Author's Warning: This chapter is the reason for the story's rating. Some of the descriptions are very direct, and some images deal with the remains of those who didn't make it out alive. If this is something you would prefer not to read about but would still like to follow the story, drop me a line and I can give you a bare-bones description of this chapter.
Chapter 5: Waking
"Lie still. Do not move!"
Faramir surges upright, sending a fountain of muddy water in all directions. Staggering to his feet, he shakes his head and fights to slow his frantic breaths. Before, he was sinking. Now…now he dreams?
He feels for his sword but finds an empty scabbard. Beside him, Legolas's tense form watches the shadows. They are alone. They have always been alone in the dream. But is this still a dream? Or is this like the last time? Do dreams and waking life converge?
He cannot take the chance. Dropping to one knee, he feels beneath him, searching the silt beneath the swamp's murky depths. "They went below," he murmurs, still feeling the need to gasp for air. "The enemy lies below! Like the Dead Marshes, only—"
"Hush! If you voice your fear, they will kill you!"
"I saw Rangers in their grasp!" Faramir insists, tearing at reeds and grasses. "There must be a way to follow! Perhaps Aragorn—"
"There is time. You can still confront your fear, but you must do so in silence."
Faramir stops and stares at Legolas. "Is that where you go? Do you vanish beneath?"
The elf turns, water churning around him, and eerie familiarity drives Faramir back to his feet. "Take me with you!" he orders, seizing Legolas by the arm. "Show me how to follow!"
"They must not see you with me," Legolas answers, his face harried. His eyes flick toward Faramir, and in those depths, a dark flame burns. Startled, Faramir's hold loosens, and the elf pulls away. "You must face them alone!"
Then he is gone.
Faramir takes a long, shuddering breath. The answers are here. They must be! But he is running out of time—
"Legolas cannot help you."
"How do I follow him?" Faramir demands, wheeling about and searching the darkness for Gimli. "Can you show me what I seek?"
The murk shifts, and Gimli steps forward. "None who enter this place can help you."
"That is no answer!" Faramir snaps.
"I have no answers to your questions—"
"So you have said!" Fear and desperation make Faramir terse, but he needs the dream to reveal its secrets. He needs to know what stirred within him during the attack. He needs to know if he sleeps or if he—"There is little time remaining," Faramir says, breaking off his thoughts. "In previous dreams, you have offered guidance and wisdom. Will you do so now?"
A pause. "For what do you seek?"
"I seek my King! I seek the men who are lost—"
"Yet how can you help them if you cannot even help yourself?" Gimli challenges.
Faramir stares at Gimli for a long moment, the myriad hints of various dreams swirling through his thoughts. A pattern begins to emerge. Some of the pieces come together. "You said before that I was less than what I must be," he says. "That I am less than whole. Then am I…divided?"
"As Legolas was divided," Faramir continues slowly. "Yet even bridging that divide, he was unable to thwart the attack. Or is he yet divided? In giving his mind to the Sea, did he lose more of himself?"
Something sparks in Gimli's eyes. "He returned to you, did he not? He stood with you during the attack. He would have had neither the ability nor the courage to do so if he had been less than whole."
"You said also that I fear the whole," Faramir murmurs. "That there is something in the whole I do not understand. But will understanding be enough? Or is it even now too late?" His jaw tightens. "The men went beneath the waters… Are they—"
"There is still time," Gimli says. "Time for you and time for them. But not much."
Faramir nods. At least he may yet hope. "What were those creatures? Never before have I seen the like, but I felt—"
"As I said before, I have no answers to your questions," Gimli interrupts. "Not yet. Soon. And then perhaps he will return. Perhaps you will also be whole."
"But what divides me? What is it—"
"Who are you?"
There is a new intensity behind this question. A hopeful air that has not existed before. But Faramir still does not understand what the dwarf wants as an answer. "Divided," he finally says.
Gimli says nothing, but his eyes are expectant. The mists seem to thin, and behind Gimli, something flickers. Something waits. Someone waits. Voices call him. Familiar voices. Demanding voices.
"Did you learn nothing of my name?" Gimli says softly, his shoulders slumping. The voices grow louder. The mists thin. "Did you learn nothing of that which stands behind a dwarf?"
