56. Third Age 3019 - 14th and 15th of March
Late into the night, Denethor held Faramir's hand, feeling the fire that raced through his son's body. His tears fell; he did naught to check them or to wipe them away. He deserved no such comfort. Vaguely, he was aware of the Halfling standing by the door. Often, men would come, asking for permission to speak with him. He turned a deaf ear to them. Did they not know his every thought was for his only remaining son? They would wait for his answer, and when one did not come, they would salute and leave.
He did not know how long he sat thusly; he only knew Faramir did not stir. The Warden of the Houses of Healing came in once and held a mirror before the boy's mouth. A faint breath fogged it. The Warden checked Faramir's eyes, pulling back a lid, then letting it drop. He bent and listened to the boy's chest, felt his brow, and then left, shaking his head. He did not return.
Denethor racked his brain to remember any passages from the books in the Great Library that spoke of this fevered state; Morgoth's Breath or the Black Breath, he could not recall the proper name of this thing that assailed his son. A light sparked and then quickly extinguished. 'The Hands of the King; but Gondor has no King.' If Thorongil were King, as Denethor had deemed years ago, where was he? Why did he not return with the Wizard and claim the Throne? He could touch Faramir… In the Palantír, Denethor had seen the man riding on the plains of Rohan. Why did he not come? Did he think it would be easier to battle Sauron, once the White City fell, and then take the Crown? It made no sense. Perhaps he should call Mithrandir to his side. Nay. Mithrandir had been there, in the center of the Citadel when they brought Faramir's body to him. He had said nothing. The Wizard knew his son was dying and that there was nothing anyone could do for the boy.
A sob broke from him, bubbling up from the depths of his spirit, and he noted the Halfling took a step towards him, as if to help. The Steward waved him back. Nay. There was no hope for Faramir, just fevered torment till his body could no longer fight; then, his son would succumb and die.
Men came in again; the Halfling let them in, saying their need was great, but they frantically shouted at him. Denethor told them to go away, to decide how they wanted to die, and then to leave him alone. As they ran from the room, failing even to salute him, a germ of an idea lifted his heart. He scanned Faramir's face, kissed him on the forehead, then walked from the room, motioning for the Halfling to stand guard over the boy. The Steward of Gondor climbed the Tower's stairs, his fatigued legs dragging. He unlocked and opened the door, and stepped inside for the last time. He placed his hands on the globe, letting the covering fall to the floor, and looked upon the Pelennor.
If he had any strength left, he would have gasped. It was as the stone had shone him two days previously, covered with the Enemy's army, fell beasts, and wicked machines of war. He could see naught of the fields themselves, so totally did the enemy cover the ground. He gave it barely a glance, moving the stone slowly northward. 'No sign of Théoden,' he sighed. The great East-West Road was blocked by another part of the Enemy's forces. Théoden could not break through such a force; Gondor was alone in this battle. He turned and pointed the globe southward and shuddered. The Anduin was filled from just a little south of the Harlond to Pelargir with Corsair ships. Their black sails billowed in the wind. The ships of Dol Amroth lay beached and burning on the River's shores. A sob escaped him as he realized the futility of Gondor's defenses, the inevitable conclusion to the assault that now was launched against him.
Pulling himself away from that sight, he once again looked upon the Pelennor, but his sight was drawn further east. To the Tower of Cirith Ungol. There in the uppermost room, beaten and bloodied, lay the naked body of a Halfling. Denethor willed the stone to look closer, and it obeyed him, so much so that he could see the Halfling's hands. There was no sign of a ring, no sign of the Ring, the Ring that Faramir swore the Halfling carried when his son captured and then released him in Ithilien. Great, hulking Orcs stood over the little creature, still whipping him brutally. For a fleeting moment, Denethor felt sad for the little thing. He turned from the sight, his overwhelming concern for the Halfling immediately usurped by the knowledge that all was indeed lost. The Enemy had the weapon Denethor had hoped to hide from Him, or else use against Him at the last possible moment. His legs buckled as the horror of Sauron possessing the Ring engulfed him. He sat on the marble floor and closed his mind.
After a time, he stirred himself, grabbed onto the plinth, pulled himself up, and walked out of the room, holding the Palantír in his hands. At last, he knew what he must do.
Húrin walked into the chamber, looked with deep sadness upon the countenance of Faramir, then turned to his Lord. "The Pelennor is taken, Denethor. There is not a blade of grass to be seen, so deep does the enemy cover it. Great tent camps and beasts and allies of the Nameless One." His cousin did not stir, so the Warden continued. "They are digging trenches. Deep and out of bowshot of even the Blackroot Vale's archers. Not even our trebuchets can reach them yet. Once dug, they set them on fire, though fed by art or devilry, I do not know. Never have I seen the like." Denethor remained still. Húrin pressed on. "They bring siege engines." Húrin's brow furrowed. "Denethor?"
