3. Third Age 2937
Ecthelion had meant to give Denethor the horn on his sixth birth day, but after last year's debacle with the bullfrog, Ecthelion had decided the child was not yet ready. So, lo this past year, he spent changing Denethor's life. He took him out of the nursery suite and placed him in a room alone. His sisters were quartered at one end of the long hallway and Denethor's room was moved to the other end. He forbade the sisters to let Denethor sneak into bed with them, a habit they had allowed when the boy had nightmares. Almiel and Indis were most distressed by this order, but there was no swaying their father. It was so very hard for them to say nay to their brother when he came begging at their door. The boy's eyes filled with tears on those nights. As they closed the door to him, they clung to each other and sobbed. They were not even allowed to walk him back to his room; the corridor was dark and always chilly. The girls' hearts broke.
Ecthelion was adamant; his orders were not to be disobeyed. The boy was to be Steward. Denethor was already a year behind in the plan that Ecthelion had devised for his training. Naught could shake the foreboding in Ecthelion's heart. He must prepare Gondor and, because of Turgon's refusal to listen to his fears, the only choice he had was to prepare his son. His fear was that the darkest of evils would befall Gondor in his son's lifetime; yet, he hoped that, in Denethor's time, the king would return.
So Denethor in his isolation had found the Great Library and snuck books from it to read during the long, lonely nights. At first, some of them were very hard to understand, but he was of Númenórean blood and, through much diligence, came to understand many things. After the first few months and the discovery of the library, Denethor was not so miserable. His favorite books were those of the sea-faring captains of Gondor. Many of the old manuscripts had been rewritten to preserve them. He had found them and became quickly enamored, reading, spellbound, the tales of their great voyages.
His favorite was of Captain Vëantur, under King Minardil. The captain's descriptions made him feel as though he were actually sailing on the sea. He would close his eyes and imagine he could feel the waves rock the great ship, feel the wind blowing against his body, the spray of water on his face. He would sit on his bed and rock back and forth, imagining the bed his boat. He read of voyages to the Gray Havens, the Elven dwelling and of Círdan, Shipwright and Lord of Mithlond. Some days he would stand on the escarpment, eyes closed, imagination running from east to west, north to south.
In his mind, he rode with the great captain from the mouth of the Anduin, the Great River, south to the Bay of Belfalas, then further south to the port cities of Umbar and west to Dol Amroth and Edhellond. He found maps that showed these great cities and reveled in their names. He felt the captain's need to sail even further west, but also felt the fear of doing such a thing. Mayhap someday, when he was a great captain, he would sail west to wherever it was that Captain Vëantur wanted to sail. Just the thought of it made him catch his breath and the hairs on his arms to stand up.
The captain wrote of strange creatures, half the size of men, whom he called Pheriannath, Little People, who dwelt in hillsides and meadows. He wrote of great towers far to the west built by Elves. There were terrible encounters with Orcs when they were ambushed north of Mithlond. Then, Denethor found the tale of the death of his captain; it was the last book he read of the seafarers of Westernesse; the little boy's heart was broken.
Ecthelion noted the change in Denethor and assumed that his son was growing up due to his devices. So he began arrangements for the first ceremony of many in preparation for Denethor's becoming Steward. He dispatched riders with invitations to Fengel, King of Rohan (Prince Thengel was already in Gondor's service), Prince Angelimir of Dol Amroth, and various dignitaries from Lossarnach, Lebennin, Lamedon and Gondor's other fiefdoms. He even invited Curunír of the White Council.
At year's end, the guests started arriving; for three days, the festivities ran. There was feasting and singing, dancing and fireworks, along with sporting events and exhibitions of sword fighting, archery and axe throwing. During one lull, Prince Thengel took Ecthelion aside and asked him why the ceremony -- usually performed at a son's tenth birth day -- should be performed at Denethor's seventh.
Ecthelion, much as he loved Thengel, was curt. "There are things you do not know, nor can you grasp. I have had a premonition -- I must abide by it. Soon, all Gondorian males will begin military training at the age of six, if my will prevails. My son will be an example of the sacrifice that Gondor requires of its people."
At last, the time had come. At the end of the third day, Denethor was summoned to the Citadel. He spent the morning with the Captain of the Guard. He had brought with him his new garments and the captain helped him dress. He first put on the long gray shirt, then his hose, then the aketon, and his hauberk, and over that a silk tunic and vambraces for his arms. Finally, over all, was the black surcoat with the White Tree embroidered on the front. There was no sword for him to wear yet. Another ceremony, much later, would be held for the conferring of his first sword.
When he was dressed, he was led into the Great Hall. His grandfather sat on the Steward's Chair and his father stood beside him. As always, the Throne above the Chair was empty. The Hall was filled with lords and ladies. Denethor was frightened. He had never seen so many people in the Great Hall and it seemed as if all eyes were upon him. For the last three months, the Captain of the Guard had gone over the ceremony with him. Denethor had spent all his nights remembering the words, some of which were in the Quenya tongue, but finally, he had the ceremony memorized and the captain informed Ecthelion that all was ready. But knowing the words and saying them in front of all these people were two totally different things. He was terrified.
