Ten Thousand Years will not Suffice

by Agape4Rivendell


Third Age - 2947

He was not sure why but it had surprised him when he discovered that Morwen, Thengel’s beloved, was of high Númenórean blood. Her fair face and black hair all bespoke of that heritage. Her father, he found, was the son of one of the Princes of Dol Amroth. But since finding that, 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, Ivriniel. Berthil was going with them. He and Morwen’s mother had moved to Minas Tirith the year Morwen lost her child. Ecthelion would not gainsay their need to be near their daughter. Thengel would take his entire company with him. He 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 she 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.

They 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 embroidery 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, these two clung to each other and became whole through each other’s love.

Denethor had 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 Adrahil, 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 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.

He walked slowly to the first level; he could have ridden, but wanted to take this time to think, to plan his approach. He shook his head. He still did not have the diplomacy of Thengel. He wanted to rush in, shout orders, and make changes that he felt were so desperately necessary. He knew that was not the path to take, however, and once again shook his head.

‘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 the heir to the Stewardship. He had been critical of Thengel’s promoting him. He thought it was only because Denethor was Ecthelion’s son. He would not spend time with this lad. How old was he now? Only seventeen. Still wet behind the ears. If he was as proud as Ecthelion, this would be wasted time spent. He wished Denethor were more like Turgon. Turgon had been the one to make Inlach Captain of the Rangers and had left him to his own devices as to what that Captaincy meant. Now here was this upstart. What did he want anyhow? He still chafed over the rough treatment he felt Denethor had given him the night of the battle at 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, he 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 Captain’s return?

‘May I sit down? Have you a cup of tea?’ 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 bristled with pride. That his Lord 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 his tutor, whomever he was, had not properly told him the entire tale of that time. He went to the stove, removed the hot water to the cupboard with the tealeaves, the cups and the teapot. Filling it, 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 he 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 armour. 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 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; nothing would be served by demeaning him. And what good is enmity when one is courting 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 would the Elves ever conceive that the One would destroy something he had created?

No, 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 less pure blood, those who’s blood had been mixed with the blood 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. A pity that his people would deign to mix their blood, marry outside of those with Númenórean blood. He expected to live a long life, yet knew that others in Gondor – those with mixed blood – would not. He suddenly was very grateful that Amdir was Dúnedain.

He 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 them the art of shipbuilding, had given them many gifts, had visited them often. But in the final moment, where were they? The Faithful had never been afraid of the 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 rumours of a dwelling beyond the Misty Mountains, in the far West. There were terrifying stories of the Lady of Lothlorien. ‘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 them. 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 the 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 He whom they do not speak the 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, no, the frustration that he felt. All the tales of Elves told of their prowess with arms, their fearlessness, their courage. What he would give to have an army of Elves at his side now.

He 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 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, unbidden, rutted his face. 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….his mind whirled at the implications that 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 city 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, strewn about the field of Pelennor lay hay strewn out to dry, no sign of green grass beneath the bodies, so thick did they lay. 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 breath quietly, to dispel the darkness surrounding him. His nose pinched at the smell of death.

‘Nooooooooo,’ he screamed. ‘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 nothing destroy my city. I will let nothing destroy my country. No matter the cost. No matter the cost.’

Third Age – 2947 – Part Two

He 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 more sure 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 said 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 rebuild the city, I must fix that leak.' His laughter was stifled by the dust of the city; 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 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 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 themselves. 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 mark how he might find it again. He took out paper and started to mark down some of the paths where he had come, making 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 valour. 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 didn’t 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.

‘I...don’t 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 wretched again as she leaned over the basin that Indis had brought for her. ‘I kept telling myself it was the strange food or the excitement of this place, but I know now it was not.’ She began to wail. 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. You are older than you were, and I myself have been watching your food and drink and 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 Adrahil. I will leave you on the terrace and bring him to you.’

The party set out for Minas Tirith the next morning; two healers being sent by Prince Adrahil to tend to the Lady Morwen. A carriage was provided with a great store of pillows and coverlets 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 and clothing and coverlets and such to be made for the little one. As on the last fateful trip, Thengel hovered within hearing distance of the carriage. His every thought was upon her, his ‘beloved’ and he could not sleep during the nights as they traveled slowly towards the White City.

Denethor finally turned back towards Osgiliath. He had 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 quivered. 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 extremely 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. At the same time, whatever had hit him, pushed him hard to the ground again and shoved 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 Horse Guard and your Captain 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.

‘Hurin!’ he cried, half in relief, half in chagrin.

‘Yes, little one. It is Hurin 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 colour had risen in his face and his eyes shone with the beginning of tears. How could he have let his guard down so much as to not have heard this detachment from Osgiliath? He saw the soldiers around him smiling openly at Hurin’s barb, and this did nothing to assuage his embarrassment.

Hurin swung up onto his horse and held his hand out for Denethor to grab, but Denethor would have none of it.

Hurin’s voice grew cold. ‘Must I make this an order, Lieutenant?’

Denethor pursed his lips and gave his hand to the Captain. The detachment followed close behind as they headed towards Osgiliath.

Hurin 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 Hurin had physically struck him. He almost wished the Captain had hit him. This rebuke hurt more than a slap would have for the truth of Hurin’s words were known to him.

‘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, nor when this will be attempted, but I must do something, device defenses, anything to prepare for this. When we were attacked by the Corsairs, I vowed we would not be ill-equipped to meet the enemy again. We entered Minas Tirith and 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 Hurin. ‘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?’

‘No, 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. He loves 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 Hurin. I will speak with Ingold when I return.’

