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Chapter Twenty-Six - Third Age 3019 - Part Two
February 26, 3019
The three sat or paced in Denethor’s study for over three hours, waiting for the Steward to return. Faramir, as Denethor had run from the room, suggested a sortie northward and was immediately rebuffed by the Warden.
“How goes Rohan?” Faramir asked after another hour passed.
Imrahil looked at Húrin and shrugged. The Warden of the Keys turned from his Steward’s son.
‘What ill news do you keep from me?”
“Your father has asked… The tidings from Rohan can wait.”
Faramir smiled. “The tidings from Rohan? Either Théoden is dead or… Oh by the Valar,” he exclaimed in sudden horror, “It is Théodred!”
Awkwardly the Prince of Dol Amroth took Faramir’s hand. “It is as you say.”
“Théodred cannot be dead.” Faramir knew the Rohir’s death was more than possible, but the Prince of Rohan had been close to both Gondorian brothers. Faramir’s tears fell; he felt the loss keenly. Each of them, Boromir, Faramir, Théodred and Éomer, knew in their heart of hearts that death would be theirs, and probably in battle; they had even spoken of it in jest while sharing a drink at a local inn, when chance happened that two or more of them were together. Yet, Faramir had never imagined that Théodred could possibly die. His memories of the Rohir were vivid: strong, stalwart, brave, fleet of foot, blade of steel… After a few moments remembrance, his thoughts took a new path and he wondered aloud, “How does Father know this? A rider could not possibly have come from Rohan in such a short time.”
“It is possible, if the rider is strong and the horses able, to arrive from the Mering in one full circuit of both sun and moon.”
“Tell me how he died? Does Boromir…” Faramir looked at both men with tears in his eyes. “I was going to ask if Boromir knows.” His mouth grew dry.
Imrahil placed a hand on his nephew’s shoulder. “A fair question, Faramir. You always turned to your brother and he to you, sharing in everything, even sorrow. It is not irrational to wonder if Boromir knows a thing of such import.”
“But not possible this day,” Faramir said and walked to the fireplace, his hands clenched upon the mantelpiece. “It is not folly then, dearest uncle, for me to miss my brother, even in such times?”
“Théodred died in battle!” interrupted Húrin, his voice burning with warrior pride. “He will go to his ancestors with honor. Who could ask for a better death?” The retired Captain of Gondor roared, “I would take such a death with joy!”
“And Boromir winds his horn in the north.” Faramir turned from the fireplace, his eyes wet, but not from the smoke of the fire. Imrahil stood by the window, looking out at what, Húrin could not tell.
The room quieted again and only the soft footsteps of the youngest son of Denethor broke the silence.
“I think it is not possible.” Húrin finally spoke again.
“So you said four hours ago, Húrin, but the sound of the Horn means Boromir is on Gondorian soil! It came from the north and that means somewhere beyond Amon Dîn and probably before Rauros. You have heard its call as often as I have. It was faint, which means it comes from afar.”
“Which is why a sortie is not possible.” Húrin stood up and went to the fireplace. Boromir’s cousin clutched the oaken mantelpiece and bowed his head. Any lower and his hair would have singed. “Your brother is not near enough for our aid. Even sending errand-riders north would not help. The call, as you note, was from afar indeed. It would take days for a rider to find him.” He did not add, ‘or his body.’
Imrahil pulled himself from his own dark thoughts and lowered himself upon one knee at Faramir’s side. “I have never heard the Horn in such distress. I have been at Boromir’s side, in the midst of battle when he has winded it to bring help. Not like what we heard, Faramir. I am sorely afraid for my nephew.”
Faramir’s eyes misted. “He is alive.”
“Of course he is,” Denethor bellowed as he came into the room. “I have sent a sortie northward. I believe that is where the call came from. They should reach him in two days time. Less than that if Hirgon has his way.”
“You sent Hirgon?”
“Who better? Did I not use him these past three years, ferrying missives between Boromir’s troops in the Nindalf and Minas Tirith? He knows the terrain well. Besides that, he has been ordered to stop at Amon Dîn and pick up a company of men to help with the search. The men at the outpost at Rauros have probably already gone to Boromir’s aid, if he is that far north.”
“I would take some men from Henneth Annûn? We could search the eastern side of the Nindalf.” Denethor looked at his son in exasperation. Faramir blushed. “I cannot sit here and do nothing.”
