Bells were pealing; silver cascading to greet the new year. Denethor raised his head from where it had fallen on the desk. Behind him, the shutters had been flung open, and a clear morning was flooding the room – although the candle beside him was burning yet, steadfastly.
Rising from his chair, he saw the shards on the floor to the side of the desk. He went over, and bent down to touch them. A sharp edge nicked his finger and he watched a bright ruby red bead of blood well up. The bells sang on. A great weight seemed to lift from him.
He stood up, went to the window and looked out from his eyrie. The eastern sky was pale above the shadows of the distant mountains. Beneath, bathed in light, the forests of Ithilien shone, as green and as treasurable as emeralds. He looked closer in, at the Rammas, and marked the gaps in the defence, saw how precariously the homesteads seemed to sit upon the fields of the Pelennor. As he stood and watched, he saw, on the road that led to the city gates, a single horseman riding, coming home. The pealing of the bells rose and crested and fell. It was coming up for noon.
He crossed the room and unbarred the door, leaving it open behind him. He went down with measured steps, considering all that he had seen, uncertain why it was that he did not feel weary after the journeys of the night. He walked on through the lower levels. The chimes of the yestarë bells were a little more distant here in the shelter of the Tower, and overlaid with the bustle and the chatter of the servants. As he passed through, he greeted them quietly in turn.
He reached his chamber, and went to wait by the window. The peal of the bells resolved themselves into the midday toll. He looked out across the court towards the fountain, and the gentle splash called to his mind again the grey boat passing down the river. He closed his eyes. Fear and doubt knocked at his heart, but he did not thrust them away. They were better, he believed, than the hard jewel of grief he had clasped there for so long.
The final bell of noon rang out. The door clicked open. Denethor opened his eyes and turned to face his son.
Faramir was a little out of breath. He was twisting at a fastening at the top of his tunic and appeared not to have slept. “My lord—” he said.
“It is gone noon,” Denethor remarked.
“I’m sorry, I—”
“Were you drinking last night?”
Faramir closed his eyes for a moment, collected himself. “It was mettarë—” he pointed out, his voice a little taut.
“It is of no consequence, Faramir. And I daresay you need the practice,” Denethor replied. He barely held back the laugh as his son’s hand froze upon the fastening, his face turning pale.
“Do stop apologizing, it does become tiresome. And there is no need.”
Faramir stared back at him, almost in dismay. His hand dropped to his side. The fastening, Denethor noticed, was still askew. “Father, are you... are you well?”
“Very well, thank you. Better than you this morning, I should imagine.” This time, he could not prevent the ghost of a smile.
Something passed across his son’s face too, but it was unreadable.
Denethor walked towards him, until they stood quite close, and face to face. He looked the younger man over, and Faramir raised his chin and regarded the steward back steadily.
“You are very like I was at your age,” Denethor remarked, after a moment or two. “But there is much of your mother in you. In your bearing.” He reached out his hand to the top of his son’s tunic and set the link straight. Then he looked into Faramir’s eyes – and saw that they were grey like the sea, and troubled.
“Tell me,” Faramir whispered, with real fear in his voice, “what has happened to you.”
Denethor studied his son’s face, marked the lines and the cares.
He thinks that I have gone – gone at last, and left him...
Denethor sighed and, with an effort, stood straight and spoke, slowly. “This is the time,” he said, “when we must summon all our of strength together. I cannot promise you victory. I cannot promise you that nothing more will be lost—” He thought of the boat and halted, and then steeled himself once more. He reached out and clasped his son’s hand in his own.
“I lost sight of hope,” the steward told the man who might one day be his heir, “and then I caught a glimpse of it again.” He smiled once more, and this time Faramir returned the smile – her smile, but living – and it only deepened when his father spoke again.
“Have faith,” he said. “I swear to you, all will be different.”
A/N: Written for Aralanthiriel, who wanted a story in which Denethor lived, and has waited many a long month to read it. The idea was entirely Alawa’s, but I really should know better by now. Thank you to Alawa, Isabeau of Greenlea and Sailing to Byzantium for reading and commenting on the drafts.
In 'The Voice of Saruman', the palantír thrown by Gríma down the steps of Orthanc shatters both rail and stair. In Unfinished Tales, we are told that palantíri "were indeed unbreakable by any violence then controlled by men". In this AU, they can be broken - literally and symbolically.
With apologies to Boz.
Altariel, 16th-30th November, 2003