Frodo and Denethor

by Lothithil

Chapter 7: Father and Son

"Gandalf, I must go. The night will give me some time yet, and Anborn will prepare all that we need. I must farewell my father and hear his last words, bitter as they might be. Will you come with me?"

Gandalf and Faramir hurried to the top of the city, silence now a burden shared between them.

In the great hall, the torches were burning brightly and Denethor was again on his chair. He was dressed in a great midnight robe, and he seemed older and more frail than Faramir could ever remember seeing him. In his hands was the rod of his office. His eyes were dark again, but cast down at his knees as they approached him. Faramir came before him and bowed.

"Thou art yet within the city?" Denethor’s voice was stern and cold; whatever he had endured, that had not changed. "Hast thou stolen the loyalty of the City Guard as well as the Rangers?" He sounded pleased instead of angry.

Faramir set the pieces of Boromir’s horn on the step at Denethor’s feet. He raised his head and regarded him levelly. "Lord, I cannot steal what is freely given. I was preparing to leave when your messenger found me. Only on my brother’s behalf I have come, to hear what words you did not say before. Then I shall go.

"But I go not forward as a craven, dismissed from service. I have yet a task to perform. With your leave, I go to lead horsemen to attack the forces amassing against us. I will not yield the fair fields of the Pelennor unfought."

Denethor smiled and said, "I raise my eyes and find that my son stands again before me, proud and fair, and that my guests have departed in haste. I cannot now tell him what he has brought to the White City; I cannot ask Frodo Baggins to forgive my wrongdoing." Denethor bowed his head, raising a shaking hand to his eyes. His voice softened as he spoke, as if to himself, "The halfling has shown me my shadows, my son. Why did I doubt thy dreams, when they echoed so closely my own? And yet now I have no dreams left. My eyes are still dazzled..." He raised his eyes and looked at his son, and there was fire yet burning within them.

He spoke again, louder, "He has destroyed my shadows with the light of his healing lamp. Now I see that I have wronged thee, my son. Forgiveness I would ask, if in a word I might undo a lifetime of negligence. Go not on this errand, but stay by my side. I have need of thy council."

Faramir bowed. "A wiser counselor you have already, my lord. Mithrandir gives words of advice that may be hard to hear, perhaps, but they are sound. He will give also hope to replace despair, if thou should heed him. For myself, I knew my life would be justly forfeit if I chose ill for my city, and now is come the time for me to pay the price for my folly." Gandalf stood behind Faramir and said nothing, his face showing his pride and approval, though deep sorrow touched his heart.

Denethor stood up, and lay the rod on the seat of his black chair. "For your folly, you shall pay a price; so shall we all. But it will not be life this day that you shall spend in coin... not this day." He cast aside his long black cloak, and behold! He was clad in mail underneath, and girt with a long sword, great-hilted in a sheath of black and silver. "Thus I have walked, and thus now for many years I have slept," he said, "lest with age the body should grow soft and timid. I will pay the forfeiture, and in doing perhaps I may in some measure the balance of my own debt. I shall ride in your place."

Faramir looked upon his father in amazement. "Father, this riding will have no returning. It is not for the Lord of the City to lead his troops, but to lead all the people through darkness back into the light, if it comes again."

But Denethor answered, "So it shall be. I will take the company forward, if they will follow me. You shall remain and stand for the people, for you are the hope for the City in the days to come. Do not leave me here alone to envy your death and regret all my deeds unredeemed."

Faramir would object, but Denethor would not be gainsaid. He went forth from the Citadel, calling his guard to him, and Faramir and Gandalf came with him, until they were gathered behind the great gate, where all the Rangers were assembled with their horses and gear.

Denethor seemed to shine with a lordly power, and all the knights of the city, both veteran and new looked upon him in respect and awe. Denethor saluted the Rangers and spoke to them. "Many great deeds have you woodsmen done, and gone unheralded by me when you should have been laureled. Yet now, I must do you another dishonour. I will that you not go upon this riding, but remain in this city and serve your Steward, whilst I lead forth those who fear not the darkness beyond, who seek in life only a valiant and honourable death. Who among you, my knights who have long served their bitter lord in his tower of ice, would ride now with me to glory at the coming of Dawn?"

The guard, gathered round and hearing the words of their lord, cheered and pressed forward, and many had to be turned away, for too few horses were there to mount all that would have ridden to honour Denethor, son of Ecthelion.

But at the hour of morning there came no Dawn. The Darkness had begun.