“You will go back to Osgiliath tomorrow. Do not look so dismayed. Do you think I will not send word when Boromir is found? Am I considered that harsh?”
Faramir blushed again. “I will go to Osgiliath and wait, Father.”
“You will do more than wait, Faramir. I need the garrison at Osgiliath aware that the attack will come soon.”
“How do you know this?” Imrahil asked, astonishment writ across the Swan’s face.
“Yesterday, Théodred was murdered. Today, though I know Boromir lives, I believe an attempt was made upon his life. Rohan is besieged on its western borders and Faramir tells me, along with others, that the Enemy sits in readiness. We will be attacked within a fortnight, if not sooner. Therefore, you will return to Dol Amroth and prepare your troops. Do I still have your word? You will bring men?”
Imrahil blushed. “Lord Denethor, a very long time ago I pledged my lands and my men to you. I do not now renounce that pledge.”
“Of course. Forgive me, brother. The southern fiefdoms are vital to Gondor’s defense. I cannot fight alone.”
“You will not, unless Dol Amroth itself is under attack. Even then, I will send you what I may.”
“I hold you to that, Imrahil.”
“Then I will take my leave, brother.” The Prince of Belfalas turned to Faramir. “Hold hope in your heart. Boromir is strong; he will return. As will I.” He smiled and kissed his nephew’s forehead, then turned and grasped Denethor’s arm. “I will come.”
Denethor pulled him close. “I will be here.” Both men laughed, clapped shoulders and Imrahil left them.
“Húrin.” The Warden saluted and left the room. Denethor turned to Faramir, his head bowed, and sat heavily at his desk. “There is news from the west.”
“I surmised it.”
Denethor looked up in surprise. “So you have.” He sighed heavily. “Théodred will be sorely missed. I am afraid we have lost Rohan.”
“Théoden will honor the vow of Eorl.”
“He is weak and has no one of wisdom at his side.”
“Yet he honors his forefathers. He will come.”
“He is besieged. The enemy has retreated, why, I do not know, but they will return and Rohan will be sore-pressed to guard its own people, never mind Gondor’s. We cannot help him, not now.”
“Théoden knows that, Father. He will abandon the Fords if he must and bring his forces here. We can win Edoras back; we cannot win back Gondor. He knows that.”
“What think you of Boromir’s call?”
“He is in need. Father.” Faramir knelt at Denethor’s side. “Let me go north.” His voice caught.
“I cannot. I was a fool to let Boromir go. I should have sent Húrin.”
Faramir smiled. “Húrin is old.”
“He is only a year or two older than I.”
“He does not have your blood, Father.”
“Well I know it. Faramir, I need you here, more than ever. I need… Faramir, do not fail me.”
Swallowing hard, Faramir bowed his own head. “I have not seen the Wizard in over a year.”
“I did not mean that. Ever are you willful and take your own counsel. I do not trust many, my son, but I trust you. Yet… I wonder if you trust me?”
“I do, Father. Again you focus on my decisions. I cannot be but what you have made me.”
Denethor choked. “Disobedient, willful, proud?”
“I think not. I am your son, plain and simple.”
Denethor drew in a sharp, long breath. “It is crucial that you obey me now, Faramir. We come to the end and I would have it be an ending with glory.”
“You do not foresee victory?”
“I do not. I have already planned for the evacuation of the City and the Pelennor; the storehouses are full for the upcoming siege, and the caves under the City have been flooded to prevent the enemy from burrowing under us. There will be no retreat.”
“Father, the City has never been breached.”
“It will,” Denethor whispered, “It will.”
“Then I will go to Osgiliath and do what I can.”
“Do not fall back till the last moment, Faramir. You must hold Osgiliath until the fiefdoms have sent their men. We are especially in need of the forces of Lamedon. Angbor has a great force readied to help us. After that, we will see what needs must be done.”
“I will hold Osgiliath as well as I am able.”
Denethor bit his lip. It would have sufficed Boromir to say, ‘I will hold Osgiliath.’
Faramir watched as Denethor’s face fell, not understanding his father’s sudden chill countenance. “I will leave now?”
“You will send word?”
Anger flared. “I have already promised! Go, now, before the time is too late.”
