Disclaimer: All characters and settings in this story belong to Tolkien. Thanks go to Julie for the beta work and helpful suggestions, insight and encouragement.


It was one afternoon, during a meeting with one of his captains from the western posts, that Denethor, for the first time, experienced what could be called 'worry' over his children's future. He had allowed his eyes to stray from the papers in front of him to the world below and there, on the square in front of the Tower, he saw the boys. The laughing and merryment that went on was somewhat contagious, for Boromir had always been a healthy and happy child, able to amuse himself with little, and to amuse anyone along with him. Further away to his left, spread downwards on the lawn, his second son was leaning, head bent and arms crossed in front of him. He shifted and thrust his head forward, trying to discover the cause of the boy not participating in the game; but, he did not have to look too hard or for too long before he was able to see Faramir turning the page of a book, seemingly engrossed and totally oblivious of the world around him. He raised a brow, and leaned over the window in hopes of further comprehending the scene before him. Repeatedly did he do this, and the view changed but little: Boromir still played, and Faramir still read, almost every time he looked, and only with a few exceptions of times when Boromir would sit to catch his breath and peer into a page of his brother's books; or Faramir, by Boromir's entreaty, would join him for a round of sparring. It was then that something inside warned him that the circumstance needed be looked into.

Later that day, he stopped to ponder the matter in his mind. It was not the nature of the activities that called his attention, Denethor determined; he was both a scholar and a soldier, and he admired physical prowess as much as he did the development of one's intelect through reading and study. What disturbed him, he finally concluded, was the amount of time that the boys bestowed upon those pursuits; for, it seemed to him that a succession of several days could have repeated itself and still find them, unperturbed, one playing and the other reading. Denethor had always believed that extremes were no good, and in order for a man to be complete and competent, a perfect balance between physical and mental abilities should be reached, for none could be achieved without the other. The more he thought about it, the clearer it seemed to him that Boromir should apply to his studies more, while Faramir should be taken away from too much of them, and introduced into activities of a different nature, if they were both to become whole, sensible men, mindful of their duties, and aware of their place in the world. He winced inwardly at the thought that his boys could be found wanting in the performance of their duties. Not only could he not afford that as a parent; but, as a Steward, it was most definitely out of the question.

So it was that, one day when Boromir was nearly eleven, and Faramir but six years old, he announced his determination to spare one or two hours, at least every other week, to have his sons with him and supervise the progress they made in their schooling. Special arrangements had to be made, schedules adjusted, subjects and study topics more carefully revised, servants assigned to help with the children, not to mention the inconvenience of having to occasionally accommodate his meetings with Captains, Counsellors and other lords so that he could, from time to time, manage to spare those hours. However, all that seemed to be an easier task when compared to actually having the children with him for so long a period of time, as he later discovered; for the boys, who had at first been rather quiet, showing no more interest than that which was strictly expected of them, now raided him with questions of all kinds, allowing little time for him to pursue his own reading quietly, or forcing him to take time during the day to stop and look for answers or ways of encouraging the developing interests.

As the weeks progressed, and spring blossomed into summer, he began to see his efforts produce some results; for, although Faramir still favored those pastimes of a more thoughtful, scholarly nature, whilst Boromir still leaned toward activities requiring physical exertion, his youngest had begun to seek for more and more opportunities of conversation with his elders and many people outside their family circle, so that he could practice his Sindarin or share his increasing knowledge of history, basic arithmetics, or even Quenya. The latter had taken his fancy after realizing that he must have a gift for foreign languages because, at his age, not many of his peers could even read. On the other hand, Boromir excitedly proclaimed his preference for subjects that provided a more thorough understanding of military history and the accounts of wars and conquests.

