Claiming the Throne
11. The White City
At the stables, he handed his horse's reins to a stableboy, and dismissed the Guards who had ridden with him with a few words.
He went first to the Citadel, pausing in his own chamber to shed his riding cloak and gloves and wash his face, before going to the room he used as an study. It was empty, but papers neatly piled showed that it had been used. Denethor flicked through them, frowned, and thought for a moment before going out again and down two levels to the Houses of Healing.
The grounds were peaceful and quiet in the sunshine, windows open to allow fresh air into the patients' rooms. Coming into the gardens, Denethor saw two figures seated on a bench overlooking the City, and he crossed to them.
"My lord!" Faramir stood up as his father approached, and bowed. "It is good to see you."
"And you, Faramir," Denethor said. To his surprise he found he was being utterly honest. His son looked well, and happy.
"Father," said Faramir, "allow me to introduce you to the Lady Éowyn of Rohan."
Denethor turned his attention to Faramir's companion, who had risen quietly as the Steward and his son had greeted each other. She was dressed in simple white with her arm in a sling, and as Denethor quickly examined her he saw her likeness to her brother Éomer. What was handsome and virile in the young king was, in Éowyn, keen beauty.
"My lady," he said, bowing.
"My lord Steward." She returned the bow with a brief courtesy.
"Your brother bade me send you his greetings," Denethor said, thinking he might as well pass on Éomer's words now. "He missed you at our celebrations and hopes you are well."
"Thank you," she said, smiling at the mention of her brother. "I found it suited me better to remain here. But I am well, and I look forward to seeing him again."
Faramir turned to her. "My lady, I must go to speak with the Steward. I trust I will see you later?"
"I trust so," she replied, with another smile. "My lords."
Denethor led Faramir away across the lawn. "I received your messages," Faramir said. "The loremasters have been reading through the old texts to ascertain the traditions. The women and children are returning, gradually: the wains arrive each day. I have ordered men to the walls to begin repairs, but we need more stonemasons."
"I believe the Dwarf Gimli has offered his services," Denethor said. "Continue."
Faramir nodded. "We buried our dead, and those of Rohan and our other allies, and burned the enemy carcasses. There was an incursion of Southrons, to loot and pillage, but it was swiftly put down. No Southron survivors."
"How many did we lose?" Denethor asked.
"Ten from the City, seven from the Rohirrim, three from Ringló Vale and Morthond," said Faramir briskly. "We were lucky."
They entered the Citadel and Denethor led the way to his study. Here, Faramir stood, leaning by the fireplace, whilst his father sat down and began to read through the papers.
"I hope you are satisfied, Father," Faramir ventured, after some minutes of silent reading. Denethor looked up, his eyes sharp.
"Why should I not be?" he asked.
"I ... that is ..." Faramir shrugged. "I do not know. I believe I have acted as you would wish."
Denethor put down the papers and sighed. "Sit down, Faramir."
Faramir sat, and father and son gazed at each other for a moment. "I missed you," Denethor said. "Out there, at the Morannon. I wished you and Boromir were fighting by my side."
"We sat and looked East," Faramir said softly. "When I had carried out the day's duties. We longed to be there."
"Myself and the Lady Éowyn," Faramir said. "We watched together."
"King Éomer missed her," Denethor remarked, wondering at his son's faint smile as he spoke of the Lady of Rohan. "When her letter came, I think he was surprised."
"You do not know why she did not go?" Faramir asked.
Denethor leaned back in his chair, and shook his head. "Nay, I do not."
"We heard first from the Eagles," Faramir said. "The day that Sauron fell, they came to the City and gave the news to all. And then, a week later, one of the messengers arrived with your first letter."
"About my decision," said Denethor.
"I was with the Lady Éowyn when that arrived," Faramir went on, "and I suppose I must have exclaimed aloud as I read it. She asked me what was written, and I told her ... she fell silent."
"I suppose she loves him," Denethor said.
Faramir nodded. "Yes. But she loved an ideal, a man who rode out of myth and legend. I know you better, Father - that would not be the man who you gave up the Stewardship for. Was it?"
The Steward looked steadily at his son for a long time, and Faramir met the gaze evenly. Finally, Denethor spoke. "No, it was not." He looked down at the papers, and began to read through them, putting them aside as he finished with each one. But a thought, something Faramir had said, was nagging at his mind, and soon he laid down the rationing order he was looking at, and back at his son. "Faramir?"
"Yes, my lord?"
"When speaking of the Lady Éowyn, you said she 'loved' the lord Aragorn. Does she still love him?"
Faramir blushed, and fiddled with the end of his belt. "I ... I know I loved her from the moment I saw her. I loved her beauty, and her courage. And as we spent time together, I loved her entirely. And I believe she returns my love."
"She does, does she?"
"She must ask permission from her brother before a betrothal is entered into," Faramir said, "but would you give me your blessing, Father?"
