8. Third Age 2947 - Part One
Denethor was not sure why but it had surprised him upon discovering Morwen, Thengel's beloved, was of high Númenórean blood. Her fair face and black hair all bespoke of that heritage. Her father, Berthil, Denethor found, was the son of one of the Princes of Dol Amroth. Be that as it may, it was no surprise to him when Thengel and Morwen decided they would go to the festivities centered around the birth of the new Princess of Dol Amroth, Ivríniel. Berthil would accompany them. He and Morwen's mother had moved to Minas Tirith the year Morwen lost her child during the Battle of the Crossings. Ecthelion would not gainsay their need to be near their daughter. Thengel would take his entire company with him. The Horse Captain would not have Morwen unprotected again, though there had been no further Corsair sightings. Indis had decided she would also be one of the party. Ecthelion had been invited, but declined, so Indis would take his place as representative of the Steward of Gondor. Morwen was delighted that her sister-friend was coming with her. The long trip would be shortened by their closeness.
The women would also use this time to finish their gift of fine embroidery for the new princess. Indis, thanks to the kind teachings of Elleth, was becoming quite adept at the craft and was now teaching Morwen. The laughter from the cart that Thengel insisted they ride in was infectious. Soldiers close to the women were caught smiling. Thengel relished this time and rode his steed as close as possible, within the bounds of propriety, to the cart. Discipline had to be maintained and he did not want those in his command to think him weak. That thought brought a smile to his face. His men knew him for what he was - stern warrior, brave soldier, and totally smitten by his 'beloved.' Yes, he knew he was utterly under her spell and loved every moment of it. And he knew his men were aware of his hopelessness. He laughed aloud at the thought of how completely he had fallen. He also laughed for the joy of it. To hear his 'beloved' laughing again meant all the world to him. The past year and a half had been good. They had grown in their affection. Grief, which had lain as a close bond between them, strengthened their devotion to each other. After the first few hours of self-recrimination and misunderstanding, they had clung to each other and become healed through each other's love.
Denethor requested that he be allowed to remain behind. Though Thengel looked at him quizzically, he ordered it so. Yes, Denethor had wanted to see the sea - he could almost taste it his desire was so great. He wanted to speak with Prince Angelimir, but this was not the time. All of Dol Amroth would be in a glorious uproar; there would be no time to speak of ship captains and sailing vessels and all the things Denethor's heart ached to speak of. He had had ideas heavy upon his heart since the Battle of the Crossings and decided that the time was ripe to address them. Amdir, however, was ordered to go. Denethor had at least a month, perhaps two, before they returned.
Just days after the contingent left for Dol Amroth, Denethor walked slowly to the First Level; he could have ridden, but wanted to take this time to think, to plan his approach. Shaking his head, he wished he had the diplomacy of Thengel. He wanted to rush in, shout orders, and make changes that he felt were so desperately needed. Ecthelion's son knew that was not the path to take, however, and shrugged in frustration. 'Power is such an odd thing. It would seem I have it, as the Heir's son, but I do not.'
"Captain Inlach," he greeted the old man as he entered the Ranger's barracks. "How fare you this day?"
"What do you want?" The old man was beyond worrying about dallying with Ecthelion's son. He had been critical of Thengel's promoting him, thinking it was done only because Denethor was Ecthelion's heir. He would not spend time with this lad. How old was he now? Seventeen? Still wet behind the ears! If the boy was as proud as Ecthelion, this would be wasted time. Inlach wished Denethor was more like Turgon, the one who had promoted him to Captain of the Rangers, and left him to his own devices as to what that captaincy meant. Now here was this upstart! What did he want anyhow? The Ranger Captain still chafed over the rough treatment he felt Denethor had given him the night of the Battle of the Crossings. 'Just rode in and started shouting orders! Little whelp,' he scowled to himself.
Denethor sensed the anger in the man and was hard put to understand it. "My Lord," he said, "I have come to..." To what? That was the problem. How did he make this man understand the need for action? He knew the captain's loyalty was to Turgon. So was his! Did not Inlach realize this? But he must have seen, must know of the dreadful dangers that were all about them. He must realize that defenses were needed. How to start? He wished Thengel was with him. Perhaps he had made a mistake and should wait for his own captain's return?
"Might I sit?" He sat as Inlach, growling, motioned him to a chair and looked at the old man. "I have been studying the first Battle of the Crossings and would like to have your input on the matter. Turgon has told me of your great fondness for the history of Gondor and your knowledge. I have spent many hours with my tutor on such things, but would most appreciate the sharing you might give me... your feelings about the battle and what strategy might have been used to save more lives. Would you be able to give me a moment of your time?"
Inlach fairly beamed with pride. That his Steward would suggest Denethor come and speak with him about the history of Gondor. Well, he could not let the lad learn only one side of the tale. He was certain the boy's tutor, whomever he was, had not properly instructed him as to the entire tale of that time. Inlach went to the little stove where he was boiling water for some tea, removed the pan to the cupboard with the tealeaves, the cups and the teapot. Finished making the tea, he returned to the table, all the while harrumphing and generally making a fuss. He talked for hours; their tea grew cold. His knowledge far exceeded what Denethor had expected and Ecthelion's son felt a certain embarrassment at his attitude toward the old man. That attitude was quickly changing into respect. As the sun began to wane, Denethor thanked Captain Inlach and excused himself. Again, the faint rush of embarrassment surprised him. He realized that he had judged the man, and unfairly at that. He would not be so rash the next time.
