As you might realize, I see Denethor and his relationship to his sons a bit differently than most. Feel free to disagree with me if you want – but allow me the freedom of a different approach.
CHAPTER THREE – FATHERS AND SONS
“Grandfather is making a Swan Knight in Carvossonn, instead of in Dol Amroth?” asked Boromir in genuine surprise. “Why would he wish to do suchly? And who is the knight-probationer who would make that request?”
His father, the twenty-sixth Ruling Steward of Gondor, was sitting thoughtfully behind the large desk of his study; a desk full of scrolls an books and detailed reports, yet impeccably ordered nonetheless. The Steward was a tall, pale man, with his dark hair liberally streaked with silver – at the age of sixty-four still in his prime, as noblemen of purely Dúnadan origins saw it, but perchance aged a bit early due to the concerns of the realm weighing heavily upon his shoulders. In his customary black robes, he offered a dignified – and quite intimidating – sight. At the moment, though, he was smiling at his firstborn with genuine fondness… an expression few people had got to see on his stern face during the recent years.
“Have you ever visited Halabor?” he replied with a question of his own.
Boromir shook his head. “Is that not the small, walled town near the Great River, opposite Cair Andros?” he asked.
“It is,” the Steward nodded. “Tis but a small town, yet it has seen better times – just like its lord who can count back his ancestors to one of the knights in the Lord of Andúnië’s household. Orchaldor is his name. He is but a few years older than I am, and though he has no seat in the Council and is sworn to the Princes of Dol Amroth, as all his ancestors have been for almost the entire Third Age, I have always found his insights useful. His only child, a late-born son, has been trained in your grandfather’s court and is about to become a Swan Knight.”
“He must be of my age, then,” said Boromir, “if he has begun esquire training at the proper time.”
“He has,” replied Denethor. “Perchance you have even met her during your visits in Adrahil’s court.”
Boromir shrugged. “I cannot remember,” he said, “Grandfather’s court is always full with young boys of noble families. But why would the ceremony take place in Carvossonn and not in Dol Amroth?”
“His mother was a cousin of Lord Forlong’s,” explained his father, “and Forlong’s court is fine enough for such an important feast. I assume Lord Orchaldor did not want to leave his town for the long journey to Dol Amroth, and his kinsman agreed to help him out.”
“Well, Carvossonn is certainly a worthy place,” agreed Boromir. “I visited it but once, but I felt like an ant in the shadow of its great walls and ramparts. Though it cannot be compared with our city, it is still a wondrous place.”
“So it is,” Denethor nodded. “And Lord Forlong chose to celebrate the knighting of his young kinsman with a tournament. Invitations have been sent to all young knights in the nearby provinces – including yourself.”
“I have been invited?” Boromir was honestly surprised, as the Steward’s dislike for such games was widely known all across the realm, and he had thought no-one would ever be so bold as to send him an invitation.
His father treated him to a sarcastically arched eyebrow.
“Are you telling me that you would not make a worthy participant, my son? I should be very disappointed.”
Boromir rolled his eyes. His father’s jests had always had a very dry streak – so much that most people would never realize that the Steward was having fun.
“Ai, Father, I beg you! As if you would ever allow me to participate in such games! How often have you told me that I must take no unnecessary risks, like getting injured or even killed by such pointless brawls?”
“Not often enough, apparently,” replied the Steward in a placid tone. Taking a glance at his son’s disappointed face, he asked. “Would you truly wish to go?”
Boromir shrugged stoically. “Leave it be, Father. I have long ago accepted that there are things I cannot have, just because I am your son… and the Heir to your office.”
“That was not my question,” said Denethor dryly. “I asked you, if I am not mistaken, if you truly wanted to joust around before the eyes of a loud and probably unwashed crowd, throwing your fellow knights out of the saddle and end up badly bruised – all that without a sensible reason. I am still waiting for an answer.”
“The truth?” asked Boromir defensively, and his father nodded.
“The truth indeed. Why else would I ask?”
“All right, the truth,” Boromir licked his lips, his stomach fluttering; ‘twas not an easy thing to stand to something his father so obviously disapproved of. “The truth is that, yea, I would give an arm for a chance to go there and do just that. To compare my skills with those of Gondor’s best warriors.”
Denethor shook his head in mild dismay. Personally, he could not understand the attraction of the tournaments. In his eyes, they was naught but pointless risk-taking, with an outcome based much more on pure luck than on true skills – but the young knights apparently saw it differently. Even his own son, who should have known better.
On the other hand, even the Steward’s son deserved to have a leave every now and then. And it would have been fruitless to hope that Boromir would want to devote his spare time to lore, unless it was military tactics, the description of the great wars of past Ages or the deeds of Gondor’s kings of old. Denethor had all but given up hope to wake his eldest’s interest in the finer side of knowledge. Certainly, Boromir would learn anything he was told to learn – including Elven languages and poetry that were part of the education of young nobles – but naught beyond that. This saddened Denethor somewhat, as he was both, scholar and warrior himself, but it seemed that his sons had managed to divide those territories neatly.
“Very well,” he said with a small sigh. “Go then, if that is your wish. But expect no sympathy from me if you come back with a broken bone or two.”