It was, however, with some trepidation that Denethor realized that as Boromir studied more, he began to formulate an increasing number of odd questions regarding the Kings and Stewards and their various offices and duties. It seemed to him strange that his son should be questioning him on such matters, for he would not expose fully what was in his head. At those times, Boromir would test and enquire aimlessly and seemingly without any purpose, tossing out all kinds of questions that, at times, appeared to contradict each other and led nowhere, but produced more doubts and confussion to all those concerned. Denethor was certain that his answers were by no means satisfactory but, how could they, when the lad explained not what he wished to know? Or, was it that he had failed in reading what his son deliberately delayed to ask? At first, he had allowed the matter to rest; but, the questions became more direct, more insistent and keen, until Boromir finally voiced his full mind.

They had been sitting in Denethor's study for quite some time. The afternoon had been very warm, humid, even stuffy. Boromir had been assigned by master Galdor to read a short text about Steward Cirion, then to complete a chart showing the various developments in trade and communication accomplished during his ancestor's rule. He had bore a frown and a pensive attitude the whole time, perhaps because he wished to take the heat out at the river, while Faramir had yawned more than thrice; seemingly, the heat and humidity had made him sleepy. Even Nirwen, the nurse, had been seen to droop her head more than twice. To keep Faramir awake, Denethor had found a passage in Sindarin and prompted him to read aloud for him. Delighted by the new task, the boy's eyes and voice began to peruse the words with little effort, until both him and Denethor -even Nirwen- were startled by a thud: Boromir had closed the book he had been reading, folded his arms and placed them over the table.

"Is there aught wrong, Boromir?" Denethor asked from the other end of the room, where he had been looking for a book in the shelves. "Have you finished?"

"Well... no, not really," came the low, tight response.

"Not really?" Denethor asked again, pointedly, coming toward the desk where the boys were sitting. "There is inot really/i anything wrong? Or, you are inot really/i finished?" Boromir made no reply, and so Denethor grabbed the paper from the table, giving it a quick glance. "This seems good enough, son. So, what is the true problem?" He pushed a chair beside Faramir's, and sat face to face with his eldest boy.

"Well," Boromir began, a deep frown on his face, "this book says that King Eärnur died-"

"We do not know for sure whether he died or not. It was never proved." Denethor interrupted.

"He went away, then," Boromir corrected, "on..."

"Twenty fifty," he finished the sentence.

"Yes, that is what I was going to say," Boromir continued. "And, this year is-"

"Twenty-nine eighty-nine," Faramir said without taking his head from his book, which he had continued to read silently.

"Yes, exactly," Boromir said, rather annoyed. "So, how many years have passed since then?"

"It gives you a full count of about nine hundred and fourty years," Denethor replied, covering his mouth and raising a brow, suspecting the direction the argument would take.

"More than nine hundred years!" Boromir exclaimed, hitting the table slightly with his fist. "How many hundreds of years needs it to make a Steward a King, if the King returns not?"

A stinging, sudden silence surrounded them, but the looks the boys gave him seemed to scream without words. Boromir was half-gaping; he must have been figuring out the arithmetic in his own head to assure himself that his father had not been mistaken on his count. His eyes had narrowed, and his brow was knit together, his fists tightened in front of him. He was displeased, or at least, confused. Faramir was a different matter entirely, almost something worth beholding. He had given Boromir a long, steady glare, eyes wide open and lips pursed, and then he had turned to Denethor, holding his breath, his small hands firmly pressed against the book he had been reading. Denethor had not expected his six-year-old to comprehend anything of what had passed between his eldest son and himself; but the bright, almost shrewd glance of his boy seemed to be probing him, expectant of what he might do, anxious to see how he would get out of the mess Boromir had made; he was not too sure he liked that look. On the other hand, there was a flicker of something else deep within the grey eyes that spoke of an understanding of some sort. Was it sympathy?