Denethor’s son bit his lip. “At least, may we part in peace?”
The Steward of Gondor stood and walked to the front of his desk. He pulled Faramir into his arms. “Do not abandon Osgiliath. I will send word when you are to retreat.”
Faramir gasped. “Father!”
“I will send word. Do not abandon Osgiliath until you receive the order.”
The young man pulled away from his father’s embrace. Swallowing hard, he nodded. “If that is your command,” then turned and strode from the room.
February 30, 3019
Hirgon waited for the Chamberlain to note his arrival. He would do anything not to be here, in the Great Hall, at this moment, with this broken symbol in his hands. His tears had flown freely, as had all who had been with him when he found it, lying in the reeds by the mouths of the Entwash. He had stopped to let his horse drink; ‘foul moment,’ his heart wailed once again as he thought upon it. His chin, even now, trembled in remembrance of the grief that had brought him to his knees. He hated its touch, what it meant, what it would do to his Lord, once the Steward’s eyes lit upon it. If he could have run – never as a soldier, a Knight of Gondor, had he ever contemplated deserting – but the long ride from the Entwash had been filled with such thoughts. Hirgon, son of Berelach and Captain of Gondor’s Errand-riders fought the urge to flee this heinous duty, but by duty was he bound. And now he stood in the Great Hall of Minas Tirith to lay the Horn of Boromir upon his lord’s lap.
The Chamberlain finally strode forward, spied the object in Hirgon’s hands, and went white. He clutched his heart and staggered. Fortunately, one of the servants saw the Chamberlain’s distress and stayed his fall.
Hirgon never moved.
The Chamberlain wept. “Must you show it to him?” he sputtered through his tears. “He is weak. Can you not wait another hour or two? I would have him rest. He did not sleep last night.” The voice fairly squeaked with sorrow.
Hirgon did not move nor answer, his own heart broken.
Húrin, seeing the entrance to the Hall blocked by a growing number of soldiers, left Denethor’s side and strode forward. “What is thi—?” His own face fell as recognition and horror enveloped him. “Hirgon, where did you find it?”
“By the Entwash, my Lord Húrin, six leagues south of the Rauros outpost. It was lying amongst the reeds.”
“No sign of…?”
“None. However, I went no further. The garrison’s compliment joined us afterwards. They had seen nor heard aught of Lord Boromir.”
Húrin nodded. “Then…”
Hirgon did not speak. He clutched the Horn to his chest as great sobs engulfed him.
Gondor’s Warden took his arm. “Grieve not in this Hall. Our Steward needs us strong. Wipe your tears and come forward.”
The Chamberlain offered Hirgon a handkerchief and the captain wiped his eyes. He pulled in a deep breath and nodded to Húrin, who led him forth.
Denethor’s eyes lit in joy as he caught sight of Hirgon; he stood and stepped down the stairs, ready to greet the rider with open arms. ‘At last,’ he thought, ‘he brings me news.’ His joy floundered as he recognized the object in Hirgon’s hands. Staggering backwards, he tripped on the bottom step and fell against the foot of the Chair.
Húrin ran forward as did Belegorn. Denethor’s aide reached his lord first and knelt at his side, but Denethor brushed him away, kneeling on the cold marble floor as he tried to raise himself up. His legs would not obey him. Belegorn once again offered his hand and Denethor, his eyes not leaving Hirgon’s, took it and stood, leaning against his aide.
Hirgon knelt before Denethor. “I found it by the Entwash, my Lord Steward, not two days ago. I could not find the other half.”
Denethor stepped forward, still clinging to Belegorn’s arm. He knelt in front of the errand-rider and placed his hand gently on the broken Horn. Clenching his teeth, he fought to keep his tears at bay. “This new day, the sun not hardly o’er the mountains to our east, all ready to shine upon us, is the darkest day of my life.” He looked up into Hirgon’s brimming eyes. “No sign?”
The rider shook his head.
“The garrison at Rauros?”
“Heard naught. Nor saw aught.”
Denethor nodded. “Might I have it?”
Hirgon wept openly. “It is thine, my Lord. Come back to thee.” Gently, he opened his hands and Denethor took the cloven Horn into his own.
The Steward sat back against his heels and caressed the kine’s gift to Gondor. The Hall was as silent as Rath Dínen, though by now crowded as rumor of the dire find filled the Citadel; the barracks of Gondor’s knights emptied and spilled into the Hall.