Faramir gives a heaving gasp, struggling for air. He finds himself lying on his side, a hand pounding his back, and he curls around his stomach, coughing and hacking. A twisting in his gut is the only warning he has before he is violently ill and vomits up what feels like half the swamp. Wrappings his arms around his chest, he shakes grievously and continues to cough and retch.
"Faramir! Faramir, can you hear me?"
Whoever is hitting his back pauses, and his face is tipped upward. A dwarven lantern shines in his eyes. "Mablung?" he manages, his voice cracked and faint.
"Thank the Valar," comes the answer.
Something is drawn up over his shoulders, and his trembling fingers clutch a damp cloak, grateful for any semblance of warmth. His chest aches, and his frozen limbs want him to do nothing more than huddle as a shivering ball beneath the cloak. He ignores them both. "Help me up," he gasps.
There is a pause. "Lord Steward—"
"Help me up," he repeats, levering an elbow beneath himself.
A quiet oath reveals Mablung's thoughts on the matter, but an arm slides beneath Faramir and he is raised to a sitting position. "Far enough for now, my lord," Mablung tells him.
Faramir nods his agreement, still clutching the cloak around his shoulders. He looks about and discovers he is in the center of a group of concerned Rangers. He gives them a nod of acknowledgment before Mablung waves them back. Faramir is grateful both for the lack of scrutiny and for a clear view—as clear as the night will grant, at least—of his surroundings. He is back on the island, and the swamp is still. No hint of movement mars the surrounding waters. Nor is there much movement on the island; fear wraps cold fingers around Faramir's heart as he numbers the men. "The company—"
"Few remain," Mablung answers darkly. "The rest…are gone. I know not where or how. There is no trace of them or our attackers. We thought you were gone, also, when you fell beneath the waters. We would have missed you entirely had not Anborn's torch glinted off Legolas's knife."
Faramir shudders under the force of several wracking coughs, but he manages one question: "The elves?"
"Still here and still unchanged." Mablung suddenly grimaces. "Unchanged save one. Lord Legolas…"
Faramir straightens, wishing his stomach would stop knotting. "What of him?"
"He is as the others now," Mablung sighs. "Except that he murmurs to himself and shies away from our touch. His mind is restless, as though he fights something within."
"Of what does he murmur?"
A pause. "The Sea."
Faramir closes his eyes. "Of course." Water catches in the back of his throat and he begins to cough again, bowing over his writhing stomach. When the fit passes, he raises his head and meets Mablung's concerned face. "Are any of the remaining men injured?"
"No. Also, I have kept the company together. It did not seem prudent to pursue the enemy."
"How can one pursue what one cannot follow?" Faramir agrees bitterly. A coughing spasm strikes once more, and he clutches at his chest, willing his lungs to expand and his stomach to calm. Mablung's hand on his shoulder is a faint comfort at best, but he will take whatever comfort he can find. The most recent dream has left him unsettled.
Mablung's quiet words are barely heard over the last of Faramir's coughs, but he catches the hesitant fear in the other's voice. Looking up, he suppresses the tickle in his throat and meets Mablung's eyes steadily. "The King lives, Captain. He lives, as do those we have lost. There is yet time. Were it not so, my dreams would not have led us into the swamp after them."
Mablung nods slowly. "Then I will continue to hope," he says, his voice no louder than a whisper.
"As will I," Faramir says and extends a hand. "Help me to my feet."
The remains of their camp are bleak, and Faramir's heart sinks as he walks among the elves and men. Just as Mablung reported, there is no change in the former with the exception of Legolas, who indeed seems troubled in spirit. Attempts to rouse him meet with failure, and eventually Faramir moves away, sensing only Legolas can fight his inner battle. As for the men… Faramir searches their faces, speaks quietly with each, assures them of his wellbeing, and does his best to rally flagging spirits. But it is a losing battle. Around them, mists coil and drift as though waiting. The island is a ship of lights in a sea of murk. But the lights will not protect them for long, and as though guessing his thoughts, Mablung leads him to a small collection of unlit torches and lamps. "These we have saved. If we are attacked a second time, perhaps we can do as we did before and light them after all others go out."
"Without an elf to draw the enemy into our midst, I doubt such a tactic will work a second time," Faramir answers. "This foe can pick us off one at a time from the edges. And whatever threat the elves posed to them, that threat has passed."
"Perhaps. But perhaps one among us poses an equal threat."
