The Eyes of the White
“Should I send for Gandalf, my lord?” Peregrin asked, choosing
his words very carefully.
“The counsel of wizards has brought us to this end,” Denethor replied
coldly. “I do not look for any help from
Mithrandir.” But his hands shook as he unfastened Faramir’s
tunic and pushed aside the mail shirt. Pippin flinched and
quickly looked away.
Laying a hand on his son’s forehead, Denethor said in a low
voice, “He already burns with fever. The wound in his
stomach will likely be his death.” Now he understood why the soldiers
had not carried him to the healers. The steward rose and stared
silently at the face of his son. Then he ordered the servants to
bring warm coverlets to lay over Faramir, and he left.
Peregrin stood beside the black chair and waited for the steward to
return. The tall doors to the courtyard were open; he
watched as night fell and the gloom outside became even darker.
Most of the torches in the hall had sputtered out, but a few were still
burning, and light from the fires in the lower city was reflected on
the marble floor. Faramir was restless and shivering; he
murmured something about a boat on the river then said, more loudly,
that he should go instead. He seemed to be arguing with
someone. It didn’t make any sense to Pippin.
The servants had never cleared away the remains of lunch;
Peregrin found a silver water pitcher on the table and then hunted
around for a cup. With some difficulty, he raised Faramir’s
head enough to give him a drink. The wounded man choked a
little as he drank but seemed thirsty. Peregrin bathed his
face and neck with water, then soaked a cloth and placed it on his
forehead. As Pippin drew the coverlets back over the man’s chest,
he thought, “Maybe Denethor is right, and he is dying.”
He wished that his cousin were there; Merry would know what to
do. He desperately wanted Gandalf to walk through the doors at
the other end of the hall. Where was Gandalf, he
wondered. What was happening on the walls and at the City gate?
The sounds of the battle were still distant and indistinct. “What
will I do if the Enemy breaks through to the Citadel?”
Pippin tried to imagine himself defending the Lord Denethor, battling
frantically, surrounded by a pile of dead Orcs. Even old
Denethor would be fighting, laying about him with that great black
sword of his. Pippin would stab the Orcs, but more and more would
swarm into the hall, until they dragged him down and killed him.
“Like poor Boromir,” he thought, and then he sighed. “What am I
doing here? I am of no use to Denethor or any of them; they
need a great warrior or a healer, not a hobbit from Tuckborough.”
He sat on the floor, next to Faramir’s stretcher. It seemed
as if everyone had forgotten them. Distantly, he heard
shouting and hurried footsteps as the guards prepared the defense of
the Citadel. The empty hall was full of shadows, and the statues
of the old kings seemed to watch him and Faramir with disapproval.
Pippin shook his head and stood up. He was beginning to feel
light-headed from staring into the dark. “It must be well after
midnight,” he thought; “maybe when Lord Denethor gets back, I can find
a corner to sleep in for a few hours. At least I should
have something to eat.” Sitting on the bottom step of the
white throne, he ate some stale bread and a chicken leg, both leftovers
from the steward’s lunch. He wasn’t very hungry, but he
felt better after eating.
As the night wore on, the hall grew colder. Pippin wrapped the
elven cloak around himself and paced back and forth, trying to keep
warm and stay awake.
In a windowless room near the top of the White Tower, the great
heirlooms of the Kings and the House of Hurin were kept.
The lamp flickered in the stale air as Denethor lifted a small, ornate
chest from a cluttered table. As a child, he was told that it had
been saved from the ruin of Numenor, in another age of the world.
He doubted that, but the wooden box was very ancient and of beautiful
workmanship, carved with a pattern of stars and flowers.
Denethor locked the iron door of the treasury, and then carried the box
up a flight of stairs to a small room which ran the width of the
tower. Each wall had a narrow window, hardly more than an
arrow-slit. He called for a second lamp; once the servant had
departed, the steward opened the carved box and removed a round object
which was wrapped in a length of gold brocade.
It seemed strangely heavy for its size, and Denethor’s eyes glittered
as he pushed aside the fabric covering. This was the great treasure of
his House, one of the Seeing Stones or palantiri. It
appeared to be just a sphere of black glass, until the flickering light
appeared in its interior. None knew or guessed of its existence
except the ruling steward and his heir. He had shown it to
Boromir but had not yet taught him its uses. His own father had
counseled him against exploiting its powers--the Seeing Stones were
treacherous, tainted by the Enemy long ago.
