I awake with a fall, from an unknown height. My eyes are closed. I try to open them but it is too great a labor. A high voice cries out; it sounds like the halfling Peregrin. Are we under attack; is the small one being killed? I try to move, to help, but cannot; it hurts merely to breathe. I have no knowledge of where I am, save that I lie on stone. Another voice screams; I do not understand the words but know that it is my father who shouts in rage. He was angry with me before…'Tis difficult to remember. What has happened, that I am once more found wanting?

I smell smoke and feel the heat of fire, not far from me. I must move, get up, open my eyes, something! But I still cannot order myself to such a rudimentary task. My face is damp, my eyelids heavy with some wet, thick substance. Father…where are you? He might need help…I do recall how distraught he was as he called for my lost brother; he seemed not himself. Slowly, I push against the darkness, and manage to open my eyes; a crack of light is all I can manage. I wonder then whether I have truly returned to the world or wander in nightmare, for I look up and see my father surrounded by flames. He sees me; and I think he says my name, in such wonderment that I feel he is glad to look on me at last. The fire takes him and I hear him scream. Someone must save him! I try to move, yet cannot even lift my hand to aid him! Where are the guards? His burning face recedes from my sight, he is gone…No, no! "Father", I whisper. No one hears. The fire above me blurs as my sight dissolves in tears.

Then I slide away on a gentle wave that bears me back to the darkness; and I am glad to go.

Later, I find myself awakening on a cot in a lamp-lit hall. Mithrandir is there; looking down at me with a grave smile. There is another; a dark-haired man I have not seen before, except, it seems to me, in old tomes and a barely remembered dream. He wears tattered raiment and his kind face is battle-scarred and worn. Somehow I know that this weary stranger is our King, come back to us at last. His hands are strong but gentle on mine. Mithrandir gives me some water, which enables me to speak, to ask what the King commands. The King tells me to rest, to prepare for his return. He leaves, taking the wizard with him. I am left alone in a crowd of wounded and dying. I wonder how my lord father fares. And I remember that I saw him burn. Too tired to weep, I fall back into that welcoming darkness.

The next morning, I learn that I had lain fevered in the Houses of Healing until the King came and healed me along with many others. My father is indeed dead; and the King holds the City after winning a great battle with the aid of the Rohirrim. I do not know if I am the Steward of Gondor or a landless captain; and I cannot say that I care. Pippin visits me and reluctantly answers my questions. Father tried to slay me as well as himself in the fire that claimed him. He was angered when the halfling pulled me off the pyre. I suppose I should be grateful that my father finally wanted my company. But I feel nothing. They bring me food and drink. The soup tastes like ashes in my mouth, and I cannot swallow it. The elderly nurse, Ioreth, frowns and gives me a sleeping draught. I rather hope I will not wake again.

But they fetch me back, rousing me to bathe my healing wounds and change the bandages. I am not hungry. Ioreth chatters and the Warden glowers, then threatens to force-feed me if I do not eat by the next day. I suppose I will have to eat if I would avoid such an indignity, but my stomach roils at the thought of food. They would bring me books. For once, I want them not. I want only to be alone, yet I am not yet well enough to return to the Citadel. I crave above all things to go home, nay, to go to Boromir's quarters and shut the door to all, and lie in his bed as I did when I was a small boy frightened by a nightmare. If I could only go there, I could perhaps believe, if only for a few moments, that my brother would soon be home.

I remember the past days now, and the memory is as salt in my wounds. I led all my valiant knights out to die; but I was ignominiously spared. Some of my Rangers live yet, those who were wounded in the frantic charge from Osgiliath to the City and so could not ride out with the men my father doomed. They come to greet me. I am amazed that they can stand to look me in the face and not spit at me; but they rejoice that I live. I do not rejoice. I should have been slain! I would that I could barter my life for even one of the knights who followed me to their deaths. I am glad that these Rangers survived, but there are so few of them left. I ask after the horse who carried me to our disgrace. Mablung tells me that Blaze now recovers from an arrow wound in the shoulder. He will be spared as long as is possible, I am told. At least one creature lived that rode out to Osgiliath with me. I suppose I should be pleased that Boromir's steed has survived. But O, the knights, and so many of my Rangers are fallen, too great a number of Gondor's brave sons!

Mablung says that his wounds are minor, and he will be soon be able to fight again. He will follow the King now. I would like nothing better than to fight at the King's side, but learn that the King himself commanded the Warden to keep me here for ten days or more. I suppose I understand. I will not have the full use of my right arm for many days. A few of my ribs are cracked; and I cannot move quickly, turn as a soldier must. The King will need strong men about him, not a disgraced commander who is about as much use as a broken-winged bird.

The healers move me to a private chamber. I protest that it would serve better for two or more wounded soldiers or city-folk; but my words are not heeded. They cluck at me as if I were a querulous child; my will counts as nothing. I am of absolutely no use! They tuck me into a bed with a tray of refreshment and leave me there. Ioreth has dire warnings of fell consequence should I not eat at least the bread. I sip the watered wine, and spend perhaps half an hour staring at the cooling soup. My stomach is tight as a drum; I cannot eat. I push the table on which the tray rests away from the bed. Though it the sun has not yet set, I fall asleep again. There is naught else to do.

