Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. Psalm 23:4
I traveled down, far down and away from the world of living things. The journey reminded me somewhat of a dive under the sea, if one continued down without the constraint caused by lack of air. There was also a track to follow, the trail of my quarry’s present mind, pulled mercilessly from his body by the Enemy. I knew not where I was, being suddenly surrounded by heavy mists and black shadows. I was still aware of a tether to our bodies in the waking world. That was a good thing; for I would need that tie to bring us both back.
“Faramir!” I called, as much to focus myself on his path as to send my voice to him.
The Elessar seemed to glow on my breast, bolstering my own hope in this gray wilderness. I pressed onward through the mists. There was no sun nor moon nor stars to guide me, only a narrow trail of the palest light that wound though the darkness. While I called Faramir’s name again, keeping his name and memory strong in my heart, the path would brighten and the shadows pull back a little.
I began to hear whispers, soft, sly ghostlike snippets of words, from behind the shadows. I whirled around to see who spoke, but beheld only mist and shadow. An evil trickle of laughter, as if spewed from a goblin’s throat, seemed to come from right behind me. Every Ranger’s instinct pressed me to draw sword or run for cover. But there was no cover to be had here; this place was not a forest.
I looked back; and realized to my dismay that the path of light was nearly engulfed by the shadows; and the pallid grey mists were falling around me.
“Faramir!” I called again, raising the memory of his fevered and tired face. My charge needed me. No one else could find him in this cursed place. I heard the elusive laughter once more. This time I did not turn.
“Go back, West-Man,” said a thin, sharp voice. “This is not yet your road. The son of Gondor is ours.”
“I think not,” I answered curtly. I drew Andúril, not questioning how it was here with me or whether it would actually draw blood in so strange a place. The sword of Elendil was mine; and it gave me strength. Better yet, it gave the Enemy’s lackeys fear. “By Elbereth, you shall not hinder me, creatures of darkness!” I swore. The Elessar glowed, its light shining on the sword I raised. Let Sauron’s pets chew on that! They fed on fear as midges feed on blood; but they would get nothing from me.
The path before me cleared and I hurried along it. I saw a brighter light at its end, glinting red and gold. I hastened, pausing now and again to call Faramir’s name. I heard no more from the sly devils. Perhaps more fearsome wights awaited me, but I cared not.
Then I heard a strange sound in this place of shadow-mire: A man’s voice raised in song. I could not yet discern the melody, for the voice was uneven and sang from far off, but still I knew the singer. I ran now, faster than I could in the waking world, my sword now sheathed, flying through the mist like an arrow through the air.
“Faramir!” I shouted. I put all my knowledge of the wounded Captain, all the warmth of Gandalf’s regard for him, and all the strength of his kinship with my lost comrade Boromir, into my voice. It was my loudest and clearest call yet, and seemed to echo along the road.
The mists parted, and I slowed, sensing a change. I had reached the end of this road. Now I stood atop a rocky outcrop, above a strange and sere valley. Below me stretched league after league of stone under a dark and starless sky. Flames and noisome gases flared throughout the place; it looked like Udûn itself. I had to remind myself that this dire realm was the work of Sauron‘s sorcery, not an actual land under the Sun and Moon. I looked out, and saw, far below me, the man I had come to find. Faramir of Gondor moved slowly through the terrible valley, flanked by strange, half-visible creatures out of nightmare. They would surge from the flames and the smoke, stabbing and clawing at the man. He gazed ahead, singing snatches of song. It was the prayer to Elbereth, sung in Sindarin from Imladris to Gondor by Elves and Dúnedain. As he sang, the demons retreated. His voice was ragged; and he seemed to fight for every breath. I could tell that he was exhausted by his erratic gait: he staggered, and sometimes struggled for balance.
Curiously, Faramir stopped singing and raised his head, looking and, it seemed to me, listening for something. A wraith creature that looked like a dragon-headed orc fell upon him, shoving him to the ground and slashing with its claws. Faramir rolled, but could not evade all the blows. Yet he managed to shout out the name of Elbereth, and began the song again; causing the monster to retreat.
