I’m not sure how I feel about this. I wrote it for the same prompt as Favored Sons, which was initially meant to be crack before it went completely off the rails. So this is Take 2 and somehow still less cracky than I planned. Honestly, I find this one a little creepy; apparently writing about Gondor makes me super serious.
Title: Children of the Stone
Rating/Warnings: Angst, Denethor being a terrible parent.
Word Count: 2088
Disclaimer: If I owned the hobbit, it would be even sadder.
Summary: There were too many dwarves in Minas Tirith.
There were too many dwarves in Minas Tirith. Far too many dwarves. They just kept appearing in small groups of two and three, slipping through the gates and making their way up to the steward’s castle without so much as an invitation to come and sit for tea.
Indeed, Denethor received no announcement from his allies or formal change in policy. There was no explanation for this sudden rush of dwarves to Minas Tirith; they simply started multiplying throughout one long cold spring. The steward found them in the markets and talking to his guards, lurking in the hallways and popping up in bushes like living garden gnomes. None of them were disrespectful but Denethor could feel their eyes upon him; they were always there, always watching, and it was driving him insane.
But the steward couldn’t banish them, although he dearly wished to. These new dwarves were not just vagabonds. They had come from Erebor, one of Gondor’s largest trading partners, and his kingdom was not so prosperous as to throw their gold away.
Denethor could only fume and snarl at his children when they looked at the dwarves with interest instead of proper fear. He could only growl when Faramir started learning their damn language and Boromir asked to train with axes instead of proper blades. His eldest son was supposed to be an example to his brother – everything the boy should strive for but would clearly never be – and the perfect knight of Gondor fought his foes with sword and shield.
He did not throw daggers. He did not use two swords in tandem or chuck axes down the field. He certainly did not take up with bow and arrow like some kind of filthy ranger and Denethor nearly had a coronary when he found his sons out on the practice yard with such weapons on their backs.
The steward wanted to scream and shout and beat them bloody where they stood. But Boromir and Faramir were not alone in their endeavors. Nearly a dozen dwarves were gathered all around them, watching, critiquing and as near as he could tell, encouraging this nonsense. Years of hard work undermined when Denethor’s youngest took a shot and actually dared to smile, one of the dwarves clapping Faramir on the back when his arrow struck the target true.
It was completely unacceptable and he stormed over to his children to remind them of their place. At least, the steward tried. Denethor’s advance was stymied by a wall of stone-faced warriors as the dwarves’ easy smiles suddenly disappeared.
None made a hostile motion. But the steward still felt threatened, his actions judged and found quite wanting by the coldness in their eyes. In the face of their disdain, his fury shrank down to a trickle and what should have been an order for his sons to go inside came out as a rather weak suggestion, one that was summarily ignored. Denethor didn’t think his children even realized that he’d made it; they were too well trained to disobey an order and too excited about showing off their skills.
It wasn’t Boromir’s fault, of course. His elder son had been led astray by Faramir as he’d often been before. He was always trying to help the boy show promise and he likely hoped that his brother’s newfound interest in archery would finally allow him to do their father proud.
But Boromir was wrong. By the time Denethor managed to pry his children away from their companions, his burning anger had been replaced by a mountain of frustration and he forbid them from speaking to any dwarves when he was not around. That would solve the problem until his sons lost interest or his unwelcome visitors finally disappeared.
Denethor believed the matter closed and no one told him otherwise. Sure he kept seeing the same group of dwarves around his castle, those ten remaining even when their caravans were leaving and their trading was long done. Sure he sometimes caught Boromir and Faramir speaking in a foreign language, but his sons always switched to proper Westron once he made his presence known.
There was no reason to worry about the dwarvish bows appearing in the armory, not when he’d heard his guards exclaiming about the weapons that they’d bought. There was no reason to wonder about Boromir’s new penchant for hair-braiding; his elder son simply wished to keep his bangs out of his eyes.
The steward wasn’t blind, of course. He paid attention to his children – the older one, at least – and he noticed a change in Boromir after the dwarves arrived. But Denethor could only be pleased when his heir began to show more interest in ruling over Gondor. He’d always known the boy was clever and if he tended to show sympathy toward his people’s petty troubles, Denethor could train that out of him with time.
Boromir would learn that a steward could never give an inch no matter whom he spoke to. A steward must have the presence of a dozen kings and queens. If Denethor’s people didn’t love him, they would fear him. Like his children, they knew better than to cross the steward’s moods.
Although, speaking of his children, Faramir was proving a conundrum. His younger son was polite and respectful while in his father’s presence, but Denethor couldn’t escape the suspicion that he’d grown a spine somehow. Because the boy dared to make suggestions in his court and he no longer cowered when the steward was forced to show him the unrivaled stupidity of everything he said. Faramir kept disappearing in the evenings – not that his father cared – and his skill with weapons had increased by leaps and bounds.
Not with a bow, of course. Not in the steward’s house. But when Denethor decided to watch his children sparring, the younger held his own. He didn’t win. That would have been ridiculous. But sometimes he managed to fight his brother to a standstill and the steward definitely didn’t see him ignoring openings. Tricks of the light, no more.