A messenger ran into the chamber, passed a note to the Warden, and quickly ran out. Húrin offered it to Denethor, but the Steward never moved. Opening it, Húrin read aloud, "The enemy's catapults reach beyond the battlements and missiles are falling within the First Circle. They burst into flames as they hit the ground. Our esquires are quenching the fires, but they are growing too numerous." Húrin bit his lip in despair. Another runner came into the room. Húrin motioned for the man to give the missive directly to Denethor, but the Steward would not accept it. In frustration, Húrin opened and read it. "By the Valar!" He clutched his chest. "Now they are casting… It is too horrible to speak of." Yet, Denethor did not blink nor show any sign of life. "Heads, Denethor. The severed heads of those who have fallen." He wept. "Those from Osgiliath, the Rammas, even the Pelennor, branded with the sign of the Lidless Eye." He could not continue.
The Warden pulled on his nose to keep tears from falling. "You promised I might be in the battle. May I join the Fifth Company?" Denethor waved him away, and for that, Húrin was grateful. The Warden of the Keys looked once more upon Faramir's face, then put his hand upon the Halfling's shoulder and squeezed it tight, saluted his cousin and Lord, and left the room.
Well past mid night, Peregrin shuddered. "My Lord," he cried, "the Nazgûl! Can you hear them?" He began to shake. He stepped towards Denethor, but the Steward only looked at him with glazed eyes. "My Lord? Your men need you."
"Nay, Master Peregrin. They have no need but to die. It is the end. All will soon lie in the dust of my City, witless, wandering in desperate fever, even as my son does now. There is no hope. My son is dying." Tears fell in endless streams upon Denethor's cheeks, but he did naught to wipe them away.
"Do not weep, Lord," the Halfling stammered. "Perhaps he will get well. Have you asked Gandalf?"*
"Comfort me not with wizards!" said Denethor. "Have I not told you? The Enemy has found it. And now – all is lost. I sent my son, my Faramir, forth, unthanked, unblessed, out into needless peril, and here he lies with poison in his veins. The House of Stewards has failed. And Minas Tirith will fall."
Urgent knocking sounded. Pippin opened the door. The shouts of men echoed in the chamber, but, when Pippin relayed their message, Denethor refused to answer them. "I will not come down. I must stay beside Faramir. He might still speak. Tell them to follow whom they will. Here I stay."
The Steward watched his son writhe in pain, fever devouring Faramir's already too thin body. "Where is the King? The mighty King who would save Gondor? Where is he now?" Sobs racked his body. "Betrayed. We have been betrayed by all."
There was no answer; he had not expected one. "Now is the time, Master Peregrin. It is time to bid you farewell. You have been loyal – to both me and my sons. I release you from your oath. Go – and die as you will. Send my servants to me and then go. Farewell" He was astounded when the Halfling knelt before him and refused to bid him farewell.
"I will take your leave, but only for a moment. I want to see Gandalf, very much. We Hobbits do not give our word lightly. I do not wish to be released while you live. I want to be here, by your side, if they come to the Citadel. And perhaps earn the arms that you have given me." Pippin then stood.
"My life is ended. I have naught to live for. My City will fall. And my son will die. Do what you will, Master Halfling." He turned and walked to Faramir's side. He could hardly move; his legs refused to hold him. He cast about, looking for something, and spied his father's old staff, sitting in a corner where it had been left years ago. Briefly, he wondered why it had not been removed, upon his father's death. He took it, nonetheless, and was disheartened when he felt no kinship to it. It was but a staff.
He did not hear the door close behind the Halfling. The servants came soon after, and Peregrin with them. They trembled before him and he sorrowed. Keeping his voice low, he bade them lay warm coverlets on Faramir's bed and take it up. They did so, and lifting up the bed they bore it from the chamber. Slowly the company walked, keeping their pace even to trouble the fevered man as little as might be, and Denethor, now bending on the staff, followed them; and last came Pippin.
Darkness covered the land, but Denethor did not note it. He kept his head bowed, his shoulders slumped. A faint red light flickered, but none in the group looked to see where it came from. Softly they walked across the Courtyard of the Fountain. Denethor called to them to halt by the White Tree. All was silent. The water dripped sadly from the dead branches of the tree into the dark pool. He remembered, as a child, wondering why no one had dug the old tree out and put a new one in. He remembered the feeling of desolation that overcame him when he later discovered the Tree's history and significance. He stared at it and wept. Finally, he signaled and the entourage went on through the Sixth Gate. Beregond, standing at attention at his post, stared at them in wonder and dismay. Turning, they passed the Houses of Healing, and went through the door in the rearward wall of the Sixth Circle. The door to Fen Hollen. Walking steadily, they entered the winding road that descended. A porter guarded the door. At Denethor's command, he unlocked it, swung it back, and watched as they walked past him, down to Rath Dínen, the Silent Street. At last, they entered the House of the Stewards and set down their burden.
