What I would have
Summary: An account of the days of Denethor's youth, centering on his relationship with Finduilas and a proposed reason for his apparent dislike of Faramir. Based on readings from The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, The Silmarillion, Lost Tales and Unfinished Tales.
Disclaimer: The places, situations and characters contained herein belong to the Tolkien Estate. This work contains no original characters. No money is being made from this work. This writing is in no way related to or a reflection of anything produced by New Line Cinema.
Rating: PG13 for adult situations- mentions of war, combustion, violence and infidelity.
Denethor II was born on a mean winter morning. The weather had turned into an icy rain, and the city itself grieved for a recent loss of several companies due to attacks from the Haradrim in the Southern fiefs. Much sorrow was mingled with the joy of that day, and so was the life of Denethor ever tempered. He was a solemn child, and quite unlike his father Ecthelion II. He had two older sisters who were fine children and grew into fine ladies. They were quick to sorrow and grieve, bold and swift. Even under the shadow they seemed to dance with joy, as the children of men from the early years. Denethor was an odd child from infancy. His hair was darker than his sisters, and his infant eyes, which opened immediately, were almost silver. As a child he seldom cried, and as a small boy he preferred to play alone. Despite the fact that he spurned companionship, he was over-cautious of perceived mockery, and had a strange pride for one so young. When his older sister Morwen laughed to see him playing with his toy soldiers, he resolved to have nothing more to do with them and threw them into the hearth.
Denethor was in spirit more like to his mother Idril, and he preferred her company. She taught him much of how to read the hearts of men, and the power to be gained from knowing the cares and desires of one's peers- friend or foe. Ecthelion also cherished knowledge, but his was the love of songs of old, while Denethor learned like his mother to glean the value of all learning before him. The songs of valor did little to stir his heart even as a child. He would sit and listen but remain in features unmoved, by victory or defeat. Only when the tactics involved were mentioned, or the numbers of troops, or locations in which great battles were fought did his eyes gleam. He loved descriptions of strategy, especially that of Turin II his forefather. Denethor valued his role as future Steward above all else, and he disliked old tales of fancy and other 'distractions.' His mother likewise was stern of mind and purpose, and she promoted ever the thought in his mind that he alone would one day stand between the West and The Shadow.
Ecthelion frowned that his son should be so serious, but they sparred together often, and were close in this way. For Denethor was a strong child and his father showed him many tricks of swordplay. At a young age Denethor delighted in learning new moves with his wooden sword, and his joy would be when he could outmaneuver his opponent at arms. The greatest joy of all was when he would outmaneuver his father, though the latter was swift and strong, and the former but a boy. Denethor would then glance a blow upon his sire and the man would lift him into the air with wonderful strength. Held in the air between bulging muscles, Denethor would smile and Ecthelion would laugh and say, "Steel matters little compared to the mind that directs it." And almost always he would add, "When the strength of your body matches the will behind your blows, then you will be great indeed."
Yet as Denethor grew it became apparent that he would never match the great strength of his father. He was tall and gaunt, and because he could measure himself almost as well as he measured others, he was quick to realize it. Then was he downcast and his mother, perceiving his sorrow, took him to the walls of the city.
There she looked long at him and said, "Little value must I have in your eyes! For all but the meanest of men could over power me."
And Denethor was troubled and replied that it was not so.
"I would not have your pity my son. I taught you to read the hearts of men for purposes other than to comfort your mother," his mother smiled grimly and replied, "Yet look below!"
Denethor looked out upon the city and replied, "I see many things mother, yet not what you would have me see."
And she said, "look upon the waters of the river, my son. Think you that they are strong? Are the mountains not tall and proud? Are they of great value?"
Denethor then replied, "the mountains protect our city, as does the river, but neither is solely our friend and both at times they take men from us."
"And what of the wind- for it bends earth and water alike, but surely all are stronger than man?"
"They are, mother."
