5. Third Age 2942
"Focus! Focus, Denethor." The swordmaster lifted his sword again, ready to parry.
Denethor hissed quietly and then pulled himself together, trying to focus on the task at hand. Yet to no avail, for his mind was ever brought back to the fact that today was his twelfth birth day. It had been three years since last he saw his father in private. There had been numerous occasions, during those years, to see him publicly - parades, festivals, punishments - all lorded over by the Steward's son, Ecthelion. Hope ever burned in Denethor's heart that his father might note his presence, smile at him, perhaps even introduce him to one of the guests, but his hope was for naught. Today, once again, he was disappointed. No acknowledgement of this day from any of his family. He wondered bitterly whether or not the Captain of the Guard had been told not to allow a celebration.
'I must not think that way. To think Ecthelion is 'lording it' is beneath me. I must give him the respect due as the next Ruling Steward.' But the bile rose in his throat as he thought of his banishment. Deserved or no, he was in line for Steward of Gondor. Was not some modicum of respect due him also? The thoughts whirled in his mind and again, Gwinhir hit him with his sword.
"Focus! What must I do to command your attention, Denethor?" The swordmaster heaved a sigh and turned his back on him. "I think that you should return to the barracks, think on what this training means, and return when you can give me your full attention. This will be reported to Captain Ingold."
At the age of twelve a boy was conscripted into the service of Gondor in some capacity or another. At Denethor's age, other lads were just starting their training; his had been in progress since he was seven. He knew he had learned much over this time, but his heart grieved at the loss of his family. Today, his twelfth year, tradition dictated that Turgon was to confer the Ring of Gondor upon his hand. He had memorized the ceremony - the Quenya words of the oath - even though none had stated it would happen. The swordmaster's rebuke was the last straw.
"What would you have me do? Write a thousand times, 'I must focus? Will that satisfy you?'" The anger was palpable on Denethor's face and in his voice. He fairly shook with rage.
Gwinhir quickly drew in his breath. Never had he heard Denethor speak in such a manner. He walked slowly towards the lad, placed his hand gently on his shoulder, and asked him what was wrong.
Denethor almost sobbed at the sudden expression of concern. It had been many a year since he had felt any. Where were Indis and Almiel? Where was his mother's family, his Uncle Cranthir? Or his grandfather, Turgon? None had deigned to spend time with him, see if he was alive or dead - no attempt was made to contact him, to his knowledge. Mayhap they had gone to the Captain of the Guard to inquire about his health? He doubted it. He had not so much as received a note from any of them. He could not believe that Indis, of all his family, would not write to him. Cranthir was most likely deeply involved with the defenses of Osgiliath. Denethor had not seen him since their breaking of the fast in Cranthir's chambers three years ago. Last of all, where was Ecthelion? Did his father hate him so much that he cared not what happened to him?
Gwinhir saw the despair in the lad's eyes and relented. He knew where Denethor would find the peace he seemed to need. Sometimes kindness was more effective than punishment. "I believe it is time for some study of the ancient ways. Go to the Great Library and look up the Battle of Dagorlad. I want a report by the day after tomorrow - something on the role of King Elendil, what his Steward was doing back in Osgiliath, the army of Gondor, the Elves. Go now."
Denethor ran as if trolls were chasing him. There was no joy in being let out of his training. He had failed to do his duty; he was sent to learn swordsmanship. Shame, along with disappointment, pushed him towards his beloved library. He wiped his eyes with his sleeve before entering the foyer. It was dark and cold in here - just what he needed to heal his heart and cool his thoughts. He walked slowly down the circular stairs towards the archived areas. He stopped short. Someone else was here. He coughed gently to let whomever it was know of his approach. As he turned the last curve, he found himself face to face with Curunír. The wizard smiled and a chill ran down Denethor's back.
"My Lord Denethor, well met are we. I have meant for some time to seek you out. You have been absent from many of my dinners with Lord Ecthelion. I have asked after you, and been told you have been in strict training. It seems to have lasted a number of years, this strict training, if I am correct?"
Denethor felt another chill run down his spine, but the smile on the wizard's face seemed genuine and the boy was in dire need of a friend. He smiled back at the veiled inquiry. "Yes. I seem not to be as adept as Lord Ecthelion would wish. I am putting all my energy into my training. At the moment, though, I have been asked to do a report on the Battle of Dagorlad. I have heard of it, but my knowledge is slight. Most of my time here in the library has been spent on the tales of the Númenórean sea captains."
"Ah, then it is fate that has drawn me here at the same time as you. I myself am fairly knowledgeable about that conflict. Perhaps we might spend some time together and I may share my viewpoint?"