One table near at hand stood broad and bare. Denethor looked upon it. Cold and hard. 'So this will be our bed, Faramir's and mine. I suppose it is only fitting. I have been cold to him, these last years. But he, he does not deserve…' he chuckled dryly. 'It will soon be very warm indeed. No need to be concerned.' He motioned and the servants laid Faramir upon it, then they helped Denethor climb up. 'Here we lie,' he thought. 'How strange that we should be joined at last, but in such a manner…' The servants covered them with one covering, and stood then with bowed heads as mourners beside a bed of death. Then Denethor spoke in a low voice.
"Here we will wait, until the appointed time," he said. "Send not for the embalmers. Bring the wood and oil that I commanded be stored here, and lay it about us, and beneath. Pour the oil upon it. When I bid you, thrust in a torch. Do this and speak no more to me. Farewell!"
"By your leave, Lord!" he heard Pippin cry, but he gave it no thought as the Halfling fled from the Houses.
He lay there, waiting. He wondered for what. Was he waiting for Théoden to come? Was he waiting for Thorongil? Perhaps the Wizard? Nay. He waited for the courage to do the deed.
"What is that noise?" he shouted. The sounds of clanging swords cut through the silence of the House. "Who is there?"
His servants, all but Belegorn, ran to the door. "It is Beregond!" one shouted. "He seeks to stay your hand."
"Light the fire! Light the oil!" Denethor screamed but the servants had left him, gone to battle the traitorous soldier. "Belegorn. Light the oil."
"Wait, my Lord, please. Let us see what causes Beregond to leave his post and enter here. Mayhap Rohan has come."
"Traitor!" Denethor heard his servants shout. "Outlaw!"
"Two of your servants are slain, my Lord," Belegorn reported, his own sword drawn. He stood by the foot of the table and waited. "It is no good news that causes Beregond's treachery. I cannot fathom his disobedience. He is a good soldier."
"Ever has he been a traitor. I should have had him hanged!" Denethor spat. The taste of oil coated his tongue as he spoke.
"Haste, haste! Do as I have bidden! Slay me this renegade! Or must I do so myself?" Denethor crawled from the table, ran to the door, and drew his own sword, standing next to Belegorn.
A bright white light filled the room as Mithrandir opened the door. Deep anger covered the Wizard's face. He lifted up his hand, and in the very stroke, the sword of Denethor flew up, left his grasp and fell behind him in the shadows of the House. Denethor stepped backward before Gandalf as one amazed. Belegorn too retreated.
"What is this, my Lord?" said the Wizard. "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 Dínen?"
"Since when has the Lord of Gondor been answerable to thee?" said Denethor. "Or may I not command my own servants?"
"You may," said Gandalf. "But others may contest your will, when it is turned to madness and evil. Where is your son, Faramir?"
"He lies within," said Denethor, "burning, already burning. They have set a fire in his flesh. But soon all shall 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 on the wind!"
The Wizard pushed the Steward aside, as if he had been but a fallen leaf on a log, and ran into the room and to the table that still held Faramir. Beregond and Pippin ran in behind him.
Denethor made to swing at the soldier, but stayed his hand. The Halfling had stepped into his sword's path. The grief-stricken father stood beside his son. "See! He is burning, consumed by the fever. Stop!" he screamed as the Wizard leapt up onto the faggots, picked Faramir up as if he were a feather, and sprang down again. He strode towards the door.
"Father," Faramir called out in his delirium.
A gut-wrenching moan tore from Denethor's lips as the madness left him. He wept. "Do not take my son from me! He calls for me."
"He calls," said Gandalf, "but you cannot come to him yet. For he must seek healing on the threshold of death, and maybe find it not. Whereas 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," said Denethor. "Battle is vain. Why should we wish to live longer? Why should we not go to death side by side? Give me my son."
Passing through the door, Mithrandir took Faramir from the deadly House and laid him on the bier on which he had been brought, and which had now been set in the porch. Denethor followed him, and stood trembling, looking with longing on the face of his son. And for a moment, while all were silent and still, watching the Lord in his throes, he wavered.
"Come, Lord Denethor!" said Gandalf. "We are needed. There is much that you can yet do."
Denethor backed away in horror. A laugh was wrenched from his throat. He stood tall and proud again, He walked back to the table, lifted the pillow, pulling an object from under it. He came to the doorway and stood next to the Wizard, drew aside the covering and triumphantly held the Palantír in front of the Wizard's nose. It began to glow; fire filled it. Denethor's face reflected the red hue. The hard edges of the Steward's face were cast against black shadows, noble, proud, and terrible. His eyes glittered in the light.