Denethor curled his lips slightly, trying to restrain himself from sighing or swallowing hard. By now, Boromir looked quite chafed; but, before he lowered his eyes back to his book, Denethor could detect in his gaze a flash of something closely resembling frustration, or, perhaps, deep annoyance. The lad was frowning, and he could see he was chewing on his lip, a gesture he always indulged in whenever he was distressed or uncomfortable. The situation called for him, and something needed be done; but, what? How could he answer a question of which answer he had no certainty? How much should he reveal, and what should he hold back, for the sake of his son's understanding? He had to say something, at any rate. He pressed his hands firmly against the table, and arched a brow. "How many years, you ask?" he began, making his tone as cool and easy as was possible in a conscientous attempt to appear confident, unsure though he was of his own words. "Few years, maybe, in other places of less royalty." That last word had been carefully and pointedly stressed. "In Gondor ten thousand years would not suffice." And, that had been the end of it. Unable to bear Faramir's sharp stare any longer, or to endure Boromir's questioning looks, and undecided as to how best to deal with the present issue, he rose from the table, and walked back to his books.

The rest of the afternoon went by as usual. Boromir was encouraged to continue with his report, which he finished with a few corrections from Denethor, who made a special effort to point out how many improvements Steward Cirion had carried out, all for the benefit of the people of Gondor, while Faramir resumed his reading of the story of Cirion and Eorl. Denethor attempted to start a conversation regarding that very topic, but the boys seemed to have been put in a rather dark mood, completely non-talkative and stiff. After several desperate tries to lighten the atmosphere, he decided that now that he knew, at last, the true nature of his son's discomfort, it better be dealt with soon instead of letting it simmer on the back of his mind until it was too late to be corrected, or the boy had no longer the desire to hear a proper explanation.

"I need your help Faramir," he said as he placed a book in front of the boy's eager hands, which stretched at once to take it. "I have been looking for a part here, where it speaks of your grandsire, Adrahil, and his days spent among the mariners from Pelargir, when he was still young. Would you, please, locate that for me?" His lips twitched upwards in a sly smile upon seeing the boy's face brighten; but, felt his brow tense as he encountered his eldest son's glance when he turned to him, "Boromir, would you please come with me?"

With a final gesture to Nirwen, indicating that she should stay with Faramir, they left the room, and walked through the dark hallways of the Steward's House and out into the square, where the bright, hot afternoon had cooled, anticipating evening and dusk. The sun still shone, but dimmer, and less warm. A few leaves rustled with a very soft breeze that had come as a welcome relief from the heat of the earlier hours. Away to their right, where the fountain was, they heard the soft but steady sound of dripping water.

Denethor glanced down at his son, and could not help but smile broadly. Boromir walked uprightly, and he could notice the efforts he made to mimic his own strides, although he could not quite do it, yet. A few years, perhaps, he thought. He admired his frank, open, easy disposition, and his good-natured humor and attitude. In spite of inheriting an appearance that resembled his own and that of his brother very closely, Boromir's nature was quite different from theirs; perhaps, Denethor reflected, that was the reason why he had been so distressed by his son's questions, for his son was unable to hide his feelings and thoughts, and they showed on his face as plainly as words written on an open book. It had troubled Denethor to see Boromir's doubts painted so clearly on the creases of his forehead, the tautness of the shoulders, or the flicker in eyes that were usually bright, clear and confident. As he walked beside him, observing that the child at his side would cease to be a child before long, he experienced a confussion of feelings which were hard for him to identify; but, one of them was apprehension. His son needed answers; he should provide them. "Boromir, do you know where we are going?"

"No, sir."

"Would you make a guess?" He thought the boy would like the game. It also gave him an opportunity to test Boromir's mood and determine how best to speak to him.

"There are many places where we could go, Father," he said, glancing up, a mischievous smile playing on the corners of his lips. "Is it here on the citadel?"


"Then, I would say, we're going to the Tower." He raised his voice a little, confidence building up. "It is the Tower, isn't it?"

"Indeed," he said, very pleased, as he steered his son amid small clusters of guardmen and soldiers, all who saluted and bowed before the Steward of the city. Denethor was able to catch more than a smile from Boromir's face.

At last, and after going through a stone corridor where their footsteps echoed many times, they stood before an iron door which rolled to let them pass. A few paces later, and one or two lines of guardmen, they came to the middle of a wide hall, lit by the light of many tall windows in the aisles at both sides, and also many candles.