However, he had to choke back a laugh as he left the captain's chambers; he had at least made a dent in the old man's armor. He would have patience. He smiled; he felt very satisfied with the progress made. He knew he had the authority, as Ecthelion's son, to go to Ecthelion first and then order the captain to make the changes he sought. But what was the sense of that? This man had seen many campaigns, had been loyal to Turgon and to Gondor his entire life; naught would be served by demeaning him. And what good was enmity when one was trying to court a friend? Denethor was comfortable with his plan, had thought it through, and knew that, once he presented it, Inlach would see its merits and agree. The real dilemma lay in what his father would think. Well, he would concern himself with that matter once Captain Inlach was aboard.
He liked the image that phrase brought to his mind - 'was aboard.' It reminded him of the great ships of Númenor - those that had sailed from Westernesse as their island home sank beneath the waves. He shivered at the thought. What must it have been like to live through that time - to see friends washed away by the furious waters? He wondered if the Eldar had come and warned the Faithful. But how could the Elves ever conceive that the One would destroy something He had created?
Nay, his ancestors must have felt a warning in their hearts. Perhaps such as the warnings, premonitions and dreams that entered his heart from time to time. He could trace his family's blood back to before Mardil. He knew the blood of Númenor flowed strongly in him. He had come to realize that those with lesser blood, those whose blood had been mixed with that of the hill folk who were in Middle-earth before the coming of the Dúnedain, did not have the - what would he call them - the gifts of foresight that he had. He shook his head. He expected to live a long life, yet pitied others in Gondor - those with mixed blood who would not. He was very grateful that Amdir was Dúnedain.
Denethor shook his head and smiled at himself. How ever did he fall into this stream of thought? Ah, the thought of the stream reminded him, once again, of the Great Wave that engulfed and destroyed Númenor and all those left on it. He could understand the Lords of Westernesse being distrustful of the Eldar. 'It was because of the lies of He whom we do not name,' he thought, 'that men took their ships West. And thus sealed their own fate. The Eldar did nothing to help them.' Well, that was not entirely true. They had taught men the art of shipbuilding, had given them many gifts, and had visited them often. But in the final moment, where were they? The Faithful had never been afraid of Elves. What was he to think? Were Elves to be trusted or no? Denethor knew that Elves still dwelt further south near Dol Amroth and north of the Rauros in the forests East of the Misty Mountains, the Land of Lórien. He had even heard rumors of a dwelling beyond the Misty Mountains, in the far West. There were terrifying stories of the Lady of Lothlórien. 'If Men have dealings with the Mistress of Magic who dwells in the Golden Wood, then they may look for strange things to follow. For it is perilous for mortal man to walk out of the world of this Sun, and few of old came thence unchanged, 'tis said.' He remembered those words being spoken to him. Men of Gondor had been lost who had attempted to contact the Elves. He shuddered and thought of how he had been changed by his encounters with the wizard and wondered if an encounter with Elves would wreak the same havoc. Were Elves like that?
However did this division come, this distrust, nay, this fear? He remembered tales of the Battle of Dagorlad. Elves were there in legions defending Middle-earth with Elendil and his sons. Yet, the Elves had drifted into legend and none ever came to Gondor. They hid in their forests and hills. He snorted. Fine use they were to him! Let them come out of their hiding holes. Were they so unwise as to not know that the forces of evil were gathering. He knew it in his heart, apart from the fact that Ecthelion had oft told him this. Misgivings of the One they do not name. Where was He? He had been defeated in the battle, but not destroyed. Where was He hiding? The Elves certainly would not hide such as this! He shook his head trying to clear it of the anger, nay, the frustration that he felt. All the tales of Elves told of their prowess with arms, their fearlessness, and their courage. What he would give to have an army of Elves at his side now.
Denethor rode towards Osgiliath, supposedly on an errand to the garrison there. His real reason none knew. As he approached the ruined city, he pulled up on Rochallor, dismounted and stood.
The sun was just rising over the mountains of the Ephel Dúath and shadows lay long on the city. As ever, his heart grew heavy at the desolation before him. This horror. He had read so much of the glory of Osgiliath. Fortress of the Stars. Jewel of Gondor. His heart ached and tears threatened. Mighty walls, towering buildings, graceful arched streets, museums, art galleries, monuments, the Dome of Stars wherein lay the Seeing Stone, all lost, destroyed during the Kin-strife. He shuddered at the thought of that time - so heinous that it crushed this beautiful city. How could he make certain that history would not repeat itself?
'When the king comes...' Words always on his father's lips. His mind whirled at the implications that thought brought. Who would discern if the claimant was the rightful king? How did a Steward make such a decision? The horror of the Kin-strife was before his very eyes! This is what would happen if he were Steward and made the wrong decision. He turned his back on the ruins and faced full upon his City, the White City. His eyes clouded and suddenly he saw fire, smoke, broken parapets - his City in ruin. Soldiers and horses, dead, scattered about the field of Pelennor like hay strewn out to dry, no sign of green grass beneath the bodies, so thick did they lie. He closed his eyes, but the vision would not leave him. He heard the moans of the dying and faint war horns, blowing in vain. Everywhere was destruction. His heart quelled in fear. There were no signs to tell him what wrought this devastation. He tried to breathe quietly, to dispel the darkness surrounding him. His nose pinched at the smell of death.
