1. Prologue - Third Age, 2930
"And this I remember of Boromir as a boy, when we together learned the tale of our sires and the history of our city, that always it displeased him that his father was not king. "How many hundreds of years needs it to make a steward a king, if the king returns not?" he asked. "Few years, maybe, in other places of less royalty," my father answered. "In Gondor ten thousand years would not suffice." Alas! Poor Boromir. Does that not tell you something of him?"
"Rían is well, Ecthelion. And you -- you have a son." Turgon, Steward of Gondor, took his own son in his arms and hugged him warmly. "Your heir, my son; I am most proud of you! Have you decided upon a name?"
"Yes, Father. He will be called Denethor."
"Ah. A propitious name? I wonder. We might very well have need of another Denethor. Are you suggesting our time of peace is at an end?"
Ecthelion laughed, "Father, I have no more foresight than you in this matter. It is a warrior's name. One of honor and I deem the time is right for another Denethor. You are not yet ready to go to our forefathers and I will not readily go either. Long will it be before my son becomes Steward. He will keep peace in our land, if I have anything to do with it, just as you have."
"Well, my son," Turgon said. "Go to your wife now and tell her I am overjoyed. Thank her for bringing the Twenty-Sixth Ruling Steward of Gondor into this world."
As Ecthelion left his father, he wondered at this last request. Why would Turgon say Ruling Steward? Did his father have some premonition? Was not the king to return during Turgon's or his own stewardship -- perhaps even during his son's stewardship? Was not the saying among the common folk, 'when the king returns?' Is this not what the people waited for; the hope the Stewards kept alive in their people? Did not the ceremonies, festivals, nay every meeting end with the phrase 'until the king return?' Was this not their revered duty - to keep Gondor strong in preparation for the return of the king? Daily, the hope for the return of the king was on his lips. Was his father saying there was no hope? And yet, Ecthelion wondered, had he named his son after the Steward or the Elven king?
As he entered their room, his eyes were drawn to the little bundle in his beloved's arms. So very gently Rían held their child. 'Their child! And an heir.' He moved quickly to her side, his long legs striding purposefully towards her. Kneeling next to the bed, he whispered, "My love, I am so happy." The nurse grumbled as she moved to allow him to be closer to the bed. He heard and laughed. Nothing could take his happiness away.
Rían looked beautiful - tired, but beautiful. She raised her eyes and looked at him, yet through him. There was something disquieting about that look. "Ah, my Lord," Rían said, "There is a foreboding in my heart as I look at our son." She gave her hand to Ecthelion, her eyes rolled back, and she was suddenly still. The nurse snatched the babe from her arms, placed him in the crib next to the bed, and ran for the healer. Ecthelion stood as marble from Mount Mindolluin. A horrid shaking assailed his body and he fell to his knees.
"Rían! Rían!" he cried in panic. Gently he touched her cheek and his hand recoiled at the coldness of it. So quickly, so quickly the cold had come and claimed her. He forced himself to an upright position and took her small hand in his. "Rían!" he cried aloud, "Do not leave me. I need you. I need your help. I need you. I need your presence here beside me. How am I to live without you, to breathe without you?" He touched her cheek again and resisted the impulse to pull his hand away. Colder still was that cheek, and yet it was the cheek of his beloved. "I need you," he sobbed. Finally, he rose, leaned over her bed and kissed her forehead, her cheeks, her lips. He brushed back the hair that had fallen lightly upon her brow.
She was gone. In a moment. With no farewell. He studied her face -- tried to etch each detail into his memory. The smile he so loved was no longer there. Her lips had lost their luster, their fullness, their smile. He would never see that smile again. He wanted to lie next to her, to feel her in his arms one more time, but instead, he knelt again, knelt next to her, trying to feel her life force, trying to hear her voice, trying to feel her hand upon his brow. His head bent forward and rested on her shoulder. The sobs came unbidden and uncontrolled. He cared not who heard -- he only wished she could, that she would take him in her arms, as she had so many times before, and whisper that all would be well. And yet, no words came from the stony lips.
Adanedhel, Gondor's Master Healer, came running into the room, saw the gray of his patient's face and knew Rían would laugh no more. The healer's heart broke for, like the Steward's son, he was in love with this woman of the gentle smile. He sent the guard for Turgon. The babe had been strangely quiet. Taking him from his crib, Adanedhel walked out of the room. He would leave the Steward's son alone for the time being.
The funerary customs of Gondor dictated that Rían lay in state; for two days the people of Gondor waited in snake-like lines to bid her farewell. The escarpment itself had been roped off to give the line some order, but still in silence they waited patiently. Gone were all signs of adornment on her people. Black was the color for this time and black was the mood of her people. All of Gondor would mourn this passing, the passing of the Lady of Gondor. The untimely death had shaken them, sobered even the joy of an heir.
Turgon was not sure what to do to relieve this. It was definitely time to put an end to this mourning, to shake his people from this darkness. He ordered the procession to begin. This time reminded him too well of his own wife's demise. Long had she been gone and long had Rían been Gondor's Lady. The people had loved Ecthelion's wife fully. Now they waited in this never-ending line to take one last glimpse of her.