Faramir gives Mablung a sharp look.
"Though it crippled Legolas ere it came for us," Mablung explains, his eyes narrow, "our enemy recoiled in the midst of the attack. We were losing ground until then. But when one of our foes confronted you, Lord Steward, it stopped. The attack stopped. Then, as one, the creatures retreated into the water. And they did not take you with them." He pauses, his face darkening. "You were left behind, Lord Steward. Left to die in the swamp as the elves were left behind. The enemy fears you."
Faramir clearly hears the unspoken plea for an explanation; he would answer that plea if he could save that he has no explanation. Their foe recognized whatever it was that stirred in Faramir. Recognized and recoiled from it. But Faramir cannot say what that means, nor can he put words to express what he felt in himself. It was familiar. Unpleasantly so. Scattered memories, faint as if from a dream, come to him. Oil. Smoke. Flames. A broken voice. A desperate plea.
A father's last words…
He shivers and looks to the elves. He finds himself drawn back to Legolas, and he moves to kneel beside his friend. He lays a gentle hand on the elf's head, murmuring quiet words. Legolas shudders in response but does not answer. Faramir runs his hands down the elf's arms and presses against his ribs and back, looking for hidden wounds. There are none. The beat of the heart is steady and strong, albeit a bit fast for Faramir's liking, and his abdomen is neither hard nor distended. "Our enemy cared not for elven strength or prowess in battle," Faramir murmurs. "Even after enduring not one but two attacks, Legolas is whole in all save mind."
"Then what threat did the elves pose, my lord?" Mablung asks. "And how may we use it? For if we are attacked again this night—"
"We will be," Faramir says. He has not elven senses, but something lurks within the mist. Something watches and waits. But it is hungry, and it will not wait long. He glances around at the men. Their eyes are turned him, seeking guidance. In their hearts, he perceives the seed of resolve, and the inklings of a dangerous plan enters his mind. "Mablung, have we lanterns and torches enough to give one to each man?"
"If we douse most of those now lit, yes. Think you that you can draw the creatures into our midst as the elves did?"
"As for that, I cannot say. And without knowing why the enemy fears the elves, I am reluctant to try. But if we cannot draw these foes into our trap, perhaps we can be drawn into theirs."
Mablung stares at him. "Lord Steward?"
Faramir grips Legolas's shoulder. "Áni apsenë," he murmurs, not knowing if he intends the words for the elf or for his men. Perhaps both. But he has little choice in what he must ask, and the men have little choice if there is to be any chance of saving themselves or the King. Standing, he holds his arm aloft and waves his men in closely. "Our mission has not changed," he tells them as the Rangers bunch around him. "We still seek the King. And it has been given me to know that this mission is not yet beyond our reach. But our enemy lingers and will attack again."
He pauses to let his eyes sweep the assembled Rangers. Again, he weighs their hearts and finds resolve still. It will be enough. It has to be enough.
"We cannot defeat this enemy here," he continues. "We learned that earlier this evening. Yet we cannot leave, for what hope have we of finding this place again? And what hope have we that so few in number can provide safe escort for the elves? Nay. We must seek a different way. A dangerous way, for I will not deceive you. But we have seen that fire can confound this enemy. Therefore, if the enemy fears fire in our midst, how much more will this enemy fear fire in its own lair?"
A ripple of unease sweeps the men, but Faramir strides forward, his voice louder. "Tie a lantern to your belts! Lash a torch to your scabbards! Secret away oil and flint and steel, enough so that even in the dank and the rot you may strike a flame. We give ourselves to the jaws of an unknown foe, but we do not go willingly and we not go without a fight. Let them struggle to take us! Let them rue the day they sought to entrap the Rangers of Ithilien! And let them know our wrath when the trap closes and they find themselves caught in their own snare!"
As he speaks, Faramir feels the ebb and flow of emotions around him: Hesitation. Hope. And in the end, conviction. The men are willing to follow his lead. They huddle together, distributing oil and lanterns. Dousing torches. He stands back and feels his own skin of oil beneath his tunic. The enemy waits still, and he feels its regard. Something deep within him flares up in defense, but Faramir quickly silences it. He cannot voice his fear. He understands that now. He must be taken with his men. He cannot be left behind again, and as such, the enemy cannot recognize whatever threat he poses. He is still uncertain of what exactly is expected of him, but this strange burning within is part of it. Moreover, he has an inkling of its origin.
