The wave was coming.
He ran, stumbling, striving against the wind that lashed his clothes about him, tearing at him like fingers even as the water swirled, clawing, around his feet.
He ran faster.
The land sloped upward more steeply now, and for a moment he was free of the black wave, and the grass beneath his feet was green. But he did not stop, nor even pause for a breath, for though the Holy Mountain loomed above him, ghastly and unconquerable in the failing light, he knew he had but one choice—continue toward its peak until his strength failed, or the wave overtook him.
He heard a cry and spared a moment to glance upward. The Queen had stumbled and fallen not twenty paces above him, but she regained her feet with the same desperate urgency that gripped him.
They fought onwards.
But the water heaved behind them, faster and faster, now clinging about his knees and pulling the Queen's feet from under her. She fell again even as he grasped at a gnarled tree branch to stay upright, and this time her cry had words, forced through rasping breaths.
"Allfather, have mercy—" The word was cut off by a sob, and she splashed at the water almost angrily, crawling through it on hands and knees.
His branch cracked and began to splinter, even as he saw her reach a pleading hand toward the lowering sky, but then the wave swirled around him, and he was drowning, and darkness rose, darkness unescapable…
With a half-gasp Faramir awoke, blinking startled eyes open to find Mablung gazing at him with concern. He shook his head and gestured deprecatingly. Mablung did not look wholly reassured but forbore from pressing him, for all the company shared alike the sharp but fleeting distress of night terrors; they did not question overmuch when a comrade was reluctant to speak.
"Urgent report from Anborn, my lord," the ranger said instead.
Faramir stood from the low pallet that formed his bed and followed Mablung to the nearby office; but he could not fully shake the lingering shadow.
All about him, men and horses screamed in agony and horror. His command was failing, his men dead or wounded or running witless in a wild rout. The Southrons' darts flew thick and deadly and the fires of the Orcs spread with unconquerable swiftness. The terrible shrieks of the Nazgûl pierced his heart, sucking breath from his lungs and life from his blood and hope from his heart.
But even as he would fall in fear, he steeled himself—for though the darkness was now almost overpowering, it was not in substance different from the creeping shadow he had for so long felt on his mind.
Darkness unescapable may indeed be rising up to drown all life; but hopeless striving has always been his lot. Tar-Míriel ran for the summit of the Meneltarma even as the waves overtook her. Faramir can do no less.
"Ilúvatar, have mercy," he breathed, before binding his will, and calling strength to his men, and struggling onwards toward the city.
And despite his uncle's sortie and the piercing light that sprang from Mithrandir's staff, as the Southron arrow pierced his shoulder and he fell to the earth he knew he would not rise again. The wave had finally overtaken him.
He struggled through the swirling water, fallen tree-limbs almost knocking him from his feet even as rocks not yet loosed by the torrent tripped his path. Still he forced his way onward.
Will this dream never end? he wondered as he had watched the Queen fall, with her last words and outstretched arm as he had seen so many times before. But still he was neither sucked beneath the waves nor woken from his sleep; and slowly, and he moved upwards, forever upwards on a path that would never end, he realized that this was no dream.
He was trapped. He would struggle against the darkness forever, with no hope of escape.
Already burning! he cried to the unrelenting sky, knowing not what or why he spoke. The wind clawed at him and the water grasped at his ankles.
Almost he stopped, almost turned to welcome the embrace of death. What was the point of striving? Why should he not face his death here, rather than a few feet further up a mountain that had never truly help hope for either himself or the Queen? This would be no drowning that released to wakefulness, that he knew; but how long must he continue in the struggle, with nothing to hold him to his path but his own will, and the elusive faith that somehow, even death—of himself, his comrades, his nation, even all civilization—will not be the end.
A fool's hope.
Yet he had known this for a long time. Why should he change, now, his response to despair?
He gritted his teeth, turned away from the water, and stumbled once more up the mountain.
The call came faintly, barely to be heard above the wind and waves, but he heard it none the less.
My lord? he breathed, scarcely knowing his words. He gripped the rocks and pulled himself onwards yet more fiercely.
The next call was louder, piercing his breast with a note of joy not yet sung.
His breath came fast and hard. The call came from the summit; that he was sure of, though he knew not how. But he would never make it! The water was clawing at his chest, now; he clung to a tree that grew undaunted from the jutting rocks that now formed the mountain's slopes; and above him the overhang of the cliffs below the final summit permitted no passage.
Again came the cry, and this time he beheld the speaker. Kneeling at the top of the cliff was a man, noble as the sea-kings of old. His eyes flashed with purpose even in a face grey with weariness, and on his breast lay a green stone, brighter than the grass of the once-fair kingdom that lay drowned below his feet.
Tears unbidden sprang to Faramir's eyes, and he released his hold on the tree, grasping at the slick rocks with a grip of desperation, heeding nothing but the outstretched hand of the man calling to him. But even as he reached, the water rose, filling his eyes and mouth. Desperately he scrabbled for purchase but could find no hold. The waves would sweep him away, and the return of the King would remain no more than the death-vision of a desperate mind…
Suddenly his wrist was clenched in an iron grip, and the water was receding, and he heaved in a breath of the purest mountain air he had ever tasted. Against all thought, against all hope, he was on the summit of the Mountain, and the sun was breaking through the clouds, and kneeling above him was the man, who smiled.
He blinked open eyes he had not previously known to be closed, but the face above him remained unchanged.
"My lord, you called me. I come." Here, at long last, was Hope. "What does the king command?"
A/N: Quote at the end from J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King, 5 VIII.