"But do not men harness the river, and make it to serve them? Because we have knowledge and will, all these serve us."
Then Denethor looked upon them, and his face became less troubled but more stern. And his mother looked fondly at him and asked, "You find no comfort in this?"
The boy then looked up at her and said, "I do, but now I find I have much to learn, more even than I had thought."
From that day on young Denethor rose early to read what he could before breakfast. When he was finished with his lessons he would sit in the main hall and listen to the embassies and reports that came to his grandfather. Often Turgon would dismiss his counsel to find Denethor nodding in a chair in the corner. There were times when Ecthelion would return late from the field and glance into his son's room to find the bed cold and unoccupied. Upon searching he would find him in some obscure chamber in the hall of records. Denethor, with his small dark head resting on his hands and a candle sputtering fitfully by his side, would look startled to see his sire. Ecthelion would give him a strange look and send the boy off to bed. If he had known his son could perceive his sorrow he might have assuaged the boy's fears, but Ecthelion himself did not know how to explain what he felt at those moments. To him his son was still a child, and he wanted his child to be a boy like his father, not this studious stranger that looked up at him with an old man's eyes. Denethor perceived only that his father was grieved with his son's behavior, and he worked all the harder to that he might please Ecthelion.
* * *
Thus was the spirit of Denethor formed, and it grew unguarded and untempered, for he had none of his caliber to guide his tender years. He came upon much knowledge early, and it gave him contempt for those who were without, and little trust in the learning of others. He saw less of his mother as he grew, for he entered the soldiery of Gondor, and saw little of life in the court. He felt no need to keep close to the policies of his lords, for he read men thoroughly and Idril was a formidable woman. He saw little even of his father, for Ecthelion was soon to take the rod of office and was engrossed in learning what his father could still teach him. Denethor spent the last days of his boyhood leading the life of a soldier. He slew his first orc with an arrow when he was a tender sixteen years of age, and a week later his company fought a vicious battle with a renegade band of Easterlings. His commander often recalled with awe how the youth, his blade smoking with hot blood, had calmly looked upon the carnage. His fellows were often dismayed by how calmly he slew man or orc, and how little it seemed to matter the conditions of the field or the strength of the foe. Denethor's eyes stayed cool and thoughtful and neither hardship nor ease did much to change his demeanor.
Ecthelion often thought it was a pity that his son had not known his great grandsire Turin, for Turin II was a clever strategist, and Denethor read the scrolls of his campaigns with great interest. His great grandfather fought the battle of Ithilien at the river Poros, but Denethor studied instead the fortification of Cair Andros and the building of Henneth Annun and many outposts like it. Both father and son served in the army of Turgon, but the old steward often gave commands for retreat, and he seemed of small account for those of Numenorean descent. Yet he lost little land, and preserved much. This lesson, like all others involving strategy, was not lost upon Denethor.
* * *
Denethor had grown fair to look upon, noble in mind, tall and stern. He was the image of his forefathers of old; indeed many saw the likeness of Elendil in him, though he was not of that line. He had not the strength of his father yet clearer sight both in matters of the mind and the heart. As his brilliance surpassed that of his father, likewise did his pride. He was ever wrathful at the first sign of disrespect, yet he held his wrath in check and his emotions and purposes were hard for others to read.
Men thought him brilliant but cold. In fact he was often lonely. From his mother he received only warnings of court policy and intrigue, while his father grew more foreign to him with each passing day. His foresight let him see black days ahead, and while his courage was unfailing, he found his days empty. He had no equal in his land, and that knowledge gave him happiness and sorrow in equal measure. For there was none whose counsel seemed as good as his own, and from his early youth he learned to live apart from other men. He was indeed above them, his counsel superior, his courage greater and his skill in battle and lore unsurpassed. "More like a King than a Steward," men whispered, and he hearkened. But as with all things he listened to his own mind, and comparison to a king gave him no joy, only a dark sense of foreboding.