Denethor whom you will meet in this story is quite different than the one we know from book and movie. And if he seems too cheerful (and therefore strange) to you in this story, just remember that this is the time when his beloved wife is still next to him, when he hasn't even touched the palantir yet, when – in one word – he is happy with his family.
Big thanks and kiss to Istarnie, for beta-reading and help.
Dedicated to Val – my everlasting source of inspiration. I love you, my dear friend.
The adults were wrong when they thought that children had no problems. One serious problem for a certain eight-years-old was the following: how to occupy a boring afternoon?
Boromir approached the window with disappointment. It was raining, so plans for games and running around with friends were ruined. Such a pity! He had just been about to visit his friend Baranor, who lived on the third level of the city. Baranor and his parents had a house with a big garden, and yesterday the boys started to build a small fortress, made of stones and woods they found in the garden. Yes, maybe they would lack the material in the end so that some parts would remain unfinished, and yes, it would not be very solid or stable, but at least it would be theirs. And now, their plans were ruined, because of the stupid rain.
Perhaps he could play some games with his brother? He loved that. But Faramir was only three years old, and their mother had just put him in his bed, for his afternoon nap. So, that plan was ruined before it began!
His father would surely play with him and tell him exciting stories of ancient battles and great heroes, but on that very day a group of men from Lebenin had arrived to discuss matters of politics. So, he couldn't play with his father either. And he wasn't quite sure what politics was, but it didn't seem to involve anything active, so it didn't sound very interesting.
What options remained? Because of the rain, he couldn't ride or walk, or practice archery. He couldn't explore some secret corner of the city... he couldn't have fun! Feeling a little despondent, he took up a pencil from the table where his mother had earlier set drawing, and began to doodle. But it wasn't a very active thing to do; it wasn't very interesting. He wanted something more challenging, something to give him fun and pleasure... and suddenly, while absent-mindedly nibbling the wooden end of the pencil, the idea flashed in his mind. His face lit up with anticipation. And then he frowned, worrying. I shouldn't, he thought. But it would be fun, another voice in his mind added. The struggle between his desire for relief from boredom and a slight sense of guilt occupied him for a minute. In the end his eagerness for playing and waggery prevailed and he jumped to his feet. Taking two more pencils from his mother's tray, he put them in his pockets. Now all else that he needed was a rope, but finding it shouldn't be a serious problem. With a satisfied expression on his face, he left his room. Yes, this will be fun.
Denethor was sitting in his study. As he was preparing for the meeting, he took one last look at the papers that lay in front of him on his desk, and then he sat back in his armchair. He was not in a very good mood for this meeting; just one of many, all equally uninspiring. He could very easy picture the rigid face of Lord Ingold from Lebenin, while the man was submitting his usual report. At every occasion the Steward had seen him he had the same serious, dull expression, either when talking about crops, or when listening to jokes. An idea came to Denethor. We should put glue on his chair one day, and see his expression when he realizes it... imagining that, he burst into loud laughter.
Equipped with a rope that he found in one storeroom, Boromir sneaked into the Great hall. Nobody saw him enter, as the corridors were mainly empty. The Great hall itself was quite gloomy, because the stormy day offered scant light even through the deep windows, and no candles had yet been lit. Boromir passed beside the throne, and went to the opposite side of the room, towards the main door. When he came to the place where Isildur's statue stood, he stopped and giggled. He withdrew the rope from under his tunic, carefully made a noose and then tossed the rope upwards. At first he didn't achieve his goal, but his second attempt was successful and the rope tightened up around the statue's neck. He climbed quickly, sat on proud Isildur's shoulder and started his work.
A stroke here, a stroke there... thicker line, thinner line... then a stroke with another, thicker pencil... a little bit more of black shading...
Boromir then stopped for a moment and critically observed his creation. Isildur's face was decorated with a big black moustache. The boy quelled his sniggering, and decided to add a small goat beard too. A few more quick strokes with a pencil, and everything was perfect. That is, almost perfect. What was missing? He frowned a little. Yes! A thick line over the brow... a big black spot covering the whole left eye... and again a line over the cheek, disappearing in the hair. Excellent! Just like he saw on the picture in a book that talked about the pirates of Umbar.
