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Ten Thousand Years Will Not Suffice  by Agape4Gondor

Ch. 24 - Third Age 3017 - Part Three - A

Denethor sat in silence. He held his goblet tightly, willing his sorrow and anger to flow out of him and into the cup. Slowly, his anger ebbed; his sorrow still cut him as a knife. At last, he took a deep breath, flung the cup into the fire, and watched the results. The smoke, sputtering embers, and hiss of evaporating wine eased him.

‘My anger should be burnt away, for it will do me no good. Now, to think with composure. Faramir is not dead, cannot be dead. I will think on that no more. But the stone does not lie? It is the future it shows me. Well, I will change that future; he will not die. What must I do? First, attend to the Council. Does the Council believe me soft? They would not have insulted my son so, if there were respect. When did I lose their respect? Did I ever have it? Do I reap the scorn Ecthelion sowed? I must regain their respect. Nay! I will gain their fear. They will not thwart me. There must be changes. We will repair the Rammas. We will add men to Osgiliath. We will take their coin and their sons and save Gondor.’ He paused for a moment, shuddered, and thought, ‘and Faramir.’

He felt the anger begin to rise again. ‘Húrin! Flippant at the sacrifice of my sons!’ Another deep breath and he willed himself calm. ‘There is no excuse for my Warden. Though long has he served Gondor, yet he disparages me and mine. Does he think fate is kind? Does he truly believe my sons are indestructible? Would that they were! They are not, as I am not. The Warden must take his duties seriously, else I must find another. Nay! I misjudge him.’

He stood and walked to the fireplace. ‘I do not misjudge him! His eyes shine with contentment. Now that he is away from the battlefield, he thinks he can rest. I must help him see that the battle is here! Against the Council and those who would let Gondor sit, protected only by the blood of my sons. I will not allow it!’

He leaned his arm against the mantel, lowering his head till he felt the warmth of the fire on his face. ‘If there was some way to burn Sauron in the flames of Orodruin.’ He sighed. A tear fell. ‘But rather, it will be Minas Tirith that burns. Have not I seen it with my very eyes?’ A strangled sob escaped. ‘And Faramir – brought from Osgiliath with the black breath upon him. Laying at my feet, dead. How to thwart this?’ He fell to his knees in agony, clutching his arms, as a heart-breaking wail echoed through the room. Sorrow filled him; his heart burned as with a blade in it.

He heard the door open; he was too helpless to do anything but rock back and forth. The guard was at his side in an instant, wildly slapping at Denethor’s robe. Vaguely, the Steward realized his robe had brushed against the fire’s embers and ignited. He allowed the guard to strip him of the robe and lead him to the settle. He sat back, exhausted.

Húrin’s voice pulled him from the darkness. “My Lord Steward,” the man said in obvious distress, “the guard rang the Warden’s bell. Tell me what you need.” He motioned for wine; the guard brought it. Taking the cup from his hand, he waved the soldier away, but the man would not leave. Húrin ignored him and lifted the cup to Denethor’s lips; after a moment, the Steward took a sip. The guard took the cup. Húrin strode to Denethor’s bedchamber and returned with a new robe, gently helping Denethor into it. After a few more moments, he sat next to his Steward. “My Lord, forgive me. I was impudent.”

Denethor did not respond, just continued to stare into the fire. The soldier offered the cup, but Denethor shook his head. Húrin raised an eyebrow when he saw a goblet slowly melting in the furious flames. The soldier stepped back and waited.

“I have seen…”

When Denethor did not continue, Húrin said, “Yes, my Lord. All Gondor knows of your foresight. Tell me, my Lord, what you have seen that I may understand and better serve you.”

Denethor blinked once, twice, three times. His jaw tightened. “Do they think I make requests to fill my own fancies? Do they think I want their sons killed? Do they think I would bleed their treasuries, and mine, dry, to satisfy some fleeting need for power? Do they not know me by now?”

“The Council, my Lord?”

“Would as many of their men now live if I kept Boromir at home, safe in the Citadel? He is the greatest warrior Gondor has seen in an age. It is by his valor and battle-sense that we are not e’en now o’ertaken. Yet, I would keep him at my side, here.” He patted the settle. “Know they not that every time I send him forth, my very being quails at the thought that he may not return.”

