Captains and Pawns by sian22

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‘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, gray-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: a man modest and mysterious, calm and grave, come to Minuin out of Rohan, his name and birthplace hidden.  Denethor, son of Ecthelion: a man proud and quiet, intense and ordered, a scion of Numenor.  The Steward had asked their advice, not expecting either to pursue so intently such opposite counsels.   ‘Their discord grows deeper,’ he thought with dismay, and somehow I am become the field they contest.’


‘My Lord, “explained Thorongil, shaking his head  “I doubt not that Saruman is wise and learned, yet Mithrandir has travelled 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.” 


Denethor spoke low but insistently.  “My lord, this is folly.   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 fingered the hilt of his great sword, worn always, a reminder of the trials to come and the need for strength.  Thorongil stood, as ever grave and careful, watching Denethor warily.   Denethor in his turn seemed to barely contain his contempt.


Thorongil spoke once again, and he clasped the Steward’s arm.  “I will leave you now my Lord.  But ere I go, by 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.”   


As the Dunadan made ready to withdraw, Ecthelion of a sudden thought.  “He will leave me.   This is a game of chess for the Istari and my Captains are the pawns.   “Leave me to think on it, both of you.  I will tell you my decision on the morrow.”    

In barely contained fury, the young Captain Denethor strode from the room.  How dare he?  Does his arrogance know no bounds?  Ever he believes that his the only right way.   He was not entirely sure if he meant Thorongil or his father.  Pent up anger and energy made Denethor’s stride lengthen, covering the distance to his rooms in mere minutes.  


Already at this late hour Finduilas would have retired to the nursery with Boromir.  He looked and there, curled beside the little bed, was his young wife asleep, a book on her lap and her head beside her son’s on the pillow.  His anger and frustration eased a little at the sight.  Brushing the boy’s fair straight hair from his forehead, he planted a kiss of good night.   It was a wonder to him that he could love so intently his son, as still it was to love his mother.  “Finduilas’, he whispered low, kissing her check lightly.  She stirred and looked up, her gentle smile catching his heart.  ”Come’, he said, lifting her up in his strong arms, “you must to bed.  You cannot sleep well there.”  Promising he would join her in a while, he turned to their study where the fire was still lit and he knew their guest still waited.   


“What news of your council with the Steward, Captain? “ Saruman the White sat in a low chair beside the fire, his face half hidden, his gnarled hands upon his staff.


Denethor’s young face hardened, lines of disappointment setting around his mouth and eyes.  He poured himself a glass of wine, and sighing, turned the goblet in his hands   “He will follow Thorongil as he always does.   I have done my best but it is ever too little to sway him.  It has been long now since he has accepted often my counsel”. 


The wizard rose, his white robes shimmering, his face a picture of compassion.  A bitter man is vulnerable.   “This is ill news for Gondor.  Should she waste her defences on a trifling southern land?  Why does he follow Thorongil’s counsel over yours?”


“He believes his advice is sound and together they have had many victories.  Success is compelling is it not?” The young man’s face was anguished.  He loved his father yet. 


GoodSet the bait. Saruman spread his hands 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.” 


Denethor shook his proud head.  “It matters for naught to my father.  He believes Thorongil has proven his worth in battle.  He gives rank and reward to all so proven.”   The Steward’s son tried for loyalty and reason, but the wizard checked him.


“But not to his own son.” reminded Saruman, raising his aged hand and clasping the young man’s arm in sympathy.  ”Be wary Captain.  Thorongil is, I fear, a pupil of Mithrandir.  Long I have suspected that the Gray Pilgrim works against me.  They are natural allies, the Eagle and this lesser wizard, both seeking to supplant their betters.”  His smooth voice became velvet and low.   “Mithrandir would supplant me, jealous of my place as head of the White Council.  Thorongil would supplant you” 


Denethor looked sharply up. “How so?”  


Do you know who he claims to be?”  Saruman stood up to his full height, the firelight shadowing his eyes.  “I have long sight and have gleaned it.  Chieftan 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.”   


Denethor 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.” 


The wizard bade him good night, and left the brooding man to his thoughts.   As Saruman walked in the empty forecourt, dark and still on that moonless night, he came upon the ghostly remains of the dead white tree.  Reaching up, he snapped a small twig from one of its branches.  Turning it over in his gnarled fingers he reflected on the game begun.


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.   Denethor, Ecthelion’s son I will suborn, though it be the harder test, he is a man of Numenor.  At last the Age of the Elves and Dunadain fades and a new power rises.   With patience I will come to direct it.

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