Of Stewards and Rangers
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Phrygian Flute, The: 9. The Crossroads
~Journey to the Crossroads~
The Two Towers
Henneth Annûn, 8 March 3019
THEY WERE ONLY children to his eyes. Lulled to sleep by weariness and the soft ceaseless murmuring of falling water, they breathed easily, huddling close for warmth and comfort. They never knew how long he stood there watching them, a tall slight figure unmoving, shrouded in shadow. In the brown pooling light of a taper, he saw the faint glimmer of a thin silver chain, and in a small grubby fist, half-closed in slumber, a thing that shone far more brightly. It burned in the dark, as though with a flame of its own.
Isildur’s Bane. Here it was at last, the thing that brought Boromir to his doom. In the dark, it called to him with a thousand voices, all alluring, all promising everything he had ever desired. He saw in its golden gleam a world made whole again, the Enemy’s power broken, a world without fear or evil. And in that world was the White City gleaming blue and gold in the morning light, whole and unravaged by time, as it once did in its glory-days. And at the foot of Ecthelion’s Tower stood a man crowned as a king, a man tall and valiant as Elendil of old, and when the man turned, he saw under the great winged crown, his brother’s smiling face, kind and kingly and full of light.
Then came the voices, beloved and achingly familiar, voices from memory and dream, voices dead and living. By and by you shall learn to wake the singing magic, little one. We will make of you a harper yet! …We will fight them, you and I, and none shall stand against us!… You are my own true son…And suddenly a great hunger rose within him.
All this could be yours. All this, and more.
You have only to reach out and take it.
It would be so easy. Weak as they were, how could they resist him?
Unbidden, his hand crept forward.
What are these but empty promises? He checked, gasping. We are truth-speakers, we men of Gondor. We boast seldom, and then perform, or die in the attempt. Not if I found it on the highway would I take it.
Not if I found it on the highway would I take it. So he had spoken in a moment of rashness and pride. Slowly, he drew back his hand. No, it was neither pride nor rashness that had bidden him to speak so, but something else that sprang from the depths of his spirit. Turning away, he closed his eyes and laid his cheek against the cold stone wall.
No, it was not too late after all.
He could take the Ring and be forsworn – or he could trust to chance and the hearts of two Halflings. How weak they were, and how weary; but there was strength to be found in weakness, and weakness in strength. And hope in places unlooked for. Grimly he smiled, for had not Boromir too, loved truth, honour and virtue as he did? Yet had he not fallen at the end?
On this night, the fate of the world lay on his shoulders, and he felt the burden of it keenly. He knew too, that from the path he chose now, there would be no turning back.
What would his father say? Words of love and praise and tenderness? And he heard in the quiet dark his father’s voice: A great weapon, you have brought me, my son, and one to be used for the succour of Gondor; a mighty gift in a time of great need. And Faramir saw again, in his mind’s eye, the face of the one made king, and on his brow, the great winged crown of Gondor. Yet a short while ago, had he not spoken to Halflings of his own hopes, so long held in the fastness of his heart? For myself, I would see the White Tree in flower again in the courts of the kings, and the Silver Crown return, and Minas Tirith in peace; Minas Arnor again as of old, full of light, high and fair, beautiful as a queen among other queens.
Not Boromir; never Boromir but the true King. What darkness in his soul had turned a vision of hope into one of glory and greatness of one he had loved and lost, and the fulfilment of his own desires? No. A great weapon it was; too great perhaps for the hands and hearts of mortal men.
He opened his eyes and turning, saw again the gleam of gold in the dark. All was silent, save for the whisper of falling water, for the voices were no more. Very softly, he said, “Not your will father, but my own. Let your doom and the doom of the world be upon me, if I have chosen ill this night.”
Stooping, he laid a gentle hand on the brow of the sleeping Halfling. “Go then, Frodo; and may the grace of the Valar go with you.”
