4. Third Age - 2939
It was the 25th of May - a very special day. It was Denethor's sister's birth day. Indis and Almiel had been like mothers to him these past nine years. He had racked his brain for the last few weeks trying to think of what would be best for Indis - what would make her happy. And finally, just two nights ago, he knew! He had gone to Amdir who rejoiced in the thought of the adventure.
And now, the day had arrived. His father thought he was going on his monthly visit to his Uncle Cranthir, captain of the garrison in Osgiliath. He had been going every month, for the last few years, to visit his mother's brother. The ruined city held only happiness for Denethor. Cranthir had been teaching his nephew 'Kings and Stewards' and Denethor had found that he loved the game. Ecthelion did not. The only time, therefore, that Denethor could play it was when he went to Osgiliath. This meant a game could last months, but Cranthir told him the game would teach him patience. Little did the captain know that the boy would spend many sleepless nights after each visit, trying to strategize just what piece to move next.
The board and its pieces would have dust on them when they would sit down and they would laugh together as they wiped each piece. Cranthir told Denethor that the set had been in his family for many years, and that when he died, the set would go to Denethor. The carvings on each piece were intricate and finely detailed. The king and queen pieces were beautiful, but Denethor's favorite pieces were the Stewards sitting on either side of the king and queen. The little pieces even had the Steward's Staff in their hands. He knew that the Stewards were not as powerful as the queen or the castles, but he loved them just the same. Cranthir let Denethor wipe those pieces himself. Lovingly, the boy took oil and polished them until they shone so that he could almost see his face in the warm oak.
But this day, he and Amdir would slip into Osgiliath, leave a note in Cranthir's door saying Denethor would not be able to visit with him; then, the two boys would be off on their quest. It was a glorious piece of fortune that Indis' birth day was on a day when there were no lessons and no training. He ran to the stables immediately after breaking his fast and loaded the cheese, fruit, bread and water that he had secreted away while he ate his meal, into bags on either side of his pony. He hoped it was enough for the day, but if it was not - In training, he learned how to live off the land; would not this be the perfect time to test that training!
Amdir's father, Ingold, shouted for the boys to hurry if they wanted to be a part of the weekly supply caravan to Osgiliath. The sun was already rising and they were late! Ingold did this every time they went and both boys laughed, but not to his face. It was going to be a glorious adventure!
Everything went as planned - the caravan reached Osgiliath midmorning. Ingold left the boys at Cranthir's quarters and quickly caught up with his men. Denethor left the note he had written the night before in Cranthir's door and then the boys galloped east - towards the bridge. Shortly before they reached the sewers, they dismounted, wiped their ponies down, and left them in an abandoned stable with some cut up apples and water. When they reached the sewers, they had to duck behind a pillar to let a sentry pass by. It would not do to get caught and stopped now. After the sentry passed, the boys slipped into the sewer. They giggled with an excitement that was mixed with just a little fear. Denethor was not quite sure about the sewers and where each one led, but he knew that eventually they ended in the abandoned part of the city that lay on the east side of the Anduin. It seemed to take forever to cross under the river. The footing was treacherous in places; lichen had grown on the floor of the sewers and created slippery patches for unwary feet. Some parts were almost totally blocked by stones that had fallen from the ceiling above and, in these places, torrents of water from the Anduin cascaded onto their heads. But they were fast and quickly waded through these sections. Finally, they felt the floor rising and knew they must be near the far shore. It had been dark for quite some time now and Denethor berated himself for not having brought torches. He imagined his father's scorn at such ill planning and he scolded himself for it. But there was light now - just ahead - and both boys relaxed in the knowledge that the first part of their adventure was successfully over.
Denethor marked in his mind, and on a great stone, the place where they came out from the sewers and then marked their path with large 'X's as they passed through the city. It was his first time in the fallen city. The quiet of it hurt his ears. He imagined how it had been so long ago with children just like Amdir and himself playing in the streets. But now - most of the streets were blocked with great marble stones fallen during countless battles and hundreds of years of neglect. Dust was everywhere so that their feet left large gouges as they walked, but that was all that was there. There were no birds, no lizards, and no insects - just layer upon layer of dust. Denethor, not for the last time, wished they could have brought their ponies with them.
