Then shall thy light break forth as the morning, and thine health shall spring forth speedily: and thy righteousness shall go before thee; the glory of the LORD shall be thy reward. Isaiah 58:8
The shadows blurred about me, the mists flowing and whipping. I did not seem to move, but the mists changed, hardened into shapes I recognized. I opened my eyes upon the true world. I sat at Faramir’s bedside in the Houses of Healing, my hand holding his, my other hand on his brow. His skin felt warm, but less heated than before.
There came a noise at the door. I turned my head to see a dark-haired boy run into the chamber, carrying six leaves in a cloth. Here at last was the athelas!
“It is kingsfoil, Sir,” he said, between heavy breaths, as if he had run a long way. “but not fresh, I fear. It must have been culled two weeks ago at least. I hope it will serve, Sir?” He cast a look at Faramir and started to weep. The Guard who had stayed close at Faramir’s side now stood and moved to the boy’s side, and I saw a strong likeness between them. If not father and son, they must be close kin.
I smiled, to show them the hope I now felt for Faramir‘s survival. “It will serve. The worst is over. Stay now and be comforted.”
I was aware of my breath leaving me in short, ragged gasps. I had journeyed farther from the true world than I had ever thought I could. My hands trembled slightly. I extended my fingers, trying to release the tension. Faramir needed me. In the way of Healer and charge, some part of my mind was still bound to him, sustaining him for the final leg of his own journey. I sensed Faramir’s presence, like a weary falcon hovering over the mountains, seeking a place to rest. I must bring him all the way back so he could arise in his own body and be whole once more.
Calming myself, I cast my breath on the athelas leaves that the boy had brought. Gandalf proffered a bowl of steaming water. I broke the leaves over the bowl. Suddenly the air in the chamber grew less musty; a sure sign of the herb’s power. The fragmented leaves poured into the water. A marvelous scent arose, mingling the smells of rain and new leaves and a clean, fair wind. It was an odor more bracing than any I could recall from even the fairest sunrise in Imladris. So must Spring have dawned in the morning of Arda; and so it must still come in the cool green glades where the Valar walked. I heard Gandalf sigh, and saw his tired face smooth. For a moment, he looked altogether different, as if he were peacefully dreaming in a garden. The fragrance lightened our hearts as it refreshed the room. I took the bowl from Gandalf and brought it close enough to Faramir’s sleeping face so he could easily inhale the healing vapors.
“Come, my friend, fly home to me,” I called to his spirit as I grasped his hand. Somewhere not so far away, Faramir heard my voice and hurtled through the shadowed void with a last spurt of strength. I reached out to guide him through the dizzying final descent into the bounds of the flesh. As a falcon plunging swiftly from the sky to rest on my outstretched arm, Faramir’s spirit returned. His limp hand trembled, then gripped my own with new strength and his eyes opened once more on the waking world.
I bent over Faramir, checking his pulse and gladly saw that his skin, though still pale, was no longer flushed with fever. I heard Gandalf expel a soft breath of relief and the young boy voice a wordless squeak of delight. My own joy was profound. Faramir had been taken far by the Shadow, and yet I pulled him from the Enemy’s cruel grip and restored him to the City that needed him. He would not fall as had Boromir, Halbarad, and countless others; no, not this day!
Now, Faramir’s weary grey eyes roamed over those who had assembled around his bed: Gandalf, Imrahil, Éomer, Pippin, the guard and the boy, and old Ioreth. I knew that the one he sought was not there and would never be seen again. Then he raised his eyes to me. I wondered whether Faramir would recognize me. I doubtless seemed more grimy and ordinary a figure in this lamp-lit sickroom than I had appeared in the otherworld.
“My lord, you called me. I come” Faramir said softly. He looked upon me with love, as if he had known me all of his life. “What does the king command?”
By the Valar, he had called me king! And suddenly my doubts, my anxiety about the next battle with Mordor’s forces, all melted away before the fierce hope and devotion I saw in my Steward’s eyes. Though I would make no formal claim until Sauron fell, I knew I was king now, King of Gondor. Faramir’s King. For he was the first to hail me as lord of the realm his sires had ruled.
“Walk no more in the shadows, but awake!” I replied, and pressed his right hand between both of mine, in token of the vows of fealty we would exchange one day. “Rest a while, and take food, and be ready when I return.”
Loud cheers erupted from the hallway. From the corner of my eye, I saw three bandaged men, one leaning on crutches, vying to peer into the room. They called out Faramir’s name, shouting that the Captain was well and awake. I knew their faces from Faramir’s memories of his Rangers; as cunning a force of scouts as could be found in either the North or South kingdoms, and utterly devoted to their captain. He would welcome their company on the morrow.
But for now, Faramir needed to sleep. I saw his eyelids flutter as he struggled to stay awake. Yet he returned my clasp and said fervently: “I will, lord. For who could lie idle when the king has returned?”
One more thing was needed before I surrendered Faramir‘s care to others. The fever had parched him. I carefully raised Faramir far enough up so he could easily drink the water I gave him, making sure he took only small sips. When he was finished, I helped him lie down once more. I released my charge and smoothed his brow, satisfied now that the fever was almost gone. Faramir gave a tired smile and settled back into the pillow, breathing deeply and easily. “Farewell then for a while!” I said. “I must go to others who need me.”
Then I rose and stretched my stiff legs. It had not been that long a time since I had started the journey into the dark to find the young Steward. But the world had changed. I knew now that being king of the West was not just a matter of conquering a battlefield. No one else, save perhaps for Elrond, could have retrieved Faramir this day, not even my friend Gandalf, the most powerful of Sauron’s foes. I had done it! And Faramir had given me his complete faith and love, though he knew the king he had hailed would supplant him.
I would prove worthy of Faramir’s trust. I felt stronger than ever before, my mind and body honed to the purpose that awaited me, the day’s weariness a thing of little import. I would reclaim Éowyn and Merry from the Shadow; our Enemy would not bear them away into despair! When hobbit and shieldmaiden looked once more on the light, I would summon my foster-brothers, and we would take back every son of Gondor who Sauron had dared carry into that vale of torment. And if there were others who needed healing, I would give them my strength and mend their hurts.
I heard Ioreth twitter something about the hands of a King. I saw Imrahil, his face aglow, pull the covers over his nephew. Gandalf touched Faramir’s forehead and whispered something to the sleeping man, then stood up and followed me. Pippin grinned joyfully as he bounced along at Éomer’s side, then shut the door of the sickroom. Ioreth stayed behind with another attendant and the guardsman, who was embracing the boy, both their faces streaked with tears. Faramir would be well-cared for and watched through the night.
I had a kingdom to tend. It was well that I had begun my kingship with the saving of so worthy a Steward. Now the White City’s wounded folk and allies awaited the hands of a healer. The King of Gondor would not disappoint them.