But the need became desperate as Mordor strengthened its defenses and
gathered allies. It became clear that the endgame would play out
during his rule as steward. As he sat in the great hall,
Denethor’s thoughts had turned to the palantir, hidden high in the
tower above him. He searched ancient texts for any mention of the
Seeing Stones, and then armed with what little he could learn, he
tested the strength of his mind against the Enemy. He had
barely survived that first encounter, but over time, he turned the
Stone to his own will and could recognize which images were deceits of
The White Tower still sent its scouts and spies to watch the movements
of Barad-dur, but Denethor relied increasingly on the visions that
flickered in the palantir. No one, save Gandalf, knew as much
about the strategies and subterfuge of the Enemy. As the stone
revealed the cruelty and strength of Mordor, he had to struggle against
his own despair.
Denethor stared at the dark surface of the palantir. After
a moment, a spark of light appeared in the center; it shimmered and
spun, growing until it filled the globe with fire. He drew
his breath sharply and leaned closer.
The sun was shining, and the banners on the Citadel streamed out in a
gusty wind. His young sons were standing in the courtyard,
the bare branches of the White Tree in the background.
Boromir looked about thirteen years old; Faramir would have been around
eight. They had always been taller than was usual for their ages.
Boromir had on a scuffed-up leather tunic; his reddish-blond hair
was sweaty and plastered against his forehead from wearing a
helmet. “He must have just finished sword practice with old
Madril,” Denethor thought. His younger son wore a black
surcoat embroidered in silver; underneath was a shirt of light-weight
chain mail. Denethor had given the guard livery to Faramir
for his birthday; the child wore it constantly and would have
slept in it if his brother hadn’t convinced him that sleeping was
On this afternoon, Boromir, clearly proud to be the teacher, was
carefully explaining something to Faramir. The younger boy
looked up at his brother, his expression serious but his gray eyes
shining with excitement. Boromir then picked up a wooden
practice sword and demonstrated one of the simpler forms of attack and
parry. Faramir asked a question. The older brother
went through the moves again, then suddenly waved the sword wildly over
his head and yelled; both boys started laughing.
Denethor closed his eyes; he felt smothered by the weight over his
heart. “Don’t think of them, Steward, think of your City.”
He looked again into the palantir. At first, nothing could
be seen except smoke and trails of sparks rising into the sky, then the
image cleared and he saw that the lower level of the City was
burning. The great gates of Minas Tirith were shattered in
pieces, and soldiers lay piled along base of the wall. He
tried not to look at their faces. Armed with spears, a few
orcs were making sure that the men were dead. Others were pulling
a battering ram toward the second gate. Denethor suddenly
felt very cold, and he could hear the blood singing in his ears.
One of the Nazgul landed its winged mount in front of the ruined
gates. The orcs dropped their battering ram and fled in terror. A
white figure, on a pale horse, rode slowly down from the second level
of the City; he shone faintly in the murky gloom. Halting in
front of the Lord of the Nazgul, Mithrandir raised his staff and
spoke. Then the great beast spread its wings, and horse and rider
were hidden by darkness.
The surface of the palantir became blank and dark. After a
moment, a swirl of white dust appeared deep in its center. The
specks grew larger, and the steward saw that they were seagulls,
swooping and diving over the river. The gulls were fishing
in the wake of a ship with black sails. A great fleet was
slowly moving up the river, sailing against the current. On the shore,
he recognized the old watch tower at Pelargir. “The southern
cities must have fallen to the Enemy,” Denethor thought blankly, “Even
the coming of Rohan cannot save us.”
He looked away from the Seeing Stone; he did not need to know anything
else. Indeed, for the first time in his life, he wished for less
knowledge. Absently, he started to wrap the palantir in its
brocade covering then stopped.
Unlike the others, this last vision did not convey any definite sense
of time, whether in the past or future. The White
Tree was already dead and bare, so the date could not be more than two
hundred years ago. Two men with torches led a funeral
procession across the courtyard; soldiers from the Tower
Guard were carrying a man on their shoulders. The dead man
was dressed in a black tunic; the glint of chain mail showed under the
sleeves. He wore riding boots, so he must have been a
cavalryman or a knight. From his vantage point,
Denethor couldn’t see the man’s face. When the procession
reached the White Tree, the soldiers halted and lowered the corpse to
the ground. Then they stood for a moment, with their heads
bowed in silence. Even before he could see the dead man’s
face, he recognized the reddish-blond hair. Faramir’s eyes
were closed, and in the torchlight, his expression was perfectly still.
For a long while, Denethor stood at the window, looking down at the
White Tree. On the table behind him, the two lamps burned out, one
after the other.
When Denethor returned, he seemed weary and a little dazed.
Pippin brought a low chair so he could sit next to his son.