There were many things there to attract a boy's fancy. There were pillars of black polished marble that rose to the wide vault above them so high that a small child may not have seen the capitels; and, sometimes, upon looking, there was a glimmer of gold. There were statues of men, all tall and with an air of grandeur that gave them life in spite of their being made of stone and not flesh. Some of them Boromir recognized, for all carried symbols of their names and their conquests; but, mostly, they were Kings long gone whose memories remained only in songs and books. With roaming eyes, he contemplated the far corners, the small crevices in the long, tall wall of columns and statues, where any boy would find perfect places to hide and play all kinds of games. His own forberance, Denethor thought, or perhaps his solemn demeanor, kept his son anchored to his place by his side. "Why are we in the Throne Room, father?" Boromir asked, all eagerness and curiosity, looking around in all directions as if he had never been on that hall before.

"You will see," Denethor said, arching a brow. "There is something I would show you."

They advanced, slowly but steadily, toward the far end of the room, where his own chair was. He sat on the step, and bid Boromir sit on his footstool so that their faces were level. After a few moments of uneasiness, where he ran a hand through his hair, straightened the neck of his shirt, and drew his hand to his chin, he propped his head on his arm and looked at Boromir long and silent. At length, he spoke. "Do you remember that old horse I had, Randir?"

Boromir hesitated, then lifted his head. "He must have died some three years ago. Oh, yes, I remember! He was very old, too. Mother always said that-" he gasped, jerked back and lowered his head.

Denethor pressed his jaw tightly, and for a moment, a fire lit his eyes. He was forced to wonder whether he had chosen the right recollection to initiate their little conversation. "That his time was spent," he continued, "and I should get another one. Yes, I remember." His stare became lost and distant, but he soon recovered his self-possesion and, forcing himself to smile, fixed his eyes on Boromir, who also smiled, though timidly, at first. "Do you remember what I used to say whenever I heard such comments directed toward my favorite horse, and my seeming lack of judgement?"

"Of course I do! You said that Randir always did what he was told. You thought he was a very dutiful horse," he declared, as his hand wandered toward his father's chair of smooth, black marble.

"Indeed, for those were my very words. Now," Denethor said, as his own hand joined that of his son, allowing his fingers to caress the polished stone, "I must ask you, do you remember when your grandfather, Ecthelion, died? It was the year after Faramir was born. You were six."

"I remember. I was very sad."

"As was I."

"Were you?" Boromir's head shot up, a perplexed look on his face.

"Of course. Do you suppose I wasn't? Would you not be sad if I died?"

"Well, of course papa!"

"That is just how I felt," Denethor stated, and for a moment considered the import of his son's observations. "But, I could not let my feelings get the best of me, because I had a very important business to attend to. Do you know what that was? Do you remember what I did afterwards?"

"You stood on a ceremony and took the white rod. After that, you always sat in grandfather's chair."

"That is right. That day, I became a Steward." He twisted his silver ring, the symbol of his office, about his finger and a thoughtful mood fell upon him. At last, he shook his head as if dispelling a cloud of mist, or as one who wakes from a dream. "Do you recollect aught that was said that day?" Boromir shook his head. "Would you like to know the words I said during my swearing in?" The child nodded, looking straight at him. "I took the rod from the hands of Hador, Warden of the Keys at that time, and swore the oath of my stewardship: 'To hold rod and rule in the name of the king, until he shall return.'"

"What happened, then?"

"Well, he gave me the ring, and pronounced me Steward of Gondor, twenty-sixth in the line from Mardil, charged to protect the city and maintain the realm, keeping it in trust until the return of the King." He watched with deep attention as Boromir digested all that information, and just when the boy was opening his mouth to say something, he asked, "Do you know who Mardil was?"

"He was the Steward during Eär- King Eärnur's rule. He was the first of the ruling Stewards."

"Exactly," he said, and his lips twitched into a slight smile; it was not a mirthful smile, but there was contentment and satisfaction in it, a sense of pride that he could not conceal. "And, I am about to tell you just why it is that the line of the Stewards has survived since then, and why it is that the realm has endured under our care. Now, do you see that statue there, the one closest to us?"

