Chapter 6: Being
This time, awareness comes in fits and starts.
Faramir drifts in a sea of voices. Hands poke and prod him, and he shrugs away, seeking the comfort of darkness. But the darkness burns, filled with fire. The hands finally let him rest. The flames do not. Faramir retreats from them, seeking out the deeper shadows, but a voice follows. A voice that will not leave him alone. A voice that demands he sink no further into the sheltering dark. Faramir reluctantly agrees, and the voice asks no more of him.
He is vaguely aware of movement. Commotion. Frigid water. Warm cloaks. Horses. At one point, he thinks he sees sunlight twinkling off a gleaming tower. But then dark flames reclaim him, and weary, he lets them.
Blankets. Smoke. A sweet, lingering scent. Warmth on his brow. Gentle hands that turn him as he coughs, every movement agony to a swollen throat and weakened lungs. He tosses restlessly, and he is soothed as an infant. A familiar voices hums a wordless lullaby, and when Faramir drifts back into shadow, the night is no longer dark but gray. The flames smolder, quiet and dormant.
A dreamless sleep takes him.
When he wakes, it is to birdsong and a fresh spring breeze blowing through open windows. He is nestled beneath clean sheets and thick blankets. Linen bandages are wrapped about his arms, smelling faintly of lavender, and a fire burns in a broad hearth. He raises himself up on his elbows, but the movement is costly. Something jars loose in his lungs, and he is lost to a violent coughing fit. He gasps for air, unable to stop the spasms, and someone rolls him to his side, rubbing his back and whispering quiet words of encouragement.
"Lie still," the voice says as the fit subsides. "Do not move."
The words freeze him. His chest seizes, and in growing horror, he looks up into worried elven eyes. The dream? It cannot be! It cannot—
He recoils quickly, but the movement triggers another coughing fit. There is a shout beside him. Others draw near. He is pulled upward. Supported. Held in place as coughs wrack his shaking form. Another voice calls him. The same voice that commanded he fall no further into darkness.
"Faramir! Faramir, quiet your thoughts! Listen to me! Faramir!"
"Aragorn?" he gasps, still coughing.
"Yes." The voice is calmer now. The danger has passed. "I am here. You are safe. We are all safe!"
At the doorway, he hears Legolas speaking to another. In the corridor beyond them, others wait. There are too many people. Too many! Faramir pulls in a shuddering breath, his coughs dying away. Aragorn says something, and footsteps retreat. Trembling, waiting for his dream to strike at any moment, Faramir raises his head and looks around.
"The Houses of Healing," Aragorn says. "We arrived in haste shortly after the noon hour. It is now evening."
Faramir blinks, the explanation making no sense. "The Nindalf—"
"Restricted to all travelers for now."
For some reason, that surprises a sharp, mirthless laugh out of Faramir, but his lungs are not ready for such exertions. Again, he finds himself caught in a round of painful, convulsive coughs, and again he is aware of supporting hands and voices. When at last he can look up, he discovers that Legolas now holds him while Aragorn grinds herbs in a bowl.
"What happened?" Faramir asks weakly.
"You tried to inhale swamp water," Aragorn answers.
Faramir shakes his head. "No. No, I meant—"
"In a moment," Aragorn says. "We will tell you all we know, which is little enough. But first you must breathe deeply over this."
He pours steaming water into the bowl and then holds it beneath Faramir's face. Legolas continues to rub his back, and Faramir does as directed. Inhaling as deeply as he can, he feels some of the tightness in his lungs ease. He coughs twice, but the sharp pain is dulled now. For a long moment, they sit together in silence. When the waters of the bowl begin to cool, Aragorn removes it and Legolas guides Faramir back down onto the bed. The mattress dips as Aragorn sits beside him, and Legolas retreats to a nearby chair.
"What do you remember?" Aragorn asks.