Hurin 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.

Third Age – 2947 – Part Three

Amdir had met someone while they were in Dol Amroth. Her name was Listöwel. They had met while in the Prince’s palace; Listöwel was a handmaiden for one of the Prince Adrahil’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 beside himself. 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 at the dining table, 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 went 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, you are my friend. Listen to me now. This is not the end of things. Morwen is of the house of Prince Adrahil. 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. Yes, 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...no, 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 had discovered Morwen was with child, she begged to be allowed to move to Minas Tirith and serve her. Prince Adrahil 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?’

‘No, it does not seem fantastic. It bears much thought. Bring the Rangers 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. Respect he has for me. You were wise to not 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.’

His heart hurt and he did not know why. He felt like a third thumb. Amdir spent all his free time with Listöwel and Thengel was with Morwen and where was he? He suddenly began to think of other things besides training and Gondor and his father. Perhaps there were other things in life. No, no, 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 not know that would be her fate someday and Morwen's? Of course, Morwen's situation was different. One day Thengel would be king of Rohan. She 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? No, Morwen would suffer the same fate as Listöwel.

Action - that was what he 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. When he returned from Ithilien, he had had maps sent from the Great Library to his room, had 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.

His deepest desire, however, was to map Northern Ithilien, but he knew that Thengel would not allow this. They had had a loud and passionate disagreement when Denethor brought the subject to Thengel's attention. First, Thengel had been furious that he had gone alone. Secondly, he was furious that Denethor had discussed anything about the Rangers with Captain Hurin. 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, Hurin, of course, had to report 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 Captain and Ingold Captain of the 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. He 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.

He was disheartened already and their stint of duty had just begun. He 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 Druadan Forest. They were also to report the status of the beacon hills, long laid forgotten.

His heart ached as he turned Rochallor east past the North Gate. He turned around in his saddle, as if 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.’

The first night was spent on the western bank of the Anduin 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 and 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 the 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 and it was a thoroughly miserable night. The evening meal had to be taken in their tents for flies, midges and other insects owned the land and filled the men’s eyes, noses and mouths ere they opened them. 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 them swarmed everywhere. Never had he given his men only one-hour 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 had found their way into his tent. He had covered his face with his blanket but the noise still filtered through. He hated trying to breath through his covers. So he would sleep fitfully, awaken, cover his body with his blanket, as undignified as that was, face the thousands of creatures that flew about him as soon as he stepped out of his tent, check his pickets, and return to his tent, hoping for some respite from the insects attacks. He spit out a body or two as he tried to settle down again to sleep.

He had 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 he 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 his lonliness, 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. ‘Nothing is going right on this trip,’ he thought. He had failed to take into account the fact 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 the cover 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 the grief of 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. His heart swelled with pride as Amdir stood his ground and did not run.

Now he wished he had ordered fires set, but they had drawn the insects, and the need for shelter from them 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 sound of death and dying were all about them, along with the sound of the growls of the Orcs, steel hitting flesh, and men dying. Time seemed to stand still as his 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 had occurred, it was over. The 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 foresworn 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 off the messengers. We must make haste. We will not prove as able to defend ourselves if another attack occurs.’

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.

Third Age – 2947 – Part Four

He fell, fully clothed, into his own bed. He was beyond tired and the interview with Ecthelion had taken the last shreds 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 he had lost three more of his men before they reached the city. He had never lost men under him before. The men lost 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 d a m that held back his resolve and brother and sister shared their tears.

Once again, Ecthelion was thwarted by Turgon’s utter blindness to the threat before them. The Council had been called, Denethor recounted the recent battle with the Orcs, Ecthelion had exhorted them to action, and Turgon had said no. 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 the 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 better prepared.

‘I am impressed. It is a good plan. And you say there is a cave somewhere in this area?’ he 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 no sign nor road, but the time I spent there had been 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 supercedes 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 ******** against evil. I had to determine what had happened, why they now were merely window dressing, sentries who did nothing. 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 councilors 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 councilors 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? 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 councilors, 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 councilors. 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.’

And that is how Denethor found himself on the road to Cair Andros with a sizable unit of men following him. He had been most surprised that Ecthelion had agreed to his plan; even more surprised that he had put him in charge of the operation. He still was not sure that he should have been the one leading these men. He had asked for Captain Inlach to head this march, but Ecthelion wanted to wait. He wanted his crack troops part of this. He was not sure of the Rangers’ readiness. He also wanted to have more information and a stronger plan ready to present to Inlach. Ecthelion knew that Inlach did not trust him, nor respect him. He would not have this fail because of that lack. When Denethor returned, he would bring Inlach in and apprise him of everything. Then, he would find out whether Inlach would support him on this or no. Would he go to Turgon with the information and hope that he would agree to Denethor’s proposal? Ecthelion still was not sure. With Denethor leading picked men, secrecy would be upheld. He was not now ready for anyone to know of this sortie.

Denethor’s heart soared. His father trusted him, had listened to him, and had accepted his proposal. Nothing could surpass this feeling that ran like fire through his heart. He must do everything he could to make this a successful venture. Ecthelion had met with Thengel and the two men chose Denethor’s company. Denethor had no say in that – but it did nothing to quash the joy in his heart over the trust placed in him by his father.

Amdir rode at his side. He had insisted upon Amdir being with him. His wound was not too fearsome to prevent his coming. Neither was Denethor’s for that matter. The first day’s journey would be easy and that would give them another day of healing. Arciryas once again was with them and for that, Denethor was also grateful. Two battles, hard-fought battles, were under his and Amdir’s belts and Arciryas had brought both of them back to Minas Tirith alive. Arciryas was beginning to be a good talisman for him.

