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Chapter Twenty-Six - Third Age 3019 – Part One
“The winds seem colder, sharper this year, do they not? A dismal winter.” Denethor pulled his cloak tightly about him. Finally, he spoke of his real concern. “There has been no word from Boromir. No word at all. Rumors have started; my people are not fools. If a missive had come, all would know – reports, even those deemed secret, have a way of becoming general knowledge.” He did not expect an answer from Húrin. Denethor’s gray eyes searched northward, but of course – he saw naught. After an hour, he walked slowly back to the Hall, followed by his Warden of the Keys. As they approached the guard, Húrin snapped his fingers; a cloak was given to him, and he placed it around his master’s back. “Warmed by a fire,” Denethor said gratefully as he let it fall over his shoulders in replacement of the half-frozen one.
“The winter,” Faramir mused, “seems long, cold and dismal – more than any I have ever remembered.” Húrin could scarce control the laughter that tried to escape; he had heard almost the same words come from Denethor’s mouth just the previous night.
A wan smile quirked the left side of Faramir’s mouth. “It has taken a heavy toll on my father.”
Húrin knew a reply was not required, for any could see that the Steward of Gondor looked agéd beyond the years of a man with the blood of Númenor. A grim man, many had called him after Finduilas had passed, but if he had appeared grim before, Denethor was now bleak.
“Is it that there has been no word from, nor about Boromir that causes the white in my father’s hair?” He turned and looked long upon the Steward’s Warden of the Keys, “Or is it something else? Do you also hide something from me?”
Húrin wondered if it best to tell Faramir of the long nights Denethor spent in the Tower room, but thought better of it. If Denethor had wanted his youngest to know what he did up in that accurséd room, then it was Denethor’s purview to tell his son. Húrin himself could only surmise what occurred there, though all of Gondor buzzed with rumors.
Faramir shifted his weight as he stood in the room off Denethor’s study, with the Warden of the Keys, waiting now for over an hour for his father.
“Is it ill of me,” Faramir asked Húrin, “to wish Father would share this unknown burden? Not,” Faramir chuckled dryly, “that I am completely unburdened myself.” Though Denethor’s son had been stationed at Henneth Annûn since Boromir had been sent north, Húrin knew that Captain Faramir now carried the weight of duty of both sons. The young captain found himself more and more called back to the City – to attend Council meetings, to assign the roster of the troops, and even such mundane tasks as to see that Gondor’s army was fed!
“You will not tell me, Hurin? What does he in the uppermost chamber of the Tower? Do you think I do not hear the rumors? I heard again today, ere I even entered the Citadel, that the Lord of the Tower of Guard battles the Lord of Barad-dûr.” Faramir shivered. “Does my father confide in you, my cousin?”
The Chamberlain, just entering and noting Faramir’s action, asked if his lord needed the fire stoked, or perhaps a cup of tea.
Faramir thanked the man and dismissed him as Denethor came into the room. Faramir noted that Húrin averted his eyes.
“Your journey was not difficult?” The Steward nodded, acknowledged the presence of his Warden of the Keys, but directed all his attention upon his son.
“Nay, Father. There is a strange quiet in Ithilien.”
“You sense something? Your skin prickles?”
Faramir smiled and nodded.
“It is the same here.” Denethor looked off into the distance, seeing what, Faramir did not know. He held his tongue.
“There is still no word of Boromir.”
“I know; I asked Warden Húrin.”
“I knew you would. Barad-dûr prepares for an attack.”
His son nodded, knowing full well that Denethor knew that he and the Rangers had seen Easterlings, Haradrim and other troops amassing by the thousands. But that had been a fortnight ago; there had been no movement since.
The Chamberlain stepped through the door and waited. After a moment, Denethor nodded to him. The man left. Denethor heaved a sigh. “It is time,” he said unnecessarily. Faramir helped his father don his heavy, black cloak, then placed the circlet upon Denethor’s brow. The Steward fidgeted with his ring and Faramir’s eyes misted at the sight of the bony finger the ring now tried to perch upon. Húrin shrugged at the question in the young lad’s eyes. Denethor did not miss either gesture. “I must have this sized. It has always been too large.”
Neither man responded.
Denethor looked long into Faramir’s eyes, then he embraced his youngest. Stepping back, the Steward cleared his throat. “At least…”
“Boromir yet lives,” Faramir broke in. “We do not remember any from the House of Húrin on this Day of Commemoration.”
Swallowing hard, Denethor clasped his son’s arm. “Indeed, we do not. None of the House of Húrin fell this past year. It is fortunate that Damrod and Mablung were at your side when the bridge fell, else their names would be on today’s roster. Come.” He led Faramir from the room, across the long entrance hall, and into the Great Hall. Húrin turned right and entered the Hall from the rear.
The Chamberlain three times struck his staff against the hard Mindolluin marble floor. The echoes of the massive strokes filled the Hall, reverberating to the ceiling, and bringing all within, lords, ladies, warriors, and knights, to instant silence.