My heart ached for Faramir as I watched him slowly sit up on his knees, his head bent. Then he rose stiffly and painfully to his feet, lifting up his head with a defiant, jerking motion. My respect for the Captain increased. Sorely beset though he was, he still had strength enough to fight despair. “I will not lose you too,” I vowed, not after so many had been lost, not after his brother had died in my arms. Gondor needed men of his ilk.
“Faramir!” I shouted with all my might.
He ceased the song then, and turned, cocking his head. He raised his eyes toward me. I could not clearly espy his face, but I saw him straighten, and start to hasten in my direction. “Father!” he called, to my great surprise. “Father, is that you?”
“Father!” He shouted again, breaking into an awkward trot. “I am coming, Father, do not fear! Stay there! I will come up to you!”
Of all the responses I had thought that a man weakened by the Black Breath and assailed by the Enemy’s minions in this otherworld might make to my call, confusing me with Denethor had been farthest from my mind. I suppose I did resemble Faramir’s father. Ecthelion used to remark the likeness and tease us both about it, prodding Denethor to glower even more when he looked upon me. Faramir’s own memory indicated that his congress with his father had not been easy in many years. Denethor had turned even more bitter towards his younger son since the older one had departed for Imladris, rebuffing Faramir’s counsel and devotion. Faramir had craved a farewell from his father. That unfulfilled wish was probably strong in Faramir now, as he saw from afar someone who looked like the father he did not yet know was dead.
At least the sight of one he thought was his father seemed to have given Faramir new strength, I thought, observing him making his way up from the rocky plain to the base of the cliff. He still stumbled, but forced himself onward at a faster pace. I could not go to him yet. Elrond had said that the victim of the Black Breath had to come to the healer once the healer had located the stricken one. And the stricken one had to freely choose to leave the Shadow-realm. Once Faramir made that choice, I could help him, lend him my strength, and guide him home. And therein lay some difficulty. When he came close enough to see that I was not the father he sought, Faramir might lapse into despair and refuse to hear me. Then he would be lost. Denethor might have refused a way home if I had offered it. Would his son's pride blind him to hope?
He was climbing now, pulling himself painfully up the base of the cliff, half-humming, half-singing a Quenya child’s rhyme about Eärendil that had been old when his ancestor Mardil assumed the rule of Gondor. Faramir must have guessed that the names of Elbereth and Earendil held power even in this deathly place. More foul wraiths snarled and gibbered in fury, reaching for him, but could not touch him. The flames though, continued to advance, some distance at his back.
Faramir heaved himself onto a ledge several paces up the slope. I noticed that he was garbed as a Ranger of Ithilien. His raiment was stained with blood and grime, and torn at the knees. The same wound that had laid him low on the Pelennor was visible on the left shoulder through a hole in the green cloth. He raised his head to look upward, allowing me to see that his reddened face was streaked with sweat, as in the waking world. Faramir’s eyes fastened on me in fierce longing.
And then he saw that I was not his father. Hope faded from his face, replaced first by a flash of pain, then a look of wary confusion. He stepped back and stumbled. I feared he would fall, but he steadied himself and sank to his knees, still watching me.
“You are not my father.” It was not a question.
“No, Faramir,” I replied. “For your sake, I wish that I was Denethor, for I know that you want to return to him.” That was true. I think that Faramir would have crawled over the steel-sharp crags of the Morgai to get to his father; and in fact he might well have done so in this place that existed somewhere in a corner of our Enemy’s mind. I would not lie to him; but I could conceal the truth by omission. If he learned here, in this place of torment, that the father he loved was dead, I might indeed lose him.
Faramir rubbed his eyes on his sleeve, his shoulders bowed with fatigue. “Where is my father? I have heard him call me since…since I came to this place. I must find him and help him.”
My blood ran cold. He had been here for innumerable hours or days in this timeless place, plagued by wraiths, suffering the heat of these strange fires, and all the while hearing the cries of the father he could not see. It had been Denethor’s voice for which he had stopped his song, the only weapon he had against the wraiths, to try to hear.
“Hearken to me, Faramir,” I said gently. “I have come here to find you. Your father is not here. The Enemy cannot touch him. This is no true place; we are not even in the waking world. If you stay here, you will surely perish. Together, we can return to Minas Tirith.”
