This section is one that I wrote long before Discretion and Discovery, and had to go back and re-write. I'll probably re-write it again before I'm done, given that I'm never comfortable with Denethor. The very first section is obviously beholden to Altariel. I'm not sure the date is right-I can't find my omnibus LOTR to check. I'll change it if I find out that it's wrong.
I found him short distance down the hall from the Council chamber, leaning on his arm upon the wall, his face bowed. I laid a gentle hand upon his back, and he started and turned to face me. He looked like a man who had just heard his own death sentence, pale and ghastly as I felt. I clasped his arm, and felt his hand squeeze mine firmly in turn.
“In the name of all the Valar, ride safe, son,” I implored him. He gave me that straight-up, steady look of his. Despite what his father might think, he had never lacked for courage.
“This is a bitter parting, but let us at least not deceive ourselves,” he said softly. “For we both know that if I return alive, it will have taken all the grace of the Valar to ensure it. And it shall not be in accordance with the will of the Steward.”
Hearing Faramir’s words, I thought that my heart would break, and I reached out and took him into my arms as I had done when he was younger. He stiffened momentarily, then sighed and embraced me in turn. Then he laid his head upon my shoulder, as had been his habit when he was small. I stroked the unruly black hair gently, until he straightened once more and managed a grim smile.
“Teilyn is unable to bear me, Uncle. Think you I could borrow a horse?” I nodded, happy that there was something I could do, no matter how small
“Take Caerith if you wish, lad. I suspect you’ll need him more than I.” My stallion was arguably the best war horse in Gondor. But Faramir shook his head.
“You will need him soon enough. And he would not go half so well for me, or anyone else, as he does for you. One of your remounts will more than adequate.” He frowned thoughtfully, then looked at me again. “Would it be possible for you to mount the Rangers who came with me yesterday as well? I mislike asking, but they are all good men and good riders and I would wish for them to be at my side.”
“Of course, Faramir. Gladly will I do it. And anyone else you wish to take with you as well.”
“There are some City Guard who will go out, but they have their own horses. No, those four horses will more than suffice, Uncle, and I thank you for them. You have done all that you can for me.” He smiled again, this time a little more warmly, nodded, turned on his heel and departed.
And I, watching him walk away, the set of his shoulders showing his weariness, thought to myself that I had hardly done all I could for him yet. Swiftly I turned about, and went back into the Council chamber.
Denethor was still within, as I had hoped, examining dispatches while a secretary gathered up his papers. The man looked up. I frowned when I saw his face, for it was the same secretary who had been present that fateful morning after Osgiliath, when Boromir and Andrahar had been forcibly parted. The reminder of that day, and the insult given me then, did nothing to improve my mood.
“Out,” I snapped at him, with a jerk of my head towards the door. He glanced towards his master, who looked at me and nodded. Scooping up the last of the documents, the secretary fled. I closed the door behind him firmly.
“Grateful though I am for your aid, Imrahil, I do not see where it gives you the right to command my servants under my own roof.” There was a frown on Denethor’s face, and genuine ire in his tone, for nothing angered him more than to have his command usurped, even in the smallest of things. My action served as a gauntlet thrown, but I needed to rein my anger in quickly and act in a more conciliatory manner if I were to have any hope of persuading him to do as I wished.
“I apologize, my lord Steward, but I wished to speak with you in private, and as events are pressing, I fear that I was intemperate.” He laid his dispatches down, and seated himself at the Council table once more. I took a chair across from him, without waiting for an indication from him that I should do so. His mouth tightened, but I cared little--as his kinsman by marriage, and the only Prince of the realm, it was not his place to keep me shuffling from foot to foot like a small boy awaiting punishment.
“You have been intemperate all your life, Imrahil. It is refreshing to know that you have realized it at last.” Appeasement was not a tactic that was going to be effective, it seemed. So I decided to get to the point.
“Call him back, Denethor. Intemperate though I may be, I recognize folly when I see it. And sending those men out to defend the indefensible is purest folly.”
“Not an hour ago, you were speaking of the need to reinforce Cair Andros. And now you dare to speak to me of folly?”
I took a deep breath and let it out slowly before I answered, for I very much disliked being misinterpreted, particularly when it was with intent. “What I said was that the garrison at Cair Andros needed to be reinforced as well if Osgiliath were going to be defended. As we apparently do not have sufficient force to truly hold the way open for Rohan, it would be best to withdraw both garrisons into the City, and hope that the Rohirrim may yet win their way through by their own prowess. We will need every man we have to hold Minas Tirith, and cannot waste a one. This defense of yours will cost the lives of many, and accomplish little.”
Denethor steepled his fingers, and I noticed again how he had drawn down to skin and bone in the last couple of years. His voice held its usual cutting edge of irony, though, as he asked, “And would you have the Enemy think that the battle is won already, that He can simply walk right up to the very gates of the City?”
I strove to keep my voice even and reasonable. “I do not care a fig for what the Enemy thinks, so long as we defeat Him! This business about abandoning the Rammas you spoke of earlier--I saw the masons coming back into the City when I rode in. The time to have been repairing that wall was five years ago, Denethor. And even were the Rammas in repair, and Gondor at the height of her power, there would not have been the numbers to actually man it effectively. Call Faramir back--he is too weary to fight in any event. You should never have ordered him forth.”
