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The Fire Sermon
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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2
Chapter I

Musing upon my brother's wreck
And on my father's death...


I woke just after dawn, when the air was still cool and the world silent. Within moments of my opening my eyes, Beregond was at my side.

'Good morning, my lord,' he said quietly. 'Are you well?'

I considered this for a moment. 'I think I may be,' I said, tried to sit up, and failed, with a yelp of pain.

'You were wounded, lord,' Beregond said, and I saw for the first time that my left shoulder was bound. 'You took a dart,' he explained, as he helped me up against the pillows.

'So I can see - and feel.' I settled back more comfortably. I felt extremely tired, but it was not the aching exhaustion I had felt when I had set out for Osgiliath. This tiredness was almost wholesome, it felt natural for a body that had been driven hard, but was now recovering.

Beregond looked at me anxiously. 'Are you hungry?' he said. 'The Warden said that you should eat when you woke up. I can fetch breakfast.'

I smiled at him. He seemed eager to do something for me. 'I'm very hungry,' I said truthfully. 'I would very much like something to eat.'

He ran out almost before I had finished speaking, and I lay back on the pillows. The window was open, and a morning breeze blew in. As I breathed in the fresh air, it seemed to me that I felt better than I had in months. I was alive. And I had lived to see the king.

Beregond returned bearing what seemed, I saw gladly, to be plate upon plate. I was still eating when the door opened once more, and the Prince Imrahil entered. He glanced at the debris of my breakfast. 'I see your strength returns,' he smiled, and sat on the bed, putting his hand to my brow. 'The fever has left you,' he murmured. 'May the Valar be praised! We thought that we had lost you.' And he pressed my hand for a moment.

He watched as I finished eating, answering my questions about the course of events across the previous days. I grieved to learn how many more of my men had died even as we had reached the city gates, and heard with sorrow the long list of friends I had lost soon afterwards.

'For yesterday there was battle on the fields of the Pelennor, and the enemy was routed,' he told me. 'Minas Tirith is safe - for a while, at least. Twice we were saved by the coming of our allies at the moment of our greatest need. The Captain of the Enemy had entered the gates when the Rohirrim rode onto the Pelennor. And as the strength of the enemy overwhelmed us again, the Lord Aragorn came to Harlond, and he was flying the standard of the heirs of Elendil. It was a great victory!'

He paused, and ran his hand through my hair, which he had not done since I was a boy. 'What deeds you did in the defence of Gondor!' he exclaimed, and his eyes shone. 'If you had not held firm in your retreat, there would have been no city left for the Rohirrim to deliver.'

When I answered, it was with hesitation in my voice. 'Although I know that he must have many matters to concern him, still, if he could spare me some time, I would hear my lord steward's judgement of my conduct.'

He sighed and took my hand again. A cold wind blew through the open window and I shivered.

'What is it, uncle?'

He dropped his eyes. 'Alas, it was a great victory, but not without cost.' Then he looked at me again and held my gaze sadly. 'Your father is dead, Faramir.'

At once I thought of our last meeting, of the harsh words we had exchanged, his wrath at my disobedience, my bitterness at his contempt. 'It cannot be,' I protested. 'We parted in anger...'

He pressed my hand hard. 'Do not distress yourself!' he said. 'He regretted what had passed between you. And he knew all that you had done. He died loving his second son as much as he had ever loved the first.'

It was not three weeks since the boat had crept by me on the waters. The news of this fresh loss was too much. 'They are both gone,' I whispered, 'and I am utterly alone.' And dropping my head against his arm I wept for the wreck of my family; for the father whose love I had not had until too late, and for the brother I had killed with a dream.

After he left me, I lay for a while, inconsolable. The light seemed to have dimmed. As the day advanced towards noon, my spirits sank lower, and I could feel a chill descend on me again. By an act of will I forced myself not to succumb. But I could not lie still. The quiet of the room oppressed me, forcing my thoughts inwards. And so despite Beregond's worries and the Warden's protests, I rose in the late morning.

By the time I had dressed I was so weary I had begun to doubt the wisdom of the decision. But, protecting my shoulder by holding my left arm inwards and supporting myself on the right by leaning on Beregond, together he and I made slow but steady progress down a small flight of steps and into a little garden.

In all the years that this city had been my home, I had visited these Houses only twice before. Once was when I was a boy, and my brother had fractured his leg chasing me down onto the fifth level. I had suffered the full extent of my father's wrath on that occasion. And I recalled an earlier visit, hazy now in my memory, when I was very young. I suspected, but had never confirmed, since the matter was a closed one in our household, that this had been to see my mother before she died.

But I had never before had cause to stay here myself. My brother constantly acquired scratches and broken bones and, if a fever passed through the city, he would always catch it and burn up and bounce back, living life at the extreme as ever. But I was always in good health. Unhappiness, I think, does not always take a physical toll.

