With grateful thanks to Raksha and Virtuella for editing and thanks to Cairistiona, Lily Baggins, Michelle, Nath and Shirebound for help with plot details.
The characters are the property of the Tolkien estate. No profit has been, nor will be made from this story.
"The tea is cold and tastes rather strange," Denethor. "I will send for some fresh. Would you like breakfast, Aragorn?"
Thorongil flinched at this fresh use of his true name. "I will just have some toast, please," he replied. He still felt too nauseous to stomach a full meal. He only hoped his still delicate digestion would not rebel at the sight and smell of Denethor's favoured morning meal of ham and eggs.
To his surprise when breakfast arrived, it comprised a large plate of toast and butter, together with boiled eggs and crusty bread and honey, the only addition for his companion.
Denethor saw his look of surprise and said, "I did not wish to order anything that might cause your nausea to return, mellon nîn. Shall I assist you to a chair or would you prefer breakfast in bed?"
"Breakfast in bed, please," said Thorongil because he wanted to appear as helpless as possible. To his delight, Denethor yawned; causing him to dare hope that he had imbibed sufficient of the drug to make him sleep. He was starting to feel much stronger now the pain killing herbs had had time to take effect. He nibbled at his toast, but let Denethor hold the cup for him again, willing to endure that indignity, if he could but lull the man into complacency that he was too weak to attempt to escape.
After he had eaten his fill, an increasingly yawning Denethor brought Thorongil a damp cloth to lave his hands and face. "Would you like me to read to you?" he suggested. "Or would you prefer a game of chess?"
Thorongil quickly scanned the books in the room, surprised at how many concerned Elvish lore and the History of the Kings. He requested an account of the Battle of Unnumbered Tears in Quenya, which he espied on a far corner of the shelf.
Denethor began to read, but when he reached an account of the strength of the armies and what weapons they bore, his words became slurred and the book fell on his lap, the reader sound asleep. Thorongil waited to make certain Denethor was sleeping soundly. In repose, the man's features looked noble, yet surprisingly gentle, with an almost childlike innocence. Strange indeed how the man had changed over these past days!
With the stealth only a Ranger or an Elf can possess, Thorongil slid from the bed. He had no idea where his own clothes might be, but a tunic and breeches lay folded on a chair together with a grey cloak. He silently donned them over the drawers and nightshirt he was already wearing, together with some boots. They fit perfectly, almost as if they were made for him, though of far finer quality than his own clothing. He was startled to see that the tunic was embroidered with the Stars and Tree of the Kings. What nefarious scheme could Denethor be planning, that he would have ordered such things? Maybe Thorongil was to be held up to public ridicule as a would- be king with nothing to back up his claim? Would Denethor force him to wear the garments to his execution, as a final humiliation?
He knew it was time for him to leave Gondor, a realisation that had been growing in his mind for some time. Captain Thorongil was loved by the people, and most especially by Ecthelion, but the Steward was growing old and frail. Thorongil needed to be well away from here before his son inherited the White Rod.
He cautiously opened the door a few inches. Fortunately, it was well oiled. Two guards stoodat the far end of the corridor. He crept along, concealing himself in shadows and doorways. He dodged into an alcove when he saw a comely maidservant approach with a basket of laundry. The girl paused to wink flirtatiously at the guards. Thorongil slipped past unnoticed.
Flattening his body against walls and alcoves whenever he was in danger of being observed, Thorongil gradually made his way to the main door and slipped outside. He was somewhat surprised not to have seen any familiar faces amongst the servants he had glimpsed. Most of the staff had worked in the Citadel for years. It was as if they had all been mysteriously replaced overnight.
Thorongil walked openly among the passers by once he was outside. Greatly to his surprise, almost without exception they dipped their heads or bowed to him as he passed, while others called "Good day, my lord!" Captain Thorongil was popular, but such shows of respect were for a ruler, not a captain!
A woman, holding a little girl by the hand, pushed through the crowds and thrust a bunch of flowers towards him. "Thank you for saving my daughter, my lord!" she exclaimed shyly.
Before Thorongil could ask her what she meant, she had curtsied and scuttled away with the little girl.
He was alarmed to see a handful of Southrons in their colourful robes mingling with the Gondorians. They carried baskets of goods like merchants, but they must be surely enemy spies. Thorongil thought how strange it was that they made no attempt to disguise themselves to avoid the hangman's noose!
He was so distracted by his musings that he failed to see a now wide-awake Denethor approaching him, together with several guards.
"You must come back to bed, sire, you are not well," said Denethor.
