The palantir was cool and smooth against his hands, murky and still. Denethor slowly turned his head to stare into its ageless depths, clearing and readying his mind for the ordeal that he knew was to come. His stomach tightened with nervous anticipation, and he forced his breath to slow, before slipping into the depth of the palantir…

At first all was blue grey, shifting and swirling like smoke on a breeze, but slowly the fog began to clear, and he saw Minas Tirith rising, white and pearly, from the plains, framed by the mountains and the deep blue sky. This was where it always began, no matter how hard he tried to start somewhere else, always the first thing he saw was his city as it had looked in the morning so many years ago, as he rode back into his home… He brushed the picture from his mind, and focused on Imladris. For a moment he glimpsed a village somewhere in Gondor’s northern borders, then suddenly the valley swirled into view, hazy at first, but becoming clearer as he focused in closer, unconsciously moving a little further from the glowing ball as it zoomed in toward the trees.

Rivendell itself was shrouded in mist, as it always was. At first he had thought it was just caused by the river, but it never cleared, and after probing it from every angle he had come to the conclusion that it was deliberately devised by Elrond to keep out prying eyes. It was wise, yes, but also maddening. The last time he had seen his son was almost a month before, as he entered Imladris, and Denethor had no idea whether he was still there or had already turned homeward. Searching here was futile, yet he longed to see his son again, to know if he was safe…

After vainly scanning the forest for a few moments, he sighed and turned his gaze southward, focusing into Hadar, the capital of the Harad. The city was busy, and throughout the streets soldiers wandered, their purses jangling at their belts and attracting the attention of the street vendors. Denethor’s gaze barely swept over them, he had seen them before, and knew there were now over 4000 men gathered in the capital, crowding it to a point where the city could not sustain them for many more weeks.
The Haradrim were about to march to war, and Denethor knew where they would come. Gondor and Harad had long been enemies, and he had no hopes of them allying themselves with Gondor now, with such a force as Mordor arrayed against them. The armies of Gondor could withstand easily the forces of Harad and crush them were they to attack alone, it was only this that had brought them the long ages of peace, yet coupled with Mordor, the armies would be phenomenal.

Suddenly Hadar disappeared, and a vision of himself appeared, standing, shrouded in dark smoke. He struggled to control the glowing orb, trying to shift his gaze, but he could not. He forced himself to relax, saving his strength, and slowly the smoke cleared, and he realised he was on the wall at the top level of in the White city as it burned around him. Far below the plains were dark with men and orcs, with the heightened sight of the palantir he could see them pour into Minas Tirith, hordes of them, burning and killing as they went.

With an inhuman effort he pulled his gaze away, and turned toward the citadel. There he stopped, frozen, his gaze riveted to the White Tree, which stood, wreathed in flames, its guards standing still as statues around it, facing outward, not seeming to notice the ruin to the treasure of Gondor they were supposed to be guarding.

With a cry of anguish he again wrenched his gaze away, and immediately was pulled toward the East, while a rumbling whisper grew and coursed through his head. He felt Sauron direct his gaze toward him, battering his mind, trying to take control of the palantir and drawing Denethor deep into the dark land. Barad Dur. Mordor where the shadows lie…. He heard the screech of a Nazgul, ripping through his senses, almost overpowering. He felt the dark lord laugh in triumph, but with a last effort he pulled himself away, wrenching his hands from the palantir with such force he threw himself halfway across the room.

He dropped to his knees and knelt for a long time on the cold marble floor, until he finally stopped trembling. He felt so old, wasted, drained… every time he used the palantir Sauron seemed to get stronger. Or he weaker. He had had no control over where it took him…

Slowly he pulled himself to his feet and walked out to the tower balcony, stopping beside the door to drape a cloak over his mail clad shoulders, before stepping out into the biting wind. Immediately he felt the load lift from his shoulders, and peace swept over him. He moved to the wrought iron railing, staring far down into the streets of Minas Tirith. After the dizzying experiences in the palantir the high tower seemed very solid and safe. For a while he stood, clearing his mind and letting the wind blow through his hair and his soul, feeling peace he had not known for what seemed like an age wash through his veins.

The palantir had aged him a lot, physically and mentally. His hair was now streaked with grey, and the lines on his face had deepened almost over night. And inwardly, he felt tired, heavy and old. Now he wished to die, to go, to be at peace with his wife, wherever men’s souls were doomed to go. Yet Gondor needed him, the White City needed him, his people needed him, and he would not forsake them in their hour of need. For hour of need it was, with such armies amassing against them Gondor could fall at any moment, and his days were occupied with frantic preparations for war.

He glanced toward the east, half expecting to see right into Mordor, where orc armies were massed on the plains around Barad Dur, to feel the crushing will of Sauron battering his. Yet the only trace of Mordor was the faint but constant shadow lurking over the mountains. The Pellenor fields were lush with crops, everything was green and fresh, the people busy. They knew nothing of the shadow that their steward fought throughout long hours in his White tower, or the armies that would be gathering against them, to them they were only rumours, things to be put aside before the greater concerns of bringing in the harvest. Responsibility for protecting the city fell on him.

With a sigh of exhaustion he turned back into the tower. The palantir stood uncovered in the middle of the large, circular room, and Denethor quickly draped a dark, silken cloth over it, cursing himself for his neglect. He did not want prying eyes in this room. Wearily he walked over to a low chair at the end of the room and dropped into it. An image flashed into his mind of the first time he had been in this room.