"We are ready," Mablung says.
And they are. They are as ready as men can be, at least, and Faramir is grateful. He feels the mists thickening and coiling. The enemy's regard is stronger than ever, and it will not be long now. Again, he quashes the familiar something that rose within him at the enemy's touch. The enemy searches for it, seeking it out as it sought out the elves. But Faramir holds himself in silence. It will find nothing.
The night deepens. The men stand together in a loose circle. They have positioned themselves away from the elves as a token gesture of both protection and regret. The best they can offer their allies is an attempt to keep the enemy away from them. After that, they must trust that they will succeed or that another party will find and rescue the elves. Desperate hopes for desperate times, and with a soft sigh, Faramir notes that such hopes and times are strangers to none of them.
Torches flicker fitfully. Water laps against the shore. A faint breeze teases Faramir's cloak. Sensing something in that breeze, he looks to the reeds and grasses growing on the island. They stand motionless. At his side, Mablung follows his gaze. They share a look and a nod.
The lights go out.
The enemy's second attack is far more sudden than the first. Perhaps Legolas's earlier awareness had somewhat to do with it, but before any can sound an alarm, every torch and lantern goes dark. The air turns frigid. The wind grows stronger. Waves begin washing onto the island.
"Stand fast! Stand together!" Faramir cries, drawing strength from the Rangers at his back. "Await my signal!"
The ground trembles. Water splashes over Faramir's boot. The waters are rising. Or rippling. In the darkness, he cannot tell. But it is not wholly dark. There is a shimmer to the mists. A faint, pale glow, and in that glow, it feels as though something is…opening. The wind strengthens. It is colder than ever, whipping around Faramir's arms—
That is no wind!
The realization strikes too late. Before he can act, his arms are pinned. He cannot move them. His legs are pinned, also, and something constricts so tightly around his chest that he cannot draw breath to shout. He hears strugglings around him. The scrape of leather. The ring of steel. The clang of iron. Gasps and grunts and hisses and cries for help. But the wind is a rushing, roaring creature, and every man stands alone. Faramir struggles to find Mablung. To find anyone else. Within him, a warm flame begs leave to burn, and Faramir ruthlessly shoves it back. He cannot afford to be killed for the threat he poses, and he cannot allow the attack to wane. The enemy must succeed. They must be taken to the others!
Something forces its way into Faramir's mouth. His nose. His ears. Crawling across his face and seeking out any crevice. Any opening. He gags and fights, whipping his head back and forth. Slimy tendrils tighten over his eyes, and his head it jerked back. His nose and mouth fill with the taste of the swamp. He struggles to breathe. To cough. To scream! He struggles with all of his impotent strength, but he is choking. Weakening. He retches, the foul contents of his stomach burning upward through his throat. They are stopped by the icy swamp moving deeper and deeper into his body.
His stomach twists. His lungs scream. He bucks against his captor, desperate for air. But the swamp is relentless. Sinuous vines snake about his arms. Legs. Hips. Exploring, twisting, constricting. He feels icy water in his ears. In his hair. Over his head. Darkness deepens. The fens open wide to receive him.
And muffled through the water, the reeds, and the buzzing in his head, he fancies he hears the ringing of bells…
Awareness does not come gently.
Faramir wrenches his eyes open with a strangled gasp. Chest heaving, he stumbles to his feet. He can still feel the clinging vines, and he rubs his arms hard, scrubbing at imagined filth and duckweed. A hacking cough sends him back to his knees, and his stomach threatens a repeat of its earlier performance. A particularly violent sneeze sparks a rolling headache that begins behind his eyes and spreads to envelop his temples and brow. Fighting desperately for control of his body, Faramir forces a shuddering breath and looks around.
The dream. He knows it with a certainty he can neither deny nor explain. It is the dream and not waking life.
But Legolas is nowhere to be seen.
Slowly, wary of this new development, he pushes himself back to his feet. He checks his scabbard, but that remains unchanged. There is still no sword. Clenching his fists, he turns a slow circle, watchful and waiting.
"There is no more time."
Faramir whips about, startled despite his precautions. The shadows lift and Gimli strides forward, his face drawn. "The whole of the dream has changed," Faramir says. "Do you wish for me to change as well?"