"Nay!" he screamed aloud. "I will not let this happen to my City!" At that, the vision ceased. He was alone again and the White City shone in the sun. He took a steadying breath and mounted, turned towards Osgiliath and repeated his vow. "I will let naught destroy my City. I will let naught destroy my Gondor. No matter the cost. No matter the cost!" Shaking off the horror of the vision, he rode onward.
Denethor smiled as he reached Osgiliath's sewers. The unhappy memories of that day long ago were overshadowed by the mission he now had. Seeing the vision had made him surer of his course of action. He tethered Rochallor near a cistern and slid down the side of the sewer, keeping his head low. He chuckled. Last time he was here, he did not have to bend down; he had been nine. 'Well,' he thought to himself, 'I suppose this proves I have grown, at least in stature!' He went quickly through and soon reached the other side, slightly wetter for the broken areas in the sewer, but intact. He again laughed to himself. 'When we take back the city, I must fix that leak.' The dust of the city stifled his laughter; the lack of echo quickly brought him back to the certainty that life was not as he wished it. He swiped off some of the dirt and cobwebs that had clung to him during his passage, left a mark on the stone nearest the entrance, and started off towards North Ithilien. It was eight years since last he had set foot here. He wondered why he was startled that his old markers were missing. Eight years is a long time for wind and rain and the ravages of who knew what that came here. Again, there were no tracks visible - only dust and disillusionment. Once more, that piercing ache came to his heart, the same one he had during the vision, but he swept it aside with his arm, as if physical movement could erase the feeling.
He spent long hours walking northward. He knew that there had once been farms and villages here, but there were only ruins before him. If there were people left in Ithilien, they lived in the south. Tales told of abandoned fortifications near here. He hoped he would find some. He was heading towards Cair Andros but knew he did not have the time to reach it - not without a horse. He would walk slowly, examine these woods, and come back later, after Captain Inlach was swayed to his thinking. He would bring only a few men with him, but enough to protect them. Something in his heart told him that Cair Andros must be refortified. Must be. And he had heard tales of a cave. This was not the time to look for it, but mayhap he would find the beginnings of an old path and thus begin to denote how he might find it again.
He took out his log and started to mark some of the paths where he had come, marking X's here and there to stand for fresh water, another to show where a deep valley ran. He would find someone to make good maps of the area. A scribe would not do. He would need someone with knowledge of terrains and warfare.
Indis and Morwen were enthralled with the festivities. The Princes of Dol Amroth besieged their guests with gifts, food, plays, and all manner of dancing and singing. For fourteen days the merriment continued. The women had rooms adjoining each other and every night, as they concluded the day's activities, they would sneak away and giggle and laugh about what they had seen, done and heard that particular day. Thengel and the men would stay up late into the night telling tales of battles and deeds of valor. These men of Belfalas were all noble looking and Morwen was ever trying to find someone special for her friend. Indis was beside herself. She did not know if she wanted anyone. She had duties to perform; after all, she was mistress of all Gondor, was she not. How would she find time to take care of a husband, as Morwen did, and still run the City? Morwen teased her ceaselessly and lovingly.
Within weeks after they arrived, Morwen turned to Indis in the garden where they had come for morning tea. "I... do not know how to say this, but I believe I am with child again. I am frightened, Indis. So far from home. How will I ever tell Thengel? He will think I have lied to him, but I have not. There were no signs before this." She retched again as she leaned over the basin that Indis had brought for her; even tea had upset her stomach. "I kept telling myself it was the strange food or the excitement of this place, but I know now it is not." She began to sob. Indis shook her head. She knew her friend was frightened, but she was twenty-one now. This was no way for the 'beloved' of Thengel to behave.
"Listen to me, dearest sister-friend. You will be fine. Sometimes, healers have told me, the body purges itself of a first child to make the woman stronger, to prepare the womb properly. You are older than you were, and I myself have been watching your food and drink, making sure you are eating what is good and wholesome. You are a strong young woman now and will have no trouble carrying the babe. You must, however, tell Thengel immediately. He will want to return to Minas Tirith as soon as arrangements can be made. If you delay any longer, he will think that you have been less than truthful in this matter. You do not want him to think that, my dearest friend. Wipe your eyes, lave your face, and I will walk with you to him; he is in the court of Prince Angelimir. I will leave you on the terrace and bring him to you."
True to Indis' word, Thengel ordered the company to return to Minas Tirith. The party set out for the City the next morning, two healers being sent by the prince to tend to the Lady Morwen. A carriage was provided with a great store of pillows and blankets and mantels to keep Morwen warm in the cool winter's air, and help protect her from any untoward jarring. Indis and she spent the entire trip sharing thoughts of cradles, clothing, coverlets and such to be made for the little one. As on that last fateful trip, Thengel hovered within hearing distance of the carriage. His every thought was upon her, his 'beloved', he found he could not sleep during the nights as they traveled slowly towards the White City.
