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Ch. 26 - 10 March 3019
Dark covered the Tower room as Denethor pulled his hands from the Palantír. Though the days were become warmer, the nights were still cold, and dawn yet to come upon the City. He pulled his heavy cloak about him as he stepped back from the plinth. He could hardly remember walking up the stairs – so heavy was his heart.
The meeting with the lords the previous evening had been as fruitless and frustrating as he had imagined. They quibbled long into the night. It sickened him as many of them vied for postings where the fighting would not be fierce. Duinhir, Hurluin, and Imrahil said naught, leaving the placement of their men up to the Steward of Gondor. ‘If only more lords were like these three,’ he thought. At last, holding his anger, he dismissed them and proceeded to ascend to the Tower Room.
The Lord of Gondor spent the night there in another kind of battle. Despair clawed at his shoulders as he put the cloth back upon the now-silent stone and returned to the Great Hall. As he walked along between the statues of the kings, a great lassitude filled him. He sat and accepted the Rod from his waiting Chamberlain. Soon the Hall would fill – for now, he took some comfort in the quiet, willing himself to fight the ache in his head that the Palantír always induced. It slowly subsided.
A few minutes later, Denethor found himself strangely pleased when the Halfling entered with Mithrandir. His heart lifted and, though he did not at first acknowledge the small one, he watched him from the corner of his eye, smiling to himself as Peregrin fidgeted, shifting from one hair-covered, shoeless foot to the other. But at last, Denethor felt the little one could bear the wait no longer. The Steward of Gondor turned and asked of his day, noting with pleasure the Halfling’s surprise at his mention of the scarcity of food for the breaking of the day’s fast. ‘This one was so very easy to read.’ Denethor breathed a bit deeper to keep from laughing aloud at Peregrin’s obvious discomfiture.
However, the weight of the day returned with the appearance of four or five lords at the Door. “I understand, Master Peregrin,” Denethor began, determined to let them wait, “that my soldiers think less of me for the lateness of the lighting of the beacons?” The Halfling started in surprise, but said not a word. The thought of soldiers filled Denethor with a deep sadness. He suddenly wished for a song, like unto the ones he and his company oft sang on a long march. He had not thought of his old days in a long time – his days with Amdir and stalwart men like Duilin and Derufin. He vowed to meet with the sons of Dúinhir before the battle began. For a brief moment, his thoughts strayed further, wondering upon Faramir and where his youngest – his only son – now rode.
Denethor steeled himself, as he had learned to do when he was but twelve, and knew that not even the Wizard, for all his wiles, could sense the longing in his heart for simpler times: with his soldiers as a young, almost care-free lieutenant, with his beloved Finduilas as they rode out upon the Pelennor, with Boromir… His jaw clenched imperceptibly. He had, under his father’s hard hand, become adept at presenting an emotionless exterior to the world.
The Steward of Gondor finally took pity upon Peregrin, sending him off to the armories, for he found he could not bear the sight of the ragged, homespun clothes and travel-stained cloak that covered the Halfling. He stifled another smile as the little thing ran from the room – and was surprised to find the same such urge for escape in his own heart. To be free from care and duty!
Imrahil entered without announcement as the Halfling ran past him. Húrin followed closely behind the Prince of Dol Amroth. The Warden of the Keys brought with him Forlong and Dervorin. The Chamberlain stepped forward and announced the other five lords who stood now in apparent impatience. Denethor beckoned and they came forward. The Lord of Lossarnach saluted, then sat on one of the seats set up in front of Denethor’s Chair, releasing a loud belch.
Denethor turned to him as Imrahil and the other lords sat. “I see you had sufficient food for the breaking of your fast.”
Forlong squirmed, trying to settle himself comfortably. At last he gave up the attempt.
“Lord Chamberlain,” he called, forgetting Denethor in his discomfort. “Bring me a larger chair, will you? This seat is not fit for a warrior such as myself.” He grumbled loudly. “Could hardly fit my wife.”
Remembering that Denethor had questioned him, he stood and faced the Steward. “My Lord, I brought my own meals, knowing we are probably in for a long siege. Though we have paid extra taxes these past three years to furnish supplies for just such an inevitability, I thought Minas Tirith might yet be pressed to provide the meals I need to keep up my strength. No offense meant.”
