Denethor sighed wearily as he plodded up the road approaching Minas Tirith on his finely decorated steed, his entourage of courtiers and guards alongside him. The warm breeze stirred his long, curling, gray-streaked black hair as he lifted his head and beheld the gleaming White City looming before him, glowing in the late afternoon sun. A smile creased his face, lined as it was with fatigue, as he envisioned greeting his sons, enjoying a fine dinner, and a good, warm bed after so long on the road.

The brilliant call of silver trumpets sang through the air as he rode to the Great Gate, the metal medallions on his horse's bridle and blanket jangling with each tired step. With a chorus of monstrous creaks, rattles and clanks, the Gate was unlocked and drawn open, and soon the air was filled with the clopping of hooves as they entered the City and began the lengthy ride to the top level.

There was a small crowd gathered to see the Steward return home, and he smiled and nodded as he passed through the courtyard. Once past the small throngs, however, he turned his mind to more mundane matters as they moved through the streets. It had been a tiresome journey, full of tedious rides and days of meeting with Rohan's King and numerous Rohan dignitaries, nobles, and advisors. The talk had all been full of concern for Mordor's growing might, and the beauty of the summer day had done little to lift the heaviness now pressing Denethor's heart.

As he traveled along, he mulled over the happenings of the visit, the mound of papers, treaties and official documents in his pack that would need tending as soon as possible, the troublesome news he had heard of Orcs stirring along the borders of Rohan and Gondor. His full attention did not really return to his surroundings until he reached the upper level, and rode into the courtyard of the Citadel.

There was the usual assembly of servants, nobles, and citizens there to greet him, standing in a loose crowd around the Fountain of the White Tree. Denethor blinked, straightened in his saddle, and searched the small throng, looking expectantly for his two sons.

Ah, there they were, standing with their governess and smiling at him as he passed by. He smiled back as well, very pleased and relieved to see them well. Boromir, he noted with great pride, looked his usual strong, handsome self in his cadet's uniform, his blonde hair shining like gold in the sunlight. 'What a splendid soldier he will make,' the Steward thought to himself, nodding to his heir as he went by. And by Boromir's side, of course, was Faramir, smiling eagerly at his father, his large blue eyes shining with joy, and his hair-

Denethor smiled at Faramir as well, but he could not keep a puzzled gleam from his eyes as he studied his youngest son's hair. It was the fashion in Gondor for men and boys to wear their hair long, a trend Faramir had never ignored or protested. Yet here the child was, smiling up at him, with hardly more than a few inches of hair anywhere on his head. Of his normally abundant curls little could be seen, save for a slight upturning of the ends belonging to the longest strands which barely touched the tips of his ears. In addition, the style was quite blunt and choppy, and not becoming at all.

Before he realized it, Denethor was fully past the welcoming group, his horse's steps now turning to the stables. Denethor pursed his lips as he guided his mount along and wondered more about what curious events must have taken place in his absence. The explanation, he surmised, would prove most interesting.

A quiet dinner followed the Steward's return, during which he listened to his sons' revelations of all they had accomplished while he was away. His attention was weary but sincere; at least the talk did not concern politics or war strategy. He commended Boromir for being such an apt pupil of the arms master, and nodded at Faramir's proud recounting of his progress with his tutor. In turn, he answered their questions about Rohan and its court. No other matters were discussed.

Later that evening, the Steward sat in his study, lit by numerous candles and lamps as he made an attempt to set in order the large amount of information brought from Rohan. Despite the warmth of the day, a fire roared in the room's large fireplace, lending further illumination. Every once in a while, his sharp, dark eyes would flicker over to the massive wooden door leading into the chamber. The door stood slightly ajar, and his behavior suggested the expectation that an eventual visitor would soon darken its stoop. Or rather, pair of visitors.

The last glimmerings of twilight were fading from the sky, and Denethor was deep in a rather tedious document concerning the trade of various goods with Rohan, when a double knock sounded firmly on the door. Not at all surprised, Denethor lifted his head and said in a stern voice, "Come."

As the Steward had anticipated, Boromir slowly entered the large room, his expression somber and respectful. Behind him was Faramir, holding tightly onto one of Boromir's hands as they walked into the chamber, his own look somewhat more anxious.

"Father?" said Boromir, stopping before Denethor's large desk and talking in a hushed tone. "I know you are very busy, but Faramir and I need to...to speak with you."

