62. Steal

Finduilas POV - 1 of 1

In which the most precious thing stolen is hope.


Minas Tirith, 28 February, 2980 T.A.

The sound of the door to the front room opening woke Finduilas from her dream-haunted doze a few hours after midnight. She pulled a robe over her nightdress and came out of her room. Beregar was there, a lantern in hand and an arm around Denethor, holding him up. She hurried to support Denethor from the other side. Between the two of them, they helped him stumble to his bed. Beregar wrestled off his boots while Finduilas removed his outer clothes. Through it all, Denethor did not speak. His face was haggard and his usually warm flesh was cold. Only the Fire scar on his forearm gave off any warmth and it felt fevered. They wrapped him in blankets, then Beregar left to fetch a warm stone from the kitchen hearth to put at his feet.

Finduilas knelt near the bed. 'Denethor, speak to me! What happened?'

He took her hand in an icy clasp. 'All gone.' His voice was more croak than speech.

'What is all gone? The fleet? What did you see?'

'Umbar. Gone.' Whatever else he may have wished to say was lost in the chatter of his teeth as he began to shudder. There was no satisfaction in his face at this news.

Umbar is destroyed. But that did not mean the fleet had not come to grief as well, particularly the way Denethor was acting. Finduilas leaned close and kissed his cheek. 'You must rest, friend.' Denethor shut his eyes, nodding. In a minute, Beregar returned with a cloth-wrapped stone, tucking it under the blankets at the foot of the bed. Finduilas motioned for Beregar to follow to the front room. 'How did you find him, Huan?' she whispered.

'The pups watched the Tower, as you bade them,' he murmured. 'As soon as they saw him emerge, Borthand went to him and another came to fetch me. I brought him back.' Beregar cast a worried look at the study. 'What is wrong?'

Finduilas did not wish to lie, but she also had no wish to speak of the palantír. Denethor was not carrying it, so it must have remained in the Tower. 'He went up in the Tower and cast his mind upon Umbar, for tonight was the assault.'

Beregar nodded. 'Our lord is far-sighted, like the Númenóreans. Things afar are in his ken.' The man's brow furrowed. 'It is poor news, isn't it? He is grim.'

Once again she hedged the truth. 'I do not know. I think much is simple weariness. After he rests, he will speak. I will sit with him. Be certain none disturb us.' Beregar bowed and withdrew. Finduilas returned to the study. Denethor was asleep, but his form under the covers was still taut. She slipped out of her nightclothes and got into bed beside him. He roused from sleep long enough to clasp her to him. She chafed his hands and arms through his shirt, trying to warm them.


The summer king stood before the falls, naked, fire clinging to one forearm like a sleeve. He plunged his burning arm into the falls, but the flames were not quenched. Amidst the water hung a silver net and his limbs became tangled in it. Finduilas hissed at the trap, placing herself between the king and the water, and undid the knots with her beak. The king huddled against her, shivering, trying to find warmth in her feathers. As warmth returned, he was roused, and he pressed her down, parting her cloak to bare her to him. The waterfall dropped diamonds across his hair and seaweed crown. Around his neck was a collar of thorn. As he moved against her, the points caught her skin, making her bleed. The flames lapped eagerly at the red drops.


When Finduilas woke, the sun was up and Denethor was lying half on top of her, completely limp. His breathing was slow and regular, and he had lost the icy chill of earlier that morning, though he was still not really warm. Only the burned arm held any heat. She wiggled out from under him. Pulling on her nightclothes, Finduilas returned to her room. Ivrin was there with Boromir. The moment he saw her, Boromir toddled over to Finduilas, arms open for a hug. The two were soon settled in the rocking chair so he could nurse. Finduilas had no milk, but the suckling made him happy. He was clinging to her less than when she first returned from Rohan, but did not like it when she left the room if he was awake and would follow her. Nellas soon appeared with breakfast. At the sight of real food, Boromir left off his nursing and allowed Ivrin to feed him while Finduilas held him. He was getting neater, but a good deal still ended up on his front and her nightdress. When they were both fed, washed and dressed, Finduilas led Boromir to Denethor's bedside. She hoped the baby's presence would make it easier to wake Denethor.

Boromir's face lit up when he saw his father. 'Papa!' he said happily, reaching for Denethor's hand at the edge of the bed. Finduilas boosted him up so he could sit on the bed. The kisses and hugs woke Denethor. After a moment of grogginess, he smiled and hugged Boromir tightly to his chest, then suddenly sat upright, holding the child away from him. 'Alquallë, the lanyard. He mustn't touch it!'

She pulled a kerchief from her pocket. 'Lay it on this. I'll put it in the drawer.' Denethor removed the cord and dropped it on the cloth. Along the sides of his neck where it had touched him, Finduilas saw a dark line like a thin bruise. She wrapped the fabric around the lanyard and placed it in the desk drawer. When she returned, Denethor was sitting up holding Boromir. Finduilas sat at the foot of the bed and studied her husband.

His face was weary even after his sleep, worn rather than stern. He moved slowly, and did not roughhouse with Boromir like they usually did. He was bruised on his right cheekbone and temple. Eventually, Denethor looked at her. It took a moment to recognize his expression as grief. All of her fears from the early morning returned. 'Denethor, what did you see?'


'You frighten me with your words. What has happened to our ships?'

'Most will return. I saw them leave. There was little loss. Of blood, at least.' The words came slowly, a few at a time, as though each one pained him. 'The captain, I saw him last. Imrahil, he… I did not see harm to his ship. He should return.'

Boromir began to tire of just being held and wriggled from Denethor's embrace. Denethor helped him crawl off the bed so he could explore. With a sigh, Denethor leaned his head back, eyes closed.

'The attack… succeeded, then, yes?' Finduilas pressed. He nodded. 'Then where lies abomination?'

'All about us.' His voice was soft, just above a whisper. 'Done in the square as the fleet approached. Done to the sailors who strove to save their ships. Done upon the city and those who tried to flee.' Denethor opened his eyes. 'The Fire consumed everything – wood, water, stone. People. To what may I compare it? The Kinslaying at Alqualondë. The burning of Osgiliath.' Denethor pulled up his left shirt sleeve, peering at his arm. The Fire scar was red.

Rivers of fire at dead of night
in winter lying cold and white
upon the plain burst forth, and high
the red was mirrored in the sky.

The whispered chant died away. The lines in his face deepened. 'Barren plain or a bay's expanse, both were set aflame.' Finduilas scooted forward until she could touch him. His burned arm was hot under her hand, but the rest of him was becoming chilled once more. 'Mithrandir was right. I should have gone in his stead.'