"Which one?" Boromir shifted on the stool, turning his body so that he could take a better look. "The one with the long bow and the sword lifted in the air? He also carries a spear and a great shield, and his arrows are thin and pointed. I think that's the best one they have."

"You do, do you?" Denethor asked, more to himself than to Boromir, and narrowed his gaze somewhat. "You see that his crown is not on his head, but he holds it on his right hand. Have you ever wondered why?"

Boromir gave him a puzzled look, before turning to the statue again; it seemed as though that detail had escaped him, and yet he had been able to give a precise enumeration of the various parts of the warrior's gear. Denethor was unsure whether to be amused by that, or to wonder at it; nonetheless, he was pleased to find his son spoke plainly, and did not flinch from his own thoughts. "King Eärnur was a fine warrior," he said, and was amused to see Boromir's astonished expression when he called the statue by name. "His prowess was known and admired throughout the whole kingdom and the lands beyond. His crown is in his hand because he took it off before-"

"Before he went away to fight the evil King," Boromir interrupted, an air of chagrin painted on his features that made him look charming. Denethor had to stifle a chuckle. "I know the story, father; I learned it years ago, when I was but a little boy."

"Oh, that is true," Denethor said, pleased to play along, for his son was clearly offended at his father's assumption that he knew not the history of his own homeland. "Forgive me, and, you are correct. He left his crown before he went away. Tell me something," he paused until he was sure that he commanded Boromir's full and undivided attention, "if you were a King, and you knew that your realm lay in great peril, and you had no heir; but, someone mocks and taunts you, provoking you to the extreme, and sets up an encounter for you to face him; would you go, in spite of the awareness that, in the event of a death on the field, your people are left leaderless?"

"Well, I-" Boromir began quickly, but suddenly stopped and a deep frown drew on his youthful face. He narrowed his gaze in a gesture that strikingly reminded him of Faramir. "I don't know. Honor is a very important thing, Father. A king would not wish to have his honor slighted."

"Yes, that I know. A self-respecting king would never wish, nor could he afford, to have his honor slighted. But, would a good king afford it? Do you realize what it means for a realm to be left without its main support in the face of danger? A good king would consider this, and do what was best for the people. A good king would do his duty." At the mention of the word 'duty,' Boromir's eyes flashed, and Denethor realized that he had made the connection between the tale about Randir and the Stewardship.

"So, you think Eärnur was foolish," Boromir said, at length, and after many moments of contemplative silence.

"I would not wish to be the judge of that. But, the King," he stressed the last word, "should have considered his people more, instead of thinking only about himself. Steward Mardil, on the other hand, understood that if he was to be accounted as a just man, a dutiful man, he would need to carry out his duties at all times. Therefore, he assumed authority and command of the city, to keep in trust-"

"Until the King returns," Boromir completed the sentence.

"Very well, son," Denethor said, placing a hand on the lad's shoulder. "That is also what I vowed to do. As I valued Randir for the way he always did what he had to, in the same way any of us with public responsibilities, such as keeping cities in trust and ruling realms, will be measured. I will not be found wanting in the performance of my duty. And, that is, to hold the city in trust until the King comes, if that ever happens," he said, rather contemptously, and was vexed to see his own feelings show so plainly through his words. "That is what I intend to do."

Boromir looked at him for a long while, leaning slightly forward at first, but then retreating, as if watching Denethor from a distance. "And, what if he comes?" The words seemed to have left his mouth unwillingly, and he bit his lip, clutching his fists tightly. Denethor shot him a dark stare and held his gaze until, after a few moments, Boromir's eyes turned away.

"If he comes..." Denethor began in a low voice, "that is a posibility that seems less certain with every day." He stopped and leaned forward, watching Boromir intently as he observed him in turn. "Why would you ask that?"

"I just- I just wanted to know," he replied, slowly. "If he comes..."

