Speak All the Words

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Banner for the 2nd Place in the 2009 Middle-earth Fanfiction Awards: genres: Character Study: Stewward's Family





Speak All the Words

He was a man made of silence and missing words.

He was not born that way, of course, though he was by his very nature both stern and taciturn. Under different circumstances he might have grown up to be if not garrulous, at least not quite as inarticulate in certain situations. But some choices are taken away from you so early in life that there is nothing you can do to prevent the loss; yes, often it is only many years later that you realize there was a loss to begin with.

A mother glimpsed only from afar. Sisters who were much older, engaged and making families of their own, when their young brother would have needed one. A father of great wisdom, but the realm was more in need of this wisdom than a toddler clutching the hand of a nanny who had raised too many spoiled sons of Gondorian nobles in her time.

Little things, of no consequence.

A pretty pebble on an outstretched, grubby palm. Thrown away, disregarded. The small hand cleaned. The smile in the grey eyes faded.

An evening’s story telling ended abruptly because of some political calamity. The promise to visit the nursery and tell the end after the council is over, forgotten.

A fit of anger punished with hours of standing in the corner, facing the wall in silence. Too stubborn to ever break down.

Later, he could see how words had consequences.

How Thorongil’s easy manner made men speak up and offer ideas, when his subordinates shifted uneasily, confining their answers to “No, sir”, “Yes, sir” and the ubiquitous “I don’t know, sir”. But Thorongil was a homeless stranger. He was the son and heir of the Steward. It would not be appropriate to fraternize with the simple soldiers beyond the traditional cup of wassail.

But more than that – he had no idea what he could say to them, sitting around the fire at night. So he kept to his tent, to his study, always alone, always aloof. And envious.

He gave orders and did not ask for opinions (he would not have known how to react to opinions). There were few people in a position to argue with him. Of those few people there were only two who would not back down. But both of them, Thorongil and Mithrandir, had a way with words that won them the hearts of men.

The respect they had earned in Gondor was based on their way with words as well as their deeds. He had to admit that, albeit grudgingly.

He was respected, too. He saw it in the faces of his men, in their bows, in politely inclined heads, in the deep curtsies of the court ladies.

But it was respect for his position. Not respect for the man.

Not having the necessary words, he would need deeds to earn real respect from those around him.

He was shy with the girls and ladies at court. He had not the first idea about what a man could say to a woman and what was not acceptable. He would have liked to ask Lady Finduilas about her poetry. She was famous for her well-worded verses, and when he read them in the small booklet he had purchased secretly, something stirred in his heart that he could not place. But what did he know about poetry? And what good would poetry do him, dealing with the politics and pitfalls of realm? So he chose the safest road – and talked about the weather.

He was out of the depth when faced with Finduilas’ loveliness and shocked at her love. Suddenly some of the words almost seemed to make sense that he had read in those poems. Suddenly the shadows of the Ephel Duath were darker and the sunshine was brighter. Definitely uncomfortable, this feeling.

“A beautiful day, my dear husband, isn’t it?”
His eyes brightened and the mere hint of a smile played around his wide, thin lips. “Not as beautiful as you are,” he hesitated, swallowed. “My love.”

He would have liked to say more. He felt the words well up inside with each heartbeat. But before he could speak them, he seemed to hear them, and they sounded ridiculous. Not at all like himself. Not at all like the Steward who had to take care of the realm, the city, his family.

Instead, he kissed her, and hoped that the kiss would be enough.

Finduilas talked about her family with warmth. When she mentioned her nanny, she smiled and her eyes grew soft. She would look at him then, inquiringly. And he would not know what to say. The duty of the Steward’s family is the safety of the realm. He did not know if the woman who had taken care of him when he was a child, this woman of little words and less love, was still alive. But hadn’t it been more important for him to learn about duty and discipline?

He allowed Finduilas to make the choice when it was time to choose a nanny for his first son. He listened how the woman spoke about her younger siblings and about children who had been in her care. He overheard how she spoke to Boromir. She spoke to the babe as if he was able to understand her. Finduilas was the same, he knew, talking and talking to the infant.

When placed in his father’s arms, Boromir would fidget. And he had no idea what to do or say. Then Finduilas would relieve him of this burden and pass the babe on to the nanny who would hush the child with gentle words. He would feel helpless then, and experience a sudden, unreasonable sense of anger.

