Turning slowly, I look down upon the halfling, who is standing before me, as though he awaits my orders. Why do you still stand there, little one? And still with that glimmer of hope in your eyes! You have not seen what I have, but I think that I am glad for that. For a little while yet, you may have peace; and I would not deny you of such of precious moments now.
"Farewell, Peregrin son of Paladin! Your service has been short, and now it is drawing to an end." Our lives, our world, they are all drawing to an end. "I release you from the little that remains."
And how truly little it is! Go now, if you do not wish for all to be lost for naught!
In response, the halfling only kneels, and shakes his head vehemently. "I will not say farewell, my lord," he replies, standing back up and looking me in the eyes. "I will take your leave, sir, for I want to see Gandalf very much indeed. But he is no fool; and I will not think of dying until he despairs of life."
"Do as you will, Master Halfling," I reply. For what does it matter if we die in hope or despair? Let the grey fool lead those who will blindly follow! But I - I will not let the Dark Lord's creatures decide my doom. Nay, 'tis much better to control one's own fate! I have not the energy to fight a hopeless battle; there is nothing left in this world for me. My duties are over; my family gone. It is time to leave. Turning my gaze back to the lifeless body of Faramir, I give my final orders to the halfling. "Send for the servants!"
The fire continues to blaze, painting the sky red. It leaps and crackles, devouring its prey hungrily. I clasp Faramir's hand tightly as we await the arrival of the servants. Fear not, Faramir. It will all be over soon. The suffering, the pain - it will all be over soon.
"My lord?" A voice gently intrudes upon my thoughts. Looking up, I see that the servants have arrived.
"Lay these covers over him. Make sure he remains warm," I tell them, gesturing towards Faramir. "We must make for the House of the Stewards!"
Exchanging swift, fearful glances, the servants hesitate. Fools! Do they not see the inevitable? Even now they would not face the truth! I cast an angry glare at them, and as if jolted from a trance, they swiftly do as they were bid.
Slowly, I follow them out of the room, trembling as I lean on my staff. How I despise this weakness... this failing body of mine! What little strength that is left will have to sustain me until the end. As we walk out onto the courtyard, I almost choke, so thick is the darkness in the air. It is suffocating!
"Halt!" I order, my voice harsh against the uncanny silence. What a desolate place this has become. So empty... so cold. There is no life here, only death, permeating every inch of the air. See how the Tree has withered! Life has long left our city, leaving behind a mere shadow of what was once glorious. I watch motionlessly as the water drips almost rhythmically from the wilted branches of the Tree. It has been kept all these years, barely alive - and for what purpose? Only to delay the inevitable! Such a wretched state it is in, already dead, yet forced to cling to life.
"Let us move on," I whisper, bowing my head. Wordlessly, we begin our march anew. All those we pass turn to stare, fear and confusion plainly seen in their eyes. Unasked questions fill the air, but I heed them not, focusing only on what lies ahead. Doors swing open, unlocked. Little-used streets are tread upon again with heavy footsteps.
I prop myself up on my staff and stand tall as we finally come to the House of the Stewards. Gazing upon the bare, empty table before me, I smile weakly. It is time for me -- for us -- to join the others now. I slowly trace my fingers over its smooth surface. So this is to be my final resting place... and finally, rest I shall.
My gaze strays over to a table on the left, and my eyes rest on the ashen face of Finduilas. Ah, my love, you too have found rest, it seems, though much too soon for my liking. But that matters no longer! I am coming to join you now. Faramir is coming, as well. I think that he would much like to see you again - and Boromir, too, no doubt. Our family will be complete again, as it once was.
As I lie down next to Faramir on the table, the servants pull the covers over us. It will all be over soon, I repeat silently. It will all be over soon. Sighing softly in anticipation, I speak my final words to the servants.
"Here we will wait, but send not for the embalmers. Bring us wood quick to burn, and lay it all about us, and beneath; and pour oil upon it. And when I bid you thrust in a torch - do this and speak no more to me!" For I will be long gone, finally away from this darkness! "Farewell!"
Hearing the sound of servants placing logs all about us, I take Faramir's hand in mine, and let my weariness slip away. Peace and repose, at last. If only they would hurry with their task and be done with it! I wish to remain no more! But... what is this? Greeted only with incoherent shouts and hurried footsteps, I blink in confusion. Who dares disturb my peace? Flinging the cover off, I stand up, anger and frustration surging through me. So close...!
Heading angrily for the door, I push against it violently. I almost stumble back as it held, refusing to open. "What is this madness?" I thunder. "Who is there?"
"It is Beregond, my lord! He has turned against us!" a voice cries out in response.
"Cease this folly at once, Beregond! I command thee!" I call out as I attempt to push the door open again.
"Nay, my lord! I am sorry, but I cannot!"
"You cannot obey your orders, soldier?" I ask, incensed by this mutinous behaviour. He does not respond, and for awhile, I can only hear the sound of cursing and steel ringing against steel.