"If he comes, I shall do what is best for my people," Denethor said, his tone acquiring its usual firmness and decision, and left it at that. "Did you notice the banner that whirled in the wind, atop the Tower's spire?"

"Yes, father. It was the White Banner of the Stewards... our banner!"

"Indeed. It is the Stewards who are the wardens of this city and this land. You must remember, son, that the right to a position is not more than the power to maintain it. One can gain the right by inheritance, birth, or honor, but if one manages to lose the power, then he is nothing. The key, then, is to hold that power, and there are ways to do it, but one needs be wise to dicover them and use them to his advantage. The Stewards have proved wiser than even many Kings," he paused, for a smile was playing across Boromir's countenance, and he found that pleased him very much. "I would have you grow as wise as the wisest of them all. That is why you must do what you are told and do it to the very best of your capacity. Are we agreed?"

"Yes, sir!" Boromir said, grinning, and Denethor smiled as well, although the smile was tight and mirthless. "I shall do my best. I will grow to be a soldier of Gondor, and defend this land, like you do. Nothing will ever come between my duty to help my people and any other wish." At that moment, Denethor looked at him fully, and as their eyes met, he knew with great certainty that Boromir had grasped his love for Gondor. That, at least, was enough for him.

"And, may I ask what are you doing to become this man you so much want to be?"

"Father, I am doing many things!" he exclaimed, flinging his arms in the air, and Denethor laughed then. "I am doing very well on my history lessons already, and master Haldad said that he would begin to teach me military strategy as soon as I began my training-at-arms, which will be soon; when I get my real sword, like you promised."

"I recall. It shall be soon; perhaps, on your birthday. Will that suit?"

"Yes, it will!" Boromir exlaimed eagerly.

"Very well, then. Off you go. The day is waning swiftly, and it is time for supper. Make yourself ready, son."

"All right, Father." He got up from the stool, and leaned toward his father, who held him close for a few moments, and then gently ruffled his dark hair.

"Then it is settled. I shall see you again shortly." With that, he also got up to watch Boromir as he walked out of the hall, head high and long, hurried, yet graceful strides. He smiled, and began his own way back to his quarters, where a few things needed his attention before he could commit himself to any supper or rest.

The moment he entered the study, Denethor drew a deep breath and widened his eyes. He had not realized the untidy and disordered state in which the three of them had left the room as they searched for books and papers to complete the assignments, and thought to call for Targon to pick up the books, when he caught sight of a small leg coming out from behind his desk. For a moment, he was startled; it was too late and he had too much to do to have to deal with children right then. Nirwen, who had remained with the boy, was already rising to take him away, but Denethor stopped her when he heard the boy mumble a few words, though the voice was still low for him to grasp anything but indistinct sounds without meaning. He strained his ears hard, and then he heard something. Words... in Sindarin! Waving a signal for Nirwen to wait outside, he bit his lips, and knelt to take a look at the intruder, who lay downwards on the floor, resting his head on his folded arms. "Well met, Faramir," he said to the top of his son's dark head.

"Papa!" he cried, startled, and looked around as if to discover how it was that his father had so suddenly appeared before him. He clearly had not heard him enter the room.

"And, what do we have here?" Denethor asked, a mixture of amusement and curiosity, as he noticed how the boy had arranged a small company of soldiers out of a few things gathered from his desk, such as his ink bottle, the white piece of marble that he used as a paper-weight, and some white pieces that he had grabbed out of a chess set that was kept in display on a table near the bookshelf. He sat beside Faramir, studying the unusual arrangement of the pieces, the ink bottle and one of the white pieces in the center, and the rest making a half-moon around those two. "Are you recreating some event in particular, son? This does not look like the regular battle-field."

"It isn't a battle," Faramir said, moving the pieces closer. "This is the Oath of Cirion and Eorl."

"I see," Denethor said, raising a brow as he wondered about Faramir's chosen game. "And, may I ask who are you?"

"Cirion," he replied, perplexed, perhaps, that his father had asked what was so obvious. Denethor did laugh then. He likes his power, he thought.