They slept on the island itself the first night. The next morning dawned bright and clear – September was warm and the sun helped cheer Denethor. A good omen for us – bright sun and good men, he thought. The island itself was about thirty leagues long and shaped like a great ship, with a high prow pointing north, and the Anduin crashing on the sharp rocks at the point. Bubbling foam it was called. Denethor laughed to think of its name when it was such an important place in his great-grandfather’s time. It was still the only practical place for an army to cross the Anduin except for the bridge at Osgiliath –now almost completely ruined. Turin II had been a great leader and had been the last to fortify this island. It had fallen into disrepair under Turgon’s rule and no guards were left. That would now change. Ecthelion had given Denethor seventy-five men to be left at Cair Andros when their foray into North Ithilien had been completed. These men would stand guard over Cair Andros, fortify the barracks and the fort on the island, and report directly to Ecthelion. No Rangers these but crack men of the Tower Guard, now a unit unto themselves. The rest of the island was covered with trees and would prove a formidable obstacle to any who came from the east. Denethor thought there might be other uses for this island. Perhaps as the center of a warning system against attack. If Cair Andros was ever breached, some method would have to be devised to warn Minas Tirith. Denethor marked that question in his log with a footnote ‘Beacon-hills.’

Two days later, they left the island, crossed the east leg of the Anduin, and marched into North Ithilien. ‘At last,’ he thought, ‘we have arrived. I must find that cave. That will be my first priority.’ Weeks passed – he only knew the cave was somewhere northeast of the island. He was beginning to give up hope – to think the texts were only legends and not reality. His face burned red at the thought of his failing to find it. He based so much of his argument with Ecthelion on the existence of this cave. What would he do if there were no such thing? There had been no other fortifications found either. Prospects were looking grim. Amdir and Denethor sat by the fire that night, both men frustrated and angry. Amdir had been a keen supporter of Denethor’s plan for the Rangers. If there were no cave to house them, to use as their base camp, how else would they survive in the wilds?

It was not a matter of facing his father. He was becoming used to the gruff way he was regarded. He had noticed that Ecthelion treated him in a rougher manner than when he dealt with his other officers. He could only assume it was because he was his son. The weight of Gondor lay heavily upon his shoulders. It would soon lay on Denethor's. Try as he might to forgive his father for this treatment, try as he might to make excuses for his father, it still hurt. He was building up resistance to the hurt though and hoped that, in time, it would make no difference. It reminded him of when he was a boy and Ecthelion had moved him out of the nursery. 'He must think me weak,' thought Denethor. 'I must continue to show him my strength.' Now all he had to do was find that dratted cave!

The next morning brought them to the very foot of the Black Gate. It was an awe-inspiring, if terrifying sight. Denethor reassured his men that Mordor was uninhabited. 'This would be a formidable place to attack,' he thought as he sketched the gates and the entrance in his book. The gates mawed open, ominously, like a great beast ready to pounce. Scruff grew all around, and silence – silence so profound that it frightened Denethor. It felt as if a presence were there - the silence hiding it in the same way that silence reigns when animals sense that a hunter is about. He could not send his men into that land. They were too few, but he chafed at not being able to assuage his fears. With one last look, he turned his unit aside and headed towards home. A great sigh of relief escaped many. Amdir gave him a sideways glance that spoke volumes. His friend was glad they were going no further. Denethor sighed and spoke quietly. 'Amdir, one of these days we will be attacked by Mordor. I am sure of it. We have been living on the edge. I wish we could have gone inside and looked about. I am concerned that something now dwells there. If the One we do not name ever comes back, Gondor will be sore pressed to defend itself. And for that I am heartily ashamed.'

'Ashamed? Why should you be ashamed? Have you not hounded your father to prepare?' Amdir asked in wonder.

'Yes, but to no avail. I am still mystified as to why he allowed this trip. But I am grateful.' He paused for a moment, then continued. 'Amdir, we must find that cave. We must have a hidden, fortified place for the Rangers to strike from. And we must have it soon. Evil is coming, I am sure of it.' He laughed a short, hurt laugh. 'I feel like I have been saying that same thing my whole life and not being heard. Have you ever felt that way, Amdir?'

'With you as a friend? No, never. I have always known who I could go to, who would listen when most I needed listening too. Do you not know that I am here for you, my Lord?'

The sincerity and hurt in his friends voice caused Denethor to pull up on Rochallor's reins. 'My friend, does it seem to you that I feel that way? I am so very sorry. I know you are here for me and I for you. It must be this place. It addles my mind. Let us away from it as quickly as possible. We will find that cave. I will not return until we do.'

There had been no sign of Orc or other enemy. Orc would not attack if they were outnumbered. But that thought did little to console Denethor. The cave had not been found, nor any other fortress, and Denethor would return to Minas Tirith in disgrace.

Two nights later, they came upon a little sage-covered valley. The smell made Denethor sneeze. Never had he seen such a field. A small stream ran through the middle of it. There was no sign of its beginnings and that made Denethor pause. He looked to his right and saw that the stream continued westward towards the Anduin. 'But where is its beginnings?' he wondered again. He looked up at the mountains to his left. Further up the hill, the sage was mixed with heather, ferns and moss. Denethor dismounted and looked around him. Amdir sat quietly, waiting. Suddenly, Denethor's skin began to ********, not in fear, but in anticipation. Something was here. Something was very near. They had passed close to this spot on their way to the Black Gate, but Denethor had noticed nothing about the land. Perhaps one had to approach from the north? He continued eastward walking along the stream, stopping now and then to pitch a stone into it. Further up the hill he went and then he saw it. A long deep gorge started right here, headed westward. He gestured to Amdir to dismount, and started walking forward. 'I can feel something, Amdir,' his voice was excited and Amdir could tell by the tightness of it that Denethor was forcing himself to be calm. 'Something from long past. It is calling to me.'