He muttered again under his breath, though loud enough for all to hear him in the echoing Hall: “Though from the scant dole I saw Dervorin receive this morning for his portion, I was more than right in providing my own. Not enough for even a mouse.” He sat upon the larger, stuffed chair that a servant had brought while he was speaking. “This is much better.” Another belch echoed through the Hall.
At that moment, Peregrin, in full livery, returned. Denethor, however, did not note it. The Steward’s eyes were filled with fury at Forlong’s insult. “My men ate what all in the City ate.” His voice, though low and quiet, barely hid his anger. “Perhaps if the taxes agreed upon had been paid…” A barely noticeable shiver ran through him; Faramir had almost died on that march to collect the lords’ promised coin. His son still suffered from bouts of the fever that had raked his body last year. Controlling himself, he turned to Imrahil. “Is there a possibility you brought trained trebuchet men with you?”
Imrahil looked up in surprise. He had been clutching the hilt of his sword as Forlong spoke. The Lord of Lossarnach was a good leader, valiant warrior, and loyal fief lord, but his avarice for food and coin, though legendary, was ill suited for this grave hour. “Forgive me, my Lord.” He stood but immediately sat at Denethor’s motion. “I have brought a half company. I regret it is not more. My own keep must be protected with so many of my Knights here.”
“They are experienced?”
“The youngest has ten years under his belt.”
Denethor nodded. Imrahil never failed him. “Húrin, have them sent to Captain Ragnor. Tell him to take first pick and then send the others off to the other stations.” He turned again to Imrahil. “Those of your men who are horsed will be stationed in the First Circle, in case a sortie must be sent out upon the Pelennor. The others I would place at the Second and Third Gates. None have ever breached Minas Tirith, but I will not tempt fate.”
Imrahil saluted. “I will command my Knights.”
“I would have you here at my side. I value your counsel.”
“It will be so, my Lord.”
“Dervorin…” Denethor stopped as Mithrandir stood, gave him a stiff bow and left the room. Striving mightily to keep from calling the Wizard back, Denethor continued with the placement of Dervorin’s men.
The morning went on. None of the lords received the postings they had so fought for the night before. At last, the Chamberlain stepped forward. Denethor nodded and the man announced nuncheon. The lords filed out of the Hall to Merethrond, their discourse none to gentle.
Peregrin looked about him. Denethor smiled. “That livery fits you well. Go with Húrin and see that the men are fed. After they are done, you may eat. Go.” With alacrity, the little one left him. Denethor held Imrahil back with a look. “Come with me,” he said and left the Hall through the back door. They walked along the cold inside corridor until they reached Denethor’s private chambers. The guard saluted and opened the door. “Have nuncheon brought here,” the Steward ordered then closed the door behind him.
“Will not the other lords be affronted?”
“Húrin will see that they are well fed and the wine flows – for today. “
Imrahil sat and accepted a glass of wine. Denethor sat opposite him. A fire crackled in the brazier. “I cannot seem to rid myself of this chill.” Denethor sighed. “I hope it is not too warm for you?”
“No. Are you not well, Denethor?”
“Well enough. Just chilled. The Hall is cold, even on the warmest of days, and today is not one of those.”
The food came; two men stayed and served them. They ate in silence. When finished, Denethor sat back. The servants stepped forward, removed the platters, dishes, linen and such and left. The silence stretched until it became uncomfortable.
“If you wait for an apology,” Imrahil began but stopped when Denethor rose; the high-backed chair fell back with a deafening thud.
“Morgoth take you,” the Steward whispered. Pain-filled eyes skirted across Imrahil’s face and then quickly turned away.
The Prince of Dol Amroth stood, strode to Denethor’s side, and took his arms. “Denethor!” Concern skittered across his proud face. “You are ill!”
“Not ill but tired. Beyond tired, my brother.” He swayed into Imrahil’s hands and cursed himself for this show of weakness. “I have not slept the night since Boromir left us.”
Imrahil pulled him quietly to the settle in front of the brazier, took his wine glass, and replaced it with a shot glass filled with whiskey. “Drink this.”
Denethor accepted it gratefully and downed it quickly. A hot fire filled his stomach. He laid his head back against the settle and closed his eyes.
“You did not sleep last night?”
“When? Gondor’s business does not end when a Council meeting does.”
Imrahil sat on a chair at Denethor’s left. He waited.