"And, I must assume that this white Knight here is the king of the Eorlingas," he murmured as he set his finger upon 'Eorl.'

"You're right," Faramir said, reaching toward the ink bottle, seemingly 'Cirion,' and moving it closer to the white Knight. "It seemed right that he would be the white Knight. Rohirrim are blonde, you know."

"Indeed, they are. And, I believe this Knight makes a fitting King."

Faramir gazed up at him, and tilted his head. There was that look again! It suddenly occurred to Denethor that he had answered the question for Boromir, and Boromir alone. What did his second son think about the matter, if he thought anything at all? He had to find out. Sitting himself on the floor, he leaned back and looked squarely at the boy. Faramir held his stare for a moment, and as their eyes met, he could not help but wonder at how alike he was to Boromir, and yet how different! The same handsome features, the charming smile, some of the lines that streaked their brows when they frowned coincided in place and intensity; but, there was a deeper quality in Faramir's bright glance that Boromir's lacked. It was as if he were, at the same time, exposing and concealing his innermost thoughts, and it chafed him to confess his inability to read them, much though he tried, and he wondered why. This son was sometimes as much of a puzzle to him, as Boromir had been to... One moment, he saw his own eyes reflected in his son's, and a blink after, he thought he saw curiosity, liveliness, kindness, anxiety... At length, and Denethor thought it was too quickly, Faramir smiled, and looked away. "Tell me, Faramir," he began, "do you know I spoke to Boromir?"

The boy nodded, and Denethor narrowed his gaze over him. "He wanted to know about Stewards and Kings. Would you like to know about that?"

Faramir nodded again, clutching the ink bottle tightly amid his small fingers.

Denethor winced inwardly. How was he to explain about the stewardship and duty to his son, only six years of age? The situation demanded that he be careful. Second brothers could become a cause of strife or disagreement, and he would not have it be so in his own family, and looked around him, looking for a solution. Just then, he caught sight of a small soldier that Boromir had left on the desk earlier, and Faramir had taken to use for his game. A glimmer of relief shone in his eyes, and he quickly stretched his hand to grab the wooden toy. "What was the name of that old soldier of Boromir's? The one that had the green clothing?" he asked as he fingered the soldier in his hand.

"Haldan!" yelled Faramir.

"Oh, yes. Haldan," Denethor said, but his voice wavered, and his hold on the little soldier tightened. He chewed on his lip, and closed his eyes for a moment, before he was able to breathe or speak again. Haldan had been a gift from Finduilas to her son. "Do you remember that time when Boromir went to the river with uncle Imrahil, and you could not go with them because you had been ill?"

Faramir frowned. He had been truly disappointed that day, and had cried and cried for a long while. "Yes, papa; I remember. Boromir left, but Haldan stayed with me."

"I recall. Boromir left him to keep you company while he was away. You like Haldan a lot, don't you?" he said, his tone easy and light.

"Oh, I do! He's the best soldier I've seen! He has real clothes, and he has a sword, a quiver with arrows, and a traveling pouch."

"And, when Boromir returned and wanted to have Haldan back, was it easy to relinquish him?" Denethor looked sharply at Faramir, holding the gaze. "Did you want to keep him for yourself?"

Faramir knit his brow tightly and chewed on his lower lip. His hand trembled a little as he held the ink bottle, and his head drooped slightly. He nodded.

"I thought so," Denethor said, leaning closer to him. "And, would you have kept him?"

"No!" he cried, lifting his face to meet Denethor's, an expression both angered and horrified. "I couldn't have! He is Boromir's!"

Denethor regarded his son for a few moments, at the end of which he nodded. "That is well enough. You would not keep Haldan for yourself because he is not yours to keep; he belongs to someone else. You would not hurt your brother, or father, like that, by taking something that belongs not to you." He paused to study the young face. Faramir had narrowed his gaze as he usually did when he was listening attentively. "That is what I do, as well, and so I explained to Boromir."

"Good," Faramir said. "Then, I think he understood."

"Did you understand?"

"I think so," he declared. "We should not take any thing that doesn't belong to us."