Denethor took a shuddering breath. “And Faramir, e’en now I send my youngest, the most frail, to command the most dangerous outpost in all the land. He serves by the very lands that would devour us, under the very breath of the Nameless One. And yet, they moan and wail and go off and mock me.”

Húrin swallowed. “None mock you, my Lord.”

“They mock me – and my sons.” Denethor grabbed his Warden’s shoulder and held it tight. Húrin did not flinch, even as the nails dug into his shoulder.

“Obey me,” Denethor whispered. “Trust that I see what others cannot. I will spill my own blood, before I see Gondor fall.”

~*~

Denethor rested most of the day; then, he called for Húrin to join him for the daymeal. After they finished, he found himself pacing, waiting for the Warden to continue his thoughts on the evacuation.

“The people will want to hide or bury their valuables. We must take that into consideration, my Lord. Even if given not the time to do so, they will risk their lives to save their treasures.”

Denethor stopped his pacing. Húrin spoke truly. “They will believe they can return, once the battle is o’er. Blind fools. If the Enemy succeeds, as I fear he must, then there will be no City to return to. They will be forced to hide in the mountains, else they will all perish.”

“Is that where you wish me to send them, my Lord, once the evacuation begins?” He shivered at the thought. To be sitting here, in Denethor’s study with a fire burning brightly and their stomachs full after a sumptuous dinner, discussing the overthrow of Minas Tirith seemed incongruous.

“Nay. Not to Mindolluin. We will send them off to Lamedon, Belfalas, and Anfalas. ‘Tis best to be as far from Minas Tirith as possible. Though we know not how much time they will have, our refugees,” Denethor choked on the word, “but they must not be near the City. The Enemy will have free reign o’er the rest of Gondor and will, after his initial gloating, burn the City and kill all who are still alive within her walls. Then, he will turn towards the fiefdoms. I do not think he will consider taking hostages, nor slaves. His purpose is to rid himself of those he has hated since the days of Húrin the Tall, when Men first loved Elves and followed them blindly.”

“Where will you and your sons go into hiding?”

Denethor looked at the man in amaze. “Doest thou think that my sons and I wilt be allowed to live, if by some chance we art not killed in the battle?”

Húrin paused as Denethor spoke in Sindarin. The horror of the evacuation weighed heavier upon the Steward than Húrin had first thought.  He answered in like manner, “Thy men will protect thee, my Lord, until the bitter end. Thou mayest indeed escape into the mountains. Thou knowest well the hidden places in Mindolluin.”

Doest thou think I wouldst leave Minas Tirith?” His breath caught; he could scarce breathe, so harsh was the thought, so pain-filled. “I wilt die here, in the flames of my City. My sons wilt already be dead, either on the Pelennor or on some other Valar-forsaken field, their blood spilled for those who would run with no thought for Gondor.”

Húrin shuddered. “Hast thou seen this?”

Denethor stood as one already dead; the memory of the sight of Faramir, dead on a pallet, engulfed him.

Húrin waited. Never had he seen his lord this troubled. He took a step forward and rested a hand upon Denethor’s arm. The Steward did not move. After many moments, the Warden walked to the fireplace and stirred the logs, hoping the noise would wake Denethor. Naught happened. Tears filled his eyes. They were doomed, then. If Denethor himself could not bear to look at their fate, then how could any stand? He walked to the window and looked out upon the Pelennor, noting the lights in the dark from the homesteads. He squared his shoulders and turned back to Denethor.

“My Lord. Minas Tirith will not fall, though all the hordes of the Enemy come against her. Look! The Pelennor. See! Your people have yet to be driven from their homes. They are strong and valiant. They look to you, my Lord, and rightly so. Your wisdom and strength give us all courage. We will not fail. As we take courage from you, my Lord, take courage from your people. They love you and will follow you to the ends of Middle-earth. But it need not be that way. Many times has the Enemy tried, since you became Steward, and every time, every time, my Lord, you have devised strategies to thwart him. We will plan this evacuation, for it is wise to be prepared for the worst, but it will not come to pass, my Lord.”

Denethor’s eyes finally focused upon his Warden. “We will fight to the end, Húrin, my sons and me. We will die fighting, e’en after all hope is gone.”

