In the shade of the tree, the boy stopped with his father. The large branches curled upwards, almost touching the late afternoon sky. The knobbed white trunk seemed solid, handholds to left and right, something he could climb. He wanted to climb. Yet when he put out a hand to touch the tree, his father stopped him, pulled the boy’s small fingers into the man’s much larger grasp.
“Boromir, this tree is special. Very special. Do you know why, my son?” Dark grey eyes looked down into the matching set of smaller grey ones, serious despite their childlike innocence.
“No, father.” He thought for a moment. “I know it is the only one that is white. Is that why it is special?” The father reached down to lift the child, pulled the boy up into his arms. The motion shifted Denethor so that he, too, stood in the tree’s shadow, holding his son as daylight ebbed away.
The man replied, “Not quite. Though it is a rare type of tree, true. No, it is special because it belongs to the king.”
With these words, the boy’s face grew more solemn. “And you’re the king’s steward. So you protect the tree.” And the father nodded. Yes, my son, so I do. Every day.
The little boy thought some more. Something had just occurred to him. “This tree’s on the flag. This tree.” And Boromir turned in his father’s embrace, looked at the branches once more, now much closer, easier for him to reach.
But he did not put out a hand this time. This time, he only looked at the branches.
“Yes. It is the tree on the flag, Boromir. And the soldiers wear it.” Denethor waited for his son to look back from the tree to him before he continued. When he had Boromir’s attention once more, he repeated, “It is the tree on our flag, and our soldiers wear the tree as well.”
At this, Boromir nodded. “They protect the tree, too. Like you?” And Denethor smiled at the words. “Yes. Like me. And like you, when you are a little older.” Denethor started to carry his son back towards the House, thinking that his son had learned enough for one afternoon. Learning what he should not climb and why was a good lesson.
From the vicinity of his shoulder, he heard Boromir mumble, claiming, “I can protect it now,” a little stubbornly.
Denethor raised an eyebrow, but did not contradict his son. Curious, he leaned back a little, so he could see Boromir’s face when he asked, “Who will you protect it from, my son?”
“I’ll protect it from Faramir. When he wants to climb it.” The firm set of the little boy’s chin showed that he meant to do just that, too.
Denethor thought about the babe resting quietly with its mother; still so small, the infant would not be scaling trees for many years. But he smiled as he looked down into his oldest son’s calm grey eyes. “That is good, Boromir. Protect it from your brother, when he grows old enough to climb like you.” And he bent to kiss his son’s dark hair, as he continued, walking away from the tree and twilight’s shadows.