Faramir hesitates, the dream's warning still sounding in his mind. But it is a faint warning, and he is certain of his earlier impression: The danger is passed. Steeling himself, he begins to relate what happened after the King's company departed into the swamp. He tells of receiving the messengers. He gives a fuller accounting of his dreams. He takes responsibility for convincing Beregond, Damrod, and Mablung to change the order of the camp. He speaks of uncovering Andúril beneath the water, and he describes the island where he found the elves.
His eyes dart to Legolas, and he pauses. But though the elf's face is strained, his eyes are resolute. He nods for Faramir to continue. With halting words, Faramir speaks of Legolas. Of a desperate gamble. Of the elf drawing the enemy into their midst and of the terrible creatures they fought. He does not share many details of his last dream, but he speaks openly of the fire he set in the dank chambers. Of the memories it stirred. Of the bones he used. Finally, he reaches the end of his knowledge, and he looks to Aragorn.
Aragorn looks to Legolas.
"In Dale, they are known as Mewlips," the elf says.
The word is only vaguely familiar. "Mewlips?"
"Creatures of the fens. We drove them from the eastern bounds of Greenwood centuries ago, but they live still in various parts of the north. I was unaware that any had found a home so far south." Legolas shakes his head. "I should have recognized them, but they were on us so quickly! And I have not faced them for many lives of men."
Faramir rolls the word over in his mind, but it stirs no lore. "I may have heard of them once…"
"Little is known of them," Legolas says. "They lust after gold and meat. The former they will steal from any passing traveler. The latter they desire from the flesh of men. There are tales of them luring the men of Dale and Lake-town, whispering to unguarded minds and open dreams."
"That is what was happening to the sick," Faramir murmurs. "That is why they sought to enter the swamps."
"So we believe," Aragorn says.
Faramir frowns. "But if the elves have faced them before—"
"We were too few in number," Legolas explains. "The elves can guard their minds in ways men cannot, and thus we are poor prey for the Mewlips. But they learned to turn our strength against us, forcing us to ward our minds so strongly that even we cannot escape. If there are many elves, we can overcome this. But with so few..." Legolas sighs. "Still, our fate was far better than the fate of the lost merchants and travelers."
"Or the fate of any taken by these creatures," Aragorn says darkly.
A haunted look flickers over the King's face, and Faramir's own memories betray him. He feels again the swamp closing around him. Over him. Within him. A foul taste fills his mouth, and his throat aches. Swallowing with difficulty, he asks, "How many of our own company failed to escape?"
Aragorn's gaze becomes firm. "Thanks to your efforts, we saved most. Remember that." He pauses. "But four were lost to us. We could not recover them, and their bodies lie somewhere in the swamp."
Faramir closes his eyes. He cannot seem to keep his thoughts in order. "What happened?" he whispers. "In the end, how did we escape?"
"I woke," he hears Aragorn say. "I had struggled long to wake, but it was with me as Legolas describes: my own mind warded against me. But the danger turned away, and I was able to open my eyes. The other men were also waking, and we discovered you in the midst of flames. Our enemy was withdrawing. Or say rather, our enemy was trying to withdraw. But you were holding them. The swamp opened up around us, and water rushed in. Perhaps the Mewlips sought to douse the flames, but the oil continued to burn atop the water. And the water kept coming. We had to break your hold on the enemy, or you would have stayed in the depths and drowned."
Faramir rubs a hand over his face and opens his eyes. "The afflicted men in the camp—"
"They are recovering. The elves also. They woke when the waters opened. With their help, the rest of us were able to reach shore. We started back, and Beregond met us along the way with supplies. It seems you are not the only one given to creative interpretation of the rules." Aragorn gives Faramir a hard look, but his eyes twinkle. The mirth disappears, though, as he continues. "You are the only one to suffer lasting harm. You are feverish, and you suffered burns to your arms. I do not like the sound of your lungs, either, and that concerns me most. I fear you may be abed for many days." Aragorn studies Faramir closely. "There is also a…shadow over your heart. I sought to coax you from it, but it was too deeply entwined." He searches Faramir's face. "Perhaps it is needful."
"Perhaps," Faramir murmurs, looking away.
