A cock crew.
Faramir woke caught in the gap between the dreaming and the waking world. The shades seized their chance, and beat on against the early morning light.
...fallen kings at a lost meeting of ways... the sharp and broken teeth of mountains, their jaws opening...
Faramir opened his eyes. He was sweating. He blinked hard and jerked his head to clear it, and sat up. He was alone.
...and they are two days gone...
Pushing the thought aside, Faramir reached out his hand, grasping for the cup that stood on the table by his bedside. He drank the stale water like a man lost long in a stony land. As he drained the cup, the faded little room began to take shape, softening the jagged edges of the dream.
He set the cup down again and looked round. The curtains were drawn back, and the window stood ajar. Sunlight streamed through, touching upon the wooden table, the blue counterpane, the pale skin of his hand resting upon the bed. But the air was still, and the walls watched back.
I must leave this room today, he decided. If only for a little while.
He took a deep and steadying breath and then, with care, pulled himself round to sit on the edge of the bed. There he rested, staring down at his hands upon his knees and willing himself to stay upright. When at last the trembling stilled, he set his palm flat upon the table and pushed himself up to his feet.
The world did not turn upside down. Encouraged, he took a step forward; a second brought him within reach of the wall by the window. He breathed in again, and then let go of the table. For a long moment, he wavered, and then he stood up straight. He was back on his feet.
Faramir broke into a wide smile at his achievement – it quickly turned into a soft, self-mocking laugh. Outside, faint, there was birdsong, and he listened to the call. Then, brushing his fingers against the wall, he moved slowly to the foot of the bed. He stopped, and contemplated this new view of his chamber.
Only a little further to the door, he thought. I shall reach it!
He took a few more steps, ignoring the sound of his breathing becoming laboured. I would like to be outside, he told himself. I would like to feel the wind upon my face and taste fresh air again; I would like to see the sun on the stone and hear the birds more clearly. He stopped for a moment to rest, putting his hand upon the arm of the chair that stood by the hearth. He stared at the little fire burning there, gathering his strength for his last attempt on the door – and then a thought struck him.
He was wearing only a nightshirt. He looked urgently around the room, but he could see nothing that he might use. And then a sudden weariness overtook him, and he knew that even if he could find something to wear, he was too tired now to dress. And even if he did make good his escape, he would by no means reach the garden.
Defeated, he sank into the nearby chair. There was a blanket laid upon it and he pulled it around him. He closed his eyes.
...there had been a star, a fading star, and he had longed to look at it, but dared not raise his eyes... for others were watching him, and he could feel the press upon his back...
There was a knock on the door. Faramir’s eyes shot open.
“Who’s there?” he said. His hand, he realized, was clutching at the arm of the chair. The door opened, just a crack, and then a little figure came in.
A perian. Here, in the City. Faramir gazed at him in wonder.
The Halfling smiled at him. “My lord,” he said, bowing low, “I am Meriadoc son of Saradoc. My cousin Peregrin – Pippin – asked me to keep an eye on you.”
And it seemed, Faramir thought, noting the bindings about the perian’s arm, that he too was a guest in this House. Faramir lowered his head in greeting.
“Master Meriadoc,” he said, “You do me a great honour. Forgive me that I do not rise to greet you.” He pointed down at his visitor’s arm. “I believe you might understand.”
The Halfling bowed low again. Faramir gestured to the chair at the other side of the hearth. “Will you keep me company for a while, Master Meriadoc?”
“Gladly,” he replied, lightly. “If you will call me Merry!”
“Merry,” Faramir said, and smiled.
When the Halfling had made himself comfortable in the seat, he drew from a pocket some little russet apples, and offered one to Faramir. “I found a store of these,” he said, “and it is far better to eat in company than alone. A pipe too would not go amiss...” he stopped himself, and sighed. “Although when I smoke I think of him...” A shadow passed across his round and cheerful face. “Of King Théoden.”