"I would be most appreciative, my Lord."
"Well, then, let us begin. Here is a manuscript that details some of the battle. If we read it together, we might be able to ascertain what truly happened at that time." For a brief moment, Denethor wondered why Curunír had the document opened. But he let it pass in his deep gratitude for the company.
The chill stayed with him during the next hours as they poured over the manuscripts. Denethor tried to tell himself it was from the cool air in the library, but some premonition told him that it was the wizard's presence that caused him to feel thus. He pushed such thoughts aside. The wizard was giving him his undivided attention; he was treating him as an equal, sharing his knowledge. Denethor hungered for such camaraderie. The wizard exuded confidence, yet his voice, though cold and monotonous, drew Denethor closer to him, and Denethor was startled to find the wizard's hand upon his shoulder. The shiver that ran through him drew a sharp laugh from Curunír. The wizard's white hair hung down beyond his shoulder; the smell of herbs that reeked from his body stung Denethor's nose. There was a presence given off by the wizard that mystified Denethor, but he could not push the hand from his shoulder; it would be unseemly. Despite the feeling of unease, the wizard was filling a need of Denethor's, and the boy decided he would not yet leave this place.
They spent long hours strategizing how to change what had happened, to negate the dreadful loss of life. Curunír spoke as if he himself had been at the battle. The wizard even asked Denethor's opinion on many aspects of the battle and Denethor, like someone who has been in the desert for many weeks without water and sights an oasis, threw all caution to the wind and eagerly bound himself to the wizard. Yet, his body physically recoiled at the nearness. He fought this feeling. He rejoiced at the attention and would let naught sway him. He would be able to control this, to control himself.
At last, Denethor finally pulled himself away. "I am sorry. I must report. I know not the time, but I feel I have long passed my curfew. Please, perhaps might we do this again tomorrow?" he asked longingly.
"Nay, I am afraid I must be off," Curunír replied.
Denethor's spine tingled once again. He felt as if the wizard lied, keeping something from him to further bind him to the wizard.
"Next time I am in Minas Tirith," Curunír's smile seemed false to Denethor, "I will let you know. Perhaps at that time, barring my duties to Ecthelion, we may meet and discuss these things further."
Denethor left the library only to discover that night had fallen. It was long past evening report when he walked into the barracks. Lights were already out. He had had no supper; he had dared not go to the buttery for food, and so, on this day, his birth day, he would go to bed hungry and hope there would be no reprisal for his not reporting - though he knew that was a forlorn hope.
The morning trumpet sounded long before Denethor was ready. Sleep had come late to him; his thoughts had been on the wizard and the strange feelings he had towards him. When the wizard spoke, Denethor listened raptly, but when he was silent, the sense of dread became palpable. He remembered Amdir's words from many years before, 'It is not good to spend time with someone you cannot understand.' In the morning light, this advice seemed most wise. Denethor would remember it the next time he and the wizard met.
Ingold strode towards his bed as Denethor was in the act of making it. "I am told you did not report last night. Is there some reason for this?"
"My Captain," Denethor saluted him with bowed head and hand upon his chest. "I was working on a report for Swordmaster Gwinhir and lost track of time. I am sorry. By the time I left the library, lights were out. I was coming to report as soon as I was dressed."
"And that is another thing. You are late to your post. Do you think the morning meal is to be kept waiting for you just because you are the son of Ecthelion?"
"Nay... Nay that was not my intent." The sting in Ingold's tone hurt him deeply. He did not know what else to say.
Ingold shook his head. "You will be put on report. You will do stable duty immediately after you break your fast. You will miss one of your classes and therefore, you will have to make it up later during your free time. This will place a hardship upon Captain Gwinhir, who must lose his free time also, due to your lack of respect for your duty. Now go to the hall." How could the sight of a man's back sting him so? As Ingold walked away, it reminded Denethor of Ecthelion's turned back and the boy cried in shame, frustration, and hurt while he quickly finished his bed and ran towards the company's dining hall.
As he passed the stables, a once familiar voice rang in his ears. "Denethor! Denethor, it is I, Amdir!"
Denethor whirled around at the sound of that voice. There he was before him, his friend of a thousand adventures! "Amdir!" He rushed to his friend's side and hugged him fervently. "What does this mean? Why are you here?"
"Why am I here! You silly goose. I told you I would wait for you each morning in the stables. And you have not come - until today. But your lack of punctuality is known to me and I offer you forgiveness." Amdir started to laugh and once again hugged his friend. "My father has finally allowed me to begin my training. I turned twelve three months ago. I am now an esquire and stationed with the Horse Guard; this commission has made it easier to keep my promise!"