The Steward of Gondor, flanked by his youngest and the Chamberlain, walked down the center aisle to the Chair. Stepping up the three stairs, Denethor’s gaze caught hold of the Throne and he stopped. ‘Thorongil!’ he thought wildly, ‘if you had been here, would my son now be off on this fool’s errand?’ The touch of Faramir’s hand upon his arm pulled him from the heartache that assailed him. He turned and stood before the Chair. Faramir stepped to his left, his accustomed spot, while Húrin took Boromir’s place on Denethor’s right. A servant stood behind the Warden of the Keys holding a large, oval, mithril plate.
Again the Chamberlain struck the floor three times - all sat, except the Steward of Gondor, his youngest, and his Warden of the Keys. The Chamberlain turned, handed the Rod of Gondor to its Steward, and stepped back.
“My people,” Denethor began, “We have come to the beginning of the new year, one that some believe will be fraught with danger. However, an augury, a sign, a portent has been given to us, first through Faramir, my son, and then through others. Boromir, my Heir, was the last to receive this sign. Upon careful consideration by your Steward and your Council, it has been discerned to be a symbol of hope for Gondor. Thus, I have sent my eldest northward to the Elves of Rivendell.”
He stopped speaking as the import of his words struck those in attendance; a ripple of excitement exploded into loud murmuring. Denethor knew his words would evoke such a response. Most knew Boromir had been sent forth, most knew of the dream, but for these things to be acknowledged by the Steward, Denethor knew, was unprecedented. However, Gondor’s Steward knew his people would have need of hope if they were to survive this year. Every fiber in Denethor’s body told him, this was the year that Gondor would either stand or fall. The mere mention of Elves as allies was a potent image of hope for his people. Faramir never moved, and for that, Denethor was grateful.
The Chamberlain rapped the floor once more and after the ensuing echo died down, the Steward found the Hall silent and attentive. He continued. “Rohan is ever faithful. Her king, Théoden, son of our beloved friend Thengel, readies to answer our call, should we have such need. Prince Imrahil,” he motioned to the Lord of Belfalas who nodded his head in acknowledgement, “prepares fresh troops for our aid, as do all the fief lords of Gondor. Ships lie in Dol Amroth’s harbor, as an impediment against a southern attack. Pelargir has been refortified with men of Ethir Anduin and Lebennin, as well as knights from Minas Tirith. You have all been witnesses to the great strides made upon the Rammas Echor. Gondor is ready.”
Most in the assemblage, Denethor knew, would not be fooled by their Steward’s words of boldness, for these lords and warriors knew the might of the Enemy more than most; yet, they would be heartened, for the nonce, by his words and thus able to face the coming memorial ceremony with some small hope.
Denethor sat, motioned, and the minstrels began to strum their harps, sound their crumhorns, and strike their instruments of percussion. A slow swelling of voices sang the song of mourning. When the dirge was finished, the Chamberlain stepped forward, again commanding attention with another three sharp cracks of his staff upon the marble floor. He called forth the name, Hador, and Dúinhir the Tall of the House of Hador, moved forward, carrying a parchment in his hand. The Lord of Blackroot Vale walked up the center aisle and stopped before the Chair, passing the parchment to Faramir, who presented it to his father. Denethor rolled the parchment open, silently read the names of the dead transcribed upon it, then handed it to Húrin, who placed it upon the mithril plate. The Lord of the House of Hador saluted the Steward, turned and left as the Chamberlain struck the floor again and called out the name, Haleth.
Another lord strode forward, this time Angbor of the House of Haleth; the Lord of Lamedon approached the Chair and offered Faramir his parchment. It was accepted by the Steward’s youngest and handed over to Denethor who unrolled it and read the names, then handed it to Húrin. Angbor saluted and returned to his seat.
Thus went the roll call of the dead; two hours the ceremony lasted and two hours Denethor stood, receiving the Scrolls of the Dead. Daily, the roll had been called, as Anor set behind the splendor of Mindolluin, but on this Commemoration Day, though not individually named, each fallen warrior was remembered and mourned.
Usually, the House of Húrin, the Stewards’ own House, was the last to be called. Amazingly, none from the House of Húrin had fallen, so the last House called was the House of Imrazôr, Dol Amroth’s own. Prince Imrahil stepped forward and held out the parchment. Denethor took it from the Lord of Belfalas, discomfiting Faramir, and unrolled it. It was long. The Steward looked up in surprise.
“A late attack upon Ras Morthill. Just as the year ended.” The Swan Prince pointed to a name.
“Míriel’s father,” Denethor whispered. The Steward looked up and searched Imrahil’s face. “Her mother?”
“She threw herself from the cliffs when brought the news.”
Denethor’s head turned only a measure and looked upon his son, noting the tears in the lad’s eyes. “It is a sad ending for a once noble house,” he said when he returned his gaze to Imrahil. The Prince of Dol Amroth saluted and returned to his seat. After handing the parchment to Húrin, the Steward of Gondor faced his people. He looked out upon the assembly that, upon the staff’s imperious command, stood. He felt the grief of his people. Perhaps he should have held his words of hope, addressed them now instead of at the beginning of the ceremony? ‘Nay. Nothing should detract from this memorial. Those who died protecting Gondor should have their full measure of honor. And though grief is the order of the day, honor is the word.’ Denethor turned to Faramir. “It is time.”
