2. The Steward's Gambit
Denethor put a hand to his forehead. He had a throbbing headache, the result of spending too much time with the palantír. the previous night. In the beginning, it had been easy enough to look into the orb, but now, even as he began to master it, it was becoming increasingly exhausting. It was almost as if the thing had come alive and wished to pit its will against his own. Sometimes he considered abandoning the palantír altogether, but he knew it was invaluable in the struggle against the Enemy. Though it brings us great pain, we cannot abandon Gondor, for she is not ours. Until the king returns…
The sound of a spoon grating against a bowl brought Denethor out of his bitter reverie. Faramir was eating breakfast with Denethor, as he did everyday. They had begun this practice a few months ago when Boromir had left to join his fellow soldiers at the garrison in Osgiliath. Faramir had been moody and out of sorts ever since. Indeed, on this morning, the boy seemed in even more of a dark mood than usual. He was not eating, simply pushing the porridge around in the bowl, and the sight annoyed Denethor.
"Faramir, you have been at the table for almost an hour, and yet you are not even half finished with your breakfast. You must not dawdle so."
"Yes, Father," the boy answered softly. He met his father's eyes for a moment, and Denethor was startled by the boy's appearance. His eyes were red, his face pale and drawn.
"Faramir! You are unwell?"
"No. I just…" Faramir shook his head. "It is naught. I am well, sir."
Denethor watched him for a moment, not quite certain Faramir was telling the truth. Then he gave a soft grunt. "Very well, Faramir. You had best go now and get to your lessons. I will see you at supper."
At breakfast two days later, Faramir seemed even more haggard than he had been before. This worried Denethor, but the emotion warred with his anger, and he felt little sympathy for the boy on this day.
"I spoke with Master Amlach yesterday, Faramir." Denethor allowed the words to sink in, curious to see how Faramir would react.
Faramir stiffened, and seemed about to speak, but then shrugged and returned his attention to his breakfast.
"He said you have been falling asleep during your lessons. What have you to say for yourself?"
Faramir did not answer immediately, nor did he acknowledge Denethor's question in any particular way. The determined silence only increased Denethor's irritation.
"To have your masters complain about you is a grave thing. If you are sleeping through lessons, it means you have no respect for your master, and…"
"No, Father! It is not so. I like Master Amlach well, and my lessons too. It is just…I don't…" Faramir spoke haltingly, his brow creased in frustration. "I have…"
"Speak, Faramir, for pity's sake! Only be quick about it."
"No. You will think it silly." This time, the words were spoken without hesitation, almost defiantly, but there was a note of sadness in Faramir's voice as well, and Denethor wondered if he was being too harsh. Silly? That is only because you are so full of fancy, Faramir! Still, there is no need for me to be so harsh. Denethor tried a different tack.
"Tell me what troubles you, Faramir. It is not like you to not give heed to your lessons. I worry that something is wrong, that perhaps you are ill."
Faramir looked at Denethor, gray eyes wary. "I am not ill, Father. I fell asleep during lessons because I have not been sleeping at night. I have been walking through the City."
"You have been walking through the City? At night? Without guard? Faramir, what…"
"I'm sorry, Father," Faramir interrupted. "I don't mean to alarm you, but I do this because I can't sleep!" Denethor listened intently, suddenly reminded of something, words spoken long ago by another. Can't sleep, or afraid to sleep?
"You have bad dreams." It was not a question, and if Faramir was surprised by Denethor's conclusion, he did not show it. Instead, he simply nodded, slouching into his chair in resignation.
"Of what do you dream, lad?" Tell me, so you don't live with this burden alone. Tell me, so the dreams don't take you, as they did your mother!
Faramir hesitated, and then took a deep breath before he spoke. "I dream of terrible things, Father. It is very dark in my dreams, and I stand at the edge of a cliff or a mountain, and all the land about me is about to be drowned by great ocean waves." As he spoke, he gripped the arms of his chair, knuckles white from the strain. "I try to run away, but I cannot escape it, no matter how fast I run," Faramir said, shivering. "What does it mean, Father?"
The Downfall. He dreams of the Downfall. Denethor's blood ran cold, and his own shiver mirrored Faramir's. Ah, Finduilas. Of all the gifts you could give your son, why did you choose this one? A bequest more curse than gift?
"I don't know what it means, Faramir," Denethor lied, fearing that the truth would be too much of a burden for the boy. "I am not wise in such things. All I know is that you need to sleep. Otherwise you will fall ill, and then you will not be able to walk through the City at all, even during the day."
This won a small smile from Faramir. "Alright, Father. I will try."
That night, Faramir slept fitfully, but mercifully without dreams, with Denethor sitting at his bedside.
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.