Beregond helped me to the walls and, resting my right hand on the stone to support myself, I looked out on the scarred fields of the Pelennor. I saw with sadness the burnt homesteads and, beyond, I could see the ruin of the Rammas that we had striven so hard to maintain. But the river shone silver in the morning light, and the banners of the tents set out on the fields fluttered defiantly in the breeze. Gondor had been battered, but had not been destroyed.

I stood and looked out for a little while, breathing the clear air and thinking about my father, and I then heard a high voice say my name. I turned and looked down at the Halfling, Pippin.

'My lord steward,' he said, and I was startled to hear it said, 'my friends and I are gathered at the far side of the garden. Would you care to join us?'

I looked to where he pointed, and saw three figures watching back.

'Thank you,' I said. 'I will.'

They watched as I made my slow approach, and I became aware that I was moving like an old man. Yet as I came closer, I saw that they were looking on me kindly. Strange companions the Halfling had journeyed with, Elf and Dwarf, and another of his kind whom, I saw now, was a guest in the House like myself.

'Ah,' murmured the elf, as I sat down slowly beside them, 'if Pippin had not said your name I would have known it, so like are you to Boromir. He spoke of you often, and with love.'

'Then,' I said in wonder, 'you must be the others that set forth from Imladris. I have met two of your company already.'

The other Halfling, Merry, looked at me in amazement, and I explained how I had met their friends in Ithilien. Then they asked me more about my deeds since Boromir had left, and I said a little about the Rangers in Ithilien, which seemed now like news from another age, but mentioned only briefly the retreat from Osgiliath. I dwelt most upon my encounter with Frodo and Samwise, and Merry pressed me for details, laughing to hear of Sam's thrill at the sight of the mûmak, and glad to hear I had left Frodo in good health. In return, he and Pippin spoke with great emotion of my brother's last stand, and tears pricked my eyes as they told of his valour in their defence. In the brief time between my return from Ithilien and my departure for Osgiliath, my father had not seen fit to speak to me about my brother's last hours.

They seemed not to know of Boromir's assault on their friend or, perhaps, were protecting me from the news. I saw no reason to ask or to tell. There would be time enough for such tales if we survived the coming days. And if they knew nothing, what good would it do, when we all needed hope, to destroy their memory of a man they held to be a hero? It was better, for now, that they remember him as the fearless and good man that he had truly been. For whatever terrible trial my poor brother had faced and then failed, I had seen him at peace in death, and I did not doubt that he had striven and succeeded to redeem himself at the end.

I heard strange stories, then, of the Forests of Fangorn and the Paths of the Dead; of ents and woses and seeing stones; tales of war in Rohan and the Riders of the Mark, and of the Grey Company's race through the south to deliver Gondor. In time, my companions brought me home to the fields of the Pelennor, and finally Merry spoke, of the Black Captain, and the death of Théoden of Rohan, and the valour of the White Lady. And I listened in horror to his tale, as he spoke of the chill that pierced him when he drove his sword into that terrible emptiness and the darkness that had then threatened to engulf him.

He paused. 'I'll stop here, my lord. For I can see that you already know much about the chief of the Black Riders.'

I was trembling. Although I knew now that the Black Captain had indeed departed, even the memory of him froze my blood. 'Where was Mithrandir throughout this?' I asked, drawing my cloak around me more tightly. 'Could he not have saved the king at least?' Since he could not save my father.

The look between Peregrin and Beregond passed in an instant, but I caught it nonetheless. It seemed that I was not the only one concealing something.

'Mithrandir was delayed in the city, lord,' Beregond said quietly.

'It must have been something of great consequence to keep him from the field,' I pressed; then, catching the unease on Beregond's face, I turned the issue aside. 'No matter,' I said. 'I shall hear all in time, I think.'

But my head felt light, and I was overcome with a sudden need for quiet, to consider more carefully all that I had heard. I rose, a little unsteadily, and Beregond leapt to take my arm.

'If you will forgive me, I shall take my leave of you now, my friends,' I said. 'It has been a day of many stories, some strange, some sorrowful, and not, I think, all yet told. But I need to think, and to rest.' I looked around at them all. 'I thank you for your company, and your patience in telling your tales once again.' And I looked at Merry and Pippin. 'I hope that my news of your friends has brought you some comfort. Your tale of my brother's last moments has brought some to me.'

Beregond took my arm again, and we walked back into the house in silence, my thoughts turning around on themselves. That something was being kept from me was plain, but what news could there be that was worse than learning that my father had died without us making our peace?

As we reached the door of my chamber, I halted, and turned to face my companion. 'Beregond, is there aught you have to tell me?'

He looked down. 'No, my lord,' he muttered.

It was unfair to force him. I sighed, and let him lead me back to bed.