Faramir nodded and stepped forward. He waited while the chamberlain again thrice struck his staff. The crowd settled into their seats.
“Men of Gondor,” Denethor’s youngest began, “Tradition has been served again this day, a tradition established by Elendil himself long ago. Ever has Gondor stood firm against its enemies - by the blood of these warriors memorialized today, and the blood of their fathers’ fathers. When Elendil landed upon these shores and claimed the land for his people, he brought strength, courage and hope out of disaster and despair. Our homeland had been drowned to punish those who would trifle with the command of the Valar, turn their backs upon the One, and enslave and sacrifice those who were named Faithful.
“We are the Faithful, kept so by the blood of our fathers. The soil of Gondor cries out in sorrow, yet she takes our blood to nourish it. Gondor remains strong because of the blood of those we have lost this past year. Raise your voices with mine as we remember them. Call out their names and renew your vows to Gondor and to her people. Shout your defiance of all those who would dare to assail us. Let this Hall ring with our fallen warriors’ names and let all who hear the thunder of it, wonder. Let our enemies hear it and quake.”
The youngest son of Denethor unsheathed his sword and held it high. “For Gondor!”
The Hall erupted in the shouts of the people of Gondor. It rang with the sound of hundreds of swords being unsheathed. The voices of those present shouted out the names of their beloved dead, then quickly followed Faramir’s exhortation; the cacophony swelled and joined as one voice, “For Gondor! For Gondor!” Trumpets sang forth in the Great Hall, joined moments later by the trumpets of each level until the City fairly trembled with the noise.
Denethor slipped from the Hall and strode to the Tower, needing confirmation that the Enemy heard and was afraid.
“I remember the times at the Commemoration Ceremony when we would read each of the fallens’ names,” Húrin mused as he stared into the goblet. “There are too many now.”
“They are noted at the end of each day,” Damrod said tersely. “At least they are remembered.”
“What mean you by that?” Húrin wondered.
“The women and children left homeless, widows, orphans, the boys stolen from their villages and made to shift oars on Haradric vessels, the farmers killed in their fields. None of these are listed in the daily roll. Nor in the yearly log.”
“Of course it is a sad thing, but they are not soldiers.”
“What were you thinking upon, Damrod?” Faramir asked, wondering what had come over his friend and aide. “What you speak of is as it has always been.”
“Galador dies and it is noted. But what of his wife? Faramir, I never even knew her name!”
“It was Meldis.” Faramir refilled his goblet, turned and topped off Húrin’s and Damrod’s also. “I did not know her, only met her once or twice. Her family was of a lesser rank. That is, Míriel’s mother’s family was from a lesser line. Galador, of course, was a close cousin of Prince Imrahil’s.”
“She was passionate, if she drove her husband to try to kill you. And then, she jumps off a cliff at his death…”
Faramir sat quietly. “It is as has been our tradition, Damrod. Soldiers are mourned on this day” The fire crackled, the wind blew outside, and yet, no sign of Denethor. His youngest shivered. “Húrin, Father has yet to return?”
“He will probably not come down till the morning. That is his way.”
“The Steward is passionate. Most do not see that,” Damrod considered. “I knew it not myself until last year. When he thought… Forgive me, Faramir, but I believe he cares deeply for you; I do not think he knows how to show it.”
His friend nodded. “He cares.” A smile lifted the corners of Faramir’s mouth. “Both he and Boromir are passionate.”
“So are you, Faramir” Húrin said, puzzled by the turn of conversation. “I have seen it in your eyes when your men have suffered a defeat. Nay, even when you have won a battle but have lost men. You are like unto your father.”
Faramir’s brow knotted. “I suppose I am. Just not as verbose.” He turned to Damrod. “I would have all the names spoken, Damrod. The ceremony took two hours as it is. Many names are not even identified. They have fallen unknown. But that does not mean they are less worthy. All who were in the Hall today, and all of Gondor, know that others have given their lives.”
Damrod bowed his head. “Hearing Galador’s name… Though I suffered a wound from him, it was less than his wife suffered at the death of their daughter. I… My heart bled for him that day. And for her.”
“As did – and does – mine.”
The men sat in silence, each one remembering someone fallen who was dear to them, as they waited for their Steward to return.
It was nigh unto the wee hours of the morning when Denethor entered the study, scarcely noticing them. He went to the sideboard and poured a large whiskey. As he turned, he acknowledged them. “Faramir,” he said quietly and his tone was harsher than he meant it, for he noted sourly that his son cringed. He spoke more softly, “When last did you see the Wizard?”
“The last time he was in Minas Tirith, Father,” the boy replied, puzzled.
“Then you know not that he was in Rohan months after your brother left here?”
“I did not, Father. Should I have?”
‘Oh! The sarcasm in that voice,’ Denethor thought, his fury mounting. “Know you not where he traveled to?” He noted Faramir’s deep sigh and lashed out, “I will not have you hiding things from me – especially anything to do with the Wizard!”
