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Spirits of the House
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The Fourth Stave

Something was knocking at the door. Denethor sat unmoving and unseeing, listening to the summons. Past and present – what else remained? He had long desired foresight – would he take it now that it was offered, knowing as he did who the giver of the gift must be?

The bell tolled the second hour. The knocking stopped. And then the door broke its chains and flew open.

A figure stood upon the threshold – pale and tall and thin, and a white hood covered her face. Behind her, all was black. She lifted one marbled hand, beckoning to him and, obedient, he rose and crossed the room. When he stood before her, she offered him her hand. The fingers were thin and white as bone. He hesitated, and she thrust the hand towards him.

He took it, and the cold flesh burned him like a brand. A chill seeped through him. She turned, and led him out.

They walked through the city without taking steps, and the circles seemed to fall away as they made their descent. They passed through the great gates and on eastwards across the fields, heading out for the river. And there, on its banks, they halted.

A cold wind came in from the north, and it seemed to Denethor that it brought with it the distant sound of a horn. The reeds and the river rippled in response, and the he saw a dark shape creeping towards him along the waters. The moon came out from behind the clouds and its pale light glanced upon a grey boat, bearing back to Gondor its most beloved son.

Another severance, and his son’s name too was torn from him. “Boromir!” he cried, and he wept, and he made to go towards him. Her hand clenched him, without pity, and he could not move, only watch as the boat went by, and on, and out of sight. He turned to her.

“I saw him!” he whispered. “He lives yet!”

She stood pale and silent for a moment, and then turned once more, and drew him after her. Back to the city they went, heading up and up, until the houses of the dead loomed before them. In the dark hour before dawn, they stood and watched as the procession went past; Denethor stood and watched the burning body of his second son pass before his eyes; stood and watched himself follow with fire and knife. The doors to the house of the stewards fell shut, and the building burst into flame. He turned his head away, in grief, in shame. Below the White City too was burning. All was lost.

“Tell me,” he begged her, “how to stop this. If you ever loved them, tell me how this may be stopped!”

But she only shook her head, and held his hand – and then they were standing in his little room, before the window. They looked out, and it seemed to him that the world span, and he was at the pivot. She pointed south. The river was dark, and there were ships approaching, coming to the City from the Sea. The ships had black sails – and then he thought he saw a gleam of silver upon them. She pointed east. Shapes were wheeling in the sky, shapes with black wings – and then he thought he saw a glimmer of gold upon them. She turned, and pointed back to the palantír. He looked within – and there, in its depths, he saw a pair of hands, and they were burning, burning black and withering, and then they flared with a green fire.

What does this mean?” he pleaded her to tell him. “What would you have me do?

But she did not answer, did not speak, only raised her hand, and he knew it was a gesture of farewell.

Finduilas!” he wept, “My love, my jewel – stay with me!”

I cannot stay, she seemed to say, but you may choose to join me.

She lifted her hand, drew back her hood, and revealed her face, the face of death. It was bloodless, white as the sepulchre, and her lashes and her lips were black. She raised her eyes, and he saw that there were no pupils; they were milk-white. It was indeed the Curse of Men.

Bile rose in his throat, and he recoiled from her, revolted. Her hand weighed heavy in his, and he dropped it, like a stone. Unnatural light flared up within her, and her figure scorched itself upon his vision. She burned with pale fire for a moment, and then was gone.

Despair engulfed him, that she was lost, that they were all lost, and then Denethor understood the nature of his curse. With a great cry, he drew back his hand, and swept his arm out before him. The palantír flew from the desk and crashed against the hard stone floor, and its shattering and splintering were the last things that he heard.


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