An Unexpected Letter – Linda Hoyland
Disclaimer: The characters are the property of the Tolkien Estate. This story is written for pleasure not profit.
With thanks to Raksha and Deandra.
Ecthelion picked up the topmost sheaf on the pile of parchments his secretary had brought him. It was a request for reinforcements for the garrison at Osgiliath. The old Steward tried to force himself to concentrate but the words swam before his eyes. It had been five days now and there was still no word from Thorongil. Maybe Denethor had been right after all?
It was sheer folly to send his best captain, together with a band of Gondor's finest men, against the might of the Corsairs. Thorongil had seemed so confident, though, and in all the years that Ecthelion had known him, his judgement had never proved wrong. Maybe though, this time he had overreached himself and was now slaughtered, or captured and forced to row the galleys himself.
Ecthelion shuddered. Surely, the Valar would not be so cruel as to snatch away the man who had become so dear to him?
A knock on his study door jolted him out of his reverie. "Come in!" the Steward called.
Beleg, his faithful secretary, put his head around the door. "My lord, a messenger from Umbar has just arrived."
"I wish to speak with him directly," said Ecthelion.
"He has ridden hard and needs to take refreshment and bathe and change his clothes first," Beleg protested.
"Are you deaf, man?" Ecthelion snapped impatiently. "Show him in at once. He can refresh himself later."
"Very well, my lord." Beleg closed the door again.
A few moments later, the secretary returned with a travel- stained man, who had obviously been waiting in the kitchen, as he was wiping ale from his mouth with his sleeve.
"What news from Umbar?" asked Ecthelion.
"The corsairs are utterly routed, my lord. Many of their ships and men were destroyed in the battle. Captain Thorongil slew their Captain upon the quayside. We had few losses amongst our men." The man beamed as he recounted these tidings.
"What of Captain Thorongil?"
The messenger's expression grew sombre. "He is gone, my lord."
Ecthelion paled and clutched at the side of his desk until his knuckles turned white. "Gone? What do you mean? Is he slain?"
"No, my lord. He lives, as far as I know, but he is gone. He was seen taking a boat across the Anduin, where he said farewell to his companions and went on alone; when he was last seen he was headed toward the Mountains of Shadow." The messenger reached within his tunic and handed a grubby scrap of parchment to the Steward. On it was written in Thorongil's distinctive hand, "Other tasks now call me, lord, and much time and many perils must pass, ere I come again to Gondor, if that be my fate."
Ecthelion gave a low cry and slumped in his chair.
"The Steward is unwell!" cried Beleg. He immediately called a servant to summon a healer to attend the old man.
Ecthelion found himself in his bedchamber when he came to his senses. Denethor and one of the healers stood on either side of his bed. The healer looked grave, while Denethor looked more cheerful than was his wont. "What happened?" the Steward murmured.
"I believe you have suffered a slight seizure, my lord," said the healer. "Plenty of rest should soon restore you to health. Drink this potion, it will make you feel better, sir." He held a cup to Ecthelion's lips. The Steward drank.
The healer fussed around checking his patient's pulse and asking Ecthelion if he could lift his arms. He appeared satisfied with his findings. "You should stay abed for a few days, my lord," he said. "I will return later to see how you are faring." With that, he took his leave.
For a few moments, the old Steward remained confused, trying to recall what had caused his sudden weakness. Then recollections of the tidings he had received flooded back to him. "Thorongil has gone!" he murmured. "Gone without even a proper word of farewell!"
"I never did trust Thorongil," said Denethor. "You should have listened to my counsel, father. I told you that a sellsword of doubtful lineage could not be trusted. Gondor is better off without the likes of him."
"Never speak thus!" Ecthelion said sharply. "Thorongil was a great man and Gondor owes him much, not least now. The Corsairs have long been a thorn in our side. Thorongil has left us with a mighty parting gift."
"We must hold a great celebration," said Denethor. "This is indeed a glorious day!" Seeing his father's glare, he added hastily. "Resounding victories against the enemy are sadly few, so the defeat of the Corsairs is surely a good reason to rejoice?"
"Indeed, my son," said Ecthelion. "Alas, though, my heart is sore heavy. Go now and spend some time with Finduilas and my grandson. I would rest now. Send for my servant to tend to me."