“I will not,” declared Denethor, “for even if I did think that your arguments had merit, which I do not, I am the commander here. You know the first rule of command, Imrahil--to make a decision, even if wrong, is oft times better than making no decision at all. And to waver in your resolve can be fatal to the confidence of your followers.” He leaned back in his chair and regarded me with an undecipherable expression, his eyes hooded.
“My lord, you may change your mind without discomfiting your followers.” I rubbed my cheekbone, feeling the throb that indicated a headache was starting. “It is well known that you have insight far beyond that of lesser men. All that you would have to say is that you have recent information which leads you to believe that a different course of action would be better, and no one would gainsay you, or think the worst of you. Another rule of war is that a commander who is too inflexible to react to the changing fortunes of the battlefield is a losing commander.”
“That is as may be, my lord prince, but I am not being inflexible. I simply believe that it is necessary to contest the crossing of the River and the breaching of the Rammas. You do not. I have heard your argument, but I stand by my original decision.”
“Then at the very least call Faramir back, and send another commander. He will be needed here in the days to come.”
“Faramir put himself forward to do this thing. He feels it is his duty, and I will not dispute him.” That was just a little too disingenuous for me, and I suddenly found myself on my feet.
“Faramir only put himself forward because you cornered him in front of the Council and forced him to do so! I have spoken with him--he feels you send him to his death on purpose!” Denethor got to his feet in turn, his face pale of a sudden, eyes dark with fury.
“He feels I wish to send him to his death? I wonder where he got that idea? No doubt you gave it to him--he had probably barely cleared the door before you were filling his ears with your poison! You and Mithrandir! The two of you have ever sought to mold him to a pattern of your own making, to drive a wedge between us! From the time he was a small boy you have wooed him, thinking to make him your eyes in this City, Imrahil, your creature to do your bidding! Do not think I do not know this!” I stared at him in disbelief.
“He is my sister’s son, Denethor! All I have ever done is to love and support him as an uncle should!”
He shook his head vehemently at my protest. “No, you have done more than that! Ever have I been made out to be the enemy! You even enlisted Boromir in your charades! And to what end, I ask you, Imrahil? You have four children of your own--why must you own the hearts of mine as well?”
I was beginning to be disturbed at the direction this conversation was taking. Did he truly believe these things? And if so, what did it say for his state of mind? But I was also capable of twisting a knife myself, and I was still almost sick with anger at him.
“Very well then, if you will have it so, I should tell you that it took very little to win his heart in the end, my lord Steward,” I said to him after a moment, my voice venomously soft. “Naught but an assurance that he was loved, and worthy of that love. And never lifting my hand against him. You could have done the same, and had the same, if you had truly wished it. So speak not of my wooing Faramir away from you, for all I did was to take up and cherish something you had discarded as being of little value.” Denethor looked at me, his expression stark, and when he spoke, his voice was leached of emotion.
“I valued both of my sons.”
“It seems not so to me, so easily do you spend them! Driving Boromir forth upon that fool’s errand to the North, and sending Faramir out now merely to appease your pride!”
What flared in his eyes then was something that few had seen and lived to tell of. His hand even strayed beneath his robes for a moment to his side, where I knew that he still bore a sword. An uncharacteristically silly conceit upon his part, I thought, for to carry a sword without participating in the continuing daily practice required to wield it was both a useless gesture, and a foolhardy one. And to contemplate for even a moment drawing upon me was beyond foolhardy, for I did practice daily, and with the best swordsman in Gondor, and I was not far behind him in skill.
Then Denethor mastered himself and dropped his hand to his side. “Speak not to me of fool’s errands, Imrahil!” he snarled. “It was Faramir’s dream that sent Boromir forth, the dream born of that wretched Elven blood of yours! It haunted my youngest son, and then claimed my eldest, when Boromir demanded the right to make the journey.”
In my turn, I became a little mad as well; I will admit it, though the memory shames me now. “We both know why Boromir left-and the dream had nothing to do with it! And when you slander my Elven blood, Denethor, you slander my sister, and that is something I will not suffer from you or anyone!” I was snarling right back at him, leaning over the table threateningly. Had it been but a bit narrower, I could have reached him and I would have struck him and he read that in my eyes. All I could think of through the roaring of the blood in my ears was the twelve years with this man that had transformed my sister from a laughing, joyous woman to a pale, strained shadow of her former self, and finally to a corpse on a bier in Minas Tirith. And the lifetime of pain, both physical and mental he had given Faramir. And the grief and despair he had caused Boromir and Andra, which had slain the one and might yet claim the other before it was done. Ever have I been fiercest when protecting those I love and the desire was strong in me at that moment to be done with restraint towards Denethor once and for all.
He could see it, and stepped a bit back further out of reach. Not fearful, exactly, but realizing that he had finally pushed me too far.