It will be such fun when they discover the statue! I wish I could see their faces, he thought with a smile, as he climbed down. He coiled the rope and hid it under his tunic. Then, cautiously peering around the door, he checked the corridor was still empty before going back to his room. Everything was quiet. No one seemed to be around! After closing the door of his room behind him, he jumped and clapped cheerfully.
No, that afternoon was not boring any more!
Denethor was on his way to the Great hall when Haldar, one of his loyal counsellors, jumped in front of him. Haldar had been the senior archivist of the libraries of Minas Tirith for a long time, even from the time of Denethor's father Ecthelion. He was a gentle natured, good-hearted man; enthusiastically devoted to his studies of science and history, and to serving the Steward's family. His hair was now almost all white, but despite his age he was always there to help with advice. His major flaw, however, was that he tended to worry too much. Denethor knew it was because of his caring nature, but still Haldar reminded him of a nanny.
And now, just one look at the angst-ridden counsellor revealed that Haldar was – again, added Denethor in his thoughts – too worried over some trifle. His eyes were wide open like a startled rabbit's, and he clasped his hands together nervously.
"My lord! Something terrible has happened!" Haldar stammered.
"What is it, my dear Haldar?" asked Denethor with a soft smile. He truly loved the old counsellor and knew him well, and he knew that a few encouraging words and a smile usually gave good and quick results. "I am sure that it is nothing that you and I can't handle quickly."
Continuing with his journey to the Great hall, Denethor pushed open the heavy door – the very same door Boromir had passed through a little while earlier. The counsellor followed him closely, with very little evidence of calm. Haldar's face was still nervous. He shook his head worriedly.
"Come, quickly, my lord. There is something I must show you", Haldar said, then he moved past the throne dais and the black, stone chair, heading towards the avenue of statues and the main entrance. He stopped near the door, in front of the image of Isildur.
"Here it is", he said in a weak voice, gesturing towards the statue. "What do we do now? Damrod and Bereg are about to lead in our guests... we have no time to change our plans... we have no time to let them know about it... we have to clean it right now... but we have no time for that..." The tone of his voice increased in desperation as he finished his sentence.
Although the light was dimmed and weaker than on a sunny day, Denethor noticed from a distance that there was something wrong with the statue... and when he came close he simply stared. For once he ignored his counsellor and just stared!
Then he covered his mouth with his hand, to conceal his laughter.
But the Steward was not successful. His initial snigger very quickly turned into loud laughter that no hand could hide. He threw back his head and laughed until his sides ached.
"My lord?" Haldar questioned insecurely, staring at Denethor in total astonishment and disbelief, which only made the latter laugh even more. Looking up at the huge moustache, Denethor already had a pretty good idea who was behind it.
"My good Haldar...", he said when he finally caught his breath, wiping away the tears that came from his intense laughter. But, he had no time to finish his sentence because the main door opened in that moment. He saw that the rain had stopped. Damrod and Bereg, two further of his counsellors who were to be present at the forthcoming meeting, entered the great hall, ahead of the delegation from Lebenin. Through the wide open door Denethor could see a group of twelve men, about fifteen meters away, who were slowly walking towards the entrance. A tall man, with a stiff demeanour and a very serious face, led them.
Damrod and Bereg both bowed slightly to their Lord and stood to the side of the doorway, but both noticed there was something unusual going on. Then they noticed the statue. Watching the changing expression on their faces, Denethor had to fight his desire to burst out laughing again.
"What can we do?" Haldar muttered. "Do we have time to stop them? Take them somewhere else?"
Ingold and the delegation kept on with their solemn approach through the Citadel. There were some ten meters more before they'd reach the great hall.
Bereg was biting his lower lip, and Damrod looked like he swallowed a living frog. They were both shaking with repressed laughter at the absurdity of the situation. Their faces, although still serious, had taken on a reddish colour.