Denethor laughed, amused, and decided that that amount of knowledge might do, for a while. Perhaps he would have more doubts once a couple of years had passed, and he decided he would deal with the problem when it came, not before. "So, are we agreed, then?"

"Yes, papa."

"Then, it is settled. Go along, now," he said as he rose, lifting Faramir with him. "I have things to do before I am able to enjoy any supper, and you need to get ready. Go and find Boromir; he should be in his room." He held him in his arms for a moment, and their gazes met. He wished to have more time to examine his son's reactions, but he felt the child was heavy, heavier now than he used to be, and he was actually surprised to think that the lad was growing so quickly. A hard task it was, to be responsible of two children; maybe it was better if both of them grew at once. But, as he saw Faramir smiling at him, more than a couple of teeth missing already, it entered his mind that perhaps someday he might come to yearn for these times, when things were 'easier,' when the problems were 'simpler,' when his sons turned to him for answers and help. He smiled as well, and brought his face very close to Faramir's, so that their eyes were looking straight at each other's at a very close distance. That always made Faramir giggle, and Boromir used to say that his brother came to have that bright stare because his father was always looking straight at his eyes, so that he passed on the glimmer. He had once or twice wondered whether that be true.

Placing Faramir on the ground again, Denethor squeezed his shoulder, and bowed slightly. "Good-bye, then, lord 'Cirion.' I trust you had a fair campaign."

"One of the best," Faramir said, grinning, "Good-bye, lord." He turned to leave, stopping by the desk to gather one or two books. However, as he was half-way to the door, he halted, and hesitated before he looked back. "Father, do you think that, if Boromir stops liking Haldan... could I have him? He broke his leg last week, and Boromir said that he was not fit for a soldier anymore. He is going to retire in Amroth, or perhaps, Lossarnach; he's not decided yet."

Denethor raised a brow, and folded his arms over his chest. "Well, I suppose that, if you ask Boromir and he says yes, then you may have him." Faramir's face brightened; but, Denethor narrowed his gaze. Why would he want to have an old, beaten toy? Was it a sign of pity, or loyalty? "But," he said, pressing the matter further, "methinks that, would you want it, you could have a whole new Haldan. I could have him made by the same craftsmen who worked on the old Haldan, and he would look just the same. Would that not be better?"

Faramir knit his brow tightly, thinking. At length, he shook his head. "No," he said, with that look of concentration that he put up when he was about to say something he deemed important, or was fearful of saying, "I think I like the old Haldan better."

"Very well, then," Denethor said, his tone perfectly neutral, a good mask of his inner thoughts. He could not say that he was pleased, but he was by no means displeased. "I suppose you can ask Boromir."

"All right," Faramir said, but slightly shrugged his shoulders. He accompanied him to the door, where his nurse had been waiting, and saw him walk away in long and hurried strides, his shoulders straight, but his head bent on his books.

Denethor turned around, closing the door behind him, and walked to the desk over which his children's books lay still scattered and a few parchment sheets had been left unused. He stifled a sigh and sat, grabbing one book that had been left open. Upon gazing at it, he read the title that appeared on the top of the page, centered and written on red ink:

iAdrahil, son of Angelimar, Prince of Dol Amroth/i

And below it, written in a smaller hand, he read,

iOf his days spent in the service of Gondor, with the Mariners from Pelargir./i

He smiled and leaned back on his chair. There was no denying that he had clever sons. He had often read, or heard, that there were few things more satisfactory for a man than the realization that he could take pride on his sons, and do it unreservedly. Although he could not say that he felt a blind and unreserved pride, his heart was rather content, and his mind relatively at ease, regarding the future of the boys. Many years were to pass before he could see how the lads would truly turn out, and he had still time enough to correct failings, to train out of weaknesses, to compensate lackings and smooth roughnesses; and even though he had complaints, he had to acknowledge that they were few and little compared to what other parents were forced to endure on account of wayward, undisciplined children. Yes, one could say that, at least for now, he was satisfied.