Denethor Poetry Writing Challenge

Reason or Feeling?

1. Seeking for Balance

   
Denethor finished packing the last of the items he had planned to take with him and quickly closed his saddlebag, then straightened his back and looked around his quarters to see whether he had missed anything, more out of habit rather than in true need. His eyes roamed about the shelves, drawers, bed, desk, and suddenly he found himself panting, in the middle of the room, saddlebag in hand and a great amount of empty space between him and the walls. He dropped the bag, ran the back of his hand across his forehead to wipe a few drops of sweat and walked toward the window so as to determine the time of day. Nature would not aid him much in that for the sun did not shine brightly then, though he gathered that it had to be about ten or half past, for the meeting with his father had ended but an hour earlier, only an hour earlier, and he had already ordered the company that was to travel with them, seen to the preparations of his own horse, dispatched a few letters to be delivered to some commanders up north, finished the annotations on the maps he was to leave his father, collected his own maps, and packed.

His brows gathered and his lips curled in an odd gesture that was not a smile nor a sneer. Why was he in such rush? For once he had time to spare, which was a rare luxury, and now that he had the time he knew not what to do with it. It was still about four hours before he was due to depart and though he was eager to begin the journey, he could not expect that all the necessary preparations could be reasonably finished before then. So, he was doomed to wait, and in waiting he could do no more than think, and think he did about his errand and the reasons that would take him through the South Road to Pelargir instead of going on boat, which would have been the expected route. He smiled now as he thought of his father’s slyness and his ability to conduct his business. Pelargir was proving troublesome, the integrity of its commander questioned, rumors of secret dealings with Haradrim merchants abroad, and he was sent to put an end to that. Then, he would leave Thorongil to deal with the merchants ere he journeyed on to Belfalas. A strange, unexpected thrill at the prospect passed over him, and he frowned. There the Prince awaited for the Steward’s ordered inspection of the fleet stationed at Dol Amroth and an assessment of their strength were they to suffer from sudden attacks, which now appeared to be more likely given the state of their affairs with their southern neighbors.

Alas, for the shadow lengthened with the day, and that certainty was heightened in his mind as he stared out to the Ephel Dúath whose peaks rose over the landscape like ragged teeth, the enemy’s fangs and the gate to his stronghold. The mountains were dark, almost black even in daylight, and as one who had stood at their roots, looking at them from afar did not diminish their threatening power, though it made it less remote; but, those thoughts were forgotten as his gaze narrowed over a dark shape that swayed in the horizon. He leaned forward, his eyes following its path trying to determine what kind of bird it could be, when it flew closer, making a wheeling motion as it came. It was not until he heard the distinguishing shrill sound that he realized the creature’s nature: it was a gull, one of the seabirds from Belfalas. The cry pierced something within him.

Why had this bird lingered around the city in spite of the impending turn of the season was a question that he could not avoid to ask himself. He was not fond of birds, by all accounts, but had read something or other about them upon Finduilas’ request.

Finduilas...

She did like gulls, and seemed to know a lot about them. It was natural, of course, having been raised on the shore where such sights are common and beloved. But gulls seldom came to Minas Tirith, and the thought had once or twice occurred to him that they came to grace the lady’s visit, for which he was glad. After she had left, he had seen no more gulls, or sunlight, only the greyish sky that announced the waning of the year, though sometimes he fancied it meant, or should mean, something more, but he had shoved the thought aside.

His mind had wandered back to Finduilas too much over the recent weeks; an idle thought, or so he deemed it, for it came without new knowledge or facts to enhance his understanding. It just came, and lingered, like a piece of wood that floats adrift upon the waves. That comparison made him snort; he was aware of how readily his own subconscious supplied him with images of water, shores, wind, gulls... and he thought of her and the strange, almost fey, incomprehensible gleam that shone through her clear eyes as she described to him the beach, the glittering waves, or how the wet sand felt below her bare feet. He observed her eagerly then, for the language of her body, more so than her words, provided him with countless clues to read and details to think about, and he had realized that he liked it. But, to dwell too much on those thoughts was a different matter entirely, and he found himself constantly pushing them aside. That very need caused him an unwanted anxiety.

