11. Chess and Stewards
2953 T. A.
The Steward watched his son and grandson playing chess. An old man's game, he thought as he watched. But as usual, Denethor beat Ecthelion, though the latter was 68 and the former 23. If only he could live another decade, Turgon thought, he could teach Denethor all that he would need to know to be a great ruler. Such thoughts were foolish, however, for it was now clear that he did not have a decade, or perhaps even another year, to work with the lad. In any case, the Enemy's constant probing now forced Denethor to spend the majority of his time in Ithilien.
He shuddered to think of what perils his grandson must be facing on patrol. Orcs, mostly, but they were dangerous enough. Indeed, all reports indicated they had become far worse than "bad enough", since Sauron had returned to Mordor. The old man regretted that he could no longer wield blade or bow against the foul creatures. Gondor had learned through painful experience that its Stewards must use others as their tools. Turgon had not been in a battle for almost fifty years, and would never be in another.
Pushing this grim thought away, he reflected on his son, who had just bid him good evening and left the room. The sad truth was that Ecthelion was not likely to lead Gondor very well. Ecthelion's strengths, while very useful and perhaps sufficient for a peacetime Steward, were not sufficient for the perils Gondor now faced. He was not quite intelligent enough, and failing that, not quite ruthless enough. Denethor had both of those qualities in abundance.
And yet, and yet -- Ecthelion was a superb Warden. Few could negotiate tariffs and trade better, or were more adept at smoothing over the squabbles of the various lords. For all his promise, Denethor had yet to learn the patience and tolerance of weakness in others so necessary for such work - and so, was far from ready to govern a great realm, even if it were from "behind the chair."
"Grandfather? Are you well?"
Lost in his thoughts, as often happened when he was seated, Turgon had not noticed the young man approach. He shook his head slightly - he was not well. In fact he was dying, albeit just slowly enough that no one else could be certain of it. After a moment he replied, as if in jest.
"Each day is better than the next!"
Denethor started to laugh, then frowned. He squeezed Turgon's extended hand for a long moment, and nodded understanding,
"Hopefully only slightly, Daeradar."
"Yes, only slightly, my lad."
The future Steward, his brow furrowed, seemed to be trying to craft an appropriate response. The lad, no doubt, had been looking forward to an evening of ale and banter with his comrades. At that age, Turgon recalled, he too had enjoyed such evenings, away from his own elders, if not entirely away from duty.
Nowadays, duty and little else kept Turgon alive, but that fact was not one he would share with anyone - his serious grandson least of all. The irony of this, when he daily sent men into danger of death or worse, struck him, but all he could do was laugh.
"It is nothing that can be helped. Go on, lad, I guess your friends are waiting for you. Enjoy them while you can!"
The future Steward, knowing wisdom when he heard it (and looking forward to the ale), bowed and took his leave.
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