3. After the Debate
Denethor stood up. “I must return to my son. Messages sent to the Houses of Healing will reach me.” He bowed in a cursory manner and, bending his head, lifted the flap of the tent and disappeared.
Imrahil looked after the Steward and hurriedly rose. “My liege, my lords, forgive me – I must speak with Denethor.” He bowed, and followed his kinsman out.
Already Denethor was at the Gate, and Imrahil’s boots thudded on the cobbles as he went to catch the Steward’s long strides up.
“Denethor! My lord!”
“What, Imrahil?” Denethor did not turn, but marched on towards the second circle. “If it is about ... Aragorn, or Thorongil, or whatever he is choosing to call himself, I will not talk. I have said all I will say on that matter.”
“Then listen, if you will not talk,” said Imrahil, falling into step. “What wrong has he done you or the City? He served loyally when he lived here before – that little I remember of Thorongil. Had it not been for his intervention on the field yesterday we would have lost the City – aye, and maybe the war also. He is a noble man.”
The Steward’s face worked, but he said nothing.
“Holding a resentment against him will serve naught,” Imrahil persisted. “I believe his claim is legitimate. Refusing him stubbornly will not do anything, save divide our forces.”
“I said I will not discuss this matter!” Denethor said, stopping in the street and facing Imrahil angrily. “I am going to my son, my lord Prince. Later I will see to the ordering of the troops.”
Imrahil, his hand resting lightly on the hilt of his sword, watched the Steward go, and turned back towards the Pelennor.
* * *
Éomer stretched restlessly. “I have to see to the men and horses,” he said. “To check that the animals’ hurts have been adequately looked after. Send to my tents should you need anything, Aragorn.”
“I will. My thanks, Éomer.” Aragorn exchanged clasps of the hand with the new king of Rohan, and he strode quickly away.
Aragorn threw himself into of the chairs brought out for the debate. “Well, Gandalf, old friend,” he said, “did I do the right thing?”
“You hardly need my advice now,” Gandalf returned, taking his pipe out and lighting it. “You have grown beyond it, Aragorn.”
“Yet I would value it nonetheless,” Aragorn said.
Gandalf puffed a grey stream of smoke out and followed it up with a smoke ring that circled the pole in the centre of the tent. “Denethor’s will and pride have always been at once his greatest faults and among his greatest attributes,” he said thoughtfully. “He loves Minas Tirith, above everything, and I think in his heart he knows what is best for the City. He may not admit it. Your arrival comes hard on the heels of the news of Boromir’s death. But still there is a war to be won, and an army needs a leader. Yes, you did the right thing.”
Looking up, Aragorn smiled. “I thank you, old friend." Flexing his fingers, he sat up and drew a sheet of parchment and a quill towards him. "Now, to business."
* * *
“Father.” Faramir was propped up by pillows and sipping soup slowly when Denethor entered. “I was hoping you would come.”
Denethor pulled a chair to the bed and sat down, after bending to kiss his son’s brow. “How are you this morn, Faramir?”
“Feeling better,” Faramir said, putting his spoon down. “There is still pain in my shoulder, but the darkness has gone.” He smiled at his father. “Did I dream it? Or is it true, that the King has returned? The halflings told me of the bearer of the Sword That Was Broken, but I scarce dared believe it.”
“The bearer of Narsil,” muttered Denethor, scowling. “Aye, he has returned, to a City he forsook decades before. And a company with him more Elvish than Men, already bewitching my people.”
“Father?” Faramir said, his face creased in a frown. “What do you mean?”
“Long years ago,” Denethor said softly, staring past Faramir at the window, “a Man came from Rohan, but he was not a Rohirrim. He was as dark as any son of Gondor, and spoke our tongue with the same fluency as he spoke Sindarin or Rohirric. He said little of himself, save that he came out of the North. He became a Guard, and earned too easily the respect – and love – of his fellows. My father the Steward listened to his counsels, and though we knew naught of this Man’s origins, Ecthelion would trust him above all other.”
“Above all other?” murmured Faramir.
“All other,” Denethor repeated. “Thus I was forced to spend time with him, and to better know him I chose him to ride with my company when we visited the coast. When I first saw your mother, Thorongil was by. And yet I learnt nothing – nothing! – of him. My father, I know, had his suspicions, but yet he did not turn him out, and granted even that Thorongil should lead a raid against the Corsairs of Umbar.”
“That Thorongil!” exclaimed Faramir. “His deeds are written of in the archives.”
Denethor grunted. “Aye. He fought the Corsairs and bested them, but he would not return to the City to receive the honour which many thought he was due. Instead he disappeared, crossing Anduin at Pelargir. After a time we gave him up as dead.”
“You were glad,” Faramir said, meeting his father’s eyes.
“You are too perceptive, my son,” Denethor said. “I did not trust Thorongil. And then ... only a few weeks past, I saw him again.”
Faramir dropped his eyes to the coverlet. “In the palantír.”
“In the Stone of Minas Anor, I saw Thorongil,” Denethor agreed. “And I knew him, hunting creatures of little importance across the plains of Rohan; and then fighting for Rohan and not Gondor. And I saw the Corsairs with their sails beating up Anduin to lay siege to the White City.”
“And you despaired, father,” said Faramir. “You believed he would forsake Gondor again in her darkest hour.”
Denethor bent his head. “I was sorely grieved, my son. For Boromir is dead, and you were dying, burning, and Mithrandir was the only one who had come to the City – an old meddling wizard, one in league with Thorongil. Would not any man have despaired?”
“But despair such to give up all hope?” asked Faramir, his voice breaking. “To give up life? Father? My lord?”
“Berate me not!” Denethor said, rising from his chair. “Last night as you slept I went over all these arguments, debating for myself what course was best to take. Your father may be grieved, Faramir, but he is no fool, and the City stands in his control. Not that of Thorongil.” He paused. “Or Aragorn,” he amended.
“That is the ... that is Thorongil’s right name?” said Faramir.
“Aragorn, son of Arathorn,” Denethor confirmed.
“You know his claim is true?” Faramir said. “You believe it.” Denethor said nothing. “You must believe it,” Faramir went on. “I was lost in the darkness, Father, wandering. I was alone and afraid, in the black emptiness. And then I heard a voice calling me.” He smiled to himself. “So I turned, and beheld him, clad all in white with a stone shining green on his brow, and I knew him. It was clear to me at once who he was, what he was. I stepped towards him, and he took my hand and led me out of the darkness again. He is the King. All these years we have held the throne in trust, for the day when the King shall return – do you not feel glad that that day has come, Father? That it is your task to hand over the City?”
“If the City survives,” Denethor said. “The King might have returned, in grey with a motley crew at his heels, but we are still at war, Faramir. His coming cannot save Gondor, for our hope lies with two halflings bearing the doom of Men.” He sat down again, and took his son’s hand. “It was decided that in two days the combined armies should ride for Mordor.”
Faramir met the Steward’s eyes. “And do you ride with them? Father?”
Denethor said nothing, and there was silence in the room.
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