They finally reached the grasslands outside the city and could see the gentle slopes of Ithilien before them. He made a mental note to come back to the city sometime and really explore it. They stopped for rest and a drink of water.
Amdir grinned at Denethor. "That was a fair piece of work getting through, was it not?"
Denethor had to smile too. He felt very tired. It had taken longer than he had expected to reach this phase of their journey; he made a note to plan more time for their return trip. But Amdir's good spirits gave him the energy he needed to press on.
"What an adventure this is, is it not, my friend?" he said as he slapped Amdir on the back - a gesture he had seen Ingold use a hundred times with his men to encourage them. He vowed to himself that he would one day be a great leader and, in the wisdom of a nine year old, he thought he would even rebuild Osgiliath.
Now it was time to focus on the purpose of the quest. Off to the hills on his right, he had been told of a great forest of iris. And Indis' favorite flower was the purple iris. Somehow, he would find this 'forest' and dig up the biggest, most beautiful iris plants, bring them back, and plant them in the garden outside her window. He hoped to find the most fragrant too, for the little scrawny ones that were planted in Minas Tirith had no fragrance whatsoever. Indis had told him tales, passed on from their mother, of this forest of flowers. The excitement of the gift pounded in his heart and he almost ran towards Ithilien.
They walked forever and Denethor once again realized that his legs were too short. He knew he had grown since the Horn ceremony, but still, he needed longer legs. And once again he wished they had their ponies. He also began to think that this was folly - that there was no such forest. They walked through fields of flowers, but none were the irises that he came for. The celandine fields alone were massive - not a place went by that they did not see myriads of the delicate little yellow flowers. They had to watch their footing as they went through the closely clumped ilex bushes - their long, sharp leaves reaching out to slash at their arms. The air smelt of late spring herbs; they were everywhere. The boys found wild strawberry plants and smelt the sweet thyme. They could not resist crushing mint and lemon balm leaves between their fingers and inhaling the scent.
As morning turned into afternoon, Denethor began to feel that he had made a mistake. If they did not find the field soon, they would have to turn back. Without telling Amdir his thoughts, he decided they must stop for nuncheon. Amdir was quite ready to sit. They had found a gentle little stream running down from the hilltops and let the water wash over their feet. Amdir prattled on about his father and the soldiers of Gondor and how, one day, he would be a soldier and follow in his father's footsteps. His father still had not given permission for him to start training, but he was ready and quite envious of Denethor. Denethor was kind and shared all that he learned. He found it good to repeat to his friend the many details he learned about Gondor, its history, battle strategies, and survival techniques. It helped him remember them. The questions Amdir posed helped him to think further. He was pleased at all he had learned, yet, it did not seem to lessen his father's own worry. He had overheard Ecthelion, on many occasions, decry the turpitude of the lords of Gondor who did not listen to Ecthelion's urgings to start their boys in training at as early an age as possible. Only a few listened to his impassioned speeches; most felt as Turgon did - that peace was now upon their land and it was time to enjoy it. Besides, not that many lords thought beyond creating their own monuments in Rath Dínen. The sight of the abandoned houses and courts in the upper circles of Minas Tirith did not seem to alarm them. Denethor himself was not sure of all that his father spoke, but he knew, in his heart, that his father must be right.
He put aside those thoughts. It had felt so very good to stop and rest. He only knew that he did not want to go another step. But what was the sense of a quest with no treasure to show for it? So after they ate the cheese and some fruit and drank some of their water, they started further up the hill. As they passed through a large clump of bay trees, Denethor glimpsed flowers ahead of them. Excitement filled him as he realized they were nearing their destination. As they broke from the grove of trees, a riot of purple and yellow and green struck his eyes. It was the forest of irises! Denethor almost ran through the field, but stopped short at the edge of it to drink in the sight and smell the lovely fragrance in the air. It was beyond his wildest imaginings. There must have been hundreds and hundreds of blossoms. He had picked the right time to come. They were in full bloom. He almost cried with delight. Indis would be so very happy; he could imagine her smiling face. Ah, life was good.