He sat on the window embrasure and, in an attempt to find a better way to occupy his time, stretched his arm toward the shelf and grabbed a book, opening it on the last page he had marked: It is the nature of the human individual to refer to his body and mind as elements intrinsically joined together, for so they are; but so, too, are the bodies of animals or beasts. It is the privilege of man to be capable of making a distinction between those two elements and master them according to his will, for therein lies his difference with other creatures who let their appetites rule them. For a man to be whole, a perfect balance should be reached between body and mind lest, were he to lean toward one side or the other, he grow indulgent or heartless.

“A perfect balance,” he muttered as his eyes withdrew from the book and back to the world outside, but all he saw was a dull sky that had begun to look depressing. A deep frown creased his brow and he rose, only to realize a few moments later that he was actually pacing. He bit his lip and his arms moved behind his back almost of their own will, his fingers twisting with each other in a manner that annoyed him. From time to time his hand would stray to his hair, lingering on the collar of his shirt or his chin, then to return to its place behind his back. The cry of the gull still rang in his ears. And, the gulls only reminded him of her.

The lady would not speak to him; at least that much was clear. He was soon to travel to Belfalas, where she would be thrown in his way, and she would not speak to him. Nay, he was doing her an injustice, for Finduilas was all that propriety ever required and he was the Steward’s son, after all; he would not be slighted. But, she would not truly speak to him, not as he wanted, not as she had done before... before the disagreement.

They had been in company together with several other folk from various parts of the realm, and an argument had arisen between him and one of the lords from Belfalas. He had been angered by the man’s ignorance and presumptuousness, and saw it fit to teach him a lesson. What he said then, he could not fully recollect, but surely his reply had carried a hidden sting, a joke in disguise aimed to put him on his place while it was not perceived by the rest. But, among all those who heard, Finduilas, at least, had understood (wherein lay the irony of it all, for the comments seemed to have gone unnoticed by he who had been the object of them) and when his eyes met hers, he felt disapproval in her glance and something inside him stiffened, or raged, he still knew not which. It had been but an instant for her eyes strayed away ere he had a chance to read more, and for a flicker of a moment he doubted himself and his vaunted wisdom. When he next looked upon her, she had forced herself to smile, or so he read the tightening around her mouth, and that galled him even more. A few casual, clever, unimportant comments followed, but neither of them said aught about what had passed. The next morning she was gone without further word to him.

Since that day he had been rather unsuccessful in his attempts to shake that image from his mind, that stern glance, that brief moment of doubt. He had done right in his handling of the man; of that he was sure. Why then does my mind turn back to those events so often, without any seeming reason for it? No matter how much he asked himself, he found no answer but was left with more doubts. He was now uncertain whether he was more bothered by her glance, or by his hesitation when he encountered it. Had she noticed? Had Thorongil? Alas! For he could not know and regretted to have been so unguarded when others had the occasion to mark it.

So it was that he now found himself soon to depart on a pressing errand and his thoughts dwelt more on the lady of Dol Amroth than in his own obligations. Nay, perhaps not on her, but on his thoughts of her which was worse, for that path would take him through confusing, tangled webs of reasoning which would certainly consume his time. That matters but little. Either way, it becomes a distraction I do not want- I do not need. And it was not like himself to allow distraction.

“Valar...!” He flounced, almost, onto the bed like a boy. “Why should I care?” he said as he straightened the collar of his shirt. If she is going to prove this troublesome, I ought to put an end to this before she is led to entertain any hope, or Father, for that matter. It could cause a diplomatic incident and I would not see myself entangled in such troubles... nor her.” He nodded, but a smile that filled him with bitterness fleeted across his face, for he recognized within him a new something that both irritated and intrigued him. As much as he wanted to shake all thoughts of her aside, he also held on to them with the same vehemence, musing over them, turning them around in his mind, trying to find some root, some source to them, if there was one. Why?