And then Denethor smiled to his dear, old counsellor and put a hand on his shoulder. "We will not take them anywhere else", he said soothingly and winked conspiratively. "Just leave everything to me."
Haldar still did not look quite calmed... but at least, panic disappeared from his kindly face.
About five meters more.
Damrod and Bereg stared at some undefined points on the wide, vaulted ceiling, attempting to maintain their serious composure. It was bad acting, to be more accurate. Denethor winked to them too, stood at the entrance and put a warm and welcoming expression on his face. This meeting might not be completely boring... or at least its beginning wont be, he concluded, cheering inwardly in advance.
Boromir was looking at a book about Númenor and smiling frequently to himself. He was in a good mood. If anyone had discovered the statue, no one had yet started an investigation to find out the culprit. Of course, if anyone asked him about it, he would say that he had seen and heard nothing.
Putting the book aside – he had only been looking, after all – he approached the window of his room and looked down. The rain had stopped! The whole terrace and around the White Tree was full of puddles, but it wasn't raining any more. Yes! He could go out and visit Baranor! While he was thinking about what he had to take with him, he noticed a group of people walking towards the great hall, led by two of his father's counsellors. It must be the people with whom my father has the meeting. Oh, if only he could be down in the great hall now, invisible to all, yet able to see what would happen when they entered... Laughing cheerfully and imagining the interesting scenes in the hall below, he went out to visit his friend.
Of course, when he passed some of the servants and guards in the corridors, he was perfectly serious and greeted them politely. Just like he was the best-behaved boy in Gondor.
The delegation arrived at the entrance of the great hall and Denethor bowed his head slightly in greeting. He wished them welcome and then stepped aside, so that his guests could enter. Of course, he ensured that he stood exactly in front of the statue of Isildur, so that his potential collocutor had to raise his gaze just a little to see the face of the statue. Ingold bowed too, though without the elegance of his host. His whole upper body seemed fixed and rigid. It is as if he swallowed a broom, thought Denethor. Ingold was a man in his sixties, tall and quite thin. The most prominent feature of his face was a big, aquiline nose. After his gesture of acknowledgement, Ingold took a quick look around, perhaps because he noticed something strange in the Steward's attitude. It was just as Denethor had hoped. Finally, Ingold's eyes alighted on Isildur's statue and there they remained. He blinked several times; then looked at the Steward, and back again to the statue. Denethor watched him, amused, laughing to himself. Yes! At last he saw Ingold's face change.
"What... what is this?" stammered Ingold finally. Those words revealed how much the stony faced envoy had been affected. And that never used to happen to Lord Ingold of Lebenin.
"What is what?" Denethor asked carelessly. He pretended to follow the direction of Ingold's gaze and with a slow move he turned towards the statue. "Oh, that!" He waved dismissively with his hand. "It is nothing special; just the creative expression of one of our young painters. Don't you encourage artists' creativity in Lebenin?"
From the corner of his eye, Denethor spotted Bereg's and Damrod's desperate fight to suppress outright guffaws of laughter. Even Haldar's face had become more cheerful. Denethor's eyes passed over Ingold's men, who stood behind their lord. Although most of them were still silent from their initial surprise, some of them started to snicker. Ingold's face began to reassume its usual sullen expression, but Denethor had no intention of letting him resume any such thing. At least not yet!
"You should allow creative expression, moreover, actively encourage it, you know", he continued in the same mild, patronising voice he had used previously. In fact, he managed to radiate a warm, sweet smile. "It is very important for developing an artist's personality. When we finish the meeting, perhaps you would like to visit our Academy for sculptors? You could even be a model to inspire creativity, if you wish. Your face is very expressive, and would prove an excellent challenge for our young folk to capture its nuances. Of course, the resulting sculpture would be delivered to your palace, as a gift of honour. Decorated, of course. With... whatever you want. Just say it."
He gazed at Ingold with the most innocent expression possible. It was just like he was the best mannered host in Gondor. Laughter was heard around them, because after hearing those words no one could remain serious. Rather, no one except Ingold; and Denethor, who still maintained the personification of innocence. For one short moment he wasn't sure if he had learned that expression from Boromir, when the boy had been caught in some mischief... or had his son inherited it from him?