Gimli studies him. "Do you know what that means?"
"I know you wish me to be someone I am not."
Anger flashes in Gimli's eyes. "And still you do not understand!"
"I understand that you see me as divided and that, whomever you are, you have chosen a form with strong ties to his heritage. But what can heritage gain me in the battle against this foe?"
"The same victory that heritage won for itself! Do you think it not strange that only now do these creatures arise?"
Faramir cards his hands through his hair and opts for the direct approach. "I am not my father! Whatever stirs in me—"
"Whatever stirs in you is yours if you will but lay claim to it!" Gimli snaps. "But for the past two years, you have refused it, knowing from what heritage it stems!" He pauses, eyes flashing, and then, "Did you know that denouncing one's family is among the most grievous offenses that can be committed in dwarven society?"
"Yes," Faramir says slowly. "I was aware of that."
"There is no formal law or code against such an act," Gimli continues, almost as if he did not hear Faramir, "but the dwarf who does such becomes an outcast and a pariah among his people. Most offenders eventually choose a life of exile."
"In Gondor, it is frowned upon for a man to break with his heritage," Faramir says, "but our culture is not as strict in these matters as is the dwarves'."
"Perhaps it should be. What is a son but the sum of his parents?"
Anger nips at Faramir's mind. "I would think that a son could eventually become his own man."
Gimli's smile is hard and unforgiving. "There are rocks that change when given sufficient time or pressure or heat. Rocks that are separate and distinct from the foundation that made them. But there are still properties within the rocks that cannot be denied. Properties that hearken back to that foundation."
"Men are not rocks," Faramir says shortly.
"No," Gimli agrees, "they are not. Men are flesh, and as such, the changes they undergo are sharp. Harsh. Painful. But that which binds them to their foundation is stronger. Tighter. Deeper." The dwarf's eyes glint. "Centuries from now, scholars will look back on these years and proclaim your father to be the last of the Ruling Stewards. Those scholars will be wrong. For a short time, you were also a Ruling Steward, Lord Faramir. Be so again. Be whole again. You live a partial life, fearing the flames that both empowered and destroyed your family. But you cannot be Denethor's son if you deny the part of yourself that is Denethor." Gimli steps forward, the shadows thrumming with tension, and behind him, Faramir suddenly sees Legolas, the elven eyes shining in the darkness. And in that moment, Faramir sees him as he is in the dream: a choice. A choice to live in a self divided or to live both as Faramir and as Denethor's son. A choice Faramir has denied ever since the night when flames engulfed Rath Dínen. And now, at long last, Faramir understands.
"Who are you?" Gimli demands one final time.
Flames fill him. He recoils, fear rising hard and fast in the face of terrible memories. But behind the flames, he sees Minas Tirith. The crown. Elven eyes. The White Lady. Lost, all of it, if he does not choose—
And Faramir wakes…
The taste in his mouth is foul, and he spends his first waking moments coughing and heaving. His lungs spasm, and it is difficult to draw a full breath. But at length, the paroxysms subside enough for Faramir to lift his head and look around.
He finds himself on the floor in the middle of a dank chamber. He has no need for his eyes to adjust to darkness, for the chamber is filled with a cold, flickering light. Slime coats the stone walls, and water drips from the ceiling. Roots twist and twine throughout the room, weaving in and around piles of…gold? Faramir rolls to one side and pushes himself to his knees. Yes, gold. Mounds of it. Coins. Goblets. Jewelry. Treasure enough for even a dragon's lusts, the polished metal gleams in the fitful light of a single candle. It sits ensconced in a high recess on one wall, barely visible.
Something draws a deep breath behind Faramir.
He freezes, and his right hand instinctively feels for his sword. He finds only an empty scabbard. Worse: The torch he lashed to that scabbard is also gone. But even as realization darkens hope, he turns his head to look and finds hope anew. The Rangers are here.
Partially hidden by a mountain of treasure, Faramir spies Mablung first. He spends a few precious moments watching the other's chest rise and fall with steady breaths. Then he moves to the captain, and as he does so, he numbers the other men sprawled in the twisting labyrinth of vines and gold. His findings coax a smile from his weary lips—all the Rangers who survived the first attack are yet with him. They have not been separated, and for the moment, they are alone. It will be enough. He gives Mablung's shoulder a shake.