I could tell he was trying to understand my words; a good sign. At least he had not spurned them outright. “I have walked and walked for what has seemed like many days, yet I always return here. This is not Barad-dûr, nor anywhere in the Black Land?”
“No, Faramir. It is somewhere far from night or day, but as dangerous as the true home of our Enemy. If you fall here, you will not return home.”
“I do not…fully…understand,” Faramir said softly. He looked up at me again. “How long have I been here? How fares the White City?”
“Two days have passed since the Shadow brought you here, Faramir. Minas Tirith stands. Her gate was broken, yet she is victorious over the Enemy’s forces.”
“Do you know what happened to my men?” he asked. “I thought that our cavalry rode out in sortie ere I fell. I have oft heard my men‘s voices, crying for aid, but I cannot find them. I think it must be some trick of sorcery, or my own senses playing me false.”
“The Enemy wants you to despair, but believe him not! Prince Imrahil brought most of your men home. They wait for you, Faramir. The entire City awaits her favorite son.”
He laughed tersely. “That was my brother.” He sobered, and his eyes closed suddenly. It was not only sorrow; the man was so exhausted he could hardly hold up his head any more. Before I could warn him, two hideous shapes darted up out of the flames below, clawing at him. Faramir screamed, then gasped out “Elbereth! Elbereth Gilthoniel!” The wraiths retreated, but only a pace or two, ringing him, hissing at him like snakes.
I unsheathed Andúril. “Go back to the Shadow!” I cried. “You cannot have him!”
“He will be ours, West-man,” said a low voice from the flames below. “Our lord demands it, for this one’s impertinence. The son of Gondor dared to stand between us and the Tower of Anor and slow our passage. We will take him beyond all darkness and give his mind to the Eye to shrivel, as his body dies.”
I was surprised to hear Faramir growl in anger. Looking down at him, I could have sworn it was Denethor who crouched there, hands in fists. “I….will…not…ever…be…yours,” he rasped. Then he began to sing “A Elbereth Gilthoniel…”
I joined in the familiar song. He heard, and raised his voice as I raised Andúril:
“A Elbereth Gilthoniel,
Silivren penna míriel
O menel aglar elenath!
Fanuilos, le linnathon
Nef aear, si nef aearon!”
No answer came from the wall of flames. I wondered at its presence, and whether it was a construct of the Enemy or a reflection of Faramir’s fevered state in the true world. I could feel no heat or discomfort, but it was obvious that Faramir did.
Unexpectedly, he smiled. “You have a fair voice, sir. Do you think we could have eschewed spears and swords and driven the Enemy’s forces back from the Pelennor with song?”
“Nay, though you might have repelled the Nazgûl for a few minutes. This is a realm where the force of will rules one’s actions. Sauron holds the terrain, but cannot take us unless we submit to him.” He had hope again, and so did I. It was time that he came to me; time that we left this realm of darkness.
“I have seen you before,” Faramir said, looking to me with a keen, searching gaze that was very familiar. But the habitual scorn in Denethor‘s eyes was absent from his son‘s stare. Faramir’s face showed only relentless curiosity that changed to a look of astonishment. “In dreams? That blade…is it the Sword That Was Broken? Are you the one who will come?”
I was about to speak when the flames parted, and the most cruel and dangerous phantom imaginable appeared: a walking semblance of Denethor, Steward of Gondor.
“Faramir, Faramir my son,” the phantom called in an agonized voice. “Help me!”
“Faramir, no!” I cried. I would not lose him now, not this close to saving him. “That is not Denethor! It is a trick of the Shadow!”
Faramir stared at what appeared to be his father. The figure shambled forward with a beseeching hand outstretched and implored “Help…they will take me to the fire if you do not come down to help me. Help me now, my dearest son!”
“No…it cannot be,” Faramir said slowly. “No. My father would never plead for aid. My father would never call me…that.”
“The Enemy does not have your father,” I assured him. “Not here or in any other place.”
“Believe him not!” cried the false Denethor. “Come and help me, if you be no coward. Are you not a captain who would do his lord’s will?”
