Once he was as great as his fame made him. His knowledge was deep, his thought was subtle, …and he had a power over the minds of others. The wise he could persuade, and the smaller folk he could daunt. ….There are not many in Middle-earth that I should say were safe, if they were left alone to talk with him,'

Aragorn speaking of Saruman, FOTR, JRR Tolkien.

And I know, you were just like me with someone disappointed in you'
Numb, Linkin Park


Ecthelion, Steward of Gondor, a man of rare patience and insight, was puzzled.

Before him stood his Captains. His star and his son. Each so alike to the other as nearest kin; tall, grey-eyed, valiant, even kingly one would say of the Eagle of the Star and the Steward's Son; yet at heart so very different. Thorongil was a man modest and mysterious, calm and grave; come to Mindolluin out of Rohan with his name and birthplace hidden. Denethor, son of Ecthelion, was man proud and quiet, intense and ordered; a true scion of Numenor.

This morn, as Steward, he had asked their advice and not expected what he received.

Intently argued but utterly divergent counsels.

'Their discord grows deeper ' Echthelion thought with dismay, 'and somehow I am become the field that they contest'

'My Lord, "urged Thorongil, "I doubt not that Saruman is wise and learned, yet Mithrandir has traveled the lands of Umbar, and warns of our danger there, should the Enemy move. We cannot fight on three flanks, Gondor now can scarely cover two. We should remove the threat while we have the chance, and are not stretched. Give me a fleet and I will by stealth come down Anduin and destroy the Corsairs as they lie at anchor."

"Nay this is folly, " said Denethor shaking his dark head. "Why waste our resources against an undeclared enemy? Why risk the men and the ships, when we have so few? Saruman is the greatest of their order and is wisest. Forget not that for that very reason, your forefather Beren gave him Orthanc and Isengard to guard the Gap of Rohan. Would you spurn his counsel?"

The Steward frowned, fingering the hilt of the great sword he wore always as a reminder of the trials to come and the need for strength. Not a simple choice. Or straightforward. Denethor's words had merit but if there were a natural inclination in his chest it would be to make some move. Gondor had little enough of a fleet. That made the enemy complacent. And vulnerable to surprise.

He looked up. Thorongil stood waiting patiently as ever; grave and carefully respectful, watching his lord and gaze straying but once to his rival a little warily. Denethor for his part seemed to barely able contain his irritation. The fingers of his sword hand drummed steadily against his thigh.

Echthelion sighed, turned away from heavy desk to stare out at the soothing green and white of the Steward's terrace, heart heavy but knowing he must choose. I need them both. Working together. Not circling me like a prize. I thought in time my son would grow easy with his place but that seems futile now. And if I choose Thorongil's way again he will, perhaps justly, be aggrieved.

A quiet cough broke into his thoughts. He looked back. Thorongil bowed, ready to withdraw.

"I will leave you now my Lord. But ere I go, on my honour I entreat you, do not place your trust in Saruman. Do not forget he stayed his hand against Dol Gulder, to our regret.

Our regret and the White Council's consternation. Ecthelion caught that deep grey gaze and felt a pang of regret catch in his chest. He could see it, the outcome he had come to dread.

Thorongil will leave me. He will quit this field of conflict and yield it to my son. Refuse to play this game of chess, on a board where the Istari are the bishops and my Captains are the pawns.

Wearily he rubbed a heavy hand across his brow. "Leave me. Let me think on it this night. I will give you my decision on the morrow."

He could not know exactly how he was right.

~~~000~~~

Knuckles white with barely hidden fury, the young Captain Denethor strode from his father's study, boot heels striking so hard upon the marble floor they could have raised up sparks.

How dare he?

Does his arrogance know no bounds?

How can his counsel be the only way?

By rote he turned from one hallway to the next. Frustration lengthened his already considerable stride and spurred him quickly to the family's private wing.

This was not the first time or the tenth he had come this way seeking solace from the fray. The disagreements of late had become a constant, and, in truth, he was not quite sure if he were more frustrated by Thorongil or his father. Both were inclined to not see his points. Both all too readily agreed with the other. It was infuriating. His father simply had to see that he, Denethor, the youngest Captain-General of Gondor's sterling army, had the kingdom's welfare in mind. His words should have more weight. Let Thorongil be adored by the common folk- the cheering and the flowers would not keep their borders safe. He, the Steward's heir, would do what was right, if sometimes hard.

So long as he could count on the knowledge that his voice of reason would be listened to.

By a familiar door, Denethor stopped short. Already at this late hour Finduilas would have retired to the nursery with Boromir. Much to the nanny's consternation she preferred to oversee bedtime for herself and so he pushed the door ajar and peered inside, comfortably certain of what he would find.

There, curled up beside the little trundle bed, was his beautiful young wife. Asleep. With a book open across her lap and her head laid beside her son's upon the pillow.

The tight band of anger in his chest eased somewhat.

Denethor tiptoed into the dim but tidy room; bent low and brushed the boy's fair straight locks back from his forehead, planting a kiss of good night. It was a wonder to him that he could love so intently this little one. Utterly. Completely. Without reservation and almost as much as the graceful, doll-like princess who had borne him. Almost, but not quite.

"Darling", he whispered low, nudging Finduilas' arm and kissing her cool cheek lightly. "Come. You must to bed. You cannot sleep well here."

Finduilas stirred and looked up, her slow smile catching at his heart. "Are you done your evening's work?"

"Not yet," he admittedly regretfully, setting the book carefully aside. "Go to your rest. I will join you soon."

With that, he lifted her up in his strong arms and set her back on her feet, promising to join her in a while and turning to his own smaller study.

The fire would still be lit and his guest would still be waiting.

