Finduilas looked up as the door to the nursery on the upper floor of the Steward’s quarters opened and then closed once more, admitting her husband into the room where she was supervising the changing of small Boromir’s garb for the coming meal. Ordinarily the child ate separately from his parents and grandfather; but this evening they were to host Lord Forlong, who had a definite fondness for the Steward’s grandson and so enjoyed the small boy’s company he insisted he be included in the meal welcoming the Lord of Lossarnach to the city. “Has he arrived within the Citadel?” she asked. “I only heard the news of his entrance into the city a quarter mark past, and cannot see how he should have climbed so swiftly up the levels.”
“No--Forlong is yet on his way.”
Something in the manner in which he answered her alerted her to the fact that there was something that had disturbed Denethor, although she could not tell whether he was more upset or excited by whatever the news was to which he was reacting. She gave their son a last inspection and directed the nurse, “Take him then to the gardens but see to it he does not soil his clothing.” Once the woman had withdrawn with the child, she turned back toward her husband. “What is it? Is your father not well? Or has my brother announced an unexpected betrothal?”
He shook his head. “My lord father is well enough, although his councils have been much disturbed. As for Imrahil--you would know of the possibility of a betrothal long before I--of that I am certain.” He ran a slender finger once more over the fading scar where an orc scimitar had caught him on the brow just below the hair line, a wound that had been tended by----
“How is it then with the Lord Captain Thorongil?” she asked. “Has word come on how serious was the wound he took in the assault on the harbor of Umbar? Has he come at last to Minas Tirith? Have they taken him to the Houses of Healing, or has he returned to his quarters in the officers’ barracks in the Sixth Circle?”
He shook his head, and she realized he was pleased, worried, anxious, and disapproving all at the same time. “Nay, the honored Captain has not returned to the White City--indeed, it appears it may well be quite some time ere we see him again--if ever.” She could hear the mockery he tended to infuse ever into Thorongil’s title when he must use it in the past few years.
“His injury is so bad?”
Again he shook his head. “My father has received a letter from him, delivered during the meeting of the Council. You know that during the assault on Umbar he and two others were separated from the rest, and that he was last seen with his aide and one of his younger troupers sailing north up the river in a commandeered ketch?”
“Yes--of course-- the story of seeing him leaning on the rail, holding the tiller, with shirt removed and a great bandage about his abdomen while his aide set the sails has been discussed how many times over the past two weeks?”
His left shoulder lifted in a shrug, echoed by his left brow. “Yes--true enough. The report came this morning that the ketch was found four days back some two leagues south of the port of Pelargir. Ranger trackers have examined the site, and have found indications that those on the ketch were met by someone on horseback. Such was the nature of the hoof prints, however, that it is plain this horse was not shod by any smith within Gondor or Rohan. The obvious answer to the riddle is that whoever it was come to meet him must be either from amongst our enemies, or more likely, from amongst his own people from the north.”
“You are so certain he is from Arnor, then?”
Denethor’s expression was quite grim as he nodded. “Oh, I am indeed certain he is from the remnant of the north kingdom.”
She examined his face, at last asking quietly, “Do you think it--possible--possible he might be----”
“Isildur’s heir? Anything is possible, I must suppose,” he answered sourly. “But if he is, he has made no claims in all the years he has served in either Rohan or Gondor; and he has refused point-blank to answer that question when put to him by my honored father. Or,” he added thoughtfully, “so the Steward of Gondor has informed me.”
“He sent a letter resigning his commission as an officer of Gondor’s forces. He stated that word had come that there had been major losses amongst his own people, to the extent that his presence was needed there immediately. He stated also that he intends to return, should he believe the time is right for it and his presence is both needed and desired by the people of Gondor and the city.”
“I see,” she murmured.
“The letter was brought by the young soldier,” he continued, “who will not tell what he might have witnessed of that meeting. He will say only that one claiming to be the Lord Captain’s older brother met with them, and that he cannot say in what language the discussion between Thorongil and the newcomer was held save that it was one he does not understand. The paper on which the letter was sent is of Gondorian manufacture, so it is believed that Thorongil’s aide was the source of paper, ink, and pen used in the writing of the letter.”
“I see,” she repeated slowly.
The two of them faced one another quietly for a time. At last he said, “So much for my father’s hopes for the return of the King,” his voice half triumphant, half bitter.
“At least,” she responded, “it appears that you shall succeed your father as ruling Steward.”
“So it would seem.”
She smiled into his grey eyes, hoping to reassure him; but in the depths of her heart she was saddened, for as much as she loved her husband she yet believed the Lord Captain would be sorely needed, and as much by her husband as by the realm as a whole. And for the obvious relief she could see in Denethor that this rival was now gone from Gondor, yet she realized that in the depths of his own heart he was bereft, for there yet remained a portion of him that had also hoped for the return of the King--now.