Denethor finally turned back towards Osgiliath. He found neither sign nor inkling of a hidden cave. Everything was in disarray in North Ithilien and his spirits drooped. There were no signs of Orcs, no signs of anything but a deserted country, waiting. It was this sense of waiting that most disturbed him. He continually looked over his shoulder with the distinct impression that he was being followed. He realized his folly in coming alone to this enemy-ridden land. What a fool he was. Was it pride that had sent him here alone? He held the hilt of his sword and put his left hand on his horn. He quickened his pace and scolded himself for looking backwards. What good would that do if there were any enemy behind him? He would use his other senses and walk forward. How he wanted to run - his face flushed with the thought of it - run as fast as he could back towards the ruined city. He knew he could not. He took a deep breath and forced himself to slow the pace. If an enemy was behind him, he did not want to give away the knowledge that he was aware of it.
The hairs on the back of his neck stood up. He closed his eyes for a moment and heard it, the soft crack of a twig being broken. Fear gripped his heart and blood rushed through his body. There was definitely some one behind him. He was far from any help. He forced his thoughts to return from that other fateful day when he and Amdir had been obliged to spend the night in Osgiliath with no fire, no warm clothes, no hope for help till the morning. Yet, help had come, unexpectedly from his mother's brother, Cranthir. The thought of Cranthir brought stinging tears to his eyes. He was going to die here in this forsaken land and none would know of it, for Cranthir was dead.
'I will face my enemy,' he thought, 'It would be better to die in battle than with an arrow in my back.' He took a deep breath, pulled his sword from its scabbard and turned. His eyes scanned the trees for a sign of what might be stalking him. His fear was Orcs but it could be anything, from a panther to a Haradrim. Nothing. Nothing faced him. He gave a longer sweep of the area and still found nothing. Letting his breath out, he placed the sword back in the scabbard and turned back towards his path. Then it hit him, full in the back and knocked him to the ground. He scrambled to his feet all the while trying to disentangle his sword from between his legs, to pull the Horn around to wind it. At the same time, whatever had hit him pushed him hard to the ground again, shoving his face into the dirt. A low growl sent a shiver down his back. He found his arms were pinned behind him, held by a rope. How had he been so quickly overtaken?
"Tell me," a low voice growled, "Do all the Lords of Gondor fall prey so easily?
Denethor squirmed and tried to break the bonds holding his hands. "I will kill you, when finally I am loose," he screamed.
His captor laughed. "You and what army? You are naught without your captain and your Horse Guard ringed about you. Just a child playing at soldier."
Denethor wriggled, trying desperately to push the man off his back, but to no avail. Finally, he twisted so that he was facing his captor. "Húrin!" he cried, half in relief, half in chagrin.
"Yes, little one. It is Húrin who holds you captive. Whatever betook you to come this far north alone? Do you not know the dangers here or is your pride so great that you would think yourself immortal? The blood of Númenor might run through you, but the Lords of Westernesse do die," he said as he untied Denethor's hands and helped him to his feet. "Once again, a Captain of Osgiliath has rescued you."
"I had no need of rescue," Denethor cried hotly, though the color had risen in his face and his eyes shone with the beginnings of tears. How could he have let his guard down so as to not have heard this detachment from Osgiliath? He saw the soldiers around him smiling openly at Húrin's barb; this did naught to assuage Denethor's embarrassment.
Húrin swung up onto his horse and held his hand out for Denethor to grab, but Denethor would have none of it. Húrin's voice grew cold. "Must I make this an order, Lieutenant?"
Denethor pursed his lips and gave his hand to the captain, pulling himself up behind Húrin with a low sigh of frustration. The detachment followed close behind their captain as he led them towards Osgiliath.
Húrin sighed. "You are the only heir to the Steward. If evil befalls you, what will Gondor do? Have you not thought out your purposes enough to know you, of all people, should not wander alone in these lands?"
Denethor's cheeks smote as if Húrin had physically struck him. He almost wished the captain had hit him. This rebuke hurt more than a slap would have, for he knew the truth of Húrin's words.
"I will say no more on this matter, Denethor, for I know you and I know your heart. You are punishing yourself more at this moment than I could in an age. Let us speak of why you are here."
Denethor hung his head. He had not wanted to share this with anyone as of yet. He had not even told Amdir about it. Too many questions hung about him, too many unresolved issues, too many loose ends. Yet, he almost sighed at the thought of sharing his plans with someone.
"I am convinced, as my father is, that something more evil than Orcs is planning the destruction of Gondor. I do not know what, or when this will be attempted, but I must do something, devise defenses, anything to prepare for this. When the Corsairs attacked, I vowed we would not be ill equipped to meet the enemy again. When Amdir and I entered Minas Tirith that night, the barracks of the Rangers were not even guarded. We have fallen into dishonor. We tarnish the name of the Rangers. I remember tales of the Dúnedain of Ithilien and I wonder if these are truly their descendants. These warriors I read of do not resemble those living in our barracks. It is not the fault of Inlach. He is a great warrior. I have spoken with him and, I believe, if he had the right men and the order from Turgon, he would surely make a force worth reckoning with. I believe the Rangers should be stationed in Ithilien, their presence known only to a few, and be a hidden defense for Gondor. They could be taught the ways of the bow and arrow again and cut and parry at our enemy. The forests of Ithilien would be a place of terror for Orcs instead of it being a place of terror for Gondorians!"