Mablung does not respond.
Faramir shakes him again, hard this time. But Mablung's head rolls listlessly; his eyes do not even flicker. Faramir taps his cheeks. Whispers his name. Orders him to be up and about.
He moves to another man and repeats the process. Then to another. And another. But the results are the same. Grimly, Faramir recalls the words of the dream: None who enter this place can help him.
Realizing he will be unable to wake his men, he searches them instead. They all still have oil, flint, and steel, but beyond these things, they are unarmed. No weapons. No torches. No lanterns. Crouching beside one young Ranger, Faramir looks to the candle high in its shadowed hollow. His enemy fears fire, but a single candle is apparently no threat to them.
Still, fire is fire. Faramir takes the oils skins from his men, tying them to his belt. Then he retrieves the candle. As his hand closes around the candle's base—golden, like all else in the chamber—a shudder ripples through the room. Faramir whips about, candle held high, and his breath catches as a yawning hole opens behind the vines on the far side of the room. He shifts his weight to the balls of his feet and waits.
Faramir approaches the newly created tunnel slowly. Hanging roots and tendrils seem to wither and shrink before him as the candle moves closer. But Faramir spares them only a moment's attention as his gaze is drawn to the ground at the entrance of this dark passage.
Recent bones. Not the bleached remnants of skeletons from Minas Morgul, but raw, bloodied remains still tangled in rent robes and tunics. He recognizes the rough fabric and cloaks of travelers. Merchants. Craftsmen. He shifts into a crouch and eases forward, one eye on the bones and one eye on the passageway. Torn sinews and ligaments speak of a violent death, but that is not what makes the scene horrifying. Faramir has frightened predators away from kills before, and he knows the signs of one animal feeding upon another. He finds evidence of that here.
A hiss and a groan freeze him in his tracks. Further down the dark passage, something shifts. He raises the candle for both better light and defense, but its tiny flame is feeble. There are mists in the tunnel, and he cannot see far ahead. He needs a larger flame. Something that will threaten.
Blood on the ground glistens darkly. Faramir glances down and thinks of the oil skins hanging from his belt. He closes his eyes, sickened by the knowledge of what he must do. But his stewardship is to the living. With a whispered apology, he tears apart one rent tunic, liberally douses it in oil, and wraps it around the end of a femur. He repeats the process several times over, his jaw tight and his mind carefully blank. When the grisly deed is done, he shoves the bones beneath his belt. Smelling of oil, blood, and rot, he takes the lone candle and starts down the passage.
Before long, the passage separates into several different tunnels, each one flowing away into a misty night. Faramir picks the foulest smelling tunnel and follows the odor. He has an idea that this scent will lead him to a gathering place. Creeping down the damp, cold passages, his mind is focused upon the details of the moment. He can afford no mistake. No misstep. He stops often to listen and look for signs that he is watched, but every time, he finds himself alone. It grates on the nerves, and his breath quickens.
The passage begins to widen. The roots are spaced further apart, though the air is wetter. Water runs freely down the walls, and Faramir's feet begin to sink in the mud and silt. Moving with greater care, he picks his way forward and cups a hand around the candle's tiny flame.
Voices sound somewhere ahead of him. Not men's voices. These voices are softer. Breathier, as of wind whistling through reeds. He can dimly make out words, but no language he has ever studied comes close to what he hears now. Twisting, snaking vowels skitter through his head, as gnarled and crooked as the paths of the Nindalf itself. Faramir presses himself close to the dripping walls of the passageway, shields the candle as he moves, and prays he will go unnoticed.
Mists coil around him, but they are not as dark as they once were. It is lighter now. Somewhere ahead of Faramir is another candle. Probably another chamber. His feet slow even more, and he lowers the candle so it is nearer the ends of his terrible, makeshift torches.
Something turns underfoot.
Faramir stops quickly. The water pooling on the floor is too dark. Too thick. He swallows and advances, knowing what he will find. And though he wishes it were not so, he soon discovers another collection of gnawed bones. This group is much smaller and more recent than the first. The tunics entwined around the bones are made of finer weave, and upon one, the White Tree of Gondor hangs as limp and dead as the trees of the fens.
