Her guide’s steps, silent and steady, took him up toward the citadel again, and Lalaith followed a step behind him, asking no questions, though her mind was brimming with them. Across the green swarth of grass the young man led her, past the white tree that leered eerily down upon her in the night shadows, and toward the great doors.
The guards, silent and still as statues, drew the great iron wrought doors open with an echoing clatter, and with one last gesture beckoning her into the hall, the young man bowed his head, and turned away from her, his fading steps brisk in the quiet.
As she stepped into the hall, now lit with flickering candles set along the hall in tall rods of dark iron, the doors boomed shut behind her, and she was alone. Denethor sat as she had seen him before, in his throne of dark stone. But now at least, his head was lifted, as if he was watching for her, and she strode tentatively over the smooth stone floor, drawing ever nearer to the somber lord of Gondor. How late it was, Lalaith thought to herself. Did the man never sleep, or even leave his throne?
“Ah, you are here. Lady Lalaith of Rivendell.” Denethor called out to her as she came, offering her a warm smile as she drew nearer. “Yes, I know who you are, my dear. Thank you, for coming, though the hour has grown late.” She stopped several paces from him, taken aback. How very different he seemed now, congenial and kind, when he had been so belligerent to Gandalf earlier. She was still smarting inwardly from his unkind words to Gandalf, especially what he had said concerning Aragorn. And yet she found herself returning his smile. For now in his gentle, smiling eyes she could see Boromir, far more clearly than she had before.
“Come closer, my child.” He urged, lifting a hand and beckoning her toward him before he chuckled softly to himself. “Ah, but I speak in haste, for you are not a child. Doubtless you are ages older than I. And yet-, had Boromir not fallen, you could have been my own daughter.”
She furrowed her brow at this, not understanding what he meant by his words. But she could not bring herself to ask his meaning.
“Ah, there.” He breathed, when at last she had drawn close enough that he could reach out and take her hand within his. Long he studied her face, smiling as he did, until at last, he murmured, in a voice that had grown soft and broken, “Finduilas would have loved such a daughter as you. But no, `twas not fated to us that a daughter should come, but rather another son.”
Lalaith furrowed her brow at the last word hissed distastefully from his lips. He spoke of Boromir’s brother, the second of his two sons, his only child left alive. Yet the thought seemed an unpleasant thing to him.
“Do you wish for something to eat, or drink perhaps?” Denethor brightened, suddenly coming to himself, and clambering to his feet still holding her hand gently within his own. “Come,” he urged, guiding her toward a long table set near the pillars.
It sat half in shadow, a carved wooden seat at its head, and another smaller chair at its ride hand, the two chairs set close together in spite of the table’s vast size. A silver decanter of wine, and two glasses sat beside a tray piled with small white cakes.
Denethor went to it, scurrying almost like a boy eager to please toward the table, as he released her hand, and drew out the chair that was set near the right hand of the first. “Please,” he offered when Lalaith hesitated, “sit.”
“Thank you, my lord.” Lalaith murmured softly as she sat, though her mind brimmed now with questions, even more than what she had wished to ask when she had first come.
“Doubtless you have guessed as to the reasons I have called you here.” He murmured, taking the chair at the head of the table, and folding his hands upon it, smiling again at her.
“Ah, no my lord. I have not-,”
Lalaith grew silent, for her words had seemed to sober him. His smile fell, and his eyes dropped.
“But surely you would know-,” he breathed, his voice suddenly sobered, “that I wished to speak to you about my son.”
At this, Lalaith’s heart sighed, and her shoulders fell as she slowly nodded. Of course. Why else would he have called her? Pippin had already confessed to Denethor that Boromir had died to save them. Surely his grieving father would wish to speak of his son’s last moments with those for whom he had sacrificed his life. Yet then-, why had he not sent also for Pippin?
“What would you wish to know, my lord? I will tell you what I can.” She said, clasping her hands in her lap, struggling to still the grief that surged again within her heart.
Denethor turned his eyes upon her as he smiled once again, a gentle smile as of a father to his daughter.
“How strong you seem.” He murmured softly, his smile lingering, though his eyes grew sad. “How brave, to have come to us in this dark time. Yet also, how fair you are, delicate as a flower. That you are the one my son’s heart softened to at last, does not surprise me.”
Lalaith shifted in her chair, her hands tightening in her lap as Denethor reached thoughtfully for the wine, and the soft flow of tumbling liquid seemed to echo long in the quiet as Denethor filled both glasses, then pushed one toward her.
“I would never have dreamed he would learn to love an Elf maiden.” Denethor mused, taking a thoughtful sip. “But then, I do not doubt that the sacrifice of your endless life would have been no small thing to you, in exchange for the love of my son. You could have married him, and borne his children. But your hopes were dashed. And yet, you endure. You have not faded as another of your race might, whose lover has been claimed by death. But it does not surprise me. Boromir would not give his love to a weak hearted maiden.”