"Twelve. Yes, you were always so much older than I," Denethor gently teased him. "It is good to see you again."
"I waited, Denethor, every day for an hour, just as I promised, but you never came." The hurt was strong in Amdir's face and voice.
Never had anyone had a truer friend, Denethor thought in amaze. "I would have, if I could. At first, after our adventure to Osgiliath, I was kept in my rooms. Shortly after that, I was placed in Ingold's care. He had other plans for me - plans that did not include my visiting with friends, I am afraid." Denethor tried to keep his voice light, to keep the pain and hurt from his friend, but Amdir would have none of it.
"My mother and father have been fighting since that day, Denethor. Mother says it is shameful how your father is treating you and -"
"Naught my father does is shameful, Amdir. You must remember that. He will be Gondor's Steward one day. Then, it will be my turn. He does what he must to prepare me, to help me be ready to rule Gondor until the return of the king."
Amdir stared in shock at Denethor. His friend had changed since their last adventure. "My mother asks me to remind you that the irises are still in her garden. She has watched them with care. They have grown and flourished."
Denethor started at the word 'iris.' Tears sprang to his eyes. He remembered the joy he had had as they set out for Ithilien to dig up the plants for Indis' birth day. He remembered the beauty of the field of irises when they first came upon it. He remembered the last time he had seen his father - in the corridor outside the Great Hall. The last time he had seen him as father and son.
He shook his head violently. "Please give her my thanks, Amdir. It is almost a shame that your father is my warden. I could sneak away and see the flowers, but the chance of running into him is too great!" He suddenly smiled, "But come, my friend, I am already late - I have not broken my fast yet, and after I do, I must clean the stables. I only stopped to see what state they were in, and for that I am glad; I might have missed seeing you. But, tell me about you, dear friend, and what you have been doing these many long years."
"Yesterday was Denethor's birth day, Mother."
Elleth looked at Amdir in surprise. "Yes it was, my son." She put down the cloth she was going to use to carry the meal to the table and stared hard and long at Ingold. Her husband squirmed - this was not to be a quiet family dinner as he had hoped. The captain had forgotten yesterday was Denethor's birth day. No wonder the boy's behavior had been so strange.
"I saw him this morning. He looks unhappy and he does not talk the way he used to. Mother, my friend has changed and it hurts to see him thus. He received no presents. I did not even bring my gift - he was not there last year or the year before. I really did not think I would see him. No one came to visit him. He did not tell me this, but I could tell, Mother, why would not his father or his sisters visit him on his birth day?"
"It is not our place to question the affairs of the Steward's family," Ingold said brusquely, hoping to stop the conversation by the tone of his voice. However, he frowned to himself and remembered what a sour day it must have been for the boy. Ecthelion had relegated Denethor to Ingold's care almost three years ago with specific instructions not to pamper the lad - to raise him as a soldier of Gondor. He had obeyed. He had seen to the boy's studies and his training, but who was seeing to his development as a man? He had felt burdened by this and had yet to decide what to do.
The boy was twelve. All the ceremonies that a Steward's son was to go through had been abandoned. There were none for Denethor - no sword ceremony, no fellowship ceremony...and this last one - the most important - the giving of the Ring. The boy was twelve and should have been commissioned on his birth day into the service of Gondor as an ensign as befitted one in the line of Stewards. Ingold had broached the subject to Ecthelion and had been sternly warned not to bring it up again. But his duty to Gondor was also to this lad. He would approach Ecthelion again. Gossip had slowed after the first few months of Denethor's banishment; he did not want it started up again. The people of Gondor were not fools; they knew the old rituals and when they were to be performed. He must speak with Ecthelion about this.
"Have I been wrong, my beloved?" Ecthelion asked quietly. He was sitting in her garden off the bedroom they had shared. He had not been in it for over a year, yet the garden had been well tended. The gardenias' leaves were resplendent in their greenery, but it would be many months before they would bloom. He found it strange that they lived such a short time, as his beloved Rían had lived such a short time.
Yet again, doubt assailed him. Unbeknownst to others, he had kept an eye on Denethor. He would arrange to walk past the training fields when Ecthelion knew his son was there. His only concern was to prepare Denethor for the hard life that would be his as Steward in the days of terror he knew were coming. Naught would still this foreboding in his heart.
