The child stood beside his father and his brother, examining the tree that stood in the Court of the Fountain in front of the Citadel. It did not grow there—that he knew; dead trees do not grow, after all.
He twisted to look up into his father’s eyes. “If the King returns, will it come alive again?” he asked.
His father’s lips thinned. “It is dead, Faramir. It cannot come back to life. The only way in which the White Tree may again bloom in the courts of the King would be for a seedling to be found in some hidden place, and for this tree to be removed and the seedling be planted here in its stead.”
The child thought on what he’d just been told, then again looked up to catch his father’s gaze. “Why would there be a seedling in a hidden place, Father?”
Denethor shrugged. “It is told in the lore of the time of the Kings that when the White Tree would bear fruit, the fruit would be planted in a hidden, protected place. But the seeds may lie safe within the earth for many years ere the new seedling should finally stir and begin to grow. Or, at least so it is said.”
It was a novel idea for the boy to consider. “I’ve dreamt of seeing the White Tree blooming,” he said softly. “So perhaps there is a fruit lying hidden in a secret place that one day will grow so that it can be brought here and planted where this older one stands now. And then my dream will come true.”
Then after a few minutes of silent consideration Faramir added, “And if perhaps a fruit of the tree lies in a hidden, protected place until it is time for it to begin to grow into a tree, perhaps there is such a place where the one who will be King lies hidden, too, so that he and the tree can come to Minas Tirith at the same time, and the city and our nation will be restored.”
Denethor son of Ecthelion shook his head. “There is no heir to Anárion now living anywhere within Gondor with enough of Elendil’s blood in him to claim the Winged Crown, my son.”
“Maybe the secret place for the King isn’t within Gondor, though,” Faramir persisted.
It was at that moment that, unexpectedly, his older brother spoke up. “In my lessons on the last Kings of Gondor, it is told that Eärnur, while his father was still King, went north to Arnor for the last battles against Angmar, and that he assisted the son of their last King in the defeat of the Witch-king. Didn’t their last King marry King Ondoher’s daughter Fíriel?”
“Yes, Boromir,” Denethor said stiffly. Faramir looked up at his father, surprised, for it seemed to him that his father looked very much as did Boromir when the older boy had heard something he was intent on disbelieving, rather stubborn and frowning. “And Arvedui, on the basis of his marriage to Ondoher’s one surviving child, laid claim to the Winged Crown. But his claim was set aside on the recommendation of our great-father Pelendur, who had been Ondoher’s Steward, as it was not Arvedui who was descended from Anárion but his wife, and no woman has been allowed to reign in Gondor. In Gondor it has ever been the heir to Anárion who has ruled as King, and Arvedui was not heir to Anárion.”
“But wouldn’t his son be an heir to Anárion?” asked Boromir.
Denethor gave what sounded to Faramir to be a grudging snort. “Perhaps, but from what is said it is questionable that the young Man survived his father. After Eärnur returned to Gondor word came confirming that Arvedui and his son both perished in the Bay of Forochel in the far north, their ship ground to pieces in the rending ice of the bay as winter set in and all aboard died in the freezing water and were lost beneath the ice. So, by that report there was no one left to carry on the bloodline of Fíriel.”
“Maybe,” Faramir said, tentatively, “maybe they had two sons, like you and our Lady Mother did, Father. Or perhaps more than two! Then there might be an heir still, hidden in some protected place, waiting for the proper time to come back and to become the King Returned.”
Boromir looked uncertain. “I thought that Arvedui had disappeared into the north some time before Eärnur sailed to fight the Witch-king, that he was told when he got there that Arvedui had been lost. How did his son get to where his father was to die when the ship sank, if Eärnur fought at the son’s side against Angmar?”
Faramir felt excited. “Then maybe he did have two sons after all, and one was with his father and the other with the army!” he exclaimed.
But their father was looking at Boromir with an expression the younger boy had never seen him use toward his so well beloved older son. “What do you do, Boromir—seek to find reason why you should not follow me as ruling Steward of Gondor when your turn should come?”
The expression Boromir gave their father was totally devoid of fear, uncowed, and in that moment Faramir knew his big brother was the bravest person he’d yet known during his life. “No, that is not what I was thinking. But I do wonder just why we have the throne waiting for someone who hasn’t come in over a thousand years, Father. You do all that a King ought to do for Gondor, even as did our grandfather and his father before him. When the line of Eorl failed, the last King’s nephew was chosen to become King of Rohan next. Why do you remain just a Steward? How long does it take for a Steward to be named King when the King does not return?”
Denethor stood tall, but his expression changed from challenging to one that seemed to Faramir to be evenly mixed between being proud and disappointed as he turned to look again up into the bare branches that would never again be adorned with silver leaves. “Perhaps no time at all in a land of less nobility,” he said, “where royalty is less accounted than here in the land settled by Isildur and Anárion. But we are the heirs to the glory of Númenor, and here none but those in whom the blood of Elros Tar-Minyatur runs true may sit upon the throne and wear the Winged Crown. Here not even a thousand years is enough!”
When at last they returned to the Citadel the discussion they’d had beneath the boughs of the dead White Tree still echoed in the younger boy’s mind. He had dreamed of the White Tree growing and blooming in the Court of the Fountain, its guardians standing proud with white petals lying upon their shoulders. And he’d seen the smile the King—his King--gave him as they stood in companionship, the King’s hand resting on his shoulder, as together they stood beneath its boughs and gloried in how great a land the Tree’s shadow fell across.