Frodo and Denethor
Chapter 2: The Steward
Gandalf had seen the approach of the Rangers to Minas Tirith, and he
hoped that Faramir was among them. Denethor's grief and prideful
stubborness had kept him from hearing any words of advice or wisdom
that Gandalf would give. Peregrin had foolishly offered his service and
was now being equipped as a 'soldier of Gondor'. Denethor would keep
him like a pet, dressed in sable finery, and try to tease from him the
secrets the Steward knew were locked in the young hobbit's mind.
Gandalf had many things to worry about and very little hope to fuel his
heart. He turned from the view of the gates and looked toward the East.
Was Frodo still alive, and was he free? Gandalf could no longer see
him, nor feel him with his heart. A shadow seemed to fall over him even
as the maia stood in the unbroken sunlight.
Sounds came from below, horns blown in greeting as the gates were
opened. Companies of men from the coast and nearby lands were expected
to come to swell the strength of the White City. Even from here Gandalf
could see the long dark snakes of marching and mounted men, an
occasional flash of sun off of spear or shield winking like a star.
There was too few, Gandalf knew. Too few to make more than a show of
resistance. All their hope was gone East. Of Thèoden there had
not yet been word, nor did Gandalf expect him for another six or seven
days. Would Aragorn return to Minas Tirith to find only a burned hulk
with a shattered gate? If Frodo succeeded even that would be bearable,
even if all perished ere his errand was done.
Hooves rang on the street outside, but Gandalf did not heed them. He
was trying to remember all that had happened, before and since,
searching for a clue or a sign that he might have missed. Was there
anyway he could help Frodo further? His hands itched to be more useful.
If only Denethor would listen...
The seventh gate was a reached through a tunnel that ran through the
nose of stone that cleft the city. The road sloped up sharply and
admitted them through an arch into a courtyard raised high above the
land. The great keystone in the arch was carved with the face of a
noble king, crowned and stern. Frodo kept his eyes on it while Faramir
spoke orders to the guards in black. Frodo was handed down and set next
to Sam, who looked dizzy just to be so high above the ground. Frodo
laid a hand on his friend's shoulder and offered a weak smile. Sam
covered his hand with his own, saying nothing.
The horses were led away, and Faramir gestured that Frodo and Sam
should follow him. Mablung and Damrod fell in behind the hobbits, and
they walked past the courtyard with the pool and the dead tree that had
once been white, now leaning sadly over the water as if it shared
Frodo's despair. They entered the great hall through the doors at the
base of the White Tower, rising three hundred feet above their heads
like a man-made mountain of silver light.
Inside, it seemed dark after the sun-reflecting stone. There was white
marble and black, and the tiles on the floor were artfully designed and
laid smooth. Pillars rose and marched down the length of the chamber,
and in alcoves stood marble likenesses of Kings past, each with faces
noble or grim or beatific.
Even in their chilly features Frodo could see similarities to Aragorn.
He wondered where the Ranger was now and if he also had fallen along
the wayside, as had Boromir. Faramir was sure of his brother's death,
and here in the hall hung an air of mourning. It was palatable, and the
source of this great grief was an old man who sat on a chair of black
stone on the bottommost stair leading up to the throne of the King,
His head was bowed, hair streaked with grey falling about his face like
a veil. In his hands were the shards of a great horn, the very horn
that Boromir had borne at his side from Rivendell. Frodo knew it
instantly, though now it was broken, cradled in aged hands that seemed
Frodo hesitated as they walked forward, and Mablung touched his
shoulder to encourage him to continue. As if of its own will, Frodo's
left hand drifted to his throat and touched the Ring through the thin
covering of his tunic. The mithril coat, hidden still, was a cool
comforting weight between the thing and his thumping heart.
