Beyond Hope. - Faramir and Frodo meet in Minas Tirith after the end of the War of the Ring.

'If ever beyond hope you return to the lands of the living and we re-tell our tales, sitting by a wall in the sun, laughing at old grief...' - Faramir to Frodo, The Two Towers Book IV, Chapter 6.

The mellow shades of evening were fast overtaking the white sunshine of the day when Faramir, last Steward of Gondor, strode over to his window. A soft wind invaded through it and wound its way, ghost-like, about the walls of the room. Outside the city was quiet and lay bathed in a suffused light. The loud festivities that had marked the coronation of King Elessar had at last died down, to be replaced by a sense of contentment and peace that Minas Tirith had not known for long years.

Faramir leant his cheek against the cool window frame. He was glad of the silence; he was tired and had had little time to himself during the celebrations of the previous days. He would let the quiet wrap around him and lose himself in its infinite peace. He sighed, and it seemed to him that in that breath he finally let go of all the cares and grief he had borne since the start of the war. But he knew it would not be that easy for his joy was tempered by a lingering grief for his father and brother. The passing of Denethor especially grieved him, for though he had been spared the anguish of seeing his father die or indeed seeing his body, the manner of the death weighed heavily on his heart. Tears started in his eyes as the memory of their final meeting came back to him, his father stern and proud had seemed to not to love him and at the time he had believed it. He groaned inwardly, reproaching himself for his blindness. He felt no shame at the manner of Denethor's departure- only deep sorrow at the anguish of mind that had driven his father to destroy himself. No matter how wrong his final acts were Faramir could not bring himself to feel anything but great affection for his dead father.

Suddenly he became aware of himself again, standing by the window gazing into the dwindling light. He straightened himself; it was too beautiful an evening to spend in one's room. He would go for a walk; it would refresh him and distract him from thoughts of the past. He made his way down the dark stone passage not heeding where his feet led him but drinking in the silence around him. What went before may have been filled with sorrow but the future promised much. His mind wandered to thoughts of the Lady Éowyn and he smiled tenderly. The thought that he had a whole lifetime to live in her presence filled his heart with a sense of bliss. The War of the Ring may have cost much in it waging but surely in its aftermath there could be only happiness.

Faramir stopped. He was on a terrace; one of the many small roof gardens, built into the citadel, that overlooked the city. A bird ceased its song at his arrival only to start up again with renewed strength within a few moments. The notes mingled with the soft murmur of the wind and the rustle of the leaves on the bushes in a tranquil symphony. Faramir listened spellbound, standing in the doorway almost afraid that his entry would cause the music to stop once again. He cast his eye around the garden and realised that he was not alone. A small figure stood leaning on the parapet staring out across the still city.

Faramir hesitated wondering whether or not to disturb the halfling. He went slowly to the parapet and gently touched the other on the shoulder.

'Frodo' he said, half in a whisper.

The other turned abruptly as if startled out of some reverie and then seeing Faramir gave a gasp of delight and buried himself in the other's tunic.

Faramir knelt down and clutched Frodo to him laughing heartily. But his laugh rapidly died away as he hugged the small figure to be replaced by an expression of concern. Frodo was painfully thin and felt almost fragile in his arms. Instinctively he relaxed his hold. The halfling drew away and beamed at Faramir unaware of any problem. The joy in his eyes dispelled Faramir's worry in a second. After all it was not that long since Frodo and Sam had been brought out of the land of shadow it was only natural that Frodo's physical recovery would not be complete yet. Faramir's thoughts strayed back to that day in Ithilien when he had first conversed with Frodo. Long ages ago it seemed to him and yet its memory was remarkably vivid in his mind.

'A lot has changed in the world since we met hasn't it' smiled Frodo seeming to sense Faramir's thought. Then his face lengthened and he sighed 'Indeed when we parted I held no hope that I would ever see you again on this earth, Faramir.'

'Nor I you' returned the man ' But now, Frodo son of Drogo, we do meet again and this time not in fear but joy. If ever you return to the land of the living and we re-tell our talesI said, barely daring to hope that such a thing would ever come to pass...yet lo here we are!'