Denethor made a mild protest then left his father's chambers with a spring in his step and humming a cheerful dance melody.
Ecthelion lay back against the pillows after the servant had attended to him and left, but sleep was slow to come to him. Unanswered questions whirled through his brain. Why had Thorongil left? Why? After such a victory, he would have showered honours upon him and given him whatever he desired. Perhaps even – better not even to think upon that now. And why was Thorongil heading towards the Mountains of Shadow? Surely, certain death awaited him there? Tears trickled down the old man's cheeks at the thought of the cruel fate that no doubt awaited the man he had come to love more dearly than his own son. Yes, Denethor was his flesh and blood, but Thorongil had shown him far more warmth and companionship. The Captain had enjoyed listening to his stories about his boyhood, as Denethor never had done. The prospect of life without him was lonely and bleak indeed.
Weeks passed and became months. Denethor held his celebration, which was the talk of Minas Tirith for weeks. It was said that he looked even happier than he had done when he wed the fair Finduilas and he had danced the night away with her. Folk soon grew bored with the topic, though. The departure of Thorongil, however, was still on the lips of all, as almost everyone from the errand boys to the Steward had loved the popular Captain.
Ecthelion recovered from his illness after a fashion, but was no longer his former hale and vigorous self. He took to strolling in the evenings around the Court of the Fountain, leaning heavily on a cane. Then he would sit and gaze at the dead White Tree, lost in thought.
One night, he was sitting on a bench, when he sensed someone brushing past him. He quickly looked around, but the cloaked and hooded man was already melting into the shadows. He realised something had been stuffed in his cloak. Ecthelion pulled it out. It was a letter. It was too dark outside for his ageing eyes to read; also he had a feeling it was something of importance, which was better read in private.
He made his way back to his chambers where he called for candles to be lit and then dismissed his servant. Ecthelion reached into his cloak for the parchment. A tremor seized him when he glimpsed it was written in Thorongil's hand. He tore open the seal and began to read,
"My lord Steward and dear friend,
I realise that you may no longer think of me as such, but in my heart, you will ever remain so.
It deeply saddened my heart that I had to leave in such a fashion, sneaking away like a thief in the night, but I felt I had no other choice if our beloved land were to be spared the horrors of kinstrife. It grieves me that I could not send you a message before now, but there was none I could trust to deliver this message, meant for your eyes alone.
I know you have long since guessed my true lineage, as has your son. While your words and actions have given me cause to believe that you would welcome my claim, should I make one, Lord Denethor would never accept me.
You told me that should I defeat the corsairs, you would shower me with honours. As you have already greatly rewarded me, I can think only of one further honour you might wish to bestow, an honour, which would appal your son and those who support him. Even if this was not your intent, the popularity that this victory has given me, would only increase the enmity of Lord Denethor towards me, an enmity which would set father against son and brother and against brother, thus weakening Gondor and strengthening our Enemy.
I speak from my heart when I say that never did I intend to cause discord between you and your son. I sought only to be a loyal captain of Gondor.
It greatly saddens my heart that I must take my leave of you, my friend. You became almost as a father to me, the mortal father I had never known.
I plan now to travel to distant lands where the stars are strange. I do not know if I will ever see you again, my friend, but my thoughts will ever remain with you.
Please look after your health and long may you continue to guard our beloved land.
For the last time I sign myself,
Your friend and captain,
Tears rolled down Ecthelion's cheeks as he read the message. Thorongil had not betrayed him, but had left because he was so loyal. The Captain had guessed rightly. Had Thorongil been able to produce proofs that he was indeed the rightful king, the old Steward would gladly have surrendered rod and rule into his capable and popular hands. Denethor would never have accepted his decision, though. Ecthelion's son and heir saw himself as born to rule. The birth of young Boromir had only increased his determination that the tenure of the Stewards should continue.
Ecthelion sat for a long time clutching Thorongil's letter. It was not until the candles and the fire had burned low that he stirred from his chair. He knew he should destroy the parchment, but could not bring himself to do so. At last, he rose slowly and painfully from his seat. Taking a key from his pocket, Ecthelion unlocked a compartment in his desk. It was already stuffed with treasured letters, messages from his long dead parents, sent to them while he was serving as a soldier, missives from his lady when they were courting, and messages his children had sent him when they were very young. He stuffed Thorongil's letter amongst them. His trusted secretary, Beleg, had already given his word to destroy all these papers after his death.
