A/N: I'm sorry for the delay in posting this chapter. First the Muse was not cooperative and then "real life" decided to throw a wobbler at us and trying to get time to sit down and wrestle with the story became almost impossible. This is a transition chapter, so not much actual action, but I hope you enjoy it anyway. To clarify things, there are several points where this tale breaks from canon: Faramir is captured by the Nazgul on 8 March after sending Frodo and Sam on their way from Henneth Annun; Boromir is not killed at Amon Hen and accompanies Aragorn across Rohan and on the Paths of the Dead; and after Gandalf turns the Orthanc Stone over to Aragorn, the Dunadain does not attempt to use it prior to taking the Paths of the Dead. This AU is based off of the books instead of the film but Boromir still looks like Sean Bean (but with dark Numenorean hair, instead of the blonde locks (grin)).
Warnings: Emotionally intense, semi-graphic description and implication of personal violence. No slash.
Disclaimer: This is a work of fan fiction, created solely for the enjoyment of the author and the readers at Fanfiction dot net. I am getting no monetary restitution for this work, and it is in no way intended to infringe on any copyrights or other intellectual property rights held by the Tolkien Estate, New Line Cinema, nor any other Lord of the Rings licensee.
TIDINGS - Chapter 8 - The Lull
12 March 3019 - Dawn - Lebennin, on the road enroute to Pelargir
Boromir cast a worried eye across to where Aragorn rode leaning forward over Hasufel's neck as if to urge the borrowed Rohirrim stallion to move even faster than they already were. The uncrowned King looked as exhausted as Boromir felt, but refused to rest, and the Gondorian wondered if he would be able to catch Aragorn if the Man toppled from the saddle.
The session with the Orthanc stone the prior evening had left Aragorn casting up his accounts on the grass beneath the trees, with the Steward's older son drawing the long tangled hair away from Isildur's heir's face. Boromir had called for Legolas to come to them, and the elf and Gimli arrived so quickly that he suspected that they had been standing watch themselves, just out of sight.
A dose of Miriuvor had brought some ease to the son of Arathorn, and between the three of them, they had managed to convince their friend to sleep.
Of course he was not happy that I let him sleep three hours instead of the two he agreed to, Boromir thought, resigned, but how does he expect us to fight when we get there if we are too tired to lift a sword?
He looked ahead through the dull, darkened day, hoping to find their destination in view despite knowing they had a minimum of another full day's riding before they would reach the port city on the northern bank of the Anduin.
Suddenly he reeled in the saddle, his right hand clutching at his chest and his vision going momentarily grey. He could have sworn that he smelled a floral perfume on the air as his vision cleared, and a sense of sorrow, pain, and despair rolled through his heart and mind.
"Boromir!" Aragorn reached across and seized the Gondorian's arm, hauling him back upright on Brego's back. "What is it?"
Anguished eyes opened to Aragorn's concerned gaze. "Faramir!"
- - - - - - - - - -
The scent of flowers wrapped around the spark of Faramir's awareness, and the darkness around him faded away, slowly revealing a greensward that swept from the edge of a forest that reminded him of Ithilien, and yet was more--the trees more alive, the leave more verdant. The lea upon which he stood was cradled in the curve of a sparkling river, the water like crystal, and he could see to the very bottom where silver-scaled fish played along the jewel-pebbled bottom among graceful river grasses. The turf beneath his soft-booted feet was scattered generously with tiny white, blue and yellow flowers that gave off a lovely scent that seemed almost familiar to him.
He whirled and stared at the woman who had spoken his name. Her fair hair was drawn up and back from a face he had seen only in memory for thirty years.
"Mama." His heart swelled with joy as he took a step forward and then stopped as he wrapped his mind around this impossibility. "Am I dead?" he couldn't help asking. "Is this what it's like beyond the veil?" He looked around again and then stared back at her, his grey eyes luminous.
Finduilas glowed. It was the only way that Faramir could describe her appearance; the light of her spirit seemed to dance about the edges of her person, uncontained by the aspect she wore. She looked as he'd always imagined the Firstborn to appear.
Something made Faramir look down at himself, and he realized that he felt no pain. He stared at the hands he held up before him--both intact and whole, the skin flawless and perfect, whole and undamaged. He was arrayed in his Ranger leathers but they, too, were perfect; an idealized image of the uniform and gear which he'd worn with pride and love for all of the years of his majority. He felt the familiar weight of his bow and quiver at his back, and the weight of his sword--a gift from his beloved brother--at his hip.
"Where is Boromir?"