Frodo laughed and turned to the parapet again. 'Your soothsaying was not strictly accurate' he replied wryly. 'Look the day's sun is almost spent!' He pointed to the dying red ember of light that slowly sank into the thickening dark. Faramir laughed merrily and leant beside him. There was so much he had wanted to ask the hobbit about so many things. He had pondered much on their meeting in Ithilien and he realised that, although he had left with the feeling that he had known Frodo all his life, in reality he knew next to nothing about him. It struck Faramir that Frodo was a very easy person to make friends with but an incredibly difficult person to really know. He remembered how surprised he had been at the closeness of the friendship between Frodo and Sam when there was such a huge gulf between them on every level. It had not taken Faramir long to ascertain that intellectually at least the two were on entirely different planes and also that their respective personalities were completely dissimilar. It may help the master that you lovehe had said. The words came back to him now, months after he had uttered them, then in ignorance of their true meaning. The answer to the riddle was love. Real love not based on any premise but itself.

'Will you miss living here?' the question interrupted Faramir's thoughts and he turned towards Frodo.

'I mean after you leave here with the Lady Éowyn' continued Frodo, by way of explanation. 'You have lived here all your life have you not?'

Faramir stared down at the city beneath him 'Alas yes' he replied 'But I would not have it otherwise for the King has returned and this is his city now. But I will miss it... Minas Tirith is indeed majestic, but her loveliness to the eye is nothing compared to her sweetness as a home. The land is beautiful is it not? Worth living for... and dying for.'

'Your city is very beautiful' said Frodo. 'Its like that in all the lands of the world at this time... they seem to have in them fleeting less perfect glimpse of how everything once was before shadow stained the earth.' he turned to look at Faramir 'These days shall pass, I fear, and the shadow now cowed will grow again. It will always be there, always whether large or small until the very end, and then... ' Frodo paused and then said with an intense expression as if recalling some deep memory ' They cannot conquer for ever.' There was a brief silence. A bird twittered gaily in a nearby tree and the wind whispered about the citadel. Suddenly Frodo dropped his gaze and laughed. Whether it was at his own words or for some other reason unknown to any but himself, Faramir could not tell. 'But' said Frodo his face still reflecting his amusement, 'That is a long way off and I have not the gift for saying such things. But now tell me how are things with you Faramir for I have not had a chance to speak with you properly since you returned.'

'All is well. How could it not be?' replied Faramir as cheerfully as he could hoping that the catch in his voice would go unnoticed. 'Everything I ever dreamed of in the dark days has come to pass. The king has returned and the shadow has departed from these lands. The royalty of Minas Tirith is restored and I feel some of the glory of the Elder Days has returned to Gondor at last...'But although he was convinced of what he was saying something within him trapped Faramir's voice and it trailed off into an uneasy silence.

'You are less happy than you say Faramir' Frodo said at last.

'I?' replied the man defensively straightening himself 'Why do you say that?' What have I to be sad for when all about me is happiness?'

'True happiness is rarely untempered by sorrow and you are too wise a person, Faramir, to trick yourself into believing anything else.'

Faramir groaned slightly to himself 'It is true what you say. But there are many people who have lost fathers, brothers - entire families, yet it does not destroy them. I am no different. But it does hurt. Perhaps I'm not bearing it as well as I ought, but I cannot free myself from this sorrow. I feel like I've been cut adrift, suddenly and without warning with nothing left to cling to. I don't know if you can understand Frodo, but to loose a father like that, needlessly without even the chance to say goodbye... its heartbreaking!'

'I know' said Frodo softly. 'But your grief will grow less, Faramir. It may not seem so now but it will. There are and will be other things in your life for you to live for.' Faramir looked closely at the halfling. More than his words there was something in his expression and the tone of his voice that struck a chord with the man. Something that was deeply comforting to him was there, an empathy that Faramir had not felt he would experience in anyone. Somehow he did not feel alone in his sadness any longer and the connection brought him a sense of peace. So too his nature that had closed in on itself rose within him and looked outwards now, his concern at not resurrecting his friend's old sadness overcoming the depth of his own.

