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Kingdom of Ashes
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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1
The Stranger

Kingdom of Ashes by Linda Hoyland

The characters are the property of the Tolkien Estate. This story is written for pleasure not profit.

With grateful thanks to Raksha and Virtuella.


~~~

I knew there was something disreputable about Thorongil from the first moment that I set eyes upon the fellow. I had been away for months campaigning against the Easterlings and when I returned home, I found that Thorongil had wormed his way into my father's affections while my back was turned.

I was forced to spend my first night at home listening to my father discuss lore with this stranger over dinner. It was obvious from their easy manner together that it was not the first time he had spent the evening in my father's apartments. I had looked forward to telling my father about how I had led my men to victory, but I was hardly able to get a word in edgewise, so intent was he on what the stranger was saying.

Thorongil gave no father's name when he introduced himself. From his dark hair and grey eyes it was obvious he was no Rohir.

"You do not name your sire?" I said.

"He died when I was but a small child," Thorongil replied, not rising to my bait. "I know only that he was a good man and very brave."

Who most likely sired you out of wedlock and left your mother to bring you up alone on such tales, I thought.

"You two are so alike that you could be brothers!" my father said warmly. "Just look at him, Denethor! It seems that some of our kin still survive in the Northlands."

I snorted inwardly. "Kinsfolk indeed! A rag tag rabble that live like beggars in a frozen wasteland!"

Yet my father seemed to forget that Thorongil was nothing but a hired mercenary and treated him almost like an equal. As the weeks passed it grew worse. Thorongil ingratiated himself ever deeper into my father's affections. I feared my father was sliding into dotage. He would embrace Thorongil like one might a favoured small child, while the Northerner had the impudence to return such over familiar gestures. When I took my father to task he simply said "I am old, my son, do not deny me a little warmth and companionship in my twilight years."

"You have me, my father," I replied, but he simply sighed and changed the subject.

It was not long before Thorongil was first amongst my father's advisors and foremost amongst his Captains, only I outranked him as Captain General. I was baffled that my father was not suspicious of a man about whom he knew so little and who skilfully evaded all questions about his background. My father seemed completely blind in his love for the stranger. He was not the only one. The men loved Thorongil too. I suppose it was not surprising as he was far too lenient with them, giving other tasks to those who feared the frontline of battle, rather than rewarding such cowardice with the lash. Strange to say, though, the supposedly timid were usually at his side on the front line in the next battle his company fought, declaring they would follow him through fire or to the very borders of Mordor if he so willed it.

At the beginning I thought Thorongil was simply an ambitious upstart who was using my father's misguided affection for him to make his way in the world, but as the months turned into years I began to realise that there was more to the man than met the eye.

When Mithrandir next visited the City I noticed him deep in conversation with Thorongil. Whatever could the Wizard want with one of my father's lowly captains? Thorongil caught me observing him and coolly remarked that Mithrandir brought news from the North for him.

My father had long suffered from pain in his right hand, caused by first wielding a sword and then a pen overlong. The hand had become almost claw like and he had little use in it despite the best efforts of the healers. Soon after Thorongil's arrival I noticed my father was using his hand more and could straighten it out. It continued to improve. I assumed that either rest had worked a cure or the healers had discovered some new potion to treat him with.

One day I entered my father's chambers unannounced to find Thorongil rubbing something on my father's hand. As I entered, Thorongil made his excuses and took his leave, abandoning a jar of salve upon the table.

"Thorongil has a truly magical touch," my father informed me, flexing his hand. "He has wrought quite a cure."

I smiled indulgently at the old man, but as soon as he was occupied elsewhere, I took the jar of salve to the Warden of the Houses of Healing, anxious to learn what it might contain. The Warden sniffed the contents carefully.

"This contains only comfrey, horsetail and goose grease," he said. "They are common ingredients used in most treatments for the aches that pain the old. I have treated your father with this for years, though sadly it can do little."

"You are certain?" I persisted, puzzled.

"I would hazard my reputation upon it," said the Warden. "Now if there is nothing further I can help you with, Lord Denethor, I must return to my duties."

I took my leave more baffled than ever. Could it be Thorongil's touch that had cured my father? That was quite impossible – unless - I had studied lore for many years and some half remembered scrap of legend hovered in my mind, but I could not recall where I had read it or the details.