“Only a little news has come to me,” Faramir said quietly, reaching out to retrieve the apple, “And I have heard naught of the last ride of the Lord of the Mark.” He set aside, for the moment, his own questions – concerning his brother’s end and his father’s state – and asked, “Would you tell me?”
They sat then, and talked of the Muster of Rohan, of the Riders and their songs, of bold Dernhelm and woses and horns blowing wildly like thunder in the mountains. With skill, Faramir led his companion’s tales back towards happier days and homelier places; a strange fellow that danced along a withy-path; the proper way to gather mushrooms; a birthday speech given beneath the branches of a fair Party Tree. And they ate their apples, the sweet juice running down their fingers, and laughed amidst their cares while the birds trilled joyously beyond the window.
The morning wore on, and the sun passed across the sky. All of a sudden, the door creaked open. Faramir and Merry stopped talking, and turned to see the Steward, standing on the threshold, very still, staring in.
“My lord,” Faramir said, in greeting, with a smile.
“Why are you not abed?” Denethor took a step towards him. The light from the window in the corridor behind him cast a shadow across the room. He seemed to have noticed the Halfling not at all. “Why are you not resting?”
“I am resting.” Faramir tapped the arm of the chair. “And indeed I need my strength. For I intend to walk in the garden today.”
“My son, it is but seven days since you were brought to this house near death. I forbid it—”
The old man stopped dead. A moment passed as they watched each other, and then Faramir turned to look towards the window. “The day is so fair. The sun is shining and I can hear the birds singing.” And who can say how many days like this remain to us? “And besides,” he said, holding up an apple core, and smiling at Merry, “I am much better for having eaten.”
Merry left them to their own devices. He went to the kitchen and amused the cook and replenished his stores. But, only a little later, from the window of his chamber, he was able to watch as the steward and his son walked to the walls and looked out eastwards. Side by side they stood, very alike; tall men, straight and proud, like statues, last keepers of a crumbling realm. And the sight of them called to Merry’s mind another sight he had lately seen, when he had crossed into Gondor – of the Argonath, its first kings, guarding its gates, still watching all that dared pass within, as the stone weathered and the birds made homes amidst their ruin.
Merry looked beyond them, northwards. Oh Pippin, he thought, how I wish we too might still be standing side by side!
The sunlight that morning could not pierce the sadness that wreathed the Lady Éowyn, and she took herself to the Warden of the Houses of Healing. “Sir,” she said to him, “I would have you release me.”
“Lady,” he said, “I have not that authority—”
“Who, then, has authority? Who commands in this City?”
“The Lord Húrin commands the men of Gondor, and there is a marshal over the Riders,” he said, “But the Lord Denethor is Steward of the City. His son, the Lord Faramir, took great hurt in the battle, and the Steward remains in this House at his side.”
“Then bring me to him,” she said. “I can lie no longer in sloth.”
The Warden led her from the House into the garden and there, seated side by side upon a bench were two men. As she came nearer, and they rose to greet her, Éowyn’s first thought was that they were very like another she had met already. The old man was stern, and so still he seemed to be carved from the very stone of the city. The young man was grave too; they could only, she thought, be father and son. Would she crash against them, as she had against the other, like a bird caught in a gale and harmed against the rocks?
The Warden bowed to them. “This is the Lady Éowyn of Rohan,” he said, “who rode with her King and was hurt, but is unhappy in these Houses—”
“Through no lack of care,” Éowyn said swiftly. “Do not misunderstand me! But I wish to be released from this house. I cannot remain here, caged—”
The Lord Denethor waved to the Warden to dismiss him, and then observed Éowyn as if from a distance. After a moment, he looked beyond her at the House. “We are each of us prisoners here,” he said at last. “In our own way.”
Hearing him, Éowyn knew he cared nothing for her troubles. And the other beside him was silent, watching her coolly, listening to the words, and making no sign. Am I always to be treated thus? To be ordered and disposed of at the whims of men? It was a bitter thought. And after all? Have I come so far and won so little?