Minas Tirith, 11 March 3019
DO YOU WISH then that our places had been exchanged?
Yes, I wish that indeed, for Boromir was loyal to me and no wizard’s pupil. He would have remembered his father’s need, and would not have squandered what fortune gave. He would have brought me a mighty gift.
The words haunted him in these, the last hours of his life. He had sent the armour bearer away, for he longed desperately to be alone, and to see and hear nothing but the light of the sun rising, and the silence of his own heart. But there was no dawn today, nor peace any more in his soul.
No sanctuary, no peace but death for Faramir, Captain of Gondor.
So he sat alone on the hard narrow cot that had been his brother’s as a child. The room, whose windows looked east on Ithilien had changed little with the years. It was empty save for the low bed, an ancient chest by the window, and a small, ornate lamp in the shape of a swan that she had brought long ago out of Dol Amroth. And here, beside him was the tall winged helm of the Captain of the White Tower lovingly burnished to the brightness of silver, and his own battered ranger’s blade. They were waiting for him, the men who would come with him on this last riding; he had only to don sword and helm, and make a beginning to the end. Yet he was afraid.
He rose, and the unfamiliar burden of his brother’s armour weighed on him; he who had worn only a ranger’s light leather garb for so long. Was this the weight of his brother’s command? The burden of his death? Once, as a child, Faramir had longed for the armour of the Tower Guard, and to bide with his brother in the City whose music and lore he held so dear; yet in manhood, Ithilien and her austere rangers had claimed him for their own. And so he was now, theirs and theirs alone, for where was his home if not there? Slowly, Faramir drew his worn sword belt over the heavy cuirass and fastened it, and the cold fleeting gleam of seven stars and a White Tree woke in the gloom.
But he would not have worn any other on this day, for he drew a strange comfort from it, knowing that some part of his brother would be with him at the last, and that he would fight the better for it. Knowing also that under the bright arms of the Captain of the White Tower, he was a ranger of Ithilien still, and that he had kept faith with himself.
But what if he had been wrong after all? What if, by his own hand he had sent hope beyond recall, and brought dark everlasting upon the world of men? He shivered, and breath caught in his throat. Fear, greater than any he had ever known. No time now for regrets, no time now to wonder at the power he had within his grasp, and let go. No chance now for Faramir, Captain of Gondor to show his quality. And he laughed, a little unsteadily, before he stilled himself. There was one thing more to do.
Since you are robbed of Boromir, I will go and do what I can in his stead - if you command it.
I do so.
Other regrets, other memories he had too, and other words spoken and unspoken, too painful to recall. No more, then. No more.
From far below, came the clatter of hooves and of armoured feet. Men, vaulting into their saddles, and at the head of the shining company, the white standard of the Lords of Gondor fluttered in the dawn wind. His hands, in gauntlets made for another man, took up the gleaming helm. He saw his own face in it, drawn and tired, yet very like his brother’s. Only, his eyes were his own, blue as the sea in the Bay of Belfalas.
Perhaps even the Steward, looking out from his high tower, would believe for a fleeting moment, that his beloved son had returned; and that it was his other child who had died far away in the shadows of Amon Hen…
Suddenly, he woke from his reverie; He raised his head, listening. Wisps of song came to him, borne on wind; a man’s voice it was, chanting softly. Yet, he knew the words well:
Gil-galad was an Elven-king.
Of him the harpers sadly sing:
the last whose realm was fair and free
between the Mountains and the Sea.
His sword was long, his lance was keen,
his shining helm afar was seen;
the countless stars of heaven’s field
were mirrored in his silver shield.
A chill grew in his heart. Leaping to his feet, he made his way to the window. Those were his men, their waiting faces pale in the gloom; and others hurrying on errands of their own. But of the singer, there was no sign. Yet on it went, the singer’s voice growing fainter and fainter before it died away:
But long ago he rode away,
and where he dwelleth none can say;
for into darkness fell his star
in Mordor where the shadows are.