“My Lord, you are not alone. Gondor is not alone. We have friends and fiefdoms.”

“We have fiefdoms and their lords constantly dispute my plans. But in the end, they will know that I have seen rightly. As for friends, I do not know.”

Unbidden came the sight he had of Théoden in the Palantír, withered and old beyond his years – a dotard. ‘We will not have Rohan to help us, if Théoden remains under the thrall of that worm.’ He shook his head. ‘Mayhap Théodred will answer our call, when the time comes. I do not see Théoden living many more years. How he has changed. What has caused this? Thengel did not waste away as Théoden does. Is he being poisoned as Arciryas believed Indis was?’

Turning towards Húrin, the Steward placed his hand upon his Warden’s shoulder. “We must discuss how to feed the men who stay behind.” Húrin sat at Denethor’s command. They filled the long night with talk of new silos built and extra crops planted; of appointed stations for each House to gather when the order to leave the City was given; of carts being apportioned to the lame and infirm, the women and children.

“There will be no men to drive the wagons, Húrin.” Denethor said after a long silence. “They will be here in the City defending her. So now we must teach the women and the young ones to drive the carts.”

Húrin put up a hand. “My Lord Steward, ‘tis very late. Let us to bed for a few hours sleep. We both must needs be fresh else our plans be waylaid by fatigue.”

Denethor looked up in surprise. The moon was filling the sky. He called to his guard. When the man entered, Denethor waved him forward. “Has there been no news of Boromir?”

“Nay, my Lord. None at all.”

“Faramir?”

“Naught my Lord. As I reported this morning, word was received that Captain Faramir was on the Harad Road, heading towards Henneth-Annûn.”

Denethor, barely able to rise his anger so awful, turned to the guard. “There should have been further word by now. Was no rider sent to Osgiliath?”

“Nay, my Lord. We wait for the rider to return.”

“But none have come. Would you wait to send another rider,” he turned once again upon the guard, his fury as palpable as waves of heat, “if Orcs were at the Great Gate?”

“You were with the Warden, my Lord. You said you wanted no interruptions.”

“Leave me!”

“Denethor, you did order that we not be disturbed. Leave him, my Lord.” Húrin motioned and the guard fled the room.

“You o’erstep your bounds,” Denethor whispered after the guard had left them.

“You are distraught, my Lord, and tired. I will send errand-riders north and to Osgiliath. As soon as they return, I will bring their reports to you. Please, my Lord Steward, rest now?”

“Do it then,” and Denethor flung the bedchamber’s doors open and left the Warden alone with his thoughts.

~*~

Pounding awakened him, in the middle of the night. He flew to the Houses upon word that Faramir had been brought back from Osgiliath, wounded and poisoned.

Denethor sat on the bed; he held Faramir’s hand, watched as the boy thrashed about, and remembered the times, after Finduilas passed, when the man as a child was sick… His breath caught as he pondered the fact that Faramir was, indeed, a man. When had it happened? While away at Pelargir, no doubt. How many years now since he had gone to that garrison? He knew Faramir had been home many times during his most recent tour of duty, but Denethor barely remembered those visits. He cursed himself roundly, but silently. Finduilas would have had him strung from the nearest gibbet. Nay. What she thought mattered no longer; he cursed himself for his own neglect, his thoughtlessness. If it had been Boromir come home to visit… His cheeks flamed red in shame.

He should be wondering how the battalion was caught so unawares? Where the patrols were? How Faramir had ever let himself be so soundly beaten? But his eyes could not leave the face of his son, his body spread out upon the bed, arms flung akimbo in the throes of the fever. He had learned to steel himself after the first bout of sickness had taken the lad, just a month after his mother… ‘By the Orcs and Dragons of Morgoth,’ his mind shouted, ‘I should not have been left alone to tend them! I had no experience. I… had only love. And love does naught to stay a fever nor mend a broken bone.’

The Warden stopped in now and again to clean the wounds, offer some sips of tea to the still half conscious man, and speak a word of comfort to Denethor. “Remember, when he awakes, to call me.”