Worst of all, however, was Faramir’s disinterest. He didn’t seem to mind his father’s disapproval, not the way he used to. The boy still cared about his brother, that was obvious. But Faramir looked at the steward as though he were a distant cousin who must be tolerated and sometimes Denethor thought he saw the same disdain in Boromir as well.
Sometimes the steward felt as though both his sons disliked him. Boromir and Faramir never smiled at their father the way they smiled at each other, even distant allies welcomed with more cheer.
And the dwarves. Oh, the dwarves. Although the tide of new arrivals had ebbed, his allies were still more numerous than they had been before. They watched the steward from the crowd when he addressed his people and their eyes sought out his children when they came to court. The dwarves still made their trades with Denethor – he was still the ruler here and while he allowed his heir to speak more often these days, only the steward’s word was law. No one could deal with Gondor and not deal with him as well.
But he could have sworn that these dwarves wished to. Their greetings to his sons were more appropriate to long lost friends than allies and Boromir always answered their welcome words in kind. However, that was just politeness. Denethor was certain. He’d made sure to stamp out any interest in their allies that his older son might bear.
So there truly was no reason to stop Boromir from handling the trade negotiations while the steward took a nap. After all, Denethor’s eldest wasn’t speaking with the dwarves without his father present and his head often ached from drinking around this time of year. Besides, the lad was more than capable of bargaining for weapons. Indeed, the steward tried not to notice that the dwarves gave Boromir far better terms than they’d ever given him.
If he sometimes woke up during the negotiations and saw Faramir standing with his brother, then he was simply dreaming. His sons would not be trading tales and laughter with a group of oddball dwarrows, many old and grizzled with their years. They would not be telling stories in a smattering of languages, inside jokes and you-remember-whens flying thick and fast. Boromir could not remember; he had only met these dwarves a few short years ago.
Nightmares. That was all. Nightmares brought on by wine and the excess of non-humans who lived in his city now.
Thus when his son proposed a trading visit north to Erebor, Denethor found no cause to deny him. His arguments seemed logical, his aims to be admired, and while his desire to spend more time with his younger brother was inexplicable, the steward was quite happy to be rid of Faramir.
So he sent his sons to Erebor and thought no more about it. Indeed, Denethor was too busy to do more than wonder briefly about their journey; ruling Gondor was a full time occupation and he hadn’t realized how much Boromir was doing until the lad was gone. Suddenly he had to deal with all the petty complaints and bickering that he’d foisted on his child and his wine cellar bore the brunt of his frustrations every night.
Perhaps Denethor was slightly drunk most mornings. Perhaps he ruled his judgments based less on thought than feeling – he couldn’t be expected to listen to all the evidence. Not when the shouting made his head ring and the arguments were foolish; it was no wonder he took refuge in the joys of alcohol.
However, the steward sobered quickly the day that Boromir and Faramir returned to Minas Tirith, marching into his throne room in full dwarvish finery. Denethor barely recognized his children within the men who stood before him; if they had not called him father, he might have thought them strangers. Perhaps his sons were strangers after all.
Because there was no warmth in Boromir’s eyes when he looked upon the steward; there was only disappointment and a weary sort of pain. He dismissed his father’s court without asking for permission and yet not a single person questioned his right to that command. Even the guards obeyed his orders, leaving Denethor alone to face his children and their dwarven entourage.
“We need to talk,” Boromir told his father and the steward could only gape at the plan that he laid out. This was a coup wrapped up in kindness, Denethor’s heir offering him a choice between death and isolation. This was incomprehensible but Boromir and Faramir met his threats with clear derision and the dwarves that they brought with them put their hands to blades at once.
This was happening no matter how the steward argued. This was happening and Denethor simply didn’t understand. Had he not taught his sons to fear him? Had he not given everything to rule this land with pride?
“How could you do this? You are my son!”
“No. You may have been my sire but I am the son of Gondor and a prince of Erebor,” Boromir retorted. “And you are a fool who plays at kingship. You care only for your power, not your people, and if you do not go willingly, I will slay you where you stand.”
Denethor stood frozen with shock as his heir ordered the dwarves to take his father off to prison. He only started struggling when iron hands wrapped around his shoulders and by then it was too late. Or perhaps it was too late many moons ago. For when the dwarves opened the door, the guards outside the throne room would not meet the steward’s eyes. This was a conspiracy, he realized. A conspiracy within the heart of Minas Tirith and he should not have dismissed his fears as paranoia after all. He should have banned the dwarves from Gondor and damn the consequences; maybe then Boromir would still be on his father’s side.
Denethor looked back only once. He looked back to curse his sons for their betrayal but the words died unspoken as the sunlight through the windows blurred the world before his eyes. Instead of Boromir and Faramir, Denethor saw two dwarves standing in his throne room. One dark, one light, their garments fine and their features unfamiliar; but when the steward met their gazes, they bore his children’s eyes.