'The wizard right? When did he say this?' she demanded.

'Pelargir.' Denethor touched the scar, tracing the puckered skin with a forefinger. 'He told Thorongil to let me lead the attack. Now we're both marked.'

'Thorongil was burned?'

'No. I don't think so. But he was marked. I saw it in his face when he looked at what he had done.' Denethor nodded to himself. 'Vinitharya has returned. Now, will he become Eldacar?'

A shudder seized him and he slipped back down, pulling the blankets to him. Finduilas took his right hand and found it icy. 'Friend, what has happened to you? What has the stone done to you?'

'Tired. I looked too long into it. The mariner, he watched, too. I felt him. In the lanyard.' The words came haltingly. 'The Enemy saw. Sauron. He has a stone. Ithil. Turned his gaze this way. Marked me. Mariner pulled me away. Swooned. Cold. So cold.'

Finduilas thought her heart would stop when she heard the Enemy's name. A palantír? He can see? The mariner defended you… She jumped up from the bed and retrieved the lanyard from the desk. Her hands shook as she pulled it back over Denethor's head and tucked it inside of his shirt. Though she tried to protect her hands with the kerchief and a blanket, a few times her fingers touched the cord itself. She half expected it to catch and tear her skin, but it only felt like a braided strand. The lanyard in place, Finduilas pulled the blankets up around Denethor's neck, tucking him in. 'You are sick, friend. I am going to summon Lhûn.' Finduilas wished Thorongil was already returned. His hands would drive away Fire and frost alike.

'No. Get Laanga.' With that, Denethor closed his eyes and fell asleep. Finduilas went to his desk and wrote a note.


Denethor is ill. An old scar is fevered and the rest of him is chill. He said to get you. Please come. 


She sealed the note and rang the bell. When Beregar came in, she held the note out. 'Huan, Denethor has become fevered. Take this to Master Laanga. Can you find his garden?'

'Yes, I know how to find it,' he assured her. After he left, Finduilas neatened the room and the alcove, moving a few things to make room for the old apothecary. Denethor's cloak was still in a heap in the corner, along with his knife, belt and pouch. The knife went to its usual spot on the low shelf of the table next to the bed, the belt was hung on a hook, and the pouch she tucked into the drawer of his desk where the lanyard usually stayed. As she hung up his cloak on its peg near the door, she felt something in an inner pocket. It was a key, one she had not seen before. It was heavy and oddly shaped, and she wondered what it unlocked.

Finduilas took it to the desk to place it in the pouch with the other keys. These keys she recognized. This was the front door, this the Wall Door, that to a chest in the alcove, the fourth to… She wrinkled her brow. She knew she had seen it before. What did it open? The door leading up the Tower stair. The Guardsmen had a copy to use when they were watching the signal flags at Osgiliath, as they were doing now. Her hand tightened around the key from the cloak. And this is to the top chamber. To the palantír. She did not know where Denethor kept it hidden, but the key should not be left with the others. Boromir toddled into the study, looking for her, so she tucked the chamber key into her pocket. When Denethor woke, she would ask where it should be put.

Beregar returned within a half hour. 'Master Laanga says he will come shortly. Aeluin and Dúlin gather things for him in the kitchen.'

Not long afterwards, Laanga himself came in. Boromir stared at the dark old man in amazement. Laanga squatted down on his heels, set down his healer's bag and held out a hand to the toddler. 'Come see old Laanga, cub.' Boromir drew near, fascinated by the herbalist's black skin. He touched Laanga's hand tentatively, then took it in his own, stroking and staring at it. 'As fearless as the rest of your line, are you, child?' the herbalist said softly, ruffling Boromir's hair with his free hand. Laanga looked at Finduilas and smiled. 'Good morrow, daughter. Tell me what has happened to the Warden.'

'I am not certain. He was awake until late last night, for that was when Captain Thorongil was to attack Umbar and try to burn the Corsair fleet. When he came to bed, he was chilled, but the Dragon Fire scar was very hot. It still is.'

The apothecary's eyes narrowed until no whites could be seen. 'They are using Dragon Fire, yes?' She nodded. He exhaled sharply, shaking his head. 'Fools.'

'The Corsair ships had to be burned, or do you prefer that they invade us?' Finduilas retorted.

Laanga did not answer her, but smiled at Boromir, saying, 'Shall we look in on your father?' He rose, letting Boromir keep hold of his hand, and walked to the alcove. Denethor did not wake at Laanga's touch and his face was ashen. Aeluin and Dúlin came into the study with a kettle of hot water, some pans, and strips of cloth. Finduilas bade them to take Boromir downstairs with them, not wanting him to interfere or to see something that would frighten him. He wailed as Aeluin carried him away. Laanga sat on the edge of the bed, examining Denethor's Fire-scarred arm, his face increasingly grim. 'This is a dire wound, daughter,' he finally said, 'and not just of his arm. The Fire reaches into bone and blood. It is like banked coals, waiting for a breath of air to ignite once more. Remove his shirt while I make a poultice.' Laanga rose and went to his bag, pulling out packets and bundles. The scent of herbs crept through the room, poking into each corner and cranny like an inquisitive cat. The herbalist worked smoothly, laying cloth for the poultice in one of the pans, covering it with herbs and powders, pouring water from the kettle over it, and bringing the strong smelling thing to the bed. Laanga began to lift the mass from the pan when he saw the lanyard. He touched it lightly, but snatched his hand away. 'What is that?'

'A gift,' Finduilas said. 'A mariner gave it to him when Denethor sailed to Dol Amroth for our betrothal. He says it protects him from danger.'

'Does it?'


Laanga looked at it intently before sighing and returning to the poultice. 'I think that less than the truth, daughter.'

'Since when has your kind been truthful with us?'

'Our kind?' His voice held a note of amusement. With a deft move that belied his stiff joints, Laanga placed the poultice over the burn, using split ends on the cloth to bind it into place. 'Be not so short with old men, for we…'

'No. Wizards.' When she said it, Finduilas knew that she said the truth.

'I always tell you the truth, Finduilas,' he calmly answered, 'but you do not always hear it.'

'You tell me what truths it pleases you to say. I do so in return.'