Denethor sat through it all. At last, his body weakened and his eyes closed. Damrod’s snores roused him. Night was close to falling. Denethor had spent the day here. He sighed heavily. The Ranger had deep circles under his eyes as he dozed, sprawled out upon a chair in a corner of the room. He had obviously not slept in sometime. Denethor had been furious when the man had refused to leave Faramir’s side. The Ranger had carried his captain from his horse and directly into the Houses, letting none touch the Steward’s son. Denethor reached the front door just as Damrod did. He tried to take the boy, but the man had looked at him with glazed eyes, and refused to allow it. Denethor, recognizing the fatigue of battle upon the Ranger, decided it best, for Faramir, to let the man take him into the Houses. He chided himself for not asking for a report from Damrod then. ‘Well, now is as good a time as any.’ But the tired soldier slept on and Denethor had not the heart to wake him.

Faramir’s movements slowed and suddenly stilled. Denethor looked up in fright, but smiled when a pair of sea-gray eyes looked back at him in confusion. “Be still, Faramir. You have been wounded, my son; the arrows were poisoned. The healers have taken good care of you and now you recover.”

“My men?” Faramir croaked.

“As many as came back are well.”

“How many did I lose?”

The look in his son’s eyes almost broke Denethor, but he steeled himself. Perhaps, as Boromir thought, the boy was not ready for such a command as Osgiliath. “I have not yet availed myself of the numbers. You were my first concern,” he hedged. “You are going to need some time to recover, Faramir. The wounds on your back will prevent you from effectively wielding a sword, at least for some months, and a bow is out of the question. I cannot afford such a captain for Osgiliath.”

Faramir lowered his head. “I am sorry, Father.”

“Nay. It is the way of life at times. I myself have… Well, never the mind.” A look of hurt flashed swiftly across Faramir’s face and Denethor started. “I did not say I cannot afford you, Faramir. I cannot afford a wounded man as captain. And I cannot afford Osgiliath captain-less.” He squeezed his son’s hand to take the sting from his words.

“I understand, Father. What would you have me do?”

“I was going to send Boromir to the fiefdoms to request more men and coin, especially for your plans to raise the Rammas. Now, I think it would be best if I sent you. Since the Council was not o’erjoyed by your proposal, it is only fitting that you should suffer the repercussions when you go to their own lands.” He placed a comforting hand on Faramir’s arm.

Faramir grimaced at the thought. Then, “Boromir is forceful.”

“That he is; however, your time in Pelargir has honed your diplomatic skills. I know there are many cultures that pass through that port; you have handled yourself well with them. I believe this training will help you succeed. And,” he looked long and hard at his youngest, “Gondor’s needs are great. You know them. I deem that enough to goad you to success in this endeavor.”

He heard a loud harrumph behind him and turned to see the Master Healer glaring at him. “I will speak with you further on this, Faramir. I leave you now to your rest.” He bent to kiss his son on the forehead, but thought better of it. Instead, he bowed, then turned and left the room. The healer followed close behind. Damrod had awakened at the sounds of concern that the healer had made and quickly followed behind Denethor.

After some moments, Damrod walked back through the door. “Captain,” the man fell to one knee. “Forgive me. I lost your back.”

“We lost more than my back, Damrod. I thank you though; it is by your efforts that I lie here – alive. How long have I been here?”

“Since late last evening, Captain. It is almost time for the daymeal.”

Even as he spoke, one of the healer’s assistants brought in food and drink. He sat at the side of Faramir’s bed and proceeded to push a spoon filled with broth towards him.

Faramir grimaced. “It smells foul.”

“There are herbs in it to give you strength,” the assistant said quietly. “The Master Healer requires you finish it all.”

“Of course he does. Has he eaten any of it?”

The assistant looked at him in horror. “It is very good.”

“Have you tasted any?”

“Here!” Damrod interrupted. “Let me feed Captain Faramir. You may return to your duties.”

“My duty is to see he finishes it all.”

“He will. You have the promise of a Ranger of Gondor.”

“If you insist,” the man said, perturbed. “The Master Healer will hold you responsible. Do not eat it yourself!”

Damrod’s look of shock sent Faramir into gales of laughter, which caused him to hiss in pain.

“I will get the healer,” the assistant cried.

“Do not!” Faramir said through clenched teeth. “It is not the wounds; it is the laughter. Now, leave me be. I promise I will drink all the broth and the tea.”

