1. Strange Meeting
Now Aragorn knelt beside Faramir, and held a hand upon his brow. And those that watched felt that some great struggle was going on. For Aragorn's face grew grey with weariness; and ever and anon he called the name of Faramir, but each time more faintly to their hearing, as if Aragorn himself was removed from them, and walked afar in some dark vale, calling for one that was lost.
--The Return of the King, "The Houses of Healing"
He is adrift in a nightmare that has no beginning and no end.
The world is a swirling darkness, teeming with distorted, struggling figures and the sick sounds of bones breaking and bodies falling. Somehow he knows that it is his own men, fighting and screaming and dying just out of sight in the shadows. He runs towards them, shouting hoarsely. But before he can find them, the dream spirals away...
...And he is on horseback, the Pelennor thundering by in a blur, the white walls of home at last within sight, thinking We are going to make it, after all...but before the thought is full-formed he feels his mount falter, and hears the high long cry of the Nazgul. With a rush of hot, fetid wind the sky fills with black wings and reaching talons. Behind him – a shout, and the shrill whinny of another horse running rider-less and mad with fear. With a sobbing breath he wrenches his own stallion’s neck around, battling every instinct of mind and body except the one that says I cannot leave them to die, and gallops back towards the men now running desperately and hopelessly on foot...
…As the kaleidoscope shifts yet again, to Denethor’s council room high up in the Steward’s palace of Minas Tirith. “Ever your desire is to appear lordly and generous as a king of old,” his father is saying, eyes burning with contempt. “But in desperate hours gentleness may be repaid with death.” Aye, and almost would I welcome it now…he thinks, unutterably weary…if it were only my death…if it did not mean abandoning so many who look to me. Anguish spikes through him. I am not the man for this! I cannot do what is needed; I cannot be what is needed…
…Which leads him, as inexorably in the dream as it did in reality, to the Causeway Forts and the out-walls of the Pelennor, the dull thud of the Haradrim war drums and the flickering torches blurring to rivers of red before his eyes…dark forms of Orcs and Southrons pouring in impossible numbers over the breached walls…his own voice breaking on the call to retreat. That will depend on the manner of your return, he hears his father say, and in a last hot burst of hurt and anger he pulls the remnants of his company together – Gondor to me! – and they fight a desperate, hopeless rearguard along the road towards the Pelennor, relinquishing the bloody ground with grim precision and a kind of bleak pride…but even that cannot last, it is not enough, because the Nazgul return, and the dream disintegrates again into darkness, tearing grief and roiling fear…
Over and over, around and around…He lies curled into himself, paralysed, as the Nazgul stoops over him and the Shadow's icy breath turns the blood to despair in his veins. No more, he thinks incoherently. Please, no more.
"Faramir. Faramir of Gondor!"
The voice is clear and strong, with a deep note of command in it. Compelled in spite of himself, he turns towards it. It seems the dream has shifted once again. A man stands before him, cloaked in shadow, tall and straight and dark-haired, and for a moment he thinks it is his brother. He steps forward gladly – to see Boromir again, even in a dream, would make the rest of the nightmare worthwhile. But as his vision clears he realizes his mistake. This man is both taller and thinner than Boromir ever was, and is wearing unfamiliar battle dress, worn and mud-stained, with a grey cloak over all. A Ranger? he thinks, confused. Then the cloak falls aside and he sees the bright sword, somehow familiar.
"There is no king in Gondor," he hears himself say, his voice harsh with denial and despair. "The White Tree has been dead for generations past counting." And Minas Tirith is burning. Suddenly he can feel the heat of the flames, see the fire crawling over roofs and timbers, hear the people of the City screaming, and he feels himself falling, suffocating as the thick black smoke fills his lungs…
“Faramir!” The stranger calls again, and his voice is like clear trumpets, and it seems to make a still place at the centre of the nightmare.
“Listen to me, Faramir! The White City has not fallen. It will stand. There will be a king on the throne of Gondor once again.”
He tries to muster up belief, or even hope – and finds only exhaustion. I am empty, he thinks. But some vestige of pride makes him ask, “How do you know? Who are you that you speak so of matters which concern Gondor?”
The other man’s eyes blaze with sudden fire. "I am Aragorn son of Arathorn, Chief of the Northern Dunédain, the heir of Elendil and Isildur." He takes a step forward, bringing the bright sword up to flash between them. "This is Anduril, Flame of the West, reforged in Imladris from the shards of Narsil."
