1. The good will of all good men
"...already he had come close under the Shadow before ever he rode to battle on the out-walls. Slowly the dark must have crept on him, even as he fought and strove to hold his outpost." - The Return of the King, Chapter VIII, The Houses of Healing
March 8, 3019 – Ithilien
"Go with the good will of all good men!" His parting words spoken, Faramir did not look back as he walked away from the two Halflings. I desire not the Enemy's Ring, yet if I hesitate now...
At Faramir's signal the patrol disappeared into the forest. They would lie low at Henneth Annûn for at least another day and then return to Minas Tirith as quick as they might. He glanced at Mablung who walked next to him.
"The Steward will have your head for this, Captain," Mablung said softly as he met Faramir's gaze.
Faramir only nodded at Mablung's gloomy prediction. His father was a good man, yet he doubted he would find any good will in him for what he had just done.
Later that day, taking a moment of rest amidst the preparations for the journey back to Minas Tirith, Faramir stood gazing out through the Curtain. The men who returned from scouting reported that the land lay quiet, seemingly peaceful, with no sign of their enemies anywhere. Hopefully that peace stretched south far enough to help speed the two Halflings on their way.
Faramir had done all he could for them, and now his own business lay to the west. While he welcomed the return home after their time in Ithilien, he could not put Mablung's remark aside; he would have to answer to the Steward for his decision to let the Halflings go free. If the Steward ruled that his captain's judgement in letting the Halflings go had been at fault, it was certainly within his lord's right to have him put to death for so breaking the law of the land. And Mablung did not even know the worst of it, for not only had he not slain these strangers as the law commanded, but the One Ring, the weapon of the Enemy, had been within his grasp and he had released its bearer. That, to Denethor, would be the worse betrayal. Yet what was done, was done, and Faramir could only accept what came of it, be it good or ill.
But what had he done in letting the Halflings go free, and what might come of it? He had allowed the Ring of the Enemy to be taken into Mordor, where the Enemy had only to reach out to regain it. Faramir shuddered as he thought of what would then follow: Minas Tirith taken, her people killed or led into slavery while the Enemy's troops marched on further into Gondor. Dol Amroth too would fall, as would Pelargir, Linhir, Ethring, Tarnost, Calembel; every town, every village, all would be brought under the Enemy's yoke or be destroyed.
And with Gondor defeated, who could stand? The Elves could still flee across the Sea, but for Men and Dwarves – and Halflings, he added – an Age of ashes and death, of Sauron's will enforced by flame and sword, would come.
With a deep sigh, Faramir turned away from the Window on the West and went back to preparing for the journey to Minas Tirith. There was no point in dwelling on what was out of his hands; for all he knew, Frodo might even succeed, slender as that hope was.
Night found Faramir standing at the Curtain again. Hope there might be, but even if Frodo succeeded in his quest, and Sauron were brought down, Faramir knew he might never learn of it. The raid against the Southrons, and the information on the Enemy's troop movements that he had gathered would count for naught against letting the Ringbearer go, nor would his blood gain him clemency.
Faramir laughed mirthlessly as his thoughts took yet another turn. At least, if he did pay for this with his head, and Frodo did fail, he would be spared seeing his fair City despoiled by the Enemy's legions. But if the Halfling did not fail... Who would take the Steward's chair after Denethor's eventual death? Neither of his father's sisters had any heirs, so probably one of their Dol Amroth kinsmen; or perhaps Húrin of the Keys? Or, since he seemed set on wild speculation this night, perhaps this stranger bearing the sword of Elendil of whom the Halfling had spoken would indeed come to Gondor to take the crown, and who was to say that he would even want a Steward?
March 10, 3019 – Minas Tirith
As he rode into the City, Faramir could barely stay in the saddle. The dread of the creatures that had attacked him and his men from the air was slow to lift, and left behind a terrible weariness. The flying beasts themselves were enough to make the horses bolt, but the darkness that rode them drove both horse and rider senseless with fear. Suppressing a shudder, Faramir recalled that he had felt that same dark fear the summer before at Osgiliath.
