Denethor sat still and silent in his chair in the Tower Hall, his thoughts far away. He was recalling his most recent session with the palantir and what he had seen revealed in the crystal. It had indeed been fortunate that he had happened to turn his gaze southwards this day, or he might have missed seeing the vision of the army that was even now approaching.
Over the years, Denethor had learned much about the Stone of Seeing, through study and through use. He knew that what he saw was governed by chance, but this rarely mattered to him; he was able to make use of all the information he gathered in his viewings. The visions seen were small, but once pinpointed by the crystal, a strong and skilled viewer could enlarge what he saw by intense concentration, as long as the object being viewed was not obscured by darkness. Denethor had the strength and the skill required to do so, but on this day he had not needed to tire himself unnecessarily. What he had seen had been detailed, and very clear: Haradrim, a large force on foot, moving north towards Gondor.
Denethor stirred restlessly in his chair. Why was Boromir taking so long to answer his summons? There was no time to be lost in planning Gondor's response; if they acted quickly, the enemy could be dealt with efficiently, before more troops could join the group that already marched on Gondor.
He looked up as his chamberlain hurried into the Hall.
"Forgive the delay, my Lord," the man said breathlessly, bowing low. "The lords Boromir and Faramir were not in the City; they have only just returned. They will attend you directly."
Even as Denethor acknowledged the message, lifting his hand to dismiss the chamberlain, he heard the firm footfall of his son in the outer Hall, and he smiled in expectation of the coming discussion. Boromir, he knew, would relish the idea of engaging the enemy upon the battlefield. His son had been restless of late, for Mordor had been quiet, and his duties on the Eastern borders had been routine. He had not complained, but Denethor knew he would welcome action in combat.
Faramir, on the other hand, seemed content to avoid unnecessary action. Oh, yes, he had been a good choice as Captain of the Rangers; he was quite useful there in Ithilien, leading his men on missions of stealth that did much to harry the enemy. He had grown in his ability to lead, and the men seemed to trust him and follow him well. But Denethor still had his doubts; how could this quiet, gentle son of his be a true leader, the kind of leader Gondor needed, if in his heart he shunned warfare and feats of valor?
The Steward sighed inwardly. He had had such high hopes for Faramir when he was young, but the boy had changed... because of the Wizard's influence, perhaps...
He should be more like Boromir, thought Denethor with a sudden scowl. Boromir is no follower of wizards, and I have no doubts of his courage. Faramir must do more to prove himself to me...
Denethor lifted his head gaze upon his sons, watching them approach down the long length of the Hall.
So alike! he marveled. And yet -- so different! But perhaps there is hope, if I can bend the one to become like the other. With two sons such as these, like unto the warriors of old, what could I not accomplish for the people in my charge? We might yet see a victory!
The walk from the outer Hall to the Steward's Chair where Denethor sat, was a long one; the distance was great enough in itself, but the journey was made seemingly longer by the resounding echo of booted feet amongst the statues and pillars lining the Hall, and by the cool, unwavering gaze of the Steward who waited at the end of it. Even Boromir felt the length of the Hall stretching endlessly before him, though he was the beloved elder son, always looked for, ever welcome, never refused.
What must Faramir feel when he walks this long road? Boromir thought, glancing sidelong at his brother, who strode beside him down the Hall to where their father awaited them. It has been too long since he has been welcomed with the smile of pride that is so often given to me!
Boromir could still remember times in years past when young Faramir had leaned against his father's knee in this very Hall, listening to the Steward lecture on battles of old and the glorious defense of the land that was his charge; while Boromir stood aside, watching them indulgently -- as if he were the father and they were the sons. But those days were long past; they had receded into the mist of distant memory, been buried by the hard years that came after as his father had become more grim and withdrawn, more set in his ways and in his opinions. Faramir still listened respectfully, and pondered what he learned with the seriousness he had always applied to such matters -- but Denethor no longer seemed to notice.
Surely Faramir had seen and regretted that change in their father, long before Boromir had ever noticed the withdrawal into coolness. No doubt he felt keenly that loss of regard every time he walked this Hall. But there was no time now to do more than lay a hand on his brother's shoulder and squeeze it understandingly, for they had reached the end of the Hall, and stood before Denethor.
They bowed and made their respects to their father, who acknowledged them only with a sharp nod.
"I sent for you both some time ago; I was beginning to lose patience," he said disapprovingly. "What business could you have together to take you outside the City for so long a time?"
"No business but that of two brothers who have missed each other's company, Father," replied Boromir soothingly. "I only wished to spend some time with Faramir, while he was here in the City; we have had little enough time together these past months. Since nothing was pressing..."
"That is about to change," interrupted Denethor. "There is much now to be done. The defense of Gondor and of this City is my charge and my concern, and I know it is yours as well. There will be no more time for brotherly pursuits; we must act to protect our people from the danger which even now threatens."
He paused significantly, then went on.
"It would seem the day has come at last when Sauron is no longer content to harry us on our borders; he now seems set on crossing them."
"Have you had word of such an attack, Father?" queried Boromir, almost eagerly.