Denethor could see Faramir struggle to compose himself before he replied. “If it is now your will that I tell you the comings and the goings of the Wizard, then I will purchase a diviner’s globe and find him.”
Denethor’s face went white, but before he could say a word, Damrod stood up and spoke, “Mayhap it is time for us to make our way back to Henneth Annûn, Captain. The Council has been adjourned; we are free to go.”
Faramir spoke not a word.
“It is truly time for you to return to Ithilien, Faramir.” Denethor put down his glass and turned away from his son. “I need reports on a small band of Orcs that are moving northward. By the time you reach Osgiliath, they should be at the Crossings. Make sure they are dealt with.”
Faramir nodded, hesitated for a moment, then strode to his father and embraced him. “I will see you at the next Council meeting?”
“If there is one.”
Faramir held the shiver, as his father did not return the embrace, then saluted, nodded to Húrin and left, closely followed by Damrod.
“We must evacuate Anórien,” Denethor began without preamble. “The fields must be abandoned.”
“Cannot it wait until the spring crop is planted?”
“Nay. It must be done now. The Rammas by the North Gate, Húrin; we have not yet fortified it nor raised it?”
“We have not.”
“Then order it so,” Denethor sighed. “I had hoped to gain Faramir’s input on this.” The Steward’s eyes misted, then, Húrin noted, he seemed to pull himself together. “Put extra men on the detail, if you must. Have Ingold take charge. He is dependable and not easily frightened.”
“Is there aught to be frightened of at the North Gate, Denethor?”
“There probably will be,” the Steward said quietly. He began to pace in front of his desk. “Make the order that solitary errand-riders may no longer be dispatched; they must travel in threes. The garrisons of Amon Dîn and Cair Andros must each have another two companies stationed there.” He watched as Húrin’s eyebrows rose, but was grateful that his Warden did not question him further. ‘As Faramir would have!’ He brushed the thought aside. “And raise the number for a company to one hundred men at Osgiliath, Cair Andros, and Amon Dîn.” The Steward poured himself another glass. He had not sat since he entered the study.
Húrin pulled the rope and Denethor’s aide entered. “Order some food for the Steward” Belegorn nodded and left the room.
“I am not drunk,” Denethor stated icily, “though it probably would be better, making such changes as these.” He looked at his Warden. “You did not ask where we are to put the farmers and their wives.”
“I will procure accommodations for them. The Fourth Circle is almost vacant. More than one family can live in some of the abandoned mansions there.”
“If you raise the number of men in a company to one hundred, will you lower the number at garrisons less threatened? Perhaps to fifty men?”
“Nay. We will take the needed men from the Third Company, here at the Citadel.” His brow furrowed. “Double the guards at the granaries. We will probably have to ration, but not yet.”
“The water supply?”
“It is safe, for the nonce, unless the enemy climbs to the top of Mindolluin and dams the rivers. I cannot imagine that.”
Denethor knew his Warden wondered if the attack would be this year. “Soon,” he whispered, “soon.” He took another drink of the whiskey. “Another thing. All travel is banned without a pass. Any travel in Ithilien and Anórien without my permission is punishable by death.”
“We are at war, Húrin,” Denethor said tersely, “By death.”
“At least, signs could be posted.”
“Then do so.”
“Captain Hirgon has requested an appointment.”
“Do you know, is there a problem with my errand-riders?” He waved away the servant who had brought a light repast.
Húrin grimaced at the refused food and said naught, but “Nay.”
“His mother is all right?”
“As far as I know, she is.”
“Then tell him this forenoon, after nuncheon.”
“Thank you, my Lord. Is there aught else?”
Denethor finally sat; his right hand covered his forehead. “I must rest for an hour. We will meet again at dawn and break our fast together.”
Húrin saluted, stared for a moment at his Steward, then left.
Once his Warden was gone, Denethor stood again and walked to the stairs. Climbing slowly, he at last reached the suite before his own quarters. A long time ago, Thengel and Morwen with their children had lived in these rooms. Denethor leaned his head against the door in silent memory and was startled to have it open before him. ‘Must have the latch fixed,’ he thought absently as he entered the outer chamber. A lump formed in his throat and his eyes misted. “Well, my friend,” he said softly, “I wonder if you see what has befallen your son? The befuddlement that has assailed Théoden these past years has fogged his mind to everything.” His voice caught. “I hold no hope for Rohan’s help, never mind the oaths we took.” The sight of Théoden in the Palantír had been devastating; as much as Denethor had been aware of the slow decline of the King of Rohan, tonight’s view had been disquieting.
Denethor walked towards Thengel’s study and opened the door. It was heart breaking to see the top of the desk stark and empty. The Steward smiled as he remembered the clutter that had been its natural state when Thengel commanded the Tower Guard. Though the Riddermark was no longer the province of the Steward of Gondor, the Palantír still thought it a territory of Gondor, for seeing old Calenardhon through the stone was easy enough. Denethor had looked long into it this night, noting Théodred and Elfhelm assembled with their men near the Fords of Isen. He had also seen Éomer and his éored encamped near Aldburg. But most of all, his sight and his thoughts had been upon Théoden.