"Boromir is alive, my dear son. But you are here at the borderlands."
A rush of relief swept through him at the news of his brother's survival, and he dragged in a deep breath as he was able to banish the fears that had filled his heart and mind since Boromir had left Osgiliath that hot July day the year before. Then he queried the second half of her statement. "The borderlands?"
"I am proud of you, my son," Finduilas smiled at him. "I do not believe that anyone could have held so strongly to their resolve as you have these past days. You have kept your oaths and your honour, Faramir. There is only a little wait here, and then I will walk with you through the Circles of Arda to what awaits you beyond. She moved close and embraced him. "I love you so."
Faramir inhaled the scent of her and absorbed the warmth of his mother's love as he hugged her back, fulfilling a yearning that had never quite vanished since he was five years old and had lost her to death. His only regret was that he could not now do the same with his Father or his Brother.
Then suddenly, the quiet joy that had filled him at the sight of her vanished as he felt a harsh burning sensation in his mouth, running down his throat to fill his belly. Pain blossomed across his back and around his ribs, and he staggered from Finduilas' suddenly insubstantial hold. He screamed and collapsed as his joints flared with agony and his limbs refused to hold him up. Faramir flung up his hands as he hit a surface that was far harder than the grassy sward should be and stared in horror at the crudely cauterized stump of his right wrist, the broken, distorted fingers of his left hand, and the tattered remains of his shirt sleeves.
The green and growing borderlands disappeared and he cried out "Mother!" despairingly as she faded away into the darkness and pain that dragged him back and fogged his sight again.
- - - - -
12 March 3019 - Dawn - Barad-dûr
"Give 'im another dose," ordered the senior Uruk who had been put in charge of reviving Faramir for the flight to meet the Witch-kings's army. The sergeant turned back to the small window to see if there was any sight yet of the Nazgul who had been summoned to carry off the prisoner once more.
"Wastin' good med'cine on one o' them," grumbled the private who was holding the flask of the foul, but effective, brew. "'e was all but dead--why's the Boss want 'im alive now?"
The sergeant turned back from the window and loomed over his subordinate menacingly, "You don't need to know why. Just obey orders. Get the dose in 'im."
The Ranger choked on the thick, foul fluid but swallowed enough of the stimulant to be dragged back from the gates of death and into awareness of Middle-earth. "Mother!" His scream echoed around the guard's room, and his damaged body trembled in reaction to the medication's effects.
The sergeant laughed and stooped over far enough to take Faramir's left shoulder into his hands. He gave it a sudden sharp jerk and settled the joint back into its socket, dragging out another scream from his prisoner. Another moment's effort reset the other shoulder, and Faramir thought he would go mad from the agony--but the orc draught prevented him from escaping through unconsciousness.
"We'll give 'im a minute before putting 'is 'ips back. Better give 'im another dose 'fore we do that, too," the sergeant added. The private grinned at him and upended the flask against Faramir's lips, drowning the remains of the keen that bubbled in the Man's throat.
- - - - -
12 March 3019 - First Hour - Minas Tirith
Denethor, seated at his desk with extra lamps lit to combat the dim, murky light of the early morning, unbent from over the daybook entry he was reviewing from the night before. Long after the hobbit had been dismissed and the half-evacuated city had quieted into uneasy rest, he had sat and mused over what Anborn had told him.
The resulting thoughts and conclusions had been penned into his daybook before he retired, and he wanted to be certain that he had forgotten nothing before revealing what he knew to the wizard and to the Prince of Dol Amroth.
A light knock on the outer door drew his attention. "We are expecting guests for break of fast," he announced to his diminutive guardsman who stood by the door. "Let them enter."
"Yes, my Lord." Pippin longed to ask who the guests were but had promised himself that he was going to behave as an esquire ought.
As it was, his own break of fast had been far too frugal for any hobbit to appreciate, and much too long ago in the hours before dawn. If this war ever ends and Aragorn becomes King, I should ask him to make second breakfasts mandatory everywhere within his borders, he thought, at least for hobbits!.
The Steward closed the daybook, got to his feet and moved to where the table was set before the hearth.
When Pippin opened the door, he was met by the kind face of Prince Imrahil.
"Well met, Guardsman Took. May Eru Iluvatar bless you this day," he gave a traditional greeting of his own City.
Pippin couldn't help smiling up at the tall Man from Dol Amroth. "And you likewise, sir."
He gestured for the Prince to enter then shot a glance at Denethor, wondering if he should just have stayed silent.
