5. I Shall Not be Supplanted! - Larner
The Steward's son went still as he found himself listening to the talk in the adjoining room.
"There are those who would see the King return again and wear the Winged Crown."
"And there are those who would refuse to bow the knee to any whose claim upon the Throne of Gondor could not be verified—and with good reason."
"You are obviously of good Dúnedain blood."
"Am I? There are those already who will swear that I am the love-child of the Steward, and thus obviously illegitimate and so barred from claiming even the Rod and the Black Chair. Yet you would somehow see me sit at the top of the dais, crowned in mithril and mother of pearl?"
Lord Meredorn of Langstrand gave a great snort. "You—the fruit of an assignation between Ecthelion and some Rohir's daughter? Were your eyes green or blue, or your hair a lighter brown—perhaps. But you could be the very brother of Denethor."
"I assure you that I am not."
"Then who is your father, or your mother?"
"No one you have ever heard named, I am certain. Remember--not all who bear full Dúnedain blood are automatically of the Line of Kings of Gondor."
"Where do they dwell, your parents?"
"My father died when I was little better than a babe in arms. It was another, a distant relative, who took my mother into his home and saw me raised among his own sons, and who saw me trained to serve as I can."
"You would stand to inherit from him when he dies?"
"There is no question that his sons are legitimate and much older than I. No—I look to inherit nothing from him. I have no claim to anything that is his save the love he gave me for the sake of my fathers. As I said, we are kinsman from afar."
Meredorn dropped his voice, but Denethor could still hear him. "But if we were to claim that you were from among the Lost, and were the Heir to Isildur? Would you not be tempted to reach for the Winged Crown?"
"You would risk civil war? And for what? To see an untried stranger made King to supplant Ecthelion and his son?"
"None seeks to supplant Ecthelion. He is a genial enough soul, and a good one to have as Ruling Steward. But there are few who look forward eagerly to the time when Denethor succeeds his father. He is given to rigidity, we find. He has been a good Captain of our forces in the past, but he is much given to the study of lore. One with his attention ever in a book too oft fails to see dangers or advantages to be found right beneath his nose."
Thorongil's voice became cold. "Have you not heard that I, too, am learned in ancient lore? Such was my kinsman's interest in such things that he has seen to it all who pass through his house are entertained nightly with ancient tales and songs, and I read freely all I could find in his library regarding the histories of Middle Earth. Even now, when naught else puts calls upon my time I spend what time I can in the great archives, ever seeking to add to what I learned as a child and youth. I doubt that in the end you would find me preferable, as you appear to see it, to Lord Denethor.
"And there is the fact I have sworn myself to his father's service. I will not betray that oath by standing against Ecthelion's son when it is his time to accept the White Rod. Tell me, my lord—why this interest in preferring me? Do you think me more easily swayed to your arguments than Denethor? You will find I am master of my own mind, and I have been known to speak against those I love most truly when I have felt it right and proper to do so."
Meredorn's voice cooled to match that of the mercenary. "Is that your way of warning me you consider my talk treasonous?"
There was a pause before Thorongil answered, "I question the motivations of those who would advise against following the legal succession of power within the land."
"If the rightful King were found, and could substantiate his claim to the Throne, would you deny him?"
"He would have to prove his lineage and his claim, and even then I would not wish to see the authority of the Ruling Stewards blindly set aside."
"Would you give your oath to Denethor as you have to Ecthelion?"
"That is not a question that needs to be answered at this time, Lord Meredorn."
"But if you could become King of Gondor----"
"My lord, you press me too closely. If you continue, I must make my report to Lord Ecthelion that you speak, if not against him, at least against the rightful succession of his son. I will leave you now. I give you good day."
He heard the door to the next room close with far more force than he had ever heard from Captain Thorongil. Denethor considered going into that room to confront Meredorn when he heard the inner door to the chamber open. He heard Meredorn ask, "Then you heard all?"
Denethor was surprised to hear his father say, "Well, he told you no more than what he has told me. And he stands for Denethor's succession, which puts the lie to what has been said by many. A most mysterious soul, my young Captain."
"He is able to keep his temper."
"And he is able to be as angered as is true of any other. I heard him all but slam the door as he left."
"He did not say, though, that he would swear allegiance to Denethor as he has to you."
"No, he did not. But he answered well. He is a politic soul, I deem."
"That he is—I will drink to that." There was quiet for a time, before Meredorn asked, "Would you not see your son succeed you as Ruling Steward?"
"I would see him serve as Steward, but would not be adverse to seeing him serving under the rightful King's rule, should the King choose to return in my time."
"But there is little enough to indicate that this is any more the Heir to Isildur than is any other from among the Lost."
"Save that when he enters a room all come to attention—even I."
"Pelendur did not accept the claim of the last Heir to Isildur to put it forth, even though Arvedui was married to the one remaining child of Ondoher."
Fíriel was his daughter, and no woman has ruled Gondor."
"Other than Berúthiel," muttered Meredorn.
"Pelendur could rule against the Heir to Isildur when it has ever been the Heir to Anárion who has ruled Gondor since the day Isildur ceded that position to his brother's son. But the descendants of Fíriel might be the Heirs to Isildur, but also are the Heirs to Anárion as well. If the current Heir to Isildur could be found and it is shown he is also descended from Fíriel and thus from Ondoher and Anárion, it would go far to making the argument that the proper King has been found."
"But if he refuses to name himself Isildur's heir----"
"We shall do nothing until a claim has been put forth. He is wise—it is never good to start a rule by inciting civil war. But the shadow within Mordor grows ever stronger, and my son, as much as I love him truly, is not an easy man to love and honor to the point of freely given obedience. It will be well enough once he and Finduilas are married. When those within Minas Tirith see how deeply she adores him it will be easier for them to realize there is a side to him that does draw fealty based upon affection. But a strong King of pure blood from both lineages could command more easily than ever will Denethor. And if, as I have foreseen, the great battle comes within my son's lifetime, Gondor will need one who can command loyalty with a glance, as Denethor cannot."
There were approaching footsteps along the hallway, and both men within the next room went still. There was a knock at the door, and Ecthelion could be heard calling, "Come."
"My Lord Steward, Lord Meredorn—I am sent to tell you that Lord Adrahil's ship has just arrived at the Harlond. He should be within the City within two hours."
"Good, good!" Ecthelion's voice sounded ebullient. "Then shall we away, Meredorn, and prepare for the arrival of our beloved Prince of Dol Amroth and my son's prospective bride? The announcement this evening at the banquet of their engagement should do much to assure the Lords of the Realm that all is in hand for the peaceful succession of rule within Gondor, don't you think?"
"Indeed so. Lead on, my Lord."
Denethor could hear the three sets of footsteps leaving the other room behind the Hall of Kings, and he set the book he'd been reading down into his lap. They thought that his devotion to learning weakened him as a leader? And even his father thought to deny him his rightful place as Ruling Steward when his time should come? His father would put forth Thorongil as a possible candidate for the Throne and Winged Crown?
He'd begun to resent Thorongil's penchant for being better versed in the histories of the First and Second Ages than himself, and better, too, at weapons. But where before he'd suppressed his feelings of disenchantment as being beneath his dignity, he would do so no longer! "No man has the right to supplant me in the heart of my father or my people!" he murmured to himself. So saying, he closed the book with a decided clap! and never opened it again.
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