Descent – Denethor POV – 1 of 2
In which Denethor teaches Thorongil a lesson, discusses army provisions, shows where Faramir gets it, and lets his fingers do the talking.
How many ways down are there? This is a lesson for both Thorongil and Denethor.
As I said on the Rómenna blog post, one main goal in this chapter was to pay attention to Denethor’s physicality. If he & Aragorn/Thorongil look as being of closest kin, then they are pretty similar in their physical abilities. They’ll both be tall, agile, with keen senses and an ease of movement. Boromir and Faramir, though of different body types, are also very physical men, and I imagine that Denethor would more like than unlike his sons at a comparable age. I don’t know if it came through in the first chapter, but Denethor and Thorongil vary in their favorite choice of weapon. Thorongil is a swordsman, while Denethor prefers the bow. Each is, of course, deadly with either.
The other point in the chapter is to ponder legitimacy, political and genealogical, and the right to make claims. Thorongil is in Gondor, both the legitimate king (at least for some) but also a simple mercenary. The Lost don’t want him there, and not just because he is endangered by faffing about in strange lands. He is himself a source of danger to Gondor and the Dúnedain generally because he is a destabilizing influence. It is an echo of Elrond’s prophecy that Aragorn will either lead his people to greatness or drag them down into darkness after him.
When I wrote Ecthelion’s infidelity into the story, I was not thinking explicitly of the “as of nearest kin” phrase in the appendices that JRRT uses to compare Denethor and Aragorn, but quickly noted that it was a very useful coincidence. The irony being, of course, that Denethor looks like the (hidden) king, but everyone is reading the signs backwards, as it were. The real rumors should be wondering if Denethor is actually Ecthelion’s child, since the Warden resembles Thorongil more than he does his own family. So, you end up with the strange situation where the kinship is only partially of blood, but much more of destiny – it is not a mistake that Denethor & Aragorn should be almost the same age and be so similar to each other in this particular time of trial and danger.
This is what the Lost, particularly the character Halmir, can see because they know who the captain really is. They see that both of these captains are legitimate and both are needed, and it’s giving them the heebie-jeebies because they are both a pair of headstrong fools who fling themselves into direct battle with Sauron.
I had fun inventing the King’s Stair and Denethor’s experiments with mountain climbing. Writing Osgiliath was also engaging because it is a place of deep history (and thus naturally of great interest to Denethor) and where the current struggle for survival is conducted. It is the location of horrific civil war, too, and this will become important as the story progresses. The younger brother races down the King’s Stair to greet the elder, who parts from his southern kingdom, never to return, setting off the slow-motion decline and self-destruction of both kingdoms, presaging conflict and kin-strife, and ending with the (re)union of these long sundered kinsmen in the last struggle to keep the Dúnedain from vanishing into darkness.