He had been seventeen, when his father had summoned him to the tower. All Denethor’s life his father had rarely called him into his presence for anything but a telling off. He was a wilful boy and usually fully deserved it, yet after examining his conscience he could not recall anything unusually sinful in his recent past, and besides, never had Ecthelion called him to the tower, so it was with a mixture of excitement, curiosity and trepidation he climbed the many steps to the tallest tower of the citadel that day.

The room had always been the private retreat of the stewards, and before them, the kings, and never before had Denethor entered it, though he knew Thorongil had often spent hours here with his father. Brushing the thought aside, he banged on the door, and after a moment heard his father’s voice bidding him enter. The door opened noiselessly at his touch, and he stood in the doorway for a moment, taking in his surroundings. The room had eight sides, an octagon, he thought, pleased he’d remembered something from his long and fearfully boring geometry lessons.

The walls were crafted of smooth white marble, rising up and curving inward high above to meet in a point directly above a large table in the centre of the room. In the centre of each wall was a pair of large, black double doors under huge grey arches carved with detailed patterns and runes. Light streamed down from small windows set high in the walls, falling on the couches and tables scattered around the walls. As well as this, on either side of each doorway was an iron torch in a beautifully carved bracket, sending flickering shadows up the walls.

Directly opposite him the doors were thrown open revealing a wide balcony where his father stood, leaning lightly on the railing. As Denethor watched him he turned, and beckoned impatiently to his son. Denethor hurried across the room and under the carved archway to stand beside his father. The view was amazing. The city lay, white and shining in the sunlight, miles and miles down, surrounded by the golden, green and brown of the feilds around the city. To his left he could see Osgiliath on the banks of the river, and in every direction massive mountains grew out from the rolling plains. He drew in his breath in a gasp of amazement at the sight. Everything was set out before him like a beautiful map, drawn by the finest of elven artists…

“Do not be afraid,” Ecthelion commented irritably, wrongly interpreting his gasp to be one of fear. “You will not fall.”

“I am not afraid, father!” Denethor burst out indignantly, then immediately regretted it as his father shot him a glance of anger and turned away.

“Forgive me, for I meant no disrespect!” he cried, following his father back into the tower. “Please, father, won’t you at least tell me why you called me here?”

Ecthelion sat down in one of the low chairs, and regarded his son stonily. “I called you because I thought you ready to learn what it is to be a steward of Gondor. I see that I was wrong, as you cannot even listen submissively when I speak to you.”

“Forgive me, father, please.”

The steward rose from his seat and placed his hands on his son’s shoulders, gazing into his eager eyes. Denethor had grown a lot, he was now only a little shorter than his tall father. Finally Ecthelion nodded. “Come then,” he said, and moved out onto the balcony, this time from the doors to his left.

“The Haradrim are attacking,” he said calmly. “They have just appeared on the western hills. We have had no warning, the people are all in the feilds.”

“What?” asked Denethor incredulously.

“What? Is that all you can say? If they were really attacking, asking your captains to repeat themselves is a waste of valuable time. Think boy, use your imagination. You’re in charge of defending the city, you have 500 horsemen and about 1000 footmen that can be gathered on short notice. What are you going to do? These are the kind of scenarios you will face as steward, you have to be ready for them at any moment. I am waiting for your command.”

Ecthelion drilled his son for a couple of hours, and while at first Denethor was hesitant and questioning, gradually he grew more confidant and began almost to enjoy the strategic battle of wits against his father’s imaginary armies.

At last the steward halted the battle and dismissed his son to have his dinner. As Denethor entered to tower something shrouded in cloth on a pedestal caught his attention. He stopped before it, curious as to what had to be hidden in his father’s private room, but hesitant to touch it and perhaps arouse his father’s anger. Ecthelion followed his gaze and answered his unspoken question.

“It is a palantir, a seeing stone,” he said solemnly. “A treasure of Gondor from the ancient realm, it is said it was placed here by Elendil himself. Have you heard of this thing?”

“Yes, I have read of it,” Denethor said, his eyes shining as he gazed at his father. “I have heard that those who look into it can see anything they wish. I knew there was once one here, but I didn’t realise you had it – well, that it was still here. Have you looked in it, father?”

“No, I have not,” Ecthelion said sharply. “It is a tool, not a plaything. Many of the palantirs are lost, we do not know who might hold one. Tell me, boy, why that means we should be reluctant to use them.”

Denethor frowned. “Because if an enemy had one they might see you using it and realise you could see what they were doing?”

“No. Well, they might, but it wouldn’t make much difference. Think boy, to use a palantir you must open your mind, the things you see are in your head and controlled by your thoughts.”
Denethor stared at his father, light dawning in his head as he processed this.

“If an enemy more powerful than you held one,” Ecthelion continued, “He could see into your mind, even control your thoughts. Imagine if this happened to an unwise steward. The enemy would practically be in control, and Gondor would fall, and from thence the whole of Middle Earth. As such, the palantirs are very dangerous, and should not be used until all are accounted for. Do you understand?”
Denethor wordlessly nodded and followed his father down the long, spiral staircase. After a moment Ecthellion started to talk again, his voice echoing erily against the walls.

“We know for certain there was a palantir in Minas Ithil before it fell, and it was used several times for contact between our cities in emergencies. When Minas Ithil was taken by the Nazgul, several of the last defenders escaped with it and fled at the last, yet they were found later dead, and we know not whether they managed to hide the palantir before they were overtaken, or if it was captured, or overlooked and picked up by some scavenger not knowing what it was. Stranger things have happened. Yet the palantir may even be in the hands of Sauron himself, and since that time our stone not been used.”

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