The herbalist nodded and left the alcove. Finduilas heard him doing things, clanking pans, pouring water. He brought things into the alcove so he would have them at hand. After a quarter hour, Laanga removed the poultice from Denethor's arm. The scar had dark lines twisting through it, like worms under the skin. Laanga placed a pan across his lap, then pulled Denethor's arm over it. 'I need to open the scar and bleed out the poison,' he said briskly. 'When I tell you, rinse his arm with hot water.' Laanga twisted Denethor's arm so the scar faced downwards and sliced into it with a bone knife. A thick, green liquid oozed out, and Finduilas gagged at the smell. 'Now, daughter.' She sluiced water over the cuts, washing away the pus. Laanga made a few more shallow cuts, releasing more of the stinking fluid, then squeezed Denethor's arm to force the poison out while Finduilas poured water over it. Eventually, the wound ran red with blood. Laanga wiped the scar clean, applied a paste to the cuts, and bound it with a dry cloth. She helped him clean up the mess afterwards. By the time they finished, Denethor's face had lost its terrible pallor and his hands were beginning to warm.

Laanga squatted near the hearth, putting things back into his bag. 'Tell me, daughter, how did Denethor survive receiving that wound? And when did he get it?'

'When Osgiliath was attacked in the winter and the Fire was first used. He plunged his arm into a waterfall that was almost ice until the Fire was quenched. Is all the poison gone?'

'No, but it is less.'

'Why did it burn again?'

'I do not know, daughter. Though they be black, my hands have never been turned to Fire.' Laanga glanced at the alcove. 'Mayhap it does.' He stood stiffly, and said with a sigh, 'Have him wear the necklace until the cuts have healed. If you think it protects him, it probably does.'

'It did last night. It hid him from the Enemy's eyes.'

Laanga took one of her hands in a strong grip. 'What was the Warden doing?'

'Listening to stone. The stone of Gondor speaks to him and tells him how the realm fares. Last night, he heard the tale of Umbar.' Finduilas reached into her pocket and pulled out the key to the palantír chamber. 'I will not place all of my trust in the lanyard, for the mariner is like you and has his own plans. Take this and bury it in your garden.'

'What is it for?'

'It unlocks danger. Take it.'

The herbalist placed the key in his pocket. 'And if you want it back?'

'I don't. If it is needed, something will bring it back.' Finduilas pulled her hand from his grasp. 'You are good at putting temptation in the Children's path. All of you.'

His face was sad. 'Think not so unkindly of us, Finduilas.'

'I am not unkind. It is but the truth.'

Laanga sighed again and kissed her cheek. 'We also love you. Please, Finduilas, do not be a stranger to the garden.' Finduilas escorted him downstairs. He stopped to visit with the children and to leave instructions with Beregar on how to tend Denethor's arm.

After checking on Denethor, who slept peacefully, Finduilas went to her study. The third hour had not yet rung and Borondir was to arrive soon. How am I to explain what has happened to Denethor? Luckily, Aldwyn was staying with Wren and Lark in Wren's third circle house. Finduilas had little time to spare for her Rohirric cousin since returning to the City, and was glad that Aldwyn had found a friend in Wren. They were to call this afternoon with their news of the City. By the time Borondir arrived, Finduilas had come up with a story, one that Beregar would corroborate. She rang the bell to summon Beregar and bade them both sit.

'Borondir, Denethor is ill. We cannot let this be known.'

'What is wrong?'

'Last night was when the fleet was to have attacked Umbar. Denethor went to the top of the Tower, which the Steward has forbidden him to do, and sat in the spyglass chamber, bending his thoughts toward the south. He was wearied by this, and took a chill from the open chamber. Beregar helped him home. It seems that an old wound on his arm, the one caused by Dragon Fire during the attack on Osgiliath, had developed some contagion, perhaps during the fighting in Ithilien, and it festered. Master Laanga came this morning and cleaned the wound.'

'He will be all right, wont' he?' Borondir anxiously asked.

'Yes, but he is very tired.'

Beregar cleared his throat. 'My lady, did Lord Denethor speak of what he saw?'

'Yes. He spoke little, so I am not sure all that he has discerned, but we were victorious.' Both men let out a cheer at the news. She shushed them. 'That absolutely must not be known! It will raise too many questions.'

Borondir became sober. 'You are right. There is more to know. There are many rumors flying about the lower circles that, should he succeed, Thorongil will be crowned when he returns.'

'There have already been some fisticuffs between the King's Men and our men on this count,' Beregar added with a scowl. 'There is the source of the rumor.'

'And why is there a rumor at all?' she asked. 'The fleet itself is supposed to be a secret, let alone the attack.'

'Beruthiel,' was Borondir's disgusted reply. 'Either Brandir or Ecthelion told her what was happening, and she has been babbling it around the City. She thinks to force the Steward's hand by having the people acclaim that brigand as king.'

'Denethor has already anticipated this.' But are you ready for it, friend? Then there was Thorongil's plan to return to the north to woo his Elven love. You are no fool, Captain. You also must be thinking of what the Steward intends. It made a certain sense that he would reclaim the kingship now. You will have that to offer her father when you ask for her. 'Thorongil owes nothing to Maiaberiel's faction, now, and does not answer to her.'

'But that does not mean he will not make claims he should not,' Borondir countered.

'Leave it to Denethor. He has his own plans in place. We must be certain they do not go astray while he heals. First, we must rouse contempt for the King's Men for having betrayed the secret of the fleet…'


Minas Tirith, 30 February, 2980 T.A.

Denethor had slept the day through yesterday, rising only long enough to eat a few bites of supper, then returning to his bed. This morning, he washed and dressed, though he still looked exhausted. Some of the weariness left him when he saw Boromir. Finduilas watched the two of them at breakfast, trying not to laugh. Denethor gave her a wry look. 'What is so amusing?'

'You will need another bath when you are done.'

He shrugged and fed Boromir another bite of bread and jam. Only after the baby was through and sent off with Ivrin to be washed, was Denethor able to eat his own meal. 'What should I know? Has any word arrived yet? They should be to Pelargir today.'

'No, nothing from there. The only thing to know in the City is that Beruthiel is determined for Thorongil to be king. Now.'

Denethor made a thoughtful sound and sipped his tea. 'What is she doing?'

'The King's Men have been all over the City, speaking of the attack, and stirring up sentiment that Thorongil be acclaimed king upon his return. My men have gone about yesterday saying it is dangerous to speak openly, for there are spies.'

'When did the rumors start?'

'A week ago in the Harlond, the night of the twenty-first. In earnest, three days ago, the morning before the assault.'

Denethor sat quietly, thinking, then slammed his mug down on the table so hard it shattered. 'That traitor!'

'Who? Denethor, what is wrong?'

