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Ch. 7 - Third Age 2947 - Part Two
And that is how Denethor, two months later, 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 naught 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-adadhron'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? No other fortifications had been found. 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 lie 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, built by the men of Númenor in an age past, built to keep evil contained within. 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 log. The gates yawed 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 earnestly. "Amdir, within the near future we will be attacked by the One we do not name. 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 He 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 as if 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? Nay, never. I have always known whom 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 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 Orcs or other enemy. Orcs 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. 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 prickle, 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 just where he himself stood, 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 remain calm. "Something from long past. It is calling to me."
"Denethor, it is getting late, the men are tired, and we 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."
"Nay, 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.
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 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 - rare indeed. 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 will not 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; I know only that 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 in 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. "Nay, 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 do you not remember?"
Denethor shook his head. Now what had he done? 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... Nay. A little later for it was cooler. Must have been sometime in November or perhaps December. We had gone to 'The Three Fishermen' with Thengel and that new lieutenant, I cannot 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 is when you began to sing."
"Nay! 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 Fourth 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 am sorry you do not 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 Dínen - I was not that full of ale."
"You must be mad! Are you saying I took us to Rath Dínen?"
"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; 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 would not have 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 did not 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 first began. First meal was quickly dispatched and the men waited for Denethor's orders.
"We are on the wrong side of the river." Denethor spoke to his men. "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 ways 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 did not 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 the same fashion.
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."
"Captain Denethor! My Lord," cried another soldier further down the line. "I have found a fissure that is opening into the land; I cannot 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 fissure. 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 opening; 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 fissure 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 fissure 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 opening 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 fissure.
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.
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 Sindarin. "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 Guard 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 the same tongue; his voice was strong, but his heart quaked. These were tall, stalwart, wild 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. Steward Turgon, stationed my men and me here in 2930. I am afraid we have been forgotten."
The breath he 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. There are so few of us, we dared not engage you. We knew not who you were. 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 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.
Adanedhel 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 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 Adanedhel 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.
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?
"Where are your 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's heart. 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. Seventeen 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 you 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?"
"Nay, my Lord. Turgon had a son named Ecthelion. Is it the same?"
"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 as to what was happening. He told Thengel tales of times long past as if the events were happening as they 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 their wedding? Ah, yes. He remembered now. All the man spoke of was her dowry and the good prospect Morwen was. After he had forbidden the marriage! 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, true and wise beyond his years. He would help 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? 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 already!"
"Morwen?" His only thought was for Morwen.
"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.'
"Nay, 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 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 a week, 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 stay 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. At last, 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 when they returned from their sortie. 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, whilst 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 naught 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 o'er 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 honor.
A/N – From the Appendixes: 2901 Most of the remaining inhabitants of Ithilien desert it owing to the attacks of Uruks of Mordor. The secret refuge of Henneth Annûn is built.
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