Flame of the West
Minas Tirith, March 17, 3019 T.A.
The sun had almost sunk below the walls. Standing by the window of his chamber, Faramir watched its last golden glow fill the garden, saw how every branch on every tree was warmed by it and how the stones of the walls were turned rose pink by its light. The Tower of the Setting Sun, he thought, absently – and then heard the creak of the door and a quiet rustle of movement behind him.
He turned to look, quickly.
It was one of the women of the House, come to light the lamps. As he watched her work, he thought how the little flames were flat and thin against the radiance of the sunset.
She looked up from her task, smiled, and bobbed her head at him. "How are you this evening, my lord?" she said, her voice kind.
He considered the question for a moment. "Better," he said at last, truthfully. "Thank you."
Her smile deepened. "That walk in the garden did you the world of good, seemingly," she said, warmly. She crossed over to the bed, and then nodded at the open window. "But mind now you don't stand in that draught too long," she added – almost scolding, he thought, suppressing a smile of his own. "You don't want to catch a chill on top of a fever." She turned down the covers, patted the pillows, and then bade him a cheerful farewell.
He turned back to the window. The sun was gone. The trees were now black lines against a rapidly greying sky, and he watched as clouds passed over a last pale patch of pink. A gust of wind entered the room, all of a sudden; feeling it, he shut the window, obediently, and then drew the heavy curtains.
He was glad of the lamps now; they made the room seem comfortable and welcoming. He picked up a blanket from the bed, wrapped it round him, and then eased himself carefully into the chair by the fireside. He picked up his book, but did not open it; setting it instead upon his lap, stretching his legs out before him, folding his arms and watching the play of the fire. Within a few minutes – tired from his afternoon's sortie to the garden, tired but not weary from the hard work of healing – he was asleep.
He walked the long length of the hall, footsteps echoing, back straight and his eyes set upon the figure of the man in his chair at the far end. He felt upon him the cool regard of all those who stood lining the hall, living and dead alike, watching him advance.
When he reached the chair, he looked at his brother standing by, who smiled, and offered him the sword. It was new, beautifully wrought, and it was his. He took it, knelt, and offered it. His voice came out stronger, steadier than he had dared hope for. When their promises were exchanged, he looked up into his father's eyes, and he saw it – the desired, elusive glitter of pride. And his heart in response flared up with fierce love – for Gondor, for this man, father and lord. His heart burned with joy that he might serve them both – in peace or war, by his life or by his death.
He woke. There was a scent of something in the air, which he could not place. Something on the fire? he thought. He rubbed his eyes and opened them.
In the chair opposite him, Aragorn was sitting, watching him, and smoking. Faramir made to stand, but Aragorn lifted his hand to stop him. Faramir leaned back gratefully in his chair.
Aragorn regarded him thoughtfully. "Are you better?" he asked at last.
"Much, yes. Thank you."
Faramir shook his head. "None," he said, and smiled.
Aragorn nodded, and then turned his attention back to his pipe. For a while, they sat there, and Faramir watched the curl of the smoke, listened to the soft rhythm of the house beyond the closed door, felt the glow from the fire spread through him. His eyes became heavy and he could feel himself drifting back to sleep. With an effort, he straightened himself in his chair. Aragorn, he saw, was watching him.
"I hear that the forces from Lamedon arrived this morning," Faramir said.
Aragorn breathed out a little smoke. "News reaches you even in your seclusion," he remarked.
Faramir smiled back. "A steward's natural concern, surely?"
"Indeed," Aragorn replied, his eyes glittering. "So you will know already also that we leave the City tomorrow in better defence than before the siege began?"
"Yes, I know."
They fell into silence again, and then the pipe went out. "And if the battle goes ill for us?" Aragorn said, and looked up, and Faramir felt it as if a blade had been pressed against him, its edge sharp and keen.
"Then Gondor will be defended with all the strength we have," he promised, voice low but fervent. Then he looked down at himself ruefully. "Such as it is."
Aragorn leaned forwards in his chair, and began to pack away his pipe. "It is wise of you, I think, to spend so much time walking in the gardens."
Faramir laughed. "I see news reaches you even of my seclusion," he said.
"A healer's natural concern, surely?" Aragorn said, glancing up and smiling.
So might the rightful king be known...
Aragorn stood up to go. This time Faramir stood too and, as he watched the other man move towards the door, a pang went through him. It felt like loss. Like exile.
If I do not say this now, I may never have the chance.
Resolved, "My lord," he said, stepping forwards.
Aragorn turned back.
Slowly, a little awkwardly, Faramir knelt before him, and held out his hands. "I do not have my sword with me," he said, simply.
Aragorn nodded, and then took his hands within his own. "Speak," he commanded.
Faramir bowed his head and began, his voice low. "Here do I swear fealty and service to Gondor, and to the Lord and King of the realm..."
He would give this oath again, he hoped, before the throne and his peers and with all the necessary ceremony. But, as he said once more the long-familiar words, he knew that it was this promise, this memory – of kneeling by the fireside in a small, plain room; of the warm, firm press of this man's hands around his own – that would sustain him, whatever lay ahead. This, he knew, was the true homecoming.
"...until my lord release me, or death take me, or the world end. So say I, Faramir son of Denethor, of Gondor."
"And this do I hear, Aragorn son of Arathorn, and I will not forget it, nor fail to reward that which is given: valour with honour, oath-breaking with vengeance—"
He stopped, and Faramir looked up sharply – at the change, at the halt. And when he had the steward's eye, Aragorn finished.
"Fealty with love," he said, and forged the bond. He held Faramir's gaze for a moment and then, unobtrusively, helped him back to his feet.
"'Seek for the Sword that was Broken'," Faramir said, when he was standing again. "It was my dream too – and first – but it was not I that followed the summons. And yet you came." He hesitated, and then took another chance.
"I would walk into the fire," he said, "if you commanded it."
A flicker of something – regret, perhaps, or maybe even pain – passed across his king's face. "Not all of you," he murmured, his eyes becoming distant. "I would not lose all of you." Then he smiled at the other once more. "Keep safe the City, Faramir, until I return."
Later, before retiring to bed, Faramir looked out of the window once more, at the white stars threaded across the deep blue of the heavens, at the dark gardens waiting for the new day. He would walk there again tomorrow, he decided, and watch, and wait.
That night he dreamt of the White Tree in blossom and of the full summer sun blazing on the stone of the City – Minas Anor again as of old, full of light, high and fair. And outside, beyond his window, high in the night sky, Eärendil was burning, bright beacon of Westernesse.
Altariel, 7th-10th January 2004