Denethor studied them both gravely before laying down his quill and patiently folding his hands. He appeared to be trying not to smile. "Of course, my son," he said. "May I assume this has something to do with your brother's new appearance?"

The older boy shifted a little uncomfortably and glanced down at Faramir. The child still seemed nervous, but his gave Boromir a firm nod, his head held bravely up despite his fear, encouraging his brother to continue.

Boromir's lip twitched as he looked back at Denethor. "Er, yes, Father, it does. Faramir and I...have..." He paused and swallowed. "We have something we need to confess to you."

Denethor barely moved as he gazed at them both. "Very well," he said, his voice not so stern as before. "You may proceed. I promise to give you both my full attention."

For a moment, Boromir stared at his father, his green eyes only now betraying a hint of anxiety. Then he swallowed again and quietly said, "Yes, sir," before recounting, in soft but steady tones, the complete tale of how Faramir had come to have nearly all of his hair cut from his head.

"In the end, Mistress Darwain was able to fix the worst of it," Boromir said as he finished the tale. During its telling, he had looked often at Faramir with a countenance wreathed in deep regret, but now lifted his gaze to face their father. Faramir's expression had remained uncertain but resolute as he squeezed his brother's hand now and then for support. "She thinks it will grow back all right, and had some ideas on how we could fix it so it won't look so bad. Then she cut my hair, as Lady Allaneth intended, and it was all over."

During the tale, Denethor had sat silently, hands folded, listening intently, his eyes darting back and forth between Boromir and Faramir. No shadow of anger had crossed his face; it had maintained the same stern cast throughout the entire narration.

Boromir solemnly faced his father, his tone sincere and humble. "We have both talked about it, and...and we know it was wrong of us to disobey Lady Allaneth. We thought the most honorable thing to do would be to come and speak to you tonight, and face the consequences for our actions, as men of Gondor should."

When Boromir had finished, both he and his brother waited, each holding their breath without really realizing it.

At length, Denethor stirred. "A most interesting adventure," he said finally, regarding the two boys. "Tell me, Boromir, have you done as you wished, and practiced with the new sword I gave you?"

At this unexpected question, Boromir blinked a little. "Well...yes, sir," he admitted. "I used it during my lesson today with the arms master. It is a wonderful sword, and I thank you for it." He hesitated. "But...I confess, it wasn't as much fun to use it as I thought it would be, yesterday."

Denethor nodded, and looked over at Faramir. "And you, Faramir, have you read the tale you were longing to finish?"

Faramir shook his head. "No, Father," he conceded. "I, um, I haven't really felt like reading."

A small smile tugged at Denethor's lips. "I am sure that will change," he declared, before drawing a deep breath and settling back in his chair. "Boromir, Faramir, you must know that I am quite pleased that you have found the courage to admit this transgression freely to me, instead of my having to hear of it from Lady Allaneth or Mistress Darwain."

Two small voices replied "Yes, sir."

The dark eyes moved back and forth between the two boys as Denethor's voice grew slightly sharper. "And you must know that I am quite displeased at your disobedience of Lady Allaneth, who acts by my authority over you both when I am gone."

Two voices repeated "Yes, sir," much smaller this time.

"I understand that there are times when one would far prefer the pleasant activities of leisure over the less agreeable ones of duty," the Steward went on, his tone never softening. "As my sons, you must learn to subdue those preferences, and fulfill what has been asked of you, even at the cost of your own desires. This is not the last time such a sacrifice will be asked of you both, nor will it be the most difficult. I expect that you will each meet this challenge more successfully when it is next laid before you." He paused, and gave them each a very keen, penetrating glance. "Will you not?"

Boromir and Faramir looked their father steadily in the eye and chorused "Yes, Father", speaking the words as the earnest promise they all understood them to be.

After studying them both without speaking for a moment, Denethor unfolded his hands and picked up one of the documents before him. "Very well," he said in a much lighter voice, following a short cough. "This matter will be discussed no more. I shall see you again shortly when my work is concluded here."

He turned his eyes to the parchment in his hand. Boromir and Faramir stayed where they were, hand in hand, exchanging rather uncertain glances.

Finally, Boromir cleared his throat. "Father?"

Denethor did not seem at all surprised when he looked up. "Yes, Boromir?"

His handsome young face slightly contorted with confusion, Boromir looked down at Faramir before facing the Steward once more. "Is there nothing else you wish to...I mean to say, is there nothing more to come from this, truly?"