He searched the field for healthy, strong plants. Only the best would do. But something was wrong; there was some kind of blight on the flowers. The leaves were scored in crisscross lines. He knew it was neither black rot nor borers. He had never seen such horror on a plant. And yet, he now remembered that he had seen damage on other flowers and trees as they walked through Ithilien. What had caused it? This blight seemed to have only affected the plants on the outside of the field, for as he walked further in, he found untouched and healthy plants. Amdir had followed with the pack and the wrappings that Denethor had brought. They selected six plants - their beauty was such that Denethor wanted to take more, but he knew they could not carry them all, and the day was passing too quickly. They dug up the plants, wrapped them in the cloth, soaked them with water, and put them gently into the pack. Then they started back north towards Osgiliath.
It was now at least two hours past nuncheon. They had been walking as quickly as they could, but they were tiring. Denethor called a halt and they sat by another stream -- nay, it was the same one at which they had eaten their nuncheon and where they had dangled their feet. They did so again. Yet Denethor was becoming concerned. They were still very far from Osgiliath. They must quicken their pace. They hurried down the hill, their hands touching the bay trees' bark and laughing at the sweet smell of it upon their hands. They ate the little wild strawberries and smacked their lips at the sweetness.
As they passed through the southern part of the bay grove, they ran into closely growing ilex bushes. Amdir tripped and fell headlong into wickedly sharp leaves and cried out in pain. His hands were stabbed and bleeding. Denethor pulled him out, but at the same moment, more concerned for his friend than his footing, he stepped wrongly and a large thorn from a branch fallen from an unnoticed hawthorn tree, pierced deeply into his foot. He yelped and hopped away. The boys came together and helped each other out of the morass of hungry plants. At the end of the bushes, they stopped to assess the damage. Denethor poured water over Amdir's hands, and then Amdir looked at the thorn sticking out of the bottom of Denethor's shoe. They both knew it had to come out. Denethor closed his eyes, tears streaking down in dusty rivulets to find his chin. He felt ashamed, but Amdir gently held his shoulder.
"It will be all right, Denethor. I will try to be as quick as I can." He was able to get a good grip on the end of the thorn and pulled with all his might. The thorn came out and so did blood, gushing over his hand and Denethor's shoe. He gently slipped the shoe off and washed the wound with water. Thyme plants were nearby and they cut off pieces and rubbed them into the wounds. It would help stop any further malady. Amdir then took some of the cloth used for the iris plants and wrapped Denethor's foot in it. The shoes he had worn this day were not good hiking shoes; the thorn had gone right through the one. Once again Denethor found himself berating himself for poor planning. He could not keep this from his father. He could see the scowl on Ecthelion's face.
Amdir seemed to sense his friend's chagrin. He started to laugh. Denethor was in no mood for laughter, but Amdir's laugh was contagious and he found himself, quite beside himself, laughing too.
When they finally stopped for breath, he asked, "What are we laughing at?"
Amdir laughed loudly again and said, "We look like we have ten years of dirt on our faces and there is yellow pollen from the irises on your nose and your ears!" He started laughing uncontrollably again, and Denethor's tears became tears of laughter.
Exhausted, they lay back on the grassy slope and looked up at the clouds. The clouds - they were black and coming close! Denethor scrambled to his feet. The wind was blowing towards them. He had not noticed that it was rising. This day was turning into a disaster. He should have watched the skies! The boys picked up their precious packs and started down the slope, moving as quickly as Denethor could hop with his wounded foot. The wind grew stronger; the clouds grew blacker and closer. They started to run. Denethor forgot the pain in his foot as the fear in his heart grew. This was going to be a brutal storm. They must seek shelter and quickly. But everywhere he looked were groves of bay trees or mighty oaks; he knew they could not hide there for fear of lightning. A rocky area rose up in front of them; Denethor thought they might find a small cave or outcropping that they could build up around them, but there was naught.