As if attracted by Frodo's slight gesture, the old man looked up and
his eyes that were black and brilliant pierced Frodo and he stopped
suddenly in surprise. His companions halted also, the Rangers bowing
before their Steward and the throne of their absent King. Frodo and Sam
merely stared, too overwhelmed by the force of Denethor's presence to
remember their manners.
Denethor stood slowly, then he bent and set the shards of the horn he
had been holding aside. His face, which was noble and lined with time
and sorrow seemed to come suddenly alive, and a dark gleam of hope
touched features that had long been given to despair. He stepped toward
them a pace and halted.
"What do you mean, Captain of Gondor, abandoning your post?" he said
Faramir. His voice was rich and smooth, as sharp with wit as his eyes
which dwelled on Frodo and Sam as if he had long expected their
arrival, but to his own son he gave no recognition. "The river to the
west is lost to our enemies, and they pour across the bridges as if at
your invitation. What would your brother say? He held those banks long
against the foe. Should we cast aside his triumphs as well as him
Faramir looked at his father. The hope he had seeded in his heart that
he was doing the right thing died as he saw at the fire in the Steward
eyes. "The deeds of my brother are not mine to defend. I am not my
brother, nor do I discard him. The stronghold at Osgiliath is lost and
the Enemy sweeps us away like gnats. Yet I have come as I have been
ordered, to bring before you that which you sent Boromir to fetch
forth. That which he died failing to accomplish. And I see now that I
have done ill, and would that I had never brought it here to soil the
fairness of the White City that I love."
Denethor turned toward his son and took a step, as if to strike him for
his impertinence. Instead he placed his hands on Faramir's shoulders
and embraced him. "Free yourself from doubt, my son. You have done
well. I mourn your brother and shall not discard his memory, either.
But for this deed you shall be celebrated. I am pleased." Denethor
turned toward Frodo, a look of expectancy and hunger on his once noble
Faramir took a step to stand before Frodo protectively. "I have given my word that he will not be harmed, father."
Denethor smiled. "I will not harm him. I wish only that he surrender to
me that which does not by right belong to him. Found by chance and
hidden from its rightful possessors for centuries; far he has traveled,
to bring it here, and our gratitude shall reflect this great deed. A
reward of knowing that the kingdom of Men shall now be saved from ruin,
along with all the lands threatened by the shadow, as well as riches
such that a small mind could not imagine. These will be yours, little
halfling. You may pass your burden on to me."
The pressure of the Steward's gaze was like that of the glance of the
Searching Eye, and it struck Frodo almost like a physical blow. The
hobbit shrank back from the extended hand, against Mablung's legs he
near-fell. The man lifted him by the arm and kept a hold on him. Frodo
twisted in his grip, trying to get away.
Faramir again came between Denethor and his prey. "Father, you cannot
take this thing from him. It cannot be used. We must keep it safe and
out of the Enemy's hands. That is why I brought him here. Will you
despoil him like an orc desecrates the dead? I cannot permit that!"
Stung by Faramir's words, Denethor turned away so that Frodo exhaled in
relief. The Ring bit into his hand as he clutched it through his shirt.
He could feel Sam's eyes on him, and he looked over to see his
companion held firmly by Damrod, or he would have been at Frodo's side.
Denethor glared at Faramir. "You discard that which you have fought for
and earned. In doing so you discard honour for your brother's memory.
You abandoned your post and obstruct my will. I hereby strip you of
your rank! Go forth and hide with the women! I have no sons no longer."
To Anborn he then spoke, as Faramir turned white with shock. "Escort
this man to the gate. Give him a horse and see him out of the city.
Take this halfling to a cell where he will be safe. I would not have
promises honestly made casually broken." The Steward glanced toward
Samwise. "Hold him in another room, until I decide what to do with
him," he said to Damrod.
"No!" Sam twisted in the Ranger's hands, but Damrod kept a hold on the
halfling's tunic. "I must stay with Mr Frodo!" But Denethor did not
heed his cries. He was already turned back to his chair, and the horn
that was broken like his mind.