Drawing in a breath, Denethor started to walk quickly towards the Chair and his grandfather when, suddenly, his face grew red. He remembered he was to walk slowly. What would his father say? He remembered the count he was to use to time his steps. He slowed his gait and counted - one...two...three...four, one...two...three...four. He saw his father nod his approval. He remembered to keep his head high, his eyes looking forward and his back straight, but the mail shirt was heavy and the Hall was very long. Once again he wished his legs were longer. Sweat beaded upon his forehead, but he knew he must not wipe it away. He bit his lip quickly to remind himself that he must be strong. Many times his father had gone over how very important this day was.
Finally, he reached the Steward's Chair. He bowed low to Turgon, then turned and bowed to his father. How stern he looked. Had he done something wrong? The ceremony had hardly started. Was something amiss with his attire? He did not know what to do, so he turned back to Turgon, bent one knee and looked into his grandfather's kindly face. The smile upon it lifted his spirit.
How he loved his grandfather! There were so few times when they could be together, but every moment was special. Even during this last year of preparation, Turgon would find him and bring him sweets and sit him upon his knee to tell him funny stories of the strange creatures called Mûmakil and various sea animals like dolphins and terrifying stories of Trolls and Orcs. Denethor felt suddenly unafraid; he was so very glad that it was to his grandfather that he was to make this pledge and not to his father.
"In ages long past," Turgon began, "the great Steward, Vorondil the Hunter, came upon a massive kine and slew it. He cut one of the horns from the beast and brought it to the smithy where it was bound and tipped with silver. Ancient runes were carved upon it. Finally, it was hung on a baldric. And thus the Great Horn of Gondor was made. Vorondil passed this horn on to his son. Ever after have the Stewards of Gondor passed this horn down from one generation to another, always to the firstborn son. Today, we recall this event by the bequeathing of this first horn - a replica of the Great Horn -- upon commencement of training of the Twenty-Sixth Ruling Steward of Gondor."
He turned towards Denethor, his eyes twinkling with joy; his face held still. "Do you accept this horn until it is replaced with the Great Horn?"
"I do accept this horn," Denethor stated.
"Will you commence training for your duties as future Steward of Gondor?"
"I shall commence training for my duties to Gondor."
"Will you serve the king when he returns?"
"I shall gladly serve the king when he returns."
Turgon stood. "Let it be known that Denethor the Second, son of Ecthelion, son of Turgon, of pure Númenórean blood, has been deemed fit to train for his role as Steward of Gondor."
The Steward turned again towards Denethor and said, "I pass this horn to you -- a replica of the Great Horn -- and bid you wear it at all times to signify your allegiance to Gondor and to the return of the king. The Great Horn and the title, Steward of Gondor, will be yours upon the death of the reigning Steward."
"Aiya, Turgon!" Denethor called out loudly, then blushed as his voice echoed through the Hall. He spoke again, but this time, more quietly, "By Oromë of the Valar, before whom this horn is holy, I, Denethor the Second, swear to be faithful and true to Turgon, Son of Turin the Second. To love all that he loves, and shun all that he shuns, according to Gondor's law and according to Númenórean principles and never, by will or by force, by word nor by work, do aught of what is loathful to him; on condition that he keeps me as I am willing to deserve. I now submit to him and chose his will."
Ecthelion was startled. What had Denethor said? He spoke in the tongue of the Noldor; the entire oath was correct. But where had he heard of Oromë? He turned towards the Captain of the Guard who shook his head. He had said naught to Denethor of the great Hunter whose name meant 'horn-blowing.'
His grandfather had continued the ceremony, not noticing the words of Denethor. He brought Denethor to the table with the Steward's Book upon it. Denethor wrote his name in the book and under it, Turgon wrote his name and placed the Seal of the Stewards upon it.
He then placed his hands on Denethor's shoulders and turned him towards those assembled. There was polite applause. The Steward sat again in his chair. Ecthelion saluted his son, hand to chest, congratulating him. One by one the attending lords came forward and did the same. Even the wizard came and congratulated him. He did not use the Gondorian salute, but placed his hand on Denethor's shoulder. Denethor was shaken by the power he felt flowing from that hand. He quickly looked to the floor and muttered his thanks.
At last, the time had come and he was allowed to leave the Hall. He had never been so glad to leave a place. He found his friend, Amdir, in the stables and they giggled and laughed about the people from Dol Amroth and how very serious they were. They were amazed at Fengel, King of Rohan. He did not look like a king at all.
"Do you suppose the King of Gondor, when he returns, will look like that -- with fur all over him and smelling of horses?" Amdir asked.
"I am not sure, Amdir, but I am very glad that Captain Thengel does not smell like his father!"
Denethor then told him about the wizard and how funny it felt when he shook his hand. Amdir begged Denethor to stay away from him. "Wizards are scary people," he said, "and it is not good to spend time with someone you cannot understand."
Denethor laughed. "I will remember that, Amdir, but now, let us eat. I am starving!"
A/N - 1) The story of the Horn - LOTR - JRRT; 2) Oath paraphrased from one on dragonbear.com; 3) Aiya - Quenya for 'Hail!'
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