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The Fire Sermon
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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4
Chapter III

April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire


The following day, the white banner of the Stewards flew again at the top of the White Tower, replacing the standard of the Warden, for in the early morning I had been sworn into office. I spent much of this first day as steward riding through the city, and I spoke to many people; and most wanted to tell of how they had felt the shadow depart, and some spoke kindly of my return to good health, and we all spoke with eager anticipation of the coming of the king.

It had been a small occasion, my swearing in, and the modesty of the ceremony seemed to me fitting, since I had come to the office without any expectation of holding it, and only through the loss of my father and my brother. I stood in the Great Hall of the White Tower, at the foot of the dais, in front of my father's chair while, behind me, the silent lines of kings watched me gravely. The Lord Húrin stood before me, and the Marshal of the Riders to my right.

Then I heard quick footsteps on the stone behind me and turned. She had come.

I shall never forget the sight of her as she walked towards me. She was clad completely in white, and her golden hair hung loose about her face and down past her shoulders. She shone like sunlight in that sombre hall, which had been dark for too long. She smiled at me as she came into place at my left, lightening my heart, for I had been anxious that she might stay away.

The four of us assembled, I turned to face the Lord Húrin, and at his prompting, took the white rod, and swore the oath of my stewardship: 'To hold rod and rule in the name of the king, until he shall return. So say I, Faramir son of Denethor, Lord of Gondor, Steward of the High King.'

'Take, then, the seal of your office.'

I looked down at the silver ring which he held towards me and suddenly my thoughts were filled with the memory of the man who had last worn it. How often, as a child - and even, on one dreadful occasion, as a man - had I felt the slice of this ring across my face? And in what condition had been the hand from which it had been retrieved? I flinched and my own hand jerked back.

Concern crossed Húrin's face. 'My lord...?'

I felt a quick movement by me and then there she stood close by me. I breathed in her scent, clean and fresh, dispelling the taste of ash in my mouth.

'Take it, lord,' she said, quiet but fierce. 'For though you and I both know the shadow of grief that can fall upon a house, yet we have each seen that shadow pushed back. You are the Steward now, and you can wear this seal with honour, and with pride.'

If I thought I had loved her before, it was as nothing to what I felt then. She gently moved my hand towards the ring, and I took it, and slipped it on my finger. Then I reached out my hand to grasp hers, and she received it, and held firm. Pressed into her hand, the cold of the silver warmed, and became natural.

Can you not see how you complete me?

'Steward of Gondor,' Húrin was saying, 'twenty-seventh in the line from Mardil, you are charged to protect and to maintain the realm - until the king comes again.'

His voice finally caught on those words and we smiled up at each other, for against all expectation we would live to see that day. But even as the joy of that thought filled me once more, it did not pass my notice that she had dropped my hand since, for her, the thought of the king brought only grief.

We parted outside the hall, in the courtyard, with the fountain running softly in the background. One of the women had come to escort her back to the Houses of Healing.

I took her hand in mine, and she traced a finger lightly over the ring that I now bore. I looked at her, so lovely and so sad, and I swore again what I had said to her on our first meeting, and with greater passion, 'Whatever you desire, Éowyn, if it lies in my power, I will do it. I would not have you lacking anything.' And I kissed her hand and gazed into her eyes. 'If you call, Éowyn, I will come.'

She leaned towards me, and brushed her lips against my cheek. I reached in to sustain the kiss, but she drew back very gently. 'Dearest of friends,' she said, and held my hand tightly, 'if I thought that you could help me, I would ask. But I cannot yet see a path ahead.'

And then, after a last press, she let go, turned away,and it came to me that she had just bid me a final farewell.

Ten days passed before I saw her again, for I had much to concern me in preparing the city for the arrival of the king. The lower levels had taken much damage during the siege, and it seemed a great injustice to the long, faithful watch of my forefathers to deliver to the king a city partly in ruins. The Pelennor too was being cleared and cleansed, in preparation for the return of the host and the captains.

Entering what had been my father's study, but as its master, I sat behind his desk, and turned my mind to learning as quickly as I could how the city was administered. This had, of course, been my brother's part to study, and I had had little experience in governance. Yet I was straightaway struck by the fact that even before war had made his close attention to detail a necessity, no matter concerned with the operation of the city had been too small to escape my father's notice. 'No wonder his temper was so foul,' I muttered, as I went through the stacks of scrolls and documents.

Women and children were returning to the city, some to find their homes destroyed, and these needed to be cared for. Already I was receiving heralds from lands east and south, bringing news that soon embassies would be arriving from their lords, to greet the new king, and to seek peace and alliances. And I would spend what time I could spare, which was not as much as I would have liked, studying the books of lore to learn what I could about how the crown had been passed to the kings in the past, to devise how it should be done now.

Last of all the tasks I faced, I steeled myself to go to Rath Dínen, to the House of the Stewards, to look upon the destruction wrought by my father. The Lord Húrin accompanied me, concerned, I think, that I should not face that dark chamber alone. And I was glad of his presence, for inside the walls were still charred and black, and the room was now cold, and I shivered, and passed only two steps beyond the threshold before I had to turn back, instructing Húrin to do whatever he saw fit to restore the cursed place.

That evening I went to the Houses of Healing for the first time since I had left. I was greeted by the Warden, who took me to the garden, where the Lady Éowyn was seated, still watching and waiting. She wore a dress of pale lavender, and her hair was bound back severely. Her face seemed thinner, and there were shadows beneath her eyes. We exchanged greetings, and then we lapsed into silence.

Eventually, she spoke. 'How I envy you, ' she said. 'For you are now free to do as you choose, while I remain trapped here.'

'Your brother has asked for you to join him in Cormallen.'

'I do not desire to go,' she said fiercely, and looked back at me proudly.

I fell silent for a moment, considering what her reasons may be, and hoping that perhaps there was more than one. Gently, I began, 'Lady, I must speak - '

'Do not say it! You must not say it!'

So I did not.

'It would be better, I think,' she said softly, 'if you did not come again. I have no wish to cause you pain, and yet that seems to be inevitable.'

The decision was hers and hers alone to make. I stood and bowed, said my farewell, and left. Late that night, when I found myself sleepless and sitting back in my study, I thought I understood a little better my father's quest for oblivion in his work.

The candle I have been watching for hours now is burning low and soon, I think, the room will go dark. Perhaps then I may sleep, but I am doubtful.

For I burn. She consumes my thoughts. And I am afraid of the fire.

I am afraid, for I know what desire has done to my family. To my beloved brother, who wanted to restore the might and glory of Gondor, and so to become the king he believed himself to be. To my poor mother, whose yearning for her home became more real to her than the life she could have had with her children, and so she died. And to my father himself, whose longing for that dead wife turned him grim and pitiless and, at the last, insane. What changes could such thwarted desire work on me, how completely might it consume me?

And if she were to become Queen, what then? To see her another man's wife, and, more, the wife of the king? My duty binds me to Gondor and it cannot be set aside. But to live my life relegated only to watching her bliss, forever denied her, yet compelled to be near her? Could I endure it?

I must control this. Surely, our acts of restraint show our quality as much as our acts of war. My whole life until now I was second best, and I bore it. For the sake of the love I have for my king and for the White Lady, I can bear it again. It can be endured. It shall be endured.

But still, I am afraid of the fire.

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