'Do you take Boromir to the Steward today?'

'Uh, ah, yes, I was, but…'

'I am going with you. Fetch me when you are ready to go.' Denethor stood and went into his study, firmly closing the door behind him. At the fourth bell, Finduilas tapped on the door, saying it was time. Denethor told the others that they did not need to come. He carried Boromir, teasing and playing with his son the whole way to the Tower.

Ecthelion was clearly startled to see Denethor present, though he did not object. For his part, Denethor handed Boromir to the Steward without reluctance and took a seat near the hearth, face mild and form at ease. In the end, Ecthelion could not contain his curiosity. 'Denethor, why are you here today?'

Denethor gestured at Boromir. 'I have seen him so little these last weeks, I cannot bear to be apart from him. Pay me no mind. I will just sit here.'

'As you wish. Are you well?' Finduilas thought the note of concern in the Steward's voice to be sincere. 'You look weary.'

'I am weary,' Denethor answered with a sigh.

'Soon enough, there will be time to rest.'

'Perhaps, my lord. I think this will be a year of war, with little rest for any of us.' As he said this, Denethor stared bleakly into the hearth.

'Rest for now, then.' Ecthelion turned his attention to Boromir. They had their games of hiding and finding things, and various servants came in through the visit to see the child and give their regards to the Lady. Finduilas found herself becoming bored, deprived of her usual company. Through it all, Denethor sat quietly near the fire, looking as though he was falling asleep. Near the end of the hour, the Steward cleared his throat to get Denethor's attention. Denethor raised an eyebrow. 'It is done by now, yes?'

'The attack? Yes. It should have happened three nights ago.'

'Have you heard anything? Have they returned?'

'The soonest they would reach Pelargir is today. There might be a messenger tomorrow night, late. I did hear something.'

'What?' Ecthelion eagerly asked.

'I heard that our secret fleet and our surprise attack have been common knowledge in the Harlond and lower circles since the night of the twenty-first.' Denethor's gaze was angry. 'I am weary from worry. There was time for word of their attack to be taken to Umbar before they got there. They could have sailed into a trap.' He leaned forward in his chair, all sleepiness gone. 'Now, my Lord Steward, I have a question. The people spreading this news were King's Men, Maiaberiel's creatures. Just where did she learn that the fleet was to sail, and where it was sailing to?'

The Steward's face was pale. 'She would not do that. Brandir is in the fleet. She would not endanger him.'

'No, as poorly as she treats him, I do not think she would do so deliberately. But she did spread this secret. She is stupid and greedy. Like her sire.'

It was clear that Denethor was going to antagonize his father, and Finduilas feared they would come to blows. She quietly coaxed Boromir to come to her and moved away from the two men, ready to snatch him up and flee.

After a long moment, Ecthelion said, 'You may go, Warden.'

'No. I am here to address your treason. The only person who could have told Maiaberiel about the attack is you, and the reason you did so was to begin spreading the other part of the rumor, that Thorongil will earn a crown upon his return. You betrayed a secret that could mean the destruction of the fleet, and you did so in order to betray your oath as Steward, and give the throne of Gondor to that mercenary.'

An unpleasant smile grew on the Steward's face. 'Ah, the truth comes out. You care naught for the fleet, but for your own station. Your greed and jealousy are shameful, Warden.'

'You are blind, Steward. I have scarce slept for my concern over our ships, for should they fail, Gondor may be overrun by autumn. This was of no concern to you and Beruthiel. You spread lies and incite the people to rebellion against legitimate rule.'

Red appeared on Ecthelion's face, and he stood, raising an admonishing finger to Denethor. 'I have no command over the opinions of the common folk, and I do not apologize for sharing them.'

'If the fleet comes to grief, it is because of you,' Denethor replied, also standing. 'I see now what made the wizard seek to turn aside this attack. He knew you would betray us.'

The Steward threw up his hands and began to walk out, then whirled back. 'Nay, this is but another of your tricks! If any spread false word, it is you! Any trap laid was by your design and to be rid of a rival!'

'You are the one who has sought to divide kin and kingdom, not I,' Denethor said in a bitter tone, 'and even now you will not admit your trespass against your people, any more than you would admit it against your daughter. I told you to send me if you doubted my reasons. Had you been thinking, you could have been rid of your rival. And now you may have doomed us all.' With a nod, Denethor turned to go.

'Thorongil will succeed, despite your treachery, you will see!' Ecthelion snarled at Denethor's back. 'He will return and you will be cast aside. You have not won the people's love. They would more gladly follow your wife than you.'

Denethor turned, smiling. 'I cannot disagree with them. The Stewards have lost all honor in your reign. Indeed, I am a Queen's Man. As is Thorongil. If he returns, I do not think he will do as you intend. Good day, Steward.' Denethor picked up Boromir and gestured for Finduilas to precede them out the door. Finduilas held her tongue until they were in her study.

'Denethor, tell me you did not mean that!'

'Mean what?'

'That you and Thorongil are Queen's Men!'

Denethor shrugged and sat on the floor near the hearth with Boromir. 'We are. Him even more than me.'

'I have told you before not to think such things, Denethor!'

Boromir began to cry, upset by the angry voices. 'Shh, Morcollë, no tears,' Denethor cajoled. It took a few minutes, but he distracted Boromir and got the baby to play with a doll he found under the couch. Denethor looked slyly at Finduilas. 'What am I thinking, prince?'

She joined them on the floor. 'It had better not be that I am a queen.'

'In my heart, always,' he said with a sweet smile. 'But now…?'

'He will be acclaimed, friend.'

'I know. It will make it easier if they declare for him before they know who he is.'


'He will not need to convince. The revelation will be a confirmation, not an argument.'

'So what does it matter if he is a Queen's Man?'

'It is a proper reward for his service.' Denethor kept his eyes on Boromir.

'I don't understand.' He shrugged. Finduilas took his hand. 'Is it time, friend? Can you do this?'

Denethor stood and handed her Boromir. 'Yes. Now that we have both used Fire, yes.' She heard him go upstairs and close his study door behind him.


Minas Tirith, 1 March, 2980 T.A.

The warnings of the Queen's Men had their effect, and the City was silent, all eyes cast to the south. There was a stream of callers at the Stewards House through the morning, and all wanted to know the same thing – what had Finduilas heard from the Tower? A few of the bolder women asked oblique questions about Thorongil and the Steward's plans for him. 'The High Warden and the Captain have both advised the Steward that Gondor faces a year of war, I fear,' she always answered, face sober. None were so crude as to mention the rumors of a crown for the captain.