A waking dream, then. Grimly, his hands tightened on the window-sill. So many dreams, all of them ill – and now, they came to him, not only in the witching hours of the night, but even in the light of day. Truly, he was accursed. Drawing a deep breath, he stood for a time, composing himself.
Footsteps on stone.
Slowly, he closed his eyes.
“Faramir.” A familiar voice, warm and kindly.
Hope died within him.
But still, he turned and smiled to greet an old friend. “Mithrandir. It gladdens my heart to see you.” Glowing in his white robes, the shadows seemed to fade a little, and in the wizard’s face was the wisdom and compassion of his age. Yet his old eyes were grave and sad.
“I see, Faramir that you were looking for another.”
“It matters little. He will not come.” Quietly, he came to the wizard and said, “He sends me to my death, Mithrandir, with neither blessing nor farewell.” Then the iron mask, long worn, slipped at last, and in the early morning light, his face was no longer calm and proud, only wretched. “Will you let me have yours?” He smiled again, wryly. “A wizard’s pupil to the last.”
Gently, the wizard laid his hands on either side of the young captain’s face. “And an able one too. My blessing you shall have, and gladly. But speak not of death, Faramir. Never that. Do not despair; do not throw away your life recklessly and in bitterness. You will be needed here for other things than war. Your father loves you, Faramir, and will remember it ere the end.”
For a long moment, Faramir was silent, and his eyes grew dark, as though the life within him had been quenched at last. Your father loves you, Faramir, and will remember it ere the end. Boromir he had loved, and she in her quiet grave by the sea.
My mother, my brother, why have you taken all and left none for me?
Then he looked to the east. He would never see the sun again. Perhaps dusk and the long night would come to other men; green spring, summer, the falling of leaves and winter’s snow, but there would be nothing for the Steward’s son but long sleep, and forgetfulness.
Unbidden, another voice long-remembered and full of hope, spoke in the darkness of his heart: “Stay, little brother, and do your duty, as I shall do mine. We will meet again before long - that I promise you.”
“I will not despair, Mithrandir,” he said softly. “Farewell.”
Then he was gone. And long after the ringing of his spurs had faded away, the old man stared into the darkening east, where the sun did not rise, and remembered words spoken many months and many miles away.
I wish the ring had never come to me. I wish none of this had happened.
So do I. And so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to do is to decide what to do with the time that is given to us.
They rode through the seven circles of the White City, a shining company of men; but no songs, and no joy greeted them, only silence and tears, and pale flowers that fell like snow. As the great gate opened, the company halted, and their Captain, dimly glittering in the grey dawn, for the last time, turned his dark eyes to the high tower. Then, grimly, he swung his horse round, and without looking back again, they passed under the tall arch, like a stream of stars in the gloom, their long white standards flying.
Then the great gate shut, and the all the Pelennor lay before them.
Across the green they thundered, and at the rumour of their coming, the hearts of men along the Rammas lifted, and it seemed that among the riders far away, was one whose helm was taller, and whose arms were brighter than the rest. It was Boromir, returned from the dead, in their time of great need, men said. But the keen-eyed rangers among them cried, “Faramir! Faramir!” and all around, the cry was taken up, and became a roar, and in the distance, the shining figure raised his bright blade in answer.
In the murk across the river, the hosts of Morgul launched their boats, and for an instant, the white waters of the Anduin grew black with the shadow of dark wings.
The end. The end was come at last.
This is probably the most AU of all the chapters in this story, being neither movie-verse nor book-verse, but something I’ve more or less made up on my own by combining elements of both. In neither did Faramir have second thoughts about letting Frodo and Sam destroy the Ring. I have quoted extensively from Tolkien (movie and book verse), and the poem in the latter half of this chapter comes from “The Fall of Gil-galad” read by Sam in “The Fellowship of the Ring.”
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