Imrahil crossed the room to greet the Steward, bowing his head and giving a like greeting to which Denethor responded. The older man added, "We await only Mithrandir."
Pippin closed the door and returned to his former position of waiting, casting a wistful glance at the waiting breakfast table by the hearth. I seem to do a lot of waiting, he thought but any further musings were halted by the realization that there were four places set at the table. He couldn't help the grin that spread across his face. Four places and two guests. Unlike Strider, the Steward had obviously understood the importance of second breakfast as soon as he'd heard of it.
Another knock pre-empted any further exchange between the two rulers.
Pippin opened the door to find Gandalf, who looked somewhat preoccupied. The Maia merely grunted and frowned at the Halfling before crossing to where the two Men waited.
Pippin secured the door and, having earlier been instructed as to his duties by Tallan, went to fill Denethor's plate from the chafing dishes that were set on the sideboard. Personally, he thought the entire amount of food on the sideboard would have only made a nice snack for two well-fed hobbits, but it was a far greater amount and variety than he'd seen anyone else in the City enjoying. And even if he were woefully inadequate as a squire, at least he did know how to properly dish out food!
"Gentlemen, let us eat before we discuss that which I have called upon you to hear." Denethor seated himself, waited for the filled plates to be put into place, including Pippin's, and then rose again for the Standing Grace.
During the Grace, Pippin sent hopeful thoughts towards Frodo and Sam and Merry and the rest of the Fellowship, as well as towards the Shire and his family.
Seated again, Denethor broke bread and asked Pippin, "Have you any new questions about my city this morning, Master Peregrin?"
Pippin swallowed his mouthful of egg and shook his head. "Not at the moment, my Lord."
Gandalf snorted in mock amazement. "Hmph! Can this be the hobbit who couldn't stop asking questions the entire journey from Rohan to the City gates?"
"One wonders that you chose him for a traveling companion if you disapprove so much of him." Denethor's voice was deceptively mild, but the look in his grey Numenorean eyes made it plain that he would not tolerate further insult from the wizard regarding Peregrin Took.
"It's all right, my Lord. I'm used to Gandalf's grumpiness." Pippin had a twinkle of what could only be called devilment in his green eyes as he spoke.
"Manners, child. How one deports oneself in referring to others is a measure of the man."
He kept his eyes on Mithrandir, making it plain that it was not Pippin's manners that were at issue.
Gandalf frowned again but reluctantly apologized to Pippin, "Your pardon, Peregrin."
"It's all right Gandalf. I know you don't really like to be awake this early in the morning," Pip told him cheerfully.
Imrahil cleared his throat to keep from chuckling at how nothing seemed to keep the hobbit down and turned to his brother-in-law. "I wish I had been able to bring you more of my knights, but with the Corsairs sending their raiding parties along the shore communities, I had to leave some protection for my people and the evacuees who have made it to the refuges in Belfalas."
"Peace, brother-by-law. You have always been swift to come to my aid. I would that others would do likewise."
Gandalf interjected, "Theoden-King is most certainly on his way at this very moment with as many of his Riders as can be spared."
"I was thinking of several of the fiefdoms who are not at direct risk from the enemy and yet use the excuse of fearing for their people as a reason to send fewer troops than they are required to send for the defense of Gondor."
Imrahil asked, "Any in particular?"
Denethor listed the names of a handful of fiefs along the western range of the White Mountains. "But--" He laid down his eating irons, took up his goblet of small ale, and looked across the table at Gandalf and then to Imrahil, "That is not what I need to relay to you this morning."
Gandalf set aside his fork and waited, one eyebrow raised expectantly.
"Yesterday, I was called to the Houses of Healing to speak with one of the Ithilien Rangers who survived the attack in which my son was captured."
Pippin paused in his quiet consumption of breakfast at the mention of the injured Ranger, his face troubled as he listened.
Denethor pushed back his resurgent grief, and continued. "Captain Anborn was--is--Faramir's second in command, and was present when two strangers were found in the woods of Ithilien near to their refuge at Henneth Annun."
Gandalf's eyebrow lowered but he said nothing as he waited for the Steward to continue.
"My son questioned them as to their presence there, and made the decision to go against my decree to bring all strangers to Minas Tirith for questioning. They carried something of great value, and he released them four days ago to continue their journey." He paused a moment, looking Gandalf in the eye, before continuing, "Into Mordor."
He waited to see the wizard's reaction, taking a sip of ale as he did so.
Gandalf's face had grown stony at the Steward's initial words but the wizard's expression changed to a mix of relief and sorrow as he whispered, "Thank Eru." He spoke louder and asked, "Four days ago? Did your Ranger know what path they were taking?"