Ecthelion locked the drawer. He sat down sadly in front of the fire, gazing into the dying flames. The glowing coals formed a circle that reminded him of the Winged Crown. Then suddenly the foresight of his people came upon him and he knew with certainty, that one day, one born of his line would freely offer the crown to Thorongil.
The old man smiled and called for a servant to bring fresh candles.
Beyond the Shadows
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil- Psalm 23.
Warning – character death.
These characters all belong to the estate of J.R.R. Tolkien. This story was written for pleasure and not for financial gain.
The shadows lengthened almost imperceptibly as the afternoon wore on, until the features of the younger man in the room were no longer clearly discernible.
Ecthelion coughed loudly causing his son to look up.
"We should send a thousand men," said Denethor. He blinked as the sinking sun dazzled his eyes.
"You have not listened to a word I said," Ecthelion chided gently.
"I was listening, father," Denethor protested.
"I might be ninety- seven years old, but I am not yet in my dotage," the Steward replied. "I know when you are not paying attention, but how can I blame you today of all days. This discussion on the strength of the Ithilien Rangers can wait for another day."
"Our routine should not be interrupted by the impending arrival," said Denethor. He sighed and rubbed the back of his hand across his forehead. "It has been too long, though. I was informed that second babies usually arrive much more swiftly than the first. I am eager to behold my daughter. Boromir will make a splendid watchful older brother to his little sister, who will be the fairest little maid in Gondor."
"You could have a second son," Ecthelion cautioned.
"Nonsense! Finduilas was much stricken with sickness in the morning this time, which she never was when expecting my Boromir. The healers told me to expect a girl and I assured Finduilas that I would not be disappointed with a daughter."
"Boy or girl, as long as my grandchild is healthy and Finduilas is well, I shall be more than content," said Ecthelion. The old man reached for the cane he had needed since he had suffered a slight seizure the year before. He laboriously rose to his feet and went over to the window where he stood gazing out at the crimson hued sky. "It is a beautiful sunset tonight," he said.
Denethor glanced towards the window. "It is no different from any other," he said. "It tells me only that day is almost done."
"When you are as old as I am, my son, and you know that your days are approaching their end, you appreciate the small beauties all the more," said the Steward.
"Speak not of your death so calmly!" Denethor said sharply. "You are of the House of Húrin, a true son of Númenor. You could yet live for many more years."
"I do not fear death," said Ecthelion. "I rejoice, though, that I have lived long enough to see your children."
Before Denethor could reply there came a knock on the door.
"Come in!" both men cried almost in unison.
A woman entered; her fresh complexion and rosy cheeks suggesting she was most likely recently arrived from the country. She was dressed in the black gown and white smock worn by the women healers."
"What news?" Denethor barked impatiently before the woman had time to open her mouth.
"You have a son, my lord, and such a fair babe, as fine as any I've ever seen. Not a large babe, but he has a right lusty cry and…."
Denethor's face clouded at her tidings. "What of the Lady Finduilas?" he interrupted.
"She is well enough now, but it was a long and hard ordeal for the poor lady. Dame Morwen almost despaired at one time, but both are well now and the Lady Finduilas is taking a little beef tea to strengthen her and…"
"I wish to see my wife," Denethor interrupted.
"Of course, my lord. Mistress Morwen sent me to tell you that you can see your new son and the Lady Finduilas."
Denethor rose to his feet.
"I will come with you," said Ecthelion.
"It is a long way for you to walk, father."
"Nonsense, the exercise will do me good. It is the custom that the Ruling Steward should welcome each new heir into the world."
"You have already welcomed Boromir who will rule after us both," said Denethor.
"And I would welcome this grandson too." Ecthelion smiled at the woman who had brought them the news. "You lead the way, mistress, but not too swiftly, remember I am not as young as I once was. What is your name? You are not from the City, I wager?"