He looked towards Osgiliath and the mountains beyond and a sense of desperation filled him. There had been increased Orc attacks, but nothing more. Reports of a great and deadly battle in the north had reached his ears - Orcs and Elves and Men and Dwarves - even a dragon. The tale seemed too incredible to be true. Yet, more and more as the years passed, his heart grew pinched. Perhaps he was missing his son? Nay, what he was doing was right. The lad had to learn - more than any other child in Gondor. He had to be ready when the time came. Yesterday was his birth day. Was Rían chiding him for not celebrating it with him? The twelfth year.
She had been gone twelve years! His mind reeled. It seemed like only yesterday. He could still feel the warmth of her lips on his; the remembrance brought tears to his eyes. He touched a finger to his mouth, closed his eyes, and drank in the sweetness of the memory. He tried to imagine her face, her hair, her eyes, but to no avail. His heart was heavy with thoughts of Denethor. He missed her mightily, but he also missed his son. Perhaps it was time. Ingold had come to him months ago requesting that Denethor be commissioned, but even though Ingold was many years his elder, Ecthelion had deemed him wrong in his assessment of Denethor's readiness. He would speak to Ingold later this morning, discover the extent of his son's growth; then he would make up his mind.
This twelfth year also weighed heavily upon Almiel and Indis' hearts. Their father's path for Denethor collided with their own. Yet Ecthelion was an imposing man and would not brook dissent nor conversation if it dealt with Denethor; any talk of Denethor was strictly forbidden these past three years. They remembered the severe tongue-lashing they had received the first night they had let Denethor stay with them after he had been taken out of the nursery. The little boy's nightmare had been terrible. Denethor's eyes were wide with fright. Ecthelion had come and found him with them and dragged the lad back to his own rooms. The look of anger on their father's face had frozen them. Almiel had had nightmares for a long time afterwards.
Indis finally decided that enough was enough. She was going to find out what had happened that fateful day. She was almost seventeen now. She would stand up to their father. Almiel was appalled. She was ever so afraid of him. What would he do to Indis if she pursued this? Would she be banished? Almiel could not bear the thought of her beloved sister taken from her. She sobbed hysterically, held onto Indis and would not let her go.
"Almiel, I must. I cannot stand it any longer. He is our brother, our little brother. I must do something to change Father's mind. I cannot live like this. I will not be sent away, I promise you that."
But could she keep that promise? Indis hurried along the Fourth Level and wished she knew what she was going to say. This woman had never been a friend of theirs; she was the Captain of the Guard's wife and almost twice as old as Indis. What duty of life would ever throw them together? Yet, thrown together they would be, if Indis had any control over the matter. Perhaps she could trip outside their door and seek help with a hurt ankle? 'That is ridiculous!' Perhaps she could say she lost her way? 'Oh dear! This is not working,' she thought miserably. As she turned the corner, however, fate stepped in and she ran right into Elleth.
"I am terribly sorry, my Lady. I did not see you," cried Elleth in dismay at running into, and almost knocking over, the Steward's own granddaughter. She picked up the flowers dropped in the encounter, trying desperately to hide her discomfiture.
"Nay, nay. Entirely my fault. I was not watching where I was going. You are Amdir's mother, are you not?"
"Why, yes, I am." The tone in Indis' voice warmed Elleth's heart and she found the courage to ask, "Will you not stop for a moment? I have baked some tarts - the berries are fresh and I would love to offer you some tea. My home is just a few houses down." In her heart, Elleth had been trying to find a way to meet with this woman, ever since Denethor had been placed under Ingold's care. Who would have thought they would encounter each other on this day of all days?
Indis smiled. This was going much easier than she had hoped. As she sat at the parlor table, she noted the simplicity and beauty of the room. Little collectibles were everywhere. Mostly - they seemed to be stones. Different shapes, sizes, and colors crowded every free space in the room.
Elleth blushed. "My son, my Amdir, loves to collect stones. He brings them to me with such pride and joy - I would have them out of here, but he is my only son..." She blushed again. 'I sound like a schoolgirl blathering, not knowing when to hold my tongue!'
"They are lovely. And I must confess, I have no such mementos of Denethor. I am ashamed. Amdir and Denethor's friendship is one of the reasons I came to see you."
Elleth was startled. This was not chance that brought them together. She poured the tea and waited.
Indis took a deep breath. "My father is a noble man. The welfare of Gondor lies heavily upon his heart. And with our mother gone, he strongly feels the burden of his son. I believe he is sometimes heavy-handed. Yet his heart is pure. And I would do all in my power to help him. But at the moment, he has turned from any counsel I might offer. I say this to prevent any harsh thoughts about him. Please, tell me what happened that May. I must know. Our family is torn asunder and I would right what has happened."