His passion was not lost on Húrin. "You speak wisely, my Lord. I agree with your assessment of the danger and I applaud your plans. Yet, Turgon will never allow this. And Inlach will never do what Turgon will not allow. Will you then take the captaincy from Inlach?"
"Nay. Never. He has been a faithful and true soldier of Gondor. I would do all in my power to persuade him to accept this. If I cannot do it, perhaps you would..."
"Now, now, my young Lord, I do not see what my becoming enmeshed in your plans would do to help. Inlach is Captain of the Rangers and I am Captain of Osgiliath. We each have our own devices for the safekeeping of those who have been put in our charge. Perhaps he will see the wisdom of your words. Or there might be another, not so close to him, who yet commands his respect."
"It is not Ecthelion. Inlach loves and respects Turgon and believes that Ecthelion has none of the greatness that is Turgon's. Thengel will not do for Thengel has promoted me and that is a sore point in Inlach's mind." He shook his head. Was there no way around this? "Ingold! Yes, I may speak with Ingold. He and Inlach have fought side by side and both are loyal to Turgon. Thank you, Captain Húrin. I will speak with Ingold when I return home."
Húrin laughed to himself. Denethor showed much promise. He listened, and that was a good trait for a Steward. Now if he would just put aside his pride - it would certainly save him grief.
Amdir had met someone while they were in Dol Amroth. Her name was Listöwel. They had met while in the Prince's palace; she was a handmaiden for one of the Prince's cousins. Amdir had been drawn by her quiet dignity and her happy smile. There was no time for anything even approximating courtship, but his heart was taken from the first. He was lost. How or when would he ever see her again? Her hours and minutes were all taken by her duties, but once in awhile their hands would touch as she poured a libation for her mistress, or they would pass in the great castle's halls and slow their opposing steps. She would smile at him shyly and he would practically walk into the nearest wall. His eyes seemed glazed; he only wanted to see her - nothing else seemed to matter. Despairing, he had gone to Thengel.
"What am I to do? I... I have never felt this way before. I know we will not see each other once the festivities are over. Yet, I cannot bear that thought. Thengel," his voice echoed the pain in his heart, "What am I to do?"
Putting his hand over his mouth to hide the smile that grew there, Thengel tried to think of something that he could say that would give Amdir some respite, perhaps even some hope.
"Amdir, we are friends. Listen to me now. This is not the end of things. Morwen is of the house of Prince Angelimir. We will be invited to many more festivals, ceremonies and such. I will make it a point, whenever I am able, to assign you to guard duty on our journeys back and forth. You will be able to see her again. There will be long spells between these visits, but your relationship will grow stronger, if your feelings are true. Does the lady return these feelings?"
"How can I know? How can I be sure? She seems to want to be in my company. I, of course, have twisted my schedule to be wherever she is - though it is unbeknownst to her. As for her feelings for me - she smiles when she sees me. Is that any indication?" he cried again.
Thengel could see Amdir was tormented by doubts and love and foreseen loneliness. He shook his head. "We might speak with Morwen. She and Listöwel seem to be friendly."
'I would be too embarrassed to ask. Perhaps... Nay, forgive me. I cannot ask that of you."
Again, Thengel had to suppress a grin. "I will do my best to be discreet yet trustworthy in finding an answer for you, my friend."
Morwen, Indis and Listöwel indeed had become fast friends and when Listöwel discovered Morwen was with child, her temporary handmaiden begged to be allowed to move to Minas Tirith and serve her. Prince Angelimir had been most happy with the arrangement and so, when the company set out for Minas Tirith, Listöwel was with them, much to Amdir's joy.
"I know that what I ask might seem fantastic, given the thoughts of my grandfather," Denethor spoke quietly, "but I believe it is possible to work around these ideas of Turgon's. What say you, Ingold?"
"Nay, it does not seem fantastic. It bears much thought. Bring the Rangers back to Ithilien? Hmmm. I believe you are correct, Denethor. I believe we can sway Ecthelion. And Inlach will obey. He is a soldier. I will come with you when you meet with your father. He respects me. You were wise not to approach him alone. Perhaps Thengel will join us in this venture. Or should I say adventure. Ithilien is almost totally bereft of her people. It would do my heart good to once again know she is safe."
Action - that was what Denethor needed. To be out on patrol with his unit. He would approach Thengel and ask for a sortie towards Rohan. They had surveyed the area directly above the North Gate, but there were other places to survey before reaching the borders of Rohan. Anórien was well known by Amdir and Denethor. They had oft traversed its forests just for the pleasure of it. Denethor had maps sent from the Great Library to his room, poured over them, and discovered that the forests were not well mapped. They could be gone for weeks, perhaps fish a little, and return with valuable information. He pursed his lips. Amdir might be angry with him for taking him away from Listöwel, but he would be pleased once they began their trip.
Through all his machinations, Denethor's heart hurt and he did not know why. There were times when he felt as if he was a third thumb. Amdir spent his days with Listöwel and Thengel with Morwen; where was he? He began to think of other things besides training, of Gondor, and of his father. Perhaps there were other things in life. Nay, nay, this thinking was not for the future Steward of Gondor. Others could have their happiness, but not he. He would have to find his happiness in serving Gondor. Is not that what his father had oft told him? Besides, who would want to take a wife and then have to leave her at home for months at a time, as a lowly lieutenant pulled duty in other places in the kingdom? What woman would put up with that? Did Listöwel know that would be her fate, and Morwen? Of course, Morwen's situation was different. One day, no matter what Thengel thought, the man would be King of Rohan. Morwen would live at Edoras with him and he would send others off to their duty. He shook his head. This was foolish thinking. Was there a time when Thengel would let his men go without him? Would he even consider remaining in Meduseld when his troops were sent off to danger?