He continued trying to sound more positive. 'My grief is heavy but not all-consuming. I think you are right in what you say: fate has taken many of my old loves from me but has given me new ones in their stead. Or rather... ' and he faltered before continuing '... in addition to the old. For, although they are no longer with me, I love them still.' He stopped abruptly for a moment as if thinking over his words before continuing 'But there is something else that haunts me beyond the mere sorrow of parting. My heart is heavy not just with sadness but also with fear. Not for Boromir whom I know in my heart is at rest, but for my father. Mithrandir has long counselled me against judging others too harshly by the ideals that men aspire to- yet I cannot help but fear for my father now. O if I had only hope of seeing him even as I had seen Boromir at peace in death it would put my mind at ease. But such a chance I truly have no right to hope for.' A sob gripped Faramir's throat, he shut his eyes tightly, trying to hold back the waters that welled within them.

Frodo said nothing but took the man's hand that clutched the parapet and pressed it closely. With vision clouded by tears Faramir looked down at the small, maimed hand that held his own. The third finger was completely torn away right at the base where now there was only a rent of red slowly healing flesh. Yet despite its appearance the wound did not seem ugly to Faramir's mind but conveyed a strange sense of beauty if, thought Faramir, there could truly be beauty in suffering.

'I am sorry.' he said suddenly in a guilty voice 'I have no right to talk of pain to you.'

Frodo looked at him somewhat bemused for a moment and then as understanding dawned shifted uncomfortably and lowered his gaze. He did not withdraw his hand, however, but quickly and self-consciously laid his other hand over it.

'Faramir' he said haltingly 'I... my journey is ended... any hurt is over, long ago in the past. Yours is ongoing. You shouldn't feel sadness for on my account. I have not lost anything that I had before all this happened. Except... ' and he smiled 'Except a year I could have spent more profitably in wasting time in the Shire!'

'No.' replied Faramir unwilling to let Frodo dismiss the matter. Concentrating his attention completely on Frodo for the first time that evening, a sense of horror seized him. Whatever his own pains had been, Faramir's intuitive powers has not waned and now suddenly he perceived in an instant all that he had been blind to in the past weeks. The remembrance of the Frodo he had conversed with in Ithilien leapt back into his mind and the change became terribly clear. All the indescribable pain Faramir had feared would lie ahead of the hobbit when he had begged him to forsake the pass of Cirith Ungol, had been but a pale shadow of the true torments that lay in store. Even now, Faramir felt, no one save Frodo could ever fully comprehend the utter agony he had endured on that final journey across Gorgoroth. Not even Sam who had shared that pilgrimage could understand such horror that was beyond natural understanding. It came to Faramir that it perhaps would have been a happier fate for Frodo if he had died on Mount Doom and not been brought back out of the ruin of Mordor. What he had experienced had isolated him permanently from all he had tried to save. There was now no hope for him of any form of understanding from anyone in this world. He was acutely, tragically and utterly alone.

'Frodo' began Faramir as an uncontainable wave of pity rose within him 'my grief may have dimmed by my sight but it has not blinded me completely. It serves nothing to try to dismiss what is so clearly evident in you now that I look with open eyes.'

Faramir cast his mind back over the days that had passed since he had first seen Frodo again in Minas Tirith. He recalled when he had first noticed him among the crowd, a small figure standing behind Aragorn. Their eyes had met for a second and Frodo had smiled at him. Faramir had barely recognised him at first so changed was he from when he had last seen him. At the time he had not been able to ascertain exactly why, but looking closely at Frodo now he felt that he could guess at the areas of difference. The character of the face itself had not altered significantly. It was thinner now but still retained the gentle radiance Faramir had noted at their first meeting. Indeed if anything the latter quality was more evident now than it was then. But Faramir could also discern thin lines of tension around the forehead and face that looked alarmingly out of place in such a young countenance. Endless, hopeless days spent under torture without respite had left their cruel mark. To Faramir, however, the greatest change in Frodo was in his eyes. In Ithilien the evidence of sorrow, new grown, that seemed to quench their natural gaiety, had struck him and heightened his concern for Frodo. Then their natural manner had been still evident, but now barely a few weeks on, its presence was rare and incredibly fleeting. Sorrow, pain and the evidence of long torment were now indelibly etched into Frodo's countenance. The change seemed horrible to Faramir and the sadness it caused him was only increased by the thought that the contrast that so appalled him was only a partial one. An incredible sense of waste and injustice came to him. He had never known Frodo as he had been, in the days before the War of the Ring, but he could imagine it and the contrast was almost too much for his heart to bear. It seemed so bitterly unfair that this one wholly innocent person had had to take upon himself the entire weight of such unfathomable evil. Why should it have been so? But as he asked the question Faramir knew in his heart the answer. It had to be so, it was meant to be so from the beginning. No other being who walked the earth could have borne that burden as far as Frodo had, and but for him... Faramir sighed and repeated his entreaty to the halfling to unburden himself of his grief. Frodo paused before proceeding cautiously.