Elleth furrowed her brow in consternation, not knowing what to say to ease the pain she heard in Indis' voice, nor to explain the harshness of the events that happened afterwards. 'That day seemed so inconsequential,' Elleth thought. 'Nothing untoward appeared to have happened and yet the very depths of Gondor were shaken by it.'
"Denethor wanted to find a truly wonderful present for your birth day," Elleth began.
Indis started. "What...! My... birth day?"
"The boys went to Ithilien together and found a great patch of irises. They dug up six plants, wrapped them, and brought them back. Due to a thunderstorm and some small injuries, they were very late returning. The Captain of Osgiliath, Cranthir, sent out search parties looking for them; the garrison there was up in arms. An errand-rider was sent to your father. The boys were found and returned to Minas Tirith the following day. That is when your father handed Denethor over to Ingold's care. Please, come with me. I would show you something."
Elleth led Indis through a side door into a small garden area. Overshadowing herbs and fledgling vegetables was a sea of tall iris leaves. They had not yet flowered; it was much too early in the season, but Indis could tell that they were large, healthy, and wondrous plants. Tears spilled down her cheeks. She could not speak. She remembered telling Denethor about the forests of irises in Ithilien. She wanted to sob aloud. 'Such pain and suffering over flowers. How could this be?'
Elleth gently led her back into the parlor. "My Lady, please take a sip of your tea." Elleth was beside herself; perhaps she had been wrong in telling of the event. She sat and waited while Indis caught her breath.
"I... I do not know what to say. Would it be possible for me to take one of the flowers when they bloom?"
Elleth laughed. "My Lady, I am just the keeper. The plants are all yours. To do with as you will. They were your birth day gift from Denethor. I could not keep them, even if you asked me to."
"Ah, but they are quite established now. We will divide them and then you will be able to keep some and I will still have my gift. I cannot tell you how grateful I am to you..." Indis paused for a moment. "For everything."
She continued, "I had already decided that it was time I would go to my Father about Denethor and this confirms it. I had no idea what happened that day. The punishment was set, Father's mind was set, and that path for our family was set. But I believe it is high time for a change. And I mean to do something about it. I must go now and devise some way to bring this to father, find the words that will help me sway him. I cannot thank you enough for your kindness to my brother and to me. Please, please come to the Citadel soon and we will talk again. I will send my maid to bring the plants to my garden. I cannot wait to show Denethor. You have made me so very happy, dear lady. Thank you!" She quickly hugged Elleth and ran out the door.
Elleth sat back in amazement. She rued some of the words she had said to her husband concerning the family of Turgon.
They say the best laid plans of mice and men oft go awry. Naught could have stopped Indis from her resolve, naught except, perhaps, death.
The Citadel reeled from the news. Gondor's people flocked to the Great Hall, words of horror on their lips, waiting for the Steward to speak, to assuage their fears. More people gathered in the square by the statue of Isildur opposite the Great Gate. Soldiers were seen sequestered in doorways and alleyways. It was as if the City itself staggered.
Captain Cranthir was dead - along with all those who had joined him in the day's patrol. It was to have been a short jaunt into Ithilien - one of the daily patrols into that fair, but near-deserted land. Usually, the Captain of Osgiliath let others lead the patrol, but today had been a glorious day and he chafed against certain restraints imposed upon him by the Steward. So he led the men forth, but none returned. An errand-rider was immediately dispatched to Turgon, who sat on the Steward's chair - stunned and voiceless. The Chamberlain had cleared the Great Hall so that father and son could speak in private. Ecthelion urged Turgon to speak to the people, but there was naught in his father's eyes but despair. How could Ecthelion say, 'I told you so?' There was no joy in this moment of knowledge. There was no vindication. He knew disaster was brooding on their very doorstep, but never did he think it would hit so close to home. His last link with Rían - her brother now dead and gone. Nay! Cranthir was not his last link - it was Denethor! Denethor was his last link. He would find the boy. He must find the boy. As he walked towards the door, Turgon awoke from his stupor and called his name.
"Ecthelion. Help me!" Ecthelion bowed his head. What could he say to the Steward? All these many years he had attempted to plead his cause for more men in the army of Gondor, greater defenses along Osgiliath, the retaking of Eastern Osgiliath, the Rammas Echor fortified. And all these many years, his father had turned a deaf ear. This could have been avoided, Ecthelion felt; this should have been avoided. How ironic that it should be the death of one of the noblest families of Gondor that would finally cause his father to open his eyes.