The drops of rain started falling, slowly, but Denethor knew that in no time at all a great torrent would reach them. He could see it further down the hill - a black sheet of rain heading straight towards them. In desperation, he combed the earth looking for anything that might give them shelter. At last he saw it, the abandoned holes of the large Ithilien hares. He yelled at Amdir and pointed them out. Amdir knew what he was thinking and found two fair-sized tree limbs, stricken from their trunks by the wind. He gave one to Denethor and they both attacked adjoining holes. They dug furiously, but it was very slow work. As the great torrent reached them, Denethor knew they must stop burrowing and jump into their makeshift shelters. They covered themselves with the tree limbs along with small bushes that they pulled from the ground. It was little comfort, but at least they were not the highest things on the field. They would be protected from the lightning, if not the rain. They struggled to hold onto the bushes and the tree limbs. The wind howled around them and great gashes of lightning filled the sky.
A short distance away, one of the great oaks was torn asunder by a mighty blast as lightning struck. An explosion of white blinded them for an instant. When they were able to see again, they found the tree was split in two and smoking gently. The rain was such that a fire could not endure. Denethor yelled to Amdir to make sure he was still all right. Amdir laughed his laugh and shouted back that no storm could hurt the son of Ingold. Denethor wished he had that confidence. It seemed a storm was constantly buffeting the son of Ecthelion - and the storm's name was Ecthelion. This day would be another one added to the list of failures and disappointments for his father. Denethor shook the rain from his face, but, in truth, he was trying to shake this feeling of doom -- and the tears that filled his eyes.
Everything seemed very black and Denethor wished with all his heart that the storm would end, but it seemed to stretch from one end of Ithilien to the other. The wind howled, the thunder roared and lightning flashed. And the hours went inexorably by. After a very long time, the rain seemed to slow and the thunder and lightning moved off to the north.
Denethor shouted to Amdir, "Perhaps it is time for us to go?" But there was no response. His heart stopped and fear filled it. Why did Amdir not reply? He had not heard nor seen anything hit the little shelter that lay next to his, but there was no noise, no movement from Amdir's hiding place.
He called again, "Amdir!" Nothing. He pushed the leaves, branches and assorted storm remnants off his own refuge and stretched his neck to look over at his friend's shelter. Nothing.
"Amdir!" he shouted aloud. And suddenly, there was hope in his heart again. The branches were being moved slowly away and Amdir stuck his head out.
"I am sorry, Denethor. I fell asleep," he said sheepishly. Denethor's face broke into a grin and then into a brilliant smile as the laughter was forced from his fear-sodden heart.
"I think some day I will have to do you harm, my friend, as payback for the fright you just gave me!" Amdir started to laugh too and the terror of the last hours was washed away with the wind that scurried the storm to the north.
They picked themselves out of their shelters, brushed the dirt, rabbit hair and wet leaves off their clothes, and sat on the tree limbs that had helped protect them from the storm. They broke out the last of their cheese and apples and the last of the water. The bread had become soaked in the storm and Denethor left it for the woodland creatures. Amdir still had hopes of reaching Osgiliath before nightfall, but Denethor was unsure. It was a long way still. They both sighed great sighs and stood at the same time.
"Well, my friend," Denethor said, "Let us be off on this great adventure." Neither of them felt much like great adventurers, but a firm face was needed to give them hope, and Denethor would find hope somewhere along their path.
Night was falling; they were just reaching the outskirts of the ruined city. In the dark, how would they ever find the markings on the fallen stones? The storm had not come through the city; the dust was still as thick and dry as when they first passed through. This helped a little as they followed their own footsteps, but soon the darkness was almost complete. The clouds still covered the sky and not a star could be seen. Denethor bowed his head in pain and weariness - and fright. But he would not show Amdir his fear. They were close to the bridge, he knew it, but if they had to, they could always find some shelter in the city and start for the sewers in the morning. His face burned with shame as he thought of the forthcoming scene with his father. It would be terrible. His father would be justified in his anger and disappointment. It had been a fool's errand that he had set out on. And if that were not bad enough, he had dragged his friend into danger. That was unforgivable. He had a duty to his men. How many times had he been taught that!
He gave a heavy sigh and then stopped, looked around him and found an arched area nearby. "Amdir, we have to stop. I cannot see any further. We will lose our path. I am not familiar with the city. It is very large. We cannot take the chance that we will miss the sewers' entrance. We must stop for the night."