At last, Denethor stood, swaying a little. Belegorn never left his side, nor took his hand from Denethor’s arm. The Steward of the High King looked upon his men, gathered in shock and grief. “He is not dead,” he whispered. Turning towards the Chair, he disengaged his arm from Belegorn’s and strode forward, back straight and head held high. “He is not dead,” he whispered again as he bent and retrieved the Rod from where he had let it fall. “He is not dead,” he said once more as he sat in the Chair. “He is not dead.”
Hirgon motioned and the Chamberlain and guards cleared the Hall.
“What say you, Húrin? The trebuchets? Are they ready? Are their company’s now well trained?”
Hirgon looked to Húrin in confusion. The Warden spoke softly. “They are, my Lord. Though I would we had more men.”
Denethor’s sour laugh rang harshly in the Hall. “Men. Is that not what we are always in need of? Have I not even given of my sons?” His eyes misted and his voice broke as Húrin placed a hand on his arm. He moved it off, gently but firmly. “Hirgon, you still stand before us? You must be weary. Get yourself to your farm and take some rest.” He paused. “Nay. The Pelennor must be evacuated. And the livestock saved, if at all possible. Húrin, according to your last count, we have lost two of the grain storehouses?”
The Warden nodded, “Rot and vermin.” Húrin motioned for Hirgon to leave. The soldier saluted as tears streamed down his cheeks, then left the Hall.
“Naught that we have much sway over. Have the farmers bring what food they may.” Denethor’s brow furrowed. “The plans for evacuation of the City are complete?”
“They are, my Lord. All stands in readiness, but,” and Húrin paused, “never has this City been breached. Though I have prepared, as you ordered, I cannot see this being the end.”
“Then open your eyes wider, my good cousin. Unless Théoden becomes a new man, we have not much hope. In fact, I see none, but that of a warrior’s quick death. That is what you wish for, is it not, my dear Warden?”
“It is,” Húrin readily agreed. “If I might, I would like to lead my old company, when battle is upon us.”
“Granted.” At last, the Steward of Gondor closed his eyes and slumped in the Chair. “Belegorn,” he called quietly and the soldier knelt before him. He opened his eyes. “Look at this and speak of what it tells you.” He held the Horn out.
Belegorn studied it through misted eyes. “It has been cloven by an axe, possibly a sword, but large, very large if I deem the signs rightly.” He shook his head in wonder. “The cut is not old. No more than a week, at best.”
“As I too surmised. It does not bode well for Boromir.”
Belegorn could not speak, only shake his head.
The Steward took a deep breath. “Oft have I said I would give all to Gondor’s defense. My word now comes back to haunt me.”
A clamor arose at the entrance to the Hall and the Chamberlain ran forward. “My Lord Steward, Captain Faramir comes.”
“Oh!” Denethor sobbed. He looked down upon the Horn, then back to the Chamberlain, stricken. “Have him meet me in my private study.” He stood and left the Hall by the back corridor, carrying the Horn with him. Húrin strode as quickly as he could, hardly able to keep up with his Steward’s pace. At last they reached Denethor’s private quarters, Belegorn pushed open the door and followed his lord inside. He entered the study after Denethor and went to the cupboard, pulling out a large whiskey bottle. He poured a glass and handed it to Denethor. The Steward took it and swallowed the contents, handed it back to Belegorn, and sat on the settle across from the fireplace. Húrin placed several pieces of wood upon the embers, along with kindling, and tended the fire.
A few moments later and there was a diffident knock upon the door. Belegorn opened it and bid Faramir enter. The guard gasped at the sight of the Steward’s youngest, for the captain’s hair was disheveled, his clothes mud-stained and rumpled, and his eyes red, swollen, and dark-circled. But it was not the appearance of the Lord Faramir that broke Denethor’s aide’s heart; on the contrary, it was the sight of the other half of Boromir’s cloven Horn in the man’s hands. He cried out in grief.
Denethor’s youngest son stumbled into the room, exhaustion writ plainly upon his face. Belegorn took his arm and brought him to the settle. Faramir pulled himself up and saluted. “Captain Faramir, reporting, my Lord.”
Denethor did not look up, merely placed his hand on the empty space beside him and said, “Sit.”