Her glance had disturbed him; that, at least, he had to acknowledge. Why? That was the question he should seek to answer first, among the myriad of them! Her glance had disturbed him... And what of it? Naught, but that it had been uncommonly piercing, hard as steel, and yet her face had not looked hardened; rather, amazingly... tender, as if for the first time she had encountered something that truly shocked her. His eyes widened at that notion. Did she think me unfeeling? Nay, not unfeeling, but cruel? That could be a beginning, though hardly the one he looked for. Surely she had been witness to things more shocking than that! She had a keen wit and an eye for people, and was not so innocent as to be totally ignorant of the art of politics, clever enough to have practiced them herself, being the Prince’s daughter. This set his mind somewhat at ease, and he raised a brow at that.

He rose from the bed, straightened his arms and stretched, then walked back to the window and strained his eyes hard as he looked south. That way lies Pelargir. I wonder what am I to find once I get there. As much as his mind was attracted to riddles, there was a zealous affection when Gondor was concerned and his heart could not accept treachery of any kind on that regard, no matter how intriguing the prospect of solving any puzzle. Would I be able to serve Gondor as I should, even when my mind is not wholly occupied on her? His fists clenched against his thighs and his gaze narrowed as he rested his head against the wall. All those feelings discomfited him, precisely because they were feelings and there was no way he could put some logic to them, try as he may.

“A man who lets himself be ruled by his emotions has lost a battle,” Denethor repeated to himself as if he were reciting a creed, or an ancient prayer. “Emotions are not bad in and of themselves, but the degree into which one feels them. It is right to feel anger, but not too much or too little; or excitement, but not too much or too little, and so on with the rest of the emotions, but those whose names indicate their inherent perversity. A man who aims for virtue must strive to realize what is the right degree of his own emotions and step not over or below that limit. Emotions can be mastered.” But, to gain mastery over his emotions he had first to understand them, and how could he? It was hard to apply logic to achieve some measure of understanding for they could not be quantified, reasoned, bent at will. They were there, and that was all.

“Order, logic, reason...” he murmured as he looked about him, his eyes quickly fixing on the chess set, then the bookshelf, the marble blocks on the mantelpiece, the knots and wooden sticks, trying to find a pursuit that would help clear his mind. “I need a scheme, a... a pattern, a pattern to my thoughts!” A pattern implies order, configuration, and order he needed to find for his own emotions. Once he had found a pattern, he would be in a better position to find a solution. He rushed toward the desk in front of the opposite window and sat. Words... why had he not thought of that before? Words were the one medium most suited to his tastes and abilities. Words would help him find a pattern of thought. Pushing aside a few papers, he grabbed a parchment sheet out of a dark leather box and, clutching the quill tightly amid his fingers, he hastily wrote:

Pattern

And below:

It is the pattern that is hard to find,
not the emotion that takes o’er the mind.


“Nay,” he said, frowning, “not true.”

It is hard to make out patterns
out of reason undisturbed;
How hard is, then, to unravel
Disturbed patterns, one and all?

Is a disturbed pattern a pattern, or not?


“I digress. Not philosophy, but poetry; I try to find a pattern! Perhaps, I should not write about the pattern, but the feelings behind the pattern I do not have, but seek to find,” he stopped and chewed at the pen for a moment. “If it all could make some sense...”

Heartbeats are mere drums
Their music rolls, but I frown
confused by their grunts.


Cold glance. Disturbance
you brought to me, unknowing.
I thought you should know.


Denethor narrowed his gaze over the words as the wet ink found its way into the thin holes of the parchment, smudging a little around the edges of his firm script. “Cold glance. Aye, for that it was! I have never felt such a chill before,” he gave out a dry laugh, but the chill came back to him again. What was that? It was certainly new to him. He liked it not.