"Pride and despair!" he cried. "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. Go then and labor 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," said Gandalf.
"Hope on then!" laughed Denethor. "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 the 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 to be the dotard chamberlain of an upstart. 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."
"What then would you have," said Gandalf, "if your will could have its way?"
"I would have things as they were in all the days of my life," answered Denethor, "and in the days of my longfathers before me: to be the Lord of this City in peace, and 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: neither life diminished, nor love halved, nor honor abated."
"To me it would not seem that a Steward who faithfully surrenders his charge is diminished in love or in honor," said Gandalf. "And at the least you shall not rob your son of his choice while his death is still in doubt."
At those words Denethor's eyes flamed again, and taking the Stone under his arm he drew a knife and strode towards the bier. But Beregond sprang forward and set himself before Faramir.
"So!" cried Denethor. "Thou hadst already stolen half my son's love. Now thou stealest the hearts of my Knights also, so that they rob me wholly of my son at the last. But in this at least thou shalt not defy my will: to rule my own end."
"Come hither!" he cried to his servants. "Come, if you are not all recreant!" Then two of them ran up the steps to him. Swiftly he snatched a torch from the hand of one and sprang back into the house. Before Gandalf could hinder him he thrust the brand amid the fuel, and at once it crackled and roared into flame.
"We will be waiting for you," Denethor heard Belegorn shout and watched as the soldier sliced the throats of the servants standing nearby. One fled and the soldier whipped his dirk from his boot. It planted deep into the servants back. Then, Denethor's aide saluted and slit his own throat.
Looking about him, the Steward sighed deeply, then leapt upon the table, holding the Rod in his hands, the stone still tucked under his arm. "None left. None to give it to. Boromir is dead. Faramir taken from me, but he will not live long. He will not wield it. If he live, though I think it not possible, he would be a servant of him and I will not let it be held by that upstart." Wreathed in flames, he took the Rod and clasped it to his breast for a moment, one long moment as the history, the significance of the emblem of his family's Stewardship, the White Rod, ran through his mind. He took a long and deep breath, as was his wont when an action of gravity was required of him, put it over his knee – and broke it in half. The pieces he flung upon the flames as they crackled higher and higher.
He bowed and lay down upon the table, holding the Palantír clasped tightly to his chest. He would not look into it, never again, but he would not let any other have it. As Steward, it had been entrusted to his care. He would not leave it behind to be fondled by that upstart. He closed his eyes and held his breath. He heard the great door close behind the Wizard. One moment he was bereft of all hope. The next – he saw Boromir! Boromir stood before him, his face filled with sadness as tears flowed down the beloved cheeks. "Boromir," he whispered. Hope rekindled. He must live. He must go to his son. "Mithrandir! Save me!" But the words were choked by the smoke and flames that rose about him. "Save me," he whispered once again as the heat became unbearable. The image of Boromir faded. Denethor's fingers began to tingle; the Palantír remained cool. He felt the flames licking at his slippers and his elbows. He pulled his arms tighter to his body. The Palantír turned red hot. His fingers, his palms began to melt onto the stone. He stared in disbelief; he was becoming one with it. A sudden laugh filled the chamber. The Enemy! And then Denethor's hair began to smoke and melt. The heavy mail turned to fire, searing his body, link by link. The flames wholly engulfed him. He screamed in horror and pain and, as he did, his lungs took in the fire and drowned him.
Thus ended the life of Denethor II, son of Ecthelion II, Twenty-Sixth Ruling Steward of Gondor, of the House of Húrin.
A/N - These last moments of Denethor's life (the early morning hours of 15 March) were a challenge, in that the discourse between Gandalf and him, as they stood by the door of the Houses, Faramir already whisked away to safety, could not be totally paraphrased or copied or deleted – or not used. Therefore, though I have rarely done so, I decided to keep the original 'Tolkien' text in many places. From the (*) in the above entry onward, there are instances where I literally followed the book word for word. However, intermixed are my own interpretations of Denethor's thoughts, feelings, and actions. The power of Tolkien's words here could not be trifled with – IMHO. (PS – I researched how long and how horrible being burned at the stake was, and used the information for Denethor's own death.)
Additional A/N - On another board, a reader suggested that I made a minor mistake concerning the Rod of Gondor. In actuality, like Boromir losing his horse at Tharbad, I suppose it is an overlooked fact. Denethor did indeed break and burn the Rod of the Stewards - see The Pyre of Denethor, RotK, Book V, Chapter 7. The Rod Faramir uses at the Great Gate upon meeting Aragorn and 'allowing' him to enter the City is not the original Rod of Gondor. After much research, I believe another Rod was found in the Treasury (probably a failsafe kind of thing for when a Steward goes mad and burns the real Rod), OR Faramir (or Hurin) has a new one made. :)
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