“But I say to thee, Gandalf Mithrandir, I will not be thy tool! … I will not bow to such a one, last of a ragged house long bereft of lordship and dignity!”
Gandalf felt his heart still within him as the Steward of Gondor uttered these words. So, this was what Denethor truly felt about the possible return of the King to the throne of Gondor, then? And he counted Isildur as being second to his younger brother Anárion, even as Meneldil allowed his uncle to name him Gondor’s King and leave to assume the High Kingship in his father’s place, but at the news of Isildur’s death refused to place himself under Valandil’s authority as Isildur’s heir?
I pity you, Denethor. By all of the laws and customs in place when Gondor and Arnor were founded, the eldest child is the rightful heir. Thus Aragorn’s lineage has ever been superior to the heirs of Anárion and Meneldil in spite of what Gondor’s people have accepted. And as a direct descendant of Fíriel daughter of Ondoher, Aragorn certainly has more right to the Winged Crown than either Eärnil or Eärnur had.
You once told Boromir that Gondor was a land of such royalty that no Steward could look to take the Crown, even if the time since there was last a king should exceed ten thousand years. Yet you would be the King in all but name in spite of that pious utterance. When did you accept that this was true of yourself? Or is it merely that you know that the Heir to Isildur is the one you knew as Thorongil, and you refuse to bow to the one you saw as your rival, even though he did all he could to prove his loyalty to your father and that he had no desire to supplant you?
He watched the father draw his knife and approach the bier on which Gandalf had laid Faramir, and saw how immediately Beregond interposed his own body to protect his beloved Captain. He saw how Denethor stepped back; saw the fury—and the relief—visible in his eyes.
I told you, Faramir, that your father would remember his love for you before the end—and even in his current madness he holds some gladness that others protect you from his own despair!
Yes, Denethor, there is hope there for your son. The one who bears the Healing Hands approaches the White City even now, and with the blessing of the Valar and the Creator he will be able to offer life once more to Faramir. If you will only wait to see!
But at the last the little embers of hope that had remained in Denethor’s being were smothered by the despair engendered by the Enemy’s artifice and the terrible pride that ruled Denethor’s mind.
“But in this at the least thou shalt not defy my will: to rule my own end!”
He was tempted—oh, how he was tempted!—to forbid this act. Certainly, as one of the Istari and now the White, the head of his order, he possessed the power to assume such authority. But, to do so would be to deny Denethor the right to use his free will, that great gift given His Children by the Creator Himself! But just as the Valar had not stopped those who chose to take Fëanor’s oath from following that doomed Elf out of Aman, even so he would not further interfere in Denethor’s actions against himself. At least the Steward had not struck out against the one who had stood between himself and his son, accepting that the hope for Faramir Beregond still perceived might indeed be there for the stricken Man. And from watching the unfolding of history, Gandalf knew that out of the evil of this act of self-destruction the Creator could still bring great good.
No, he’d been wrong—there yet remained one small bubble of sanity within the Steward, the recognition that in his current mental imbalance he should in the end work against the one come to take the rule of both Gondor and Arnor into his own hands, the realization that such an action would cause instability within the realm at a moment when it needed to begin to heal. And in his choice, Denethor was excising the potential for growth of a cancer that could otherwise consume all of the West.
He will grieve for you, Denethor. He sought to embrace you as the brother that never was granted him during his lonely childhood, and deep in his heart he still wishes to do so. But in great part for the honor he held for you then, he will cherish your son for you.
And, deep within him, he realized that that small bubble of sanity that had not yet been totally overwhelmed within Denethor had heard that last thought, and was answering, I know. Nasië. May it indeed be so.
And as the madness that had taken Denethor snatched the torch from his guard and set fire to the oil and wood beneath him, Gandalf offered Denethor the one small mercy he felt free to grant—he called upon Narya’s power to cause the flame to take the Man swiftly.