~~~000~~~

"What news of your council with the Steward, Captain?"

Saruman the White sat in a deep chair beside the crackling fire, his face half hidden by its wing and his gnarled hands upon his staff.

Denethor, poised in the act of pouring a glass of wine, tensed and stilled. Lines of disappointment deepened about his mouth. They, and the weary shadows below his eyes, told the wizard his guess was true.

Ecthelion was not pleased with his only son.

Denethor raised the goblet to his lips; drank deeply, before turning the vessel restlessly in his hands. "He will follow Thorongil as he always does," he said flatly, without rancor, for above all else Denethor was a man of stern control. "I have said my piece and done my best. But it is, as usual, too little to actually sway him."

The wizard rose, white robes shimmering, face a picture of compassion. A bitter man was vulnerable. Vulnerable and often blind and could be used in ways he did not perceive. Saruman had seen that this moment would soon come and made sure to be present at the crux.

"This is ill news for Gondor!" he said, staff tapping for emphasis upon the floor. "Should she waste her defenses on a trifling southern land? Why should he follow Thorongil's counsel over yours?"

Denethor's handsome face twisted unhappily. They were often at cross purposes, but he loved his father yet. "He believes his advice is sound and together they have had many victories. Success is compelling is it not?"

Saruman spread a hand in question. "My lord Denethor, I little understand why you are second always in your father's heart. This great captain whom he loves above all and has raised to high status, this Eagle- he has not your sight, your knowledge or your lineage."

The proud head shook. "It matters for naught with my father. He believes Thorongil has shown his worth. He gives rank and reward to all so proven."

Saruman frowned. Loyalty and reason were not in the moves to be desired. Denethor had strength. It would take more to goad him toward the goal. He let power swell his voice. "But not to his own son! Be wary Captain. Thorongil is, I fear, a pupil of Mithrandir. Long I have suspected that the Grey Pilgrim works against me. They are natural allies, the Eagle and this lesser wizard, both seeking to supplant their betters." The smooth tones dropped, became soft as the chair's velvet and just as deep. "Mithrandir would supplant me, jealous of my place as head of the White Council. Thorongil would supplant you"

"How so?"

The wizard pulled up to his full height and stood a moment with the firelight shadowing his eyes. Denethor had looked sharply over. Was primed and ready for the play. "Do you know who he claims to be? I have long sight and have gleaned it. Chieftain of the Dunadain of the North. The direct heir, father to son, of Isildur. Elrond of Imladris accepts his claim. Thorongil desires to be King."

The young man gasped. "Can this be proven?"

"No. The line of Elendil has long failed. He is an upstart and the Eldar, in their nostalgia for another time, are blinded. Cede this round to their plotting, Denethor, but fear not, we shall win the day after."

Just a few choice words. Ironically the truth, albeit sprinkled with a little falsehood. They should be enough to set the board. Saruman bade Denethor good night. Left the man brooding into his cup and walked out of the Steward's palace into the empty forecourt of the Citadel.

Amidst the ink dark pool, unshadowed on that moonless night, the dead white tree stood. Eerie. Stiff and ghostly white.

Saruman reached a hand out, pretending to stroke the hallowed bark.

Let your counsel be subtle but piercing. Theoden, Thengel's son, I will in time suborn, the Eorlingas are men of the twilight and easily moved. Ecthelion's son I will sway, though he be the harder test and take more effort for a man of Numenor has strength. An old Age fades and a new power rises. With patience I will come to direct it.

