Frodo and Denethor

by Lothithil

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, blazing white.

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 almost clawlike.

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 memory?"

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 face.

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.