Denethor's deepest desire, however, was to map North Ithilien, but he knew that Thengel would not allow this. They had had a loud and passionate disagreement when Denethor brought the subject to his captain's attention upon Thengel's return from Dol Amroth. First, Thengel had been furious that Denethor had gone to Ithilien alone. Secondly, he was furious that Denethor had discussed anything about the Rangers with Captain Húrin. And thirdly, he was just furious. "Chain of command," he kept spouting and Denethor had to check his own temper. Did Thengel think he was a raw recruit unable to care for himself in the wild? Well, Húrin, of course, had to report about how they found Denethor, but the captain did not tell Thengel of their overtaking him unawares. For this, Denethor was mightily grateful. Once again, Denethor wished he could speak with his father. Since Thengel had become Horse Guard Captain and Ingold Captain of the Tower Guard, it seemed his father had no time for him. His loneliness, he now realized, was not just from Thengel and Amdir's distance, but also from his father's.
Ecthelion's son kicked at stones as he walked towards the stables. Being with the horses, with Rochallor, always made him feel better. He brushed his horse's coat and nuzzled him with his head, placing it under his friend's neck and sighing deeply. Perhaps if he went to his father. That was the beginning of the chain of command - his father, now that Turgon was losing what wits were left to him. That thought brought tears to Denethor's eyes. Why was there always change? Why could not his grandfather live forever? He felt foolish - he was seventeen. But his memories were stirred by the thought of Turgon - deep and heartfelt memories of a trusted ally against Ecthelion's indifference. Here he was again, dwelling on those things which were of consequence to a boy, but should no longer disturb a man. Another sigh escaped his lips.
'Enough of this!' he chided himself. He was already disheartened and their stint of duty had just begun. Thengel had finally agreed to a mapping expedition. Denethor looked at Amdir riding next to him in sullen silence and another sigh escaped him. Their orders were to spend the summer charting the area from the River Glanhir to Cair Andros, including the Firien Wood and the Drúadan Forest. They were also to report the status of the beacon-hills.
His heart ached as he turned Rochallor east past the North Gate. He turned around in his saddle to speak with his men, but the glint of the sun on the Anduin and the forests of North Ithilien east of it caught his eye. 'Someday, I will cross the river and do what must be done for Gondor.'
Their first night was spent on the western bank of the Great River directly across from the island of Cair Andros. Denethor's palms fairly itched at the thought of being so close to North Ithilien and yet not able to cross over. He debated whether he should take a few men and cross the Anduin; at least spend a few hours on the island, exploring it. In his heart, he knew he would be countermanding Thengel's orders, and so he pushed his own will aside and concentrated on the maps that were spread out before him, adding the details of the landscape they had passed through already. How could records be so lacking in basic detail of an area so close to Minas Tirith? He shook his head in wonder at this indictment against Turgon's rule.
Their second night was spent among the pools and reed beds of the marshes of the Entwash, which quickly turned into a thoroughly miserable night. The evening meal had to be taken in their tents for the flies, midges, and other insects owned the land and filled the men's eyes, noses and mouths. Reeds and tussocks had hidden them when first their unit had pitched camp, but as night drew nigh, the crickets cries grated on their nerves and the biting insects tried to devour them. Denethor pitied his pickets. Even one hour spent on guard duty would drive a man mad with the flying creatures so thick about them; great clouds of insects swarmed everywhere. Never had he given his men only one-hour sentry duty, but he would not subject them to more of this torture than was necessary. He himself woke every few hours, beset by the incessant buzzing of the creatures that found their way into his tent. He covered his face with his blanket but the noise still filtered through. He hated trying to breathe through his covers. He slept fitfully, awoke, covered his body with his blanket, as undignified as that was, faced the thousands of creatures that flew about him as soon as he stepped out of his tent, relieved his pickets and replaced them with new ones, and returned to his tent, all the while hoping for some surcease from the insects attacks. He spit out a body or two as he tried to settle down again to sleep.
He ordered a late departure for the morrow in hopes that the heat of the summer sun would drive the creatures away, so the men would be able to eat their morning meal in peace. But fate would not have it thus. Rain began falling ere the sun rose and Denethor called the muster, the camp folded, and he and his unit turned westward eating dried meat as they rode. 'What a miserable way to begin an adventure,' he thought. His foul mood was exacerbated by Amdir's sullenness. They had not spoken since the sortie began. Amdir, he knew, was livid at the fact that he must spend the whole summer away from Listöwel and he knew he had Denethor to blame. How was Denethor ever going to repair the damage to their friendship? Another duty would have called to take Amdir away from her, but the instigation for this trip was Denethor's need for action, for distraction from pain, and Amdir was not about to let Denethor forget it and the misery it was causing him.