"Father, you must speak to our people. You must use this time to rally them to the defense of Minas Tirith and of all Gondor. You must prepare for battle. This is not a one-time occurrence. You yourself heard the reports of the battle east of Mirkwood. There will be more Orc attacks. You know it. I beg you - tell the people that they must send their sons for training, that the City must be prepared for war, that the people must focus on making Gondor strong again!"
"Nay. Nay, my son. They are lost and afraid and I must give them comfort."
"Yes, Father. They must have comfort, but they must see that there is a plan to protect them."
"Yes, a plan. There must be a plan." Turgon's eyes clouded over and Ecthelion started at the look of age on his father's face. Turgon was only eighty-eight; the Steward had many years left to govern Gondor. Yet, the bright eyes and youthful stance of the Númenórean race were gone. When had they gone and left this old man in his place?
Suddenly, the light was there again, faint, but present. "I shall call my captains. We will plan. We must!"
All night the captains deliberated and Ecthelion fumed. There was no substance to the planning, no thoughts but those of defeat or denial or worse, apathy.
And once again, fate stepped in and kept father from son.
The next morning broke clear and bright. Peregrines encircled the White Tower chattering and calling to each other. All night, Amdir had searched every level of Minas Tirith starting with the stables and ending with the barracks, but to no avail. Denethor was nowhere to be found. He sat dejectedly on a stoop, holding his head in his hands. He knew he must find him. Cranthir was Denethor's most beloved friend as well as uncle. 'Where could he be?'
Another loud cry from a diving peregrine made Amdir look up. A smile touched his face. He knew where Denethor was. He ran to the back of the escarpment and started climbing the stairs. Why had not he thought of this before? He had wasted so much time. Finally, he arrived at the door and listened quietly, catching his breath. No sound. He could not be wrong! Slowly he pushed the door open, saw the beacon before him, the two beacon-tenders, but no sign of his quarry. He turned to leave and as he did, he saw Denethor hunched in a corner next to a bench. His eyes filled with tears.
"My friend," was all he could say.
Denethor did not even look up. His head was cradled in his arms. His shoulders shook slightly.
Amdir walked towards him and sat on the bench, as close to his friend as he could. He knew he had not the words to comfort him, but he had to stand next to him, to let him know that he was there for him.
A silver trumpet sang out in the morning, dispelling all darkness and making Denethor's heart jump. 'How can I sit here in mourning? I have duties to perform.' As he rose, he espied. "When did you come? Last night?"
Amdir started. "I just arrived a few moments ago. I came to see if you needed anything."
"Nay, but thank you, my friend. We must attend to our duties. There are many things that must be done, preparations for mourners from far lands, cleaning of the stables for their mounts, and hunting for sustenance for our guests. Errand-riders must be sent with the news. The burial must be in Ithilien; he would have wanted that. Will you come with me to your father? Mayhap he will let us hunt together."
"You know I will follow you anywhere, Denethor. Do you want to talk about Captain Cranthir? I remember the last time I saw him. You remember, do you not? We were in Osgiliath at his home and he broke the fast with us in the morning after our adventure. He was telling us about the time he had gotten lost. Do you remember?"
A sob escaped Denethor's lips. "I remember it well. That was also the last time I saw him. His kindness... We must go."
"Lead on, my Lord, and I will follow," laughed Amdir, but there was no laughter in reply. Amdir sighed. This was going to be a very long day.
The tenders breathed a sigh of relief as the boys left.
Indis was beside herself. She had called the Captain of the Watch and requested that Denethor be sent to her. His emissary had returned an hour later saying that Denethor was not available. She was furious. Had Ingold forbidden it? She would go to the Great Hall and demand from her father that Denethor be allowed to be with her at this time. She threw her cloak around her shoulders and stamped out of her room, running directly into Almiel.
"Where are you going now?" Almiel cried. She saw the look in her sister's eyes, the look that had been growing there these past three years, and knew that Indis was growing up. Their relationship would be changed forever. Furthermore, she knew where her sister's feet led her.
"I am away to see Father. No one will let me see Denethor and I will not have this - on this day of all days!" She shook, she was so furious. "Cranthir was beloved of Denethor and I will not leave him to mourn alone. There is no reason for it."
Almiel took a deep breath. "Then I am going with you. I will not let you fight this alone. Though I am most afraid, Indis. Are you sure we should go? Do you not think father will be furious? Would it not be better if we sent one of the servants?"
"I value our father's love, but I value my own respect more. I will not stand by and let Denethor suffer alone. Not another day will I let go by without doing something. My mind is made up."
"Woman, get back to your rooms. You have duties to perform. There are notices to be designed and lists of guests to invite. It is your duty to do these things, not mine. Gondor's defenses are my ilk. Go! Now!"