Faramir was Finduilas’ son more than his. Accordingly, he felt even more helpless with this second, more delicate boy-child. Worse, Faramir wanted to talk. He did not know how to respond to the boy’s shy overtures of friendship. He felt discomfited by that look in his son’s eyes. That look of waiting, of waiting in vain for words that would not come to him. He would have to be careful to ensure that this younger son would grow up to be a man who was respected by the men placed under his command.

If he chose a tutor for Faramir who would not only teach him military strategy and tactics, but also philosophy and poetry, then this was only so the boy could come to fully understand his people. With Boromir promising to become one of the finest military leaders Gondor had ever seen, it only made sense to give his younger brother an education that would make him the best advisor his older brother could possibly want.

Did it matter that his verses reminded him of Finduilas?

He listened to the young man’s explanations of rhyme and metre. Then he turned away. “You should study the strategies of the battles of the Second Age.” He glanced at the looming darkness of the Ephel Duath against a sky that had a sickly grey colour, foreboding evil. He saw how Faramir’s face fell. He recalled Finduilas reading to him, talking about rhyme and metre as animatedly as about politics. He had never replied to any of her thoughts. What did women know about politics? But now that she was gone, he missed her astute observations and the soft sound of her voice. She had liked it when Faramir read to her. He turned around again, feeling his heart tight, his throat tighter, straining with the words – the words – which words?

But Faramir was gone; he had returned to lessons of war and death.

Denethor picked up the papers his son had left behind.

How easy was the flow of Faramir’s words!
How much they reminded him of…

Why did words always fail him?

Words were only words.

His fist crumpled the paper. He threw it into the fireplace. Within moments it was gone, the words forever silent in the ashes.

Soon, all too soon they would have no need for any words, but only for deeds.

And only for great deeds.

He stood in front of the Tower Hall and watched how Boromir turned his horse towards the tunnel leading down to the city from the Citadel. He had reminded him of his duty towards Gondor. He had wished him a safe and swift journey.

Why did he not say how much he loved him?
Why did he not say how proud he was of him, his son and splendid heir of the stewardship?

He turned around and found Faramir watching him. Unreasonable anger welled up inside him. He glared at this other son of his, so glib with words, on so familiar terms with the soldiers serving him. Almost like Thorongil.

But now was the time for deeds, not words.

He was not envious.

It would be better if both of his sons did their duty to their father and their realm. And this was a duty that required deeds. Not words.


“You wish now that our places had been exchanged.”

He stares into his cup of wine. Red wine to fortify the heart in dark times. Red like the blood that was no longer flowing through Boromir’s veins. Boromir – about whose deeds there were already songs sung with many bold words…

“You wish now that our places had been exchanged.”

How could he wish that?

His heart beats heavily, heavy with words left unspoken far too long, words that have always seemed elusive, words that now, now, when he needs them the most, are completely out of his reach.

He sees the halfling’s shocked look.

Words like swords.

But what Gondor needs now are deeds, deeds and swords, not words. And without Boromir the deeds will have to be greater than those of any man alive in this Middle-earth. They will need legends to spring up alive from the grass of the battlefields…

“You wish now that our places had been exchanged.”

What can he possibly say to that?
What words can possibly be enough to counter the smite of this sentence?

“That I had died and Boromir had lived.”

He looks up from the cup. He knows then that it is – as always – too late for the words he did not know to begin with. And then, he regrets those words for the first time. Those many words that should have been spoken over the years. When his son’s words feel like swords smiting his heart, he realizes for the first time just how powerful words are.

Words can wound.

He cannot turn to face his son. There is an invisible wall between them. A wall that keeps them apart. A wall that does not even allow him to turn his head to meet his son’s eyes. A wall built of silence and missing words.

He replies with the only possible answer.


“Yes. I wish that.”


“Do not take my son from me! He calls for me!”

And this time I will answer.
And this time I will answer.

I will let nothing and no one keep me from my son.
No one.

This time I will answer.

Can it be true that words – unlike swords – have also the power to heal?


But Denethor died before he could speak any of the words his son needed to hear.

He was a man of silence and of missing words.

And the words he spoke before he died were not the ones he should have said.

…ooo The End ooo…





“You wish now that our places had been exchanged.”
“That I had died and Boromir had lived.”
“Yes. I wish that.”
– quoted from the extended edition of Peter Jackson’s “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King”, disc 1, scene 26.

“Do not take my son from me! He calls for me!”
– Chapter 7 (“The Pyre of Denethor”), Book 5, “The Return of the King”, “The Lord of the Rings” by J.R.R. Tolkien

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