“My son, o my son! I have sent thee to thy needless peril and thus now thy tomb! What name shall you call me by, my child, for no father could be as selfish as I? The last of my line lies before me, it is ending soon enough; but far too soon for me to bear. The House of Stewards has failed; no longer shall my bloodline be the caretakers of the city. Weep I must, for I am being left alone in despair. Though I am old, I am never old enough to see my youngest and beloved son depart from this world without me.” Denethor sat gray and weary next to Faramir, who lay on a bed stricken with fever and with poison in his veins.
He loved Faramir; the truth that had lain so long in the dark places of Denethor’s soul had finally come to light. For too many years had it remained a secret, for even Denethor himself had forgotten. And now was his last chance to prove that he loved him. He would end Faramir’s life so his heir would not have to endure the pains and evils of this world, and would not be forced to watch the ending of it. Faramir would much prefer to die at the hands of his father who knew what was best for him that than at the hands of an orc. Denethor knew this, or so he thought, because Faramir would do anything that he asked of him. Faramir had proved so on former occasions. When Denethor knew that Osgiliath was overrun and no hope lay in sending troops to try and get it back, he sent Faramir on what he knew would be a suicide mission. This was the cause of Faramir’s illness, for he was shot with a poisoned arrow while trying to hold back the enemy on this unthanked, unblessed task. He sent his son into needless peril and now he must kill himself along with Faramir. There were of course some benefits to dying along with his son – no fighting when battle was vain. Battle– the halfling said Boromir died in battle. No, he would not send another son to his death again. At the thought of his other son, Boromir, more grief settled into his cold heart. Boromir, the son whom he loved first, should not have died on the Quest of Mount Doom. Faramir should have gone in his stead. No, not if Faramir would have died like his brother…
Some fool had let the messengers in to interrupt his musings. “The city is burning, my lord,” and “men are deserting their posts, sir.” Also ” what should we do? You are still the Steward of Minas Tirith,” and “not all will listen to Mithrandir.” Fools! Why must they bother him with endless questions? Why must they hound him for guidance and seek him for answers? Do they not know that the Steward’s son is dying, and all hope is lost?
“Fools!” He finally spoke his thoughts, letting his eyes leave his son’s face to address the messengers, ” why do the fools fly? Better to burn sooner than late, for burn we must!” He turned his head to look upon his son. Faramir’s temperature had risen, his face now red and dripping with sweat. He was in pain, and Denethor knew he must help while he still could.
“Go back to your bonfire! And I? I will go now to my pyre!” The messengers looked shocked. “Yes,” he said sternly and with passion, ” to my pyre! No tomb for Denethor and Faramir. No tomb! No long slow sleep of death embalmed. We will burn like heathen kings before ever a ship sailed hither from the West. The West has failed. Go back and burn!” Denethor watched them flee with a sense of satisfaction. They deserved to burn for disturbing him when he made it clear he wanted to be alone with his son. He began to smile with pleasure at the mere mention of the word burning, knowing that would soon be his fate. To burn together like the heathen kings would be the ultimate demonstration of love and devotion that he had kept from his son for so many years. Faramir will be overjoyed to burn with me, his father, side by side. At last, he thought, I shall have all of my son’s love, and Mithrandir will have no chance now to steal him away from me.
Denethor reached out and took Faramir’s hand in his own. It was warm with fever. Denethor dropped the hand in despair, “He is burning, already burning, ” he mumbled sadly to himself. “Already the house of his spirit crumbles.” He must hurry; he did not want Faramir to leave this world without him. He saw the halfling before him. Knowing when he died the halfling would be released from his service to him, he released the halfling early with a blessing to go and die in whatever way seemed fitting for him. Peregrin son of Paladin first refused, then expressed his desire to see the wizard (the halfling continued to insist about how Mithrandir was not a fool, and Denethor felt generous enough to let him have his say). Then he eloquently informed Denethor that he would not leave his service until the end. When Peregrin was finished, Denethor nodded his consent, for he did not care either way what the Halfling did, then asked him to fetch his servants.