'Denethor, it is getting late, the men are tired, and you will soon be lost in this wilderness. Let us camp for the night and resume our search on the morrow.'

Denethor stared ahead. He seemed not to have heard. His very skin trembled. He could not stop his search now, but he heard the wisdom in Amdir's words. 'Order the men to bivouac for the night. I will return shortly.'

'No, my Lord! You must not go ahead alone. Give me but a moment. I will settle the men and join you. Please!'

Denethor laughed. 'Of course. Forgive me. I had forgotten my duty in the heat of this...' His voice trailed off and once more he faced the gorge.

How many years had it been since someone had come this way, he wondered? Once again he felt a presence upon him as he stood waiting for Amdir. The gifts of Númenor were many he was learning. And he was most grateful that it showed itself at this moment of great need. He walked slowly to where the men were preparing to spend the night. They would need torches for the night was already dark.

Third Age – 2947 – Part Five

The thrill of anticipation clung to him like a cloak, but he willed himself calm. He sat and ate with his men. Amdir looked at him quizzically. There was a self-assurance upon his friend that he had not seen before. This whole trip had brought changes to Denethor. There was a calmness and confidence in him that puzzled Amdir. And - Denethor had shared his thoughts with him. As often as Amdir had wished for such a thing, had made himself available for Denethor, the sharing had been sparse. They had spent much time together laughing and telling jokes and playing pranks, when possible, upon Thengel. But deep, heart-felt sharing as he had done yesterday before the Black Gate - never. Gratitude welled in Amdir's heart. The mantle of leadership perhaps had caused these changes in Denethor. Whatever had caused this marvel, Amdir was not going to gainsay it.

At last, Denethor stood, motioned to Amdir and started walking away from the fire. 'We will go alone. We won't go far, but we will spend some time in searching. I cannot sleep with this fire in my body. I have never felt anything like it, Amdir. It is as if my ancestors of old were calling to me. Perhaps the force of Turin II – I know not, only that I know we are very close to our destination. We will like as not find it tomorrow, but tonight I must spend some time exploring.' He gave a short laugh. 'I cannot understand this feeling, but I know it in my heart. And I do not fear it.'

Amdir strode back towards the fire, took two stout branches, wrapped cloth around them, poured cooking oil on them, and then stuck them into the fire. They lit immediately. He walked back to Denethor with a smile on his face. They had not had a night adventure for a long time. In fact, the last one was almost a disaster. Denethor questioned him about the smile and he broke into a grin.

'Do you not remember the last time we used torches?' Laughter, which he could not control, bubbled through his voice. He made sure they were far from the rest of the detachment.

Denethor looked puzzled. 'No, I do not seem to recall the event you speak of.'

'Well, we had thrown down many a jug of ale at the time, my friend. So, you really don't remember?'

Denethor shook his head. 'Now what had he done?' he wondered to himself. He knew Amdir was not going to let it lie, that he would reveal all the nasty details, for it seemed that he must have made a fool of himself the way Amdir was laughing.

'It was about this time of year...no, a little later for it was cooler. Must have been sometime in November or perhaps December. We had gone to the Three Fishermen's Tavern with Thengel and that new lieutenant, I can't remember his name, and a few others. You had asked Indis to come, I remember, and she hooted with laughter at the thought. I think you had already had wine at dinner. Well, Thengel left after only a few mugs and the new lieutenant was feeling a little awkward, I think, and he left and finally – it was just you and me. You had had dinner hours before, but I was eating as I drank. I think therein lay the problem! You kept drinking and I kept eating and soon we were both happy. That's when you began to sing.'

'No – that is not possible. I do not sing!'

'I know and so do the other patrons that were there that night. You made an awful noise but sang with gusto. I was most proud of you, until the owner came over and asked you to quiet down a little. You blustered, shouted, and fell over. I thought I was going to fall over myself – with laughter that is. The owner suggested that I take you home. As we walked outdoors, you started to laugh. ‘I know where we may go and sing and no one will mind at all. We will disturb no one.’ We had conveniently carried our mugs with us – the owner was too busy shoving us out the door, for you continued your howling, er, singing. So we walked from the first level all the way to the sixth – you singing and me shushing you the whole while. We stopped at taverns along the way, filling our mugs, and then being shoved out the doors when you began to sing again. It was a most pleasant evening. I’m sorry you don’t remember it. Finally, you took me to the sixth level and turned south, not towards the next gate. That is when it dawned on me where you were taking us – Rath Dinen. I was not that full of ale.’

‘You must be mad! Are you saying I took us to Rath Dinen?’

‘Yes – but you were humming now. And I was protesting – this was the Silent Street that we were going to walk upon! But you stood up straight, ran your hand through your hair, and approached the porter. You told him we were going to pay our respects to your ancestors and he let us pass! When we reached the Steward’s House, you were singing quietly – but I did not recognize the song you sang. We took torches from the entranceway and walked in. The hairs on my arms lifted as we walked past Steward after Steward, and you humming all the while! We finally stood in front of Cranthir’s tomb. I remembered him well – a good man and a good soldier. You sat on the floor in front of his tomb, pulled out your mug, and sang one of the funeral dirges. You sang terribly. I put up my torch and put my hands over my ears. It seemed disrespectful to sing there in that place and the sound echoed horribly. Somehow, the torch must not have been in the hold tightly, for next thing I knew, it had fallen down right into your lap. Your tunic caught on fire and we both laughed as we tried to put it out, but it would not go out.’ Amdir stopped for a moment. ‘I...I thought I was going to lose you my friend, right there before the tomb of Cranthir. Thankfully, we were able to extinguish the flames and you were not burned. What a night that was!’