Another night camped near the marshes and Denethor scowled. 'Naught is going as I planned for this trip,' he thought. He had failed to take into account that early summer was a great breeding time for the insects that inhabited these marshes. The pickets were set and the camp settled as best it could. No moon shone this night and the relentless noises from the pests again made it difficult to sleep. Denethor tossed and turned and finally gave up the struggle. He rose, placed his blanket around his shoulders, and stepped outside again. Amdir was awake also, pacing the little camp area despondently. Denethor debated whether or not to join his friend. He could not let him suffer in silence. Perhaps if he encouraged him to speak of Listöwel it would help assuage some of his grief at their separation. That is, if Amdir would not turn away as soon as he saw Denethor approaching. Well, there was naught to do but try.
As he walked purposefully towards Amdir a sound caught his ear - it was silence, the insects had quieted - and a smell assailed his nose. The hairs on his arms flew to attention. He hurled himself at Amdir, knocking the man to the ground as an arrow flew past the place where he had stood. His shout roused the camp and men dashed out of their tents, weapons hastily being snatched from their resting places. 'Why had not the pickets given the alarm?' Denethor wondered as he tried to see through the darkness. He had not even a moment to look. The camp was being overwhelmed by Orcs. He jumped to his feet, gave Amdir a hand up and cut the head off a charging Orc. Another replaced it and Denethor chopped at its arm, severing it cleanly as he turned at the grunt of another behind him. He gratefully acknowledged Amdir's rescue of him as he saw another fall. Now he wished he had ordered fires set, but they had drawn the insects, and the need for shelter from the bugs had caused this lack now. A torch would come in most handy for the Orcs were spilling from the blackness of the night and Denethor could not count their number. Not that the counting of them would do any good. Their only hope was to keep their weapons blazing.
He was glad these men had been with him at the Crossings. They knew how to fight and that skill was desperately needed as more and more Orcs spilled out of the night. Amdir's cry of pain roused Denethor from thought. He ran to his friend's side in time to annihilate the Orc that had struck the blow. Turning to help raise Amdir caused him to miss seeing the Orc on his flank. His left shoulder blazed with a pain that was quickly forgotten as Denethor, falling to the ground, swung his sword and viciously chopped the leg off his attacker. Amdir was on his feet again and was helping Denethor to his when two more Orcs attacked the friends. They placed their backs together and faced their enemies. The sounds of death and dying were all about them, along with the growls of the Orcs and steel slicing through flesh. Time seemed to stand still as Denethor's sword cut and chopped at the foe all about him. His ears had long since ceased trying to make sense of the noise that assailed them. Years of training had made his arms strong, but the hours of fighting were taking their toll. Would the enemy never stop coming?
As suddenly as the attack occurred, it was over. The surviving Orcs faded into the night. Denethor called for fires to be lit. His men gathered around, their backs to each other and their faces towards the darkness. Once the fires were lit, they counted off. Tears stung Denethor's eyes as the count stopped at thirty-three. There had been fifty men under his command. He sent men with torches to the pickets' posts. They returned with grim news. None had survived. Denethor cursed himself, the night, the insects, the Orcs and anything that had ever moved upon Middle-earth. He set pickets again, but this time closer to camp, and calculated their losses and what their course of action should be. They were only two days from Minas Tirith. Should they return or continue on? He walked the camp trying to decide, but the decision was taken from him as he scanned the carnage before him. Their injuries were numerous, some of his men near death. He would send errand-riders to the City and his unit would return in ignominy. He remembered Amdir and his wounds, but was relieved to see him bending over a fellow soldier, offering him water. He walked towards him and pulled him a few steps away from the camp.
"We will have to return to Minas Tirith, Amdir. Our losses and wounded are too many for us to continue. Since this is just a mapping expedition, duty does not bind us to complete it. Our duty is to the men. Also, Ecthelion must be warned of this attack. I do not understand it. Orcs have not been west of the Anduin for an age - not on Gondor's soil. What is drawing them here against their sworn enemy? How could I have prevented this?"
"I do not know, Denethor. It seems strange to me as well. We must retreat as you counsel but I find it most difficult to do so. I want to follow them and slay them all." A note of anger and frustration belied the calm on Amdir's face. "We did not humiliate Gondor, Denethor. We fought well. Appease your guilt with that thought." Amdir knew Denethor's nature - the constant voices of guilt that he knew assailed his friend at every moment of calamity. His task now was to stop Denethor's self-denigration and put his mind on what must be done.
"You are right, Amdir. I have sent messengers. We must make haste. We will not prove as able to defend ourselves if another attack occurs. You did well tonight." He said, embarrassed.
"You mean I did not run." Amdir's face blazed with shame. "Nay, I did not run. I wonder if you had not suffered injury, if I would have stayed."
"I saw the look in your eyes, Amdir. There was no fear tonight." He clasped his friend on the shoulder. "Let us away now."
The wounded were horsed with those able to support them and the camp was quickly struck. Much as it pained him, they would leave their dead for burial by others. The condition of the wounded demanded a quick retreat. It would take at least three days, perhaps four with the horses thus overburdened, to make their way back to Minas Tirith. A dark cloud settled on Denethor's heart and the wound in his shoulder started to burn.