Amdir sensing the discouragement in his friends voice, cheerfully said, "Ah, I love to go on these adventures with you, my friend. Naught ever goes as it should. And that makes them such fun! I am glad we will have some more time together. Perhaps you will tell me the tale of the great ship captain. You remember - you started to tell me about the northern trip where they came upon ice that was thicker than my body."
Denethor laughed. Amdir was a very good friend. He was glad he was with him this night.
Suddenly, he heard sounds in the distance. Both boys looked at each other. Though there was almost no light, they were able to see each other's faces and what each boy saw was fear. There had been nothing stirring in the city on their outward journey. What could this noise be? It grew in sound and came closer. There was nowhere for them to go. They were trapped in the place they had chosen as a shelter. There was no way out. Rebuking himself for not having an escape route planned, Denethor moaned quietly.
"Did you hear that?" he heard a familiar voice call.
"I am sure I heard something off to our left. Bring the torch over here."
A familiar voice - it was Cranthir's! Denethor rose and ran towards the torch and his uncle.
"Forgive me! We strayed too far and I misjudged the time. I am so very sorry," he said, tears of relief choking his throat as he was swept into a warm embrace.
"Denethor! I am glad to have found you. We have been searching for hours and just a short time ago found your ponies by the sewers. Is Amdir with you?"
"Yes, Captain Cranthir, I am." Amdir ran to his friend's side. He shyly hugged Cranthir in joy. They were saved -- for the moment.
Denethor woke to no memory - just a sense of joy and a feeling of comfort - until the pain in his foot reached through his morning grogginess and brought him back to reality. How strange it was that he could so quickly have forgotten what happened yesterday. All the shame of his flawed planning flooded his heart, burying the glad parts. The thought of the look of disappointment that would surely cover his father's face, coupled with the knowledge that he had led his friend into danger, overwhelmed him. He hid his face in the pillow and wept. A soft knock at the door caused him to use the pillow to wipe his eyes and nose. He flung the covers off and stepped out of the bed, but the pain in his foot surprised him and he collapsed onto the floor. Cranthir heard the thud, opened the door, and quickly stepped to his side. Denethor stumbled on his nightshirt as he tried to get up, hoping that Cranthir would not notice his swollen eyes but be taken by the caring of his foot. Cranthir picked him up, placed him on the bed and removed the bandage. He moved the foot slowly; it was stiff and very sore, but healing had begun. There was no sign of any malady upon it.
"You were wise to use the thyme leaves on the wound, Denethor. It is healing and there should be naught wrong with it in due time."
Denethor choked on a grim laugh. One thing done right in a whole array of wrong decisions, foolish choices and poor planning!
He saw the light of understanding in Cranthir's eyes as his uncle studied him and he hugged the man tightly. He knew it would be the last time - he had left childhood behind in Ithilien - he was now a man. He would face his father and accept the punishment that was due him, but, for this last moment, he would be a child still and acknowledge the love he had for his uncle, and snuggle into the arms of someone who loved him.
Even Amdir was quiet on the ride back to Minas Tirith. Ingold was embarrassed that his son had been part of this folly, but he could not blame the lad. His son loved Denethor and anything that Denethor asked of him, he would do and gladly. But Ingold would prefer a month's tour of duty in some place of danger, like the Golden Wood where dwelt the Mistress of Magic, to the duty he had to perform next - taking this wayward son to his father.
Denethor begged Amdir to keep his precious plants until he could come for them and Amdir agreed. Unfortunately, neither one of them knew when that next meeting might be. The fate of the irises was tenuous at best. Elleth, Amdir's mother, met them at the stables and promised Denethor she would plant them in her own garden if he was unable to come in a timely manner and retrieve them. Amdir hugged his friend as he started to walk towards the Citadel, but Denethor pushed him gently away.
"It will be all right, Amdir. I am not going to my death, you know. It was a great adventure and I will not soon forget it. I am sorry - I did not even ask how your hands are?"
Amdir burst into tears at the kindness of his friend. He knew what awaited Denethor at his audience with Ecthelion and yet, Denethor was concerned about him. "They are healing. I can even bend the fingers," he said through his sobs. His mother stepped next to him, wrapping her arm around his shoulder. "I will wait for you, every day by the stables, at midmorning. I will wait for you, I promise!"
