Plot summary: Convinced someone threatens his reign, Denethor's search for the unknown rebel turns into an obsession, and none are above suspicion. While narrowing his list of suspects, a disturbing crisis arises in Ithilien, forcing Faramir's rangers to the breaking point.
Author Notes: I'm not going to embarrass myself trying to mimic Tolkien's writing style. I can't do it, nor will I insult anyone, including myself, with a feeble attempt. The characters you recognize belong to Tolkien, or New Line Cinema. That being said, this story is based in movie verse with several book canon characters tossed in.
Timeframe: Pre-War of the Ring. The Year: 3004 Third Age.
A Matter of Trust
The lone figure nervously paced the length of the large chamber, carefully side stepping the snoring man leaned against the cave wall. He picked up the rough wool blanket wadded nearby and noticed the overturned jug underneath. Drunken words uttered in sleep passed unnoticed, and he tossed the blanket haphazardly around the drunk's body.
If his simple act of kindness was appreciated, the seven men inside the cave guarding him paid no notice, instead, they continued with their gambling game. He sighed deeply and resumed his pacing, listening to the back of his robe dragging behind him in the sand.
Due to his late night kidnapping, he was unprepared for his present predicament. He was cold, barefoot, and dressed only in a long dark nightshirt and robe. If he weren't so angry, he would have been grateful his capturers managed to grab his robe when they took him from his home and brought him blindfolded to this cave.
The cave was damp, not well lit, and drafty. "Can I have a blanket?" he asked, wrapping his arms tightly around his chest trying to gain some warmth.
One of his capturers looked up, and grinned through rotting teeth. "This is not Minas Tirith. We live off the land." He started snickering, elbowing one of his companions. "Or steal what we can."
He rolled his eyes and resumed his pacing. He had no measure of time, or any idea where he was, or how long he had been inside the cave. When he was freed, he found himself inside this chamber with no idea which direction would lead him towards the entrance.
The large chamber, which appeared to be a living quarters for several people was spacious enough to hold several makeshift tables, and in the center of the room, a pile of wood stacked next to a large cauldron.
The sound of an incautious step focused his attention on the darkest part of the chamber. A faint glow grew and then flared as a torch emerged from the previously hidden passage a moment later. A man, cloaked in a dark hood and cape, stopped just inside the passage. "You have news?" With a sigh, he nodded, and the man turned back down the passage and said in a deep baritone voice, "Follow me."
He obeyed, fearing for his life if he refused the request. As he followed his guide, he lost count how many times his shoulder hit the wall while he twisted and turned inside the narrow passage. A gust of wind blew through the tunnel, propelling dirt and the sickeningly sweet stench of death into his face. Squinting against the assault, he choked on both irritants, trying to filter out the worst of it by clamping his sleeve over his nose and mouth. His guide seemed unaffected by the bombardment and he quickened his pace to keep up.
The passage opened into a well-lit, irregular hexagon shaped compartment with a sandy floor, and many exits that led to other passageways. As they stepped into the compartment, the smell of death hung in the air and assaulted his senses. Twenty years ago, he had been assigned body retrieval duty after Gondor reclaimed Osgiliath, and the odor still haunted his senses and memories.
Three armed men approached and spoke with the guide. While they whispered amongst themselves, he studied his surroundings, wanting to know what type of people he had gotten himself involved with.
Torches placed in pairs along the walls, brightened the chamber with enough light it could easy pass as daylight. He turned his attention to the longest side of the compartment, and his question was answered the second he observed the five seven-foot poles buried in the sandy floor. As he eyes traveled up the length of the first pole, curiosity turned to horror when he realized the dark stains on the wood were not natural discolorations as he first thought, but dried bloodstains. He tried to turn his eyes away from the gruesome sight, but they were drawn up past the manacles and along the dangling chains to a ring driven deep into the wood at the top of the pole.
He quickly turned away, unable to comprehend what he had discovered. He took several deep breaths, attempting to keep himself from retching and forced his nauseous stomach to settle.
"Remain close, least you become lost," the guide instructed, startling him from his fixation with the pole. They entered another passageway without turning around. Several long minutes passed into silence until the tunnel opened into two separate rooms. "In here," the man instructed, pointing to the larger chamber.
He obeyed, and waited until the private room was lit with the torch before he felt safe enough to speak. "Your deeds have been kept from the public," he revealed. For the first time, the guide's features were visible. The graying hair, flowing elegantly down the shoulders bestowed a regal appearance upon the guide, and the beard, mixed with silver and black was surprisingly trim, but what caught the visitor's attention were the two thin braids woven tightly on each side of the face. The strings used to weave the braids were gold. When the guide looked back at him, he continued, "The council and military leaders fear knowledge would cause panic."
"And Lord Denethor?" the guide asked, sitting down on a large smooth stone structure carved out of the living rock.
Surprised by the interest in the steward, he answered. "He calls you a sadist, as does the council and…"
"Sadist," the man laughed, repeating the word several times. He sunk deeper into the stone structure. "I care not what those in power call me, just as long as they fear me."
"How can one fear when one knows not whom they face?" he asked, attempting to learn the other man's identity. Though they had only communicated by a mutual acquaintance and a few letters, he never knew this man's name. "The council believes you to be a spawn from Mordor."
"Let them believe I am Sauron himself."
"I know not what direction to serve you," he said, studying the man carefully. Last night, he had been attacked while he slept and before he could react, a sack was placed over his head. Unable to identify his assailants or learning which direction he was taken, he could only wait helplessly until he was unrestrained.
"You will be my eyes and ears inside the white city." The dark eyes stared back with such intensity the visitor felt the steward himself was scrutinizing him. "Remember, it was you, not I, who requested this face-to-face meeting. Fail me and you life is forfeited."
He bit his lip, understanding the underlining threat. Though he feared this individual, what scared him most was Denethor discovering his treachery. The steward's justice was notorious, and Denethor never allowed his opponent the opportunity to have remorse or retaliate against him.
Was two thousand pieces of mirian worth the price of treason?