Faramir still shivered with fever, but he was quiet and no longer tried
to speak. The steward buried his face in his hands.
It frightened Pippin to see the stern old man so broken by grief.
“Do not weep, my lord, perhaps he will get well.” His high voice
echoed in the vast darkness of the hall.
Denethor did not seem to hear him; he leaned over his son and lightly
stroked his hair. “Always he bowed to my will, and
then did as he thought best. Why did he obey me when I was blinded by
grief? He tried to tell me that the outer defenses could not be
retaken. Why did he knowingly ride to his death?”
Pippin looked at Faramir then thought sadly, “Because you are his lord and father, and
you ordered it. And he was heartbroken and angry and too
exhausted to think.” The hobbit bowed his head to
hide his own tears.
A messenger hurried into the hall from the courtyard. When he saw
Denethor sitting next to his injured son, the soldier hesitated, but
then he came forward and knelt on one knee. Tall and dark-haired like
the men of Minas Tirith, he wore the blue and silver livery of Dol
“Lord Denethor, I am sent by the lords of the Outlands of Gondor.
Your allies ask you to remember old friendship and the bonds of
fealty. The first circle of the City is on fire, and men abandon
the defense of the walls. Your counsel is desperately
needed. My lord Imrahil would have come himself, but he cannot
leave the fight at the City Gate. He asks you to remember his
sister, your lady wife, and the ties of kinship between you. What
does the Lord of the City command?”
Without looking up, Denethor answered in a low voice, “I cannot leave
my son; he may still speak before the
end. Follow whomever you will; I do not
care.” After a moment, he added, “Tell Imrahil, he should
be grateful that she did not live to see this day.”
Stunned, the messenger bowed to the steward’s back and left.
“When was the last time he slept?” Peregrin thought, “At least two days
The hobbit knelt beside Denethor; without thinking, he reached up to
lay his hand on the old man’s sleeve, then caught himself and drew
back. “My lord, you should rest. I can stay with Lord Faramir,
and I will fetch you if he awakes.” Denethor stared at him
distractedly. “I beg you, my lord, get some sleep.”
“We will rest soon enough, Master Peregrin, but I fear there will be no
waking from that sleep. We are trapped in this city of stone, and
it will be our tomb.” The steward rose and paced restlessly in
front of the black chair.
“The Riders will come, my lord; has Rohan ever failed to answer your
“They will find the City a blackened ruin!”
“My lord, you don’t know that. There is still hope,” Pippin insisted,
alarmed by his strange mood.
The steward gave him a dark, knowing glance. Peregrin was
startled; for no reason, he suddenly thought of the vision he had seen
in the palantir of Orthanc.
“The Enemy knows me, Master Peregrin, and from afar he has watched my
sons. For years, I have struggled with him, setting my will
against his, while my sons held his armies back from the borders of
Gondor. Into this very hall, he has sent assassins against us.”
He looked down at Faramir then said more quietly, “I would not have him
carried to the Dark Tower to die in torment.”
Pippin heard men arguing in the courtyard, then quick footsteps echoing
on the marble floor. A captain, followed by two other
officers, crossed the hall and knelt before the steward. The man
looked exhausted; his face was streaked with soot and his voice was
“My lord, some do not wish to follow Mithrandir; we look to our sworn
lord for orders. We have pledged our lives to the Lord of the
City, not to the gray wizard.” He paused for a moment; when
there was no response, he spoke more directly. “None know the defenses
of this city as well as you, my lord.” He lowered his
voice, “Or the mind of our Enemy. Your presence could turn the tide of
battle. But haste is needed, his army batters at the gates, and
the city burns.”
The hall was silent except for the distant sounds of war.
Finally, Denethor replied, “The city burns? Let it! The West has
failed, and nothing will be left but smoke and ashes. We shall
burn, burn like heathen kings before ever a ship sailed from the
West! I tell you to go back and burn!”
The officers turned and fled from their lord.
Moving carefully so as not to disturb him, Denethor straightened
Faramir’s clothing and rearranged the coverlets. He
spoke quietly as he smoothed his son’s hair back from his face, then
kissed his forehead. His voice was too faint for Peregrin
to hear what he said.
The hobbit watched, uneasiness turning to fear, as Denethor gathered
the pieces of the shattered horn and laid them by Faramir’s
shoulder. Dreaming in his fever, the man murmured and
turned his face away. The steward told Pippin to send for the
“What does he mean to do? It is too much for him to bear; he is going
mad.” When he reached the door, Peregrin glanced back. In front
of the black chair, the steward waited, tall and unwavering; the
burning city lit the hall like the red light of dawn.