Remembering Denethor

by MerryK

“A nation reveals itself not only by the men it produces, but also by the men in honors, the men it remembers.” —John F. Kennedy

When May was budding fair and the Rohirrim had departed from the City, Faramir, Steward of Gondor and Arnor, approached his king for permission to have a memorial ceremony for his father. Aragorn looked him up and down, but the young man seemed fully healed and ready to handle what would likely be an event requiring great strength and presence of mind. He granted his permission.

When it came to the day, there was a great multitude assembled as Faramir read with unhalting words a short speech commemorating his father’s deeds. They were not there for Denethor—even Aragorn could see that, and Faramir could read clearly the hearts of men—but to give support to their beloved Steward. It was touching to Aragorn, their love for this man, wise beyond his years, and yet full of hope and joy in this new Age. He felt slightly envious, but grateful, knowing that if Faramir had been an ambitious man, he could have barred Aragorn from Minas Tirith, and the people would have given him their full support. They had no love as yet for their new king, but they had accepted him because their Steward had requested it of them, and now they were attending his father’s funeral for that same love.

Aragorn was proud of his Steward, completing the ceremony with hardly a break in his voice, though his eyes were full of unshed tears.

The people slowly faded away, and the sun sunk behind the tip of the White Tower, and cast out arms of brilliant golden light towards the White City. Denethor’s time was now fully ended, and though the City had but paused to give him honor, there were some who would never forget him. They stood now still, with heads bowed, remembering what they had known of this once great man. Faramir, Imrahil, Aragorn, standing framed in the afternoon’s light.

Then Faramir looked up from his reminiscing, and smiled gently at his two companions.

“You need not have stayed, my lords. I shall be well; I have long prepared for this day.”

Imrahil laid his hand on his nephew’s shoulder. “We do not doubt it, Faramir. But I also knew your father, as a man, not merely as Steward, and truly I mourn his passing.”

Faramir took from his pocket a small leather-bound book. “Then you also would find comfort in this. I found it while cleaning out my father’s chambers. It was covered with dust, as if it had not been read for many years, but it was carefully put away, as if a cherished possession. My duties were too heavy on me to look into its contents at the time, but I have since opened it, and found it to be the diary of my grandfather.”

“Ecthelion kept a journal?” asked Imrahil in surprise. Faramir nodded, and smiled, opening the book to a marked passage.

“I had always considered my father to be a man fully secure in his position. As a child I looked up to him, as if he were a king of old, confident and powerful. I never thought of him as a son. But here, in an entry he must often have read, judging by the well-worn pages, I saw a different view of him.”

And Faramir began to read, quietly and steadily.

Ecthelion’s Memory:

May 07, 2983

This day brings new life, for my son’s wife has brought another child into the world: a son. He shall be called Faramir, and judging by the face of my son as he brought me the news, I foresee great happiness in his future. How I miss that face, so genuine and unaffected, as it was in his youth. I thought him weak then, caring for nothing but such knowledge as he could find in books, and was proud on the day that he swore his allegiance to me, stern and proud as a child of Numenor ought to be. He was so precious to me, and though I mourned the loss of the little boy I had once loved, I was glad in the man that he had become, a man I could honor and grant a place in the Council. Oh, but there are times when I wish that manhood could have come to him without such a loss of warmth. As he grows stronger and more great, the distance grows between us at an equal rate, and even in Thorongil’s time he treated me as any other of my captains, no longer as a father but only as Steward. But when his son was born, and he brought him to me with eyes shining like the years had not touched him, I was proud again, and this day has brought him to my mind again.

He is a son greater than I could ever have hoped for: tall, kingly, a lord of men, with the blood of Numenor running through his veins like our forefathers of old. Hs time will be renowned, I know it, and he will be remembered long after his death. How I delight in him, and how I wish I could see what becomes of him. He became a stern man at one and twenty, but when I see him playing with his son, though always where no one will see him, I am even more gladdened. He is now a general, and a father also, and he handles both tasks with honor and talent. If I regret anything, it is letting him slip slowly away from me.

“It is a better eulogy than any of us could have written,” said Imrahil gravely when Faramir’s voice had gone quiet.

“This is the man I never saw, the man who played with his son when no one was watching,” said Faramir. “How could I have missed him?”

“Grief wounded him, Faramir. Even with the keen sight of the Elves, you could not have seen the man in that entry. I am glad I did.”