Silence falls. Eventually, Faramir feels Aragorn's hand grip his shoulder. "Rest. We have sent for Éowyn, and I expect her to arrive tomorrow morning."
Faramir nods, and Aragorn stands, squeezing his shoulder before moving away. Legolas moves back to the bedside, and he takes Faramir by the hand, gripping tightly. "The reason we brought so many water skins with us was so that we would not need to drink—or inhale—the waters of the Nindalf," Legolas tells him.
Faramir manages a weak smile before sobering. "And what of those who drink the water of the Sea?"
An unreadable look passes over Legolas's face, and his gaze becomes distant. "They will always thirst for more," he sighs. "One day, they will thirst too much." His lips flatten into a firm line. "But that day is not yet come." He releases Faramir's hand and stands. "As Aragorn says, sleep! We will speak more tomorrow."
Faramir is left alone. His mind grasps after elusive answers, for there is much yet unexplained. But the demands of his aching body prove the stronger. With the shadows lengthening outside, Faramir gives in to the desire for sleep and sinks into a dreamless slumber.
But it is only dreamless for a time.
He knows he dreams. He knows what he dreams. But there is no Nindalf. No swamp. Only gray, swirling mists, weak and harmless. There is no power behind them.
"The threat is gone."
Faramir turns at the sound of Gimli's voice and watches as the dwarf steps forward from the darkness. "Why me?" he asks.
Gimli cants his head to one side.
"Why me?" Faramir repeats when the dwarf does not answer. "Why me and not Aragorn? Or Legolas? Or—"
"The elves had neither the numbers nor the knowledge to combat the mewlips," Gimli interrupts. "They were not prepared for them, and their power now is not as their power once was."
"Then why not Aragorn?" Faramir presses.
"Aragorn was not touched as by darkness as you. He fought against the Enemy's shadow for many years, but he did not succumb to the Black Breath as you did."
Faramir shakes his head. "I do not understand. And you have not made understanding easy!"
"Foresight needs a receptive mind, but in receiving foresight, your mind was laid open to the lure of your enemies. Thus, their whisperings became entangled in your thoughts, and the Mewlips could listen to your dreams. I dared not speak openly. They were already suspicious. From both your parents, you inherited the ability to ward your mind. They recognized that, and they watched you closely." The other sighs. "Too late we saw the danger from afar. We could not reach you before you were already within their reach. Dreams were our only recourse."
"Are they still your only recourse?" Faramir asks. "Or can you speak more openly now?"
"As openly as I usually do," comes the answer, and there is humor behind the words. "Why you and not Aragorn? Because of what the Mewlips fear. They have lived in these fens for many generations. Far more generations than even Legolas suspects. But until recently, they kept their presence hidden, for they feared Sauron's regard."
Faramir frowns. "Are they not the kinds of creatures he would wish to employ?"
"They do not like fire, as you observed," Gimli says. "And they could not endure the burn of the Great Eye. Moreover, Sauron had little to offer them. Their only wish was to feed and to be left alone with the hoards of their victims. They would take a traveler now and then, but for the most part, they slept. When at last they sensed Sauron was gone, they began to assert their power."
"What drove them back?" Faramir asks, dreading the answer.
Gimli gives him a long look. "One cannot come away from darkness unscathed. Both you and your father walked the very embers of Sauron's flames. But in escaping from those flames, you divided yourself. When you were called back from the influence of the Black Breath, you walled a part of yourself away. You sought to escape the touch of the Enemy, and in so doing, you also escaped much that was associated with those dark times. You walled away the part of yourself that came from your father. You walled away the flames that have driven your family. When you reclaimed those flames, you were able to draw upon the perception of a Ruling Steward. The Enemy's darkness forced the Mewlips from your mind, and your perception enabled you to follow. You were able to pierce the enemy's mind and remind him that fire comes not only from the Great Eye."
"Then...it was not the torch that drove the enemy back?"
"Does understanding still elude you?" But this time, Gimli is amused rather than frustrated. "The torch gave the fire physical form. It was needed. But it was only part of the answer. The fire in of the Enemy was also needed. You, Faramir, were the only one capable of both waking from the Mewlips' hold and returning their attack through means both seen and unseen."