Seek for the sword that was broken... His mind reels.
"My dream..." Another dream, so long ago it seems now…
"…Was a true one." Aragorn lowers his blade, seeming suddenly smaller and more like a mortal man again. "Help was promised, and I have come to do all that I can. But I cannot stand alone. I need you, Faramir. Gondor needs you."
"Gondor! I think not," he says bitterly. "Gondor needs great warriors, not a second son turned captain out of necessity rather than talent or inclination." Gondor needs my brother, and he is dead.
"You mistake Denethor’s opinion of you for truth.”
“Do I? Perhaps I am exactly the coward my lord father thinks I am,” he retorts. “I let a mere Halfling take a Ring of Power straight into the hands of the Enemy, did I not? I abandoned Osgiliath, and then I resisted the order to ride out again and defend the out-walls. And when the Nazgul came, I – I could not stand against them, in the end.”
He cannot believe he is speaking such things aloud, let alone to this man who stands so tall and straight and looks as though fear has never touched him. But a small, wild voice inside his head whispers you are dreaming, so what does it matter?
“I would disappoint you just as I disappointed my father,” he hears himself say dully.
“That is enough!” Aragorn’s voice cracks like a whip. “Self-pity does not become you, Faramir, and I will not tolerate it.”
He discovers that he can, after all, feel something other than exhaustion and fear. Indignation jerks his head up and straightens his shoulders.
“I do not recall asking you to tolerate anything, Ranger.” He puts a sneer worthy of his father into the title. Does he expect me to call him King, I wonder? With an effort, he meets Aragorn’s gaze and holds it defiantly.
“All I want is to be left alone.” I will no longer be commanded by proud, cold men in whose estimation I am only ever found lacking.
“Truly? Shall I leave you in darkness then, with your nightmares and your ghosts and your catalogue of failures?” Aragorn’s gaze is neutral.
“Yes!” Faramir shoots back angrily, struggling against the feeling that he is being childish and, indeed, self-pitying.
“I am sorry,” says Aragorn firmly, “but I cannot. Gondor has lost too many good men to the Shadow already, and too much still hangs in the balance.”
“Eru’s Light, do you think I do not know that?” Faramir bursts out, desperately. “But I am not – I cannot –
“You are not your brother, that is true.”
Faramir draws a flinching breath. But there is no disgust, no condemnation in Aragorn’s voice and eyes. Instead, he continues quietly,
“You see more clearly than Boromir ever did.”
Faramir opens his mouth to defend his brother – and then shuts it again. He thinks of Frodo, and Sam telling the tale of Boromir in Lorien. "From the moment he first saw it, he wanted the Enemy’s Ring." Oh, my brother.
“Perhaps I do. But still, all I see is darkness,” he replies tiredly. “The Enemy is too powerful.”
Aragorn straightens, and his eyes flash. “And I say to you, Faramir, that the end of that tale is not yet written! The future looks dark indeed just now, and perhaps I am a fool to have even the slightest hope – but I will not give up, not while there is light left in the world. I am Isildur’s Heir, and I say that the strength of Men shall not fail, not this time. If indeed it comes to pass that we fall into Shadow and Middle Earth with us, we will make such an end of it that Sauron himself will remember the Men of the West, even in his victory.”
It is as though a light shines from his face, thinks Faramir dazedly. This Ranger who names himself heir to the Winged Crown with such quiet certainty…Is it possible the King has indeed returned, in Gondor’s hour of greatest need, just as the stories all promised? He listens to Aragorn’s voice ringing like trumpets, watches the way his eyes blaze with the light of his legendary sword. I could follow this man, he thinks with profound surprise. Something stirs deep down inside him, a feeling that he only barely recognizes as hope.
But it seems that even here, in this dream that is somehow not a dream, he cannot stop himself from thinking too much and too ruthlessly.
“That was a very fine speech,” he hears himself say levelly, “and I do not doubt that you will live and die by your own words if it comes to that. But the truth of it is also that, in your bid to win a miraculous victory – or make a glorious end – you will lead many more good men and women to horrible deaths.”
Aragorn blinks, and the light fades from his eyes, replaced by a rueful kind of respect. “You are right, of course – and I do not forget it, truly. Hear me then, Faramir: I will lead no one who does not choose to follow me, not in this. No matter that death may yet be all our fates, regardless.”