He moves past the bones. There is no way to determine to whom they belong. What flesh remains is too mangled to identify. But beyond the bones, as the walls spread further apart, Faramir comes across another body. A living body. One that draws breath and one whose brow is furrowed and troubled, as though he seeks escape but cannot find it.
Faramir nearly sobs with relief. He is now at the opening of a second chamber, vast and shrouded. The enemy lies somewhere before him, hidden by misty veils. But Aragorn lives. Moreover, Aragorn is struggling to wake; Faramir's heart soars! But when he shakes the King's shoulder, all he elicits is a sigh.
None who enter this place can help him.
Yet Aragorn lives. It is reason enough to hope.
Something sparks in the back of his mind. It is not the first time Faramir has felt such a spark in the last two years, but it is the first time he is consciously aware of his response: push the fire away. Silence it. Darken it. With effort, he does not. He lets it build. Lets its fill his thoughts. It is a slow burn now, but his mind is lighter because of it. Able to see further. Deeper. Clearer.
But this fire brings a darkness. A shadow. A terrible scream and a chill so cold it burns as much as the flames.
Within the chamber, the enemy groans.
A breeze brushes his cheek. The temperature plummets. Faramir eases one bone from beneath his belt and holds the candle close to his chest. There are shapes in the mist. They float toward him, testing and teasing. Both anger and confusion ripple through the chamber. He was not expected to wake, and the enemy is cautious. The breeze pulls at his hair. Something else pulls at his mind. A subtle lure. A seductive call. A whisper that drew travelers and soldiers into the fens, trapping them in waking dreams. He feels the connection. Knows it. Understands it. And with an ease that surprises him, he severs it. It withers before the dark flames in his mind. The enemy drops back a step. Faramir takes the opportunity to move away from Aragorn.
"Release us!" he commands.
The enemy confers. The strange, liquid language twists around him. Faramir turns a slow circle. Breathy voices fall silent. The figures draw closer.
"Release us!" Faramir demands again.
The mists thicken.
He raises the bone-torch to the candle. Fire wakes. Hot and bright, it banishes the darkness, forcing it back. A terrible shriek fills the chamber, and Faramir tosses the candle aside. He lights a second torch and throws it beside Aragorn before lighting a third. A fourth. The mists unravel. His enemies recoil.
Faramir pauses to seize an oil skin, ripping the stopper away by his teeth, and flinging the contents all around. He does it again and again. The chamber shudders. Hateful eyes bore into his. He moves to light yet another torch, but something seizes his hand. His arm. Twines around his shoulder, bruising and straining. The torch is wrenched from his grasp, but it lands in a pool of lantern oil.
The chamber erupts in flame.
A shrill, piercing scream tears his thoughts asunder. His head is seized and twisted sharply, his arms bound. The room shudders and shakes, plants and water falling from the ceiling. But Faramir sees only the face in front of him. Gray skin. Black eyes. Twisted. Disfigured. Murderous.
Tendrils flood his nostrils. His jaw is wrenched open, and a snaking vine forces its way down his throat. Fast. Merciless. Seeking to maim and kill. But flames now lick at Faramir's boots. At his jerkin. His tunic. He is a living torch both in body and in mind, for there is nothing to stop the memories now. He forces these memories onto his enemy. Joined, they share burning thoughts and screams of death.
The creature shrieks. Withers. Wrenches away, desperate to escape. But fey within the the flames, Faramir seizes him. Pulls him back to the pyre he once remembered only in his darkest dreams. Pulls him back to the shadowed fever that took him there. Forces him to burn. To writhe. To atone for all the nightmares and all the missing and all the bones within the passages.
Something crashes down behind them. In front of them. All around them. Voices shout. There are many writhing forms. Many in the mists. But Faramir holds tight to his own enemy as all the world blackens beneath flame. Smoke fills the air. He chokes and coughs. His lungs and throat are his own again. His fingers weaken. Others paw at his hands, yanking and forcing.
Faramir holds tighter. Faster. Stronger. Bright light blinds his eyes, warring with the red promise of flame. He hears more shouts. More screams. Water sweeps his feet away, and he falls, still clutching the writhing enemy.
He is wrenched away. His lungs fill with smoke. Mist. Darkness. Fire beckons. A face fills his view, framed by falling water. The flames fade. Dwindle. Faramir feels himself follow.
The flames die out, taking Faramir with them.
Áni apsenë – Forgive me
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.