Faramir rubs his temples. Though he sleeps, he feels he is too tired for this conversation. "What of the future?" he asks. "Can we prevent future attacks?"
"I would not worry overmuch about that for now. Set a watch for future years, but only a few of the Mewlips escaped." Gimli's eyes darken. "I underestimated your drive and determination. I did not expect you to take the battle so far, though perhaps I should have. In that, you and your father are very similar."
"You speaks as though know me well," Faramir says, searching the other's face. "You have always done so in these dreams. But you are not Gimli. And you are no dwarf."
"True. But you knew that already."
"Then why? Why appear as Gimli?"
"Because I could not appear openly and because you needed to find the answers yourself. This was a time when you had to do your own teaching and learning. The flames would not come unless you opened your heart to the things you had shut away. To the lessons and abilities Denethor gave you as his son. For that to be accomplished, I needed to appear as an equal. As someone who would challenge but not overwhelm, and as someone who would share the same struggle. Who would indicate the right direction."
Faramir stares at what appears to be Gimli. "Who are you?"
"A proud teacher of a most capable student." A familiar smile quirks the face. "You sought for the meaning behind my name, but did you never think to name me with something more meaningful? Something that speaks, perhaps, of dreams. Of Olórin?"
Faramir stiffens, and suddenly it is not Gimli who stands before him. The beard is longer. Whiter. The eyes glimmer, peering out at Faramir from beneath a wide-brimmed hat, and a kindly laugh echoes through the shadows.
"Though you suffered for it, you have proven a very apt wizard's pupil. A sufficient son indeed, and a cherished one. Do not fear the fires of your birthright. Your father loved you, Faramir. He remembered it before the end."
Faramir starts awake, blinking in the darkness. He immediately begins coughing, and a cool hand cups his cheek, fingers running through his hair as he fights to breathe.
"Hush. Hush, I am here now."
He turns to look, and moonlight shimmers upon a river of flaxen gold. "Éowyn," he whispers, reaching for her. Her lips brush his brow, and he breathes in her warmth. Her scent. "Éowyn," he murmurs again.
"Yes. My apologies for waking you. I was changing the bandages on your arms."
He registers the scent of lavender, and he is glad her ministrations woke him. He is glad she is here. Her presence makes the swamp's memories faint. "They said you would not arrive until morning," he whispers.
She pulls back, eyes gleaming. "Gondor estimates travel by the standards of slow horses and cautious riders."
Faramir smiles. "You will have to teach them differently."
"I intend to. And you and I will have words later," she says firmly. "There is much about your adventure the King and Legolas would not share with me, but what little I gleaned did not make for a pleasant tale." Her gaze sharpens. "I do not want to be frightened for your sake again."
Faramir sighs and holds her hand to his cheek, hearing the fear in her voice. "I do not know that I will always have a say in the matter."
He fights off a chuckle, knowing it will only prompt a coughing spasm. "Would you have me command the fates?"
"Yes," she tells him shortly. "The fates are as nothing when compared to the taming of a wild maiden of the Riddermark."
"Not so tame," Faramir teases, and she silences him with a kiss.
"It is late for talk," she whispers against his lips. "Sleep. I will be here when you wake."
He laces his fingers through hers. She draws back just enough to see his eyes, and her brow furrows.
"You are different."
He swallows. "I—"
She shakes her head. "No matter. The difference will make you strong. The King says it teaches wisdom. I also learned that lesson once. We will learn it again together."
Faramir nods slowly, and she begins to stroke his hair. His eyes drift shut of their own accord, but he fights to stay awake. He forces his eyes open, still wary of flames and of dreams.
"Sleep," she tells him. "There is no threat here. Close your eyes."
The burn within his heart ebbs. Stars and moon give the night a gentle glow. Far away, as though through distant mists, he hears her promise taken up by a wandering pilgrim.
Rest. I will guard your dreams this night.
Whole and at peace, Faramir sleeps.
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.