Of all the nightmares of Faramir's life, the retreat from the Causeway Forts is the one he will never forget.

The world is shrouded in a dark veil, the sounds reach his ears hushed and distorted. Black shapes creeping at the edge of his vision make him flinch every now and then. With the sickening taste of blood in his mouth almost ever-present, he still holds in the saddle, still wields his sword.

And he still maintains the control of the retreat.

The rearguard is almost constantly engaged in skirmishes and, grossly outnumbered, they are pushed back by stronger attacks which break only at the back lines of the mainguard. The wounded are then sent forward, and the march continues.

And so they proceed, step by step, across the fields of the Pelennor.

Across what used to be fields and orchards, farms and homesteads. The hooves and feet now stomp on the soil that has just woken to the false promise of spring – the spring that will never come, drowned in the darkness.

A part of him wonders, impassionately, why it is that he still fights on. They can never make it to the City and their lines are dwindling with every step. His strength, his will, his resolution – all running out, cannot overcome the inevitable.

The streams of faint torches approaching from all directions dazzle before his eyes. Faramir does not know how long remains to the uncertain safety of the City Walls: a few miles becomes as far as never.

Yet, as long as they proceed…

And as long as I breathe…

Their progress has come to a halt: the fiery torrents have reached and grasped them in their tentacles. With loud thunder, the Haradrim cavalry charges to the shrill call of the nazgûls' deadly song. The defence line has broken, the retreating army is scattered into isolated groups. There is no power that could regroup them, and certainly not Faramir's hoarse faltering voice.

Nonetheless, he still tries.

And as a result, he draws attention.

A Haradrim champion separates from a group of cavalrymen and spurs his horse towards Faramir. Tall and well built he is, and undoubtedly fresh – a difficult match even for one at full strength. Faramir's own strength hardly suffices to keep the enemy at bay, and if it weren't for his chain mail, he would have been bleeding within seconds.

Weariness presses on his cold heavy limbs; yet, as one weary never ceases to breathe, Faramir never ceases to fight. Fight has become as natural as breathing. The movement of the sword arm, the block of the shield, the nudging of his war horse, come out of sheer instinct gained in the long years of practice and warfare. There is no place for a clear mind, no place for a swordmaster's finery, only blows delivered and blows deflected, eternal as the movement of the sea.

As long as I breathe…

Then there comes a sudden blow in his left shoulder, followed by piercing pain, strangely acute to his muffled senses. Faramir sways in the saddle and strives for balance – in vain. The fall seems very, very long, as if he were sliding down a long slope towards calm and dark waters. He feels neither cold nor warmth anymore.

No more pain, no more strain.

No more cold, wounding words.

With breathing out, Faramir finally yields to the darkness. Its embrace is surprisingly merciful.

MEFA 2010 Third Place in the category of Character Study: Gapfiller.

Many thanks to Thanwen and Raksha for the colourful beta-ing :-)