Morning comes, or rather does not, as it did not the previous day – and probably will not till the end of Gondor's days.

The Council chamber drowns in the shadows, even the lamplight is subdued, as if the unnatural dark could suffocate the light in all its forms. Yet this time Faramir almost welcomes the darkness in which all faces look equally pale. The last night's sleep brought hardly any refreshment, as waking from the nightmares of creeping shadows was only followed by those of his father.

"Do you wish then that our places had been exchanged?"

In the end he gave up attempts of sleep and spent the rest of the night pacing across his room, wishing for the light that never came – and a word from his father, which did not come, either.

Only the Lord Steward summoned his captains to take counsel upon the course of defence.

Or rather, to proclaim his will, as he takes little heed of what the respective captains have to say.

Such a course of events is not unfamiliar to Faramir, yet in his weariness his father's bad mood is even harder to bear.

Ages ago, Faramir remembers, there was a man who was tossing a young boy high in the air, till both of them choked with laughter, while a woman, also laughing, was urging them unconvincingly to find a safer leisure. Where has the man gone? There seems to be no connection between him and Lord Denethor, whose eyes are equally prone to burn with fiery anger as well as glint icy cold.

"Do you wish then that our places had been exchanged?"

Denethor's face, stern and relentless, floats before Faramir's eyes, even as the dark eyes pierce through the others. In the dim light, no one speaks, as the Steward demands: "I will not yield the River and the Pelennor unfought – not if there is a captain here who has still the courage to do his lord's will." He never looks at his son, but Faramir knows.

"I do wish indeed."

"So be it."

And so he says, "I do not oppose your will, sire. Since you are robbed of Boromir, I will go and do what I can in his stead – if you command it." Even saying that, a tiny part of him still hopes, as ever, and yet again, receives a blow that only drives the point deeper.

"I do."

And nothing else. The worried look in Imrahil's eyes is almost like a final blow. Faramir stands up, unsure if his legs can still bear him. He bows stiffly. "Then farewell! But if I should return, think better of me!"

"That depends on the manner of your return."

And so he is dismissed from his father's presence, from his love – and soon from his own very life.

Later, he cannot recall how he walked from the chamber to the outer courtyard. The bare wood of the White Tree gently glimmers in the dusk and Faramir kneels down by the fountain for a moment. "I would see the White Tree in flower again," he thinks. "And I would go to certain death or torture gladly, if only – " A shudder passes through his body and he tenses, fighting for self-control – the fight all too familiar in the past years. Out of habit, he raises his eyes to the skies but today, no light shines for a captain almost at the end of his strength.

When he rises, he still feels a bit unsteady. However, his voice is calm as always, as he addresses his adjutant: "The Lord commands that we defend the Fords and out-walls. Gather the men at the gate – volunteers only. We leave within an hour."

After all, if one is to die without love or light, there is no reason to delay. The cold he feels somewhere deep within will pass with the last heartbeat, of that he can be sure.


author's note: The conversation at the Council, as well as the reminiscence of the debate with Denethor on the previous day, is a direct quotation from LOTR (ROTK: The Siege of Gondor)