Faramir looked about him in confusion. Húrin’s face was gray, as was Belegorn’s. The aide forced a glass into Faramir’s hand as he sat. He took it and swallowed the brandy in one gulp.
Denethor still stared into the fire, not speaking nor further acknowledging his son.
Faramir’s eyes reddened even more as he fought to control the tears that had accompanied him on the long road from Osgiliath. Fatigue overcame him and he leaned his head back against the leather cushion, closing his eyes in grief.
“Faramir,” the voice of his father was low, but he had difficulty recognizing it, so filled with… He did not know; in his grief and tiredness, he could barely identify his own voice.
“Faramir, Boromir’s Horn has been returned to me.”
The man jumped up from the settle in utter bewilderment. He had not noted that his father had even looked towards him. How could he have seen the Horn that lay next to him on the settle?
“I suppose you wonder how I came by it,” the soft voice spoke again, “Hirgon brought it back from Rauros. He found it in the reeds. I… I … Boromir… It would seem…” The young man watched as his father’s jaw clenched. “It would seem my son has fallen. Show him, Húrin.”
Faramir looked to the Warden, questions filling his eyes; then they opened wide as he beheld the other half of Boromir’s Horn in Húrin’s outstretched hands. He clenched his teeth, as his father had done before him, and swayed a bit. Belegorn handed him another glass of brandy. Faramir pushed it aside, then sank to his knees in front of Denethor. Leaning close, he held his half of the Horn in front of him. “Father. One of the soldiers in my company found this about three leagues north of Osgiliath.” He waited, but Denethor did not even glance at him. “Father?”
At last, Denethor’s head came up, but not far enough to look into his son’s eyes; he was stayed by the sight before him. In Faramir’s hands lay the other half of the Horn. “So we have both pieces now,” he said quietly. “It cannot be winded again, you know. We could probably have it covered in hide and it would not seem so… broken. Yet, to wind it would tear the covering and thus make it useless again.” His brow furrowed. “Useless.” He heaved a sigh. “All I do has been for naught, Húrin. Have you not noted that?” He took the Horn from Faramir and motioned to Húrin. His Warden passed him the other half. Gently, Denethor put the two pieces together. “See here, Faramir. Here is the wound that broke my son’s Horn.”
Faramir bit his lip.
“Leave us.” Húrin left and Belegorn, after handing another glass to Denethor, left also.
Denethor stared at the Horn for another few moments while Faramir knelt. “Get up, son,” the Steward said gently. “Sit next to me and tell me of Boromir.”
Faramir began to quietly weep. After a moment’s grace and a nod of encouragement from his father, he spoke, “My first memory was riding upon his back in the nursery.” He paused, caught his breath and continued, “I fell off and banged my head and cried. Our nanny shouted at him and I kicked her.” A watery smile interrupted the story. “She went to hit me, but Boromir tripped her and we ran from the room. I think you let her go soon afterwards.” Faramir’s chin shook. He put his hands to his face and dug their heels into his eyes, his shoulders shaking.
“I remember his first sword practice.” The Steward swallowed the drink, then carefully put the glass on the table. “I knew he would be great. He held the blade as if he were born with it in his hands. It was heavier than the normal practice sword for the swordmaster said Boromir was large for his age and could well handle it. He was right. Boromir swung it with ease. Your mother hated that I gave him such a weapon.” He smiled, “He was only seven at the time, but I deemed it time enough, given his stature and build.”
Faramir could not add anything more. His grief, sitting at his father’s side, was finally unbound and he had all he could do not to wail aloud.
“He is not dead,” Denethor whispered.
Faramir moaned. “Father,” he laid a hand upon Denethor’s arm. “I have not told you all. I had… I saw something on the Anduin last night at the midnight hour.” His father did not speak. Faramir took a deep breath.
“Sitting by the River, watching as we always do, I spotted something moving upon it. I stood and stepped into the shallows and walked northwards to see it more clearly. I needn’t have moved; it came towards me as if by command.” Faramir bit his lip. “There was a warrior in the boat, for that is what it was; a craft the like of which I have never seen.” Faramir stopped, mouth open, gasping to fill his suddenly empty lungs. “It was Boromir, Father. Even if I had not known his beloved face, I knew his gear, his cloak, his sword – it was broken, Father.” The young man shivered. “His collar of silver lay heavy on his throat. It was not a dream; a belt was about his waist, one I had never seen before. I could not have made that up.” Once again, the Steward’s youngest clenched his teeth. “I do not doubt that Boromir is dead.”
