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What the Thunder Said
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Chapter I

'In that dream, I thought the eastern sky grew dark and there was a growing thunder, but in the West a pale light lingered, and out of it I heard a voice, remote but clear, crying... "Isildur's Bane shall waken, And the Halfling forth shall stand."'

In Ithilien I thought I might find, for a brief time, some solace. I quit Osgiliath and crossed the river, and reached our sanctuary at Henneth Annûn just before sunset, as I had hoped, and as I walked into the rock-chamber the setting sun splintered the Window-curtain into bright jewels. Warmly my company welcomed me, as if I had returned home from a long journey; and we broke bread together as if the Shadow had finally departed. Glad I was to learn that the Valar had protected them all in the weeks I had been away; for, indeed, the shadows were lengthening in Ithilien. My business now was the safe withdrawal of my men west of the Anduin; and before that we had more blood to shed.

Then there came even into this small peace a double sorrow. For beyond belief and out of my dreams walked the Halfling. Great fear I felt to behold him, for if this dream had now come true, what then of those that portended the ruin of Gondor? And at last I learnt the meaning of the riddle of Isildur's Bane.

What was I offered, in that brief yet seemingly endless moment of temptation? A tremor assailed my thoughts, and then I saw a vision of Ithilien, no longer growing wild, but a garden again, with fair flowers of many hues, the home once more of all those driven from their lands. Passing down the road towards the river, I saw tall towers rising before me, and then I rode along a wide avenue lined with fair buildings wrought of white stone and silver. Thus I came to the Anduin, and crossed a mighty bridge, a fitting monument to my brother. This was Osgiliath, built anew, a city of grace and wisdom. Here all the majesty of Númenor had been restored, and yet was enhanced by the wisdom of Gondor from these the latest years of the ancient race of Westernesse.

In slow parade I came riding across the Pelennor, and all the folk of Gondor, from Minas Tirith to Dol Amroth, from Anórien to Poros, had gathered to greet me. And I made my way to the gates of the city - Minas Anor once again - and there stood my father; and on his face - such a look! Of pride, honour, love. A look which I had oft beheld, but from the side, as it was directed past me and towards my brother.

Such fine visions these were; of all I had ever desired. Yet I have dreamt much throughout my life, and it seemed to me as I marvelled at these sights that they were different in quality, being clearer but harsher, as if a cold light shone upon them. Ithilien was pale, and Osgiliath more chilled than its ruin, and my father's smiling face had a sickly pallor. How unlike this was to even my most dreadful dreams of Númenor, or of that last sweet dream of my brother after his death.

And then I could taste the sharp salt of the Sea at Dol Amroth, and it drove away the unwholesome flavour of the deceits. For I thought of my uncle, whom I had ever loved and admired as gentle and chivalrous. I remembered the long walks we had taken together, he and I, along high coastal paths. I would speak of what I had been reading and thinking; and he in turn would tell me his memories of his beloved sister, my mother, how she had dearly loved her younger son.

And so it was that I was recalled to myself; but not as the brother of Boromir, ever anxious to prove himself an equal in combat; nor yet as the son of Denethor, struggling to prove beyond doubt his fealty - but as Faramir of Gondor, who had striven hard but uncertainly throughout his life to conduct himself wisely, and who found now that the choice was not for glory in war, nor obedience to a proud master, but what seemed to be the fool's choice. And it came to me that even if that was what it proved to be, still I should be able to face death with honour, knowing I had been true and not mocked myself with falsehood. But how I sorrowed, for I could guess what it was Boromir had seen in his turn: weapons and battles, and armies and alliances, and his own triumph in Mordor, and I knew he had beheld himself as King of Gondor. My poor brother.

And what of my second sorrow? I saw that it had come at last, as I had feared it would throughout my life: the choice between duty and integrity. I am yours to command, sire. How oft had I said that to him? Always I had believed I spoke the truth; yet I perceived now that it was not the case. In this I was not his to command, and he had long known it, and despised me for saying otherwise. I should never have given that promise so lightly. For I had made of myself a liar, to my father and lord. Such were the thoughts unsteadying me long ere I rode back across the Pelennor, and the winged terror raped my reason.


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