“Alas! A few precious moments alone!” he thought as he turned his eyes to the throne he had occupied for decades. He both loved and despised the black stone throne. For him it symbolized his power over the great country Gondor, the one force in Middle-earth strong enough to keep the foreboding darkness of Mordor from casting its shadows on all the free peoples whom Gondor protected. But it was a lower seat, an insult to his pride; for he was no king, but a humble steward and caretaker of the majestic city of Minas Tirith. His power would be stripped and his position supplanted at a moment’s notice should the true king of Gondor return. “Aragorn son of Arathorn, a mere ranger from the North,” he voiced his thoughts bitterly, ” I am no dotard, I have foreseen the `true king’ and the wizard Mithrandir’s intentions to take over. But I shall not let him have the opportunity to knock me down from my rightful place!” He snapped his head up in the direction where the Halfling exited. “Peregrin Took! Where are the servants?” he yelled. Denethor heard several men running to the door of his chamber. The halfling popped his small head in from behind the opening, and signaled to the six men to come in and attend to their master. The servants looked like children about to be scolded and punished by their parents. Denethor did not want them to bolt for the door like frightened deer, so he softly commanded them to place coverlets over Faramir and carry him slowly out of the chamber. The halfling Peregrin followed as the men did what the Steward bade.
Denethor lead the procession to the House of Stewards, where many of his kin lay. It was to be their final resting place, and Denethor pitied their long silent sleep in the cold tomb, for he was to die by fire; attractive flames of pure melted gold. The torch in one of the servants’ hands filled him with an insatiable desire. His lips parted with drool as he stared into the hypnotically dancing gold and scarlet flames. Oh, to be inside this beautiful all-consuming force! Denethor’s eyes mirrored the torch in brightness and substance as the servants placed Faramir on the table and some went in search of supplies.
The steward continued to stand by his son’s side for a long time, numb with cold and waiting for warmth, until he heard cries and the sharp clashing of metal against metal. “Traitors are upon us!” He could read the distress in his servants’ minds from where he stood. He quickly pulled out his sword to battle the traitors gathering outside. How dare they take up precious moments, postponing his appointment with his son to meet death? Screaming curses and challenges, Denethor thrust the door open to reveal Mithrandir standing before him.
“What is this, my lord? The houses of the dead are no places for the living. And why do men fight here in the Hallows when there is war enough before the Gate? Or has our Enemy come even to Rath Dinen?” asked the treacherous wizard.
“Since when has the Lord of Gondor been answerable to thee?” Denethor spat back maliciously. “Or may I not command my own servants?”
“You may. But others may contest your will, when it is turned to madness and evil. Where is your son, Faramir?” Mithrandir looked past Denethor into the tombs.
Where was his son? Denethor almost laughed out in surprise. “He lies within. Burning, already burning,” he began to smile slowly. “They set a fire to his flesh. But soon all should be burned. The West has failed. It shall all go up in a great fire, and all shall be ended. Ash! Ash and smoke blown away in the wind!” He watched Mithrandir’s fear with great pleasure as they pushed him aside like a peasant and rushed past. The wizard jumped gracefully onto dry wood and retrieved Denethor’s son from his pyre. Mithrandir began to leave Rath Dinen.
Faramir cried out to his father from Mithrandir’s arms. Grief filled Denethor’s heart with such a pain he could do nothing but weep. “Do not take my son from me! He calls for me.”
Mithrandir denied his request. “Your part is to go out to the battle of your City, where maybe death awaits you. This you know in your heart.”
“He will not wake again. Battle is vain. Why should we wish to live any longer? Why should we not go to death side by side?” Why did Mithrandir not understand this? Why did he not just let father and son be?
“Authority is not given to you, Steward of Gondor, to order the hour of your death,” answered Mithrandir. “And only the heathen kings, under the domination of the Dark Power, did thus, slaying themselves in pride and despair, murdering their kin to ease their own death. Come! We are needed. There is much that you can yet do.”
Denethor listened to the words of the wizard, and knew them as truth. The heathen kings did burn themselves. But wait, what purpose would there be in following the Grey Fool’s orders? The Corsairs and greater evils were coming, he had seen with his mind.