“It is I who must apologize,” Denethor said, his voice tired and low. “I know you love Boromir. Loved.” He nearly choked. “I have held his Horn and tears will not come. My mind tells me he is dead but my heart refuses to believe it. How Faramir endures this, I cannot say. He doted upon Boromir. I pray he does nothing foolish in the midst of his grief. I can ill afford to lose him.”
“He is a good son - and captain.”
“If I could, I would keep him here, but I could not do that, even for Boromir. Imrahil,” Denethor sat forward, “Faramir should be here shortly. After he finishes giving report, will you not go to him, spend some time with him? I cannot. There will be another Council meeting where I will share the news he brings.”
“I will go to him, brother.”
Denethor leaned back, his shoulders slumping. “It is time to return to the Hall.”
The Steward motioned to Húrin as he entered the Hall and his Warden walked soundlessly to his side.
“I know the love Boromir had for Beregond, and that Faramir now holds for the guard,” Denethor began slowly, “but the man speaks treason. Take him aside, then report back to me.”
Húrin’s mouth hung agape. “He is as loyal to the House of Stewards as any soldier I have ever known, my Lord. Who speaks ill of him?”
“I saw it in the Halfling’s eyes. Doubt has been sewn there – and not by the Wizard. Peregrin spent the day in Beregond’s company. His captain told me there are reports of a loose tongue. The guard questions me – the lighting of the beacons, the shoring of the North Gate, the…”
“But my Lord, he knows not that the Rohirrim were in battle and could not possibly come! That we still are not sure if Théoden King lives. That the North Gate was left till last, due to our trust in our Rohirric ally.”
“Do you question me, Húrin?” Denethor’s tone held that edge of harshness that often quailed his cousin.
“My Lord. You know I do not. I trust you.”
“Ah ha! Therein lies the rub. I strove to earn my men’s trust. And in most, I deem I have it. And loyalty! Yet, there will always be ones like Beregond…” His mind whispered, ‘And Faramir.’ He pulled his cloak tighter, “who believe they know better.”
“But not Beregond, my Lord. Boromir trusted him, completely.”
“Beregond does not trust me. I should have banished him when I discovered his disobedience two years ago, but I let Boromir dissuade me and had the man only lose his rank!”
Húrin bit his lip – obedience and loyalty had always been of paramount importance to his cousin.
“Keep him under watch, Húrin, and report to me any further transgressions.”
“I will, my Lord, though he is away from the city on errand to the Guard Towers upon the Causeway. With Hirgon and two other riders away, I had to send him. He will not return before sun sets. Nuncheon is over. Would you have me call the lords together?”
“No. Let me have a moment’s rest; we will meet again at the ninth hour.”
Peregrin came into the Hall, ran forward when Denethor beckoned, and stood slightly behind and to the left of Denethor’s Chair. After a little less than an hour, Denethor motioned the Halfling forward. Putting the maps aside, he said, “Though you have told me something of Boromir’s death, I know naught of your times together on the journey here. We have one hour.” He hesitated. “Ingold told me he saved your life?”
Uninvited, the Halfling sat on the bottom step, much to Denethor’s surprise, and began. The Steward listened to the account of near-death on Caradhras. At Denethor’s encouragment, Peregrin launched into the tale of his first meeting with Boromir and how much he had liked him – a lordly and kind man.
“The other man who helped my son carry your party from the blizzard, did he have a name?”
“Strider,” Peregrin said without hesitation. “We met him in Bree. We’d have never reached Rivendell if not for Strider.”
The bell rang for the ninth hour. Denethor looked up towards the entrance and noted Húrin stood waiting. “We must leave further tales aside for now. And even thought of song.” The Steward stifled a smile at Peregrin’s obvious look of horror. Denethor had noted the little one’s shiver when first he had mentioned it earlier in the day. Peregrin stood and moved to his appointed place near the Chair. Denethor motioned and the lords came forth, occupying their former places.
At the eleventh hour, Denethor released them and the Halfling. As the lords passed by, the Chamberlain strode forward and whispered in Húrin’s ear. The Warden came back through the metal doors and strode back to the Chair. “Beregond returns.”
“Do as I ask,” ordered the Steward.
Húrin paused. “The darkness grows.”
Denethor, nodded, turned and left the Hall.