"I am called Ioreth and I hail from Lossarnach, my lord. I am but lately come to the City to study with Mistress Morwen and…"
Her chatter continued until they reached Lady Finduilas' lying in chamber.
As was the custom, Ecthelion waited in an antechamber while Denethor joined his wife and new-born son in the inner chamber. It was a dreary place to wait, dimly lit by a single torch burning in a sconce, the light from which barely penetrated the deeply shadowed recesses of the room.
A servant bearing a lamp entered, alongside one of the healing women, who carried the infant in her arms. The lamp brilliantly illuminated the baby, bathing him in a pool of light.
Ecthelion gasped. Boromir had been a sturdy babe, but this little one was, like their mother, nigh elven-fair. He had a sweet face with delicate features beneath a shock of dark hair and long limbs. He was smaller than Boromir had been at birth, but was perfectly formed. The old Steward was unexpectedly reminded of Thorongil. How he had hoped that his favoured captain might choose a wife and settle in Gondor. Surely, a son of his would have been elven fair, just like this tiny babe?
Ecthelion reached out a finger towards the child, which was promptly grasped in the tiny fist with surprising strength. The baby gazed at him with a clear unblinking gaze, innocent, yet full of wisdom.
Ecthelion was suddenly filled with an unexpected sensation of joy and hope. He blinked away a tear.
Denethor appeared from the inner chamber. A refreshing scent wafted out of the door behind him.
"Finduilas is resting," he said. "Mistress Morwen said it was a difficult birth, but that my lady should soon recover with rest and good food. So what do you think of your latest grandson, father?"
"He is a fine child. Our beloved land will be in good hands."
"We already have Boromir to secure our future." Denethor sounded angry and a shadow clouded his features.
"Your pardon, son, I scarce know from whence my words came." He turned to Mistress Morwen. "My thanks for bringing my grandson to show me, Mistress Morwen. He is a fair babe indeed. Tell me, what is that scent in Lady Finduilas' chamber?"
"It is kingsfoil, my lord. Mistress Ioreth says they use it in Lossarnach to refresh the air in a birthing chamber."
"Mistress Ioreth is quite a character," Ecthelion said with a smile.
"At present, she seems to think her country lore is the answer to everything, but she is proving a competent assistant," said Morwen.
Ecthelion lingered a few more moments contemplating his new grandson and stroking his soft cheeks and hair. At last, he said, "You should take him back to his mother now."
The healer disappeared back into the inner chamber, followed by the servant. Ecthelion could not tear his eyes from the baby until they were out of sight.
"Such a beautiful child," said Ecthelion. "It gladdens my heart to behold one so fair."
"Compared with Boromir, I find this one somewhat ugly," said Denethor. "He is a scrawny infant and much smaller."
"He will soon grow," said Ecthelion. "I believe he resembles Finduilas somewhat with her elven beauty and grace."
"Beauty and grace ill befit a boy child," said Denethor. "Gondor needs warriors not dancers!"
Ecthelion again thought of Thorongil, the mightiest of warriors who moved with the grace of a cat. Finduilas' brother Imrahil had much of his sister's grace in movement too and was a doughty fighter. "What will you call your son?" he asked Denethor.
"My Lady and I had planned to call a daughter, 'Miriel' so that we would have two jewels. Therefore, we have decided on 'Faramir '."
"Why not 'Miriond' for a boy?"
"It would seem that I valued this second son more than my Boromir if I called him my 'jewel son'. Faramir will be a sufficient enough jewel, I hope."
"'Faramir' is a good name for one whom I feel will prove more than sufficient," said Ecthelion.
"Time alone will determine that," said Denethor.
Baby Faramir thrived, but his mother recovered from the birth slowly. Her body healed, but the melancholy, to which she had often been prone in the past, held her in its thrall and seemed to drain the very spirit from her slender frame.
The healers informed the Steward and his son that it was not unusual for new mothers to suffer from low spirits and that Finduilas simply needed time and rest.
Ecthelion enjoyed spending time with his new grandson. The sight of the fair babe made him forget the aches and pains of his growing infirmities for a time. During that summer, the Steward was usually often to be found in either the nursery of or Finduilas' solar when his duties allowed.