“Very well.” The man left in a huff.

“I am perfectly capable of feeding myself,” Faramir grumbled after the man left.

Damrod nodded and sat, waiting silently for Faramir to continue. Silence filled the small room as Faramir struggled to eat without spilling. Damrod bit his lip to keep from saying anything.

It took quite some time for Faramir to finish the soup. At last, he lay back upon the plumped pillows and held the cup of tea in his hand. The smell was noxious; his stomach roiled at the thought of drinking it, but drink it he must.

“Where were the scouts?” Faramir asked quietly, his eyes fixed upon the cup.

“A new captain misunderstood the reports he received. He was counseled to return and tell the column to halt while the patrol investigated a feeling of unease one of our best scouts had. The captain took the message as an all clear and let the column proceed. The patrol leader was correct, as we now know. Orcs were in hiding.”

“Damrod, the Steward refuses to tell me. I must rely upon you. How many men did we lose?”

“At least half the battalion. I brought you straight here, so I know not the total figure. Your wounds were not severe, but the poison set in quickly – fever and chills. I had to bring you, my Lord, else I feared you would succumb.”

“What day is it?”

“Two nights and two days since the ambush.”

Faramir grimaced as he tried to rise from the bed.

Damrod gently held him down. “Not yet, my Lord, please.”

“I must to my men, Damrod. They are lost and leaderless.”

“They are not, Captain. Lord Denethor himself is riding to Osgiliath. He told me when he left you.”

At that, Faramir flung the bedclothes off and attempted to stand. Damrod tried to force him back, but Faramir swore a particularly foul Sindarin word or two about the Ranger’s mother and Damrod stepped back.

“My clothes!” he ordered and Damrod left, returning a few moments later. Faramir put on his leggings and stood, pulling them up about him. He swayed, bit his lip, and sat back down. Damrod knelt and helped him with his boots.

“Guards!”

Faramir turned as the Master Healer came through the door, bellowing for the guards.

“By order of the Steward, you are not to leave here!” Denethor’s own guard appeared at the door, swords drawn.

Faramir sat back upon the bed. “Damrod,” he cried, “You must go to Osgiliath with him!”

“I have sworn an oath to Captain Boromir, my Lord!”

“I am safe and in good hands. I promise you, I will not leave these Houses until you return.”

Damrod saluted, turned and left. Faramir sagged back against the pillows and wept.

~*~

Denethor heard the hail whilst only halfway to the Great Gate. It was Damrod. He pulled up on his horse and waited. “Is aught wrong with Faramir?”

“Nay, my Lord Steward,” Damrod saluted as he stopped his own horse. “He bids me accompany you.”

“I recall an oath?”

“If it is your will to captain the men of Osgiliath, then Faramir commands I accompany you.”

“Commands?”

“Yes, my Lord Steward.”

Denethor smiled. “Who is the captain there?”

“Gelmir, my Lord.”

“He has been there only three months, if my memory does not fail me.”

“He has, my Lord.”

“Where, before that?”

“With Captain Guilin at Amon Dîn; I believe Pelargir with Captain Faramir before that.”

“Ah, yes. Since Faramir was ready to leave his sick bed, he has no confidence in the man?”

“When Mablung brought me nuncheon today, he said Captain Derufin arrived from Cair Andros only a few hours ago.”

“Derufin? He is Boromir’s aide, is he not?”

“He is, my Lord, and well-respected by the Captain-General. You could send him to Osgiliath?”

“Why did he not come to me with his report?”

“You have been with Faramir almost the whole day, my Lord Steward.”

“Let us back to the Hall. Find this Derufin and bring him to me!”

Denethor turned his horse and rode slowly up the road to the Citadel. ‘Where is Boromir and why is his aide returned without him?’

He dismounted at the Sixth Level and gave the reins to a groom as his guards milled about, waiting for further orders. He dismissed them. Walking swiftly towards the Hall, he stopped and looked northward. ‘Where is Boromir?’ he thought again. His feet turned towards the Tower. ‘I can take but a moment and look for him. Nay! I must take care of Osgiliath first.’ He strode briskly into the Hall instead.

As he sat on the Chair, the Chamberlain came forth. “You have a visitor, my Lord Steward.”

