9. Day 9: Lessons From The Past (Denethor, Boromir, Faramir)
Warfare is the Way... of deception. Thus although (you are) capable, display incapability to them. When committed to employing your forces feign inactivity. When (your objective) is nearby, make it appear as if distant; when far away, create the illusion of being nearby.
-Sun Tzu, The Art of War
As a rule, Denethor disliked deception of any kind. Honorable men were, generally, above such things and honor was of paramount importance in his scale of values. As a strategist, however, he realized its importance if one was to achieve any advantage over an opponent. It was thus that the evening found him sitting by the fire, gazing into an open book--Seven Military Teachings, should anyone ask--while he listened to his sons' debate over the merits and weaknesses of some key figures of Gondor's history, a subject that Faramir was pursuing for an assignment from one of his tutors. It was proving an amusing task--certainly more entertaining than Anardil's dry prose.
"You have to give credit to Earnur's intent, Faramir. Vanquishing the Witchking was a worthy endeavor."
"But how can you be sure that that was, in truth, his intent?" asked twelve-year-old Faramir. "A historian writing on these events after the fact cannot bring King Earnur in for questioning. All he has at hand are the facts, and the results. And we all know what the results of that particular campaign were." He finished with the air of someone who had just contested a bitter feud to the end and came out the victor.
"You are too pompous, Faramir," Boromir said, smiling. "And I think that is most unfair to Earnur."
"History judges through results, Boromir."
"That may be, but it still seems quite unfair. Hardihood, bravery, vision--do these qualities not make a hero? Earnur possessed them all."
Faramir looked up from the report he had taken up again and chewed at the top of his pen for a while. "Nhh-nhh. I rather think that integrity, prudence, and a sense of what is right win the day in the end. After all, it was Steward Mardil who survived."
"I am not convinced," Boromir said, crossing his arms over his chest, broadened since he had left for training. "For all that prudent, faithful, honorable men are necessary, it is soldiers who get them out of the messes they fall into."
Denethor risked a glance over the top of his book. How would Faramir counter that thrust?
Again, the pen went to his mouth, just briefly, ere he said, "If more men used their brains regularly, they would have need to use their muscles less. Look at King Ornendil and his sons... that Faramir just did not seem very smart, dashing off into battle like that. That is what I mean."
Boromir regarded his brother with detached amusement, until his innate competitiveness took hold. He reached for Faramir's book, glanced at the title on the spine, Personalities Who Shaped History, Third Age - Modernity, by Dirluin of Belfalas, and thumbed through it, until he found something that made him grin.
"What about Cirion and Eorl?" he asked.
"Definitely Cirion. Eorl did help a great deal, but Cirion's foresight in calling him--"
"Would not have been necessary if he had known his own strength better. My vote is for Eorl."
Catching on to the game, Faramir reached for the book and thumbed through it as his brother had done.
"Baldor or Aldor?"
Boromir grimaced. "Trust Faramir to dig up an obscure reference! But, I will have to say Aldor. There was nothing to be gained by going through that door, so his death is his own fault and there is nothing heroic about it."
"Just what I think."
Boromir's turn. "Artamir or Faramir?"
A slight wince. "It's embarrassing to say, but definitely Artamir."
"I agree," said Boromir. "Gondor will have need of at least one of us, Faramir, so do not be reckless."
They spent a long time passing the book back and forth, with Boromir groaning whenever he lost his advantage and with exclamations urging his brother to get on with his report. But, whenever Boromir got the advantage, he was relentless in pursuing it, until he came to one of the last pages.
"Curunir or Mithrandir?"
Denethor listened very intently, looked up hastily at Faramir, whose face had gone red, hands tensed on his paper.
"I am not as familiar with Curunir to form a pro--"
"And neither of them really do any actual combat nor command any troops, which are essential for our discussion today. Here's a good one, though--Thengel or Thorongil?"
Denethor looked up immediately, meeting Faramir's eyes as he did so, before the boy had had a chance to look away. What was that look? Why did he think to look at me at the mention of--?