Denethor stopped. His face was red. ‘Is this some tale that you are making up? I remember none of this.’

‘Well, of course you wouldn’t in the state you were in,’ Amdir said, glad to put the thought of that burning tunic out of his mind. ‘I put you to bed that night in the barracks. I certainly didn’t want your father to see you like that.’

‘I believe we are on the wrong side of the river,’ Denethor changed the subject and spoke a little more gruffly than he had meant to. Amdir understood immediately. ‘Well, my friend, we both enjoyed ourselves immensely that night and I am very sorry you do not remember. You and I have not visited a tavern since then.’

‘And I doubt if I ever will if that is what happens to me when I do! We will strike camp early, cross the river and begin our search.’ He shook his head, ‘What kind of a friend are you that you would let me drink that much ale?’ He smiled and slapped Amdir on the shoulder. ‘I tell you this, we will celebrate when we find that cave, but more sensibly.’

Just ere dawn came, they broke camp. Fog covered the stream and the forests nearby. Denethor was disturbed. This would make it much more dangerous for their pursuit of the elusive cave. He was not sure where the gorge began. First meal was quickly dispatched and the men waited for Denethor’s orders.

‘We are on the wrong side of the river. First, we will turn upstream and find a crossing east of the gorge. I want no one falling into it! We will go a short way past it perhaps and then we will make a line. Each person will walk ten paces from the next towards the west with our anchor post held by Damrod on the east. Then we will turn towards the north and begin our search. We will be like a comb running over every part of this landscape. It will be a grueling, tiresome, and minute search of the area. We will not stop until we find the entrance to the cave or night falls. Amdir will take the westernmost position and I will take the middle. I must tell you that I believe the safety of all of Gondor relies upon our finding this cave. I will say no more.’

They turned eastward, crossed the river about three leagues above their camp, climbed a long bank, passed into green-shadowed woodlands, and began the long arrangement of the men. This took a total of four hours and Denethor chafed at the slowness of it, but he knew this was the only way to find the cavern. He smiled to himself – of course it would have to be off a gorge like this. He didn’t know why he had not thought of it before. The gorge did fall off quite unexpectedly. He wondered how many Orcs had fallen in, much to their amaze, and the thought brought a further smile to his face. His only worry was not to lose any of his men in this way.

It was well past noon when a soldier suddenly yelled a warning. Denethor ran to him. ‘Here is the beginning of the gorge, my Lord, and the stream is now a swift torrent! There is a path here that is descending steeply.’

‘My Lord,’ cried another soldier further down the line. ‘I have found an inlet here that is falling into the land and I do not see where it comes out.’

Denethor’s heart leapt. ‘We will split up. I want ten men taking the downward path under Amdir’s command and ten more will come with me towards the inlet. The others will continue their sweep of the land. I want pickets out in three places, to the east, the south, and the west. I want no one or thing coming upon us unawares. And, I want none falling into the gorge. It appears to be very deep.’

Denethor ran towards the inlet; hope filling his heart. ‘This could be it. This must be it. Or the pathway leads to it,’ he thought.

Damrod ran towards him. ‘My Lord, may I come with you?’ Damrod was young and full of spirit, knew the Elven tongue, and Denethor liked what he saw in him. ‘And my Lord, if I may say so, it would be wise for one of us to go into the inlet first. The water may fill a small space and leave no room for air. If we tie a rope around the first to descend, we can pull him up, if danger lies below. And if I may request that I be the first to descend?’

Denethor laughed. ‘Give me five hundred men such as Damrod,’ he thought, ‘and I would be able to attack the Corsairs tomorrow!’

The inlet turned into a long tunnel that was slippery with water. Damrod called a report back every few moments. At the heartening news that there was no lake at the bottom of the hole, Denethor had two more men tie ropes to their waists and sent them after Damrod. ‘Have your knives ready. The width of the hole does not allow you to travel with your swords drawn and we have no idea what might be at the end of this tunnel,’ he instructed. The hole, though steep was long; Damrod reckoned they had traveled more than fifty feet already. Denethor desperately wanted to be with his men, but knew he must wait. To commit any more men to this venture would be senseless. The hole was about ten feet wide at its mouth, but, according to Damrod, it was becoming smaller in diameter the farther down they went.

‘We have reached what appears to be the bottom,’ the last man shouted up to Denethor. ‘The path now appears to be flat – the ceiling is very low. We are on our hands and knees.’

Time seemed to be standing still and Denethor was ready to jump into the inlet himself. But just at that moment, a voice called up. ‘My Lord,’ the excitement in the voice was palpable. ‘We have found it. It was just another fifty feet or so from the end of the descent. Send down a lit torch tied to the rope so that we might be able to see.’

Denethor scowled. ‘Tied to a rope? Never.’ It was time for him to follow his men. His aide struck a fire, found a suitable piece of wood, lit it, and gave it to Denethor. Then he tied a rope around his waist and Denethor was lowered into the inlet.

It was difficult keeping the torch lit and away from him and still be able to navigate the long, steep tunnel. His feet hit solid ground and he was forced onto his knees. He tried to hold the torch out in front of him, gasping and choking on the fumes from it. ‘Will I never reach the end’ he thought as the smoke blinded him.

