Ten Thousand Years will not Suffice

by Agape4Rivendell

2.

Third Age – 2936

He was sure the city had been built just for him as he raced along the curving road. By the time he reached the fourth level, he was again grateful, for the hundredth time, that there were no steps leading to the Citadel. His little legs were already tired; steps would be much worse, he decided. Perhaps, if he asked well, his father would give him a pony. It would make his life so much simpler. He wanted to explore everything in and out of the City, but he had decided a long time ago, at least a week ago, that his legs were too short!

He held his treasure tightly in both hands, holding it against his chest too for fear of losing it. It squirmed and squiggled in his hands and he was forever stopping to make sure he was not hurting it in his headlong rush. Wouldn’t his father be surprised to see what he had captured! He had pretended, in his mind’s eye, that he had surprised a band of Orcs by the stream. They had fled when they saw his terrible face. He had tried to look just like his father when he had ‘accidentally’ run away. He had missed luncheon time, the first time ever; he was in the midst of a game with some of the soldiers’ children and forgotten the time. His nurse had gone to his father in fear. He could hear his father’s roar from the seventh level. He knew he was in trouble and he had run and hid in one of the empty horse’s stalls. After a few moments, he knew he had been wrong. He didn’t want to leave the quiet refuge, but he knew he must face his father, after all – wasn’t he a soldier in the Steward’s Army? Is that not what his father called him – his little soldier? In the depths of his heart, he knew soldiers did not hide. He stood up and wiped the hay from his clothes and strode purposefully towards the stable doors. He shrank back as a great shadow blocked the door, the sunlight, the world. It was his father; he could tell it in his stance. Ecthelion strode forward, grabbed him by the collar, and marched him out the door. Denethor took a sideways glance up at him, but the look on his face was terrible to behold. He didn’t quite understand. But he would never forget that look. And today, he had tried to look the same way at the imagined hoard of Orcs. One of the Orcs had slipped and fallen and Denethor quickly seized him and marched him off to his father.

‘Noooooo,’ he screamed. The treasure, the imagined Orc, had escaped and was hopping wildly away. A cart passed by him on its way to one of the lower levels. The driver did not see, could not see, the little creature that ran in his path. It died quickly. Denethor stood as still as a statue. He had failed to protect his prisoner. He had lost this wondrous treasure. The cart had passed; the driver unaware of the tragedy he had caused.

Denethor’s eyes filled with tears. His shoulders shook uncontrollably as he sobbed his sorrow. Before he knew it, he was standing before the door of the Great Hall – not sure how or when he arrived there. One of the guards bent low, put his hand on Denethor’s shoulder, and gently asked him what was the matter. The lad could not speak – by now he was near hysterics, so the soldier picked him up and entered the Hall. He could not leave the little one in such despair, though he knew that he should not abandon his post. One duty must sometimes be put aside for another. He also knew Ecthelion was meeting with Turgon on matters of state. Well, it could not be helped. This little one was the image of his mother and the guard, like all of Gondor, had worshipped the ground she had walked upon. He could not leave her son in pain.

‘What has happened?’

‘I am not sure, my Lord,’ the guard said, ‘but he does not appear to be hurt.’

Ecthelion took his son from the guard, excused himself to Turgon, walked quickly to a side chamber and sat in one of the chairs. He kissed Denethor on his forehead and wiped the tears from the chubby little cheeks. The child would not calm down and the racking sobs tore at Ecthelion’s heart. The guard brought water, said he would fetch Denethor’s nurse, and left them. Ecthelion urged his son to drink and finally Denethor did. Suddenly, he threw his arms around his father’s neck and sobbed again. Ecthelion gently detached the child’s arms from around his neck and lifted his chin.

‘My son, what has happened?’

‘I found this...this....’ Sobs stopped his words. He tried again, ‘I found this wonderful thing. It was almost the size of an oliphant, I am sure!’ He paused for another moment to catch his breath and Ecthelion laughed to himself. The lad had never seen an oliphant and the thought of him carrying one in his little hands almost made him laugh out loud, but he checked the impulse as he looked at the tear-stained face. The child was too serious to even try to lighten the moment.

Denethor continued on with his tale while Ecthelion listened intently. When Denethor reached the part about the cart, the tears and sobs increased and he could no longer speak. Ecthelion hugged him tightly, concern and relief fighting for his attention. He offered him a little more water, at a loss for words to help ease his son’s grief. The face of Rían flashed before him and, once again for the thousandth time, he wished that she were here beside him. He missed her terribly, not a day went by that he did not think of her. Suddenly, he knew what to say.

‘Denethor, listen to me. That was such a special and wondrous bullfrog that you found. I would have dearly loved to have seen it. I am so very proud that you were able to capture it on your own, being as big as you described it. Your mother must have been proud too. She probably knew it could not live inside the city though, and she took it to be with her. It is a special present for her from you. I am sure she is enjoying it thoroughly.’ As he spoke, Ecthelion felt that what he said was most lame and wondered why on earth he thought this would comfort the lad, but to his surprise Denethor’s eyes widened. He wiped his nose on his sleeve and a small smile crept into his eyes.

‘Father, do you really think Mother has it? But, father, are not I special enough for mother to take, too?’ The question almost broke Ecthelion’s heart. Denethor had only lain in Rían’s arms for a short time. Did he have some memory of her?

‘Yes, my son,’ he said, ‘I am sure your treasure is with your mother. And yes, you are very special, my son, so special that your mother wants you to stay with me for a while. She knows I need you, my son, that Gondor needs you.’

He wanted to slap himself. Why had he said that last part? It was not necessary; the boy did not need to hear that. Perhaps it was Ecthelion himself who needed to hear it. He shook his head in dismay and saw that Denethor misinterpreted the gesture. He smiled, hugged the lad and kissed his small forehead again. The nurse had arrived some moments before and stood by patiently. Now, Ecthelion lifted his son off his lap and placed the little hand in her hand.

‘Please take my son to his room, wash him and give him some light food. I will be up shortly to bed him.’

‘Denethor, go with your nurse. I will come shortly and perhaps you can draw me a picture of this great beast. We can hang it on your bedroom wall and we will remember the day you captured an animal bigger than an oliphant.’

Denethor hugged him around the neck till his breath was almost stopped and then quickly left in his nurse’s care.

Ecthelion sat back with a sigh. The boy was almost six and he had planned a special ceremony on his sixth birthday. But now, he wondered. He thought again of the concern that had chilled his heart during Denethor’s story. Now, the chill came back even stronger. Something was wrong. He felt it in the deepest part of his being. His father did not seem to sense it. Turgon did not seem to see any need for furthering the defenses of Gondor. All had been quiet for many years. Yet, there was a nagging feeling that Ecthelion could not put words to. No matter what his father thought, he knew he must now prepare for this evil that weighed so heavily upon his heart. And he would begin with his son.