He fell, fully clothed, into his own bed. He was beyond tired and the interview with Ecthelion had taken the last shred of his strength. Now all he wanted to do was close his eyes. He had disobeyed his father and gone to his quarters instead of the Houses of Healing. The wound in his shoulder was not deep and had already been cleaned by Arciryas. There had been no need to go to another healer. Denethor had almost no recollection of their retreat back to Minas Tirith, except for the fact that three more of his men had died before they reached the City. He had never lost men under him before; those who fell at the Crossings had been under Thengel's command. This aborted sortie had been his first. He knew it would not be his last. How was he to endure this? These men had been his friends. He still had to go to their homes to offer his condolences to their families. Seventeen men lost in one night, three on the road, and perhaps another one or two that were still grievously wounded. His head spun as he ticked off the numbers.
The door to his room opened slowly, tentatively. Indis' face was covered with love... and concern. "Denethor," she began and as she spoke his name her tears began to flow. She knelt by his bed and laid her head on his chest, gently touching his bandaged shoulder. "I am so very sorry. Morwen told me of the battle and your loss. Thengel is concerned for you, too. What can I do?" The gentleness in his sister's voice broke the dam that held back his resolve and brother and sister shared their tears.
Once again, Ecthelion was thwarted by Turgon's utter blindness to reality. The Council was called, Denethor recounted the recent battle with the Orcs, Ecthelion exhorted them to action, and Turgon had said nay. There was no arguing his decision. He was stubborn, even at the end of his life. The Council would not go against him. Ecthelion's heart grew bitter at the folly of his father. He thought, 'I will not let this be the end of it. If Turgon will not take action, I will. In secret if needs be, but action will be taken!' He strode from the Council chamber and none would dare stop him once they looked upon his face.
He called Denethor to his chambers, his face still red from suffused anger. "I recall your telling me some plan with regards to Ithilien. Would you refresh my memory?"
Denethor's heart leapt. "I will return in a moment, my Lord, if you would but give me leave to bring some maps back with me. They will help illustrate my plan in a clearer way." When he returned with the maps, he outlined his plan to Ecthelion, passion spilling out between the words, as he finally was able to show his father what he had been working on this last year, ever since the Battle of the Crossings.
Ecthelion listened, pointed to places on the maps, asked questions, and then sat - silent. Denethor held his breath. If only he had known this moment would come, he could have been better prepared.
"I am impressed. It is a good plan. And you say there is a cave somewhere in this area?" Ecthelion pointed to a spot on the map northeast of Cair Andros.
"That is what the texts in the Great Library say. Some place that was used of old to defend North Ithilien. I tried to locate it in the early spring, but could find neither sign nor road, but the time I spent there was short. If I could just lead a sortie across the river, I am sure, with the help of these legends that I will be able to find the cave. If all goes well, we might restore it as a watch point for the Rangers. One that they would be able to use as a base camp."
"Who would lead these Rangers?" Ecthelion wanted to know, wondering if Denethor had the temerity to request it for himself.
"It would have to be Captain Inlach. He knows his men and his heart is true."
"He is loyal to Turgon," Ecthelion spoke quietly.
"He is loyal to Gondor, my Lord. I have spoken with him. His love of Gondor and his men supersedes everything else. I have not found a soldier so true."
"You have spoken with him?" Ecthelion asked.
"Yes, my Lord, in the early spring. I... I needed to... I was hurt by the..." Why could he not just tell his father? "I was ashamed at how I found the Rangers when we returned from Lossarnach. Father, I have read some of the history of the Rangers, discovered they were once a great force in Gondor's arsenal against evil. I had to determine what happened, why they were now merely window dressing, sentries who did naught. I had to know if it was Inlach's fault."
"I believe the cause may once again be laid at Turgon's feet. Father, he does not see; he... I have the fortune of having listened to your words all these years, heard from you the signs of evil about us. He has not. His counselors seem to have their heads buried in the sands of Harad. They do not read. They have no sense of history. They are fools!"
"You are a little young to be calling your elders fools, are you not?"
"Forgive me, Father. I can hardly bear to see what is happening to Gondor - to Turgon as he slowly slips away from us. And I rue the day he chose the counselors he now has. Father! You know yourself they see no further than their noses. Perhaps I have been a little harsh in calling them fools. What am I to call men who would see Gondor continue its spiral of death and despair and do naught? The people walk in oblivion, believing we, the Steward and his family, are taking care of them, when we are not! We sit and listen to the prattle of a man who has lost every vestige of sanity. His sentences make sense no longer. Long ago he should have accepted the gift of the One and laid down with his fathers. I speak thus only because of my love for him - that man who sits on the Steward's Chair is no longer the Steward. He is a shell - an empty shell and ripe for the wiles of his counselors, juggling for positions of power and full of greed."
"My son - you speak treason."
Denethor held his breath. "Nay, Father, I speak the truth. You yourself have said the same things I am saying now. But you have said them couched in honeyed terms, while I speak the same words plainly. I would not have Turgon taken from his Chair. But I would not have Gondor held captive by unscrupulous counselors. Father, we must act now. Something terrible is coming towards Gondor; I can feel it in my heart, in every sinew of my body. Please, speak with Captain Inlach. Build the Rangers back into a force that is too terrible to deal with, one that will cause our enemies to think twice before considering an attack upon Gondor. Do you think the Corsairs would have attacked us if we were strong? Do you think the Orcs would have attacked us on our very borders? Father, I beg you. For Gondor."
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.