I lay down with relief, intending to give the matter more thought. But even such a short time outside had exhausted me, and I fell into a deep sleep. And I dreamt a dream of darkness, but not of the wave. Instead, I heard the crackling of fire, and smelt a smoke that smothered me, and I was fixed to where I lay and could not move, as the darkness ever approached.

I awoke in the late afternoon, the last of the day's sun warming my face. Beregond was stretched out in a chair opposite me, fast asleep.

'You rose this morning, I hear, my lord steward. It seems very soon.'

I turned my head and saw that Mithrandir was sitting in the chair to the right of me. As I struggled to sit up, my shoulder still sore, he rose to help me, then, once I was upright, sat alongside me on the bed.

'A
new wind had come in from the sea. I thought the air might clear my mind.'

'And did it?'

I shook my head slowly. 'Alas, I was left ill at ease.'

He frowned. 'What troubles you, lord?'

Before I could answer him, Beregond stirred in his chair, and woke. 'My lord!' he cried, and jumped to his feet, coming quickly to my side. His hair was tousled, his eyes filled with sleep. 'I should have been awake.'

I smiled at him. 'You should be asleep,' I said, raising an eyebrow at him. 'I
think that you have barely left my side since I woke from the fever. Mithrandir, it seems, has been guarding me in your stead, although why I should merit such close attention I am unsure.'

'We are glad to see you alive and prospering, lord,' the wizard said quietly. 'No more than that.' He turned to Beregond. 'You have done enough today,' he said kindly. 'Go and rest.'

We watched him leave, and then I seized the chance to speak first. 'Tell me,' I said, 'did the Captains meet this morning? What was decided?'

'My Lord Faramir, you are ill! You must not trouble yourself yet about such matters!'

'How many will be marching on the Black Gate?'

He shook his head in exasperation at my persistence. 'Some seven thousands,' he allowed.

'So few...' I murmured. 'I should be among them.'

'You have already fought one hopeless battle, my lord,' he said gently. 'Another, I think, would kill you.'

'It may yet come to that, I thought, but left it unsaid. 'When does the host set forth?'

'Two days hence.' His eyes glittered. 'I know that you have already heard in full about the battle that was fought yesterday, and so you have no need to press me for news on that. But are you now done with your questions?'

'Not quite,' I said.

'Then pray continue, Lord Steward! And then perhaps you will heed my advice and take some rest! Come, what else do you want to know?'

'Tell
me, Mithrandir, and do not hold back - how did my father die?'

His eyes flashed with a sudden fury. 'Who has spoken to you about this? If that young Took has breathed a word out of turn...'

'No word has been said to me,' I said, 'and that is what disturbs me. I am met with silence, or evasion. He did not fight in the battle, that I know. And I dream of fire, Mithrandir. I dream that I am burning. Can you solve this riddle for me?'

'I can,' he sighed, 'but I am unsure that it is for the best. Your mind has ever been too quick for its own good.'

'Whatever it is,' I urged, 'it can be no worse than this uncertainty. When I set out for Osgiliath my father was well. His mood was stern - but that was hardly new! And yet when I awake, it is to hear that I am now the Steward of Gondor!' There was a rising note in my voice that I did not care for, but could not restrain.

'Whatever you may think, Faramir, it can only be hard news. When you were brought back from the field, your father's spirit was broken. He took his own life, and would have taken yours too, were it not for the defiance of Beregond and Peregrin.'

'How?'I whispered, but the answer was already there, in my dream.

'He built a pyre and he burnt himself.'

I turned my face away.

'At the end,' he said softly, 'all that mattered to him was his love for you, and his remorse at how you had parted.'

'A love and a remorse so great he would have murdered me!' I said bitterly. 'He had not succeeded by sending me to Osgiliath. He had to try again.'

'He was defeated, Faramir. He believed the end had come.'

I looked at him keenly for a moment. 'What part was played in that,' I said, lowering my eyes, 'by the palantír?'

I caught his quick intake of breath. 'You knew of it?'

'I guessed,' I said simply. 'Not long after Boromir left. Many of us had seen the light at the top of the tower, and he would know things that he could not possibly have learned... But I have read much that is kept in the libraries that others have not.'

'And you said naught?' he said sharply. 'You must have understood the danger.'

I gazed back up at him. 'I had not the strength for such a confrontation.'

The fire in his eyes turned to pity. 'It played a large part,' he admitted.

I sighed at this new sorrow. 'Though this news gives me great grief, I thank you, at least, for your honesty.'

He leaned across to put his hand against my brow, and frowned at the sheen of sweat that had broken out on it. 'You must rest, Faramir. I did not intend you to hear this news so soon.'

'I would rather have the full measure of the darkness which I must learn to endure.'

'A darkness even greater may await us.'

'That decision is already made,' I answered, then I closed my eyes, and slept. And when the wave that took Númenor overwhelmed me, I welcomed it with relief, as the least of the evils about which I could dream.

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