Denethor turned in his chair to face Boromir.
"I have received word that an army of Haradrim approaches our borders to the South. A large force, it would seem; yet not so large that we cannot deal a decisive blow against them if we act swiftly."
"Haradrim!" exclaimed Boromir. "We have heard little from that quarter in many a year! Have they at last made official their allegiance to Sauron? There have been rumors of a possible alliance."
"It could be so," agreed Faramir. "Rumor has reached us in Ithilien that Sauron has been among the Men of Harad, urging them to support his war, as they did in days of old."
"Yes," said Boromir, nodding. "An alliance between Mordor and Harad is inevitable, I fear. But it is not yet confirmed, and even if it were so, I wonder that this force would seek to attack us so openly, when there is no sign of aid from Mordor."
He glanced at his father, who shook his head, confiming Boromir's supposition.
"Could it be that this is a group acting in its own interests?" Faramir suggested thoughtfully. "Gondor has ever been the enemy of Harad, even before Sauron returned to oppose us; if they deem themselves sufficiently strong, they might think to press their advantage against us now."
"Yes!" exclaimed Boromir. "Indeed, it is quite possible they are acting alone, thinking us weak and thus no longer vigilant."
"They shall learn otherwise!" said Denethor grimly.
"I wonder if we might put our theory to the test?" mused Faramir. "Who brought you word, Father? May we question the messenger to find out if our surmise is correct?"
Denethor shook his head.
"We do not need the messenger; I will tell you all you need to know. But do not doubt that the information is accurate. Whether this army comes to fight in its own interests, or on behalf of Sauron, there can be no doubt; the enemy is coming, and we must act."
The Steward rose from his chair, and gathering his robes, beckoned preemptorily to his sons.
"Come; I have ordered maps to be brought to the Council Chambers, as well as food and drink. Let us begin at once."
It was dark when Boromir and Faramir left the Hall and walked to their private chambers. Word had been sent to the barracks; the muster of the troops had already begun for the following day.
Faramir shifted his shoulders with a grimace, and put up a hand to rub his neck. Boromir caught the gesture and grinned at him.
"It is hard work bending over a map for hours on end!" he laughed, slapping Faramir on the back.
"Hard work indeed!" replied Faramir, with a final stretch of his shoulder and neck. "Made all the more difficult when you keep the map to yourself and I must look at it askew. I trust I have my directions worked out properly, and do not end up taking my men North, instead of South!"
"I have no fear of that -- you will do well, I have no doubt!"
Faramir grew suddenly serious.
"If only Father thought the same," he murmured in a low voice.
Boromir gave Faramir an affectionate shove.
"Do not fret so, Brother! I know Father misundertands you, but you must not despair. He will see your quality, I am certain of it! You have been forthright with me about war and command; be the same with him, and put his doubts to rest."
"It is not so simple as that, I fear."
"Then we shall have to show him, will we not? And what better time than this coming battle? Why, it is the perfect opportunity for him to see your mettle! The fight is being brought to us -- to our very doorstep! The sons of Denethor go to war side by side; all shall see what can be accomplished when two brothers command together!"
Faramir smiled fondly at his brother, even as he sighed and shook his head at Boromir's obvious relish at the prospect of the battle to come.
"Father will see only your deeds and not mine," said Faramir, without rancor. "That is the way of things -- you are the firstborn and his heir, and you hold a place of honor in his heart."
"Yes, that is so," agreed Boromir with a sigh and a shrug. "But you are also his son, and I do not believe that he has forgotten it. Let our deeds together in this venture serve as a reminder to him!"
Faramir laughed and his mood lightened.
"You are always so confident, my brother! You encourage me!"
They continued walking together in companionable silence until at last they halted outside Boromir's private chamber.
"Have you thought of how soon you will leave to gather your Rangers?" asked Boromir.
"Yes," replied Faramir. "I have given word to Damrod and Mablung to leave at first light; they go to Madril at Henneth Annun to prepare the men to move out. Anborn and I shall follow on the second day, with any fresh reinforcements we can muster from within the City in so short a time. We are two hundred Rangers strong in Ithilien, and there are perhaps a score more waiting here for assignment. We shall be ready to begin our secret march through Ithilien to the South to meet you at the appointed place."
"Very good," said Boromir. "You have a long journey ahead of you, but at least it is straightforward; I have yet to decide what is the best and shortest way for me to get my men and the horses South to the meeting place."
"What, even after all that time with the map?" exclaimed Faramir.
"Even so!" laughed Boromir. "I shall be awake for some hours yet, thinking through all the possibilities. Would you care to join me?"
"No." Faramir shook his head. "If you wish to ruin your health on the eve of battle with a night-long vigil, you may do so alone. I leave that kind of thinking to you! Yet I hope that I may join you on the morrow? Perhaps there will be time for brotherly pursuits before our parting."
"Rely upon it, my brother. We will share a quiet moment together before we part, to meet again on the battlefield."
Acknowledgements go to J.R.R. Tolkien and his son Christopher, for their helpful information about the palantiri found in a chapter devoted to the subject in the book Unfinished Tales.