Mirkwood's Blade - Chapter Thirty-seven - The Steward's Son
She sighed in relief and pillowed her head on her arms. "Thank you, Pippin," she said quietly.
"And Gandalf said that if you wanted to talk to Faramir, he's in the hall with Denethor. In fact, that's where I'm going, to swear my allegiance to Gondor." Pippin tried to hide it, but Novarwen could see the almost imperceptible way he puffed out his chest in pride, and she smiled at it. "So I can show you the way, if you wanted to come."
"That's sweet, Pip," Novarwen answered, "and I think I will come, but give me a minute to wake up."
"All right." Pippin stepped back. Novarwen saw now that he had dressed in the livery of Gondor before he woke her up. He's showing forethought, she thought, amused. A few months ago, he would have asked me if I'd mind going back to sleep while he dressed. She lay down, breathing quietly to wake herself up, and heard the hobbit leave the room.
When she felt ready to stand up, Novarwen slid off the bed and onto her feet. She found the Ainaglin lying on the floor where she'd dropped it, and carefully rewrapped it and tucked it into her drawer. I don't think I'll go near that for some time, she thought.
Someone - Gandalf or Pippin probably; she doubted the Steward would trouble himself - had thoughtfully had a pitcher of water brought into the room. Novarwen scooped up some water in her cupped hands and splashed it onto her face. The water was cold, and she gasped as it touched her face, but it woke her up very effectively. After rubbing her face dry with her tunic, she changed into cleaner - and non-wrinkled - clothes, and left the room to find out from some hopefully friendly Gondorians how she could get to Denethor's audience hall.
They were as friendly as she'd hoped. Thanks to precise directions that took into account the city's confusing numerous levels, Novarwen soon found herself standing before the White Tree. She paused and bowed to it for a moment, earning herself glances of surprise and respect from the Tree's guards, and then proceeded toward the hall.
"Lady?" Turning at the voice, Novarwen realized that the speaker was one of the guards of the Tree. "Lady, perhaps you should wait. Lord Denethor has business now."
"Thank you," answered Novarwen, "but I am a friend of Peregrin Took's, and I would like to see him make his vows to Gondor." The guard looked as though he would have liked to say more, but he fell silent and waved her on, falling back into his place on the left side of the tree. Nevertheless, his warning put Novarwen on edge, and she listened for a brief moment at the crack of the hall door before she put her hand on it and pushed it open.
It was apparent that Pippin had made his vows already - he was standing some paces to Denethor's side, and the Steward was seated at a table and eating. Standing at the other end of the table, clad in green and brown, with the White Tree emblazoned on his tunic, was the man Novarwen had seen in the Ainaglin. She saw a few scant resemblances in his face to Denethor's, but other than those few, they looked as different as Elf and Dwarf. Novarwen could not have explained why, but she felt more akin to Faramir than to his father. Still, she froze in the doorway, feeling as much of a fool as Gandalf accused Pippin of being, as Denethor said calmly, snapping a chicken bone in half, "I do not think we should so lightly abandon the outer defenses - defenses," he added with a cold glance upward, "which your brother long upheld."
"What would you have me do?" Faramir's voice was heavy with sorrow and weary from addressing a point debated over and over.
Denethor seemed oblivious to the pain his words caused his son - oblivious, or else not caring. "I will not yield the river and Pelennor unfought." He selected a small fruit from his plate and popped it into his mouth, chewing. "Osgiliath must be retaken."
"My lord, Osgiliath is overrun," Faramir argued wearily.
Novarwen was enraged at Denethor. Gandalf would have told him of her vision - surely he would know how hard Faramir's choice had been, and yet he shot barbed words deeper and deeper into his son's heart. She wanted to slam his head against his plate full of food, wanted to put him in Faramir's place and laugh and laugh.
Denethor's voice jerked her out of her wishes. "Much must be risked in war. Is there a captain here willing to do his master's bidding?" he shot at Faramir. Unspoken was the implication that Boromir would have done no less, would indeed have done far more. Denethor made no secret of it.
To her surprise, Faramir's chin quivered for a fraction of a second, and when he spoke, it was in a voice heavy with tears, shock, and pain. "You wish now that our places had been exchanged," Faramir said, staring at his father. "That I had died, and Boromir had lived."
Denethor reached for his goblet, staring down into its darkened depths. "Yes," he whispered. "I wish that." He brought the goblet up to his lips and drank deeply from it. Novarwen choked on a gasp of rage.
When Faramir spoke again, he had brought his emotions under such control as he could. "Since you were robbed of Boromir," he told Denethor, his voice catching in his throat but still under control, "I will do what I can in his stead." He turned and walked slowly down the hall.
You fools! Novarwen thought. This is not how Boromir would want to be remembered! Not as an unreachable paragon of virtue and excellence, not as an ideal to never live up to! He would want to be remembered as a son, a beloved brother! She could almost feel his ghost hovering in the hall, could almost hear him crying out in anguish, "Did neither of you know me?"