Once he was as great as his fame made him. His knowledge was deep, his thought was subtle, …and he had a power over the minds of others. The wise he could persuade, and the smaller folk he could daunt. ….There are not many in Middle-earth that I should say were safe, if they were left alone to talk with him,'

Aragorn speaking of Saruman, FOTR, JRR Tolkien.

And I know, you were just like me with someone disappointed in you'
Numb, Linkin Park

Ecthelion, Steward of Gondor, a man of rare patience and insight, was puzzled.

Before him stood his Captains. His star and his son. Each so alike to the other as nearest kin; tall, grey-eyed, valiant, even kingly one would say of the Eagle of the Star and the Steward's Son; yet at heart so very different. Thorongil was a man modest and mysterious, calm and grave; come to Mindolluin out of Rohan with his name and birthplace hidden. Denethor, son of Ecthelion, was man proud and quiet, intense and ordered; a true scion of Numenor.

This morn, as Steward, he had asked their advice and not expected what he received.

Intently argued but utterly divergent counsels.

'Their discord grows deeper ' Echthelion thought with dismay, 'and somehow I am become the field that they contest'

'My Lord, "urged Thorongil, "I doubt not that Saruman is wise and learned, yet Mithrandir has traveled the lands of Umbar, and warns of our danger there, should the Enemy move. We cannot fight on three flanks, Gondor now can scarely cover two. We should remove the threat while we have the chance, and are not stretched. Give me a fleet and I will by stealth come down Anduin and destroy the Corsairs as they lie at anchor."

"Nay this is folly, " said Denethor shaking his dark head. "Why waste our resources against an undeclared enemy? Why risk the men and the ships, when we have so few? Saruman is the greatest of their order and is wisest. Forget not that for that very reason, your forefather Beren gave him Orthanc and Isengard to guard the Gap of Rohan. Would you spurn his counsel?"

The Steward frowned, fingering the hilt of the great sword he wore always as a reminder of the trials to come and the need for strength. Not a simple choice. Or straightforward. Denethor's words had merit but if there were a natural inclination in his chest it would be to make some move. Gondor had little enough of a fleet. That made the enemy complacent. And vulnerable to surprise.

He looked up. Thorongil stood waiting patiently as ever; grave and carefully respectful, watching his lord and gaze straying but once to his rival a little warily. Denethor for his part seemed to barely able contain his irritation. The fingers of his sword hand drummed steadily against his thigh.

Echthelion sighed, turned away from heavy desk to stare out at the soothing green and white of the Steward's terrace, heart heavy but knowing he must choose. I need them both. Working together. Not circling me like a prize. I thought in time my son would grow easy with his place but that seems futile now. And if I choose Thorongil's way again he will, perhaps justly, be aggrieved.

A quiet cough broke into his thoughts. He looked back. Thorongil bowed, ready to withdraw.

"I will leave you now my Lord. But ere I go, on my honour I entreat you, do not place your trust in Saruman. Do not forget he stayed his hand against Dol Gulder, to our regret.

Our regret and the White Council's consternation. Ecthelion caught that deep grey gaze and felt a pang of regret catch in his chest. He could see it, the outcome he had come to dread.

Thorongil will leave me. He will quit this field of conflict and yield it to my son. Refuse to play this game of chess, on a board where the Istari are the bishops and my Captains are the pawns.

Wearily he rubbed a heavy hand across his brow. "Leave me. Let me think on it this night. I will give you my decision on the morrow."

He could not know exactly how he was right.

~~~000~~~

Knuckles white with barely hidden fury, the young Captain Denethor strode from his father's study, boot heels striking so hard upon the marble floor they could have raised up sparks.

How dare he?

Does his arrogance know no bounds?

How can his counsel be the only way?

By rote he turned from one hallway to the next. Frustration lengthened his already considerable stride and spurred him quickly to the family's private wing.

This was not the first time or the tenth he had come this way seeking solace from the fray. The disagreements of late had become a constant, and, in truth, he was not quite sure if he were more frustrated by Thorongil or his father. Both were inclined to not see his points. Both all too readily agreed with the other. It was infuriating. His father simply had to see that he, Denethor, the youngest Captain-General of Gondor's sterling army, had the kingdom's welfare in mind. His words should have more weight. Let Thorongil be adored by the common folk- the cheering and the flowers would not keep their borders safe. He, the Steward's heir, would do what was right, if sometimes hard.

So long as he could count on the knowledge that his voice of reason would be listened to.

By a familiar door, Denethor stopped short. Already at this late hour Finduilas would have retired to the nursery with Boromir. Much to the nanny's consternation she preferred to oversee bedtime for herself and so he pushed the door ajar and peered inside, comfortably certain of what he would find.

There, curled up beside the little trundle bed, was his beautiful young wife. Asleep. With a book open across her lap and her head laid beside her son's upon the pillow.

The tight band of anger in his chest eased somewhat.

Denethor tiptoed into the dim but tidy room; bent low and brushed the boy's fair straight locks back from his forehead, planting a kiss of good night. It was a wonder to him that he could love so intently this little one. Utterly. Completely. Without reservation and almost as much as the graceful, doll-like princess who had borne him. Almost, but not quite.

"Darling", he whispered low, nudging Finduilas' arm and kissing her cool cheek lightly. "Come. You must to bed. You cannot sleep well here."

Finduilas stirred and looked up, her slow smile catching at his heart. "Are you done your evening's work?"

"Not yet," he admittedly regretfully, setting the book carefully aside. "Go to your rest. I will join you soon."

With that, he lifted her up in his strong arms and set her back on her feet, promising to join her in a while and turning to his own smaller study.

The fire would still be lit and his guest would still be waiting.