Finduilas, more often than not would sit in a chair by the window in her solar with Faramir asleep either in her arms or in his cradle at her feet. Ecthelion frequently found her gazing south towards her homeland with a look of longing on her fair face.
Today, when he visited, though, he found his daughter by marriage looking out of a another window, one that faced east. She clutched Faramir so tightly that he wailed in protest, while tears streamed down her pale cheeks.
"What ails you, my daughter?" Ecthelion asked in alarm.
"The Shadow from the East grows ever stronger," said Finduilas. "My poor babies! What is to become of them?"
"We should not abandon hope," said Ecthelion. "Maybe the King will return and lead us to victory."
"If only he would come!" said Finduilas. She made a valiant effort to compose herself. She gently placed Faramir in his cradle, and began to rock it, all the while wiping her eyes. "Maybe Denethor could take me to visit the sea if the King returned and released him from his duties?" she said, her tone like that of an as eager little girl. "But pay no heed to my foolish words. I should like to see the White Tree bloom anew and Gondor at peace. These are but dreams, though. Perhaps we should hope instead that Captain Thorongil will return. He led us to a great victory against the corsairs. Maybe more might follow?"
"I miss Thorongil," Ecthelion said wistfully. "He was a good friend to Gondor and to me."
"I wish he could have seen Faramir," said Finduilas.
"Maybe one day he will," said the old Steward.
That night Ecthelion enjoyed a private late supper with Denethor. Finduilas had already retired to bed.
"I visited Finduilas and Faramir today," said the Steward.
"You never spent so much time with Boromir as a babe, father." Denethor's tone held a mild rebuke.
"You were constantly at his side when your duties allowed. I had no wish to intrude," said Ecthelion. "It is Finduilas I wish to speak about to you, though. She is in very low spirits. I have spoken to the healers and they say a change of air would benefit her."
Denethor sighed. "They tell me that too, but, alas, I cannot leave my duties to take her and the children to visit her kin in Dol Amroth. These times are too dangerous for her to go alone. Some of the healers have strange ideas, though. My lady is already in the fairest place in Arda. The healers should concentrate on brewing tonics to restore her health. If she misses her kinsfolk they are always welcome to visit her here in the City."
"You could be spared."
"I am needed here. It is out of the question, father. The subject is closed."
"I am your father, but I am also your lord," Ecthelion said sternly. "I still hold rod and rule here and the City will fare well enough in your absence. Your lord commands you, Denethor, to take your lady and sons on a visit to Dol Amroth."
"As you wish, father." Denethor replied. "If you will excuse me." He strode from the room.
Two days later, Ecthelion watched Denethor and his family depart for the coast. The old man found the extra duties that fell upon him in their absence drained his already meagre reserves or strength. Yet, he deemed his hard work a worthwhile sacrifice on Finduilas' return, for her step was lighter and colour bloomed in her cheeks once more.
Summer turned to autumn and autumn to winter. The cold seemed especially bitter this year and seemed to seep into Ecthelion's very bones. However many furs he wore and however large the fire, the Steward found it hard to get warm.
Faramir continued to delight the old man. Soon after Mettarë he learned to crawl and liked nothing better than to crawl around his grandsire's feet laughing delightedly when the Steward played peek a boo with him. Ecthelion would laugh too, something he had rarely done since Thorongil's departure.
Sometimes, Boromir would join in these games for he was touchingly devoted to his little brother. The lively little boy quickly grew bored, though, and would soon go off to play with his wooden sword or toy soldiers. Ecthelion was always relieved, for although he loved his elder grandson, he found Boromir somewhat boisterous. Faramir, on the other hand, was a quiet, sweet natured baby who was surprisingly undemanding for one so little. Ecthelion became increasingly convinced that there was something special about the child. an unusually wise child, quick to recognise and remember faces and possessing strong powers of concentration for an infant. The babe would gaze intently at pictures in books held up to his face, his bright eyes following the images from one page to the next. He was also sweet natured and loving. He liked nothing better than to snuggle against his grandsire.