Faramir glanced at Mithrandir riding beside him. Had it not been for the wizard – the light he had let shine forth on the Pelennor now dimmed again – neither he nor his men would have made it to Minas Tirith. Yet Frodo had spoken of Mithrandir's death; clearly, he had been mistaken or deceived in what he had seen, and for one brief moment a wild hope flared in Faramir that Boromir too might yet live. Alas, no; he knew in his heart that his brother was indeed dead.
The clip-clop of his horse's hooves on the cobbled streets of Minas Tirith was almost hypnotic and it was only with some effort that Faramir returned his thoughts to the present. Even without being chased across the Pelennor it would have been a harrowing day, he thought as his hands sought a tighter grip on the edge of his saddle. He might feel too exhausted to acknowledge those standing by the road with even a nod, but at least he should not give the good people of Minas Tirith the spectacle of the Steward's wayward son falling from his horse from sheer weariness.
When he had seen the dark in the East that smothered the dawn and turned day to dusk, Faramir knew he could not rest at Cair Andros even an hour longer. Such darkness was no natural weather of the world, and it could only portend that the Enemy was ready to begin his attack on Gondor. He had ridden hard to get here, and now that he was in Minas Tirith, he should report to the Steward immediately. Yet did his report even matter anymore? With the Enemy about to strike, one raid on a Southron column made as little difference as taking one bucket of water from the ocean.
From the edge of his sight, Faramir saw Mithrandir cast a concerned glance at him, and he forced himself to take a deep breath. All was not yet lost. The Enemy did not yet have the One Ring, nor was Gondor yet defeated. There was still hope.
March 11, 3019 – the Pelennor
Faramir turned to look at the men he led towards Osgiliath. They were silent, grim-faced, even when the Shadows were not overhead. All who followed him knew there was little hope that they would return. The best they could hope for was to give a good accounting of themselves in delaying the Enemy's armies. Faramir felt a sharp stab of regret for the good men he led to their doom, then steeled himself; in truth, it was clear enough that his father would prefer it if he at least did not come back. He had already known that from the scathing words Denethor had used the night before to tell him what he thought of letting the Halfling go free. Yet his father had also taken care that he took refreshment and some rest, as kind as he allowed himself to be in these hard days.
Even so, the need of Minas Tirith was great, and this morning's Council had been called so early that Faramir felt barely rested from the previous day's toil. Despite the many lights of torch and oil lamp that had been set, the gloom had been as thick within as it was without. At first it had surprised him that the Steward only spoke about the Enemy's troop movements, and the encounter with the Halflings was not brought up at all – but he soon realised that Denethor would hardly want the One Ring discussed in open Council. It had been easy enough to read the meaning of his words, though, if one knew what remained unsaid.
His horse shifted nervously and halted, trembling, as the cry of the winged Shadows sounded overhead. Faramir took a tighter grip on the reins and hoped the animal would not bolt. A glance at his men revealed many a fearful glance cast at the murky brown sky. Faramir did not look up. He doubted the Shadows would come within bow range, or even low enough to be seen; nor did they need to be seen, for the fear they brought was present even when they were out of sight. He felt it every time he heard their cries.
The task he had been set was as much a death sentence as it would have been had the Steward sent him to the headsman, Faramir considered as he urged his horse on; but could Denethor have done aught other than condemn him, even in so roundabout a fashion? Had he not deliberately, knowing the penalty, broken the law of the land? He deserved death, and best that he die doing some small amount of good.
Yet another wailing cry came from above. Faramir's breath caught in his throat and this time he did look up – though the dread that struck him was as fierce as it had been the previous day, there was no Mithrandir now to drive off these Shadow creatures.
"Captain? Are you well?"
Faramir realised he had halted again.
"Yes, thank you, Mablung," he replied as he pressed his horse to move forward once more.
If there was honour to be had in war, he had been granted mercy by being given the chance to die honourably in Gondor's defence, rather than in shame as a condemned traitor. It was even a kindness. He smiled somewhat grimly as the cry of the winged Shadows sounded again. Had not Mithrandir reminded him as he rode out? Your father loves you, Faramir, and will remember it ere the end.
A/N: The title (and Faramir's words at the start) are of course quoted from Lord of the Rings, as are several other phrases.