Playing God

By Evendim

This is a not for profit work of fan fiction based upon the works of J.R.R. Tolkien

For S.S. with best wishes, Evendim


The sound of silver trumpets alerted the exhausted Lord of Gondor to the arrival of his firstborn, Boromir, Captain-General of Gondor, High Warden of the White Tower, returned from his first battle as Commander in Chief of Gondor's Armies. Denethor drew his sable-lined cloak about his shoulders, and rubbed wearily at eyes dimmed from trying to work too long into the night by the light of oil lamps. He already knew the outcome of the skirmish near the border with Harad. It had been protracted, and bloody, and costly, but Gondor had prevailed. An army marches at the speed of its slowest member, and so Boromir had thought to send a Galloper to the Citadel to reassure his father that the White Standard of the Steward yet prevailed.

Denethor shivered as he stepped out onto the balcony, the dawn was hours away still, the midnight hour but one hour gone. The land beyond was ghostly still, save for the activity beyond the city gates, naturally, but the cause of that commotion was known to Denethor, and therefore did not concern him. It was the malevolent silence further a-field that wore at his consciousness, the pervading sense that something was out there which harboured ill-will towards his people, and his sacred charge; to hold this realm by rod and rule, until the return of the king.

Denethor inhaled sharply when he caught sight of his son. There could be no mistaking that fair hair, for Boromir rode helm-less, for the wretched man refused to wear his helm, declaring himself to be their Banner in battle, the rallying point for those disorientated by the noise and mayhem upon the field of conflict. It was reckless, it was foolhardy, it was utterly inspired, and it spoke of the dedication of all of his line.

"My poor child," Denethor whispered, his breath hanging like mist in the cold night air. He knew what conflict wrestled in his son's soul this night. He had been untried going into battle, not as a soldier, but as a commander, and the lessons learned would stay with him for all eternity. Denethor had walked this same route, treading in the footsteps of Ecthelion, who had trodden in the footsteps of Turgon, and Gondor fairly rang with the footsteps of their ancestors, leading back to the time of the Sea Kings themselves.

Boromir sat erect in the saddle, and how that must have cost him, for his back and shoulders must ache intolerably. He saluted the sentries as he progressed through the seven circles of the city, passing into and out of Denethor's view as the road snaked back and forth. The troop riding in his wake were battered and bloodied, but not bowed. They followed Boromir with a will, for he was said to know each by name, and certainly appeared to when questioned on the identity of his men. The Troop had reached the third level, and Denethor crossed to his bathing chamber, once there, he filled a bowl from the copper jug of water simmering upon the small wood-burning stove that also heated the water cistern for the enormous bath. Gathering up a towel, and a wash cloth, he returned to his Study carrying the basin, which he set upon the hearth to keep the water hot. A bath would be most effective, but Boromir would be bone-weary, and so such details were best kept until Boromir had slept a full round of the clock. Oh, the urge to run to greet his boy was overwhelming, but he could not give way to sentiment. Not in the full gaze of the commons. It simply was not done; he could almost hear his stern sire hissing the words into his ear. No, it was not done, for they were not as other men, they were, for their sins, Hurins.

In his mind's eye Denethor tracked his son's approach. Past the gates at the sixth circle, into the lamp-lit tunnel, on past the Fountain of the Tree, and, finally, into the presence of his father, here, in the Steward's Apartments. Almost at the exact moment that Denethor anticipated his arrival, Boromir's boot-heels could be heard beating a tattoo upon the marble floor of the corridor. The sentries came to attention, their pike staffs rapping upon the floor as they saluted Boromir. Denethor steeled himself to greet his eldest, for there could be no sign of emotion betwixt them in the presence of the sentries.

Waiting just inside the double doors, Denethor caught the sound of Boromir's battle-roughened voice informing one of the sentries that his top button was unfastened. Not in a harsh way, but almost like a mother scolding a naughty toddler for having jam upon its face. Denethor permitted himself a little snicker. It was so like Boromir to take this moment, even after such a harrowing engagement, to project normalcy amongst the serving men.

"Tsk, what would Elendil say, were he to pass by this night, such an elegant uniform he designed, in person, mind you, and here you are practically sky-clad!" Boromir teased.

"Tis but one button that I have left undone my lord," the sentry was mortified to have given offence to Elendil, and to his Commanding Officer, "and that button only by oversight, and not intent!"

"But where do we draw the line, Godley? For if you are permitted such an extravagance, why, we shall field an army of soldiers all with one button undone! It is the meaning of 'uniform' man, one standard for all. Otherwise, you and your companion are a shining example, and so take a tankard of ale together in the Buttery when your Watch is ended." A silver coin found its way into the man's hand, and then the General had passed beyond into the Steward's presence, and the sentries closed the doors hurriedly, and gave one another a glance of consternation.

"I would follow that man to the very gates of Udun itself," said the sentry caught in a state of 'undress'.

"Your chance will come; have no fear, for he will lead us all there sooner or later. But, aye, I would march beside you none the less. Guard that coin well, for I have a raging thirst just thinking about breaching Mordor's black gates!"