Third Age – 2947 – Part Six

He felt the sharp cold touch of a blade upon his throat. Blinking back the smoke-induced tears, he tried to see who would dare draw a blade upon him. The face of a stranger loomed in front of him, dressed in garb of greens and browns, like unto a hunter. The face before him scowled.

‘Who are you and what type of foolery would cause you to enter this forbidden cave?’ the man asked in Elvish. ‘Speak quickly, ere my arm tires and my blade slip.’

Denethor looked about him and saw Damrod and his men being held captive by men just as stern, daggers at their throats also.

‘I am Lord Denethor, Lieutenant in the Horse Guards of the Army of Turgon, Steward of Gondor. Put up your blade before we both do something we may be sorry for later.’ He replied in Elvish, his voice strong, but his heart quaked. These were tall, stalwart men and he could not be sure how they would react. He could not, in the pale light given off by the torch, tell how many men were in the cave, but there were more than a dozen at least.

‘Forgive me, my Lord.’ The man greeted Denethor with bowed head and hand upon his chest. ‘My name is Findegon, Ranger of Gondor. Your grandfather, Turin, stationed my men and me here in 2910. I am afraid we have been forgotten.’

The breath Denethor had held was released as he recognized the Gondorian welcome. ‘Findegon! I have read about your exploits fighting Easterlings long ago. I...I thought you dead.’

‘So that is what happened to me!’ Findegon laughed. ‘I hope ‘twas in battle, my Lord, and with a victory in the end. Forgive me for the blade. We are wary of all. Here, sit and we will bring food and drink.’ He shouted to his men who sheathed their blades and quickly brought seats forward.

‘Nay, I am sorry. No word had come to us that Rangers still dwelt in Ithilien, never mind North Ithilien. It was only by reading the old texts that I even discovered the existence of this cave. It has taken us many weeks to find it.’

‘And that is much to our detriment, my Lord, that you were indeed able to find it. If you were able, how might not others?’

‘We will speak about that later. I have some ideas. Tell me all that you have been about since your deployment here. How many men have you? Where have you found supplies? What...’

‘Peace, my Lord, I will tell all, but first, I hear others on the stairway. Are they your men?’

‘Yes, I sent another contingent down the path. They must have finally found their way here. Amdir!’ Denethor jumped up as he saw his friend approach.
Amdir quickly drew his sword when he saw the strangers around Denethor, but just as quickly Denethor stepped between him and Findegon.

Morwen's pains had begun and it was much too soon. Indis had sent her handmaiden to the Houses of Healing requesting that a healer come quickly to the Steward's quarters. She tried to make Morwen comfortable, but her sister-friend moaned piteously. Indis sat at her side and held her hand as the tears fell. They could not lose this babe; she could not lose her friend.

Adenedhel himself came. By this time, Thengel was at Morwen's side. The healer quickly asked him to leave, though he allowed Indis to stay. His assistant, Firieth, had brought tools, bandages, and other supplies needed by her master. Flashes of the scene at the Crossings flew before Indis' eyes. Morwen had suffered terribly then; Indis had hoped it would be different now. Morwen was a much stronger woman. Indis had made sure that she ate well, exercised, and was well rested. Why was this happening? She had sent for Amdir's mother, Elleth, who came quickly and stayed with her. The woman had become a good friend and at times like these, a good friend was worth her weight in mithril.

'I do not know how women do this,' Indis cried. 'It is a hideous thing.'

'It is a blessed and beautiful thing when all is well, Indis. And most times, all is well. Morwen is strong and will be able to deliver this babe. And Adenedhel is a skilled healer, the best in the kingdom. She will be fine and the babe will be fine.'

Indis flinched at the term Elleth had used – the 'kingdom.' Rarely had anyone in the present age called Gondor a kingdom. It sent chills through her. Turgon was Steward. Her father would be next in line and then Denethor would succeed him. This is the way it had always been as long as Indis could remember. Ecthelion spoke now and again of the return of the King, but Indis had no such confidence. The Stewards ruled Gondor. She shivered again. Why this dread upon her? There was no King; there was no one left in that bloodline. What did Elleth mean? Was a usurper present that she did not know of? Were the people speaking of the return of the King? It was a common saying, used by all, 'When the King returns...,' 'The return of the King will...,' but none had come forth and it was now just a saying, no more. Indis shook the feeling aside. It must be this birth; she was not thinking straight. There was no need for alarm. There was no usurper and she was placing too many suspicions upon her poor friend; looking for double meanings when there were none.

'Where are you people from, Findegon?'

'We are from Emyn Arnen. And my father before me. Long have we waited for assistance, my Lord.'

'Then we must be cousins in some fashion, for my family is from Emyn Arnen, both mother and father.’ Denethor ignored the mild, though truthful rebuke. ‘A fine land it is, beautiful still, though the scars of battle and neglect lay upon it. A time will come when that will change. People will return to our land and children will run in play. I promise you that. In fact, that is one of the reasons for this foray into North Ithilien. It is the first step in recapturing our land from evil.'

Amdir smiled as he sat by his friend and listened. The passion in his voice always stirred Amdir'sheart. The love of Gondor flowed strongly through Denethor and inspired the same love in his men. They would succeed with Denethor at the helm of the country; Amdir was confident.

Findegon smiled also. 'My Lord, long has it been since anyone gave thought to Ithilien. I am most grateful that you have finally come. Long have the Rangers labored here. None know of the many battles we have fought in stealth and unassisted. We longed for the days when help would come.'