Denethor had looked westward often since Boromir’s departure. Every time Denethor looked, it seemed as if Théoden had aged another ten years. This night, Denethor had gasped at the sight of his friend’s heir, for Théoden looked as one of the mummified remains in the House of the Stewards. He sighed as he sat in Thengel’s chair. “It would seem there will be no help from Rohan.” Then he remembered Thengel’s vow, repeated by the Horse Lord’s son when Théoden was crowned King of the Mark. “When the time comes, I will still send the Red Arrow. And hope it will be answered.”
He looked up and saw the portrait of Morwen Steelsheen as it hung above the fireplace opposite the huge oak desk. He was so tired, he could not stop the tears that fell. “So many dead,” he whispered. “You, my friend, your lovely bride, Amdir, Listöwel, Arciryas, Indis.” He swallowed convulsively as he thought of Finduilas. “And this year, will my own sons follow? It would seem inevitable. Would that they fall in battle.”
Hirgon entered upon Denethor’s command. The captain of Gondor’s errand-riders saluted, then stood in front of his Steward.
“What is it you wish to see me about, Captain?”
“My Lord Steward, the roads have become more treacherous this past winter. I have lost many riders. There are only eight left. I must ask for more.”
“Have you spoken with my Warden?”
“I have. He suggested I use the esquires, but they are not trained and hardly fit for such dangerous duty. Cannot some men be recruited from the Tower’s own companies?”
“Nay. I agree with Lord Húrin. Take twenty-three from the ranks of those in their last year of training. I have published an order today that the riders be sent out in threes. That should lessen the danger. Have two esquires attached to one seasoned rider.”
“As you wish, my Lord.”
“How is your mother?”
“She is poorly, my Lord. She had a fever this winter and it has left her weak. She sends her regards and fond thoughts, however.”
“She has mine, Captain. Do you still farm your father’s land on the Pelennor?”
“I have workers there, my Lord.”
“I am evacuating Anórien. The Warden suggests that the farmers and their families be settled into houses in the Fourth Circle. These are farmers, Hirgon. They will not be happy living in the City. Are there places on the Pelennor, on the farms, where I may send them instead?”
“I would be grateful to have experienced farmers on my land, though I cannot afford to pay them.”
“Nay. Gondor will pay for their food and such. You would give them shelter and work for their hands. Also, most will bring their livestock with them. We cannot shelter the beasts in the City.”
“There are many soldiers with farms on the Pelennor who are in the same circumstances that I find myself. They would gladly accept such help. It would pose little problem to house their livestock. Spring comes soon; the beasts will not need shelter, only places to graze.”
“Good. Once I have the count, I will ask you to work with Húrin to settle these exiles. I am sorry to place another burden upon you, but you have appointed yourself well in such things in the past and I know you are capable.”
“Thank you, my Lord. It would give me great honor to do this.”
“Good then. Húrin will call you when he is ready to discuss the farmers.” Denethor dismissed him, then sat at his own desk. He wrote his fourteenth missive to Théoden, requesting news about Boromir. No reply had been forthcoming. He bit his lip.
It was now late February and still there was no word of Boromir. Húrin had sent a rider – not to Edoras – to the garrison at Amon Anwar at the beginning of December, to see if any saw or heard of the Heir’s passage to Rohan. When the rider returned, he brought stark news. None had seen Boromir. Denethor pondered the report. ‘Why did not Boromir stop over at the garrison? Why had he ridden on to Rohan with no pause to see his men? After all, Boromir was Captain-General.’ Denethor had thought the boy would stop and do a cursory inspection if naught else. The Steward instructed his Warden to send out another rider, this time to each of the northern beacon hills to inquire if Boromir had stopped at any along the way. The rider came back with strange news: Boromir had not been seen at any of the garrisons. That meant he did not change horses; Denethor’s brow furrowed in dismay. What had come upon his son to not swap mounts, stop for replenishment of supplies, or inspect his men? His head hurt from the struggle to understand this strange behavior.
When Húrin and he spoke, once the rider had reported and been dismissed, his Warden was at a loss also. But Faramir, who had been in the City for Mettarë, suggested the seriousness of the mission with which Denethor had imparted upon his son was the cause of Boromir’s rush to complete it. Denethor had to accept that explanation, but not gladly. Always, Boromir had been rigorous in his attentions to his men; to have him choose to lose the opportunity to meet with them seemed incongruous.
Denethor finally put those thoughts aside and concentrated on his son. From the missives that flew sometimes thrice a day from Ithilien, Denethor knew Faramir was under attack almost hourly. Or leading attacks, for ever did Denethor send his son missives of the enemies’ movements in Ithilien and ever did Faramir obey his father. Which behavior stuck in Denethor’s craw. It should have made the Steward glad, the docile obedience of his son, but this behavior worried him. Faramir, of late, had appeared somehow resigned to all his father’s directives. Even the death sentence for trespassers. ‘Mayhap, ‘tis his concern for Boromir,’ Faramir’s father thought unhappily. ‘I must go back to the stone and see what I may. I do not understand this. And Théoden still refuses to reply to my inquiries. Boromir must be at Imladris. In fact, he should be returned to us by now.’ A low sob tore at him.