'If then, as you say, I am in pain what good will it do to unburden it onto others? It will only hurt them too. The Ring was my burden to bear and I took it freely for as long as I was called to do so. If then I am called to bear some part of this weight beyond the Mountain, then I must bear it.' He took a deep breath and his ordinarily calm features were contorted with a curious expression of what appeared to Faramir to be mingled self-loathing and guilt.

'Frodo please' he interjected trying to look the hobbit in the eye 'If there is something beyond the Ring that ails you, tell me. You owe it to yourself... '

'No, Faramir that is the problem. I am owed nothing. Don't you see? People, like you, have spoken well of me these past days and I don't know why they would. There are many people, in this time, who truly merit such praise... but I... I deserve none of it!' The last words were muffled as Frodo, convulsively, hid his face in his hands.

'None of what?' asked Faramir, shocked and bemused, 'If you mean the thanks and praise of all the free peoples of Middle Earth then you are sorely mistaken Frodo. No other being has done as much as you have to bring about the fall of Sauron. I know that the admiration of all but a few is resultant on ignorance of the nature of your journey... ' Involuntarily Faramir smiled recalling how the rumours of Frodo having set fire to the tower of Sauron and having physically battled him, had circulated about Minas Tirith 'Yet whatever the reasoning behind it, it is but a small reflection of what you are truly due.'

'You are kind Faramir' said Frodo evenly and then as if unsure if he should say more the hobbit looked away again and seemed to fix his gaze on the rapidly darkling city.

He continued eventually. 'Perhaps it is a selfish wish, but if the choice had been mine to make I would have happily died in the destruction of Mordor. I still cannot see why I was spared. At the time I felt sure that death would be granted me, but perhaps I was hoping for too easy a way to atone... '

'Atone? Atone for what?' asked Faramir completely amazed. He searched perplexedly in his mind, trying to imagine what Frodo could possibly have wanted to atone for. Then it dawned on him, 'Frodo, there is nothing and no one within or beyond the confines of the world who would hold you in the least responsible for claiming the Ring. You had no choice in the matter. Why do you judge yourself like this, Frodo, when you would wish to make allowances even in cases of true evil? Apply to yourself the latitude you give to others and do not judge yourself by common standards, they are not intended for such circumstances.'

'O Faramir whatever the situation right shouldn't be any less right from one circumstance to the next. As for choice, I don't think desire can ever overcome all power to resist!'

Faramir thought for a moment unsure how to deal with this line of reasoning, if reason it was. He groped about for a moment searching for words to say, but everything that came to him seemed inadequate. There was a long pause. Then, without warning, a wave of his own personal grief swept over his mind and intertwined itself with that which he felt for Frodo. Barely conscious of what he said he blurted out:

'Would you then blame my father for his last actions, Frodo? He at least had some free choice in what he did; at the very end he was still master of his faculties. But I know you would not condemn him!' As he said the words understanding of what he had been striving with for many days came suddenly to Faramir. The very thing he refused to do to Frodo was what he had tried to do to in the case of his father. Just as he would not judge the halfling so too was it not his part to judge Denethor. The cases did differ greatly but there was a common law that should be applied to them. The universal exercise of mercy that he had admired in the halfling was something he had acknowledged in his attitude to Frodo's own case but had failed to apply to his father's. Frodo's application of compassion had extended to all cases even the most wretchedly evil, of which his father's surely was not one. Faramir's mind cleared suddenly and he felt a great weight pass from him. His spirit lightened and he continued with renewed vigour, eager to impress upon the other the point that had so affected him.

'Frodo why do you not look on yourself in the way you look on others?' he said, locking eyes with the hobbit. 'When I spoke to you in Ithilien you urged me not to judge the creature Gollum, though truly he had great evil in him. Any such evil is not in you and yet you would spare him and not yourself? It is madness you speak Frodo, why can you not see it as such?'