Near dinner, Denethor came into the study with Boromir and took a seat near the hearth. While he was outwardly patient with the last visitors who fussed over the baby, Finduilas saw he was worrying his wedding band. After the last woman left, Finduilas had Mírwen tell Aeluin there were to be no more visitors that day. Boromir was busying himself exploring the room.

'What did I have with me when I returned from the Tower?' Denethor asked as she poured them wine.

The key. Finduilas was not sure she could lie about it. 'You did not have the palantír or its pouch, at least, not when I saw you,' she answered worriedly, holding out the cup.

'No. I left it behind. It was too much to carry and I didn't want it found. I left it locked in the Tower.'

'Good! That's where it belongs.' Finduilas sipped her wine, thinking swiftly. 'You had your knife and your purse with you. Were you carrying something else?'

'In my cloak pockets?'

She shook her head. 'I don't know. I just hung it on its peg. The purse I put in the drawer with the lanyard.'

Denethor sighed and rubbed his eyes with the heel of his hand. 'The key to the top chamber. I cannot find it.'

'You have searched all your clothes?'

'Yes, and the purse,' he answered. 'I must have dropped it.'

'You were staggering, friend, when Beregar brought you in.'

He drank his wine, thinking. 'I need to go back to the Tower. It may be in the spyglass chamber.'

'Only my guardsmen should have been in there since then, watching the signal flags. One of them may have it. At worst, they may have given it to Hathol. He would return it.'

'Yes, that is probably it,' Denethor agreed. 'If not that, I can have the Hunt scour my path and ask if a key has been found.'

'You can't risk having the Steward know you are looking for it, not now,' Finduilas warned. 'Tell me, friend, you are not thinking of risking another look in the stone?' The guilty look on his face was all she needed to know that she was right to give the key to Laanga. 'No! Don't do that! You said that… the Enemy has a stone. And he looked at you. Please, leave that thing be!'

'It changes nothing, Alquallë. He has always had the Ithil stone.' Denethor drained his wine and poured himself more. 'I realized the attacks this winter were too well timed. There have been a few times before when… I felt something as I used the stone. A brush of evil. This time, I knew I was looked upon. In the stone… The lanyard jerked me from my feet, threw me down to the floor. I pulled the sack over the palantír without looking at it.'

'Don't ever look into it again, Denethor!'

'There were signals from the garrison this morning. Halmir sees signs of an attack. I was going to bring the stone back today so I could scout. I have to see. The lanyard will tell me when the Enemy approaches. Of course, if I cannot find the key, then there is no getting near it.'

'I hope it stays lost.'

'Don't be stupid, prince! We need the stone. I am going to have to see if there is more about them in the archives. There have to be some limits on what he can see, as there are limits on me.' Denethor stood, setting down his cup. 'I expect more detailed messages from Halmir this afternoon.' He kissed her cheek and left.

Denethor did not return until after supper, and brought Borondir with him. Halmir had sent one of his lieutenants, Baran, in with news of changes to the patrols coming from Imlad Morgul and the Morannon. Halmir thought an assault immanent, but that it would be weak, given the battles in January. 'They have not had time to recover from that, yet,' Denethor said, 'which would be to our favor, save that we have not recovered from it, either.'

'You are certain Umbar is defeated?' Borondir asked.


'Then we can move men from the south.'

'But not until word reaches here,' Finduilas sighed, 'and that may be days.'

'The south will already know,' Denethor said. 'We send word tonight to have soldiers march. They won't count days, and the men will arrive that much sooner.'

Borondir fidgeted, then said, 'And when Thorongil arrives, what then?'

'Then he goes to Ithilien.'

'He will come to Minas Tirith first, and you know what will happen when he does!'

'He will come to the Harlond first. I will have orders waiting for him to continue to Osgiliath to succor Halmir. He will not leave another of the Lost in such straits.'

'And after?' Borondir challenged. The cousins stared at each other. Borondir dropped his gaze first. 'I do not understand what you are doing, Denethor. It is as though you want him to be king.'

'I do.'

Borondir tried to speak several times before words finally came out. 'Are you mad?'

'No. If he has truly defeated the Corsairs, there will be no choice save to offer him the crown. But we will be the ones who crown him. Adulation goes only so far. He has no lands, no wealth, no army of his own, nothing but a band of mercenaries to offer. What he knows of rule is that we order the kingdom. The captain will do as he is told. Taking a crown is one thing, holding it another entirely.'

'He is not our king!' Borondir protested. 'Would you hand Gondor to some Northman just for winning a battle?'

'That is exactly what we did with Eldacar, and he was even more of a mongrel than Thorongil.'

'Eldacar was the king's son! This brigand is not of the line…'

'Yes, he is,' Finduilas interrupted. 'I have been given proof.' Borondir looked at her, stunned. Denethor scowled. You didn't want me saying that yet.

'Why didn't you tell me?' Borondir plaintively asked.

'As long as he keeps his secret, we also are bound to it. It may be that he does not think it time, yet.'

'How long have you known, Finduilas?'

'Years. Since before I wed Denethor.' She smiled wryly. 'Yes, I knew whose suit I spurned. And now that you know, you may not speak it, save to us. Not even to Thorongil may you speak.'

The quartermaster nodded dumbly. Denethor and Finduilas waited for him to think over what he had learned. Finally, Borondir nodded. 'Very well. You two have a plan that I do not understand, but I will trust to it. What of those letters, Denethor?' The three of them wrote messages to lords of Pelargir and Lebennin, directing them to send men north to be used for the pending attack from Mordor. Denethor signed all of them. Borthand was dispatched to the messenger stable. After Borondir left, they sat in Finduilas' bedroom, Boromir asleep in Denethor's lap.

'The die is cast, friend.'

'You should not have spoken so to Borondir.'

'There are still some who will need argument.'

'That secret was not for us to say.' Denethor said no more and they soon retired. Near midnight, there was a soft knock on the bedroom door. Denethor answered it and Finduilas heard the sound of Beregar's voice. Denethor closed the door and began dressing. 'A messenger has come from Pelargir. He's waiting downstairs. We go to the Steward.' Denethor was not gone for very long.

'What is the word, friend?'

'Just that the fleet has returned victorious. Nothing else, no letters, no details, nothing.' He slipped back into bed and hugged Finduilas and Boromir to him. 'The criers will go out at dawn to spread the news. The day after tomorrow is when Thorongil will return.'


