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Ch. 1 - Third Age 2936
Denethor was sure the City had been built just for him as he raced along the curving road. By the time the almost six year old had reached the Fourth Level, he was again grateful, for the hundredth time, that there were no steps leading to the Citadel. His little legs were already tired; steps would be much worse, he decided. Perhaps, if he asked plainly, his father would give him a pony. It would make his life so much simpler. He wanted to explore everything in and out of the City, but he had decided a long time ago, at least a week ago, that his legs were too short!
As he ran, he held his treasure tightly in both hands, holding it against his chest for fear of losing it. It squirmed and squiggled and he was forever stopping to make sure he was not hurting it in his headlong rush. Would not his father be pleased to see what he had captured! He had pretended, in his mind's eye, that he had surprised a band of Orcs by the stream. They had fled when they saw his terrible face. He had tried to look just like his father - the time when he had 'accidentally' run away.
He had missed nuncheon - the first time ever. He had forgotten the time in the midst of a game with some of the soldiers' children on the Sixth Level. When he did not return, his nurse had gone to his father in fear. He could hear his father's roar from the Seventh Level. He knew he was in trouble; he ran and hid in one of the empty horse's stalls. After a few moments, he knew it was wrong to hide. He did not want to leave the quiet refuge, but he knew he must face his father, after all - was he not a soldier in the Steward's Army? Is that not what his father called him - his little soldier? In the depths of his heart, he knew soldiers did not hide.
He stood up brushing the straw from his clothes and strode purposefully towards the stable doors. He shrank back as a great shadow blocked the door, the sunlight, the world. It was his father; he could tell it in the stance. Ecthelion strode forward, grabbed him by the collar, and marched him out the door. Denethor took a sideways glance up at him, but the look on his father's face was terrible to behold. He did not quite understand. But he would never forget that look.
Today, he had tried to look the same way at the hoard of Orcs. One of the Orcs had slipped and fallen; Denethor quickly seized him and marched him off to his father.
"Nay!" he screamed. The treasure, his Orc, had escaped and was hopping wildly away. A cart passed Denethor on its way to one of the lower levels. The driver did not see, could not see, the little creature that ran in his path. It died quickly. Denethor stood as still as a statue. He had failed to protect his prisoner. He had lost his wondrous treasure. The cart turned a corner; the driver unaware of the tragedy he had caused.
Denethor's eyes filled with tears. His shoulders shook uncontrollably as he sobbed his sorrow. Before he knew it, he was standing before the door of the Great Hall - not sure how or when he had arrived there. One of the guards bent low, put his hand on Denethor's shoulder, and gently asked him what the matter was. The lad could not speak - by now he was near hysterics, so the soldier picked him up and entered the Hall. He could not leave the little one in such despair, though he knew that he should not abandon his post. 'One duty must sometimes be put aside for another.' He also knew Ecthelion was meeting with Turgon on matters of state. 'Well,' he thought, 'it cannot be helped. This little one needs his fathers comfort.' The guard, like all of Gondor, had worshipped the ground Lady Rķan had walked upon. Her son, this little one, rarely cried and the guard, concerned, could not leave the boy in pain unhelped.
"What has happened?" Ecthelion ran forward as soon as he saw the guard approaching with his son in the man's arms.
"I am not sure, my Lord," the guard said, "but he does not appear to be hurt."
Ecthelion took his son in his arms, excused himself to Turgon, walked quickly to a side chamber, and sat on one of the chairs, hauling Denethor into his lap. He kissed the child on his forehead and wiped the tears from the chubby little cheeks. Denethor would not calm and the racking sobs tore at Ecthelion's heart. The guard brought water, said he would fetch Denethor's nurse, and left them. Ecthelion urged his son to drink and finally Denethor did. Suddenly, the boy threw his arms around his father's neck and sobbed again. Ecthelion gently detached the child's arms and lifted the little ones chin.
"My son, what has happened?"
"I found this...this... " Sobs stopped his words. He tried again, "I found this wonderful thing. It was almost the size of a Mūmak, I am sure!" He paused for another moment to catch his breath and Ecthelion laughed to himself. The lad had never seen a Mūmak and the thought of him carrying one in his little hands almost made Ecthelion laugh out loud, but he checked the impulse as he looked at the tear-stained face. The child was too serious to even try to lighten the moment.
Denethor continued on with his tale while Ecthelion listened intently. When Denethor reached the part about the cart, the tears and sobs increased and the boy could no longer speak. Ecthelion hugged his son tightly, concern and relief fighting for dominance. He offered Denethor a little more water, at a loss for words to help ease his son's grief. The face of Rķan flashed before him and, for the thousandth time, he wished that she were here beside him. He missed her terribly; not a day went by that he did not think of her. Suddenly, he knew what to say.
"Denethor, listen to me. That was such a special and wondrous bullfrog Orc that you found. I would have dearly loved to have seen it. I am so very proud that you were able to capture it on your own, being as big as you described it. Your mother must have been proud, too. But my son, she probably knew it could not live inside our City, and so she took it to be with her. It is a special present for her from you. I am sure she is enjoying it thoroughly." As he spoke, Ecthelion felt that what he said was most obtuse and wondered why on Middle-earth he thought this would comfort the lad, but to his surprise, Denethor's eyes widened. He wiped his nose on his sleeve and a small smile crept into his eyes.
"Father, do you really think mother has it? But, father, am not I special enough for mother to take, too?" The question almost broke Ecthelion's heart. Denethor had only lain in Rķan's arms for a short time. Did he have some memory of her?
"Yes, my son," he said, "I am sure your treasure is with your mother. And yes, you are very special, my son, so special that your mother wants you to stay with me for a while. She knows I need you, my son, that Gondor needs you."
'Take those words back!' his heart screamed. Why had he said that last part? It was not necessary; the boy did not need to hear that. Mayhap it was Ecthelion himself who needed to hear it. He shook his head in dismay and saw that Denethor misinterpreted the gesture. He smiled, hugged the lad and kissed his small forehead again. The nurse had arrived some moments before and stood by patiently. Now, Ecthelion lifted his son off his lap and placed the little hand in her hand.
"Please take my son to his room, wash him and give him some light food. I will be up shortly to bed him."
"Denethor, go with your nurse. I will come shortly and perhaps you can draw me a picture of this great beast. We can hang it on your bedroom wall and we will remember the day you captured an animal bigger than a Mūmak."
Denethor hugged him around the neck till his breath was almost stopped, and then quickly left in his nurse's care.
Ecthelion sat back with a sigh. The boy was almost six; a special ceremony had been planned for his sixth birth day, but now Ecthelion wondered. He thought again of the concern that had chilled his heart during Denethor's story. The child was not maturing fast enough for Gondor's weal. Ecthelion had hoped to begin his son's training this year, but perhaps six was too young. Now, the chill came back, even stronger as he thought of the weakness of Gondor. Something was wrong. He felt it in the depths of his being. Turgon did not seem to sense it. His father did not seem to see any need for furthering the defenses of Gondor. All had been quiet for many years. Yet, there ws a nagging feeling that Ecthelion could not put words to. No matter what his father thought, he knew Gondor must now prepare for this evil that weighed so heavily upon his heart. He must keep Gondor safe until the return of the king. And he would begin with his own son. That the was the crux of the matter, the cause for his concern. For Denethor was weak, the tears today showed it. If the Steward would do naught, then Ecthelion would have to do something. He would start with his son.
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