There follows a bout with strange and fitful dreams. My father's screams give way to the bone-chilling cry of the Nazgul. I shout, You shall not touch him!, trying to rescue my father from the fell beast. A dark wave rises over the hills, threatening to drown all. I feel like a trammeled bird, desperate to escape from walls that entrap me. Yet there is someone else facing these perils. There is someone I must find and save.

I awake with my heart pounding hard in my breast. There is no one about me. .The healers are too burdened by the vast number of gravely wounded folk to sit about and hold my hand. And my family and most of my comrades are dead. I still feel the urgency of the strange dreams. Can someone yet have need of me? There are not enough healers or even nurses for all the wounded in the Houses; someone may have sickened further and require more aid. I know not, but I will at least go to see if someone is troubled. I am weary of lying about doing nothing.

I take another sip of the wine; rise, and put on clothing that has been laid out for my future use. There are boots as well. I am gratified to find that I can walk, albeit with slow and careful steps. The hall is dark; I see that it is past twilight. I can make out some of the stars, and draw comfort from them as I always have. The Houses are silent. All appears still, though I feel as if something, someone, is stirring.

The feeling of being watched prickles the back of my neck. I fear not; this is a place of healing and solace, not the perilous woods of Ithilien. I turn, and see, looking out from a chamber, a woman in white. For a moment, I believe she is a vision, or that I dream once more. The woman is so pale, she seems to me a creature made of moonbeams and starlight. Her hair is golden, rippling in a moon-silvered fall about her shoulders. Her fair face is shadowed alabaster. I dare not move; fearing that I will frighten her, that she is some fey spirit trapped inside this forest of stone, yearning to fly free of these walls. Then I remember the words of Mablung and others. They told a strange tale of a shieldmaiden who rode with the Rohirrim in a man's guise. Was this white lady truly Eowyn of Rohan, slayer of the Witch-King himself?

She does not seem like a mighty warrior who could slay the Lord of the Nazgul. This lady appears womanly in form, of middling height. Suddenly she looks in my direction. Oh, she is fair indeed! But sad…Her gaze is bleak as our eyes meet for a moment. I have seen such pain in the eyes of wild things trapped by hunters' snares. It is as if she stares out upon a world emptied of light, of hope. Does she believe that there is naught left to do but die bravely? We have been touched by a similar darkness. Yet she did what I could not, and killed our Enemy's fearsome Captain. She has suffered greatly. My heart aches at the sight of so brave and beautiful a lady bound by such despair.

Any words I could summon dry in my throat. The white lady retreats into the darkness of her chamber. I will not pursue her now, at so late an hour. But I wonder at the beauty and sorrow of this daughter of kings. What unknown grief could have kindled the despair which drove her to that terrible battle?

Weary once more, I walk slowly back to my own room. I think of all the wounded souls in these Houses. Even though I cannot yet ride to war with the King, I need not lie uselessly abed. I could help care for the lightly wounded, see to my Rangers' needs, give what comfort I can to the dying. I can assure that the King has the means to secure the City; he is new to Gondor, and might not know all the doors that the word of the Steward's son can open. And I would learn more of this white lady of Rohan. There must be a way to ease the torment I sensed in her heart. It might be vanity; but I feel that I could help her. I know that I must try. At least I would lessen her loneliness.

I find myself reaching, almost without thought, for the bread on the tray. I cut off a piece of bread, dip it in the soup to moisten it, and then slowly chew the morsel. It tastes good, even though the soup is cold. I hunger after all, at least enough to eat all of the remaining bread and drink half of the soup. I remove my boots and slide under the coverlets.

What vast and terrible storms have roared through this realm! My family is gone, as are my knights. The Enemy's shadow still looms over us. Yet the same storm that took a Steward has returned us a King. A new scent blooms in the night air, some fresh herb that lightens the Houses of Healing. I am alive! And while I live, I can do some good. I owe nothing less to my fathers and the realm they guarded. How strange it is. For the first time since I can remember, I have the freedom to order my own life. I can choose how best to carry out the duty to which that life is still sworn. And for the first time in far too long, I can rest with hope in my heart.

-END-

AUTHOR'S NOTES:

My thanx to LadyBranwyn for her wise and patient counsel. If you haven't read her story By The Light of Earendil's Star, you should. It can be found on this site.

Thanx also to the good folks of HASA for their suggestions.

This story owes some inspiration to the story Worth Dying For, also on this site; and my discussion with its author, Clairon, on how the Faramir and his horse turned up alive at the gates of Minas Tirith tailed by Mordor's army.

Mardil Voronwë 'the Steadfast' (see Chapter One), called "the good steward" by his descendant Faramir in (the book) The Two Towers, was the first Ruling Steward of Gondor.

Though this story is movie-verse; I have given Faramir the love of books possessed by his counterpart in the original trilogy. I also had him refer to our favorite Grey-turned-White Wizard only as Mithrandir. And I had Faramir hail Aragorn as King to remedy, in my own small way, the omission from the ROTK movie.

No Orcs, Captains or knights of Gondor, nor horses, were harmed in the making of this fanfiction story. It is a work of fanfiction that makes no profit. The writer doesn't own any of the characters, with the possible exception of the horse, who is unnamed in book and movie; but she would prefer to let Faramir keep the critter.