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The Folly of Denethor
by Joanne Harris

[Archivist’s note: This account, written in a large, leather-bound volume, was discovered quite by accident in one of the locked storerooms of the White Tower. It is written in a fine, educated hand, using Sindarin script, in faded black ink on parchment, and studies seem to conclude that it is authentic. Denethor son of Ecthelion was the last Ruling Steward of Gondor in the Third Age, ceding his rule, when he committed suicide, to his son Faramir. Faramir became the first Prince of Ithilien and equally the first Steward to govern under the rule of the great King Elessar. Faramir was Denethor’s second son by Finduilas of Dol Amroth, the elder son Boromir having been killed by orcs in the early months of 3019. As a historical document Denethor’s account is invaluable, but in addition it is hoped that its publication will offer some insight into his often maligned character.

Heren son of Túr, Archivist of Gondor, Fourth Age 4001.]

* * *

I am Denethor, Steward of Gondor. This is my account of the months leading up to the Great Darkness and the end of our world, the end of hope and of happiness.

In the year 3018, in the Third Age of the Sun, I first heard of a prophecy from the North. It spoke of the heir to the throne and the downfall of He that is Nameless. It spoke of Halflings, and it said that one in particular would hold the key to this downfall. It also spoke of the finding of Isildur’s Bane, which has been lost for many hundreds of years. I have written the verse here that it may not be forgotten.

‘Seek for the Sword that was broken:
In Imladris it dwells;
There shall be counsels taken
Stronger than Morgul spells.
There shall be shown a token
That Doom is near at hand
For Isildur’s Bane shall waken,
And the Halfling forth shall stand.’

I was curious to know more about this rhyme, which undoubtedly held the key to Gondor’s salvation. After much discussion with my son Boromir and the wise men of Minas Tirith, I decided to send an envoy to Imladris, far away in the North, to ask Elrond Half-Elven the meaning of the verse. Boromir begged me to send him, for he is always wont to take upon him the tasks requiring most courage, and indeed he is more than capable of carrying them out. I would rather have had my younger son Faramir go, for I can more easily manage without him. Yet Boromir would not be dissuaded and he left Minas Tirith in the sunshine of mid-3018. I grieved for the loss of him, even though he was still in this world, and I began to think of the palantír I have in my possession. I knew that the Nameless One also has in his keeping one of these stones, but I was not afraid to look for myself in the Stone of Minas Tirith and find what he had in store for my city and my land.

Alas that I did so! He saw me, although I am not sure how clearly. I was not strong enough to hold his gaze for any length of time, and soon I stopped looking. But I found myself drawn back to the palantír, and I looked again. I saw hordes of his army, their shields emblazoned with the hideous sign of the Lidless Eye, hurrying hither and thither over the plain of Gorgoroth, issuing from the Tower as ants from an anthill. I saw also a sight which disturbed my mind greatly — that Orcs, great Orcs, were also coming from Isengard, with wolves and other fell creatures. I began to realise that the fall of Gondor was imminent. I had heard nothing from either Elrond or Boromir; I felt that I was doomed to be the last Steward of Gondor, and that I would not be handing my stewardship over to the mythical and imaginary king that is the fond fancy of so many of my people. Instead surrender to the black power of the Eye will be the end of my rule and my realm.

At the beginning of the new year, this year, I undertook to organise wains to travel out of the city, carrying the women and children; bar those who are needed in the Houses of Healing and other such establishments. I also called a meeting of my commanders of the Guard and told them that from then on, they were under orders to do exactly as I said.

I looked in the palantír again, and my heart is now weighed down beneath the armour I have worn for an age and more — or so it seems, the time since Finduilas died. Finduilas, Finduilas, my beauty. The mother of my sons, and Faramir being the reason for her death.

Do I owe him a grudge for this? I think perhaps I do. I do not hold Faramir in the same light as I do Boromir. He is a lesser warrior, and a lesser man, not as noble, I deem.

Bitter feelings, resentment. I hate parts of my existence — the loneliness, the tension, even the grandeur. I hate ... what do I hate most? In all of Middle-earth, I hate Mithrandir, Gandalf the Grey, bringer of doom and ill will, most, after the Lidless Eye and all that fell token symbolises. Gandalf! An old fool, a meddler. It was he that taught Faramir, made him as he is. He comes always in an old cloak not fit to grace a peasant’s hearth, leaning on a gnarled staff — which is yet not as gnarled as his hands. And his eyes! They pierce my heart even through my armour. I know he sees further than I do, despite the fact that my sight is far greater than that of many mortals. No one knows what he is or where he comes from, but I am aware of his dealings with the traitor Saruman and the Witch of the Golden Wood, and that in itself would earn him my hatred.

