(Hello everybody! This is my second submission to Tolkienonline. I have borrowed the theme for this story from the appendices on the steward’s line. Check it out. Heil Tolkien!)
Denethor dismounted from his steed and entered the seventh circle of Minas Tirith. Victorious, tired but alone, he trudged across the lawns. A thousand feet above the plain, the citadel offered a magnificent view of the Pelennor below, but today Denethor had no eyes for it. He looked at the dead white tree with mournful, sorrow filled eyes. But none of it was given to the tree; a dead relic of a lost past, a symbol of hopeless hope for a clan bereft of royalty and reduced to the shadows. No, the sorrow, which the steward’s son felt, was for himself.
Osgiliath, the great city of Gondor had been recaptured. Osgiliath, which had been ruined by the kin strife, and later had fallen into the hands of the Morgul host, had been won. His strategies had been perfect, and the execution flawless. Only the glory wasn’t to be his. In the minds of his men, the real hero of the day was the stranger from the North. In the hearts of the city people, he would always be placed second to Thorongil.
Under the stewardship of Ecthelion II, able men from far had been encouraged to take up arms for Gondor and the trustworthy were awarded rank and honour. Thorongil, as he was known in Gondor, had come from Rohan, but was not of them. A great leader of men, by land or by sea, he quickly won the hearts of the people and the steward. He was swift and keen sighted and always bore a white gem upon his brow. (Which brought him his title: Thorongil, eagle of the star.) None knew his real name or race. He had soon risen to be the greatest captain in the realm, and rendered aid and assistance in all actions of the steward, earning, among other things, the rivalry of Denethor.
Denethor entered the ancient throne room. Along the sides of the long, solemn hall, stood the carven figures of the kings of Elendil’s line, silent guardians of past glory. As he looked at each, one by one, his eyes filled with awe and reverence, much against his own wishes. `That line has ended. It has utterly failed’, he told himself. But in his mind he knew that it wasn’t so.
At the end of the hall, stood a high throne on a carven dais of many steps. It was empty. On the lowest of these steps stood a black unadorned stone chair. On this, bearing the rod of stewards, sat Ecthelion, high steward of Gondor. Flanking him on either side sat rows of advisers, ministers and captains, now all silent. The very atmosphere of the room was filled with fear, seeing as they did, only one man returning.
`My lord, Osgiliath has been won ‘, said Denethor, but that they would certainly know. The cause for their anxiety, he now bitterly thought he could guess.
`But where is Thorongil, surely he couldn’t have fallen?’ the steward, breaking the silence a second time.
Expectation of pain cannot conquer pain. Neither can it reduce it by any degree. `Where is Thorongil?’ the very first thoughts of his own father given to the stranger and not to the son. The pain seared through every limb of his body, the ignominy, the shame of being placed second even in his father’s esteem threatened to break his mind.
`Thorongil has returned, my lord. He considered it fit that the son bring news of victory to the father. Perhaps he was mistaken’ He uttered these words mechanically, as though under a cruel trance. The ensuing silence lasted for well over a minute, while each second was an intolerable burden on his mind and spirit.
The steward softened and the lines creasing his brow grew faint. `You mistake me, Denethor, my son. You have done well. I can see that you are exhausted. You may give the full report of the battle later, now go and rest.’
`If my lord permits, I shall leave’, the words left his mouth grudgingly. Denethor slowly turned around and started walking towards the door. The same room, in which he used to feel immeasurable pride in, now seemed to stifle him. The statues and the carvings now seemed to be conspiring against him. At the very door of the throne room, he glanced to his left towards the carven image of Elendil. This statue, he had seen innumerable times before, but this time he felt a difference. He had seen those eyes somewhere, those eyes which had great depth even being hewn of cold stone. His tired mind could no longer worry about so many things, so he dropped the matter.
He left the room and walked down the lawns. As he did so, he saw Thorongil coming up the roads to the citadel. He too was alone. Denethor clenched his jaws at his sight and determined not to glance at him. But as he passed him by, he couldn’t help but glare at the man who had stolen his rightful position, and occupied the hearts of the people and father. Their eyes met only for a moment, and Denethor found in them no rivalry or dislike, only determinedness and wisdom, the eyes of a leader. But there was something else that captured his attention, there was a light in those eyes, an uncanny depth just like…
Denethor remained rooted in his position, standing as if in shock, much longer after Thorongil had gone, breaking their momentary gaze. In those eyes, he had seen the glory of Númenor, the light of the blessed realm and deep elven wisdom all at once. It all made sense to him now. The bitter truth was plain to Denethor even if no one else could see it. The king would indeed return.