She stood in her stone armor at the end of the promontory. Black ships sailed up Anduin, carrying the souls of the Faithful. They docked at the Harlond. Upon their shoulders was a bier, the charred remains of the White Tree. They set the bier down before the walls of the City. The tree stood, becoming the burned king. He towered over the Pelennor and she could look directly into his face. It was veined with Fire.

'I told you to flee, Isildur.'

'I stayed for you, my queen.' He turned and strode across the fields. Behind him, the souls followed, arrayed for war.


Minas Tirith, 3 March, 2980 T.A.

Mordor attacked not long after the messenger brought news of victory from Pelargir, blunting the City's jubilation over the news from Umbar. Finduilas sent her guardsmen out at once to spread word that Thorongil would, no doubt, head straight for Ithilien. The King's Men were roaming the streets soon after, spreading their own rumors that the Warden was seeking to keep the Captain out of the City, and that the Captain deserved his rest. The townsfolk themselves were divided, for they wished their hero to return, but also wished him to protect them from the eastern threat. When Scratch brought word of their worry to the Stewards House, the Queen's Men were given a new message. "Like Eärnil at the Battle of the Camp," they said, nodding wisely, "Thorongil will not rest until Gondor is defended." They also made certain that every bare flagpole in the City was hung with one of the Lady's banners. By nightfall, the King's Men were unwelcome even in The King's Cup.

This morning, Denethor gave orders to the watchers in the Tower to bring him news when the ships from Pelargir arrived at the Harlond. Not long after noon, a guardsman said the ships had been sighted. Every so often, another would appear, saying that the ships drew near, that they had docked, that some had continued upriver towards Osgiliath. When the horsemen drew near the Great Gate, horns and drums sounded and people filled the streets and lined the walls to welcome the victors home. Finduilas walked out with Denethor onto the promontory to watch the party come up the mountain to the Citadel. Far across the plain, ships could be seen moving up Anduin. She shivered, trying not to remember her nightmares.

At last, the men came into the sixth circle, walking towards the tunnel. Finduilas saw Imrahil's silvered head and recognized Brandir a moment later. Denethor let out a great sigh of relief when he saw them. 'Brandir survived.'

'You doubted?'

'I never saw him in the stone. Come, let's meet them in the court.' They hurried down the steep stair and were standing on the greensward when the men entered. When they drew close, Finduilas began to fear. Their faces were grim, as Denethor's had been when he returned from the Tower. Imrahil looked twice his years. Brandir did not stop, but gestured for Denethor to come with them. Finduilas watched them walk off. No. I will hear this with my own ears. Let them throw me out. She strode after them, catching them at the doors of the Tower. Ahead, the great metal doors of the Hall of the Kings swung open before them.

The Steward sat in the Black Chair, the Rod in his hand, waiting for them. When they halted and bowed before him, he stood and said, 'Tell me, my lords and counselors, what news do you bring?'

Brandir stepped forward. He did not look at the Steward, but kept his eyes on the empty throne. 'We have gone to Umbar. In dead of night, we assailed their harbor and sank their fleet. Few men did we lose, though even those were too dear. Îbal of Dol Amroth destroyed the shipyards, but perished in the main harbor. Minohtar of Linhir fell upon the docks. Amlach of Pelargir was lost in the fatal waters. These good men and more we lost. Yet more terrible were the Corsairs' losses. All of their ships are burned and much of their harbor destroyed. Captain Thorongil overthrew the Captain of the Havens himself in battle upon the quays. A generation and more shall they be recovering from this destruction.'

Ecthelion raised his arms in exultation. 'Great is this news, Lord Brandir! We are truly under the grace of the Powers, and their hand has preserved us once more.'

'No. We are accursed.' Denethor's voice a soft whisper and only Finduilas heard it. She glanced at him. His face was drawn, his eyes looking inward.

'Tell me, Brandir,' Ecthelion continued in a happy tone, 'where is the author of our victory?'

'Here. With bloodied hands.'

'Where is Captain-General Thorongil?'


'He has done a mighty thing.'


'There are great honors awaiting him.'


'Has he already turned his face towards the new battle? His bravery and…'

'He's not coming back.' Imrahil's voice rang out loudly. All save Brandir looked at Imrahil. Her brother's face was a mix of anger and misery. 'Thorongil has left us. We reached Pelargir after sundown on the last day of February. All night he sat in counsel with the wizard, Mithrandir, never leaving the ship. With the morning, he took a small boat to the far side of Anduin. A few of us went with him, for he did not explain his purpose. All he said was this. "Give this message to Ecthelion, son of Turgon, Lord Steward of Gondor. Other tasks call me, lord, and much time and many perils must pass, ere I come again to Gondor, if that be my fate." He turned and walked towards the Ephel Dúath. No more word did he say, nor would he listen to any argument. He is gone.'

Ecthelion felt behind him for the chair and sat heavily. 'Gone?'

'Gone,' Brandir said absently, still looking at the throne. 'Like the ships. Gone.' With a nod to the Steward, Brandir turned and walked out. Imrahil bowed more formally before following him. Finduilas tugged on Denethor's arm to make him come with her, fearing what would happen were he left with the Steward. He allowed her to lead him out of the hall. There were no sounds of revelry rising from the City. The knowledge of the captain's flight was spreading like Fire. Borondir was walking towards them across the Court of the Fountain and accompanied them to the Stewards House. Finduilas told Beregar to bring them wine in her study.

'I heard that Thorongil did not return with you,' Borondir said to Brandir. 'What is the truth?'

'No, he did not. He left us at Pelargir and entered Ithilien.'

'To bring troops from the south?' Borondir pressed.

Brandir shook his head. 'No. No one is with him. He said he was leaving Gondor. Whatever he saw in the flames of Umbar, it has driven him away.' Brandir fished in the pouch at his waist and drew out a ragged piece of paper, folded poorly and sealed with a large lump of wax. 'He said for me to give this to you, Denethor.'

Denethor took the missive and stared at it a long while before breaking the seal. Finduilas watched his eyes travel over the page several times. His hands began shaking. 'Oh, no you don't,' he muttered, 'not after all this. You are not doing this to me. No!' With a snarl, he threw the paper down and stormed out of the study, nearly knocking over Beregar who was walking in with the wine, and ran up the stairs to the third floor. As Finduilas rescued the letter, she heard him slamming things about in his study. He was soon back downstairs, dressed for battle, buckling on his sword as he strode to the Wall Door. Finduilas bolted after him, the others on her heels.

'Denethor, what are you doing?' she demanded, grabbing his arm.