Denethor said not a word in reply; another hour at least passed.
At last, Faramir overcame his grief and could speak again. “He was at peace, Father, I am sure. I felt only grief and pity as I looked upon him. He had been wounded, terribly, for the marks were upon him, but he had been lovingly placed in the boat with full honors, I would deem.”
“Full honors.” Denethor’s brow rose. “Yet, you could not stop the boat, bring his body back to me?” The suddenly harsh voice made Faramir shiver. “You let his body drift away from you, to go down the Anduin to the sea and be lost forever?” The enormity of what could possibly happen to his Heir’s body blazed through him as a flame in his spirit. Denethor’s jaw dropped and the Steward himself had to gasp to bring needed air to his suddenly starved lungs. He stood, his face livid, and pulled Faramir to his feet. “You left your brother’s body to be found by the Enemy?” The Steward’s voice was now ice, as it oft turned when he spoke to a recalcitrant lord, and Faramir flinched. “Even though dead, they will tear him limb from limb. They will cut off his head and skewer it on a pike. They will tear out his eyes and fight over them as tasty delicacies.” Denethor fell to the floor, pulling Faramir with him. “You would let them take him!” he screamed. “Vile betrayer!”
Húrin burst through the door along with Belegorn. Both men ran to their Steward and helped him back upon the settle. Húrin moved to Faramir’s side and dragged the boy from his father’s grasp.
Faramir stood in helpless grief and horror. “I could not reach him, Father,” he wept openly. “Before I could move, the boat turned out into the open water. I could not reach him. It was as if he were in the grip of some enchantment.”
At that, Denethor looked up; his face so filled with hate that Faramir stepped back.
“Mithrandir!” he whispered. “You let the Wizard take my son!”
Slowly, the Warden maneuvered Faramir out of Denethor’s sight and into the next room. “Do not listen to him, Faramir,” Húrin counseled. “He has not slept since the news of Théodred’s death. He knows not what he says.”
Faramir pulled himself up and looked coldly at the Warden. “Have you ever known my father not to know what he is saying?”
The tone was so like unto Denethor’s that Húrin gasped. Nevertheless, he thrust his own dismay aside and held onto the boy. “He has not slept in four days; I know not if he has eaten a thing. He is beyond exhausted. Do not hold him to his words nor judge him falsely.”
“Look after him, Húrin. I will return for the daymeal, if he will see me.” With that, and a final glance at the closed door to the study, Faramir, youngest son of Denethor, left his father’s quarters.
March 1, 3019
“Where is Faramir?” Húrin asked as they met for the breaking of their fast. “He was not at the daymeal yestereve.”
“He is in Osgiliath by now. After that, he will move deep into Ithilien. Southron forces are moving north along the road towards the Black Gate. Though he will not be able to stop them, he will be able to harry them.” The Steward’s tone was flat.
“Why, Denethor? Could you not give him one more day to grieve?”
The Steward of Gondor turned from his Warden and looked out the window. Habit, he supposed, for there was naught to see; Anor had yet to cross over the mountain to brighten the day. The fruit trees on the Pelennor, whether they could be seen or no, would be in bloom; the smell would be wondrous. He bit his lip, remembering how Ithilien would smell. How he loved that land! It had been years; he could not even remember when he had last smelt the thyme and rosemary, the roses and irises. Irises! His heart clenched in remembrance of his sister, dead these many years. And Amdir too. ‘All I have is death for remembrance. And now Boromir has joined the list.’ At the thought of his son lying dead in some forgotten glade, his heart tore open even further. He gasped and pulled at his tunic, tugging it away from his neck as he tried to catch his breath. The pain in his chest seared beyond endurance. With great effort, he strove to breathe again. After many moments, he stepped away from the window, grateful that Húrin seemed not to note his distress.
“We did not have dead from the House of Húrin to mourn this past Memorial Day, my dear cousin. Next year, if there be a Minas Tirith in which to hold such a ceremony, we will have many. The lists will be long.” He paused. “I suppose, even if we are hiding in the mountains with our tails tucked between our legs, we shall have some sort of observance. The people have needs for such rituals.”