Pippin looked over at Gandalf and was amazed to find the gnarled hand that reached for the wizard's cup trembled.
The Steward added, "Anborn said that your Frodo and Sam, accompanied by their guide were going to the Morgul Vale."
"Guide? What guide? Did Faramir send one of his Rangers with them?"
"No, Gandalf. Frodo's following Gollum," Pippin said then fell silent with a gulp, as Gandalf's eyes turned towards him, his eyebrows, ever an indicator of his mood, drawn low.
Denethor interrupted, "Perhaps, before you berate the little one for obeying my command to say nothing of what he heard in the Houses of Healing, you may wish to explain just why his kinsman was in Ithilien bearing the burden he is carrying?"
Gandalf turned his glare from the hobbit to the Steward. "Surely your Numenorean insight can tell you the answer to that," he snapped.
Denethor raised an eyebrow and calmly responded, "But my kinsman does not know of the Quest--and why, more than ever, we must hold strong here." He leaned forward. "My older son is who knows where with Isildur's heir--if he is still alive at all!--and my younger son is lost to us at the hands of the Nazgul. Imrahil is my heir now, should I fall; the closest relation to the House of Hurin. Tell him, Mithrandir."
"Brother--" Imrahil began, only to quiet at Denethor's upraised hand.
"Peace, Imrahil. You will understand shortly."
Gandalf nodded and succinctly told the tale of the finding of the Ring and the decision made at the Council of Elrond to destroy it. "Frodo and Sam are journeying to take the Ring back to the Fire it was created in, to destroy it--and Sauron's power that is held within it," the wizard concluded.
"They make for the Pass at Cirith Ungol, Mithrandir--and Faramir knows this." The Steward's hand clenched around the stem of the pewter goblet so tightly that his knuckles went white.
Gandalf froze, though it was difficult to tell whether it was the name of that foul place, that distressed him the most, or the thought that Sauron held a prisoner who knew not only what the hobbits were doing but where they were. "Faramir is strong-willed," the wizard said after a few moments, "It would take much to break him."
Denethor could not help but shudder at the memory of what he'd seen in the Palantir, his face paling as he closed his eyes. "In the Black Tower even the strongest may break," he whispered.
He hadn't realized that he'd clasped his left hand tightly around his right wrist and that the goblet had spilled sideways onto the floor from his suddenly lax fingers.
Pippin immediately hopped down from his chair and picked up the goblet, blotting up the spilled ale with his napkin. "My lord, are you all right?"
Denethor made his fingers relax, releasing his right wrist before he answered, "Yes, Master Peregrin."
Pippin got a clean cup and poured out more ale for the Steward, then took his own seat again, keeping his worried gaze on the Man.
Imrahil shook his head, and said, "Perhaps he has not been taken to the Dark Tower--"
"He is the son of the Steward of Gondor," Denethor interrupted, "and the Acting Captain General of our Army in Boromir's absence. They will not waste time having him interrogated by lesser beings." The Steward took up the refilled cup and drained it, then, firmly taking hold of his emotions, pushed back the despair that threatened to overtake him and forced himself to deal with the here and now.
"Faramir is strong-willed," Gandalf repeated, his eyes now compassionate as he gazed at the Steward. "And the blood of Numenor runs strong in his veins, I do not think he will break even should the Dark Lord himself question him."
"May Eru Iluvatar make it so, Mithrandir. Now, the question is what can we do to keep the Red Eye's attention on Gondor rather than on those who are likely crossing the Mountains of Shadow as we speak?"
- - - - -
12 March 3019 - Late morning - Osgiliath
The winged mount swooped down over the trees of Ithilien, and over the east bank of the River Anduin, soaring over hundreds--nay, thousands--of torches and campfires. The Ringwraith, his prisoner tied to the neck of the flying steed, hissed in the Gondorian's ear, "Look and despair once again, mortal, at the might of the Lord Sauron's armies."
The son of the Steward didn't respond, caught up in delirium brought on by the orc draughts that had been repeatedly poured down his throat over the hours that had passed since Sauron had ordered him to be taken to the Witch-King.
The Wraith had stopped twice on the five-hour flight; once at Cirith Ungol for long enough to acquire additional stimulants to keep Faramir's heart beating despite the damage he'd taken thus far in his captivity, and then again at the Cross Roads, where the Black Captain was checking on the trailing units of the army, had given orders to take the half-conscious prisoner to Osgiliath. The influence of the two Nazgul focused on him had caused Faramir to slip further into the darkness and terror in which he'd existed since he'd been questioned and tortured by the Dark Lord, while the stimulants kept him from failing entirely.
