Death by Water

O you who turn the wheel and look to windward,

Consider Phlebas, who was once handsome and strong as you


Long, it seems, I have dreamt of Númenor, of the dark wave rising mercilessly over its proud towers and prouder people. The dream came first to me in childhood, the summer after my mother's death, but at first it was formless, a vague threat of approaching darkness from which I would wake trembling and afraid.

As I grew to manhood, the dream took shape. At first, I was riding high above the land, as if borne by a great eagle, and I would look down and see the wave's pitiless onslaught, taking all, righteous and unrighteous alike. Latterly, the dream acquired more and more detail, as I myself would be walking upwards through the green lands or mighty streets of Númenor, my pace quickening to a run as I caught, first, the trickling sound of water, which turned rapidly to a rushing flood. I would race to reach high ground, and it was ever in vain, although always I would awaken on the very edge of drowning.

My father treated these visions with contempt; yet another sign of the deficiency of his younger son. My brother simply thought I read too much, but would not have changed me. I myself suspected that I would outgrow them and, indeed, as our lands became beset, and I spent more time in Ithilien assisting in our ceaseless struggle against the Enemy, it seemed that the wave subsided, and troubled me less.

If ever the dream did come, it was when I had been back in Minas Tirith for any length of time. But I was not so unguarded as to mention it. For while I had not formed a habit of concealing matters from my lord and father - indeed, often it would seem he guessed more about my affairs than he could easily know - still, I had become weary of his scorn, and had no desire to expose myself to it unduly. This, I think, was an ever greater source of discontent for him, for he knew that I still dreamed and chose not to discuss it, and in this, he saw, he could not command me, and so mistrusted me.

But, after the assault on Osgiliath, the dream which then assailed me could not be hidden. More like to a vision it was, disturbing my sleep each night with increasing intensity. For four nights I could not rest, and it told on my face. My father was at first more of a mind that at such a perilous time for Gondor one of his captains should not make himself ill with such fantasies, but when the dream came also to my brother, it could no longer be denied. It was a measure, perhaps, of just how desperate our need had become, and how troubled my father's mind was, that we spared one of our captains - and Boromir at that - to seek for Imladris. And if it came to my mind that it was only because my brother had also had the dream that my father gave it credence, I did not say so; and so pressing did it seem to me that the call be answered, that I bore no ill will and felt only relief that the matter was in hand.

On a cold afternoon at the end of February, I walked alone in the court of the fountain, waiting to be summoned to speak to my father. That night I was to ride to our outposts in Osgiliath, before returning to Ithilien. We had had news of a regiment of men of Harad heading up along the north road, and could not let them pass unchecked. Too long had it been since I had been with my men in Ithilien, and still I would have to delay several nights at Osgiliath. Too few captains we had for the conduct of this war, and it was nigh on eight months since Boromir had set forth on his errand, and we had received no word.

'You look northwards, I see. My thought also bends that way.'

I turned to see my father standing behind me, and was surprised, since I had expected to be called for and not met.

'My lord,' I said in greeting, and bent to kiss the silver ring on the hand he held out to me.

'Walk with me,' he commanded, and he led me further out eastwards from the White Tower and on along the great keel of the city. As we walked, he questioned me about my forthcoming journey, and on the errand in Ithilien, and gave his counsel and, for once, found no fault.

Encouraged by his mood which was, as always, stern, but not, as often, cold, I spoke more freely of my chief concerns; of my belief that it would not now be many days ere the Ithilien company would have to withdraw west of the Anduin, and of my fears for the force at Osgiliath, which I believed to be weak; and I speculated as to what strength could be spared to be sent there. He listened attentively, nodding here and there, and it came to me as I spoke that in the months since Boromir had left, he had come to show me, in our resultant closer dealings, a greater civility than I had ever earned from him before. When finally we reached the easternmost point, we halted, and he fell deep into thought, and I could almost persuade myself the silence was companionable.

As we stood there, the first hint of sunset flecked the mountains and a wind came from the north. A chill crept across me. Northwards again I strained my senses, my gaze bent across the Pelennor and past the gate in the Rammas, up along the road towards Anórien. And then I heard it, carried in to me on the wind, the faint blowing of a horn, echoing in my mind, a call that I knew and loved.

Something must have shown on my face, or perhaps I gasped.

'What is it?' my father said, his sharp tone like a slap of cold wind across my face.

I held up a hand to silence him, heedless for the moment of any possible repercussions - for only the very foolhardy tried the patience of my lord the steward - but I had to be sure of what I heard.

'Faramir!' he said sternly, and a familiar note of anger had returned to his voice.

'Listen!' I whispered.

His expression had gone stony, as if he were once again wondering why he had been cursed with such a difficult and capricious son, but he turned himself north.

And then I saw that he heard it. Out beyond the Pelennor he gazed, and then something crumbled in that proud face and, amidst my own fears, I was filled with pity for him. Turning, he caught my look, and his expression hardened. Quickly, I dropped my eyes.

'This means nothing,' he said harshly. 'You will speak of this to no-one, do you understand?'

I looked up at him again, at his unyielding face, and said quietly, 'I am yours to command, my father.'

'Then attend to your duties. Ithilien awaits you.' And he turned away and walked back to the Tower. I had been dismissed.

I set out for Osgiliath within the hour. Behind me, the sun was setting on Mindolluin. Looking back briefly as I rode out from the sixth level, I had to shield my eyes from the red glare but I thought I caught a pale light flickering at the top of the tower. But I had a long road ahead, and many cares, and I put this new worry from my mind, and rode on eastwards.