Great were the darknesses that besieged me in the weeks to come; terror and exhaustion, and endless slaughter, and the slow and unremitting onset of despair. But nothing in my life until then had I known as grievous as the meeting with my father that followed. He dismissed his servants with a wave of his hand and looked upon me coldly.
'What brings you from your duty at Osgiliath, Lord Faramir? Has that outpost fallen?'
'Naught so grave for the defence of Minas Tirith, my lord,' I said, still a little out of breath from my ride, 'But a great sorrow nonetheless.' And I gazed at the shards on his lap.
He held them up. 'Have you had news of this?' he said sharply.
And I told him of what I had seen but a few hours before; of my brother, and of the strange boat in which he had been laid out. As I spoke, my father rose and paced before the dais. And then he put down the pieces of the horn on his seat, and spoke of how they had been found and brought to the city, the latter coming only half an hour before my own return.
'Alas for my dear brother!' I said. 'And no news we have of how he met his fate, although it seems it was in battle, as he would have wished, and his face was at peace, and as fair as in life. And some thankfulness we can have that I was awoken by my dreams, for if I had not been, I would not have gone down to the river and seen him, and we would only have his broken horn, and a great fear and uncertainty.'
My father stopped pacing and stood before me. 'By dreams, you say?' His eyes narrowed, and I cursed my carelessness.
'Yes, sir,' I said warily. 'I dreamt - '
He cut me short. 'Your dreams!' he cried. 'Aye, I know them, and I curse you for them, for was it not a dream of yours that took away my dear son and so killed him? Curse you and your dreams!' And tears were in his eyes, and he struggled to contain them.
Never had I been so angry with him. Always when he found fault before I had restrained my tongue, and listened to his opinion without complaint, for he was my lord, and I was his to command. But this grief was too bitter, and I had lost a brother as much as he had lost a son; and, in truth, he had struck deep, for as I had ridden to the city, I had wept at the thought that the dream had been mine, and so should have been the journey, and that my brother might have thus lived.
'You are unjust, sire!' I shot back, my voice thick with my own tears.
He looked at me in astonishment. 'Unjust!' he cried.
'Indeed, sir! For the dream was not mine alone, and I would have taken the errand, if the Lord of the City had not prevailed. It is not only I in this household that is gifted vision, sir. And far-sighted you may be, but you do not see all!'
He pierced me with a sharp look, and his dark eyes searched my face. And he found what he was looking for, and his eyes widened to learn that I knew the source of his great insight, and its peril, and I had guessed aright how much it guided his judgement; in all matters, not just the choice of which son to send on an errand arising from a dream.
Raising his left hand, he struck me across the face with the back of it, and he was still strong despite his age. And I felt the ring which he bore on the smallest finger of that hand slice into my left cheek just below the eye, and I reeled backwards.
I raised my right hand to touch my face, and saw that he had drawn blood. And I put the hand across my face to shield myself from him, my breathing ragged as I sought to prevent myself from sobbing and so shaming myself.
When he spoke, his voice had quietened. 'Lower your hand.'
I could not move it.
'Do as I say, Faramir. Lower your hand.'
And I obeyed.
'Look at me.'
I raised my head. He reached out and, although my instinct was to draw back, I resisted the urge. He grasped my chin and turned my face, not cruelly but without kindness,to look at his handiwork.
'It is not deep,' he said. 'It will heal quickly.' And then, to my great relief, he let go and turned away. 'Leave me,' he said, shaking his head, 'for my grief is great.' And thus it was that he asked my pardon.
I bowed my head. 'Father,' I whispered, against my better judgement, but I earnestly desired to console him and to share our sorrow.
He turned back to me, and raised his hand to silence me. 'Go and take your rest. See to that cut, and sleep. We shall speak again tomorrow. For now I wish to be alone, and lament my son.'
I bowed, and turned, and did as I was told, and went to my chamber, leaving him to tend to his grief in the solitude he preferred. I sent for hot water, and then looked on my face in the glass. The wound, as he said, was not deep, and it was only a little work to clean away the blood, but the task was made harder by the silent tears streaming down my face. Finally, the flow stopped, and I washed, and looked again at myself. I was tired, but sleep would help that. And there would be some bruising, but only for a few days, and the cut, as my father had said, would quickly heal, and there would be no scar there. Much worse had I received in the field, but none, perhaps, so painful.
As a boy, I had frequently felt his heavy hand but, as I grew taller and stronger, he became more wary of striking me. Needless caution on his part. I would not have raised my hand against the Lord of Gondor, even in defence. The last time he had touched me I was a young man of sixteen and I could, no doubt, have easily pushed him away. What had caused his rage I cannot now recall; indeed, I had long since given up attempting to calculate what would cause his anger with me, since it was unpredictable. The only common factor I could see was that I lived, and that was at times enough to madden him beyond reason.
On that occasion, he grabbed me by the shoulders and thrust me back so hard against a wall that my head struck it and for a moment all went black. All I could hear was his screaming and my brother's entreaties. It was a measure of how dreadful that scene was that Boromir, who, because of his position, had always stayed impartial in our quarrels, was forced to intervene, pulling at my father until he released me, and dragging me off dazed to my chamber to patch up the damage. Father kept his distance from then on, and I believe he and Boromir may have exchanged harsh words on the matter, although my brother did not say and I did not ask. But I had been sorrowful that I had been a source of contention between a father and son whose mutual love was ever unblemished; and I grieved again now, for my father, who had now lost both wife and heir, that he loved above all else.
And as I stood looking into the glass at my hurt face, twenty years older, I remembered what else I had taken from that encounter; that since I could not be what my father wanted - for I did not know what that was - then at the least I could be true to my own self, and take heart that I kept intact my honour, and my love for him, as both father and as lord of the last realm of the Númenóreans. And as that boy had made his own peace, so again, as a man, I made mine; to honour my father and to keep my integrity, and to make that my tribute to him, whether he wanted it or no, for it was all I had to give him and thereby show my love for him. For I felt now in my heart that in the darkest hour it might be that grief and despair might make my father's judgement falter, and I would protect him from that, if I could, and even if it brought down upon me a wrath greater than that he had just shown me. And this fragile peace made, I slept.