I must not dwell on these matters any longer, but will press on with my sorrowful tale.

At the beginning of the year, then, the women and the children began to leave the City. They went in groups of ten to a wain, with six wains leaving at a time. They are staying far away, in the country, where they will at least be protected from the inevitable battles.

The month passed, the City deathly quiet without the laughter of the children. Slowly they went, and every one less was a grain less of hope for the future. My heart and mind were already heavy, when before the end of the second month I heard in my head the horn of Boromir blowing. The sound of that silver horn, carried by myself and my father and his fathers before him, the sound I know so well, rang in my ears like a death-knell. I was filled full of dread, for I did not know what could have come of him. Had his mission failed? Had my son been set upon by orcs, alone in the wild?

Four days later Faramir returned home. He looked terrible, his eyes shadowed with intense grief. He came to me, and knelt by my side in the silent hall, and told me what he had seen.

"We were travelling by the Anduin, below Rauros, Father, and suddenly one of the men cried out. He had seen a boat on the water. We hailed it, but there was no answer. It seemed empty. So we waded into the river to draw it to the bank. Then ... then it was my turn to cry out. It was Boromir in the boat, laid out as a great warrior, with his sword by his side. He was wearing a strange grey cloak of elvish design and a beautifully fashioned golden belt around his waist. The boat, too, was surely elvish, or it would not have survived the falls. I wept, and called to him, yet he did not answer. The horn we found severally upon the waters, spinning endlessly. I have it here." He presented me with the shards of the horn.

"Then Boromir is dead," I said.

"Yes," Faramir replied, and it seemed to me that he was not sad, even though I could see the grief in his face, in Finduilas’s face. I rose from my seat and struck him across the cheeks. He fell back from me, horror in his eyes, and hastily left the room.

I returned to my chair older, wiser, sadder than before. My son, my son whom I loved so much, was gone from me. How had he died? Had he been killed defending others, or was he on his own, journeying home alone from Imladris? Had he been felled by Elves, mistaking him for another enemy, before they realised their error and laid him in state upon the river? I knew that I would never know who laid him as a great warrior upon Anduin, but I will be eternally grateful to them, whoever and wherever they may be, for giving my Boromir an end that many a man would have been proud of.

The next morning I sent Faramir to Ithilien with a group of men, to patrol the area and defend it. I was glad to see him go, for I knew that I had wronged him by shunning him the day before, and I did not want to try and apologise to him.

Today I am expecting men from all over the neighbouring lands to come to Gondor’s aid. I am not sure of the coming of the Riders of Rohan; I have sent a Red Arrow with an urgent summons to our aid, and I trust that my messenger, Hirgon, will get to Edoras. I have instructed him to go by the way of Dunharrow, in case the Riders are sheltering there.

Mithrandir has come! He is not dressed in grey any longer; he is White, White and dazzling. He rode to Minas Tirith at the birth of the day on the great horse of Rohan, Shadowfax, and he has brought with him a Halfling, by the name of Peregrin. I was not glad to see them enter my chamber, but by the end of our talk I was more at ease, at least with the Halfling. He was near when Boromir fell, and he told me of the courage of my son. Boromir died defending Peregrin and his companion Meriadoc from Orcs. A mixed army, with some from Mordor and some from Isengard, I guess, from what the Halfling told me. He was wary of me at first, and well he should be! but he offered me his sword and I made him a knight of the Tower. He will comfort me in the few hopeless days we have left. I had refreshments brought in, and then Peregrin told me all of Boromir that he knew. Mithrandir sat by and watched, but his eyes were on me, and I feared that he could divine what was going through my mind. Indeed, I could tell from the way that the Halfling was speaking that Boromir was not the leader of the company of which the Halflings were members. There was another with them, one celebrated, and he was carrying a sword of renown. This might be ‘the Sword that was Broken’. The man might be the Heir of Isildur - but if so, will he come to Minas Tirith? It will be too late, too late!

