Ch. 62 – Steal

Steal – Finduilas POV – 1 of 1

In which the most precious thing stolen is hope.


Denethor knows it is abomination. He also knows he, too, would have used Fire.

One thing that has always struck me about Umbar is that while it is described as a great battle, it is an assault upon fellow Dunedain (no matter how fallen) and upon a city of non-combatants, just the kind of attack they had feared from Umbar. The link to Alqualondë is very deliberate, as it is the only other explicit harbor burning of “kin” in the Ardaverse. Denethor has to reach that far back to find something sufficiently horrible to compare this to. It also grabs the fact that these are the (distant) descendants of those same people – a crime that has sunk into the blood much as Dragon Fire has done to Denethor.

The other thing that strikes me about Umbar is how (seemingly) casually the captain walked off, abandoning his sworn duty to serve Gondor, with just a mealy-mouthed far-thee-well to the Steward. WTF? Thorongil’s departure is problematic, no matter how you slice it.  The standard fandom explanation, and the rumor in the Appendices, is that Denethor was such an awful person, Thorongil/Aragorn left for his own safety.  Only if you make it such an exaggerated situation that Denethor is nothing but an evil caricature of a power-mad dictator and Thorongil is 100% noble and virtuous would there be no significant repercussions. And that wouldn’t be much of a story. Thus, there had to be something about the “victory” that would be so destabilizing that he had no alternative but to flee.

In this telling, Thorongil’s departure is right because he is the legitimate king, and he is threatening to pull his people down into darkness. He was warned by the gods not to go to Umbar, and finally heeded them not to return after the “victory” was won. Denethor knows that he would have done the same thing in Umbar, that he and Thorongil have been on the same page for several years now. And, suddenly, everything Denethor thought he was supposed to do has been rejected.

The Powers themselves are conflicted. Thorongil has ignored the Powers (via Gandalf) and is now very, very sorry that he did. He’s back to being the Good Son. Denethor is doing what he thinks is right, and he’s inclined to give the Powers the finger as he thinks what they do is arbitrary, but he is not so stubborn that he can’t recognize that he is playing in their world, and they have goals they will pursue (what is “right”) without regard to his wishes. What has him staggering is that if Thorongil is right (i.e., is doing what the Powers want), then Denethor and everything he loves is screwed. Not so much that he wants the wrong thing as that what he loves is slated for destruction in the divine plan.

And, no, there was nothing they could have done except use Fire, or trust in the grace of the Powers. This is not a mistake, and is part of the Powers’ own confusion over what they want. The mariner is a nasty bastard, is all I can say. He wanted Thorongil to go to Umbar; nothing less than that would have made the White Tree leave.


6 thoughts on “Ch. 62 – Steal”

  1. “Thus, there had to be something about the “victory” that would be so destabilizing that he had no alternative but to flee.”
    Quite a dramatic choice. I kind of figured that Thorongil would finally see Beruthiel’s game for what it was, and get a clearer picture of the faction he was causing, and would leave just after securing a victory in Umbar to stop things from progressing to the point of civil war; I was anticipating a big confrontation of some sort and then Beruthiel’s bitter disappointment (and maybe doing something rash). But you’ve upped the ante considerably.

    It is, of course, not the first time the Powers have been conflicted on what to do. Ulmo always struck me as being especially sympathetic toward those stuck in Middle-earth, or at least more capable of listening to them. So why (I wonder, again rhetorically) does he want the White Tree to leave? And is this against what all the rest want? Who is Mithrandir listening to, and who spoke through Finduilas?

    But once again, “You go, girl” to Finduilas for kicking Olorin out of her city.

  2. Hi Wheelrider,

    Thorongil/Aragorn has lived 12 years in the middle of the contestation within the Stewards house and has been coasting through it, fingers in his ears, going “la, la, la, it’s nothing that serious, it’s not my fault,” and refusing to really think about how bad a civil war would be. The assault on Umbar is another battle in the slow-motion Kin-strife of Gondor, and he is finally seeing what will happen to the losing side if he makes a claim for the throne. I suspect that some King’s Men were in the attack force and spent the trip home gloating about how their return will bring Thorongil to power. If he heard any of this, then he knows that his return means the death of the people he has come to love and trust, and he won’t risk it.

    There’s also the not inconsiderable fact that he’s committed what we today would call a war crime. When I came up with Dragon Fire in the early part of the story, the US had not yet started using white phosphorous in Iraq. It was in use by the time “Umbar” was written. Just as LotR was (in part) commentary on the war of the time, so is HotK pondering such things. What would it do to found his rule upon the desecration of the city?

    All the Powers wanted him to leave. Only the mariner wanted him to go through with the attack on Umbar first. The answer as to why comes in the last few chapters, and it’s oblique. Manwë didn’t want the attack to happen, and would have preferred for all of them to trust in the grace of the Powers. He spoke through Finduilas. Fire should not have been employed at all. Mithrandir kinda-sorta wants Denethor to do it so all the evil sticks with the mortal he already doesn’t like, even as he knows it shouldn’t be used, thus his attempt to persuade Thorongil to let Denethor lead the fleet. OTOH, it’s not sure the Powers have a Plan B at this point. It’s another 20 years before Gandalf begins to suspect what Bilbo picked up from a cave in the Misty Mountains, after all.

    Finduilas is very good at confounding immortals. She’ll get to do it a few more times.


  3. “The assault on Umbar is another battle in the slow-motion Kin-strife of Gondor, and he is finally seeing what will happen to the losing side if he makes a claim for the throne. ” Ah, that makes sense. As does the war crime aspect. I wondered at Thorongil seeming to be seized with a kind of battle madness and going so far with it…but I could picture Denethor doing the same. For this “victory” at this time, it was the only way.

    Really disliking Mithrandir more and more in this story…

  4. I disagree that Denethor would have conducted the same battle, though it would still have been hideous. He has already used Fire in battle and he was himself burned by it. He would have gone into the fight much more wary of it than the captain. Denethor would have fired the great ships and then pulled back, watching to see what happened, and he would have been certain that the dry docks were completely destroyed. He would not have flung Fire on the city itself at any time, with the possible exception of the pyre in the great square. His force would have been concentrated burning the ships, he would have quickly noted that the Fire was actively doing the job, and he would have used only what was necessary to burn the Umbar fleet and get the spies safely ashore.

    The Captain of the Havens would have died with an arrow in his chest – after it had passed through a gout of Fire.

    To be fair, Thorongil was himself too deep in the battle, and didn’t see it from the outer harbor, as Imrahil did (as Denethor could in the palantír) and I don’t think he understood the scope of the damage until he was in retreat. His focus was on winning decisively so he had something to offer for Arwen. Silly boy…

    Oh, you’ll dislike the wizard even more a bit further on. Trust me on this one.


  5. It’s a legitimate question – would Denethor have done differently? Yes, but only a little. It’s also not clear that the Fire wouldn’t have raged out of control no matter who used it. It is *evil*. Denethor never used it again, not even to defend Minas Tirith.

    At the time Thorongil said he would use Fire, the previous November, Denethor had not created more. If Thorongil had said he wouldn’t use it, Denethor would not have made it – in obedience to the king’s wishes. The question for me, which can’t be answered, is if Denethor had been the one leading the attack from the start, would he have used Fire? I’m really split on it. He knows better than to use, but he also knows what will happen if he doesn’t.


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