'Well, it has come now and you have my word that you will not be forgotten again. I will leave twenty men with you for the moment. I wish I could leave more, but I have orders to leave a full contingent to rebuild Cair Andros. When I return to Minas Tirith, I am sure Ecthelion will send reinforcements. It is time you and your men were given some respite from the duty you have shown Gondor. Thirty-seven years you have been here? You have done well and will be rewarded. All your men will be rewarded for this service to Gondor. Damrod here will stay with you and will instruct in the history of Gondor during the last few years. I see by your reaction that you have no inkling as to whom Ecthelion is?'

'Yes, my Lord, that name is unknown to me.'

'Well, for the time being, Ecthelion II is son of Turgon II, grandson of Turin II. You must have a thousand other questions and they will be answered, but now, I must see to my men.'

The wait was long. Thengel walked the escarpment, assured by Indis that, as soon as there was news, she herself would come and get him. Hours seemed to pass and no word. Ecthelion had come and stayed with him for a time, but then left. Turgon himself came and slowly walked with him, seemingly unaware of what was happening. He was telling Thengel tales of times long past as if the events were happening as he spoke. Thengel flinched in pain. So very sad to see such a man wasting away, his mind bereft of understanding. He felt guilty when Turgon left, but the sight had been disquieting. He wondered about his own father. Long had it been since he had seen him last. Perhaps, when the babe was old enough, he would visit Edoras again with Morwen and the child. Was his father at the wedding? Ah, yes. He remembered now and all he spoke of was her dowry and the good prospect Morwen was. Thengel shook his head in disdain. He wondered where Denethor was. They had not heard from him in over a month. He smiled at the thought of the child grown into a man. It was good to have such a friend as Denethor, faithful and true and wise for his years. He would calm Thengel's fears. He wished Denethor was beside him now as he had been in battle, in sport, and in fun. He remembered the fishing trip they took to Lossarnach and the camaraderie they had. But that remembrance drew his thoughts to what had happened at the end of that trip – Morwen had lost their first child. He looked towards the Steward's quarters. No sign of anyone. How long would this last? How much could his beloved stand?

Third Age – 2947 – Part Seven

Thengel could stand it no longer. He strode towards the Citadel only to be stopped by Elleth. He could not read her face – weariness was upon it, but what else?

‘My Lord, it is time to rejoice! You have a daughter. Healthy, sweet as sugar beets and full of laughter!’

‘Morwen?’ The only thought on his mind at this moment.

‘She is fine – very tired, but fine. She asks for you. Indis sent me to fetch you. I will...’

He was five leaps ahead of her and making his way towards the Steward’s quarters.

Elleth laughed. Twas a good day. A grand day. ‘Gondor needed this,’ she thought as she turned towards her own home. ‘Gondor needed this.’

‘No, there were many times when we took turns, left this area and went to our homes in Emyn Arnen, to visit our wives and to see our children. Yes, there are some still there,’ Findegon said as he saw the look of surprise on Denethor’s face, ‘guarded by our younger men. But always we came back here. We waited for missives from Minas Tirith, but none came. We knew she still stood, for the morning light shone upon her. So we did our duty and protected her.’

‘You will be rewarded for this service, be sure of that,’ Denethor had told the Rangers, for that is what he now called them. ‘But now we must work to fortify this position. The entrance that I came down must be blocked off. We will put rocks and dirt into the opening, create a wall to block the inside of the cave with brick, mud, and stone from the shattered monuments in the area. Then we will alter the landscape where the opening had been. It will soon stay silent as to what it had once been.’

They worked steadily for weeks, filling the upper entrance, enlarging the inside of the cave, creating a false front on the only remaining entrance into their make-shift fortress. And every night, when possible, they would sit at the lip of the cavern that overlooked a pool some eighty feet below, and watch the waterfall catch the sunlight and spill it back into the cave in a rainbow of colors. At times like that, Denethor and the men about him knew that there was purpose for what they did and Denethor realized how these men could have kept their commitment so long, with the beauty of Ithilien spilling at their feet. Once the sun set and the glory of the moment was but a breath in their minds, they would sit and share tales of long ago - most were spell-bound by the knowledge of the young lieutenant. He tried to sing them some of the songs that he had learned during his times in the Great Library. Mostly, he asked Amdir to do the singing. Amdir’s voice was clear and strong and he could keep a tune. Then the Rangers would tell of their own time here in the forests and glades of Ithilien. They were humble men and had to be coaxed into telling their tales, but Denethor insisted that everything was important and must be written down. They would finally fall into their beds exhausted, and wake with an eagerness in their hearts flamed by their young leader and mirrored by the land that they so loved.

It was difficult to leave this fair land, just now touched by the evil of the One they do not name. It was more difficult to leave the Rangers. Denethor was still in wonderment at what these men had accomplished. He was loath to leave them alone again. Most of the men were approaching their later years. He hugged each man and pledged that replacements would be sent directly. A month at the most, he promised them. Then they were away towards Cair Andros. They helped refurbish the fortress on the island and left the seventy-five men as ordered by Ecthelion. Then they were away for home and Denethor could not have been happier nor more at peace. Much had been done these past months to safeguard Gondor. Much was still to be done, but he had almost given up hope that there ever would be this building up of fortifications towards its defense. Now there was hope.