Faramir moved forward, then stopped. He lowered his head and shook it. “Not him,” I heard him say softly, painfully. “Not Father,” he repeated, and turned away from the travesty that beset him.
“Your father loves you, Faramir!” it called.
Faramir’s entire body tightened like a bowstring. He turned back and faced the phantom. “If you are my father, then sing with me,” he said, and began another song to Elbereth, an older one, in Quenya. Pausing after a few lines, he challenged: “My father knows the next line; for my mother sang it to us both, so my true father told me.”
In this song, each line began with the name of the Star-kindler. The phantom stood there, unable to form the words in its lying mouth, gaping as Faramir sang the full verse to its end.
“You are not my father!” Faramir screamed hoarsely. “Leave me, foul thing of Darkness! By Elbereth, get thee gone!”
The false Denethor blurred and darkened into a tall shadow, then it retreated into the flames. I was glad, but feared how much longer Faramir could withstand these assaults. I could hear him struggling to breathe.
“That was well, though not easily, done,” I told him. “Faramir, time grows short. I would not see you suffer from more of the Enemy’s counterfeits. Come to me now, for I would take you from this place of sorrow.”
He looked up at me, his face suddenly turned ashen. His red-rimmed eyes sought mine, looking for answers. “Who are you?” he asked me.
“I am Aragorn, son of Arathorn. I cannot go down to you, but come to me; and we shall make the journey home.”
A faint smile creased Faramir’s haggard face. I could tell that my name was not strange to him, and recalled from his memories that Frodo had spoken of my coming. He squared his shoulders, turned from the shadowed, flame-haunted plain before us, and began to slowly climb towards me. It was not far, merely some thirty feet, and though the rocky slope was steep, it was filled with crannies and shelves for footholds. But for a wearied and wounded man, the ascent was a torment. Faramir faltered more than once. Each time he stopped, he pushed on, forcing his injured left arm to balance his other limbs. I could hear, over Faramir’s labored breathing, his utterance of some words, or a verse, over and over again. I could not make out the words of his chant, but speaking them aloud apparently gave him strength. Briefly, I thought of Frodo and Sam, who might well be making an equally painful trek in some part of Mordor at this very moment. I refused to let their plight distract me. I could not help the hobbits. But I could help this brave-hearted Man.
“You are almost here, Faramir.” I told him. “I know you are weary, but the distance is short now, my friend.”
I saw his arm reach, slowly but surely, over the edge of the hill. I wanted to pull him up, but restrained myself; for it would be best if he could do so himself. And he did, dragging himself up on hands and knees, then rising to his feet to look me once more in the eye. “Seek…Seek for the Sword that was Broken,” he chanted. Ah, those were the words he had spoken as he had climbed the rocky hill.
A look of wonder dawned in his face as he beheld me. He staggered forward. At last I could reach out to help him! I sheathed Anduril, then moved quickly, and caught him as he stumbled. “I have you, Faramir;” I said; “I will not let you fall.”
He grasped my shoulder tightly, in the panicked grip of a tired swimmer. “There is a light…in your face,” he said haltingly. “A pale light, from the West you came…and on your brow, the star…of Elendil, lord of the Dúnedain.”
I had no idea what I was wearing in this place between worlds. I knew that I had not come here naked. Concentrating, I did sense the slight weight of a circlet around my head; and it had the same feel as the starred Elendilmir that I had worn to the day’s battle. I was more concerned by the pain my charge still felt than with which signs of rank I bore in this treacherous place. His slowness of speech showed that what little strength he had left was waning.