“And while we are on the subject of things I will not suffer,” I continued, “understand this. I have come to Minas Tirith with all my knights, as I have sworn. But I will decide how their lives are to be spent! It has been over two score years since you last saw a battlefield, and I have been fighting on land and sea all this time. So squander your own men and even your son if you must, but be very careful what orders you give to me! For if I find them lacking, I will disobey them! Ever you have been fearful of revolt, and with no cause. But I will give you what you fear if you press me further!”
“Imrahil, dissension between us serves no one but the Enemy!”
“You should have thought about that before you threatened my sworn brother with execution for treason he has never committed! You should have thought about that before you blackmailed me and demanded my son as a hostage! I did not create this dissension! There is a limit to what I will endure for Gondor’s sake, Denethor, and you are perilously close to overstepping it!”
Denethor seemed shaken at how quickly and easily the veneer of civility between us, years in the making, had been ripped asunder, and how thin it had proven to be in truth. The fire faded suddenly from his eyes, he raised his hand in a rather vague gesture, and sank wearily down into his chair.
“I am sorry, Imrahil--I would never say aught against Finduilas. Not my lady.” It was strange that he should fix upon that out of all my grievances, and it occurred to me that he might be trying to manipulate me, but the grief on his face seemed genuine enough. I throttled back my rage. “I know that.” I closed my eyes for a moment, thinking of the sister I had loved so well, and it came to me then that she might have made me an opening to use to save her son. “Denethor. Please call Faramir back. I will gladly go in his stead, with or without my Swan Knights.” My voice was quiet now, and without any note of contention in it, though I did not beg either. He raised his head and looked at me curiously.
“You would truly leave your men to take command of his? Who would command the Swan Knights in your stead?”
“Elphir and Andrahar, of course,” I replied, and the moment I did so, knew that I had lost him. Denethor, who had actually seemed tempted for an instant, frowned at the mention of my sworn brother.
“It will not serve, Imrahil, though I appreciate the offer,” he replied, shaking his head. “I do not doubt that you could command those men, but they will fight better for Faramir, whom they know and love. As your Swan Knights will fight best for you. And you cannot tell me that your Armsmaster would not resent me, should I send you forth and something befall you. Could Elphir truly command Andrahar then? The man who trained and commanded him for years? I think not.”
“Then I will take Andra with me, so you won’t have to worry about that. At the very least, let me send some of my knights out with Faramir, to augment the City Guard. You do not have enough cavalry.”
“I will not risk any more men in this venture than I already send,” Denethor said tiredly. “There is perhaps some truth to your assertion that it is a foolhardy mission, but I believe that our folk will fight the harder and their spirits be the stronger if we do not meekly give the Pelennor over to the Enemy without a fight.”
He leaned back in his chair and rubbed his forehead between the eyes. I wondered if he were getting a headache like mine. “I need your men within the walls of the city, Imrahil. I will admit to you what you already know--your Swan Knights are the best-trained soldiers in Gondor, afoot or a horse. They are essential to the defense of Minas Tirith. And as you have said, you are one of the best commanders in Gondor. I will be needing your counsel. You must remain here. Though if the Enemy draws near, and looks to overwhelm the retreat, I will consider sending a sortie out, and I would hope that you would lead it.” I bowed my head, knowing that he would not be moved further, then nodded, acknowledging my defeat.
“Very well then, my lord Steward,” and was turning to go, when my frustration and fear surged back up and made me turn back to face him once more.
“But if aught befalls Faramir, Denethor, his blood will be on your hands.” It was quietly said, but the words fell between us heavily as any curse. His head snapped up and he glared at me for a moment, then suddenly something seemed to occur to him, and the color drained out of his face.
“Have you dreamed something then, Imrahil? What have you seen?” he asked softly. I stared at him for what seemed a small eternity in silence, then bowed, turned on my heel and left him unanswered.
I found Elphir waiting for me down the hall at a little distance, his helm tucked under his arm, his expression concerned.
“I heard you had gone in to talk to him, Father. Did it do any good?” I shook my head.
“No. He is set upon this course, and none may stay him from it.”
My son fell in beside me as I moved down the corridor, disbelief upon his countenance.
“But it is folly!” he exclaimed. “He will kill Cousin Faramir, and many of his men as well! And for what? Some misguided notion about Gondor’s pride?”
“Speak softly, son, if you must speak so at all,” I chided him, catching looks of anger or alarm from the courtiers and servants we passed. Elphir gave them and then me an embarrassed glance and subsided. “I need you to find Lord Hurin for me and ask when we might meet today. Tonight at the latest. Denethor may need to send a sortie out to cover the retreat, and he has asked me to command it. I would go out in strength if we go out at all, and I need to know what numbers Hurin may bring to it.” Elphir nodded, and turned to go, but I laid a hand upon his shoulder for a moment to stay him, and when he turned back, questioning, I drew him to me and hugged him hard for a moment.
He was smiling when I released him, and though many folk say he is the image of me, it was his mother I saw in the set of his mouth and his eyes. Once we were wed, Nimrien had always seemed to know the tenor of my thoughts, and so it was with her son.
“We will bring him safe home, Father. You will see.”
I could only hope that it would be so, since I had sworn upon it.