His father tilted his head back a little. "Do you mean to ask, my son, am I not going to punish you?"

The young man started a little to hear it put in such forthright terms, then nodded as soon as he had collected himself. "We are prepared to accept it, sir," Boromir managed to say, his voice only a little less than perfectly steady. Beside him, Faramir nodded firmly.

Denethor laid the paper back down on his desk and folded his hands once more, his expression considerably softer than before. "It is a brave question, Boromir, and one that gives me great hope for you both," he replied. "But as to the punishment for your disobedience, it has already been dealt out, by yourselves."

Both boys gazed at him in bewilderment.

In answer, Denethor looked at his youngest son. "Faramir, your punishment is to bear your brother's tonsorial experiment upon your head, and behold it every time you face a mirror, until such time as it grows to a more suitable length."

A chagrined look came over Faramir's face, and he gave his sire a nod of understanding as one corner of his lip twitched.

The Steward then directed his piercing gaze to his heir. "Boromir, your punishment is to behold your handiwork every time you are with your brother, and recall the circumstances that led to his appearance."

Boromir's expression was very similar to that of his younger brother. He also inclined his head in acceptance, and murmured "Yes, Father."

Denethor sighed and straightened a little in his chair. "The time it should take for Faramir's hair to reach a proper length - I imagine this will be around four months - should be of sufficient duration for the lesson of your punishment to be absorbed you both. At its end, provided I am satisfied with your progress, you shall receive the gifts I have brought for you from Rohan."

The two boys exchanged somewhat disappointed looks, but they each appeared fully aware of why these presents were not bestowed now. They faced their father, and Boromir bowed slightly, saying in a serious voice, "We understand, Father."

Denethor nodded, and his eyes softened. "And if you do exceptionally well in minding your behavior," he added, "you shall hear the tale of the day your aunts, my sisters, performed a similar experiment upon my own willing head."

Green and blue eyes both widened in surprise, but before either of the children could ask, Denethor held up a quieting finger, his face set in lines just as stern as before.

"But only if you are both obedient, and properly mind both your governess and I in all things," he said firmly. The softness still gleamed in his dark eyes, however. "Now you may go, and I will see you both later on this evening."

Boromir and Faramir then smiled for the first time since entering their father's chamber, and executed a pair of perfect, formal bows.

"Yes, Father," they said in unison, and still hand in hand walked quickly from the room, their steps considerably lighter than when they entered.

Denethor watched them leave, then returned to his mountain of paperwork, now with a small smile gracing his countenance.

The next day found the Steward consistently busy with the typical council meetings and duty-tending that always accompanied the return from a lengthy journey. Denethor, however, did find time to seek his sons out, just to see if his suspicions to their activities proved true.

He found Boromir fully engaged in sword practice with the arms master, plying his magnificent new weapon with great zeal. Denethor observed unnoticed from a distance, but even from there he could see the broad smile of joy on his eldest son's sweat-streaked face as he skillfully swung the blade.

Denethor nodded, and set off to find Faramir.

The youngest boy was discovered in his chamber, curled up on the comfortably cushioned window-seat. Faramir sat bathed in sunlight as he finished his book, the atrocious haircut upon his head forgotten for the moment. So thoroughly absorbed was he in the tale that he failed to notice his father peeping discreetly through the half-open door, just long enough to answer his curiosity. Once Denethor saw Faramir reading his book, a familiar expression of quiet enjoyment on his young face, the Steward silently slipped away and left the child undisturbed.

Just as quietly, Denethor began the long journey back to his study, to the papers and problems that seemed now to be never-ending. But for now the Steward's mind was on lighter things, on his sons and their promising fidelity to the ideals of courage and honor, and on far older memories created long before he had shouldered his current heavy burdens.

An observer might wonder what it was in his recollections that caused Denethor to hesitate in his step, and reach one slender hand up to cautiously feel the long, curling hair flowing down the back of his head as if to assure himself it was all still there. But the memory, whatever it was, seemed to last but a moment; then the Steward's step grew firmer, and he continued his walk back to his duties, leaving his sons to enjoy their carefree days while they lasted, in peace.

THE END

Author's Note: I have no idea whether Denethor actually had sisters or not. I thought I read somewhere that he did, but I couldn't find any firm information on whether Ecthelion II had any children other than Denethor. Apologies if this is not accurate!

Thanks for reading! Reviews always welcome!

Sue :)