He lifts his shoulders, as if under a great weight. “But if they do choose to follow me, out of love or loyalty – for Gondor, for kin and village and fellow soldier, perhaps for me – I will not refuse that gift.” He smiles, eyes suddenly distant. “I have been told many times that I must not belittle a great sacrifice by turning it back, when it is freely offered out of love.”
“But you are right to remind me, and I thank you for it. Did I not say that I needed you? You must understand, Faramir - I have spent most of my life believing that I was born to fight this war. Almost every action I have ever taken has been a step on the road leading toward this great battle, and toward making Middle Earth whole again afterwards, if we are victorious." He narrows his eyes at Faramir, his tone gone suddenly very dry. "And if you are thinking that sounds very arrogant, you are probably right once again."
Faramir, who was in fact thinking that very thought, lets out a surprised breath that is almost a bark of laughter. Does he read minds then, on top of everything else? Valar help us all...
“My excuse, such as it is," continues Aragorn, "is that I have needed to be single-minded, to survive and to remember that for which I strive. But I do fear that single-mindedness sometimes - I fear it may cloud my decisions, narrow my perspective in ways that are dangerous.” A pause. “So, I must surround myself with clear-eyed people" - he quirks an eyebrow at Faramir - "who are not afraid to tell me when they believe that I am wrong.”
“Do you anticipate being wrong often, then?” Faramir asks drily, intrigued in spite of himself.
“I hope not!” says Aragorn with a grin that lights his face like the sun, an answering flash of humour that catches Faramir off guard with its sudden warmth. He realizes he has always rather imagined that the King, should he ever return, would be like his father, only more so – splendid and ruthless and terrifyingly intelligent, a distant, powerful presence moving men and kingdoms around like pawns on a chessboard.
Instead here is Aragorn, muddy and dishevelled and exhausted, discussing his own fallibility with a simplicity that strikes a deep and immediate chord of kinship within Faramir. He wears his authority as easily and unconsciously as his grey cloak…and yet he wields it like a whip at need.
“What is it?” asks Aragorn with amusement, and he realizes that he has been staring.
“I am trying,” says Faramir, “to imagine your first meeting with my father.”
He is thinking with a kind of black humour that it would be worth living a little longer just to be present at that historic encounter…but the look on Aragorn’s face brings him up short.
“Denethor is dead, Faramir."
He hears the words, but cannot seem to make sense of them. A feeling of cold unreality overtakes him.
"I - how?" He hears himself ask, as if from a very great distance.
"The Shadow overtook his mind at the last, and he lit his own pyre.”
It is telling, Faramir reflects numbly, that he is somehow not surprised. I knew, I think, when I rode out to Osgiliath…his eyes…
Aragorn's voice and eyes, grief and pity plain in both, seem now to be the only solid things in the world. He tries to focus on them, to keep from floating away. After a long pause he says,
“I see,” and then cannot think of how to continue. Aragorn holds out a hand.
“Will you come with me now? The City needs a Steward.”
He closes his eyes. “And I am the only one left.”
“Even if the office comes to you third hand,” says Aragorn gently, “it is as I said: I could not ask for a better man to fulfill it now. And Faramir - you will not be alone, I promise.”
The King, returned to Gondor. And the City, without her Steward. Even in grief and without hope, he thinks, there is still duty. Duty, and - improbably - friendship.
He opens his eyes, and looks at the hand Aragorn is still holding out to him. Then he reaches out and clasps it hard, and the King’s smile lights up the darkness, and pulls him home.
“My lord, you called me. I come. What does the king command?”
“Walk no more in the shadows, but awake!” said Aragorn. “You are weary. Rest awhile, and take food, and be ready when I return.”
“I will, lord,” said Faramir. “For who would lie idle when the king has returned?”
-- The Return of the King, “The Houses of Healing”
Author’s Note: The title of this story is lifted whole-sale from that of a poem by Wilfrid Owen – about the shell-shocked poet meeting a ghostly figure in a dream. The poem is much darker and more powerful than my story – I recommend it.
Author's Note the Second: This is the first time I have written Faramir, and I would just like to say that I am pretty sure my conception of him owes as much to the many wonderful fanfic authors who have written him so well before me as it does to Tolkien...in particular to Isabeau of Greenlea's Faramir of "Captain my Captain", and Altariel's of "A Game of Chess" and "Flame of the West" - which was the fic that inspired me to give this scene a proper try in the first place. Thank you!
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.