As he turned the corner towards the stairwell on the way to the Tower room, Húrin ran into him. “My Lord,” the Warden apologized profusely. “There is a delegation here from Lossarnach. Forlong asks that his men be relieved and sent back for the planting of crops.”
‘I cannot see them now. Tell them nay!” Fury stung his words as he thought of his own son, missing, perhaps lost. “Give them a missive for their lord, a missive stating I expect more men by the beginning of March.” He turned and almost ran up the stairs. “I will not return today,” he growled back.
Hirgon blocked his way as he attempted to pass towards his own quarters. Denethor stopped at the man’s look and sighed. “Come. You wish to speak with me?”
Hirgon nodded. “There are some problems with the errand-riders, my Lord.” He followed Denethor into the Steward’s study. “The esquires are afraid. My seasoned riders balk at having to train them, and there are still not enough for all the missives that are being sent.”
“I will not hear of frightened children or stubborn riders. Hirgon,” he paused. Something in the demeanor of his captain caused him to stop, then draw in a short breath. “Your mother?”
“She died a fortnight ago.” Hirgon’s voice caught.
“I am sorry.” Denethor sat heavily in a chair across from the settle. “Sit. Tell me.”
“There is naught to tell, in truth. I was gone. By the time I returned, she was already in the ground.”
Denethor hung his head in sorrow. “I am sorry. Is there aught…? Do you need aught?”
‘Stoic, stalwart as ever. Just like his father,’ Denethor thought sadly. “The farmers? Are they in established farms?”
“They are, my Lord. Each family has been able to stay together. The farmers of the Pelennor are grateful for free, experienced labor.” Hirgon smiled tiredly.
‘I am sure they are. Your riders? Would you wish me to speak with them?”
“Nay, my Lord. They are so few, they are concerned.”
“Of course they are. Men of Gondor are not simpletons. They know what they face, but they must use the esquires. It is the only way, for the nonce.”
“I will make them understand that, my Lord Steward.”
Denethor nodded in acceptance, then stood. “I loved your father dearly. I am saddened to know your mother is now gone. We can hope that they will be together.”
Hirgon stiffened for a moment, grief overwhelming him at the kind words of the Steward. “Thank you, my Lord. The errand-riders will do you proud.”
“I know they will. As you have, Hirgon. Soon, I will have one important task for you. Send others on the routine errands. Save yourself for my use.”
The captain saluted and left him. Denethor pursed his lips hard. ‘Morgoth’s breath,’ he thought sourly, ‘they will all be dead before this is over.’ He turned and ran from the room.
Though not as young as he once was, and now encumbered by a heavy fighting sword and mail, he still smiled as he easily made it to the top of the Tower. The smile disappeared as soon as he opened the room’s door. He was becoming angry at the stone. Much as he had control and dominion over it for other places and other people, he still could not make the globe show him his own sons. Swearing raggedly, he tore the covering off the Palantír, grasped it firmly, faced north, and began his search.
‘The 25th of February and still no sign of Boromir, no sign of Elves,’ he thought ruefully. The Steward could not see beyond the borders of Gondor, even the ancient ones, and yet he tortured himself by looking, first towards the Anduin. Boromir would surely come that way if he did not come by way of Rohan. He scoured the path of the River until his eyes burned. No sign of anything but a small movement of Orcs running eastward towards Amon Hen. ‘Where are the beasts coming from and where do they head?’ he wondered, but quickly put that thought aside. He was looking for Boromir. He growled for probably the hundredth time and turned his eyes, and thus the Palantír, upon the Mark.
Nothing anywhere near the base of Mindolluin and the Entwash. Struggling against fatigue, he looked further west. Edoras seemed calm and quiet; he did not look to see Théoden; he could not bear the sight of the weakened and useless king. ‘King!’ he scoffed. ‘King in name only. Who heads your country, Théoden? To whom have you given your throne? Not your son!’
When last he looked, at least a fortnight ago, Théodred had taken a Muster from Edoras and headed westward. Denethor was grateful that both Théodred and Éomer had accepted a trade of armor for horses last spring. The men under both Marshals were at least properly armored! He would look to Théodred. Perhaps his Boromir, knowing fully the danger of the land he traversed, would head south to Rohan, and thus return to Gondor from that quarter.
The Fords of Isen were crowded with men. All along the south of it, and some to the east and the north, stood ready for battle. Denethor drew his gaze closer and watched. ‘Ah!’ he sighed, ‘Young Théodred and his éored. And it appears more than his own. I think that is Erkenbrand holds the Keep? Elfhelm marches from Edoras and nears Theoden’s son. I wonder why they are massed thus?’ He thought upon it for a moment and looked south, to the mountains. ‘Perhaps there are Orcs attacking?’ But there were none. Still, Théodred and his riders seemed to be in battle stance. Denethor’s brow furrowed. He looked northward and the breath was stolen from him. Two large bands of Uruks, Orcs, men and Wolf-riders were coming down from Isengard. “Isengard!” he screamed in fury. ‘The wizard shows his true colors!’
