Denethor, high steward of Gondor, sat in the Steward’s Chair in the Great Tower of Ecthelion, gazing at the empty throne of the King. Boromir’s childish question came back to him unasked for: “How many years makes a steward a king?” But that was many years ago, not long after the boy became apprenticed to the guard. Boyish foolishness it had seemed at the time. Now Denethor wasn’t so sure.
At any rate, Boromir had long since moved beyond those childish wonderings. He had served for six long years as apprentice to the Captain of the Guard. Then two years ago Denethor had named him Captain of a corps of rangers from Ithilien. It was a new company, and some claimed that Denethor had created it just to give Boromir something to do until his twentieth birthday. By law the eldest son became Captain of the Tower Guard on and not before he turned twenty, and until that son came of age the current steward appointed a Steward of the Tower Guard.
Denethor had chosen Lailagonde–a capable civil servant in his late forties. He was loyal, mild-mannered, and a good organiser, perhaps overly cautious. In short, good enough, but lacking the brillaince one hoped for in real danger. The kind of brilliance Denethor already saw in Boromir. The kind of brilliance he had once seen in himself.
Long ago, when Kaänawe first went off to Lothlorien, Denethor had wondered what drove his brother to such an end. To go to that far-off land, full of Elvish curses, where none had returned from in living memory, favorite setting of camp-fire tales! So Denethor had gone to his brother’s personal library and picked out a book. Where Elves Yet Dwell, by Elrond Halfelven. Halfelven. That looked promising, for Denethor knew his story: child of a man and elf-maiden, he had foolishly turned his back on the world of men and chose to become an elf. Yet the blood of Númenor still pulsed through this Elrond, so perhaps reading it would not be pure tomfoolery! And read he did: one book after another, and when Kaänawe finally returned the two brothers discussed what they had read.
All of that ended when Deiawyn died. When Kaänawe abandoned the guard Denethor at last saw the danger in these idle fantasies. He put away the book, instead taking up the sword hilt. For two years he travelled with his company along and even across the Anduin. But he found he couldn’t concentrate; his mind forever wandered west, to bearded wives in caves, eagles and wolfs not merely animal, trees that walked, and other figments of an over-active imagination. So he returned to Minas Tirith, to his wife and eighteen-month-old daughter.
Mellawyn was a second shame: Denethor was not only a failure of a man in the battlefield but in the bedroom as well, unable to produce an heir. But by chance a few years later he gained three sons in one day. Boromir was so like his uncle at that age! Denethor wanted to protect him from book-learning but Gandalf had other plans. Fine; let the boy face the test. Better he should learn of these fantasies while Denethor could still guide him, at any rate. The grey fool tried to teach the lad–but without success, ha! Boromir showed no interest in elves or the other-free races, save of course men. He much preferred the court and the sword to the wizard’s rambling tales. Apprenticed to Lailagonde, the child could have easily assumed command over two years ago, when he turned seventeen.
In the mean time, he put his skills to good use in Ithilien, where they were needed. Orcs had crossed through Cirith Ungol–though the gate itself still remained shut–and the Nazgûl had been seen from the west bank of the Anduin.
If only the same could be said for Faramir! When the lad had turned ten Denethor ordered him to choose himself a master. Of course he didn’t really have a choice: the law was quite clear, all sons of the steward had to be apprenticed to the Captain of the Tower Guard. But Faramir appealed to the grey fool, to see if he could not at least be apprenticed to one of the seers. For once Gandalf showed a wisp of wisdom, and told him to join the Guard.
But Faramir had turned to Gandalf! Now Gandalf’s true purpose became only too clear! He had spent years searching for an answer, and what had he found? Nothing! Isildur’s bane was an orc arrow. That was clear enough. But the wandering fool… he stayed in Minas Tirith for a reason. Of course! He wanted Gondor for himself. And who wouldn’t? Minas Tirith, jewel among jewels, standing in the evening light, glimmering like pearl. And great fields, as far as the eye could see, and the Anduin, mighty Anduin, waterer of the world! Of course! And this fool of a wizard was using his son, his very son, against the steward?
How long does it take to make a steward a king? A hundred years? A thousand years? Enough is enough. The house of the king was great… but the house of the steward is greater still. Where had the king been all these years while the men of the east fell to save the whole world from the fury of Sauron? Was he busy? Hiding? Perhaps asleep? And who did these men die for?
Gondor was great, and King Denethor, as he called himself in his own mind now, could see it all. A testament to Gondor’s strength, the great eye that saw wherever Denethor commanded it. First Denethor had turned this palantir to Fangorn, to see his daughter, to make sure he was safe. But then he looked to his own borders: to the forests, the streams, the mountains, the hills, the farms, the villages, the towers, the testimonies to ages long past. Never to the lands where elves yet dwelled, but what was the need? How could any other land hope to compare?
But even with the help of this added vision, Denethor had not foreseen the letter he now held in his hand:
Forgive me. Your daughter’s still not ready to return to you, but she has learned all that I think she can learn for Treebeard, for the time being. At least, if she spent much more time here, she might never be able to leave it. At any rate, she isn’t ready to return yet. I’ve sent her on to your neighbor Théoden of Rohan. His niece Éowyn will be good for her, and perhaps Lara will also be good for her.
Your humble servant,
Humble, indeed! But he was wrong: giving his daughter to the Rohan would not win Gandalf the rule of Gondor. Boromir would never fall.
“Servant! Boy! Call me my son! Call me Boromir! He must ride to Edoras, to offer the king of Rohan our fairest jewel.”