Húrin’s steps slowed as he approached the Steward. Faramir was standing looking at the pile of fire-blackened rubble. Húrin stopped a few yards away, trying to catch his breath after his hasty pursuit.
It might have been only the crisp spring breeze that made the paper in Faramir’s hand tremble.
Faramir’s voice was level and quiet, but Húrin could hear the tension within it. Even now, even here, he perceived the son in the presence of the father.
Húrin felt the silence of the street envelop him. How could he answer? He tried to form words that would be no lie, yet conceal the deeper truth. It seemed Faramir grew impatient, for he glanced across at the other man and raised his eyebrows enquiringly. "I have heard only rumour, my lord," Húrin managed to stammer at last.
"And who is there who knows more than rumour?" Faramir returned his gaze to the wreck of the House of the Stewards. Now he was the Captain of Rangers, questioning his junior officers.
Húrin swallowed nervously. "I believe Mithrandir, and the perian that your father took into his service, and Beregond of the Third Company."
Mithrandir should be here to deal with this, Húrin thought angrily, even as he berated himself for his own carelessness. He should have checked the documents before they were given to Faramir. Yet he did not wish the new Steward to think he was untrusted. And who would have thought that fool of a clerk would include that particular work order? Húrin’s gaze dropped to the paper in Faramir’s hand for a moment, then lifted to Faramir’s face. Faramir’s countenance was no longer as colourless as when he had abruptly quit the Steward’s office, yet it was still ash-pale.
"They are all at Cormallen and will not return for many days yet," Faramir said. Now he was the commander planning his battles, considering the disposition of his troops, seeking intelligence. "Tell me what you have heard."
Húrin wondered if he dared refuse. Yet what would that achieve? Faramir would simply call others who might show less care in delivering news that could only be received with grief. Faramir showed no impatience, holding himself still, save for where the paper that hung loosely in his hand continued to waver. His very silence compelled Húrin to speak.
"It is said that when your father thought you were dying, he thought also that the City would fall to the Enemy. He ordered that a pyre be made. I believe he did not wish your body to be despoiled by orcs."
Húrin saw Faramir repress a shiver as the younger man considered the reply. City folk told tales of orcs to frighten their children, yet the Rangers knew the truth. Knew it all too well.
"Though I would have known naught of it, I would not have wished that either," Faramir said softly. Then a frown crossed his face. He turned to Húrin again. "Yet I do not understand why my father should think the City would fall if I were dead. I was but one of his commanders. I saw the numbers of our enemy and they were beyond reckoning, yet our walls were strong, our butteries well stocked, and Rohan rode to our aid."
Húrin looked at him with pity and sorrow. "You were also his son, Faramir," he chided gently. "Your father would not have grieved for any other commander as he did for you."
Faramir closed his eyes. Stripped of its stern glance, his features seemed unexpectedly boyish. Húrin was reminded of a moment thirty years before when a white-faced child had held his father's hand during a ceremony he was not old enough to understand.
Silence stretched out between them again. The noise of workmen elsewhere in the City drifted down. At last, Faramir exhaled sharply and looked at Húrin once more. "I am glad you see it so," he said. His voice sounded both sad and angry. "There were some who felt I needed to be reminded of my father’s love, yet there was no need. I never doubted it. If he drove us hard, was it not because he feared men would say he imperilled others needlessly to spare his sons? And though I knew that he loved my brother above all – as did I! – that did not mean I was unloved."
He shook himself, as if trying to shed his mood. Then he stopped and half raised a hand. Now Húrin saw the counsellor who had often picked his way through the tangled thread of argument in his father’s Council to give clarity to the debate. Yet there was a puzzled tone in Faramir’s voice when he spoke. "Still, my father was not one to let grief stand in the way of duty, nor to accept defeat ere it was beyond doubt. Yet I have been told that, though the enemy was close to entering the city, only one passed the Gate. My father knew well, as did we all, that an enemy must take this City level by level. Why did he think we could not hold out for many more days, with the hope that Rohan would come to our aid? What brought him here so soon?"
Again, he looked to Húrin for answers and the older man shifted uncomfortably under that clear and trusting gaze. He found his voice at last. "The enemy had many ways into the City." His voice stuck in his throat and he swallowed nervously. Faramir bowed his head, giving him the space to speak the hard words more freely. "They say one of the seeing stones lies buried here, with the ashes of the dead; that your father used it to learn much of what the Dark Lord planned, yet his visions drove him to doubt and despair. He thought we could not win and he would not wait..."
Húrin broke off, and Faramir’s head came up, an enquiring look in his eyes that quickly grew hard. Húrin cursed himself both for speaking and for stopping, for lacking the skill to turn his words another way.
"He would not wait?" Faramir asked. His voice was soft, but not with pity or mercy or sorrow. Húrin saw his fists clench, the paper crumpling. "You have all concealed this tale from me for long enough. You told me my father died in the siege and let me think it was honourably upon the walls. Yet now you tell me he would not wait." He spat the words as if each were a thrust of his sword. His anger was icy cold and, in that moment, Húrin saw the father in the son. "What did he do?"
Húrin closed his eyes for a moment – May the Valar give him strength to deal with this – before he once more looked steadily at Faramir, not flinching from the task that fate had appointed to him. "He lit the pyre," he said.
"My father lit the pyre?"
Húrin nodded mutely.
"He did not wait for death?"
A shake of the head to that.
"He did not wait for my death?"
Húrin held still, but those eyes compelled an answer. Reluctantly he shook his head again.
Faramir stood stiff, hands clenched at his sides, the paper twisting in his grip. Then he turned away from Húrin and strode towards the ruins. He beat a fist upon the twisted metal of the door and it answered with a harsh clang.
"You would not wait?" His shout overlapped the echoes of the blow. "You would not wait? We fought every cursèd step of that retreat to hold the City for another day and you would not wait?"
Again he beat upon the door. "None of us thought we could win," he cried. "Yet we never ceased to fight, to defy the Dark, to our last breath. Yet, you… you…"
His voice cracked and he fell to his knees. His head dropped. Húrin took a pace towards him, intending to place a comforting hand on his shoulder, but before he could reach him, Faramir raised his head and spoke again, his voice low and shaking, though whether with anger or grief, or both, Húrin could not tell.
"You were conquered indeed. You would have given me death, you would have given us all death, and made the Enemy’s victory certain." Faramir’s voice grew hoarser, less steady with each word. "How could you betray us? How could you break your oath?" He stopped and Húrin heard him take a long harsh gasp of breath before he went on. "Oh, I am glad that vengeance found you quickly. I am glad that you are not here to see the Darkness gone forever. You do not deserve to share in such triumphs with those who kept their faith."
Húrin saw Faramir drop his head once more and his body begin to shake. Quickly he moved forward and placed his hand on the kneeling man’s shoulder. After a while, Faramir grew still but he did not get up. Húrin wondered whether to speak but could find no words of comfort.
Only when many minutes had passed did he realise Faramir was stirring. Húrin watched as the younger man placed the paper he still clutched on the ground and pulled the ink-bottle and pen from his belt. Slowly, deliberately, he signed his name: Faramir of Gondor, Steward.
He rose and handed the work order to Húrin. "Choose the best men for the task," he said quietly, his voice betraying only a little of his grief. "For all who lie here were worthy once."