The enemy was lined on either side of the Isen, as far as the eye could see. They were headed towards the Fords and Théodred. “If only the stone could speak, could shout,” he sobbed aloud. “I could warn him. He will lose the Fords and die as it is o’ertaken.” Théodred and his éored, though they were many and clothed in Gondorian army, stood little chance. Denethor watched as the battle raged on and was puzzled by the wizard’s tactics. Ever it seemed his underlings turned away from what would be victory, only to follow… He screamed again as the enormity, the horror of it struck him. “Théodred! He means to kill Théodred! Erkenbrand, Théodred! Send for Erkenbrand.” Though the army that marched forward from the wizard’s Tower was vast, still, with the skill of the Rohirrim and the armor of Gondor, and the men of Erkenbrand to uphold him, yet might young Théodred live.
It was not to be. Denethor watched into the afternoon as more and more of Théodred’s forces were cut down. A small group of archers had been sent to one end of the eyot, but Théodred himself had been forced back to the little island in the middle of the river. Hope sprang, for a moment, into Denethor’s eyes, as mounted troops rode forward, very close to hand, but just as their horses’ hooves touched the pebbled beach of the island, he saw a great orc-man. It stepped forward, axe held high, and clove Théodred’s skull before the lad even saw it.
Denethor fell to his knees in horror.
Húrin hovered over his Steward, anxious as ever; Denethor could feel his Warden’s eyes on his back and in his very bones, but there was naught any could do to assuage the Steward’s grief. Once Denethor caught his breath, once he could stay the trembling in his legs, he would go to the practice yard and let the wooden dummy feel his fury over young Théodred’s death. For the nonce, he sat in front of a roaring fire and stared blankly into it. A corner of his mind watched as Húrin left the room, but Denethor had not the strength to explain. Nor could he. It would betray the tool he used and, though he thought Húrin and perhaps Faramir knew what it was, he still wished to keep it secret. The key to the Tower room was ever on the chain around the Steward’s waist; none had a duplicate, and he was not about to let his son look. The price was too great. He groaned in agony as his head pounded. It had been hours since he had looked, but the pain felt as strong as when he left the Tower room. He looked at his hands, old and grizzled with age spots. He chuckled dryly. ‘I am not old enough for hands like these.’ His hips hurt, his lungs… He needed to go to the practice yard. His body could not fail him now. ‘Not while Boromir yet lives.’
Beregond entered and saluted. “My Lord Steward, Prince Imrahil has come. He requests a moment?”
‘Imrahil,’ Denethor thought wildly. Why would the Prince of Dol Amroth be here? The Swan was just here for the Mettarë council. ‘I did not expect him back for another month.’ He stood and motioned for Beregond to wait, strode to his bedchamber and rang the bell. When the servant entered, he requested food and wine set up in his dining room, and then proceeded to disrobe. He could not remember when last he had changed clothes. Yesterday, the day before? The servant helped wash him down, then offered a new set of garments. Denethor let himself be dressed, especially with the mail, then turned and left the room, dragging his wet hair back away from his face.
“Ask Prince Imrahil to enter, Beregond. And send for Húrin.” The knight nodded; a moment later, Imrahil stood before the Steward of Gondor. Denethor stepped forward and embraced him. “My old friend,” he said. “It is good to see you again. Come. I have food prepared. Join me. I have yet to break my fast.” He nodded as his Warden entered. “You too, Húrin, eat with us.”
“I have come directly from the Harlond, Denethor.” Imrahil began. “I have much to speak with you. May we not repair to your study?”
Denethor motioned and the servant quickly gathered up the plates of cheeses, fruit, and meats, and walked behind the three into Denethor’s study. The Steward waited until the platters were arranged and the servant had left them.
“There have been rumors, Denethor. I do not yet know who spreads them, but they speak of defeat, within days.”
“Ah,” Denethor breathed a deep sigh. “So you have come to tell me Belfalas will not send troops when Gondor calls?”
Imrahil threw his gloves into a chair. “Morgoth’s breath, Denethor! I have pledged myself and my knights to you. What further must I do?” Dispiritedly, the Prince of Dol Amroth picked up his gloves and sat. “That is not what I am saying. I am asking, are we under attack?”
Handing a goblet of deepest red wine to his friend and then to Húrin, Denethor sat himself and drank it down. “Théodred is dead.”
“By the Valar! It cannot be. How, Denethor? When?” Both men spoke almost in unison.
“Yesterday, sometime in the evening. Orcs and men – a large contingent from the north. Yet, and this I do not understand, his foe withdrew after he was murdered; they did not stay to finish off Théodred’s troops. Though I suppose that is the crux of the matter. I believe they were bound and determined to kill Theoden’s son. Ordered to assassinate Theoden’s heir. Once the boy was dead, why should they stay? Yet it seems odd to me.” His brow furrowed, grief forgotten in the puzzle.
Imrahil gulped his wine, stood and refilled his glass and Denethor’s. Then he sat. “He was a fine boy.”
“I must discover where they have gone.”
“The enemy. They left after Théodred was murdered. Where did they go? Why did they not attack Edoras? Or Helm’s Deep?”