Not long afterwards, though, Thorongil was almost banished from my mind when Adrahil of Dol Amroth brought his daughter to the Citadel. Long had my father begged me to marry and sire heirs, but no lady had stirred my heart until I beheld the Lady Finduilas. Her hair was like silk, her form slender as a young tree and her eyes were like glittering stars, but fairer by far than any that adorned the Heavens. From the moment I beheld her I desired her to be my wife.

Finduilas, though, although always courteous, paid me little heed. I wondered why, was I not the Steward's heir? At the Mettarė celebrations I saw her dancing with Thorongil and gazing at him with a longing in her eyes that I yearned to see directed at me. My father, who sat watching the dancing, remarked, "The Lady Finduilas would be a perfect match for Thorongil. I have encouraged him to ask for her hand, but he claims his heart is given to some lady in the North and he will wed no other. A pity, as I fear that means he will one day leave us to return to the fortunate maiden."

It took all my considerable powers of self-control not to berate my father for his blindness. Could he not see that I loved Finduilas? So fair a maid could not be bestowed upon a man with no lineage!

Soon after the festival ended Thorongil departed on a campaign against the Easterlings. Finduilas appeared somewhat sad and withdrawn, whether it was because she missed the scoundrel, or he had told her of her rival, I did not know, but as the weeks passed, she became more receptive to my suit and I dared to ask for her hand in marriage.

"I have grown to care for you, Lord Denethor," she said. "I did once believe that I loved another. His heart is not free though, and I must put all thoughts of him aside."

I was eager for a spring wedding before Thorongil returned and had second thoughts about staying true to his sweetheart in the North. After all, while he tarried here, she would be wondering about the strength of their attachment.

My father seemed torn between joy that I was at last willing to take a wife and sorrow that his favourite Captain was not the bridegroom, or even present at the wedding.

I was determined that my bride should have the best of everything

and showered her with gifts. Finduilas spoke often of Dol Amroth, especially the sea and I was determined to show her that Minas Tirith was fairer by far.

Marriage was even better than I expected it to be. For all my knowledge of lore, I admit I knew little of women, but Finduilas declared herself well satisfied and I soon grew accustomed to being a husband. For a while I was able to banish the tiresome Thorongil from my mind. Finduilas made no mention of him and I hoped that she had put her foolish infatuation behind her.

The peace was to be short lived as Thorongil returned only a few weeks after the wedding. He was more insufferable than ever, having won a handful of skirmishes with the Haradrim. To hear my father talk, you would have thought his favoured Captain had fought in the Last Alliance. That was another odd thing about Thorongil; he spoke of the battles of old as if he had heard of them from one who fought there.

I became worried about my Finduilas. Before summer ended she grew pale and her eyes looked sad. Often I would find her gazing out of the window towards the West and her eyes would be wet with tears. I asked her what ailed her, but she could or would not say.

One day in early autumn Thorongil approached me. "I am concerned about Lady Finduilas," he said gravely.

"My wife is none of your concern!" I retorted.

"I am well aware of that, my lord," Thorongil replied with infuriating calmness. "I could not but help but notice, though, that Lady Finduilas looks unwell."

"Maybe because our hopes will soon be realised?" I countered, though I had no idea if she truly were with child or not.

"I think not," said Thorongil. "I believe that she is suffering from sea longing. If you are to have any hope of heirs, and the lady's good health, you should see that she returns home to the sea as often as possible."

Outraged at his impudent boldness I was about to issue a sharp reproof, but the fellow had already disappeared. He had a cat like ability to vanish seemingly into nothingness; and he knew when to use it.

Something in his words must have troubled me, though. I soon found myself mentioning to my lady that I could spare some time from my duties and suggesting that we visit her kin. She readily agreed to my suggestion and we set out for Dol Amroth the next week. It was a decision I was to regret. Finduilas, always so dignified in Minas Tirith, lost all sense of decorum in her father's domain and would run barefoot along the beach with her hair unbound! She even tried to get me to join her in these unseemly frolics, which I of course, refused.

After a few days, I was more than ready to return home, but the night before we were due to depart, her mother took ill and Finduilas refused to leave her. It was to be weeks before I had my wife back.

Finduilas looked radiant when she returned and it was not long before she told me that she was expecting our fist child.

I was overjoyed. I was to be a father and Gondor would have an heir! A babe would benefit Finduilas too as she would surely forget her longing for the sea once she held a child in her arms. Surely too, I would regain the full measure of my father's love when I gave him what Thorongil could never give, a son to rule our land one day.

TBC

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