“I have not time now to see anyone but a Ranger named Damrod and Captain Boromir’s aide, Derufin.”

“As you wish, my Lord Steward. But the man says you wished to see him.”

“Who is it?”

“Prince Imrahil.”

“Imrahil!” Denethor was on his feet and striding towards the doors as the prince entered. Warmly hugging him, he turned him towards the vestibule. “Tell Damrod to bring Derufin to my study,” he called over his shoulder to his Chamberlain. “And bring some wine and food!”

Imrahil smiled. “So you have forgiven me the fact that I did not support you at the Council meeting?”

“Of course. You understand Gondor’s needs; Dol Amroth’s needs are as dire. You have sent the men you can; your funds are marked for the building of ships. Continue that and I will be glad. Why did you stay in Minas Tirith? I thought you left after the Council meeting?”

“The Warden came to me with questions regarding certain of my kin.”

Denethor looked at him in surprise.

“Certain female cousins?”

“Oh!” Denethor frowned. “I had forgotten. So much has happened.”

“Is it true? Is Faramir wounded?”

“He is, but recovering in the Houses.”

“Might I see him?”

“Of course. I must meet with two of my men; they should be along presently. Then, I hope we might speak of the cousins. After you have seen Faramir, perhaps you would join me for the daymeal?”

“Yes. I will to Faramir now, if it pleases you, then I will return.”

Denethor hugged him warmly.

He turned and discovered Damrod and Mablung waiting for him. His guard opened the door to his study. Entering, he bid them follow. The Chamberlain came before the door even closed and brought servants with food and wine. It was laid upon the desk. Denethor thanked them and waived their dismissal. He sat down and bid his visitors sit.

“Thank you for coming. Derufin, I understand you just arrived in Minas Tirith? Where is Boromir and why have you come without him?”

Derufin told of the battle and Boromir’s orders. Denethor relaxed and sat back in his seat. “So all is well with the Captain-General?”

“It is, my Lord Steward. I return to prepare for his next sortie.”

“I have other business that I must send you on. I am sorry. You will not be returning home just yet. I am placing Boromir in charge of Osgiliath. Faramir’s wounds will prevent him from serving in that capacity. He will be sent on the foray to the fiefdoms instead.”

Denethor waived towards the food. “Please, eat as we talk, for we have not much time.”

Derufin lifted an eyebrow, but Damrod filled his plate. Derufin followed his example and began to eat.

After the two had cleared their plates and were beginning to fill them again, Denethor spoke. “I am sending you to Osgiliath, Captain Derufin, to command the garrison until Boromir returns.”

“Gelmir captains Osgiliath, my Lord Steward.”

“I know that. However, you will now captain it; Damrod and Mablung will accompany you.”

“My Lord Steward!” Damrod jumped up. “I have an oath yet to fulfill.”

“You were going to break it.”

“Only because there was no one else to send. I cannot leave now. You have Derufin. I must stay!”

Denethor’s brow furrowed. “I will send Mablung with you, Captain Derufin. Damrod has an oath,” he said dryly.

“Thank you, my Lord Steward.” Damrod stood, saluted, and ran out the door.

“Well, then, Derufin, it is up to you to hold Osgiliath ‘till Boromir returns.”

“What of the Orcs who ambushed Faramir?”

“Boromir has a large troop with him. Damrod said many of the Orcs were killed in the ambush and most have fled back to the mountains. I deem my son will not be taken unawares.”

“By your leave, my Lord Steward, I will go now. I would like to reach the garrison before nightfall.”

“Go then.” He stood and accepted Derufin’s salute. The captain left.

Slowly, he sat down at his desk once more, held his head in his hands, and wept bitterly.

When the guard announced Prince Imrahil an hour later, Denethor waived the man away. “Give him my regrets; tell him I will see him on the morrow.”

~*~

Nigh unto the third hour, Denethor found himself in his study, looking over his full calendar. He had not met with his Council for their weekly meeting; he had not met with his Chamberlain; he had not met with his Warden. He had, however, visited his son, broke the fast with him, and then left him to rest.

“I will return, Faramir. But later this evening. If you need anything…”

Faramir finished the last of his tea and put the cup down. “I know, Father. And thank you.”