“Tell me,” Faramir asked eagerly. “Tell me, uncle, what is your best memory of my father? Let me understand him through another’s eyes, for I feel that I am in the dark.”

Imrahil’s face was brightened by a wide smile, as memory brought back to him a scene from long years past. “How could I have neglected to tell you? But so dark were the later times that I have not thought on that meeting, so very long ago, for many years. But yes, I remember well when your father first met my sister, Finduilas.”

Imrahil’s Memory:

“From the moment he became Captain-General and Warden of the White Tower, your father set foot outside the City only when commanded by Ecthelion. He was never a good diplomat, being too shrewd and disgusted by any weakness he saw, but there was once that he was sent to my father in Dol Amroth. I first saw him as he approached the castle, looking slightly unsure of what he was to do, but still very impressive, especially to me, an impressionable man of barely twenty years. I spoke to him and welcomed him, and he seemed to like me at once. I nearly worshipped him at that first meeting, for to me he looked as if he was Elendil walked out of the tales of old. He caught me staring at him, awed, and laughed a most unconscious laugh. It was your laugh, Faramir, a very kind one, too, and we became friends of sorts at that point.

“Well, as he was preparing for the feast that night, I told him all about Dol Amroth, and the Royal House, and especially my beloved sister Finduilas. I talked too much, being more than a little nervous to be around such Numenorean splendor, and waxed long and lyrically about her beauty and gentleness. He laughed when I finished, and told me that if she were all I had said, he would personally lead her to the dance floor. I did not know then, as I do now, how rare such an offer was, but it was a noble thing to do in my mind nonetheless.

“So when the bell rang for the feast, we came down together, and everyone was waiting. Then my father introduced all of us to him, and I nearly laughed when Denethor clapped his eyes on Finduilas. It was as if he had seen a star come out of the heavens and land in front of him, or one of the Valar themselves, such a look of wonder was on his face. My father did not notice, but my sister did, and could hardly keep herself from laughing. He was such a proud man that I think he would have been hurt if he had noticed, but he was in awe of her and did not notice anything but her beauty.

“That night I watched him with amusement as he spent most of his time by her side, now in silence, now in halting speech. For he was truly tongue-tied, and it was only as the night wore on that he could find words. She was very kind, though, and he was a fair speaker when it came to it, and though when he finally asked her to dance, he forgot two of the steps, they made a fair couple.

“Later that night, when the ladies had retired, he returned to me with words overflowing, and all for her. All that week, when he was not with my father on business, he accompanied me whenever I was with her, and when I was not he would find infinite ways of praising her. Her beauty, her gentleness, her grace, her needlework, her horsemanship: nothing escaped his notice, and in his eyes, it was all beyond perfection. I laughed at him silently, marveling at such a powerful man brought to such a silly state by just my own sister.

“I thought no more on it, until he returned a couple months later, and began to court her in seriousness. And then I was able to perform the protective brother role, and to a man twice my age. He was intent on his purpose, though, and they were wed a year later. He loved her dearly, though not as openly as on that first night, and I never saw him in quite the same way afterwards. One cannot look on a man in love without losing some of the awe you might have felt for him.”

A smile touched Faramir’s face at the end of this, as he began to understand after death a man he had longed to know in life.

Imrahil then turned to Aragorn, who had not spoken. “Do you not remember that Denethor, lord?”

Faramir looked puzzled at this, and turned to his uncle, saying: “What can you mean?”

Imrahil looked piercingly at Aragorn: “Oh, merely that I have known since I first saw him, that this man was once known to me as Thorongil.”

Aragorn bowed his head in acknowledgement. “You have keen sight, also, Imrahil of Dol Amroth.”

“Captain Thorongil? Then you also knew my father?” asked Faramir, surprised by this revelation.

“Yes,” said Aragorn smiling sadly, “but unfortunately not in friendship.”

Aragorn’s Memory:

“When I first came to Gondor, it was after service under King Thengel of Rohan, and I had heard of the proud Steward’s son. He was looked up to with awe by his people, but not much love, and I was curious to meet him. How surprised I was when I saw him for the first time, and I wondered at how much he reminded me of myself. He spoke no word to me at that first meeting, merely looked me over with those keen eyes of his. Though I was Isildur’s Heir, I had not such sight, and I almost envied him. But when he did speak, it was fair and noble, and I began to admire him. Here was a true son of Numenor, I thought. And his laugh! Yes, Faramir, like Imrahil I remember his laugh, which you possess. It was kind and merry, but he used it seldom, and I thought that a pity.