Panicked, Thorongil ran around the corner to the Court of the Fountain, desperately hoping he could disappear down one of the pathways leading away from the fountain and the dead tree. To his astonishment, the withered trunk had disappeared and a living tree stood in its place. The guards were dressed differently too. They were bareheaded and their uniforms bore insignia that he had last seen in portraits of Elendil at Rivendell.
It was all too much for Thorongil. Everything started to spin. The flowers dropped from his hands, their petals scattering in the breeze. He heard someone running towards him. Denethor's arms caught him as everything went black.
Powerless to resist, the semiconscious Thorongil was carried back inside. This time, he was taken to a different room. The new chamber appeared to belong to a woman, from the way it was decorated. A thick carpet covered the floor and various ornaments were dotted around together with vases filled with spring blooms. A full-length mirror stood by a large wardrobe, while a small loom and spinning wheel occupied one corner. The walls were draped with fine tapestries, again oddly similar to the ones he recalled from his childhood at Rivendell.
Two healers were waiting there, the man he had seen earlier that day together with a much older man. Denethor dismissed the guards, telling them to wait outside the door. It seemed that this time there would be no escape.
The older healer produced a potion, which he politely, but very firmly insisted that Thorongil swallow. He knew from the smell it was intended to induce sleep.
"Let me go!" Thorongil cried.
"I am sorry, sire, but you need rest and quiet," said the older healer.
"You might do yourself further injury, my lord," said the other. "Come, let us help you undress and return to bed. We need to examine you to see if you have injured yourself further. It concerns us that you swooned. You have been over exerting yourself, we fear. "
"We have a clean nightshirt here for you," said Denethor, producing the folded garment from a nearby chair.
"No!" said Thorongil.
"Maybe we should just wrap him in blankets to prevent him escaping again?" the older healer suggested.
"No!" Denethor said sternly. "His dignity must be respected."
Thorongil had to bite his tongue ere he accused Denethor of being a hypocrite. What worse indignity could there be than to be imprisoned and have his jailors forcibly remove his clothing? The drug quickly took effect and he could only struggle feebly while Denethor and the healers undressed him under a blanket and applied a salve to his painful head and side. A nightshirt of finest linen was then slipped over his head and the covers pulled up to his chin.
Before he succumbed to the drug, he heard Denethor say in an agitated tone, "How could I have been so careless to let him wander off?"
"You were drugged, my lord, I can see that your pupils are dilated. You did well to awaken when you did," the older healer replied. "He is obviously very confused. It might be best to restrain him for his own good."
"Remember who he is!" Denethor's tone was sharp.
"Of course, my lord, as you wish."
"Will he recover?" Denethor's tone was now anxious. Thorongil was surprised; though Denethor was capable of masking his true feelings, he had not known the Steward's heir to be so skilled at deception!
"He should, but it will take time, I fear. Maybe he will feel more himself when my lady returns. Would you like both of us to stay with him? He must not be left alone in his current state of mind."
"I will not leave him, but would be grateful if one of you would stay. I will keep guards stationed outside the room at all times now."
Thorongil's heart sank still further at these tidings. And who was "my lady"? Surely they were not planning to bring some female healer to tend him?
Denethor and the healer sat down on chairs either side of the elaborately draped bed, more fitted for a queen than for a captive captain. They were obviously prepared to stay there. Even more bizarrely, Denethor patted his captive's hand and said "Ada, please try to rest, you will be well again soon."
"Ada?" Thorongil wondered. Why would Denethor who was much of an age with him address him thus? Perhaps he was already dreaming?
Within moments, he surrendered to slumber, unable to resist the sleeping potion any longer.
When he awoke again, Thorongil's head felt much better. There was no sign of his jailors. Slowly he sat up and to his great relief his head did not swim. Darkness had apparently fallen outside, the room was illuminated solely by a dim lamp.
Then he noticed her; a woman was lying in bed beside him! She was turned away from him, so that he could not see her face. The long dark hair spread across the pillow suggested that it must be Lady Finduilas. He was obviously in her chamber. This then, was Denethor's plot against him. For a man to be found abed with the Heir to the Stewardship's wife was high treason. It meant a certain and extremely unpleasant death. Finduilas would escape punishment if it appeared that he had taken her by force. However had Denethor persuaded his virtuous wife to agree to so evil a plan? Perhaps she had been drugged too?
Thorongil feared his fate was sealed. Ecthelion might well love him as a son, but even the Steward could not exonerate him from a situation such as this. He was alone with the lady, in her bed and wearing nothing but a nightshirt! He cried out in horror, and the woman awoke with a start.