The Fell Beast dropped abruptly to land in an open area surrounded by the ruined buildings on the west side of the river in the middle of the ruined city. The site of the former bridge was a hive of activity in the murk, orcs and Men of the East and South working to re-bridge the Anduin, using the barges that had carried the initial assault against the defenders who had been driven off to the Causeway Forts of the Rammas Echor, giving the Dark Army control of the west bank and all of the lost city.As soon as the creature settled, a tall figure clothed in black and scarlet strode up to halt just out of the reach of the hissing and growling monster and bowed to the mounted Nazgûl. "Welcome to Osgiliath, my lord."
Ignoring the greeting, Angmar's third in command indicated Faramir, tied to the monster's neck. "This prisoner is the younger son of the Ruling Steward of Gondor, and, by order of the Dark Lord, is to be made an example of before the walls of the city when we reach them. Until then, you are responsible for his keeping, Captain Aswad."
Aswad bowed again and called in his own tongue for two of his men to take charge of the battered and shivering Ranger.
Faramir cried out as the Southron troopers drew him down from the neck of the Fell Beast; the motions tearing at his dislocated knees, aggravating his cracked ribs, and sending jolts of agony throughout his abused body.
The Wraith hissed at them, "He is to be kept alive until the city is taken. If he dies you will wish that you had died with him."
Aswad repeated the Ringwraith's words in his native tongue, along with additional orders, and the scarlet and black clad soldiers bowed and more carefully supported the Gondorian prisoner away from the foul-smelling winged beast.
"They will take him to my temporary headquarters, my lord. I will ensure he does not escape--nor die--before I receive further orders from you."
"Consider ways to destroy the hopes of those City dwellers--it is known that they cherish him. Watching him perish by inches will defeat their resolve." The Nazgul gave a signal to his mount and the monstrous beast shifted and lifted its wings for the massive downbeat that would send it into the air.
"As you command, my lord." Aswad bowed again and, once the Servant of the Dark Lord had flown off, gave a shudder, relieved at the departure of the terrifying presence. He headed back to the building which he'd taken over for his Headquarters, into which the guards had carried their burden.
He stepped through the gaping maw of the one-time doorway, and crossed to the still-functioning hearth, holding his hands over the glowing coals of the brazier set there, warming them. He inhaled deeply, letting the incense that had been sprinkled on the charcoal rid his senses of the stench of the Fell Beast. The damp coolness of this land that penetrated his bones chilled him far less than the effect of the Nazgul lords. Rubbing his hands together over the glowing charcoal, he stared narrowly down at his new charge, who lay on the cracked flagstones, partially roused from the oblivion that seemed unable to hold him under.
Aswad didn't need this on top of all of his other responsibilities, but those who said no to a Nazgul's tasking generally had their head on a pike before an hour had passed--if they were fortunate.
The Ranger Captain showed all of the signs of overdose of the foul draught that the orcs used to revive their wounded: physical tremors; unnatural wakefulness; pinpoint pupils; clammy, pale skin; and the rapid pulse that beat visibly in the Man's throat and at his temples. He was likely hallucinating, or about to. "Karit! Attend me!" he called out for his aide in Southron.
The young officer appeared from a passage that led further back into the half ruined stone structure. "Here I am, lord." He bowed to his commander.
"Summon Tabiib and tell him to bring his instruments and medicines. And have a smith brought with a collar and chain to secure our... guest."
The younger man's black eyes flickered to Faramir curiously and then he bowed again. "I will see to it immediately, lord." Karit went to the outer door and disappeared, calling orders to the senior enlisted soldiers who congregated around a brazier set in the courtyard.
Aswad stooped down to crouch over the Ithilien Ranger, running a fingertip along the still visible design of the White Tree on Faramir's leather jerkin. It was unheard of that prisoners were released from the dungeons of Barad-dûr--at least, not alive.
"Steward's son. Servant's son! How strong are you? Will your father ransom you--or let you die as your city burns before your eyes?" The Haradrim smiled slowly, got back to his feet and turned towards the door.
As the healer he'd had summoned entered the room, the Commander gave quick orders, emphasizing the necessity to keep the Gondorian alive, and then left to make his rounds of his brigade leaders. Enroute, he gave some additional orders and watched with satisfaction as a squad of his men headed back across the barge bridge to the east bank of the river and the edge of the forest beyond the ruined city's limits.TBC