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Death by Water
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Chapter IV

'Did it hurt?' I said.

My brother stopped skimming stones into the sea and looked over at me. 'Did what hurt?' he said.

'Dying, of course,' I said sharply. 'What else would I want to ask you about?' Sometimes my brother used obtuseness as a cloak for sheer obstinacy.

He thought for a moment. 'No, it didn't hurt,' he said, and then he gave me his broad smile. 'But the arrows did.' And then he laughed, and I had to join in, shaking my head at him.

We sat in companionable silence for a while, enjoying the summer sun, and watching the waves lap the shore of the bay that protected Dol Amroth. The sand was warm and dry beneath my hand and, above us, the gulls wheeled, although I could not hear their cries. There was a fresh salt taste to the air. This was the home of my mother's brother, and oft we had come hither as children, visiting our kin, and we had been happy here. War had never allowed us to take our rest here as grown men. I had not thought to sit with him like this until after the Enemy was defeated.

So blue was the Sea, and so soothing, I could have sat there for an age. But with a soft sigh, my brother stood up, and brushed the sand from himself. My eye fell on the strange belt of linked golden leaves about his waist, and I opened my mouth to ask him about it, but he spoke first.

'Time to go, brother,' he said, and stretched out his hand to me. I grasped it, and with his firm grip and strong arm he pulled me up easily. Then he brushed his fingers softly against my left cheek, and I felt the wound there throb, despite the gentleness of his touch. He looked sad for a moment, but then he set his hands on my shoulders and smiled at me; my brother, as I would always remember him, strong and handsome, fearless and fair; my dearest, most beloved friend. I smiled back at him, and he looked into my eyes.

'Goodbye, Faramir,' he said, with love. And then I woke up, to a cold day at the very end of February, and a stone city in mourning.

One of my father's servants was bending over me. 'My lord Faramir,' he said, 'the lord steward requests that you attend him and the Council within the hour.'

It seemed I had slept until past noon, and I could not deny I felt better for it, and for the lingering consolation of my dream. Quickly, I rose,and washed and dressed, and made for the Tower, where the Council was assembled. Well used were its members to seeing the sons of Denethor return hurt from the front, and none there had seen me arrive in the city unmarked. And I approached my father and kissed the ring on his finger, as was expected of me.

He greeted me evenly, and if his keen glance lingered on my face, it was only for an instant. 'Good morrow, Lord Faramir. You have rested, I trust, after your late journey?'

'Thank you, sir,' I said softly, 'I have.'

'Then sit with us; for we have much to consider in the wake of the loss of our most beloved captain.'

And so we debated, late into the day, although little had changed of our grim plight, save now we were bereft. It was nigh on midnight ere I was free to leave again for Osgiliath. Waiting for my horse to be made ready, I saw that it had started to rain, a thin but persistent drizzle that would have me thoroughly drenched by the time I reached the river. I pulled a face, and enjoyed while I could the warmth of the stable.

'Fine night for riding, my lord,' said the stableman with a wry grin.

'You're welcome to take my place, Galdor,' I said mildly.

He gave a low chuckle, and then his expression changed and he became suddenly busy with his work. I turned to see what had caused this, and was astonished to behold my father standing there. I could not recall the last time he had come to see me set out, if ever he had. His hair was damp and, had his features been given to expressiveness, I would have said he looked as surprised as I was that he was there. Standing facing him, feeling somewhat awkward, I was suddenly very aware that we were not practiced in showing each other affection. And I smiled suddenly at this absurdity, and he frowned back, and I saw that I had disarmed him.

'You've chosen a miserable night to come outside, sir,' I said.

'Aye, well,' he answered, and looked behind me pointedly at Galdor, who was trying to be unobtrusive. I understood the unease of both of them, and sought to relieve their discomfort.

'I'll take her out; thank you,' I murmured to Galdor, and he handed me the reins, and disappeared gladly into the depths of the stable.

My father followed me out into the rain. I patted Aryn as she stamped and snorted, impatient, if we had to be out in such weather, to get moving.

'You should go inside, sir. I think it's getting worse.'

He looked up at the dark sky and, as I began to mount, he set his hand on my arm. I halted, and turned to face him. For a brief moment, I thought he might embrace me, but he just looked over my face with the same dark eyes that gazed back at me whenever I stood before a glass.

Then he spoke. 'You are my heir now,' he said simply, and I felt the weight of the charge he had laid upon me, but a stab of purest joy at his acknowledgement. I nodded, and got up on Aryn.

'Go safely,' he said. 'And, Faramir?'

I looked down at him. 'Father?'

'Make me proud.'

We looked again at each other, grey to grey; and then I nodded my goodbye, and rode out, down from the sixth level and on through the city.

As I rode out onto the Pelennor, the rain began to come down in sheets, and gusts of wind blew the water across my face. I slicked back my hair with my hand, and spurred Aryn on. Ahead of me lay Osgiliath, and the grief of the men when they heard the news about their captain; and, after that, Ithilien, and only the Valar knew what trials awaited me there. I was lost in thought for a while and then, on a sudden impulse, I looked back at Minas Tirith, covered in darkness, but at the top of the tower a pale light shone.

And as the rain came down ever more heavily, I thought of Númenor, and how I dreamt more often and more vividly of its pride and corruption, and its fall. And then I thought of my father, bending his stern will hither and thither, seeking to dictate all for the good of Gondor - and I was afraid; for Gondor, for myself, and most of all for that proud man who brooked no disappointment, however warranted, and whom I knew would spend all in the defence of his realm.

Doom is near at hand...

Gondor was in darkness behind me, and ahead of me lay only the shadow of Mordor. I rode on eastwards, in the rain.


Author's notes:

The story continues in What The Thunder Said.

I wasn't going to quote all of it, but below is the whole of part IV of The Waste Land from which the title and the quotation at the start come. It all just fits so well and it's not very long, so I hope you'll indulge me.

February 4-7, 2002

Death by Water

Phlebas the Phoenician, a fortnight dead,
Forgot the cry of gulls, and the deep sea swell
And the profit and loss.
A current under sea
Picked his bones in whispers. As he rose and fell
He passed the stages of his age and youth
Entering the whirlpool.
Gentile or Jew
O you who turn the wheel and look to windward,
Consider Phlebas, who was once handsome and tall as you.

TS Eliot


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