Her throat had grown swiftly dry as he had spoken, as the sudden realization settled on her that Denethor gravely misunderstood her kinship to Boromir. Was that why he had called her? Denethor thought she had loved Boromir, pledged her troth to him perhaps, and thus become Denethor’s own daughter, at least in her intent? “Ai, my lord-,” she breathed swiftly straightening in her chair, and ignoring the glass before her, “Boromir was a great Man, good and honorable. For his faults were few in the light of his many virtues. There is pain in my heart still, for his loss, and it will never truly fade-,”
To this, Denethor furrowed his brows sympathetically, and nodded, and Lalaith continued more hurriedly than before, “But I must endure, and so I do. Perhaps one day, when the darkness has passed, I will be able to grieve for Boromir as he truly deserved. For he was a dear and trusted-,” she swallowed softly, “friend, my lord.”
“Friend?” Denethor muttered, a darkness veiling his eyes with the suddenness of a storm cloud rolling before the sun.
“Indeed, my lord,” Lalaith blurted, struggling to hide her exasperation at his sudden mood change. “Boromir was truly one of the greatest men of any race I have ever known. But I never entertained any dreams of a life beside him-,”
“Boromir loved you, did he not? He gave you his heart. I know it.” Denethor demanded suddenly, his eyes growing hard, and to this, Lalaith lowered her eyes, feeling a twinge of guilt before she nodded reluctantly.
“He did, my lord.” She murmured, lifting her eyes. One hand unconsciously lifted, touching the medallion beneath her gown where it rested, cool against her skin. “But I never loved him, no more than I would love a brother, for my own heart belongs to-,”
“He died for you!” Denethor grated, lunging suddenly to his feet.
His voice echoed long in the shadowed silence, and Lalaith stiffened at his accusing tone.
“What else could he have done, to earn your love?” he shouted, striding away from the table, his arms akimbo before he wheeled back and glared at her. “What other impossible task could he have performed, to make you believe him worthy of you?” Denethor demanded, his voice fraught with anger.
“My lord,” Lalaith murmured through clenched teeth, fully understanding now, Gandalf’s own profound frustration with this impertinent mortal. “I know no other man more worthy than Boromir-,”
“Then is it death you fear?” He shot back. “You will not give your heart to a mortal for you fear to die? Boromir did not fear to die for you!”
“And I would have died for him!” Lalaith seethed, rising slowly to her own feet, furious with Denethor for his harsh judgment of her, and angry also at the pain his words renewed within her. “I fought side by side with Boromir. We slew many orcs together, but I was struck by an arrow in the side at the last, and I fell into blackness.” She put her fists on the table at this, and leaned closer to Denethor, gazing hard into his cold eyes. “Even then, Boromir did not abandon me. He had always known I could not love him. Yet he fought for me, for my friends the Hobbits, and I do not doubt but that we are alive because of his sacrifice. He was a good and valiant man.” Lalaith clenched her jaw, and stood back as she studied Denethor’s dark unwavering eyes. Softly she hissed, “It must be something he inherited from his mother.”
Denethor remained silent for a long moment, the quiet of the great shadowed hall weighted as he drew in a heavy breath that swelled his chest before he released it in a huff. He would reprimand her, Lalaith knew. He would shout at her, banish her from the hall, and she braced herself for his next words.
“Faramir is more like his mother was,” Denethor muttered quietly at last, his eyes dropping to the table before him.
“Then you have been blessed with two noble sons, my lord.” Lalaith breathed, her voice falling quietly back into its place.
Denethor’s face fell at this. “I would have liked half-elven grandchildren,” he whimpered, falling heavily back into the wooden chair, and snatching up one of the small white cakes.
Lalaith remained on her feet, her eyes silently studying him. Denethor mawed the cake as if it were a shank of roasted mutton. A crumb flaked loose, and clung, unheeded, to the shadowed scruff of his chin.
“I do not doubt but that she whom your living son chooses as his bride, will give you many fine grandchildren,” she murmured quietly.
A long moment passed. Denethor sat chewing his cake as if entirely ignorant of her presence, or the soft words she had spoken.
“May I go now, my lord?” She asked quietly, to which Denethor looked up, seeming to be surprised that she was still standing before him.
“Mm,” he muttered, waving his hand dismissively, before he snatched another cake.
Lalaith pushed herself away from the table. Denethor’s eyes were fixed away from her as she went, and he did not look up as she bowed her head slightly in farewell, and turned away, her footsteps soft in the quiet as she made her way to the doors, drawn open by silent guards, and quietly, with a heavy heart, stepped out into the cool dark of the night.
The doors had not yet boomed shut behind her, when Lalaith caught a hard breath of amazement in her throat as her eyes fixed upon the rod of cold, rippling lightning, that blazed straight up into the black clouds that roiled above the Ephel Duath, coloring them to an eerie green hue.
“Ai, Elbereth.” She breathed, and glancing at the door wardens, whose eyes were as fixed in shock as hers were she asked, “What is that?”
“I-,” one of the men gulped, speechless as he shook his head.
“It comes from the Morgul Vale.” The other answered in a subdued tone.
“Thee enemy is ready,” she murmured aloud, and to this, the men behind her glanced at each other, and shifted their weight nervously.
Then drawing in a hard breath, Lalaith snatched up the hem of her gown, and broke into a run down the steps and away from the great hall, longing suddenly for the nearness of Gandalf and Pippin, for she had much to tell them.