Spring came at last, but Ecthelion's health did not improve with the warmer weather. He still dealt with official papers, but he rarely left his chambers. The slightest exertion exhausted him. The healers could do nothing and said old age was what ailed him, the one affliction for which there was no remedy. Ecthelion dismissed them, weary of their fussing. The old man found himself thinking more about the past. Sometimes it seemed only yesterday that he was a young man watching his own children growing. He had tried to be a good father, but it had not been easy. He realised now that he had made mistakes with poor Firiel. Her sisters seemed content enough in their lives though. Then there was Denethor. He had never been as close to his only son as he would have wished, but Denethor seemed to hold everyone at arm's length, including his own father. The old man sighed. Sometimes he thought that ruling Gondor was easier than ruling his family and that he had been more successful as a Steward than as a father.
Ecthelion was aware that he was slowly dying. He was resigned to it. He had grown weary of being confined within an aging body and was ready to gladly receive Eru's Gift to Men. One thing troubled him, though, the fate of his beloved land.
He had taught Denethor all he knew and his son was ripe to receive the White Rod from his hand, but battle hardened warrior and lore master, though Denethor was, Ecthelion feared that his son's pride might shadow his judgement. Unlike his father, Denethor shunned Mithrandir's counsels. Then what if Thorongil should return? Denethor would not welcome him as his sire had done.
Faramir's first birthday fell in early May and Ecthelion was determined to attend his grandson's modest birthday celebrations He rejoiced to see the toddler's delighted smiles at his gift of a wooden horse, but afterwards he was exhausted. The next day, he sent for Denethor and entrusted the White Rod into his keeping.
Denethor seemed torn between sorrow and delight on receiving the ultimate symbol of authority. "You could live for many years yet," he protested.
"My son, I am ninety-eight years old. All that is left for me is to ask that you rule Gondor wisely and well until the king should come again."
"I will," said Denethor, taking the rod and clasping it firmly in his hand.
Ecthelion now spent most of his time sleeping, but at his request, Finduilas brought Faramir for a brief visit each day. The visits much cheered the ailing Steward.
One morning, when Ecthelion awoke with a pounding headache and he felt as if the room were spinning. His body felt numb and unresponsive down one side and he could not speak clearly. When his servant drew back the curtains to let in the morning sunlight, the chamber still seemed full of shadows. Ecthelion tried to speak to the servant but could not form the words properly.
The man hastened from the room. Denethor and a healer appeared soon afterwards.
"I fear the Steward is dying," said the healer after a thorough examination. "He has suffered another seizure."
"Have you no remedy?" asked Denethor. "He recovered two years ago."
The healer shook his head sadly. "I fear not, my lord. The seizure is far more severe this time. All I can advise is that Lord Ecthelion is kept comfortable. I will prepare a draught. You should send for any family who might wish to make their farewells, my lord."
The day passed in a blur. Ecthelion was aware of his weeping daughters at his bedside and a scared looking Boromir clutching his mother's hand. The little boy seemed veiled in shadow, as were Finduilas and Denethor. "Faramir?" Ecthelion muttered.
"I will bring him," said Finduilas.
Ecthelion looked up and saw, to his great surprise, his father, Turgon, standing beside his bed. His sire appeared as a man in his prime, just as Ecthelion remembered him from his childhood.
"Come, my son," said Turgon. "It is time. Many are waiting to welcome you home. Your lady and your mother are eager to greet you, as is Firiel."
"What of Gondor?" asked Ecthelion. He found he could speak clearly to his father. No one else in the room seemed to have noticed Turgon's presence.
"I think you know Gondor's future is in good hands," said Turgon. "Behold!"
Just then, Finduilas returned with Faramir in her arms. Unlike the others in the room, Faramir appeared to be surrounded by light.
Suddenly, he was a child no longer, but a man grown. He was riding beside Thorongil along a path lined with blossom trees and everywhere was fair and green.
"Father! You cannot leave us now," Denethor cried. "Not when Mordor's shadow grows ever longer!"
Ecthelion wanted to tell his son that all would be well. With a might effort, he cried out, "Thorongil, Faramir, hope!"
Turgon reached out his hand. Ecthelion grasped it. The Old Steward was enveloped in a glorious golden light as the shadows fell away forever.
A/n. This story serves as a sequel to "An Unexpected Letter" and also refers to "A Sad Tale's best for Winter". This story was written for the "Teitho" "Shadows" contest where it was placed second.