“Or are they headed towards Gondor?” Húrin asked softly.
“Nay. They would be fools to do that. There is much yet to be won in Rohan. Besides, Sauron himself watches over us.”
Imrahil shivered at the tone in Denethor’s voice, unnatural.
“Is Faramir here yet?”
Denethor’s change of subject nonplussed Húrin, but he quickly recovered and answered, “I am told he left Osgiliath this morning. He should be here in a few hours.”
“I want him at my side when he is told the news.”
“Of course.” Húrin stood and rang the bell. Beregond entered. “Tell the watch to send Lord Faramir here as soon as he enters Minas Tirith.” The guard nodded, saluted, and left.
Imrahil looked down at his hands. “Théodred was a good man. I had thoughts for my daughter.”
“Yes. I could see that.”
“Has there been no word of Boromir?”
“None. Tell me, Imrahil, have you no idea where these rumors sprang from – that Minas Tirith would fall in days?”
“Nay. Whispers. That is all we ever have, Denethor. Whispers of war and defeat and horror. It is not spies from Harad, that I can say for sure, but mayhap from… ”
“It is said that there have been whispers since before the Elves themselves were first found. It is the enemy’s way, Imrahil. The enemy’s way and we listen.”
Faramir entered the room just as nuncheon was being served. His smile broadened when he saw Imrahil. “Uncle!” He embraced the Swan warmly. “It is good to see you. Might Elphir be here?”
“Nay. I came myself and will leave on the morrow. There were things that needed discussion.”
Faramir smiled. “Am I interrupting? Are your discussions finished? Might I spend some time with my father?”
“Time to report, Faramir?” Denethor watched closely. His son had dark shadows under his eyes and the gleam of his smile was not as bright as was the boy’s wont. His heart was aggrieved; they had last parted in anger. ‘Nay,’ he thought, ‘I refused his embrace.’ He pulled Faramir to him. “You are in need of rest and a bath. The ride is long and dusty. Go; I will hold nuncheon until you return.”
Nonplussed, Faramir returned the embrace. “I should return to Henneth Annûn as soon as I give my report, Father. There is much activity in Ithilien, as you well know.”
“I would have you here for a few days, at the least. Húrin has finished the plans for the raising of the Rammas by the North Gate. I thought you might be interested in seeing the plans?”
“Yes, Father. I would. Now, I will avail myself of a bath. I will return -- ” His head turned northward and all color left his face. “The Horn,” he whispered.
Denethor’s face turned white, as did Imrahil’s and Húrin’s. The Steward dropped his goblet and ran from the room, up the stairs, two steps at a time, fumbling for the key as he ran. Into the room, throwing off the cloth, he faced it and turned northward.
Though he could not see him, his eldest, his Heir, his life, Denethor knew Boromir was on Gondorian soil. Somewhere. By the Valar, how he searched! His body knew no rest. He grasped the stone till the muscles in his fingers and palms ached, yet, he would not let it go. He scoured the lands of the Rohirrim, up to the Fords of Isen, over towards Fangorn and Isengard, across the plains of northern Rohan, even unto The Wold, the Downs and the East Emnet.
Finally, collapsing in exhaustion, Denethor scrunched on the floor, his back to the wall, and wailed in despair. The Horn had sounded plaintive, desperate, and, in the end, weak. “Valar!” he cried aloud. “Let him live. Please let him live. He is my all. All I have left. Please. Oh please, let him live.”
A/N – 1) The Lords of Gondor are not all mentioned in Tolkien’s books. The Southern Fiefs, though there are ten mentioned, only have names for the lords of seven. Also, no ‘House’ names are listed for these lords, so I’ve taken the liberty of ‘sub-creating’ my own, based upon the Three Houses of the Edain from the First Age; 2) Théodred and the Muster of Edoras. When the war with Saruman began Théodred without orders assumed general command. He summoned a muster of Edoras, and drew away a large part of its Riders, under Elfhelm, to strengthen the Muster of Westfold and help it to resist the invasion. Unfinished Tales, Part 3, Ch 5, The Battles of the Fords of Isen; 3) Rohan being clothed in Gondorian armor. “The Rohirrim had the advantage in being supplied [with body-armor] by the metalworkers of Gondor. ...” [Author's note.] Unfinished Tales, Part 3, Ch 5, The Battles of the Fords of Isen: Notes; 4) It is said in LotR that Anórien was deserted by the time of the War of the Ring. It was also said that Pippin was surprised at the knowledge Denethor had of all that transpired in Rohan. That is the premise I used to decide to have Denethor be able to ‘see’ into the Mark. Again, regarding Boromir – it ever seems strange to me that Denethor did not ‘see’ Boromir. Not during his time before he passed out of the Mark, nor once the Fellowship reached the lands of Gondor at Parth Galen, for that territory belonged to Gondor; 5) Feb. 26th - “I (Denethor) heard it blowing dim upon the northern marches thirteen days ago, and the River brought it to me, broken: it will wind no more.” as told to Pippin on March 9th LotR: RotK: Minas Tirith, pg. 25-26.
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