“The healers would have me lie abed for seven days,” Éowyn said. The Steward looked at her with unmoving eyes, and she heard her voice falter. “And my window does not look eastwards...”
“Eastwards?” All at once, the Lord Denethor seemed to see her properly. “Do you seek the Shadow too, my lady?” He sounded hungry. “Or do you look still for hope? It has passed beyond our grasp—”
“Sir.” The other man spoke for the first time; his voice was gentle, Éowyn thought, but firm. “It is but a small favour that is asked, and easy enough to grant. Lady,” he said, and turned to her. She saw unwanted pity reflected in his grey eyes; pity, and steel. “Your window does not look eastwards? That can be amended. I shall speak to the Warden.”
She knew colour had crept into her cheeks. And it seemed he was not yet finished with her.
“This garden is fair,” the Lord Faramir said to her, “and the Sun shines upon it yet. Stay in our care, lady, and take your rest, and walk in the garden as you will. We shall be here too, no doubt, my father and I; walking and waiting – and looking east, whither our hope has gone.”
He stopped then, drew in a breath, and reached out to set his hand upon the Steward’s arm, as if the effort of speech had drawn some of the life from him. His father claimed the hand within his own and, as he did, something stirred upon his face. He addressed the Lady Éowyn directly.
“Do as my son proposes,” the Lord Denethor said, “if you desire it.”
Éowyn did them both a courtesy. “By your leave, I will walk here,” she said, and her eyes strayed towards Faramir, “and I thank you for your kindness.” She turned away from them and went back to the house; and, as she walked, she knew herself to be the object of their regard.
On rode the Armies of the West, passing through the green lands of Ithilien, emptied now of bird and beast, but watched. On rode the Armies of the West, and at the Crossroads they heralded the lost and broken King. On rode the Armies of the West, into an eaten country, where no creature moved nor bird sang, and yet voices still whispered in the cruel air.
And beyond the wall of the mountains, beyond all aid, their fate crept on, through a dry land gasping under fading stars.
Each morning now, the Steward came to his son’s chamber, to take him into the gardens. Each morning they walked for a while and stood looking East, and then, since Faramir tired easily, they sat on a bench that gave them a view of the whole garden – with the House to their right and the walls, and beyond, to the left.
This morning, Faramir had brought some of his breakfast outside with him. He sat crumbling a precious piece of bread, throwing the bits to the birds, and all the while his father spoke.
“We must prepare ourselves,” Denethor said. “It will not be long now ere the Enemy strikes again.”
There is still the fool’s hope, Faramir thought, remembering his last sight of the Halflings, disappearing like shadows into the woods of Ithilien. He looked with pity upon his father’s face. Mithrandir spoke truly, saying it would burn your mind away till naught remained but ashes. What choice did I have? There was no real choice.
“It will not be long ere we are encircled once again,” Denethor said. His eyes drifted back to his son. Faramir broke off some more bread and threw them to the birds that were waiting hungrily. They dived for the pieces.
“Some must make ready to leave the City,” Denethor said. “You shall go with them, I deem, leading those that remain up into the mountains—”
“I shall not forsake the City,” Faramir said. He cast the last bit of bread across the lawn. A sparrow, swift and clever, shot out in front of the others to claim her prize. “I shall be here throughout the defence. And I shall ride for the river again, should the need arise.”
“This was not your counsel but two weeks ago—”
“Much has changed in that short time,” Faramir replied. “Much has been lost – too much. With the forces we now have from the South, our defences are stronger.” He knew he was trembling, and struggled to hold himself still. “We can hold; and for longer now! And let them take the river and the field and the gate and each circle of this city one by one, but they will have to hang me from the Tower or burn my body where it falls ere I yield. Not one inch of the land that we lost and then took back will go unfought.” He saw his father’s eyes upon him; felt the fire within him smother; felt cold sweat break out upon his brow. Fiercely he summoned the last of his strength. “This I swear,” he breathed, and his hands fell before him.