He looked up, his eyes hopeful. Denethor stood, and crossed the room to the map of Gondor and her neighbours pinned to the wall.
"Rohan," he said. "A worthy ally."
"This would not be a political marriage!" exclaimed Faramir. "Especially now. I want to wed Éowyn because I love her."
"You always were an incurable romantic," Denethor said, but for once there was little harshness in his tone. "But even now, you cannot ignore who you are. Especially now. You are my heir, Faramir. The King has not abolished the Stewardship. Remember that." He paused. "I give my blessing, Faramir."
Smiling broadly, Faramir came to kneel at his father's feet, and Denethor laid his hand on the younger man's head.
"Now," he said, briskly, "to work. What is there to be done?"
Faramir rose, and came to stand at Denethor's shoulder.
After the noon meal, Steward and son went together in silence to Rath Dínen. They walked quickly through the House of the Stewards, neither looking at the bare stone bed, still smelling faintly of oil. Side by side, they reached the bed of King Eärnil, and looked down at the casket of lebethron in the stone hands of the king's effigy.
Faramir handed his father a delicate key, and Denethor carefully turned it in the lock of the casket. Inside, on a bed of black velvet, lay the winged crown of Gondor, dulled by age.
"One thousand years this has lain here," Denethor said, softly, the murmurs of his voice echoing off the stone walls of the chamber.
"And now it has a new owner," said Faramir. There was clear pleasure in his tone. "I found a silversmith capable of restoring the crown, Father; but I wondered whether he should be brought to work in the Citadel."
"To keep it under closer supervision?" Denethor asked. "Aye, that is a good notion. He has until the end of the month to finish the task. The host returns from Cormallen then."
He lifted the casket from Eärnil's hands, and they left the Silent Street.
The silversmith, brought up from his shop to the Citadel, was set to work that very day. He exclaimed for a few minutes over the workmanship of the crown, and then tenderly settled to cleaning the tarnished metal and repairing the few blemishes.
Despite Faramir's hard work, there were plenty of tasks left to be done, and the next days were busy for both the Steward and his son. Denethor summoned together the City counsellors, and briefly told them of the events at the Black Gate and at Cormallen. Some of the older men remembered Thorongil, and seemed unsurprised at Denethor's decision regarding the kingship. Denethor left the council feeling surprisingly positive, and decided to go down to the Houses of Healing.
The gardens were being tended by some of the women recently returned to the City, bending over the herb beds weeding. To his surprise, Denethor saw Éowyn of Rohan kneeling on a cushion next to one of the women, listening intently to her. Éowyn had an apron tied around her waist and her thick golden hair was twisted up in a plait to keep it out of the way.
Denethor watched silently for a short while, hands clasped behind his back, as Éowyn carefully pulled up some withered plants and put them in a basket on the grass by her side. The woman next to her said something, and Éowyn laughed quickly, and for an instant Denethor thought he could see what Faramir loved about the woman from Rohan.
He coughed politely, and the women stood, Éowyn brushing the earth from her hands.
"We did not see you there, my lord Steward," she said, dropping a courtesy.
"I hope I am not interrupting," Denethor said.
"Oh, no," Éowyn replied. "I was being instructed in the art of weed-lore, and helping to restore some order to these gardens. Mírwen and the other ladies have been most welcoming."
"Can they spare you?" Denethor asked.
"I imagine so." Éowyn untied her apron and folded it by the basket, speaking softly to her companion and then joining Denethor. He set off towards the walls overlooking the City, Éowyn by his side.
"My son spoke to me," he said, as they reached the walls and looked down at Minas Tirith below them.
"He told me he had, my lord," Éowyn said. "I am grateful to you. Lord Faramir is a fine man."
"And you love him?"
"Yes, my lord," she said, turning surprised eyes up at him. "Indeed I wonder you should ask that question."
"Forgive me, my lady." Denethor gripped the stonework and did not look at her. "But Faramir also told me that you had feelings for the lord Aragorn."
She sighed, and turned her back on the City, looking instead at the Houses of Healing.
"I did. I had been trapped, my lord Steward, in a house that was decaying away. My brother was imprisoned by bars and my uncle by treacherous lies. And then he came, with words of freedom, and power, and hope of victory. Was it any wonder I felt something for him? And yes, I longed for him to return my desire, but he looked at me only with pity. Pity was not what I wanted. Pity has never been what I wanted."
Denethor glanced at her, back ramrod straight and eyes bright with passion, and saw that indeed the Lady Éowyn was not to be pitied.
"Then your son came, and showed me that there was more than glory to be found. In Faramir I have found a different sort of hope. Yes, my lord Denethor, I love him."
"That is well," Denethor said briefly. "You will of course need the permission of your brother, and the blessing of the King - I imagine both will be readily forthcoming."
She inclined her head.
Denethor made to go, but paused before he walked away. "I will be glad to welcome you into my House, my lady." He bowed, and strode off. Had he turned around, he would have seen Éowyn of Rohan smiling after him.
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.