The Steward of Gondor sat in his private chamber, allowing the anger and disappointment of the last few hours to leach from him. The room was warm, the brazier had a few coals left upon it, but Denethor was in need of more comfort than a fire could give him; his fury at Faramir’s treachery lay upon his heart, unabated.
His City still swayed after the onslaught of the great beast’s calls from the sky. Though he had been deep within his chambers, the knife-sharp cry of the winged Riders reached him. He had sat, near frozen, and waited. At last the sound faded. He had heard it before, many times in the Palantír; it did not quite immobilize him, but it still caused the hairs on the back of his neck to rise.
Húrin, visibly shaken, had reported what he had seen. And brought the news that Faramir had returned alive, only it seemed, by the hand of the Wizard. Denethor had ordered the relighting of the brazier, the bringing of bread and wine, and the room arranged before Faramir came to him.
When his son first entered the room, Denethor had noted the dark circles under Faramir’s eyes, the leaden cast to his walk, the dirt-spattered riding boots and cloak. But what caught and held Denethor most was the look in his youngest’ eyes. He blanched in sorrow. ‘Old before his time,’ he thought sadly. ‘By the end of all this,’ he considered, ‘Faramir, if he survives, will be forever changed.’ The eyes that looked back at him were Finduilas’, but where hers were frightened as a stalked doe’s, Faramir’s were proud and brave.
Denethor remembered sitting with his hands held lightly upon the arms of his chair, waiting for the Wizard and Faramir to sit. The Halfling followed behind. Faramir ate a bit of bread and drank some wine before he sat on his father’s left. The Wizard took a chair on Denethor’s right as the Halfling stood behind the Steward.
Denethor’s heart stopped at the remembrance of Faramir’s report; nothing that the Steward did not already know until Faramir looked at the Halfling. The air in the chamber fairly cracked with tension.
Sitting back, Denethor willed himself to look once again upon the meeting with open eyes unclouded by the bitter disappointment he felt. In Ithilien, Faramir had betrayed him. It was a simple enough thought, but not so simple to swallow without a fire raging through his belly. He near wept at the remembrance of his son’s pandering to Mithrandir. The sight still stuck in his craw, over shadowing even Faramir’s flaunting of the Steward’s edict.
The Lord of Gondor was tired beyond description, yet the night’s work had just begun. Still stinging from the Wizard’s contempt… No, not contempt. The Wizard’s belief that Denethor was helpless when it concerned Isildur’s Bane, Denethor walked the Tower stairs slowly, leaning wearily upon the iron balustrade. He chided himself for expending so much energy against the Wizard, when in truth, the die had already been cast. There was nothing further he could do but wait for the Nameless One to catch and kill the wretched Halfling that Faramir failed to hold, and turn its power against Gondor. Well, he had vowed he would fight to the end, and so he would.
The Steward reached the Tower Room and opened the door. Flames greeted him. Stepping back, he covered his face with his arms and realized there was no heat but that cast by the torch he held. He lowered his arms and watched the Pelennor, bathed in fire. The Enemy had dug great trenches and fire filled them. Siege engines of all kinds were poised, ready to strike. The ground itself was covered with thousands of men, Orcs and beasts, so numerous with the Enemy’s forces that he could not see the fields nor even a blade of grass beneath their feet. In the distance, he saw amassed against the horizon, Mûmakil, their great shapes made larger by the looming war-towers atop their backs. All were moving forward, encroaching upon his City. He gasped at the sight, reminiscent of the vision he had seen but as a new lieutenant; now the scene before him was ten times worse. His legs shook.
This was what Faramir did not understand. It was not just one company of soldiers, nor even one person who was affected by his foolish, headstrong actions, but all of Minas Tirith. After that, Gondor. Faramir had let their one sure weapon fall through his fingers. If it had been any other captain that had done this thing, he would now be hanging from a noose in the First Circle!
Denethor clenched his teeth, turning his anger away from his only son and to Mithrandir. That fool Wizard! He thought the rest of Middle-earth, his supposed stewardship, would be saved! How? If Gondor fell, and this sight before him bespoke it, then Rohan and Belfalas, the lands of the Elves, and further west, all would be lost!