Faramir had halted before the door. He turned back then, to look at the Steward, still eating. "If I should return," he said finally, "think better of me, Father."
Before his son had reached the door, Denethor hissed, "That will depend on the manner of your return." Novarwen's gasp was audible throughout the silent hall. Faramir looked at her in dulled surprise and reached for the door. She stepped aside and let him through.
Denethor was still eating. Novarwen clenched her jaw and marched over to him. "My lord," she said abruptly, presenting herself before his table, "might I have permission to speak to you?" The Steward's measuring gaze did not engender confidence, and she knew he was remembering her words of yesterday, when she had reproached him for neglecting Minas Tirith's defenses. But he nodded, and Novarwen exhaled in relief.
"My lord," she began hesitantly. "I am sure Boromir was a loving son." Denethor's hand, laden with some chicken, froze halfway to his mouth, and she went on, encouraged. "I knew him, for we were both members of a great Fellowship, and he was one of the truest men I ever knew." She took a deep breath to boost her confidence. "He must also have been a loving brother, and I'm sure it hurts him to see his brother treated so roughly."
Denethor had set down the chicken. He looked at her, and the unconditional hatred was back in his eyes. "When you are a father, she-Elf, then you may teach me how to handle my sons."
Recklessly, Novarwen pressed on. "My lord, Boromir was an ideal that no man should have to live up to, much less his brother who loved him - and is a fine man in his own right. Please do not judge Faramir against Boromir. It does neither of you any good, and it creates longings for that which is dead."
"And who are you to advise me on parenting?" Denethor snapped.
Novarwen bit her lip. "I am she whom Boromir wanted to bring back to Minas Tirith as his wife, my lord." No matter that, for all her respect for him, she never would have accepted him as her husband. Her words were all true, and Denethor would turn on her in an instant if he knew she would have turned down his son. "I speak as one who might have been your daughter, if chance had not decreed otherwise."
The Steward's gaze iced over. Novarwen shivered, but she held her ground. "You would lead me to believe that Boromir would have chosen an Elvish strumpet -"
"My honor is intact, my lord Steward!" she snapped, furious. "I am a princess of one of the great Elven realms, and I will not have my name impugned!"
Breathing hard, Denethor glared at her. Finally he spat, "Get out," and turned back to his meal.
"Gladly!" Novarwen spun sharply on her heel and marched out of the hall. She took great pleasure in slamming the door shut behind her and hearing it echo in the hall.
The host of the Rohirrim thundered into the camp at Dunharrow. Theryn, riding after Legolas and Gimli, took in at one glance the number of men. He saw, too, Théoden's face as he rode. It was disappointed, but only barely, and only the sharp eyes of an Elf could have noted it. But there was a reason for the king of Rohan's disappointment - he had hoped for more than half of the men assembled in Dunharrow. Theryn glanced at Legolas with a bit of unease. He respected and admired the prince of Mirkwood, and he thought that the feeling was mutual, but Legolas knew of the circumstances under which Theryn and his sister had parted. Theryn was unsure how Legolas regarded him now, but he was relieved when Novarwen's brother met his gaze unblinkingly. Their eyes communicated the same thought: There are not enough men here. When we ride, it will be to our deaths.
Theryn gritted his teeth and forced the thought from his mind. If he started thinking like that, it would be over before it started. He had not despaired during the first days of his banishment from Mirkwood, and he would not despair now.
Théoden reined in his horse and dismounted, and the rest of the riders did the same, reaching for the tents they had rolled up and stuffed into saddlebags. Theryn felt a hand grip his stomach, and he cursed his stupidity - he had not thought to pack a tent.
A hand touched his shoulder, and he turned to see Legolas. "You can share a tent with Gimli and me," the prince offered.
"Thank you," Theryn said gratefully. "I - forgot mine."
"Understandable," Legolas answered, a smile slowly creeping onto his face. "My sister in a temper would make me forget to bring my bow on a spider-hunting expedition." Theryn laughed, and Legolas laughed with him. "I do not hold a fight against either of you," Legolas continued earnestly. "I am told that people in love say and do things that they wish they could take back, and I have no doubt that you love each other. I would be a fool to hold a grudge against you when you are going to be my brother soon."
"Thank you," Theryn said again, quietly. Then he straightened and asked, "Do you need help unpacking the tent?"
"I think Gimli's taking care of that," Legolas said with a perfectly straight face. Glancing over his shoulder, Theryn saw that the Dwarf was struggling to pull the tightly-rolled up tent out of the small bag Legolas had packed it in. As Theryn watched, one particularly hard tug sent Gimli head over heels onto the grass.
"We should go save him from further humiliation," Theryn scolded his prince. "Dwarves are probably more adept at pitching a tent than unpacking one." He shared a grin with Legolas, and they both went over to help Gimli, who relinquished the tent bag with a grunt of relief and a kick at the thing. Perhaps it's not yet a lost cause, Theryn thought hopefully as he and Legolas propped up the tent for Gimli to tie down, if we can still laugh and joke on the eve of a desperate battle. Perhaps we might yet win.