Boromir’s eyes widened in pleasant surprise.
“You will let me go to the tournament?” he clarified, still barely able to believe his ears. Denethor nodded.
“And I expect you to do well,” he warned. “Lord Húrin chose to go, too, thus I shall be told about your performance.”
“I knew there had to be a catch somewhere,” Boromir mock-complained. In truth, he enjoyed the company of his much older cousin greatly. Although ‘outrageously young’ for his office, as some of the grizzled old councillors complained, Húrin the Tall, son of Barahir, was shrewd and well-versed in the ways of the court, and thus a great support for Boromir every time he had to face the Council.
“You shall be fighting for the honour of our House,” his father answered in tolerant amusement. “I need to make sure that our honour will be sufficiently defended, if I had to lower my standards and allow you to participate in the first place.”
“I thought cousin Húrin would be doing that,” replied Boromir, fairly amused himself.
“Not if he wishes to stay in my good graces, he shall not,” said the Steward, grim and stern again, all of a sudden. “He is a widower with a small child – he is not allowed to take any foolish risks. He may watch the tournament… naught else.”
“I doubt not that Aunt Eledhwen has already told him just that, in no uncertain terms,” laughed Boromir. The Lady Eledhwen was every bit as formidable as her brother, and – as the wife of the second-ranking official of Minas Tirith after the Steward himself – she had the sufficient authority to back her strong opinions. “Is she coming with us as well?”
Denethor shook his head. “Nay; Lord Barahir is in a bad shape and needs her on his side. Nor do I think she would wish to leave him alone for shallow merriment.”
Boromir nodded. Like everyone in the Steward’s family, the Lady Eledhwen had a very strong sense of duty. Ever since her aging husband had to hand over his office as the Warden of the Keys to their son, due to an unfortunate riding accident that left him all but crippled, she had barely left his side, becoming something like an hermit with him.
“I hope cousin Húrin will bring little Morwen, though,” he said. “Their house is too grim and silent for such a young child. She does need some merriment in her life. We should be thankful that she got over her mother’s death so well.”
“She was very young when the Lady Aerin died,” said Denethor, but the pain darkening his eyes revealed that he was not truly thinking of Morwen.
“Sometimes young children understand more than we would expect,” answered Boromir softly. “I am glad you allowed Grandfather to take Faramir to Dol Amroth, though. He, too, needs comfort that we cannot give him... we do not have healing hands. But Aunt Nimrien has a gift for healing broken hearts – and having one more child to take care of would be no hardship on her.”
“Faramir is not a child anymore,” said Denethor sharply. “At his age, you were well into weapons training already.”
“And I hated every moment of it,” replied Boromir, laughing.
“Nay, you did not,” his father corrected. “Your brother, though, is much less eager than you were. Perchance I was mistaken to allow him to pursue his own interests for this long. I should have tried to harden him up in time instead.”
Yet he looked more sad than angry, despite his cold manners – so sad, indeed, that Boromir’s heart went out to him. ‘Twas a rare thing that his father allowed him a glimpse behind that carefully schooled stewardly mask. That he would allow to be seen in one of his rare moments of weakness.
This immense gift of trust nearly overwhelmed him.
“Father, what is wrong?” he asked gently. “Why are you so loath to let him go to Dol Amroth? Surely not for your quarrels with Uncle Imrahil?”
“They shall pamper him like a baby,” replied Denethor, yet there was some bone-deep pain behind the seeming wrath of his harsh words. “Make him week. Fill his head with outlandish ideas… bring him away from the path I have planned out for him. An honourable path, albeit not always pleasant. You know Imrahil not as well as I do, my son. He may be the brother of Finduilas,” his voice nearly broke while mentioning his wife, lost too young, too suddenly, “but he is naught like her, not at all.”
Boromir was truly frightened by his father’s outburst. Did Denethor truly doubt the loyalty of the Heir of Dol Amroth? Or that of his own second-born son? Or was this just the pain speaking, the pain over the loss of Finduilas he had always refused to speak of, and the fear that he might lose his younger son, too, if not to some illness then to someone more likable than himself?
“Father,” he said carefully, “you should not doubt that Faramir would never turn against you, no matter what might happen in the years to come. Never.”
“I wish I could be as sure about him as you are,” murmured Denethor. “As sure as I can be about you.”
Boromir accepted the compliment as it had been given: in face value. They both knew there was no power in Middle-earth – or beyond – that could make his loyalty towards his father waver. The only difference being that he was certain that the same would apply to Faramir, while his father, apparently, had his doubts in that area.
This saddened Boromir greatly, but he knew not how he could help this tormented man who carried the burden of an entire realm upon his shoulders. Denethor was a great man, a strong man, but in the end, he was only a man, like everyone else. The burden he was forced to bear would have tired out giants.
“Do you want me to stay?” he asked quietly. He wanted to go, very much, in fact, but if his father needed his support, he would stay and not complain about it.
“Nay,” replied Denethor with a faint smile, laying his long, pale hand upon his firstborn’s forearm. “Worry not, I shall manage. You are still very young – go and be merry as long as you can. Life will catch up with you soon enough.”