Before the Pyre

by MerryK

Denethor sat by the bier, his back bent as it almost never had been before, and he watched the face of his dying son. He noted every breath of Faramir’s, every muscle that moved in his face, any change in the temperature of his hand that he held in his own withered one. His eyes were dry, but it was only because he had emptied them, and he now shed thoughts instead of tears.

How has it come to this, my son?
he thought, looking ever for some sign that these were not the last hours of Faramir. What have I done that you also should be taken from me?

When you were small, I held you on my lap and marveled at you, and how different you were from your brother. He would run and jump on things, while you sat and looked, just looked, with those great blue eyes of yours. Those eyes are now grey as sea billows in a storm, but I will not see them again.

You loved when I read stories to you, and when your mother sang you songs, and late at night when you awoke in fear, we would take you into our bed and you would snuggle between us and fall right asleep. How many nights we sat and just watched you sleep, watched the beautiful peace on your face, and were filled with love and joy.

And then your mother died, and you no longer sought our room in the dark, for the memories were too painful. Boromir took you in, and the little boy I loved began to slip away from me. I was grim and stern in my grief, and frightened you, but you still reached out to me in love. And I could not give anything back.

The years passed, and you grew up without my affection. I watched you prosper and excel, and yet I could not show that I loved you still. Boromir was as his namesake, strong and powerful, a master of men, and I could love him fully. But you, you were following in my footsteps, with your love of lore and knowledge, and yet you were greater. The people loved you as they had never loved me, and I saw in you that which I should have been, and jealousy made a canker in my heart, keeping my love for you hidden from all. And you loved your people, and you loved Boromir and Mithrandir, and yet to me you were always formal, as if I frightened you. And I, a fool, spoke harshly to you, and you sunk ever deeper into yourself, drawing away from me.

And I saw that you were not a man for these times, but a man of lore and wisdom for peaceful days, and I ever strove so that you would serve your country better. I pushed you, and I criticized you, willing you to do what was needed, fearful that you might not be prepared for the hard days that were to come.

But you did everything right and I could not help but be proud, and yet whenever you were there something was always wrong, and I found myself saying harsh things. Sometimes it was the influence of the wizard, when I wanted you to be a servant only of Gondor and her people. Sometimes it was your mercy, when I saw that someday you might go too far. Sometimes it was your living in the past, when I saw that these days needed new and desperate measures. And when I saw the pain in your eyes as you turned away from me, I wanted to comfort you, to tell you that I had only your good in mind. But something always told me that you would not understand, so full of your ideals, and so I was silent.

And in my folly I sent you, unthanked, unblessed, out into needless peril, and now you lie before me with poison in your veins. The poison of the Dark Land, and the poison of my words. I failed you, my son, but I never stopped loving you.

Denethor’s hand trembled as he placed it on Faramir’s brow, hoping that there was some way that Faramir might understand. But he was nearly beyond the world.

Denethor looked up to the heavens. Eru, why are you doing this to me? I forsook you when you took away my Finduilas, but can you show no mercy now? Can you not spare me my last child? Can you not save Faramir?

Can you hear me?
Am I getting through tonight?
Can you see him?
Can you make him feel all right?
If you can hear me, let me take his place somehow
Because he’s not just anyone
He’s my son.

But there was no answer, and Denethor felt utterly alone, and of all his defences none were left to him. His pride, his reserve, his foresight: none could keep him safe from his all-enveloping grief. And he knew now that he had failed. Ever he had striven to keep Gondor safe, ever he had striven to do what was best for his sons, and now the end had come bringing with it crushing guilt and despair for the last Steward of Gondor.

Oh, my son, my Faramir, there is no hope. The White City will be taken, for I have failed to keep it safe. Finduilas is gone from me, and Boromir also, and even now you slip away from my desperate grasp. It will not be long before the enemy enters, and I will not be able to stop them. But I can save you. I can save you from those monsters, keep them from desecrating your grave. You cannot hear me now, but I will give you the last of my love, and we shall go together from this world where they will not be able to touch us. We shall be free from the darkness at last.

And so Denethor rose and sent for servants, and as the City burned, they went to the Hollows where a pyre awaited.

The End

(Lyrics borrowed from a Mark Schultz song)