Birthright by Marta

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Denethor would have made a fine second son. He had heard that whisper traded between his sisters often enough, ever since he was old enough to sit still and unnoticed (and, being who he was, that had been young indeed). Denethor knew he was not the man his Gondor looked for in a steward's heir, much though that thought chilled him. It testified to the Shadow's strength: in a better world a king's heir would be well loved if he was as Denethor was.

Yet this was not a better world, and while Gondor might affirm that old saying, that she loved not the sharp sword for its brightness – even so, she certainly expected her leaders to be able to fight well. And Denethor was not unskilled with weapons, such training was his duty and he would not shirk it, but he still was not what his people imagined a general should be. Denethor would have argued that there was more than one type of shadow to be guarded against; and to write music and philosophy and above all mathematics off as an idle fancy was just the type of mistake that the Nameless One most delighted in. But he was never asked.

Ah, well, he was but seven when he first heard his sisters whispering about him. Perhaps they thought he could not hear them, or could not see the meaning of their words, or simply thought that a child would not care about those things: such were the mistakes of the old when it came to the very young. But Denethor had heard, and he had understood. He would have made a fine second son – meaning that he did not make a good first one. In his private heart Denethor wished he had been born into less honor and more privilege, or perhaps even born a girl. For his sisters, renown as a musician or even a scholar would have made them more sought after in marriage; but in a soldier doomed to be captain and more, such pursuits were but frivolity.

He had accepted his doom as best he could, for even the ancient Mathematicians had counseled against trying to change the impossible. He knew he could move the whole world, if he had but a steady place to stand, but that hardly mattered. He was not outside the world; he was very much a part of it, and there was no lever long enough to change all he would order differently.

So he gave up on the harmony of numbers and consigned himself to the tedious mathematics of kingdom-running. He designed bridges that could be pulled down by removing a single stone, calculated how fast a legion of Haradrim could reach Henneth Annûn and how much grain his rangers would need to last out a month's siege. It pained him, but what worth was one man's pleasure against a hundred men's lives, or even against a father's affections? He was not bitter; or at the least, he would not let himself be bitter, from here on out. It was his sacrifice and he would offer it willingly.

These were the words he thought to himself, when he saw lesser sons of lesser lords prance around the feasting hall at mettarë. He would not let himself wonder what might have been.

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