Come When You Are Ready
1. Come When You Are Ready
I have not seen a single soul since leaving my study.
I come to a junction of corridors, and stop when I hear the sweet echoing laughter of my dear Finduilas. A deeper chuckle echoes hers, and for a brief, disconcerting moment, it sounds like my father’s voice.
But of course it must be Boromir; more than one man who knew both has commented how similar in timbre Boromir’s voice is to Ecthelion’s.
I pause, letting the sounds of their merriment wash over me. It is surprising, how comforting the free joy of a man’s family can be to his soul.
But I do not hear Faramir. Likely he is mewed up in the library, or away in the dusty archives.
“Denethor?” Finduilas’ voice drifts to me. “Is that you, my lord? We did not expect you so soon.”
“I will join you in a moment,” I reply, smiling at no-one.
I can feel my smile fade as I speak the words, and I do not know why.
Where is Faramir?
I look down at the white marble floor, and I see a snake glide by, not a finger’s length from my booted toes.
An anguished moan cuts through the air, terrible to hear. Chills run down my back, curling around my spine, unpleasantly like the serpent which just passed me.
I go to the window and look out -- why, I do not know, for I am certain the sound comes from the Houses of Healing, and I cannot see the Houses from here.
Where is Faramir? And why am I suddenly filled with foreboding for my younger son?
Again, that pained cry, and this time it rings through my head so loudly that I clutch at my temples. Why do they not give that man a brew to deaden his pain?
Where is Faramir?
The Steward’s voice was harsh with disuse and smoke and heat, almost inaudible.
“Drink this, my lord,” the healer urged, holding a cup to the Lord Denethor’s cracked lips. “It will ease the pain.”
Denethor drank, grimacing at the vile taste, and then cried out when the movement sent pain shooting through his face. “…can…hold it….m’self….” he gasped out, though it hurt his chest to do so.
“No, my lord,” the healer said with infinite gentleness, “you cannot. Your hands are far from healed.”
Frowning, he raised his hands, and found he could not. “…..what…..hap..happened?”
An expression of dismay flitted briefly across the nurse’s face, gone so quickly in a haze of poppy that Denethor was not sure he had seen it. “You do not remember, my lord?”
“Where---Faramir?” Denethor ground the name out between clenched teeth. “..must…see…”
“I will fetch the Warden,” the nurse said, and it occurred to Denethor that her accent was not of Gondor. “He will explain all to you.”
Denethor struggled to argue, but the brew had been potent.
How can the Citadel be so devoid of life?
I have entered many rooms, and found no-one but a lone dove, who fluttered madly at my entrance, circled my head three times, then soared away.
I cannot find Faramir, and my concern for his safety is growing.
But why? I have never concerned myself overly with Faramir’s whereabouts - he always appears, spouting some new knowledge he has found in some musty book.
Again Finduilas calls me. “My lord?”
“Father, we are waiting!” Boromir’s cheerful voice adds.
“He will come when he is ready,” Finduilas says him. “Do not be impatient, my son.”
It sounds as if they are not alone.
If I bend my ear, I can make out a voice that sounds oddly like my old friend and ally, Théoden King of Rohan. And the drawl which is only a tone lower must certainly belong to his son, Théodred.
I do not remember inviting the Rohirrim to visit. It displeases me not, if they are here, for I see them too infrequently.
But I do not remember asking them to Gondor.
Are they under siege? Have they come to request aid?
From a room very nearby, I can hear the screech of an owl. I must consult with the head of the house - the Citadel is not an aviary.
Why am I so fearful for Faramir? It is beginning to border on panic.
Oh, again, again that poor wounded man is screaming from the Houses.
“It was only for a moment, Faramir,” Éowyn tried to soothe her betrothed. “He could not even focus his eyes on me, and it was not just the poppy that rendered him so.” She ran a hand over Faramir’s dark head. “He did ask for you again.”
Faramir reached up and took her hand, pressing it warmly. “That is small comfort,” he sighed. “I would that you had called me the moment he spoke, Éowyn. I would that he had seen a familiar face, for he has woken far too infrequently.”
“I had planned to summon you on the instant your father awoke,” Éowyn replied, “but I did not want to leave him in pain. I did not want to you to have to see him in such a state.”
Faramir dropped her hand, and sagged back into his chair, eyes closed tightly. “Likely you are correct,” he said, rubbing his forehead wearily “But I would have all the time with him I can, for you know as well as I that he cannot hold to this world much longer, and I would speak to him before he goes.”
Éowyn had never felt as helpless as she did before Faramir’s sorrow, but could think of nothing to say that might soothe his mind. “I will call you first the next time,” she assured him, knowing full well that she might not be able to do any such thing. It was only by happenstance that she had been alone in the sickroom with Denethor when he had awakened, for she was not yet well-trained enough to be left alone with such severely injured men.
Faramir’s voice was thick with emotion. “If there is a next time.”
I have lived in the Citadel my entire life, and yet it seems that I am lost within my own halls.
I seem to be going in circles, for no matter how far I think that I have ventured, I can still hear the voices of my wife and first-born.
I have passed many windows, and yet I hear almost no sound from the City.
No sound but the never-ending moans from the Houses, and the far-off howling of a mournful dog.
I do not understand.