The Steward shuddered as the vision continued. Siege engines loosed; the City, his City, was bombarded with flaming projectiles. He cried out in horror, “Mithrandir!” and sank to the floor. The vision cleared and the Room glowed with the light of the torch. Why had he called upon the Wizard? Denethor’s cheeks flamed with shame. Nothing could save his City, if what he saw were true. Yet, the Palantír had never lied to him.
“Faramir! Faramir!” he cried out. “What have you done?” He put his head in his hands, breathing deeply, and tried to steady himself.
At last, his heart strengthened and he pulled himself up, standing before the plinth that held the stone. He removed the cloth from it and began his nightly vigil. The stone wakened to his touch.
An army wended its way through the hills and vales of Northern Ithilien: the end of the column passed close by the Dead Marshes, the vanguard almost through the Wetwang. Their path turned and led directly south.
A shiver ran up and down Denethor’s spine as he realized: the attack had begun. These would cross the River near Cair Andros. No time to warn the garrison there. They would be decimated. After that, probably into Rohan; that would be the tack he would take. Then… – Minas Tirith. There was nothing he could do.
He turned his eyes southward. The Corsair ships still harboured in the docks of Pelargir. Soon, they would leave aside their plundering and make their way north – to Minas Tirith. How would he stay their forward progress? Imrahil had left his ships patrolling the seas of Belfalas. There were not enough to save Minas Tirith too. He hoped the forces that stayed behind would harry them as they sailed northward. It was a fool’s hope and he knew it. Imrahil would be relieved at the news. Dol Amroth would be safe, for the nonce.
Thinking upon the Prince, Denethor pulled away from the stone, covered it and left the Room and the Tower. The guard in front of Imrahil’s chambers saluted and opened the door. A servant appeared, offered wine, and stepped to the fire, lighting it without command, leaving as silently as he had arrived. The Steward sat before the fire and waited.
“Denethor!” Imrahil walked in and embraced him. “Have you eaten?” He did not wait for an answer but rang and ordered a light meal from the servant. The Prince poured himself wine, then sat by his brother’s side.
“I sent Nerdanel and Amrothos west to the Edhellond. The garrison there is well hidden.” He swirled the wine in his glass. “Elphir commands Dol Amroth in my absence; Erchirion captains Linhir.” He waited, but Denethor only nodded.
The food came and was served. Denethor did not rise from the settle, so Imrahil prepared a plate and set it down before the Steward. “Eat something.” He took a bite of bread himself and drank his wine. As Denethor made no move to join him in the meal, the Prince returned to the table.
“Faramir regrets causing you anger; he sorrows.” Their was no reply, not even a raised eyebrow. “He was wrong, according to your will, Denethor, but do you not trust his judgement?” When Denethor did not speak, Imrahil stood in frustration. “I know not what he did that causes such anger, but you will send him out again to battle. Speak with him before you do.”
“When the end comes, Imrahil, and my City falls, try to reach your wife and son. Stay with them and comfort them, as I am not able to comfort my own son.” Denethor stood, then rubbed his forehead. “I know not how long you will have before the Enemy moves on. I believe they will spend at least a month here, enjoying the spoils of my City.” Denethor swallowed hard. “Do not stay to burn my body; it will not matter, in the end.” He turned and left the room.
‘But it does matter!’ he thought furiously as he walked across the hall to his own chambers. ‘I do not want my body defiled, my head hung on a pike outside my walls!’ His fists clenched. ‘Nor Faramir’s.’
When he reached his own rooms, he pulled the rope and waited. Within a moment, Belegorn entered. “Send for Haldan, then take some rest. Tomorrow will be long.” He watched as his aide left him.
His manservant entered. “Haldan, what I tell you now must be kept secret. Take a cartload of faggots and oil to the House of Stewards in Rath Dínen. Pile them along the wall near the center table, enough to build a pyre to burn two bodies.” He waved a hand as Haldan began to protest. “Do it! If the worst happens, find my body and Faramir’s. Bring them there and set fire to them. I do not want the Enemy finding us. You know what they do to their victims. Also, bring a sharp knife and place it on the table. Then, flee the City if you are able.”
The servant wept. Denethor turned away, went into his bedchamber, and lay down. His hand stroked the cool linen next to him. “Finduilas,” he whispered. “I have tried. I have done my best. I cannot save Faramir. I hope he will die at my side so that I might save his body from shame, but I do not know. I hope, when I come to you, that I will be greeted warmly.”
He closed his eyes, willing the tears away.
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