All the while we sat there, Mithrandir grew more wrathful, and when I was giving my orders to my servant, he seemed to me wiser and more aware of the knowledge of his power than he had ever been. Something has happened to him, making him greater and more dangerous than before, yet more full of life. The Halfling is fond of Mithrandir — if fond is the right word — and the wizard values him highly. When I spoke of the palantírs, I glanced at my new soldier, and he seemed uneasy. There is one thing to be sure — he has heard of the Stones and of their powers, and he mayhap knows that the Dark Lord has one in his possession.

In the late afternoon, before the Gates were closed for the night, the armies began to arrive. My captains kept me informed of their numbers, but I watched myself from my chamber. Two hundred men with Forlong, three hundred from Ringló Vale, on foot. Five hundreds of archers from Morthond. My kinsman Imrahil brought nearly a thousand men, on horse and on foot. But altogether, when they were all inside, there were less than three thousand men. And the Riders have still not come, and Faramir with his men is still out travelling, and who knows when they will arrive back, if at all? I despair for Minas Tirith. Darkness is creeping out over the lands, out from Mordor, and tomorrow I think there will be no dawn.

Now there is a heavy darkness in the air, and there is darkness in my heart and in my soul. As I was surveying the fields up to the gates, I saw three or four figures on horseback, galloping up to the gate. There were things in the air, swooping low over them, uttering shrieks of dismay when the figures were not caught. I watched the drama unfold, and I saw a flash of white, darting like the wind from the City toward the aid of the men. This was Mithrandir, and it was then I knew that the stricken figures were indeed Faramir and three companions. As the wizard drew near, he threw a hand into the air. The creatures shrieked at the shaft of light that shot up, and then flew off, towards Mordor. The party of people had reached the Gate by then, and Mithrandir rode to join them. He stayed close to one of them, evidently Faramir, and was talking earnestly as they rode through the City. I withdrew from the window, but still could I hear the people calling and crying, "Faramir!"

They came to my chamber, with Peregrin following. I had food brought, and Faramir told us of what he had done since I sent him to Ithilien. He said that he had fought against the men of Harad, and had overthrown them. Mithrandir was sitting back in his chair, asleep or drowsy. Then Faramir looked at Peregrin.

"This is not the first Halfling I have seen walking out of northern lands," he said. Mithrandir sat up, alert. Peregrin nearly exclaimed aloud. I listened to Faramir, as he unravelled for me the mystery of the prophecy. There is a Halfling named Frodo son of Drogo. He and his companion Samwise are journeying to Mordor with Isildur’s Bane — the One Ring of the Enemy, which was cut from his hand by Isildur in the Battle of the Gladden Fields. Frodo’s aim is to cast the thing into the fires of Orodruin, and so end the Dark Lord’s reign for ever. They are being led by a creature named Gollum, or Sméagol, who wants the Ring for himself. All the while Faramir was speaking, he kept looking at Mithrandir. But when he had ended his tale, he dared to ask me if he had done ill. I told him what I thought of him, the wizard’s pupil that he is. I wish that Faramir had gone to Imladris in Boromir’s stead. Faramir reminds me of Boromir in so many ways, but he is ever endeavouring to be noble and good. He listens to the follies of Mithrandir, Boromir did not heed the wizard’s counsels. Yet I listened and heeded today, for he is right in some things. If Boromir, or I myself, had the Ring in our hands, we would crave the power and the glory it would bring, and we would become evil, even like the Nameless yet less puissant. And I still love Faramir in my heart, and although he is not as Boromir was, he would make a good Steward.

And now it is the fourteenth of March. Faramir lies on a bed near me, dying, he will not last much longer. I have looked in the palantír one last tine. I saw the Eye, pointed toward my city, and I know that Rohan will not come; Théoden has failed in his oath. Mithrandir has taken over command here. When I sent Faramir away from me three days ago, he went without a blessing; he went to fight whilst I sat here alone. Mithrandir and Peregrin came, I spoke harshly and rashly. I showed them my armour, my hard outer self. My inner soul is broken, old, soft. I have nothing left to live for, no city, no country, no life. My sons are gone from me, Boromir in body and Faramir in spirit. The outer ring of the city is burning, burning. I am going to burn too, and Faramir with me. We will die together, united in death as we never were in life. The reign of the Stewards is ended, but what will be next? I do not wish to know.

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