“We should go to the Three Fishermen and get drunk.”
Denethor turned and looked at his Warden in surprise. “I did not think you ever drank to excess.”
“Not often, but today calls for some deed to allay the heart’s gloom.”
Sitting at his desk, Denethor shuffled through papers, not seeing anything before his eyes for his mind was still upon Faramir and the anger he had felt towards his remaining son. ‘Yet, if the Wizard had something to do with Boromir’s death,’ he mused, ‘would Faramir have known?’ His mind reeled with hurt and confusion.
“I said, this day calls for action.”
Denethor looked up in surprise. “What do you keep to yourself that you hint at? What is it that you needs must tell me, but are too timid?”
“There was a mishap an hour ago.”
The Steward looked up, expectantly.
“The half company on Trebuchet Seven. They had new recruits; the captain determined a practice run would be beneficial.”
Denethor sat back in his chair, the papers in his hands crumpling. “How many?”
“Who was the captain?”
“Did he not serve with Boromir?”
“Many years ago. He saved Boromir’s life when they fought against a mûmak. He was raised to a captaincy two years ago and led a sortie under Boromir at the Battle of Cair Andros.”
“Yes, I remember him. Boromir thought well of him. He has experience.” Denethor stood up. “We did not lose… ?”
“Nay, my Lord, Ragnor lives. There were esquires under his command. From what I can discern, they panicked and the machine rolled back, crushing most of them against the opposite wall. A few of the more experienced tried to help and lost their lives also.”
Denethor rubbed his chin. “We cannot lose Number Seven. It faces directly eastward.”
“Nay. We will bring more esquires and give them lesser work in the company. Leave the direct operation to those who have been trained.”
“We can no longer lose one man, never mind fourteen, Húrin.”
“Well I know it, my Lord.”
“Have letters been taken to the families?”
“Not yet. I was preparing them before I joined you.”
“I would sign them.”
“I spent the night in turmoil. I must needs attend something this day. Have the letters brought here at nunch-- for the daymeal. If you need me, send Beregond. He will know where I am.”
“Thank you, my Lord.” Húrin stood, saluted and left the room.
Denethor broke off a piece of bread and chewed it as he walked to his door. He put on his cloak and climbed slowly up the steps of the Citadel. When he reached the uppermost room, he unlocked the door and went in. Scarcely able to control his shuddering body, he ignored the stone and looked out the window. Anor had defeated the mountains and now shone brightly down upon the Anduin. “Faramir,” he whispered. “Come back to me whole.”
He stood there for some long time, then turned to the globe. ‘Now that Boromir is dead,’ he wondered, ‘will you, accurséd stone, show me his body?’ Taking in two deep breaths, he strode forward, took the covering off, and let it fall to the floor. He felt the darkness before the stone even opened to his mind. ‘Sauron,’ he whispered, ‘what have you for me this day? Think you I will cower? I will not. No matter the news that comes to my ears, no matter,’ he stifled the scream that tried to rise from his gorge, ‘no matter the sights before my eyes. Gondor will not fall. We will fight you to the end.’
There was no response, not even a flicker. The stone lay as dead before him. No matter what he did, it refused to open to him. He nodded, covered it, and left the room.
March 2, 3019
The next day, as red shafts from Anor’s breaking filled the sky, Denethor strode to the Tower room. The stone opened to him as soon as he put his hands on it. There before him lay Rohan with Edoras as its crown. The roof of the Golden Hall shone brightly. For a moment, Denethor did not look. He did not want to see the drooling thing that was once the stalwart King of Rohan. Instead, his gaze was drawn northwards. He drew in a shaky breath and clutched the stone harder. ‘Do my eyes deceive me? Is it the Wizard? He travels to Edoras? Is my son with him? Nay,’ he shook his head, ‘Boromir is dead. If he ever rode with Mithrandir, the Wizard deigned not to save him.’ With all his strength, he forced the stone to draw closer to the three horses riding across the grasslands towards the Golden Hall.
After an hour’s close scrutiny, he closed his eyes and took his hands from the globe. ‘I cannot be certain. It cannot be him. Why would he ride with… ?’ He opened his eyes once again and forced the stone to do his bidding. “Thorongil,” he whispered brokenly. “My friend… and traitor to Gondor. So you ride with the Wizard.” A harsh laugh broke the silence of the room. ‘I should have known.’