Ingold's face turned purple. He turned towards his men, almost striking them down with the intensity of his furious gaze. Seeing the eyes of his guest almost flashing bolts of lightening, Denethor waited for the storm to burst in the Citadel. The pyrotechnics were at hand! Oh yes, definitely, finally it was the day when the well-known stony face changed his expression. This was worth seeing.
"This, this is outrageous, how dare..." started Ingold madly, but Denethor interrupted him.
"You don't want to be a model for our budding artists, Lord Ingold? No? I expect you are used to master craftsmen portraying you? Very well, as you wish", he answered in a conciliatory tone. He still didn't cross the line and so far all his words could have been interpreted as innocent comments; but if he continued, he would inevitably exaggerate and insult the man... and he didn't want that. Denethor was too good a Steward – too good a diplomat to provoke an incident. Moreover, he had enough fun watching Ingold finally burst out of his rigid shell. "The invitation to visit our art Academy applies to you all, of course", he continued with a sweeping gesture to all from Lebenin; his tone still serious and neutral. "I believe you would enjoy it, and our students would be honoured by your visit." With a nod that signified an end to the incident, Denethor moved on to the point of his guest's presence. "And now, we must begin our meeting. My lords, if you would follow me..."
He led his counsellors and guests through the great hall to the council chamber beyond, where usually all official meetings were held. And yes, he was in a good mood...
Much later that evening, when the meeting was over and delegation had left the Citadel, Denethor sat together with his wife, Finduilas. The large dining room where they had just finished supper was lit with four lamps, and there was also a many branched candle-stick on the table that's light made golden patterns on the walls. Evening chill came in through the open windows, with it's hint of summer's end. The couple were alone for those few moments; the servants had already removed the dishes, and the boys had just gone to their rooms – Boromir alone, because he was old enough, and Faramir with his nanny. As always, Denethor and his wife would follow on shortly, and read to their children and tell them stories until they fell asleep.
Before supper had begun, Denethor had managed to outline events to his wife. He had just told her about the moustached pirate Isildur in the great hall, and about Haldar's panic reaction, when the boys entered dining-room. With a knowing look, he signalled 'later' to Finduilas. But he could not help but laugh to himself about Boromir's behaviour during supper. His older son wasn't late as he sometimes was, not by a single second; his clothes were not untidy from playing – which sometimes happened to eight-years-olds; he helped Faramir with his supper and told him a tale about Rivendell – all in all, he behaved with markedly politeness, and in the end he even cleaned up after himself. There was no mistake; Boromir was the most courteous son in Gondor. And it was too suspicious. Even if Denethor hadn't seen the statue, he would have wondered what his son had done wrong.
When they were left alone, he talked further to Finduilas about all that had happened. Just like him, she had a good laugh. But now, it really was time to be a little more serious.
"It was fun for a change, and everything turned out well", Denethor said. "But he has to learn that he must not do this sort of thing. It would not be good to enter the great hall one day and discover that we cannot recognize one single king."
"Of course. He is not a bad boy, but he has to learn there are things he must not do." Finduilas pondered for a while, with her head slightly tilted at a becoming angle. Denethor observed her. Under the candle-light, her eyes were an even darker blue than usual. He loved her thoughtful look. He loved her so much! To him she was always adorable.
"Shall we oblige him to clean the statue by himself?" she suggested with a grin. "It would seem the obvious punishment!"
Denethor thought about it for not more than a second, and in that time visualized several possible epilogues to the attempt at cleaning.
"That would be a bad idea. It could be very dangerous for the statue. A lot could happen to it. Now it has a dappled effect, but at least it is still in one piece", he replied with caution.
"Denethor dearest, what could possibly happen to the statue?" Finduilas asked, her eyes wide with surprise.
"Well, it could be overturned; it could somehow lose an ear or a nose...", he offered an answer, with an almost whining tone.