~~~000~~~

"What news of your council with the Steward, Captain?"

Saruman the White sat in a deep chair beside the crackling fire, his face half hidden by its wing and his gnarled hands upon his staff.

Denethor, poised in the act of pouring a glass of wine, tensed and stilled. Lines of disappointment deepened about his mouth. They, and the weary shadows below his eyes, told the wizard his guess was true.

Ecthelion was not pleased with his only son.

Denethor raised the goblet to his lips; drank deeply, before turning the vessel restlessly in his hands. "He will follow Thorongil as he always does," he said flatly, without rancor, for above all else Denethor was a man of stern control. "I have said my piece and done my best. But it is, as usual, too little to actually sway him."

The wizard rose, white robes shimmering, face a picture of compassion. A bitter man was vulnerable. Vulnerable and often blind and could be used in ways he did not perceive. Saruman had seen that this moment would soon come and made sure to be present at the crux.

"This is ill news for Gondor!" he said, staff tapping for emphasis upon the floor. "Should she waste her defenses on a trifling southern land? Why should he follow Thorongil's counsel over yours?"

Denethor's handsome face twisted unhappily. They were often at cross purposes, but he loved his father yet. "He believes his advice is sound and together they have had many victories. Success is compelling is it not?"

Saruman spread a hand in question. "My lord Denethor, I little understand why you are second always in your father's heart. This great captain whom he loves above all and has raised to high status, this Eagle- he has not your sight, your knowledge or your lineage."

The proud head shook. "It matters for naught with my father. He believes Thorongil has shown his worth. He gives rank and reward to all so proven."

Saruman frowned. Loyalty and reason were not in the moves to be desired. Denethor had strength. It would take more to goad him toward the goal. He let power swell his voice. "But not to his own son! Be wary Captain. Thorongil is, I fear, a pupil of Mithrandir. Long I have suspected that the Grey Pilgrim works against me. They are natural allies, the Eagle and this lesser wizard, both seeking to supplant their betters." The smooth tones dropped, became soft as the chair's velvet and just as deep. "Mithrandir would supplant me, jealous of my place as head of the White Council. Thorongil would supplant you"

"How so?"

The wizard pulled up to his full height and stood a moment with the firelight shadowing his eyes. Denethor had looked sharply over. Was primed and ready for the play. "Do you know who he claims to be? I have long sight and have gleaned it. Chieftain of the Dunadain of the North. The direct heir, father to son, of Isildur. Elrond of Imladris accepts his claim. Thorongil desires to be King."

The young man gasped. "Can this be proven?"

"No. The line of Elendil has long failed. He is an upstart and the Eldar, in their nostalgia for another time, are blinded. Cede this round to their plotting, Denethor, but fear not, we shall win the day after."

Just a few choice words. Ironically the truth, albeit sprinkled with a little falsehood. They should be enough to set the board. Saruman bade Denethor good night. Left the man brooding into his cup and walked out of the Steward's palace into the empty forecourt of the Citadel.

Amidst the ink dark pool, unshadowed on that moonless night, the dead white tree stood. Eerie. Stiff and ghostly white.

Saruman reached a hand out, pretending to stroke the hallowed bark.

Let your counsel be subtle but piercing. Theoden, Thengel's son, I will in time suborn, the Eorlingas are men of the twilight and easily moved. Ecthelion's son I will sway, though he be the harder test and take more effort for a man of Numenor has strength. An old Age fades and a new power rises. With patience I will come to direct it.

He smiled and gripped the end of one brittle branch. Snapped it off. Turned the little victim over and over in his fingers, well satisfied with how the game had smiled and gripped the end of one brittle branch. Snapped it off. Turned the little victim over and over in his fingers, well satisfied with how the game had begun.