'I had one choice to make and I failed to make it, Faramir.' replied Frodo dully, trying to look away and seemingly insensible to the man's argument.

'But do you even remember making any decision?' cried Faramir, his pity augmenting his frustration. He felt much like he had felt in Ithilien when he had tried to talk Frodo out of the following Gollum to Cirith Ungol. Then, future events had seen his worst fears realised and surpassed, yet they had also had proved Frodo correct in his inflexible adherence to his road. But now surely he counselled what was right?

Frodo tensed visibly as Faramir raised the question. 'At the Crack of Doom? No. I cannot remember anything of that and whole weeks before are a vast and horrible blur, beyond which I can see hardly anything. And... and even if I could remember... O Faramir please do not ask me to try!' Frodo's eyes became suddenly wild and the pupils dilated horribly. He clutched his forehead in his hands his whole form shaking with a violence that struck terror into his companion. Faramir tried to lay his hand on the hobbit's shoulder, alarmed that he had caused such a reaction but Frodo tore away and staggered blindly for a few paces feeling for the parapet. He felt like his mind would explode. The memories were as yet fresh and potent and magnified further by his feelings of utter wretchedness. Like a drowning man he groped for the only means of rescue that he could still see. 'O Elbereth, Githioniel!' Unlooked for the words came to him, although he was unsure if he spoke them aloud or if they merely ran through the tumults of his failing mind. The fears that assailed him retreated and he endeavoured to breath freely again.

'I am sorry' he gasped to Faramir, visibly distressed ' I had no right to push you away and I am weak-willed, I over-react to nothings. But what I said was not completely true Faramir. I can remember what happened in Mordor; at least I think I can... I could have remembered now but never in the usual way of coherent thought. It overpowers my mind and everything else Faramir, so that my actual thoughts and reason are lost, but it is so consuming, so violent that... O Faramir there is no end to it as long as I live!'

The desire to help his friend grew even stronger within Faramir. Yet he was completely at a loss as to what he could do. Just now he had only been able to watch helplessly. He searched his mind for words to say and suddenly them came to him unbidden.

'You think that you deserve to suffer this?' he exclaimed with passion ' Frodo, not even the most blood blackened murderer deserves this! But there is a reason you were saved from the fire. Not lightly do such things occur. You were asked to suffer once, why not again? There are some who call death the gift of Ilúvatar to mortal kind; perhaps pain too is a gift? You say you could not have been tempted beyond your ability, but equally I do not think suffering beyond your power would be conferred on you. Your suffering is such that few others could have grown in goodness and strength enough to bear it. You are being asked to bear a burden equal to your stature Frodo!' Faramir stopped somewhat out of breath, surprised at his own words and unsure what had prompted him to utter them. He watched the hobbits face keenly.

'But, what stature, Faramir?' murmured Frodo in a voice devoid of all emotion, 'There is nothing left Faramir- do you understand? I have nothing left to give. Its over- or it should be over. O but why isn't it? All I can be now is a burden on those I love. It makes no sense!'