Denethor’s heart pulled at him, cajoled him to stay as he watched the fever-ridden eyes of his son try to hold his own. “Would you prefer I stay?”

“Father. I know your duties. You have been at my side two nights and a day already. When you are with me, I force myself to stay awake. Mayhap a full day’s rest would be best.”

Denethor smiled. “Always the wise one? Yes. It is true. And I put aside my own duties to sit with you. I will away from you until the daymeal. Would you wait for me? Share yours with me?”

Faramir did not answer. Denethor watched the poison-ravaged face rest. He bent over, kissed his son’s brow, and walked from the room.

Damrod waited outside the door.

“Still here?”

“Where else, my Lord Steward?” the Ranger asked with a smile.

“He sleeps now. Keep him well, I will not return till this evening. If aught occurs… Or if he needs me. Send for me. Immediately.”

“I will, my Lord Steward.”

Denethor sighed and watched Damrod enter his son’s room. Then, he turned and walked towards the Tower. Imrahil would be waiting; already, he was an hour behind on his meetings. His Chamberlain would be waiting, probably tapping his foot in frustration.

Imrahil indeed waited for him. Denethor blushed in shame. The guard had refused to let him into Denethor’s study, so the prince had waited at the door.

“Forgive me!” Denethor rushed forward and embraced his wife’s brother. “Come. Have you broken your fast yet?”

“I have, my Lord.”

“None of that. We are in my private quarters. Brother you would call me at best or else Denethor.”

“Brother it is then.”

“Come. Come. Sit here.” Denethor pulled the Warden’s cord and his aide’s cord. Within moments, his aide stepped through the door. “Have tea brought and sweet rolls. And some wine from my cellar. Have the Chamberlain pick the wine.”

Imrahil laughed quietly. “I need naught. ‘Tis good to be with you again and not in the Council chambers.”

“I am tired of those chambers myself. Too many days I spend there and naught to show for it but a blistered backside.”

Imrahil roared. “I note you took the most comfortable seat here.”

“I did. Steward’s prerogative. Now, how fares Dol Amroth? I know the report you gave to the Council, but give to me your full report. Your sons training – how goes it? Are they quick to learn? Is their Sindarin flawless yet? Have you started their Quenya lessons? Have they made their first voyages?”

Laughing again, Imrahil held up his hand. “They have done all that and more, Denethor. They are grown men. They send their love to their favorite uncle.”

Denethor looked puzzled. “Grown?” A light came into his eyes again and Imrahil shivered. “Of course. And Lothíriel? Has any asked for her hand? She is now all of nineteen years, is she not?”

“She is. But I came not to speak about her.”

“Nay. We wait until my Warden arrives. This will only be a preliminary meeting, Imrahil. Boromir must be part of this.”

“I agree.”

A moment later, Húrin was announced. Once he was seated with a glass of wine in one hand and a raisin’d cake in the other, Denethor spoke. “Húrin has told me that you have two cousins. One named Míriel and the other Lalaith. You know Gondor’s need. Which would you prefer as your nephew’s wife?”

“Direct and to the point, I see.” Imrahil frowned, deep in thought. “Lalaith is as sunny as her name warrants, but I fear she would…” His brow furrowed.

“She would succumb, as did your sister, to the desolation that Minas Tirith has now become?” Denethor’s voice was low, but his pain pierced the room.

“She is a gentle thing. Mayhap for Faramir?”

“We do not discuss Faramir,” Denethor said with a heavy sigh. “What of Míriel?”

“I like the woman: strong, unafraid, knows Haradric even. She would be a boon to him, when peace comes to Gondor.”

Húrin looked up in surprise at the Prince of Dol Amroth and waited for Denethor’s sharp rebuke. It never came.

“Her dowry?”

“She is fourth cousin. It will be smaller than Lalaith’s.”

“Her father?”

“He is smaller than Lalaith.”

Denethor snorted. “I seem to remember him.” A frown crossed his eyes. “He is small. Is he truly of Númenórean descent? How strong is it?”

“His line is as pure as mine, though why his stature is so small, I know not. She does not take after him, nor have any of his children. She is as tall as Lothíriel; her hair is black and long, her limbs are straight, her mind is quick.”

“So Boromir will have his hands full?”

Imrahil smiled; then, he lowered his eyes. "She will not fade."





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