Steward and the King, The
19. Prayers in Darkness
Gimli stood in the tunnel entrance. Despite their fear of discovery, it had been a day for Gimli and Frodo to find it, guided by only what they could remember Gollum’s vague description. During that time Faramir and Sam had located water to fill their skins.
“There is the scent of something foul here,” Gimli said as he waved the others in, and they entered reluctantly. It was an atmosphere of fear -- something evil slept here, slept lightly. They walked as quietly as they could. Once Faramir was sure they were far enough into the tunnel that no light would show in the opening he asked Frodo to pull out the phial. The light seemed to make the stench easier to bear.
It took two marches for them to get through the tunnel, for they walked hesitantly, with much fear. How many days? Faramir asked of the darkness. Was his city free, did the defenses hold? Did his family still live, or was he alone? We delayed too often on our road. Will there be anything left to save? In the darkness that seemed doubtful. He could no longer hear the dream. The King, he reminded himself. That was the reason I was sent. I do not know how, but he will save my people. I know it.
When they reached the blocked exit Faramir and Gimli’s weapons could not cut the web, so Faramir borrowed Sting from Frodo, and that cut the barrier easily. He made an opening large enough for them to crawl through then led them quietly outside. They moved as close as they could to the guard tower then retreated to a shadow to plan. Each took a sip of water. They all hungered but did not eat. Rather they sat in fear and despair at what they had seen.
In the dim light it had been difficult, but at length they puzzled out the land: a chasm, then the plateau, and Mount Doom beyond, belching smoke. One narrow bridge, well guarded by the tower. Even if ropes could let them down to the chasm, they could not be sure of a way back up. They would be seen.
The ring throbbed against Frodo’s chest at the sight of its home. He pressed his hand there, trying to silence it.
“No, no.” He was crying. “There is no way to do it.” He sat on the ground and buried his head in his arms and knees.
There is a way. Faramir’s mouth set as he reached his conclusion.
Gimli saw it as well. “Better, then, the elf is not here.” He put a hand on Faramir’s shoulder as he walked by. He turned and, with a grunt, positioned himself, one knee to the ground. Watching for orcs, he pulled out his ax and laid it in front of him, ready at need, and withdrew Galadriel’s gift from the pocket where it lay against his chest, the thin and brilliant coil of gleaming gold hair. He drew the strands to their length, placed the midpoint at his left temple, then with clever fingers he made a braid of his corse dark hair with the gold woven through it.
“What are you doing?” Sam asked.
Gimli looked to Faramir to explain.
“The bridge is the quickest way to the mountain, but that tower guards all ways; we will be discovered soon. Gimli and I must make a diversion to get you two inside. We must buy you passage.”
Frodo would have no part of it. He would have no more death. Faramir struggled to pull him out of his denial. Without Frodo’s cooperation they would be trapped here, and all lost.
“You’ll be questioned,” Frodo protested. He couldn’t say the word, tortured.
Faramir wished Frodo hadn’t thought of that objection. “We won’t let them take us alive,” he answered, and that was worse still. Frodo tried to bolt again, back the way they had come. Faramir wouldn’t let go. “There is no other way onto the plain,” he said again. “Your only chance to cross the bridge is if we draw away the guard.”
“And be killed.” Frodo repeated. The ring, hidden beneath his tunic, now in sight of the mountain, answered the mountain’s fire with its own heat. Your friends do not need to die, its power called to him. Fighting the temptation, all he could do was close his eyes and weep, silently cursing his uselessness. Faramir removed his hands from the hobbit’s shoulders, and sagged back in bitter frustration, fighting that weak part of himself that was glad for the delay, that pleaded for another way. Gimli stayed as he was, eyes glazed, focusing on the battle to come and his burning blood. He would make no more choices: he was as entranced, waiting for instruction.
“Master, you’ve got no call to take guilt for our fates,” Sam said, and his voice was brutal. “This isn’t about punishment. We’re not dying because we did something wrong. We’re fighting for our homes, to keep them safe. None of us want to die and it will be hard on our people who won’t know how or even if we died, but there it is. You can’t change it.” He waited until Frodo’s breathing quieted, then he took hold of one arm under the shoulder and pulled him up from the wall.
“Yes, Sam.” Frodo said, putting his feet underneath him and wiping away his tears.
Faramir looked about to speak, but Sam cut him short. “I don’t need your pity, either,” he said in the same hard voice. “I don’t have time for it. Gollum’s trap may be chasing behind us.”
The rest was easy for Faramir to read in his eyes. No, he hadn’t understood the dangers when he started this quest, but he hadn’t seen anything to make him want to have the choice to make over again. They would be Elrond’s small thieves, too small to be noticed.
Oh, Lady, Faramir pleaded silently, thinking of elves singing in Lorien. Help them. They don’t deserve to die. He said aloud, “Then we’d best get the job done.”
It was a few minutes with the packs to get them ready, and Gimli kept watch for patrolling orcs. Sam put his pans in Gimli’s pack and took all the water and food, save for what Faramir carried, their capes and his sword. He estimated the run would be a long one, and he was fearful of how much Frodo could carry.
“Ready?” Gimli asked. “I have a debt to settle with these orcs. For Gandalf -- and Balin.”
“Wait,” Faramir said. Unslinging his water skin he asked for Frodo’s. He poured what he had left into the smaller skin, making it almost full. As Frodo replaced it, Faramir made a gash in his now-empty skin and sucked out the last drops, then slung it back on. “They will think, if any have wit to wonder, that one of their own blades cut this and sent my water to the ground.”
Gimli laughed grimly at that. His ax was impatient and hungry. “Now are you ready?”
“Yes,” Faramir whispered.
Sam held Frodo by the wrist. They hurried down the path, and the cover of rocks soon dropped away. Faramir pointed to the chosen shadow in a shadow where the hobbits would wait in until they heard the alarm. They parted, and Faramir and Gimli ran to the base of the wall. The hollow was such that Frodo and Sam could not see the lights of the fortress. Sam kept his eyes on the bridge, memorizing the stones and planning their path, looking for signs of movement in the red light. The bridge was empty. There was a distant roar from Barad-dur.
Then, alarm. They stood and ran. Over the bridge and then down into the gully at the side of the road. Sam was careful to choose a smooth embankment to run down that they left no footprints. The road and the bridge and the tower were now before them, as they lay panting, trying to breathe quietly, faces pressed against the cold stone. They were facing back towards the path they had come. Behind them lay the mountain. Faintly they heard cries of battle, which turned, after a time, to laughter.
Slowly they lifted themselves from the stone and with many backward glances, fearful of pursuit, they crawled across the broken landscape toward their destination.
“I could have saved them,” Frodo said. Sam and he were huddled in a crevice too exhausted to move. They did not know if it was night or day or how long they had crawled across the plain. The light from the mountain had not changed. Sam had given them each a sip of water and had declared wearily that he did not think either of them could stay awake for a watch but they must risk a short rest. “I could save us all. That’s what the ring said to me.”
“You shouldn’t say that word here, master. Don’t listen to the lies, it only betrays. Elrond warned about temptation.”
In her dreams, Galadriel heard Faramir’s prayers as if Elbereth had sent them hence, and a harsh dwarven battle cry caused her to wake. She arose weeping from her bed and called the eagles to her. She asked them to help and they said they would fly as close as they could to Mordor and wait for a sign.
=== end chapter ===
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