But even as he uttered the last words he realised that he did not believe them. Faramir's statement had indeed made no sense in logical terms but although he did not know it, suffering had long ago raised Frodo's mind beyond the narrow limits of reason. Unconsciously a thread of light wound itself into his troubled thoughts and brought a degree of hope to him that he had not felt in a long time. Maybe the darkness would continue for him, but it was a mere shadow of that which he had gone through in Mordor. And this time the darkness was only present in his own mind- there would be no chance of it taking on a wider dominion unless he let it. He sighed; it would be so easy to just give up now. He had suppressed the desires and longings of his own heart for too long already, he had no need or obligation to do so any more, did he? His friends would help him. If he told them they would understand. The desire to unburden his fear and pain and live out what years remained to him in the midst of some degree of understanding and comfort rose up strongly within him. But he knew even as the thoughts grew within him that they were a lie. Their apparently reasonable and attractive nature exercised a grip on him that reminded him strongly of the sweet and mastering lure of the Ring. The same evil was at work in his mind now, the same thirsty temptation. He strove to suppress it, to remind himself that it was but another work of the power he had resisted for so long. But with the Ring there had always been an end in sight to his toiling. Either its destruction or his death would give him release. But to this struggle there seemed no end in sight. The world he lived in was no longer put in jeopardy by his every action. Did he need to go on like this? His will, built strong by months of patient endurance, wavered within him for a moment. To Frodo it seemed he stood again, as at the Sammath Naur, on the precipice of his choice. Then, the sheer force of an evil he still didn't know if he could have resisted had overcome him, but now the choosing truly lay within his power. Life surged into his unhappy mind. He strove to drive out the seductive thoughts that seeped in to his consciousness drowning his will and obscuring his vision. He knew their voices well but would not listen to them. The thought of how much Sam had already done for him came into his mind. He could not allow himself to extend his own sorrow onto Sam's life and ruin it too. Keeping it to himself he would not let it leech-like infect those he knew. He fixed his eyes upon the city below him. It was enveloped in dark now, but here and there the small dancing lights of lamp and candle twinkled merrily. Surely Faramir was right- there had to be a reason why he still had a life to live. He saw the long years stretch before him again, but this time he would not allow doubt to enter his mind on their account. The realisation came to him that he could never regain his former life in the Shire. All the joys he had known then and taken for granted were gone beyond all recall, torn from him on his terrible odyssey. Frodo had long known this in his heart, but had hoped against hope that it was not true. There was no way back for him, but maybe there was for the others, their lives could still be filled with past joys and future ones. It lay within him to allow them this- even if he could never experience it himself. Resolve rose within him, even as it had at Rivendell during the Council of many months before. Then his life had been asked of him and he had given it, now he was called to surrender what remained of it.

He looked up at Faramir at last. 'Thank you' he said. And his voice was calmer now, free from fear or anxiety. Faramir felt that his expression had changed curiously. Instinctively he searched Frodo's countenance. The pain and sorrow were still in the blue eyes, but mingled with them now was something else. It was small and fragile and resided in their very depths, but he could perceive it nonetheless. Beneath the anguish and suffering that disturbed their surface there was now a soft yet very palpable peace.

It was not till much later that Faramir had the opportunity to seek out Gandalf. Troubled, he was eager to tell his counsellor of what had happened between him and Frodo. The old wizard smiled broadly as Faramir completed his account.

'It is well that you spoke with him, Faramir' he said 'For although you yourself state that you do not understand the reason of what you said, Frodo does, or begins to. None of us can hope to comprehend fully the riddle of our times- when it seems the greatest are punished for their goodness and their heroism goes unacknowledged even by themselves. Do not try to understand it Faramir, but equally do not despair of their being an answer, for it is there although it is not our part to discern it.'

'Yet still he blames himself, Mithrandir, I see it clearly.' insisted Faramir 'Surely you can tell him... '

'My word would make no more difference than yours did Faramir' interrupted the wizard 'It does not lie within my power to alter the workings of men's hearts and that restriction does extend to hobbits I'm afraid. But do not trouble yourself too much on Frodo's account, Faramir. It would grieve him and achieve little else. Any peace he may find in Middle Earth can only come from his own heart. Frodo's road has been a long one and hard beyond utterance. But it is not ordained that it should smoothen or come to an end yet.'

Faramir sighed. 'I know the truth of what you speak Mithrandir, yet my heart still is heavy. It grieves me greatly to see him thus, when of all who waged the war against Sauron he gave the most and yet now must loose the most too. And Frodo is still young according to his kind, I cannot bear to think that he should have to see out the long years of his life like this wandering in a dark valley without hope!'

Gandalf placed his hand upon the bent shoulder of Faramir. He wished to give the young man comfort yet he knew that he had none to give. However, knowledge of what had passed between Faramir and Frodo brought him some happiness for them both. Consciously and unconsciously, it seemed that they had given much help to each other. Faramir was understandably distraught on his friend's account yet the worries that Gandalf had observed afflict him since he awoke had lessened considerably. It appeared that, through Frodo, the captain of Gondor had at last found some way out of the dark and stifling thicket of his own fears. And as for Frodo... Gandalf sighed. It would not be so easy for the hobbit. Yes, I am all right otherwise. The words Frodo had spoken just a few days before came back to Gandalf. Even then he had been aware of their bitter irony, uttered as they were merely in vain hope that they might be true. Yet it appeared that Faramir had, without fully knowing it, prompted some measure of hope and understanding in the hobbit's heart. Frodo's life was in ruins but it was clear to Gandalf that he had at last found something meaningful to live it for.

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