Boromir's eyes met those of his father, and the deep despair he felt welled up within him, almost causing him to set aside protocol and run to those strong arms. But duty came before self, and training from birth had ingrained into him the etiquette of the court. Dropping to one knee, Boromir dipped his head, and then, even though he was permitted to rise, he found he could not. He just knelt there, utterly exhausted, each and every muscle protesting the abuse it had been put through. Denethor remembered all too well how it felt to suddenly stop moving after hours of riding and fighting. The Steward knew that the spirit was willing, but the flesh was not. Boromir gave his father a watery smile, and Denethor took him by both elbows, and raised him up from the floor.

"There is no need to explain, I, too, have served," Denethor said gently.

"So many dead, so many brave men strewn…hacked…and I gave the order that saw them heralded beyond the circles of the world! How does a man live with such knowledge?" Boromir asked.

"One never adjusts to the sight of one's men reduced to ruination. One simply takes comfort from sparing some brother officer the deed of issuing that same order. Come, sit by the fire, and let me tend you, child," said Denethor.

Boromir would have prevented his father from removing his armour; would have sent for a duty squire to do the deed, but Denethor insisted that it was late, or rather, early, and even lowly squires needed to sleep at some time. This was said tongue in cheek, but Boromir knew it was a riposte at his own doctrine that esquires were not beasts of burden, and deserved to be treated with humanity. Each piece of plate removed sent a bolt of pain into Boromir's body. Each section released allowed trapped blood to re-circulate, and he made mewing noises as sensation returned slowly, but surely. His face was covered in sweat and grime, and his hair was matted from a cut to his temple.

"That shall leave a scar, my son, you shall set the maidens swooning, and win them with extravagant tales of your exploits," teased Denethor.

"If ever I regain my strength," Boromir mumbled. He gasped at the sting of too-hot water as his father dipped and wrung a cloth in the basin set by the hearth and bathed his face. Denethor continued to bathe away the filth and sweat, shushing his son with nonsense words familiar from his cradle days. Boromir closed his weary eyes, and surrendered to the ministrations of the lord of them all. It felt good, now that the edge was off the water's temperature, to have the detritus of battle swept away. It was wonderful, in fact, to be clean again, at least about the face and hands, the rest could wait until the morrow. But wait, it already was the morrow!

"You ought not to have waited up for my return, father. This is idiocy! You have the Council meeting tomorrow…today…and how tiresome those vultures can be, my lord."

"Hush, you need not concern yourself over my welfare, child. If it grows tedious, I shall simply dismiss the entire session. An abuse of power, but why else possess the right if one never wields it? Here, now, all that matters to me is the welfare of my son. You had a bloody introduction into directing warfare by all accounts. I wish it had been otherwise. Nothing prepares a leader of men for the brutality of war. You must not reproach yourself over the losses we sustained; it was ever thus. We all lay our lives upon the line that are sworn to service. I wish that you could have been spared the weight of overseeing this battle; it was not to be. Now, do not dwell upon it, not upon the particular, not to where you are recalling individual faces. That way leads to madness. See the battle as an overview; see only the mass, and not the individual. This is but the beginning of your career, child, and I have to advise you it never becomes easier. Now, lay down your burdens, and I shall brew tea, and there is cheese and fruit and oatcake, the standard supply from the kitchens for when I work late. But you enjoy such simple fare, though, I beg you, do not feed my hounds!"

Boromir laughed at this rebuke, for he was guilty of giving in to begging eyes, and the consequences were unsavoury in the extreme. Cheese, especially, did not deal kindly with canine intestines!

The singing kettle over the spirit lamp roused Boromir from his reverie, and he watched as his father poured boiling water over tea leaves, and set the lid upon the tea pot. Thirst suddenly assailed Boromir, his lips felt parched, and roughened, after yelling commands hour after hour. Denethor poured two dishes of tea, and fetched them to the hearth, now he brought the hospitality tray set with oatcake, cheeses, and fruits, and he laid it within reach of his son and heir.

"Do not stand upon ceremony, and the One shall forgive our lapse in maintaining the grace upon this occasion, eat, you must be starving, and then it is off to bed with you, and upon the morrow, a hot bath, and clean raiment, shall help you turn the corner after such a day as this!"

"How peculiar, I have no appetite, but a raging thirst," said Boromir.

"Then drink, there is more hot water, I shall re-fresh the tea leaves, or perhaps some wine to restore you?" Denethor offered.

"Shall I ever become detached from the sense of loss, of the sense of having somehow killed my own men?" Boromir asked absently.

"I ever you do, child, it shall be time for you to pass the reins of command to another," said Denethor. "You care; if you did not, then you would not be suffering from guilt, and grief. Caring shall focus your mind as to how you order your men, and you shall sell their lives dearly. Try to see your role as guiding your charges safely through each engagement, and less as…" Denethor sought for the elusive words to describe what it was precisely a commander did in the heat of battle.

"…playing god?" Boromir whispered, and now he wept.

The end