'Bringing him back.'

'But you don't know where he is!'

'I know where he goes. He is slinking back to the north. He thinks to use the battle to hide his journey through Ithilien.' Denethor shook off her grip and left.

'Do not worry, sister,' Brandir said, kissing her lightly as he passed, 'I will stay with Denethor and guard him.' She followed him out onto the wall. Denethor was already at the stair and Brandir had to run to catch up. Finduilas watched them emerge from the tunnel into the sixth circle and then vanish through the gate to the fifth.

Imrahil pulled on her arm, making her come back inside. 'What is in the letter?' he asked.

She tried to read it, but it was in a code she had never seen. Finduilas showed it to Borondir, who shook his head. 'Nay, I do not know that. Imrahil, what happened in Umbar?' Beregar added his plea.

The young prince sat heavily near the hearth. 'Why did we not listen to Denethor? There was no taming it. Fire lived and stalked men as prey. It rose like a demon from the waters to tower over the harbor and fling handfuls of flame across the lower city, jumping from ship to shore, shattering stone, and hunting the people in the streets.

'Thorongil, he was like one possessed. Even after it was clear that the Fire would consume everything of its own accord, he ordered more of it thrown. "Let no ship remain afloat," he said, and we had to push the further ships into the inner harbor. Only when Îbal's ship was struck down would he allow a retreat. We barely caught the tide flowing out. We were too weary to row, and were at the mercy of the Sea.

'The men among us who were burned, they all died. Horribly. Even small marks sank into their flesh and devoured them. Belegorn said that Denethor had known how to save some who had been burned at Osgiliath, but Thorongil could not heal these men. His touch made their skin split and bleed. We tried dousing them in the Sea, but she was not cold enough. Brandir ordered all of the remaining Fire casks cast overboard.'

Imrahil stopped his tale, for he was shivering, and drank his wine. He refilled his cup twice before he spoke again. 'I'm glad he's gone. This was worse than my dreams. Fog cloaked us as we returned, and every time I looked at Thorongil, the mists around him were the shades of those who had burned. A king accursed.' He was trembling so badly that his wine slopped over the rim and Beregar took the cup from him. 'Let him be Lost forever.'


Minas Tirith, 7 March, 2980 T.A.

Days passed, Denethor had not returned from Ithilien, and anger in the City over Thorongil's departure grew. The King's Men told any who would listen that the Captain fled Gondor for fear of his life at the Warden's hands. This infuriated Imrahil, and he went about speaking of how wretchedly Thorongil had ordered the Umbar assault, and that the man had seized a command better left in the Warden's hands, thinking to wreath himself in undeserved glory. 'Is not the Warden now upon the marches, doing battle with Mordor?' he demanded. 'Where is the brave captain? He has run away, breaking his oath to the Steward. My sister knew his fickle heart years ago, and so spurned his false suit. Who do you trust, our Lady or a forsworn mercenary?' There were many fights between the Queen's Men and the King's Men. When Thorongil did not appear, the muttering against Denethor subsided, though Finduilas did not think that their hearts had hardened entirely against Thorongil. Scratch and Adanel both said most people thought the captain had left to avoid confrontation with Denethor over the crown, though his leaving was poorly done. Still, they wished for him to return.

A tap at the study door caught Finduilas' attention. Ingold stood there. 'My Lady? Lord Denethor always wished to know this, but I can't tell him because he's not here. The wizard, Mithrandir, has entered the City.'

'You were right to tell me, Ingold.' Finduilas felt anger growing in her breast. That meddler will be the one to answer questions this time! 'Where is he?'

'In his usual rooms…'

'On Holly Court, yes, I know them. Keep an eye on him and let me know if he goes anywhere.' Ingold bobbed his head and trotted off. Finduilas quickly gathered her cloak and called for Beregar. 'Huan, the wizard has appeared. Come with me. I wish to speak to him.'

Mithrandir did not appear surprised when Finduilas walked in. He had shed his cloak, but his bag was still sitting near the door, next to his staff. 'Finduilas, I would have come to you,' he said, gesturing for them to sit. Beregar slouched in the doorway watching the old man closely. When Mithrandir pulled out his pipe and began filling it with herbs, Finduilas took it from him. His bushy eyebrows slowly rose.

'No smoke. I want my wits about me, wizard,' she said.

'As you wish, Finduilas. Why have you come here so quickly?'

'Two men are almost destroyed by your meddling. Mayhap they will yet perish, and many more with them.'

The wizard bristled. 'Their choices are their own.'

'No. You brought Thorongil here, and you have done much to raise him up and to encourage the Steward to place him above his own son.'

'Never have I done that!' he growled.

'Perhaps you have not spoken such words, but that is what the Steward believes you wish him to do. The City is on the brink of civil war because the people think Denethor has driven out Thorongil to keep him from becoming king, yet it was on your word that the captain has left. Will you not go about the City and calm the faction by admitting your own role in this?'

'No. The High Warden can secure his own peace. He thinks himself beyond counsel.'

'Denethor fights the Enemy now because the Captain-General of Gondor has gone running off like a cur!' she cried. 'Does this even matter to you, that we are assailed and divided in the same moment?'

'I tried to stop this,' Mithrandir snapped, 'but none would heed me! Steward, Warden and Captain, all fools!'

'Nay, wizard, you did not seek to stop it. You simply said to send Denethor instead.'

'It was his plan. Gondor is his charge.'

'And Gondor is not the charge of the Captain? You are just like Ecthelion, all too eager to send my husband to his death.'

At that, Mithrandir's sighed and dropped his head into his hands. 'No, Finduilas. I do not wish harm to Denethor…'

'Of course not. You just conceal your designs from him, intrigue behind his back, champion his rival, and suggest to the Steward and to Thorongil that he should be the one to lead an ill-advised attack against a much greater foe, one you would not send your favorite into. There is no need to wish him harm.'

The wizard looked at her sharply. 'Denethor had already turned his hand to Fire. He does not deceive himself about why he would use it.'

"Her father said that something lay before me, and I would rise to a great height or vanish in darkness. If I survive that peril, and am victorious, I shall ask leave to return to my kin." Denethor would have used it for Gondor. Thorongil used it for himself. Did you not warn him to flee even before the wizard did? He would not heed either of us. Finduilas thought of what she wished to ask Mithrandir. 'You and your kind have made rude use of me. Tell me, why isn't it time? And I don't mean Umbar.'

Mithrandir stared at her, then smiled thinly. 'I do not know. You were not clear and left before I could question you.'