Morwen had born Thengel a daughter, they discovered. The child had come much too early and Adanedhel had striven mightily day and night to save the babe and the mother. There had been too much death and dying of late,he told Denethor, and the old healer was sick of it. At last, all had turned out well. Denethor was glad that he and Amdir had been away for the birth. He could just imagine it. Indis and Listöwel running around shouting orders at everyone and Thengel pacing the Great Hall. The one regret Denethor had was not being there for his friend, but he knew that Thengel would not even have been aware of his absence – the horror of what could have been sat hard on him. He was taken aback when Thengel hugged him tightly upon their return. He happily returned the hug, heartily congratulating his friend.

The child was beautiful, marked with the light skin and dark hair of Númenor and a slight disconcerting, all-knowing look in her eyes. Thengel had made him hold her, much to Denethor’s discomfiture. There had not been a babe in the Steward’s Hall all of Denethor’s life and it seemed most strange to have one now. Because of Thengel’s status as Prince of Rohan, it had long ago been decided that he and Morwen would live in the Steward’s quarters. A sigh passed Denethor’s lips and his brow creased in thought. Long ago the hall had been built with the thought of many descendants filling it with joy and laughter. Reality, this last age, had not fulfilled the hope of her builders. Slowly, as in the rest of Gondor, the population had declined. During the Second Age, fear had driven many to the south westernmost reaches of the land. Famine and fever in this age had decimated it further. Consideration and knowledge were directed towards increasing the lifespan of the populace, not towards filling her empty homes. Slowly, monuments were being built in memory of those from the past, while thoughts of future generations were put off. Many buildings lay abandoned; the people who had once lived there were long forgotten. ‘All for Gondor,’ had been Ecthelion’s creed for as long as Denethor could remember, but standing here, holding this sweet child in his arms, Denethor began to think of his own future. Perhaps he could still have children and keep Gondor’s weal his own.

‘You will obey me!’ Ecthelion had stormed. ‘There will be no replacements sent to Henneth Annûn. Those men have been stationed there and there they will stay.’

‘Father!’ Denethor almost shouted. ‘I promised them they would be relieved. I promised them!’

‘You will, in the future, wait until you have consulted with me before making promises you cannot keep.’

‘Did you know that there were still soldiers garrisoned there?’ he asked in amaze.

Ecthelion paused. ‘I was not sure. I have had no reports and neither has your grandsire. Still, our men are stretched too thin as it is. The Rangers themselves are not ready to be sent. They would be marching to their deaths. I will not abandon Henneth Annûn now that it has been fortified, that I promise you, but I will not send untried troops to the front line.’

Denethor shook his head. It was a death warrant for his Rangers. They were too few and too old to defend North Ithilien much longer. All their work in restoring the post had been for naught for the men guarding it. Findegon’s face rose before him. At their parting, the joy of knowing that they would soon be relieved shone on his face. Now, there would be no replacements and no joy. Denethor felt the pang of failure smite his heart. He knew that Ecthelion spoke wisely, but something had to be done for his Rangers.

‘Father,’ he took a deep breath. ‘What say you to Captain Inlach and I and the Rangers in his charge going to Ithilien and training the men there? Findegon and his men know well the ways of the forest and will be able to teach the Rangers better than anyone here in Minas Tirith. The training will progress faster with experienced Rangers teaching them and with them learning in the field.’ There was no reply; Denethor had his moment of hope dashed quickly.

‘I will not speak of this again. We will commence training here, with the Rangers in the city under Inlach’s tutelage. There is nothing further to discuss.’

Trying to walk out of the Steward’s Hall with dignity was difficult. His shoulders felt as heavy as lead and his heart was wrung with sorrow. He had never felt so helpless. He had never felt such rage. Amdir greeted him at the door, but the look on Denethor’s face was such that Amdir knew what the answer was before asking. The two men walked in silence towards the sixth level and their barracks.

Thengel greeted them at the door, anxious to hear everything about their expedition. Seeing the look of despair on his men’s faces, he drew them aside. ‘Come, we will go to The Three Fishermen. I have details I want to discuss with you concerning your next assignment.’ He had not even thought about a next assignment for them, but it was a good excuse to take them away from other’s ears and give them a secure place to tell him what lay so grievously upon their hearts.

‘Father will send no replacements,’ he finished his report to Thengel and slumped in his familiar chair in the inn.

Thengel sat back himself, bewildered by Ecthelion’s response to Denethor’s report. ‘I...I do not know what to say.’

The three men sat there – disconsolate.

‘I had such hopes, Thengel. Cair Andros and Henneth Annûn refortified; the eastern edge of Gondor primed to slow an attack and warn Minas Tirith. I believed that is why I was sent. I do not understand this.’ He placed his elbows on the table and rested his head in his hands. ‘I cannot leave the men there. At the least, I must go and impart Ecthelion’s orders. I cannot let another take this command to them. I promised. I know that sounds absurd, but if the men cannot rely upon my promise, what are they left? What am I left?’

Thengel placed his hand on Denethor’s shoulder. ‘You and I will go. We will go to Cair Andros and you will show me what has been done. We will review the men and then, we will take a small troop to investigate other areas in North Ithilien. Was not that your original order - to find the cave, yes, but to find other fortifications for Gondor’s use? We will then find the cave and Findegon and relay Ecthelion’s orders. It is a bitter pill to swallow, but going yourself is necessary.’

‘I would go with you, my Lord?’ Amdir appealed.

‘Of course. We will leave in three days time. I will speak with Ecthelion and request written orders for Findegon and his men. Denethor, it will be a swift expedition. I cannot stay too long away from Morwen, though Indis hovers ever over her like a hawk. I must return as quickly as possible for she is still weak.’

But this hope was shattered almost as quickly as Denethor’s first hope. There were no explanations. An errand rider would be sent. No more. And Denethor was left with a bitter lesson learnt at the cost of his honour.