Twixt that darkness and that light
The characters are the property of the Tolkien Estate. No profit has been, nor will be made from this story.
Once to every man and nation, comes the moment to decide, In the strife of truth with falsehood, for the good or evil side; Some great cause, some great decision, offering each the bloom or blight, And the choice goes by forever, 'twixt that darkness and that light. –
James R LowellWarning – This chapter contains violence and may distress sensitive readers
Faramir waited outside the door of his father's study. He fidgeted nervously, his apprehension growing. His father had summoned him to an urgent meeting well over an hour ago, but there was no sign of the Steward.
He was exhausted and wanted nothing more than to seek his bed and rest. The retreat from Osgiliath and the flight from the Nazgûl had drained him more than he would admit, but first he must face his father's wrath, which would take all his wits.
His father had been in a strange mood of late, spending hours alone in the topmost room in the tower. His temper had grown increasingly uncertain and there was even talk of him beating the servants, which if true, was most unlike the usually icily controlled Steward. The look in his eyes earlier when he had learned of Faramir's encounter with the Ring bearer and his companion had been truly terrifying to behold.
A stern voice called "Enter!"
Faramir went into the room and knelt before his father, kissing his ring of Office. The Steward did not bid him to rise, so he remained kneeling at his father's feet on the cold stone floor. Denethor's office was as austere as the man himself, a simple desk piled high with papers and two hard wooden chairs. The walls were devoid of tapestries adorned only by several ornate swords and a riding crop. The floor was equally bare save for a somewhat worn hearthrug, which lay before the meagre fire, the room's only concession to comfort.
"What have you to say for yourself?" Denethor asked sternly. His haggard face looked even more careworn than ever and was grey with fatigue as if he had been engaged in some great struggle.
"I did only what I believed to be right," said Faramir.
"And who are you to say what is right and what is not?" Denethor persisted. "Are you Ruling Steward now?"
"No, my lord, you hold rod and rule in Gondor,"
"Yet, you would conspire with Mithrandir against me?"
"No, my lord, I did not."
"Do you know what you have done?" Denethor demanded, his tone like ice. "You have sent the weapon that could have saved us all straight into the lands of the Enemy! Boromir would have brought it to me and given me the mighty gift!"
"I would not pick it up if I found it lying on the highway, far less wrest it from the hand of a helpless Halfling. It led to my brother's doom," said Faramir, his calm tone belying his inner turmoil. "Mithrandir's words were wise. It is wholly evil. How can evil be defeated with evil?"
"Mithrandir! Always it is Mithrandir you speak of! I see more than you suspect, foolish boy. Beware of Mithrandir! With your help he is seeking to supplant me and place that upstart Thorongil on the throne!"
"No, sire, never did I seek to supplant you!"
Denethor glared at his son. Curse the boy; he even looked like Thorongil with that air of scarely veiled insolence disguised as superior knowledge. "Yet you have spoken of your desire to see the King return and the White Tree bloom again. Fool! How could a dead tree blossom?"
Faramir's eyes lit up." I have seen the King in my dreams, the tree blossoming at his coming!" he said in a rapt tone.
Something inside Denethor snapped and he snatched the riding crop from the wall.
Faramir struggled to repress a shudder. As a child he had sometimes been beaten for such misdemeanours as tearing his new clothes or answering back, but never as a man.
"Take off your tunic and shirt, it is time to teach you a lesson you will not forget!" Denethor ordered. "You are not only a fool but a traitor! You are fortunate I have not ordered a traitor's death for you, but punished you will be!"
"No, father, I am loyal to you and to Gondor," Faramir protested, but had no choice but to comply. This was not only his father but also his liege lord and to disobey was certain death.
Divested of his upper garments, he knelt patiently trying not to tremble from a mixture of cold and fear.
"Why was Boromir taken and I left with such a puny excuse of a man for a son and defender of our land?" Denethor said, eyeing Faramir with contempt unheeding of the many scars that disfigured his body, all inflicted in the service of Gondor. "Traitor! Coward! Weakling! Wizard's Pupil!"
Faramir hardly knew whether the words or the blows hurt him the more. Unable to remain kneeling upright under the force of the blows, he curled into a ball vainly trying to protect himself.
After what could not have been more than a few moments, but felt like an eternity, Denethor dropped the whip and slumped back on his chair. "Go, sleep while you may. The enemy march upon us, the hour of doom is at hand, Minas Tirith will fall! I have seen it!" He buried his face in his hands.
Faramir pulled on his shirt and staggered from the room. He struggled to reach his chamber, at times forced to clutch the walls for support. Reaching his room, he collapsed on the bed. He knew he should send a servant to fetch a Healer, but they would ask how he had come by such hurts. How could he let any see the shameful marks of his father's displeasure? He must tend his own wounds as best he could. He pulled off his shirt, finding it soaked with blood and stuffed it under the bed. There was water in a pitcher on the washstand. He poured it into the bowl and bathed the painful welts on his back as best he could before applying a salve the Healers had given him for his most recent wounds.
His task completed, he changed into a nightshirt and fell into bed.
Although Faramir was exhausted, sleep was slow to come. His back throbbed painfully and his mind was in turmoil. What had happened to his father to cause him to act so violently? Was he truly a traitor? He had indeed been commanded to slay all who were found in Ithilien without his father's leave, but how could he harm two helpless Halflings with whom the fate of Arda lay? Why could he never please his father unlike Boromir? Why did his beloved brother have to die? He dared not think of it. There was no time to grieve. Tomorrow he would redeem himself in his father's eyes. He would ride out and die for Gondor.
A/N I have referred to this scene several times, most notably in "Facing the Darkness" where Aragorn tends Faramir's hurts and in several other stories. As Faramir is haunted by this penultimate encounter with his father, which shapes his early fear of Aragorn, I felt it needed to be shown.
When I first started writing LOTR stories, three years ago, I had unfortunately read far too many evil Denethor and poor abused Faramir ones, which coloured my perception. I have changed many of my ideas since then and have decided Denethor is too cold and controlled to be a habitual abuser; nor a monster. I have endeavoured to portray his actions in this scene are the result of the madness which will destroy him a few days later.
For anyone interested, I have added a ficlet depicting Boromir's first meeting with his baby brother to "Second Son" and chapter 22 of "A Time to Reap."
If readers are interested, I might add more to this.