“But it was not long before he would not even speak to me, and at first I was hurt by his rejection, wondering what cause he had against me. I ever strove to be kind to him, though, and it was not long before I saw that he envied me even more than I envied him. For before I had come, his people had looked up to him as their General, but now they seemed to have forgotten him. It hurt his pride, but what was worse, though he may not have realized it himself, was that his father also admired me greatly. I did not know their history until you read that journal, Faramir, but I saw the looks that he gave Ecthelion when the Steward praised me, full of such longing that he dared not show for fear it should make him weak. I do not think Ecthelion ever knew quite what praise meant to his son.

“I could not help but pity him, and that made him pull even further away, shrouding himself in a mantle of chill dignity. But I admired him still, for he had many natural talents, and was well learned in all things, and there was strength and wisdom in him.

“But were I to pick one memory of him, it would be one night, not long after Boromir was born. We, the captains, were dining together, and he had drunk much wine in his joy, and was therefore more open. They had nearly all retired, but I was still there with him, and he was talking, seemingly oblivious to my presence, going on and on about his hopes and his dreams. He longed to make Gondor great again, to bring back its glory and splendor, and he wished to one day rebuild Osgiliath, and to establish a firmer grip in Ithilien, and many other grand and glorious plans. I listened thoughtfully, as he continued, his eloquent speech bringing before my mind vivid pictures of all of this. He spoke of his family, and how he longed for more children, and delighted in his first son, and hoped to be the greatest father that had ever lived to him.

“Then he suddenly realized who he was speaking to, and stopped talking abruptly. But though I expected him to grow cold again, he did not. ‘So now you know me well, Thorongil, as I did not intend you to. You may despise me now for such ambitions, but I shall not think of it, for you cannot understand what moves me to such words. You cannot love Gondor as I do, nor understand what joy children bring.’ I was almost indignant at these words, for as Heir of Isildur, surely I loved Gondor more than anyone alive? But he was right, and I soon realized that. How could I love it like he did, with every fiber of his being, and with every thought of his mind, waking or dreaming? For I had been born and bred in Rivendell far away, and there my heart would ever be at home. I once again envied him, for though I looked forward to the day when Sauron should be destroyed and I could receive my inheritance, though I might be the rightful ruler, no man could love Gondor as much as Denethor, nor have its welfare more constantly in mind. In later days, perhaps, he lost sight of the ultimate goal, but that was ever as I remembered him. Not as a captain, not even as father, but as a great patriot.”

Now the tears in Faramir’s eyes began to spill onto his cheeks, and Imrahil put his arm around the man’s shoulders.

“I never doubted that my father was a great man,” he said after a moment, the last of his grief now shed, “but I will ever be grateful to you, my lords, for your kind words. Today I had thought to put my father’s memory to rest, so that I might look only to the future. But I now see that I was too hasty. Some memories should never be forgotten.”

Faramir, eyes full of a peace that had not been there before, closed Ecthelion’s journal that was still in his hands, and, taking a deep breath, spoke once more.

Faramir’s Memory:

“When now I remember my father, the memory that comes first to my mind is the day that I was made Captain of the Ithilien Rangers. Boromir and I had come back victorious from a mission there, and my father was in great spirits. He came forward, face glowing with pride, and as we knelt, he laid his hands on our heads and blessed us. He called on the Valar to protect us and to guard our steps, to give us strength and wisdom for service to our country, to give us long life and peace in our future, and to give us protection from all danger. It was no mere speech, I knew, but words that came from the fullness of his heart, and not even the Captaincy that he gave me could have made me feel more honored.

“And that is how I remember my father: a man who could not always show what he felt, but who knew how to honor men, for he was worthy of honor himself. For I now see that an admirable man can sometimes fail in his task, and that that does not lessen his former glories.

“Much of what my father was is lost in time, for none now live who remember it, but when children ask of the twenty-sixth Ruling Steward, let us remember what we have heard this day, and give them a picture of the father, the general, and the patriot, and forgive his later transgressions. For he was once a man worthy of great honor, and so we shall give honor to what was honorable. And we shall never forget it.”

The End