A new chill you brought
and I like it not.
What is it you thought
When you looked up so?

Your eyes then met mine
but it was not fine,
For deep in your glance---


“Glance, dance, prance...”

Your glance chilled my heart, as I ne’er believed
The depth of your stare was as that of the sea
Whate’er thought you then, to look thus at me?
Your glance chilled my heart, as I ne’er believed,
Such accurate aim to your arrows, indeed!
Who knew but that glances, like arrows, could pierce?
Your glance chilled my heart, as I ne’er believed
The depth of your stare was as that of the sea.


Triolets present little challenge, though. Once you’ve found a pattern of lines that repeat, all you need is but half of the poem. “A pattern, what is my pattern?” He stared back at the page again, and behind a few lines of bad school-boy’s poetry, some words stared back. He read, “glance... chill... aim... arrows... pierce... sea?”

Feelings rage forth like waves in stormy sea
and in their deeps conceal their truth from me.


Couplets? They were easy enough. He sure could manage another one.

Waves hit against the stone, eroding swell;
But rock stands firm and steadfast- all is well.


Rear not a wall, don’t fence yourself in glades
Stone suits you not; you’re merrier with the waves.


Waves again. He tapped his fingers against the desk. I must stop this.

To she who takes my freedom and will to think, I say:
If freedom is your priced reward, indeed, I am no slave.


A slave? He would never be a slave! If he ultimately married the lady, he would not be a slave but a husband. All he had to do was press his case but a little and then he would be her husband, if he wished. She had too much sense to outright refuse him, but what was the point of entering into a marriage with someone unwilling? Where was the victory, the delight? He had to love her, and she him, for it to be a marriage. So, in the end, it came back to the beginning: Did he love her? The question struck him, not only for its very nature, but also for the strong desire within him that wished to see it solved. He had no answer. Did she love him? At times, he thought that she did, but he was by no means certain and that also disturbed him more than he was willing to admit to himself. Her eyes did look upon him with an intensity that was not their usual wont. Finduilas was sweet-spoken, gentle-hearted, kind to all; yet when she looked at him, he believed he saw her interest deep within the clear fire of her grey eyes. Why did she look upon him thus? Was he a riddle to her? He smiled at the thought but quirked an eyebrow at the prospect of having someone read him, of being completely exposed, and felt a sudden dread that was too deeply ingrained in him to be denied. Could she read him like that, like he tried to read other people? Had she tried?

The price to slavery is high; in this you know my feeling
But freedom lost to love makes slaves of men, though they be willing.


Love... there was that word again. Why did it keep coming in his writing? He thrust the sheet aside and reached for a new one. “Not a slave,” he whispered. She couldn’t make a slave of me; no one can. But, it was too early to be talking about slaves when he was uncertain about her mind on the matter. Did she want him? Denethor dipped his quill inside the black bottle and wringed out the excess of ink on the rim. Since Finduilas had left, he had received one letter or two; merely comments, facts, descriptions of things and places that he knew all too well, but naught about her or her thoughts, which he desired to know. Why would she not give them to him? He contained the impulse to reach for her last letter that lay still buried among a pile of documents and notes, and wrote instead.

Will and freedom gone away – hearken now what I say:
Lady, slavery’s not for me.-----


“No!” he cried, pushing the blank page away. “What an unbalanced linnod! What did I expect to find by writing this wretched silliness? I shall find no pattern if I keep playing with words like this. Pattern, interlocked verse, form, meter!” He rose from the desk and walked toward a table that was always kept ready for him with water for tea. Crushing some leaves on a cup, he returned to the desk and sat once more. He took a sip or two, put the cup to his side, and grabbed a new page...

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.

   

In Challenges

Story Information

Author: Starlight

Status: Beta

Completion: Complete

Rating: General

Last Updated: 07/25/03

Original Post: 07/03/03

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