Almiel ran back through the Great Hall, tears streaming down her face. Indis stood in front of Ecthelion. She shook inside but would not let him see it. She would not run! This was too important. She must not fail - herself or her brother.
"You would pay heed to your guests over your own son! Lists will be prepared, but your first duty is to your son, my Lord. I will command Ingold to bring him to you here within the hour. I will go now to do that duty and the one that you have given me. Father!" she begged him, "Life is very short and our span lessons with every generation. You must speak with him. There may not be another time. Does not my uncle's death tell you this! Please."
She bowed low and turned to leave.
"I will speak with him. But have Ingold send him to my chambers. Now go and do your duty, my daughter. Know that I am pleased."
She almost skipped down the length of the Hall. She had stood up to him, with respect, but she had stood up to him. Now, perhaps, Ecthelion and Denethor would be reconciled and the family would be one again. Cranthir would be most pleased. His death had meaning.
The remains, that was all they could be called, were placed in a closed coffin and displayed in the Great Hall. When the soldiers had found the bodies of the lost company, they stood stunned. Limbs lay far from bodies, tossed from the battlefield as if in mockery. Heads had been severed and unspeakable tortures were visible on the torsos. Some soldiers went off and did what they had to do to help overcome the horror they felt. Sounds filled the air, sounds of sickness and despair. Sobs racked many a man that day. Sacks were brought; they massed all the parts together, to be separated and identified in Minas Tirith. None envied the task of the healers in correcting the chaos that lay before them.
Due to the fact that Cranthir was of the Steward's family, though by marriage only, it was fitting that he lay in state in the Great Hall instead of in the Soldier's Hall. This distressed many of his friends; the Captain of Osgiliath had hated pomp and any show of stature. He thought himself a simple soldier; his friends knew him as one of honor, courage, and loyalty. They would have preferred to spend their last moments with their captain in private.
Only a few torches were lit in the Great Hall. Shadows abounded, but Ecthelion was glad. He wanted to see nothing clearly this night. He laid his hand gently on the coffin. "Ah, my old friend. How I will miss you. You understood, more than many in higher places, the need for vigilance. You were my one ally in this battle against those who would have us sit and wait for death to tear us apart." Tears formed in his eyes; he let them fall. No shame for Ecthelion. A heavy sigh left his lips. "I am so very sorry that I had not seen you these past months. I am so very sorry that I did not bring Denethor to visit again. I know your heart and his were attached - beyond even any attachment that he and I had." At this thought, he shook his head. "I will miss your wisdom, though I did not oft listen to it. Forgive me, my old friend." He bowed his head, the grief too much to bear. He felt alone this night, alone against the forces of darkness and evil. Tomorrow this Hall would be open to the people of Gondor, but tonight, he would mourn in solitude next to his old friend.
He heard a noise, faint, coming from a corner near the entranceway. "Who is it? I have not given my permission for any to enter yet. Leave me now!"
What voice was that; he barely heard the timid voice? It rang familiar. He turned towards the sound. A small figure started towards him, slowly, fearfully. Suddenly the figure began to run, legs churning down the long Hall. Ecthelion gasped. It was his son, his Denethor. He stooped and hugged the sobbing boy to a chest that suddenly burned with unaccountable pain.
Neither spoke for some time; they held on to each other. No words were needed. Father and son were one again.
Ecthelion sat and leaned against the coffin, still holding Denethor in his arms. Their tears mingled, tears of sorrow for the lost one and tears of joy for the found ones. Indis stood in the shadows and wept.
Morning brought rain, heavy, menacing. Torches blazed to dispel some of the darkness of the day; their smell and smoke covered the Hall. Yet the people came. First, Cranthir's own company, what was left of it - those who had been too sick to patrol that day, or had been on leave - they proceeded to form an honor guard around the coffin. Next came Turgon, Ecthelion, Denethor, Indis, Almiel and the rest of the Steward's family. After that came soldiers, in their finest uniforms, cleaned and buffed till every button, buckle and clasp shown bright. Then Rangers in their dark garb, browns and greens, adding a somber note to the scene. Guests from far off lands came also, from Lossarnach and Lebennin, Rohan and Dol Amroth, great captains and leaders, kings and princes. Finally, the people of Gondor, proud, noble, and wounded, all filed past. After the day's viewing, the coffin was paraded to the Great Gate on a black draped wain; Captain Cranthir's horse was led behind. The entourage gathered before the gate and Turgon spoke in the Common Tongue.
"My fellow men and women of Gondor. The past days have been a sore trial for our land. It has been many long years since such violence has been made against us. Yes, I say against us for it was not against Cranthir and his company alone that this was done; rather, it was done against all of Gondor."