"Father," Boromir's voice interrupted his thoughts, "from the dates here, you must have known both rather personally, at least Captain Thorongil. He was quite the legend at some of the corps, from what I hear."
He strove hard to master himself, but managed it. Any avoidance of the issue would only call attention to it; if he was hoping to dissolve this dangerous, unpleasant train of talk, he had to be subtle. And he would have to think of what to do about Faramir. What, exactly, had he found out? And where?
With careful, measured movements, he replaced the bookmark and, feigning disinterest, set the book back on the table as he said, "Captain Thorongil was a good enough captain, more interested in pursuing good relations with the men under his command than demanding their physical competency or discipline. For a captain to be truly brilliant, he must manage all three, in their proper balance."
Denethor finished, uncertain on whom to bestow his more pointed look, who would need the most persuasion to dismiss from their minds what had just passed there, who to direct his displeasure toward--whether Boromir, for bringing up the unfortunate subject, or Faramir for daring to know more than he should.
"What say you, Faramir?" he asked, probing.
The boy ducked his head. "That is not on my report."
"And a very useless report, at that," Boromir said, carelessly--or seeming so--lounging back against his chair. "What care master Galron for your opinion on heroes and such--surely, what he must want is to bend you to his opinion, and that would never do for the son of the Steward." And, he added with a slightly strained wink, "Wrong though your opinion be."
Faramir seemed a bit too grateful, a bit too relieved for the sudden change of tack, and that threatened to break Denethor's self-imposed control. Why do they seem as though they were in league about this? The one helping the other not to blunder; the other getting the one out of the mess he made. Do they think I am to be manipulated in such a way? And yet--
The subject of Thorongil was always a delicate one and, much though he felt that his sons should be punished for meddling, the nature of his dislike would not allow him to dwell on this matter too long without making himself vulnerable, and that he would not allow.
Denethor studied his children's faces for a moment, before deciding that there was only one course of action open before him if he wished to put the matter to rest.
"I rather think, Boromir," he said, making a show of leaning back in his chair seeking his comfort, "that the point of the exercise is not so much to learn from a twelve-year-old's opinion, as it is to have him review and learn the biographies. What have you learned, Faramir?"
Taken by surprise, it took Faramir a moment to collect his thoughts, but Denethor had known that would happen. He schooled his features to neutrality and tried to wait with patience. Faramir himself might yet help him put this distasteful matter behind.
"I have learned," Faramir said, at length, but considerably sure of himself, "that a true hero is the quiet fellow who does not go seeking for trouble but, when trouble comes to him, does what he needs to do according to what he thinks the right to be."
"Quite true, in most cases," Denethor said, preparing to deliver the final blow. "The more renown deeds that people commonly regard as heroic have, more often than not, landed people in trouble causing much uncertainty and misery and are, in most cases, a projection of a deficient personality attempting to satisfy its need for validation through glory-seeking pursuits. I believe that to be the case with Thorongil. If you read on," he said, grateful for a pause to recover from an almost fatal slip of the tongue when he spoke the name, "you will see that he abandoned his post and was never seen nor heard of again. Quite un-heroic, in my opinion, the failure to carry one's task to the end."
With that, he rose, his sons rising with him. "You may have further use of the room, since it would take you forever to clear this table, and I have a mind to finish this chapter tonight, which will not happen should I attempt to finish here. We may continue this conversation at any other time you wish. I bid you good night."
There. That should effectively make Boromir forget about him for disloyalty, and make Faramir dismiss him for Denethor's pretense at being willing to talk of him. The more immediate danger had been averted for, he was certain, Faramir would not bring this up again, and distance would prevent Boromir from doing so.
The matter of Faramir's seeming knowledge still remained, however. That a twelve-year-old could have read and guessed his distress was no less than vexing. He would have to mask himself better, and that would be difficult to achieve in this matter, much more so for being unresolved in his past and--he had to admit--for its gratefully being impossible to resolve in the present.
Denethor was not accustomed to probe his feelings too much or too deeply, but he had for this, and he knew that he would much rather let matters lie as they stood. The only thing left for him to do was to congratulate himself on a campaign well-played to his advantage. He always came on top, the man who could use his information to his advantage.
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