"You are exaggerating!" she exclaimed and started laughing again. "That statue is at least twenty times heavier than Boromir; how could he overturn it? And it's not made of finest porcelain – it is not that fragile."
Denethor was silent for several moments, and his smile was dry.
"I mean, well, my love, you see, there is nothing that is truly resistant to an eight-years-old... if you allow him enough time and imagination." He didn't say the rest of his thoughts aloud. Oh yes, the statues in the Armoury of the Citadel, the family heritage of the Stewards family, looked resistant too. Almost resistant. But in the armoury there are many different forms of armour and weapons. That is why it is called armoury, right? There are also axes. Fastened on the wall. For decoration. An eight-years-old might want to inspect an axe that he particularly likes. And if it is too high, he unties the cords that hold the axes. And the axes start to fall. Ooops...
"Hm, one day, you will tell me about adventures of certain eight-years-old, darling." Finduilas' voice stirred her husband from his thought and memories, which were clearly written on his face. He saw the amused look in her eyes.
"Am I that transparent?" he asked plaintively.
"Oh, yes. But only to me! And I am sure that you were a sweet eight-years-old." Finduilas smiled gently and laid her small hand over his.
Her touch was always magical and he felt overwhelmed with love. Eru, thank you for this special woman and a wonderful family.
"But let us return to our eight-years-old", she reminded him. "He needs a deterring punishment, but also to learn a lesson."
Denethor thought a little bit further. Of course, she was right; he had also had something like that in mind. Punishment that was a purpose in itself, without any lesson, had no sense or meaning. And while he pondered his son's deed, the solution suddenly came.
"The Harvest Holidays started last week, and he surely counted on much playing and little duties – as much as the weather allows. All right, we will leave him some time for playing... but during next month, he must spend half of his free time as a sculptor's apprentice. What do you think?"
"I think it's a good idea", she said slowly and nodded. "A punishment which deprives him of having his own way all of the holidays, and yet is not too rigorous... and he will learn how much effort is put in a work of art; how precious it is. He will learn that such art is not for playing with. Excellent idea." She smiled.
Yes, Denethor was satisfied too. The apprentice work would not be too heavy, there would also remain enough time for fun; and Boromir would learn that he got that duty and responsibility because of today's act. And he also knew his son well; the boy was often playful and rash, but also eager for knowledge. Denethor had no doubts that after this summer, Boromir would esteem artworks more.
The Steward and his wife smiled to each other and stood up. Then they went towards Boromir's room, to have a conversation with him.
When his parents doused the small lamp and left his room, Boromir did not fall asleep instantly. In fact, he was not sleepy at all.
When everything was put together, he had survived his fun quite well, he thought. He had expected that they would soon discover him – it was not that there were tens of children in the Citadel so that it was hard to find the one who did it. Actually, there were only six children: Boromir, Faramir – who was too small for that action, and children of some servants who lived in the Steward's house. That quite narrowed the selection for a culprit, because such an idea surely wouldn't cross adult minds. Did they have any fun at all? He couldn't imagine them in exciting and interesting situations. Poor adults.
When he realised that his parents knew everything, Boromir tried all the possible sweet looks and convincing arguments he could muster to get by without any punishment. Fun is fun! And he hadn't mean to do anything bad, had he? But it didn't work. The adults in his life sometimes just did not understand what it was to be young.
Boromir couldn't judge exactly how angry they had been. In any case, they were very serious. But the punishment surprised him a little. When he saw that punishment was inevitable, he expected forbiddance of playing and visiting friends, or perhaps some additional studies or home duty. But this... hm. It was not bad; they didn't forbid him anything. But then, a month as sculptor's apprentice... a month during which he could've played more. He sighed, and frowned in an imitation of Haldar reacting to bad news. It would be so good if he could have it all...
...and a month later, although the work was sometimes difficult and not always interesting, Boromir concluded that he was glad for spending that time in sculptor's studio. And he knew that he wouldn't doodle on statues any more.
But on the other hand, the world was full of other games and fun, wasn't it? Especially when you are eight years old...