Ecthelion was stunned by these words. Were they finally words of reprisal? Perhaps the Council had come to some agreement the night of his vigil with Cranthir's body. Perhaps something had happened that he did not know of. He waited in hope.
"And now, all Gondor must learn to heal. This was a random act. There was no sense to it. I do not believe it will occur again. We will keep our garrison at Osgiliath for the time being, but know that the captains and I do not feel that there is cause for alarm. A wayward Orc or two do not mean the end of the peace. We are not in danger; know that, my people, and be at peace. We go now to bury our brethren." He started forward and the procession followed.
"Nay!" Ecthelion screamed in his heart. How could he keep from screaming aloud? His jaw hurt from holding it tight shut, from not saying the words that should have been said. His shoulders shook from the fury that engulfed his being. Then they stooped and he stifled a sigh. He had no authority to say another word. He must wait upon his father and obey him. But his heart was frozen within him. What further harm had to occur before his father would see? The death of Cranthir was for naught. His chin trembled at the attempt to keep from crying. His heart despaired.
Muffled drums beat quietly, their cadence giving matter to the procession's progress. Passing through the Pelennor, the entourage headed towards the garrison at Osgiliath. They would pass the night there and begin Cranthir's last journey. The next morning dawned clear and bright. Water from a sudden storm during the night still covered the streets of the old city adding a further sense of loss. The broken city was mirrored in puddles and Ecthelion sensed these were the teardrops of the city, crying out for revenge. Once across the Anduin, the party headed southward, towards the old homestead of Cranthir's family, now long abandoned. A company of Rangers had been sent ahead to scout the area. Even though it was a mighty procession, Orcs and Haradrim were not above trying to disrupt even a solemn time such as this. There was no way the Haradrim could not have heard of the disaster, mayhap even been part of it. Gondor's only hope was that they would think Cranthir would be buried in Minas Tirith. Or better yet, that Gondor was afraid to come to Ithilien after the massacre.
There was not a word said, nor a song sung; despair weighed heavily on all present. The drums continued their low anguish. They passed ruin after ruin of towns and farms, lost and forsaken. Even in the depths of their grief, the entourage was stunned by the desolation of the land. The enemy had ravaged field, forest, and glade. No crops were visible -- even fields that had gone wild were bare. Something had been used to scorch the earth and leave the ground untenable for life. Orchards, long forsaken, had their trees chopped into small pieces and left on the ground to decay. Their could be naught more to say; the silent screams of the denigration done to this land and to the people of Gondor went unanswered.
Soldiers had gone, the day before, to the burial site and repaired the damage to the family vault. Cranthir was laid inside and the heavy door swung shut and bolted. Ecthelion put his arm on Denethor's shoulders and the two walked away, their heads bent in sorrow. Denethor would not soon forget this day. This day they had laid to rest his dearest confidant, one who held him in esteem, gave him a sense of worth, challenged him to grow, and taught him how to laugh and to cry. Sobs strangled him as he fought to hold them in. As his shoulders shook, his father tightened his hold. Denethor's heart lifted. The touch of his father was long sought after and long denied. To feel the warmth of his body next to his was beyond comprehension. There was no condemnation in that touch -- a shared moment of grief.
Then, Ecthelion started to speak to him of what had happened and what should be Gondor's response. He spoke to him as one man to another. They discussed the many battles that had assailed this land in times past and what course of action had been taken in response. Ecthelion opened his heart to his son and laid upon him the burden of regret that he felt for Gondor. He cautioned Denethor to show respect for Turgon, but decried Turgon's path for Gondor.
"When we return to the Citadel, my son, we must devote ourselves to understanding warfare, for war is upon us, on our very doorstep. You have spent many long years in learning swordsmanship and archery, self-defense and survival training. I would now that you put your entire self into the matter of warfare. I will instruct Ingold to portion a time of your day to research in the Great Library. You cannot learn enough. The past will show us how to prepare for the future. We will meet once a week and you will bring me your findings. We will discuss our preparations for defense, but we must also prepare for offense. This we will do quietly, you and I. For Turgon will be laid with our fathers one day soon and I will be Steward. Then, I can protect Gondor; we can protect Gondor until the king comes."
Amdir and Ingold walking a short distance behind them looked at the heads bent close together, and smiled sadly. Ingold was glad that his Captain-General was educating his son; Amdir was glad Denethor had his father back. As Ingold placed his own hand on his son's shoulder, Amdir sighed. Perhaps Cranthir's death had purpose.
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.