"Haste! Haste! Do as I have bidden! Slay me this renegade! Or must I do so myself?" Have we no capable men left in this city? Drawing a sword, I put forth all my strength and force the door open. Now where is the traitor Beregond? He will rue the day he disobeyed my orders!
As I step forward, however, a sudden light invades the space. It is bright... too bright! I squeeze my eyes shut against the piercing brightness, my hold on the sword loosening. Then, quick as an arrow, the sword flies from my hand and clatters loudly on the floor. How...? Staggering backward, I tentatively open my eyes and assess the situation. Mithrandir! Did he do this?
"What is this, my lord? The houses of the dead are no place for the living," he remarks coolly, his tone slightly derisive. I clench my fists, angered by his sudden appearance. So it was he who turned Beregond's loyalty! Why must he always be so meddlesome? Gondor has no need of him!
"Since when has the Lord of Gondor been answerable to thee? Or may I not command my own servants?" Our eyes lock again, but this time, Mithrandir simply turns away.
"Where is your son, Faramir?"
I smile coldly. So, you have come for Faramir, have you? But you are too late! The darkness is burning him, and even now, only a fragile shell of his former self remains. I must release him from this terrible affliction! You cannot stop me - and you would not stop me, if you cared for Faramir. The darkness will not claim him, it will not claim us!
Again, the light around Mithrandir intensifies and I am forced to step back as he rushes past me.
"It is too late, grey fool!" I yell after him, but heedless of my words, he takes Faramir in his arms and walks away. For a moment, I can only stare, unable to believe what has just passed. How dare he go against my wishes! This is my city, not his - why does no one stop him?
Faramir? Faramir! You are speaking again! Why did you stay silent before this? No, Mithrandir cannot take you away from me! Not now! Trembling, I reach out to stop him. "Do not take my son away from me! He calls for me."
"He calls, but you cannot come to him yet. For he must seek healing on the threshold of death, and maybe find it not," replies Mithrandir, refusing my request.
Maybe find it not?! Maybe? It is all too clear that he will never look upon this world again! So why prolong his agony? Have we not seen the effects of those who would cling to their lives against their better judgment? When have you last looked upon the Withered Tree in the courtyard, Mithrandir? That is what we have become. Too long has this city and its people clung to survival, but now our doom calls and we must answer! Let me die with my son at my side... Let not all comfort be denied to me in my last moments.
"Authority is not given to you, Steward of Gondor, to order the hour of your death. And only the heathen kings, under the domination of the Dark Power, did thus, slaying themselves in pride and despair, murdering their kin to ease their own death," answers Mithrandir with a disapproving glare. Then, taking Faramir, he turns and leaves without a second glance. No... he cannot take my son away from me! How can I depart knowing that Faramir is still being kept in this frightful world?
"Come! We are needed," says Mithrandir, his voice softening as he turns to me again. "There is much that you can yet do." His eyes look beseechingly into mine, and I almost sway under their influence. I cannot leave Faramir behind... I cannot fail him again. Oh, why will he not return my son to me? I do not wish to be separated from him... not now.
Slowly, Mithrandir smiles and beckons for me to follow. For a moment, the very air before me seems to waver, and I lean more heavily against my staff. Then, I shake my head fiercely. Nay! I will not follow you, grey fool! Enticing words you speak, to elicit false hopes, but you cannot seek to deceive me, for I hold in my hands an instrument of great power!
Laughing at the wizard's foolish notions, I hold out the glowing Palantír. I have seen what will come, and there is naught that any of us can do to stop it! Relinquish your foolish hopes, Mithrandir. You cannot hope to overtake Gondor and rule our realms any longer; the few who may survive this will be ruled by only one, and that is the Dark Lord. Yea, as powerful as you fancy yourself to be, Mithrandir, you cannot hope to win this war. All will be to ruins. All will fall. I will not let my son live to see such times.
My son will be no slave to the darkness! I will end this madness even I must take arms again! Swiftly, I draw out a knife, and step towards Faramir.
"Nay, my lord! Do not!" protests Beregond as he leaps before me, blocking my path. Traitorous villain! Still here to defy your lord's wishes? Let the darkness you, then! Go off with the wizard! But I, Denethor, son of Ecthelion, will rule my own end.
"Come hither! Come if you are not all recreant!" I call out to the servants. I am sorry, Faramir, but they will not let us depart together. I can only pray that death overtakes you ere the darkness engulfs our city. I grab the torch from a servant's hand and turn back to the House of the Stewards. Farewell, Faramir! May we meet again soon!
My journey is finally ended. Gondor will be no more; freedom will be no more. The fire burns warmly, wrapping itself around me tightly as it takes me away from this world. With a final burst of strength, I take up the Steward's staff and break it upon my knee. My duties are over. Farewell fair Gondor! Farewell!
The flames leap higher, warmer, surrounding me. The burning sensation spreads throughout my body, and I cry out against the pain. Then, my eyes close, and the pain subsides. It is over. I am free.
With some exceptions, most of the spoken dialogue from this chapter was taken from "The Siege of Gondor" and "The Pyre of Denethor", Return of the King.