He watched as the three riders, nay, he corrected himself, four, two single riders and one mount with two ahorse, rode towards the gates of the city of Edoras. They entered, after being accosted by at least a dozen Rohirric guards, into the city itself. Denethor shook his head as anger flared through him. ‘So you open your doors to the Wizard. I should have known. He is the one who has changed you, taken the strength from your arms and legs, made you a doddering fool.’
It was difficult to see, once they entered into the darkness that served as a throne room for Théoden. Rubbing his eyes for a moment, Denethor squinted further, but could not discern what was about. At last, he gave up and returned to his rooms, ate a quick meal, and joined Húrin in a tour of Trebuchet Seven. He signed the letters the Warden had written and gave them back to Húrin, then walked back to the Tower room, hoping that whatever had transpired within the dim confines of Meduseld would now be opened to the light of day.
In his surprise at the sight that greeted him in the stone, he shouted, “Valar!” Théoden sat upon his horse in front of at least a thousand men, riding westward with the Wizard and Thorongil at his side. Denethor moaned in despair. “You travel the wrong way, Théoden,” he shouted aloud, “Turn back. Stay at Edoras until Gondor calls. It will be soon.”
But the Rohirrim rode on, heedless of the Steward’s anguish. ‘So - truly Rohan will not answer. Why goes he westward? He knows the battle lies to the east. To Gondor.’
Denethor drew away from the sight of the éoreds marching away from him and turned instead to the Fords of Isen where Théodred had been lost not seven days before. A battle was in hand. Théoden could not possibly arrive in time. Denethor shuddered as he watched the forces left there succumb to the attack of the enemy. It was a fierce battle and hard fought, but the Riders of Rohan were no match for the might that was arrayed against them. The Steward watched well into the night as the Men of the Mark were forced to retreat – to Helm’s Deep, he supposed.
At last, exhaustion overcame Denethor; he dropped the cloth over the stone and walked the steps to his own rooms, falling upon his bed, sleeping almost before his head touched the pillow, tear tracks gleaming in the moonlight.
A/N – 1) But lest you still should think my tale a vision, I will tell you this. The horn of Boromir at least returned in truth, and not in seeming. The horn came, but it was cloven in two, as it were by axe or sword. The shards came severally to shore: one was found among the reeds where watchers of Gondor lay, northwards below the infalls of the Entwash; the other was found spinning on the flood by one who had an errand in the water. Strange chances, but murder will out, ‘tis said.’ RotK: Ch. 4: Of Herbs and Stewed Rabbit. 2) "I sat at night by the waters of Anduin, in the grey dark under the young pale moon, watching the ever-moving stream; and the sad reeds were rustling. So do we ever watch the shores nigh Osgiliath, which our enemies now partly hold, and issue from it to harry our lands. But that night all the world slept at the midnight hour. Then I saw, or it seemed that I saw, a boat floating on the water, glimmering grey, a small boat of a strange fashion with a high prow. and there was none to row or steer it.
"An awe fell on me, for a pale light was round it. But I rose and went to the bank, and began to walk out into the stream, for I was drawn towards it. Then the boat turned towards me, and stayed its pace, and floated slowly by within my hand's reach, yet I durst not handle it. It waded deep, as if it were heavily burdened, and it seemed to me as it passed under my gaze that it was almost filled with clear water, from which came the light; and lapped in the water a warrior lay asleep.
"A broken sword was on his knee. I saw many wounds on him. It was Boromir, my brother, dead. I knew his gear, his sword, his beloved face. One thing only I missed: his horn. One thing only I knew not: a fair belt, as it were of linked golden leaves, about his waist. Boromir! I cried. Where is thy horn? Whither goest thou? O Boromir! But he was gone. The boat turned into the stream and passed glimmering on into the night. Dreamlike it was. and yet no dream, for there was no waking. And I do not doubt that he is dead and has passed down the River to the Sea." Ibid.
3) for the use of whiskey. The distillation process was brought back to Ireland by monks in the 7th and 8th century; brandy came about sometime around 1100 AD. I’ve had people question this a number of times, one for and one against, so I’m putting this information here in the A/N’s to defer any negative comments. Yeah, sure! g
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