The Palantír. He had almost forgotten! Denethor quickly retrieved the seeing stone and held it before Mithrandir. Mithrandir had considered him blind; the fool thought Denethor did not know anything about Aragorn son of Arathorn, thought he did not know that the wizard bid the halfling to silence and to be a spy! Now Mithrandir shall see that Minas Tirith does indeed have eyes! Now he shall see that I told the truth, there could be no victory for defending Minas Tirith against such evils arriving! He had almost fallen into the trap the conniving sorcerer had set for him.
“Pride and despair! Didst thou think that the eyes of the White Tower were blind? Nay, I have seen more than thou knowest, Grey Fool. For thy hope is but ignorance.” The steward knew that Mithrandir thought his mind to hold no such truths that Mithrandir knew. But Denethor did know, and far wiser was he to despair when it was evident than to give a false hope when not needed! “Go then and labour in healing! Go forth and fight! Vanity. For a little space you may triumph on the field, for a day. But against the Power that now arises there is no victory. To this City only the first finger of its hand has yet been stretched. All the East is moving. And even now the wind of thy hope cheats thee and wafts up Anduin a fleet with black sails. The West has failed. It is time for all to depart who would not be slaves.”
“Such counsels will make the Enemy’s victory certain indeed,” Mithrandir told him gravely.
Denethor laughed harder at the Grey Fool’s words than he had laughed in years. Did this wizard honestly think there was something to hope for? “Hope on then!” he bade, shaking his head at him, “Do I not know thee, Mithrandir? Thy hope is to rule in my stead, to stand behind every throne, north, south or west. I have read thy mind and its policies. Do I not know that you commanded this halfling here to keep silence? That you brought him hither to be a spy within my very chamber? And yet in our speech together I have learned the names and purpose of all thy companions. So! With the left hand thou wouldst use me for a little while as a shield against Mordor, and with thy right bring up this Ranger of the North to supplant me. But I say to thee, Gandalf Mithrandir, I will not be thy tool! I am Steward of the House of Anárion. I will not step down. Even were his claim proved to me, still he comes but of the line of Isildur. I will not bow to such a one, last of a ragged house long bereft of lordship and dignity. I wish to leave my chair to a son after me, who would be his own master and no wizard’s pupil. But if doom denies this to me, then I will have naught.”
“You shall not rob your son of his choice while his death is still in doubt,” said Mithrandir.
Once again the wizard was getting between Denethor and his son and fate. But no longer, for if they could not burn together other methods could be carried out.
Denethor pulled out his knife and came toward the table where his son lay unconscious. Beregond the guard jumped in the way to protect Faramir. The treacherous cruelty of his own knights! What shall this knight protect him from: Faramir’s own wishes to die with his father? Horror filled Denethor’s body. What devilry was this that even his loyal and trustworthy guards were bewitched and taken over by Mithrandir? His son was calling him, begging him to end his troubles and yet others were standing in the way of Faramir’s desires. What grotesque and evil beings surrounded him! His son was lost to them, he could see it was hopeless, but they shall not have Denethor! They may have my son, but I will never be taken and bewitched and shamed. They shall not have me!
“Come hither!” he snapped at his servants. “Come, if you are not all recreant!” Few ran toward him to do his bidding, but it was enough. The pyre was ready, all he needed was fire. He snatched the torch from the nearest servant’s hand and set it to the wood. The fire crackled and roared quickly, and soon the whole room was filled with its light. Denethor hesitated for a moment, basking in the glory of its heat, then jumped on his beloved pyre. His steward staff lay at his feet. With joy, he broke it over one knee, and cast it into the fire. He took a deep breath, and looked at his son. I love you, Denethor told Faramir in his mind, may I see thee soon. Then he bowed to his audience, and lay down on the bunches of burning wood with his palantír grasped firmly in his old withered hands. The flames roared around him in a great circle of fire and quickly had their sacrifice within their desperate fingers. And then he screamed in pain and horror as the fire consumed his flesh to ash.