, Uncle, that is why you could not best me just now. I am quite strong."
Both Imrahil and Denethor bit their lips to keep from laughing.
"Come, Lord Denethor, we have just finished nuncheon. I am sure you and your men are hungry?"
"Yes. Thank you, Prince Imrahil."
After nuncheon, they explored the old ruins further. Faramir did not let Denethor's hand leave his. For hours they walked the halls and buildings, marveling at the workmanship.
"It is sad to know they are all gone," Imrahil said quietly as they walked back to the clearing where they had eaten their repast.
"Are they really all gone?" Denethor asked. "I know, twice, that I saw an Elf at Dol Amroth."
"If there are any left, we have neither seen nor heard of them."
They sat on carved rocks and let the last of the sun warm their faces. After a time, most of the company fell asleep, lulled by the sound of the wind in the trees and the sense of peace and contentment that filled the land.
"Where have you been?" Denethor held back the scream. "We searched everywhere? Where have you been?" He held Faramir out in front of him, his eyes burning with fear and rage and despair.
"I went to find an Elf," the boy said plaintively. "Is that not why we came?"
"But you should not have gone alone, Faramir," Imrahil chided. "You could have fallen amongst the ruins and we would not have been able to find you."
"But the Elf would not let me fall and he showed me back to where you were."
The hairs on Denethor's neck stood straight. Imrahil glanced over at him, mouth opened wide.
"Faramir. Do not lie to me. You did not see an Elf, did you?"
"I did, Ada. A very tall Elf with hair the color of... well, it was shinier than Théodred's, but it was still golden."
"Where?" Boromir broke in, ready to go find the Elf for himself. He could not believe his brother had seen one and he had not!
"He went away. He said he only came to see me."
"Why would he want to see you, Faramir?" Denethor asked.
"Because of Naneth," Faramir said, tears filling his eyes.
Imrahil drew in his breath and Denethor hugged the boy to him. "Why because of Naneth?"
"Because the Elves always watch over the children of Mithrellas. Who was Mithrellas, Ada?"
Denethor sat on the ground, hard, and pulled Faramir to him. "Mithrellas was one of your ancestors, ion nîn," he said softly. "She came from the far north with her friend. Somehow, they were separated. She decided to stay here and live in these woods. She is your... Oh dear, I have no idea how many names she might have," Denethor smiled. "But she is i naneth en naneth tîn. Your mother's mother's mother. And farther back than that even. You could call her Nanadhril, if you wish."
"Then that is why the Elf watches over Boromir and me. Because of Nanadhril." Faramir began to yawn and leaned his head on Denethor's shoulder. "I walked too far today, Ada." He petted Denethor's cheek, as he always did his Naneth's.
Denethor's mouth grew dry. Never had the lad touched him in that caring way. It touched his heart near to breaking. Denethor saw Finduilas before him, on the settle in the nursery, holding Faramir as Denethor sat by them, holding Boromir. The child would stroke his mother's cheek till he fell asleep. Denethor looked down. Faramir slept. And Denethor silently wept.
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