The fear was slow to dissipate -- very slow, indeed.
Even now, as he began to relax somewhat in the safety of Mithrandir's fiercely protective presence, Faramir fought the urge to glance upwards, still half expecting another attack, another wave of sickly stench from dark wings beating above him, another ear-splitting shriek leaving him feeling cold with dread. Almost he would have welcomed a wound in that attack, for the pain might have helped to keep his mind from the pursuing fear, as the fell beasts with their dark riders swooped and harried him and his men across the plain of the Pelennor.
But the Nazgūl had not attacked with weapons, nor had the beasts torn at them with tooth or claw, though they had been close enough to do so with ease. Whether that had been because it was not their intention to do more than terrorize, or because Mithrandir had come in time to thwart their purpose, Faramir did not know, nor did he care to dwell upon it. The less he thought on those evil creatures, the better. Even the memory of their presence froze the heart...
The fear was slow to dissipate -- not only his fear of the winged Nazgūl, but also his fear of losing his companions who had been unhorsed during the attack. It had been all Faramir could do to master his fear and control his own terror-stricken horse to ride back to them, to give what aid he could. Little use his valor seemed in retrospect, for what could he have done against five such formidable foes? But he had taken no thought for that then; he knew only that his men were in danger and he must go to them. He dared not contemplate what might have happened to them all if Mithrandir had not come.
"Fear not!" Mithrandir said quietly beside him, as if reading his thoughts. They were drawing nigh the Great Gate of the City, pacing slowly so that the men on foot could keep up with them.
"Fear not," he repeated. "Your men have taken no serious injury from this encounter. You led them well, and stood firm between them and great evil. Have you taken any hurt yourself?"
"Nay," replied Faramir, shaking his head. "I am unscathed, but for the memory of great dread that is slow to pass."
"Alas, such terror is their greatest weapon," sighed the wizard. "Where the Nazgūl come, fear lingers and hope fades. But we are not yet beaten, and we shall not be, if we do not allow our hope to be buried in fear!"
As Faramir gazed upon Mithrandir's calm face, the shadow of fear which lurked on the edges of his mind faded, and the darkness which had threatened to envelope him retreated.
"Yes," he replied gratefully, as they passed under the arch of the Gate and into the City. "Hope is not buried, though fear is still very strong. But I am as yet the master of my fear, and it shall not overcome me. Mithrandir, I am glad you have come."
The wizard clasped Faramir's shoulder and smiled briefly.
"I have been most desirous to speak with you, Faramir. There is much I wish to discuss -- but not before you have taken what rest you may, and have made your report to your father."
Faramir sighed heavily.
"I am indeed weary, but I cannot yet rest. My father will not wait, nor ought he. But neither shall you wait. You will accompany me and hear my report, Mithrandir, for I bear news which you must receive as well."
"Assuredly I shall come."
Denethor awaited them in his private audience chamber, where a brazier was lit against the chill of the evening. He bade Faramir sit close beside him upon his left, while Dūrlin served him wine and a loaf of fresh white bread. Faramir's low chair was set near the brazier, and it seemed to Dūrlin that Faramir welcomed the warmth of the coals as well as the glow of light. Upon his face a faint shadow of the fear he had endured so recently could still be seen, along with a weariness that was only partly soothed by the wine and the food.
As Faramir began to speak of his errand, of the news of what passed in Ithilien and the movements of the Enemy in that area, Dūrlin stood aside, observing the faces of those who listened.
The wizard Mithrandir sat with his eyes closed, almost as if he slept, but Dūrlin knew it was more likely he was listening to all that was said with a keen ear and an even more discerning mind. The Halfling, on the other hand, made no attempt to hide the eagerness with which he listened. He was obviously fascinated by news of places he had never seen and by tales of battles he had never dreamed of fighting. Dūrlin also thought he detected a growing admiration for Faramir in the Halfling's gaze -- which was hardly surprising, given the captain's close resemblance to his brother, Boromir, and his manner which put at ease all who were near him.
The Lord Denethor gave Faramir his full attention, listening quietly to all he had to relate, showing neither approval nor disapproval. He seemed strangely expectant, Dūrlin noted. It was as if the Steward were waiting for a piece of news that had not yet been shared, but which he knew must surely be coming.
As if in confirmation of Dūrlin's impression, Faramir paused suddenly in the telling of his tale, and looked at Pippin.
"But now we come to strange matters," he said. "For this is not the first Halfling that I have seen walking out of northern legends into the Southlands..." **
Denethor watched his son closely and with growing dismay, as he shared the details of his encounter with the Halflings in the wilds of Ithilien and related his decision to allow them to continue their journey to Mordor. Every cautious word Faramir spoke -- every glance towards Mithrandir as if to confirm that he did not say too much -- caused the Steward's heart to sink further within him as hope receded and fear grew.
Faramir, what have you done? he cried silently, even as he schooled his face to reveal nothing of his pain and growing anger. How could you have done this? What of your promise to serve me with all your heart and loyalty? I see no loyalty here -- not to me, nor to our people who are trusting you to protect them from evil. In place of loyalty, you give me betrayal; instead of service, you set aside my will and my commands! What of that law which bade you slay all who pass through our lands without my leave? What of that? Did you forget it?