I go to one such window, lean forward on the sill see if my Guard still stands, but I pull my hands back with a hiss as they touch marble overheated by the sun.
I look, and see that my palms are an ugly red, as they would be if I had plunged them into boiling water.
My very skin feels pulled too tight, like a drumhead over its barrel, and somehow, it feels slick with the residue of some oil.
I do not use such oils on my skin - I am no foppish courtier.
In the courtyard, I see a figure watching me.
Is it Faramir? I still have not found him in all my wanderings.
I try to call for the Guards, but my throat is dry, raw, as if I have spent too much time talking.
I can hear Finduilas’ voice lifted in tragic song, one of her favourites:
“The poor soul sat sighing by a sycamore tree,
Sing all a-green willow .. ..’
The croaked, whispered singing was a mockery of Faramir’s memory, but he did not notice, so hastily did he move to Denethor’s side.
“Father,” he said softly, wishing he could take his father’s hand, knowing to do so would only cause Denethor unnecessary pain. “Father, it is Faramir.”
“Faramir?” Denethor’s eyes tried to pinpoint the source of the voice. “Oh, Faramir -- where are you? Why can I not find you?”
“I’m here,” Faramir said, choking back the lump in his throat.
He had only seen his father once since the end of the siege; the Warden had strictly forbidden anyone who was not a healer to enter Denethor’s room, most particularly Faramir.
But the new Steward had gone directly to the King, and argued his case so relentlessly that finally Aragorn had given his reluctant consent.
“Do not say you were not warned,” the King had said, “for the damage your father suffered is far beyond anything even I have ever seen. Understand, Faramir - there is no place on Denethor’s body that is not burned, excepting the soles of his feet. He is barely recognizable as Ecthelion’s son.” Aragorn had looked closely at Faramir’s pale face. “I am not trying to frighten you,” he went on, “but when you saw him before, you yourself were under the influence of pain-killing medicines. I simply wish that you are prepared for what you will see.”
Faramir had nodded his understanding, and tendered his heartfelt thanks.
He had not understood, that he knew now.
His father’s noble face was, as Aragorn had cautioned, unrecognizable. Denethor’s hair had been completely consumed, brows, lashes, and all bodily hair included. His skin was either cracked and blackened or a puckered, twisted mass of snarling red. In places, the fire had melded clothing to skin, and no amount of careful manipulation could remove the bits of fabric from Denethor’s body. These areas were swiftly overtaken by infection, and soon the healers would have no recourse but amputation, to keep the corruption from spreading.
Faramir had been very glad that he had taken Éowyn’s advice and had forgone any meal before entering his father’s chamber, for the nauseatingly sweet smell of charred flesh, combined with the putrid odor of festering wounds would have made it impossible to keep any food down.
All visible areas shone with a thin layer of salves meant to promote healing, and possibly re-growth, and Faramir knew that Aragorn had taken time away from his new duties as King to spend at Denethor’s side, contributing what he could to the healing process.
Now that he was aware that Aragorn was also the hated Thorongil, Faramir had not been surprised to hear that Aragorn’s attempts were largely fruitless.
The healers assured him that most of the burns had gone so deeply that Denethor could no longer feel pain, but Faramir did not see how this could be possible.
Yet somehow, his father’s bare feet had struck Faramir harder than all the horrific wounds.
Encased in leather boots which had only been spattered with oil, rather than soaked, Denethor’s feet had suffered almost no harm. When Faramir had entered the room, the first thing he had seen had been two feet, uncovered by blanket, unmarred by flame, veined with age, yet heartbreakingly smooth and clean, despite all the body had been through.
He could not recall ever have seen his father’s feet before - even while walking the shores of Dol Amroth, Denethor had refused to remove his boots, claiming that he did not like the sensation of sand against his skin.
And Faramir had fallen into great sobs that shook his body and threatened to render him insensible.
“Faramir,” the word was torn from his throat, and with a leap of his heart, Faramir saw that his father’s eyes were clear of both medicine and dream. “My son, are you -- you are unharmed.” Denethor’s already ragged voice cracked with relief.
“Yes, Father,” he replied, reaching toward Denethor instinctively, remembering just in time to not touch the ruined skin. “I am well.”
“I am glad.” A brutal cough clawed its way from the depths of his lungs, and tears stung Faramir’s eyes to see his father’s suffering. “I -
Denethor’s gaze became foggy again, as if he were listening a sound in the distance.
“Where -- your mother…?” he said faintly, “..she is….ah, Boromir….”
Faramir is well, though I still do not know why I thought he would be otherwise.
I grow weary of wandering these halls and finding no-one. I feel as if I have walked a thousand miles, and I can barely put one foot in front of the other.
Even the crickets, which are usually plentiful this time of year, have disappeared.
I shall follow the voices of those dear to my heart and pass a moment with them before taking up my duties for the day. The Hall is not far.
It seems an age since I have seen Finduilas, looked into her grey eyes and seen that quiet glow of joy in her gaze.
I hear her singing still, impossibly full, ringing through these Halls as if she were a chorus unto herself, and my vision blurs with tears, for I know she is calling me.
I glance down, and see that I have misplaced my boots. My feet are cold, so cold.
It seems that for years I have not spoken to Boromir of things other than war. I shall ask if he has yet found a suitable woman, and watch him scowl in reply.
Faramir will join us when he is ready.
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.