The garden was quiet now. The birds, seeing no further chance of feasting, had departed.
“And think you that would be your fate, Lord Faramir?” There was no anger in Denethor’s voice, no fury – only certainty, cold and hard as the dark days that lie in the heart of winter. “Think you that the Dark Lord will be so gracious as to grant you a swift death? No ships lying under black sails will deliver us this time; no horsemen will come riding hither from the North.” Denethor reached out, placing his hand upon his son’s. “He will seal the City and leave us to starve,” he whispered. “He will watch us rot and mock us as our hope sinks further. And we – you and I, the last lords of Minas Tirith – we will beg to become his slaves.”
Faramir bowed his head. Fear washed cold through his veins. Father and son sat in silence. At length, Faramir dared to raise his eyes. It was still light, and – at the far reach of the garden, touched by the white spring sun – he saw the Lady Éowyn, pale and silent, walking alone by the grace of the Steward of the City.
Pippin heard it first, coming to him from another’s tale amidst all the clamour and the chaos of battle. Sam heard it, ringing triumphant round the rock and the ruin of the wasted land. And Merry heard it too, as he sat in the garden of the city of the Sea-kings; heard the beat of wings against the air, and a voice as clear as a trumpet, as clear as the horns of the north that had lately heralded the indomitable dawn – he heard the pardon of the Lords of the West:
The Eagles are coming! The Eagles are coming!
On the fifth day after the Lady Éowyn was first brought to the steward and his son, she came from the House and, seeing Faramir alone, she called to him and came to stand beside him. The day was cold, and the sky desolate. As they stood together, she looked towards to the Black Gate, and she shivered. Seeing this, he took his cloak and put it about her shoulders.
“You are still unwell,” she protested.
“Perhaps a little fever,” he allowed. “But not enough to trouble me greatly.”
“Your father fears for you,” she said, and glanced at him. “He is ever by your side.”
The wind was coming in from the North. Faramir turned to greet it. “He has already lost one son, that was dearly loved – and he nearly lost the other,” he replied. He looked back at her, and his eyes were touched with pity, or maybe something else. “Perhaps,” he said, “he fears to lose again what he has but lately found.”
She reached up for the clasp on the cloak, her hand placed as if to shield herself; but: “Not all wounds are to the body,” she admitted.
“No,” he said, turning back to the grey sky, “not all.” He gave a sigh, and put out his hand to support himself. He was shivering. She lowered her hand, placing it beside his on the worn stone of the wall. They stood and waited. No leaf rustled on the trees, no birds called out. The very light of the sky seemed blurred.
“It reminds me of Númenor,” he said.
“Of the land that was lost, lost in darkness, darkness unescapable.”
“Then you think Darkness is coming?” She trembled. “Darkness Unescapable?” Her hand crept closer to his, his to hers, warm to touch.
Behind them, footsteps sounded on the stone. They turned to see who approached. “Father,” Faramir breathed, turning back to the broken wall.
The Lord Denethor came to stand beside his son and, as Éowyn watched, he removed his heavy cloak, and placed its weight upon his son’s shoulders. Barely had he settled the mantle upon him when a great wind rose up and passed through all the circles of the City.
Éowyn turned to the man standing close beside her. Her hair, caught in the breeze, lifted, and she looked through the golden veil at Faramir, and she smiled. “Like the darkness has been swept away!” she said to him.
He was smiling back. “Like the land has been washed clean,” he told her. Their hands fell away from the wall and, unwatched, met at last, and clasped.
All the bells of the City began to ring. Hearing them, they laughed together. And then Faramir thought he heard his father gasp – but when he turned to look at him, the face of the Lord of the City was unaltered, and his eyes, grey and hard and empty, were still staring East.
And from out of the East a great Eagle came, and it flew high above them, and it screamed.