“Your stone…it shines,” Faramir was gazing at the Elfstone fastened above my heart. “The glow…it is cool..like a soft breeze.” He touched the stone. I noticed that both his hands were cut and blistered. “Blessedly cold,” he said in wonderment. I recalled how I had seen the world through his eyes in his memory. I suddenly yearned to shield him from further harm. I had such notions before with those of my charges who had endured much pain. And this wounded warrior was the heir of Denethor and Ecthelion…
Suddenly, his knees started to buckle, and he barely managed to straighten. I pulled Faramir close, to steady him. It seemed I held the spirit of Gondor itself. Here, in my keeping, was a treasure beyond price: the virtues of the Southern Kingdom embodied in one man: the ancient pride and traditions of Westernesse, the courage at arms and desire for peace, the love of music and lore, the keenness of mind and generosity of heart, passed down from our lost home in Númenor to this last Steward to guard the realm. Gondor and Faramir had suffered, but had never yielded. “I will save you,” I vowed, to both the realm and the man. “I will guard you as long as I can. And if the Enemy falls, I promise, I will renew your strength. “
A shudder wracked Faramir’s body. He leaned against me with a long sigh, as if relinquishing a burden he could no longer bear. I was glad to give him some badly needed respite. Then the Elessar stone hummed with some strange power. A sudden Light burst forth around me, shining so brightly that I felt like Eärendil himself, bearing the Silmaril through the heavens. Its source seemed to be my own heart! The light pulsed outward through the stone with each heartbeat, glowing over Faramir’s hands.
He exhaled sharply, then extended one hand. The blisters that had marred his fingers and palm were gone. I knew that he had taken no hurt to them in the waking world, but the Enemy’s rules and devices held sway in this place. Until now. I should not have been able to do that. The world was changing. I was changing.
“See, my lord,” Faramir showed me both hands, pale and unmarked. “You took the pain from them.” He stood up straighter now; and though his face was still worn, new hope gleamed in those tired eyes.
“I am glad of it. Come, then; we must leave this place. Lean on me, now.” But how to escape this hell-trap? I would not wait here for the enemy to send forth a seeming of poor Boromir, or worse. The best course was to return as I had come, drawing Faramir with me. I tightened my arm around him once more, thinking to bear him along, but he resisted, and stepped out of my hold.
“I think I can keep pace, lord,” Faramir said firmly. “Is there aught else I can do to help find a way out of here?” He straightened, albeit with a slight effort, and stood tall, almost as tall as I am. A sense of pride welled up in me, for no conceivable reason. His quality was no credit to me; he was Denethor’s son and Boromir’s brother.
“Very well” I replied. “Hold fast to me now. If we lose each other, I know not if I can find you again.”
Faramir took my outstretched hand and let me lead him away from the escarpment. The power of my will had brought me here, and it would bring us back in nearly the same fashion. I ordered my mind to the thought of the Houses of Healing, the warm, quiet room peopled by my friends and Faramir’s own sickened body.
The mists descended about us, enshrouding but not covering a path of pale light that lay ahead. I increased my speed. So did my charge. I heard him breathing heavily, but he uttered no complaint. That lean wrist of his exerted an unexpectedly strong grip. I remembered Boromir’s words then, telling us proudly how his younger brother drew the heaviest longbow in Gondor. His grip was firm, but did not drag me back, no mean feat, considering how wayworn Faramir was. He would be a good man to have at my back in any fight. But I would fain use him differently. I had hunted a captain and found a jewel. “Denethor” I thought ruefully; “For a man so wise, you were a fool to misprize your second son. But I will not; for Faramir is a jewel indeed, a fair gem for the crown of a lost King. I will set him high in my counsels, and he will help me rebuild our realm.” If the Enemy was thrown down; I reminded myself; a perilous venture which still loomed large and unaccomplished before us all. And if Faramir himself agreed. I knew not if he would even want to help someone destined to supplant his father as Lord of Gondor.
Soon I would know. “Hold fast, Faramir,” I told my charge. “Do not let go. We are almost home; but I must return first, to prepare the way.”
“I trust you,” Faramir answered quietly.
From the memories I had searched, I knew that Faramir was not a man to trust strangers quickly, though he strove to treat most fairly, even the hobbits he had originally taken for orc-spies. I felt honored by his faith; for I knew also that, like his father, Faramir could read the hearts of men. Yet Denethor had never trusted me; and, I truly believed, would not have done so even had I freed him from the dungeons of Barad-dûr itself. What did his son see when he looked into my heart? He stood tall beside me now, his stern face worn but softened by the hope shining in his keen eyes.
I shifted my grip so that I clasped Faramir’s hand, and directed my mind to the waking world, willing myself to return to it, while keeping Faramir’s very spirit safe in my grasp.