I think not! Rather, you have chosen your own way, without thought for our need, ignoring my wishes in this matter. That law was not made on a whim -- nor, perhaps, was your decision to set it aside. But whim or no, your decision will be the death of us, and you should have taken more thought for that! Your mercy and your trust in a fool's hope have doomed us all to slavery!
How my heart failed me when Mithrandir first told me of his foolish plan to destroy the Enemy's Ring -- but I consoled myself with thoughts of your faithfulness. I knew you could not fail to keep in mind the need of your people, that you would not allow passage to anyone or any thing that would endanger Gondor and the White City. I trusted you to bring them to me, these two who carry the fate of the world with them. They have the Ring of Power, Faramir, and they are taking it to Mordor -- straight to the hand of our Enemy! And you did not stop them. Rather, you aided them and helped them on their journey, knowing it would be our doom.
Faithless one! How can I still trust you after this? To whom shall I turn now, if you are disloyal? Will you still heed me if I command you? Or will you turn away once more, spurn my wisdom, and follow your own counsel?
And why do you look thus to Mithrandir? Is he your father? Does he rule your heart so that you now hasten to follow in his madness, forgetting that you are my son, that your duty is to me and to your brother who is no more?
It would seem so...
Alas! that Boromir is no longer here to champion my cause. Had he been there in Ithilien, all would have fallen differently! He would not have forgotten his duty to me; he would have brought me this thing! Then there would be no need for fear, no looming prospect of bondage and slavery under a Dark Lord soon to become invincible...
What have you done to me, my son?
Still and unmoving Denethor sat, listening and watching without a word, and his fear and anger grew behind a face that was cold and hard as stone.
Dūrlin listened helplessly and with growing despair as Denethor's words became cold, stern and proud. His opposition to both Faramir and Mithrandir was firm, and he would not be swayed by any argument.
"... You are wise, maybe, Mithrandir, yet with all your subtleties you have not all wisdom. Counsels may be found that are neither the webs of wizards nor the haste of fools. I have in this matter more lore and wisdom than you deem."
"What then is your wisdom?"
"Enough to perceive that there are two follies to avoid. To use this thing is perilous. At this hour, to send it in the hands of a witless halfling into the land of the Enemy himself, as you have done, and this son of mine, that is madness."
"And the Lord Denethor what would he have done?"
"Neither. But most surely not for any argument would he have set this thing at a hazard beyond all but a fool's hope, risking our utter ruin, if the Enemy should recover what he lost. Nay, it should have been kept, hidden, hidden dark and deep. Not used, I say, unless at the uttermost end of need, but set beyond his grasp, save by a victory so final that what then befell would not trouble us, being dead."
"You think, as is your wont, my lord, of Gondor only," said Gandalf. "Yet there are other men and other lives, and time still to be. And for me, I pity even his slaves."
"And where will other men look for help, if Gondor falls?" answered Denethor.**
Faramir gazed with aching heart upon the cold, strained face of his father as he argued with the wizard, and he felt close to weeping.
He does not understand, Faramir thought sadly. I was afraid it might be so. He does not understand why I have acted thus, and that makes him so very angry! He does not raise his voice now to us, but I am not fooled. I know he is angry and hurt. He believes I have betrayed his confidence in me...
My father! Why do you not trust me to do what is right? If only I could explain so you would understand -- but I fear I have not the words, not when you are in this mood. You believe I have been disloyal to you, I know -- yet it is not so! Yes, I followed my own counsel in this matter, but not without thought, and not without care for what it might mean to you, and to this City and her people -- my people...
Do you not see I could not have acted otherwise, no matter how grave the danger? You were not there; you did not see these Halflings, or have speech with them! I deemed the chance to be worth taking, worth placing my trust in Frodo and his quest. It is not such a fool's errand, my father!
I did not forget what you expected of me in such a circumstance -- or that Boromir might have chosen differently -- but it was for me to choose, for better or worse. Though you speak eloquently and firmly against it, still I believe my choice to have been the right one. Would that you understood it so!
I have not forgotten my duty to you, my father, nor my loyalty as a son or as a captain of Gondor. This I shall prove to you in the coming days -- through deeds, if you will not hear my words. May you see that what I have done was right. May it lead to hope for all of us, and an escape from despair, instead of the slavery and death you fear...
"If I had! If you had!" he heard his father say. "Such words and ifs are vain. It has gone into the Shadow, and only time will show what doom awaits it and us. The time will not be long. In what is left, let all who fight the Enemy in their fashion be at one, and keep hope while they may -- and after hope still the hardihood to die free..." **
With those words, anger and dismay were for the time being set aside, and matters turned again to the discussion of war. Denethor was once more the Lord Steward, and Faramir, his captain.
"What think you of the garrison at Osgiliath?"
"It is not strong..." **
** Author's note: Faramir's words concerning meeting the Halflings in Ithilien, Gandalf and Denethor's heated discussion, Denethor's words about keeping hope while they may, and the final sentences concerning the garrison at Osgiliath are all quoted directly from Return of the King, the chapter entitled, "The Siege of Gondor."