Denethor turned, straightened his shoulders and followed Ingold to the Seventh Level. He was left in a small room off the Great Hall - it seemed hours passed. His foot was throbbing and his head hurt. He had had no food nor water since dawn and the sun was now full in the sky. He was tempted to lie on the bench, just to rest for a moment. He chided himself - that was unthinkable. He must be strong.
Finally Ingold came into the room and beckoned him to follow. As Denethor walked down the Great Hall towards the Steward's Chair, his arms shook; cold chills ran up and down them. He tried not to think of what was going to happen next. He tried to remember the last time he walked down this Hall. It was the Horn Ceremony and Turgon, with a warm smile upon his face, was waiting to greet him. There would be no such greeting this day. His father stood next to the Steward's Chair, his jaw clenched and his lips held tightly closed.
"What do you have to say for yourself?" he asked softly. The tone made a muscle in Denethor's cheek quiver.
"Naught, Father. I misjudged. I have brought shame to you. I am sorry."
"Go to your room," Ecthelion said in the same awful, hushed tone. "We will discuss punishment tomorrow morning. You will not leave your room until summoned. Is that perfectly clear?"
"Yes, Father." He turned to leave, but sorrow stopped him. He turned back towards his father. "Father, I am truly sorry."
His father's back was turned against him. He felt the slap of the dismissal through his whole body. He had disgraced himself, his father and his line. The way to his room was long - so very long. Added to the length of it was the humiliation of an escort. The door closed quietly behind the soldier and Denethor was left to ponder the magnitude of his failure.
A servant brought his evening meal. Before bedtime, a healer came, changed his bandage, gave him a cup of valerian root tea and left him. The escort, servant, and healer were the only people he saw after his morning meeting with his father and none were allowed to speak to him. He knew he was to spend this time in thought as to the folly of his deed and to discover ways that he could better himself. He fought the tears, but as night fell, they came - like the black deluge that had overtaken them in Ithilien. In exhaustion, he cried so hard his face hurt. Sleep finally - blessedly - came.
The escort came for him shortly after the sounding of the first bell. The pace set was fast, as if the soldier worried about a reprimand for himself; Denethor's foot throbbed, but he kept up with the man. Again, the boy found himself in the little room near the Great Hall. He now understood that his father was dealing with him in the Great Hall to further drive home the magnitude of his folly. This was no small matter to be dealt with in his father's private study.
Presently, he heard a voice in the corridor. He crept towards the door and found that it had only partially closed. It was his father's voice and Denethor wondered whom he was talking to. His voice sounded sad and quiet and bitter.
"I am beside myself, Rían," he heard his father speak. "Turgon has become stubborn and foolish in his old age!" Denethor realized that his father was speaking to Rían, as if she were alive. He must not have realized that Denethor was only a few paces away with an open door between them. Denethor felt sorry for his father, that he had no one to share with. He wished he remembered his own mother, for many a time a person would stop and declare how much he looked like her and how much she was loved and missed. He thought of Amdir's mother and how she had held her son and a deep longing filled him.
"There is evil coming upon us," his father continued. "This feeling of dread grows stronger every day. And yet Father and the elders would have us believe that all is well - that peace is still with us and there is naught to fear! But my senses reel with the enormity of an evil I cannot see. Turgon thwarts my every attempt to protect Gondor, Rían. I have tried to have him strengthen the Rammas Echor, bolster the army, and raise serious defenses in Osgiliath, but to no avail. I feel his scorn. He thinks me a coward and weak because I fear what he cannot see. I want to make Gondor strong."
"And now your son brings further disgrace to me. He has been a constant thorn in my side since his birth - that same birth that took you from me. I am forever disappointed in him. I will wash my hands of him. Put him under Ingold's tutelage. There is naught further to be gained by time with him!" He threw back his cloak and walked down the hall towards his study.
Denethor leaned back against the wall of the little room, his fingers gripping the wall. He did not even feel the cold marble against his back. His eyes widened; his mouth fell open. He shook as his face turned scarlet. He had been abandoned. Disowned. He was alone! He was alone.
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.