'I dreamed that the remains of the White Tree were brought from Númenor, scavenged from the pyre in the Temple. The charred trunk stood and became the king. He led an army of smoke and the dead against Mordor.' Finduilas stood, handing the wizard his pipe. 'That should be clear enough, even for you. I advise you to leave the City before Denethor returns. In fact, I advise you leave now. We have had enough of your meddling.'

Ingold came late, just before sundown, to tell her the wizard had left the City, riding north.


Minas Tirith, 21 March, 2980 T.A.

As with the January attacks, it took almost three weeks to drive the invaders back into Mordor. The victory at Umbar had enraged the Enemy, and he threw his forces out like a black tide over Ithilien. A Haradic army had been marching north, probably to position itself for an assault when Umbar sailed, but they turned aside at the news of the Corsairs' defeat and attacked their former ally. Grim had left part of his éored guarding the Poros crossing, reinforced with soldiers from Lebennin and Pelargir, and had ridden north to add their strength to the Ithilien army. Anduin ran too high with the first of the spring floods to risk ferrying horses across, so the Anórien éored came south to the Osgiliath bridge, then north again up the road. Some Easterlings were encamped upon Dagorlad, no doubt having originally been called up as part of the great spring invasion, but they sent few into Ithilien once news of the southern defeats came to them, and the main host fled without doing battle. That still left the Uruks. They fought in numbers not seen since the retaking of Osgiliath. It was almost as terrible as the attacks in the summer of 2975, and would probably have been worse were it not for the retreat of the Easterlings. Each day, soldiers from across southern Gondor came to Pelargir and took boats up Anduin to succor the defenders in Ithilien, freed now from the fear of black sails. They also heard of Thorongil's desertion.

In the City, the King's Men became quieter, and they looked east with worry. It became clear that they had not entirely believed the tale that Thorongil had left for good when it was first spoken. Imrahil and Gethron made sure the guardsmen spoke contemptuously of the Captain, while Morwen was only too glad to have the whores celebrate his departure. The Tower servants repeated to any who would listen what Brandir had spoken to the Steward, and all had Thorongil's words of farewell memorized. Adanel reported that regular townsfolk were complaining about him in the taverns, though many held out hope that he would return when his mysterious tasks were done. For her part, Finduilas simply hoped that Denethor would find Thorongil, and that neither would come to harm amidst the carnage.

At midday of the twenty-first, a guardsman rushed from the spyglass chamber to tell Finduilas that a company of horsemen was coming to the City from Osgiliath. Another came later to say that Denethor had returned and would attend the Steward before coming home. Beregar and Hunthor hurried to the baths to help him wash and dress. Imrahil and Borondir soon appeared, saying that Denethor and Brandir had returned, Thorongil had not, and that they were forbidden to join the council with the Steward.

Brandir looked tired but himself when he walked into the study. Denethor was gaunt and grim. He poured himself wine and sat, staring at nothing, but he did take Finduilas' hand when she sat beside him. Borondir began to ask Denethor a question, then thought better of it and addressed himself to Brandir. 'Did you find him?'

'No, the fighting was too fierce,' Brandir answered sadly. 'Not even the Lost could track him, and they were under orders from Halmir to do so. There were signs of him. A few times, we came across dead Orcs where no scouts had been, and they had not been done in by their fellows. One of the Rangers up north thinks he may have seen Thorongil from afar, leaving Ithilien, but thought it was just a scout.'

'Running away,' Borondir said, disgusted, 'like a sneak. Whatever honor his house may have had, he has ended it.' This last was said with a meaningful stare at Finduilas.

'I fear this was too great a trial for him,' sighed Brandir.

'Will you excuse this?' Borondir fumed, standing to pace. 'Or do you simply seek to excuse yourself?'

'Borondir, what do you mean?' Brandir asked.

'I mean that you have been cozened by this thief for years, and have gladly done harm to your own lord and brother for his sake!' Borondir spat. 'You have played the witless fool for Thorongil, letting yourself be used, all too glad to advance him and your whoring wife…'

'Shut up.' Denethor's words cut through Borondir's tirade. Whatever Borondir saw in Denethor's gaze made him back up a few steps. 'Brandir did nothing others did not also do. Blame Thorongil himself for his lies. Or the wizard. There are the authors of this, not Brandir.'

'It was no trial,' Borondir insisted. 'You have asked nothing of him you did not ask of yourself, Denethor. Whatever he wanted, he got. What more could he want?'

'Only what I asked of myself,' Denethor muttered.

'Which is too much for any man, brother,' Brandir quietly replied, 'too much, even, for two.'

'It is best that he is gone,' Imrahil said. 'What has he done but sow discord? For a year, my house was riven by his arrogance. He is no man of Gondor, and by his own choice. Aye, he is fair seeming and a good captain, but all else was looking for advantage, pandering to the vile and the corrupt. Look at what men follow him!'

'Halmir is not corrupt, nor are the rest of the Lost,' was Brandir's imperturbable reply. 'The King's Men, they follow something else.'

'Stop making excuses for that mercenary!' Imrahil looked ready to burst. Borondir was nodding agreement. 'That was what my dreams foretold; a dreadful ruler who desecrated what he touched and led his people to ruin! We should not rue our good fortune that…'

'Out!' Denethor's voice filled the room and his grip on Finduilas' hand made her wince and hiss. 'Get out!'

Borondir and Imrahil froze for a second, then hurried out the door. Brandir walked over and kissed first Finduilas, then Denethor. 'I will come over tomorrow to see Boromir,' he said, and left. As soon as the Wall Door closed behind Brandir, Denethor stood and went upstairs. He fetched Boromir from Ivrin and the two had a boisterous reunion, with much wrestling, tickling and games. When the baby fell asleep, exhausted from the roughhousing, Denethor did not put him to bed, but kept Boromir cradled in his arms. Finduilas let them be.

They shared her bed that night. Denethor's left forearm was rough under her fingers, the last scabs from Laanga's incisions clinging to puckered lines cutting across the old scar. His ribs and joints were prominent. She hoped the Steward would allow him to rest.

Denethor brushed her cheek with his fingers. 'Alquallë?'

'Yes, friend?'

'You have said nothing.'

'You have been answering many questions. I did not wish to add to them.'

'But you have questions.' She nodded. 'What?'

'Only one. What did he write to you?'

'That he loved the wrong thing. But he loved what I did, and did as I did.' Finduilas pulled him close and stroked his hair. It took a long time for Denethor to fall asleep.

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