There was much sorrowful singing, mournful women wailers filled the Court of the Fountain, and the sickly sweet smell of burning incense wafted through the dead air that lay upon the City as the procession made its way from the Great Hall, where the Lady of Gondor had lain in state, to the House of the Stewards. The guard opened the gate of Rath Dínen and Ecthelion recoiled at the utter silence that greeted him. Was this place of absolute stillness to be her last resting place, she who had always filled the air with such joyful laughter? None could see the desolation on his face; he hid his grief well.
Striding next to his father, Ecthelion could see naught. The only sense he seemed to have was the sense of hearing -- and it heard naught. His ears searched for some sound that would make this a bearable place to leave her. Yet no sound came in the painful stillness of the City of the Dead. Perhaps if he put a wind chime near her resting place? But nay -- there was no wind in these halls to move even the tiniest bell. She would have to be content with his sobs when he came to visit her. One almost broke through his reserve, but he bit his lip and quickly blinked his eyes.
They laid her upon the center dais -- others would place her atop the appointed vault after the mourners left. Gardenias were placed all around her body. At last, Turgon gently touched his son's arm. 'Ah, the sense of touch has not failed me,' Ecthelion thought gratefully. He bent over the empty body and kissed her lips one more time. Quickly he turned and strode out of that building. The others could barely keep up with him -- his long stride cutting through the distance to the open door.
Yet again, tragedy had struck the Steward's family. Was there never to be sustained joy, long life, peace? He remembered his mother's untimely death and found himself walking towards the White Tower. The sun against its walls almost blinded him. Naught should be bright on this day -- there should only be dimness. He passed into the Tower's cool darkness with a sense of relief. In darkness was where he belonged for was not his light, his Rían, extinguished? Slowly, he walked the steps leading upwards. It seemed to take a hundred years, but finally he reached the room at the top. He needed to be alone. No matter where he walked in the City these past three days, people stared or gave him flowers, or bowed with tear-stained faces. Their pain reflected his own and it was too much to bear.
He was glad he had come here. Always, the sight of Gondor spread before him eased his mind. He could look out the south window and gaze towards the Bay of Belfalas. The gulls circled about the Tower -- no white ones could be seen, only gray and dirty birds -- their cries echoed the cries in his heart. Slowly he walked to the north window and saw the slopes of Ered Nimrais, and further along, the Anduin. He knew the Falls of Rauros lay in that direction and his very being went there. To be standing at that place, to see the Argonath in the distance, to feel the spray from the falls hitting his face, that would ease his mind. Finally, his steps led him to the east window and the mountains of the Ephel Dúath. His heart skipped a beat as it always did when he looked at the ruin that was Osgiliath. Dior's sister-son, Denethor, had lost this land to the Uruks of Mordor. Would his own son, his own Denethor...? Now he wished he had the gift of foresight, granted to so many of his ancestors before him.
The river ran clean and beautiful through those ruins. The city itself, both East and West Osgiliath, was desolate, bereft of its people and of its hope. His Númenórean eyes could clearly see the gaping holes in the roofs of the great hall and other buildings though so many leagues away; the devastation was terrible. Osgiliath was a mirror of how he imagined his heart looked -- cold, empty, utterly destroyed with gaping holes in it. Bereft of love, bereft of hope, bereft of her.
The Palantír was here. Almost -- he felt its presence. He walked towards it and removed its covering cloth. 'Where was Rían,' he wondered? 'Was she in the lands of the West, with the Valar? Was she in the sea on some Elven ship? Or mayhap in the sky with Eärendil? It was a seeing stone, was it not? What did it see?' If he looked into it, mayhap it would speak to him -- of her? Or at least it might show him her face again -- yes, that would help. 'Where was she?'
But nay, it did not even flicker. He did not touch it. The other six stones were lost forever. This was just a black, useless ball sitting here in expectation of a king's return. A hollow laugh filled the room and Ecthelion was surprised; it was his own voice. He did not like the sound of it. He no longer liked this room either. He placed the cloth back upon the stone. Looking again out the east window, he shuddered. Something was amiss in that land beyond the mountains. For a moment, his sorrow was replaced with fear. Something must be done to protect Minas Tirith.
As he strode down the steps, the light from outside grew stronger. He felt a lightening of his spirit. It was time to find his daughters and his son. Time to put aside thoughts of the last few days. But as fate will at times - an old woman met him as he exited the Tower and offered him a bouquet of gardenias - Rían's favorite flower. Startled, he looked into the old woman's eyes.
"She is gone, my Lord, but will never be forgotten. As I picked these from my garden in her memory, so too must you pick your children from their grief and give them to Gondor. For Gondor, my Lord, all for Gondor."
A/N - I struggled as to what word to use for the woman who attended Rían during her childbirth and was to be what we would call a wet nurse. From dictionary.com, the etymology of nurse goes back to around 1350, whereas 'nanny' is much younger, from around 1795, and wet nurse is from 1775. Therefore, I am using the Middle English term 'nurse' for this character since it is the oldest form of what I needed for this tale. I did not see her as a midwife since the Master Healer of Gondor himself attended the Steward's son's wife.
SUPPLEMENT: Since I first created this tale way back in January, 2003, I discovered that two names of characters in the first half of Denethor's life, became 'problematic' - THEREFORE, Morwen, Denethor's sister - her name has been changed to Almiel to prevent confusion from the 'real' character of Morwen Steelsheen. ALSO - a small character grew into someone much larger - his name was Damrod - he is now Dagnir. The Damrod in the later period of Denethor's life, the one who becomes aide and friend to Faramir, is now the only Damrod. Again to prevent confusion.