First Meeting

Aragorn was weary beyond measure after the battle and the events that preceded it and wanted nothing more than to retire to his tent and fall into an exhausted sleep but now the Wizard was making yet further demands.

“The Steward’s son, Lord Faramir lies stricken and close to death within the Houses of Healing,” Gandalf told him,” One of the oldest of the women who are tending him, reminded me the hands of the King are the hands of a healer, so with you alone lies any hope of recovery.”

He hesitated, thinking of Denethor long ago before this younger son was born, his bitter enemy and rival, once it was clear that Ecthelion preferred the counsels of Captain Thorongil over those of his own son, and then Boromir, a brave warrior but fatally flawed by his pride who would have most likely challenged his claim to the throne, which needed to succeed if he were ever to win the hand of his beloved Arwen.

“Come!” Gandalf urged, “It would be most expedient if you saved the life of the only one who yet could stand in your way, though I believe he would welcome your return, though who knows now that he is ruling Steward? Faramir is much loved by the people of Gondor, who would repay you with their gratitude if you saved at least one of their favourite sons.”

Aragorn was sorely tempted to point out to the Wizard that if expediency ruled here, as it so often did for Gandalf, the death of a possible rival would serve as well.

“He is a good friend of mine and has been since his youth,” Gandalf explained before Aragorn could reply that he would do what he could, adding as if as further bait, The Hobbit Meriadoc and the Lady Eowyn also lie within stricken by the Black Breath.”

“I will come.” Aragorn said tersely, horrified to learn that those two lay gravely ill and also disliking the attempt to manipulate him. He had come to love the Hobbits dearly and admire their courage and resourcefulness. As for Lady Eowyn, he blamed himself for her current plight, for although he had never encouraged her attentions, maybe if he had found a gentler way of telling her that he could never return her love, she would not have ridden despairingly into battle.

Aragorn, clad simply in a grey cloak, with no other adornment save the green jewel he wore on his breast, went up to the city accompanied by Gandalf, Eomer, and Prince Imrahil of Dol Amroth, uncle to the stricken Faramir.

He was greeted enthusiastically by the Hobbit, Pippin, who grasped his hand and greeted him warmly, somewhat to the consternation of the very proper Prince Imrahil, yet the young Hobbit’s warmth heartened him and restored his flagging energy.

He had intended to try and save those he knew and loved first but when the healers took him to see Merry, Lady Eowyn and Faramir, he knew that though all three were gravely ill, there was little time left for Faramir and if any hope were to remain for his survival, he must help him now.

In truth he doubted his ability to save any of them, if only Lord Elrond were here with his centuries of skill in the healing arts!

Overwhelmed by weariness and sorrow, he swayed slightly. Eomer, who was beside him, caught his arm and steadied him.

“First you must rest, surely, and at the least eat a little?”

How he loved Eomer at that moment, to be concerned about his welfare, when the life of his only sister hung by a mere thread. He knew then that somehow he must save those that only the hands of the King could succour. He would need athelas though if he were to aid them.

A long conversation with the garrulous Ioreth served only to waste precious moments and confirm that she did not know if athelas was to be had in the Houses, hardly surprising as unless in the hands of the King, it was useful only for curing such minor complaints as women’s headaches.

Aragorn shed his cloak and with Eomer’s and Imrahil’s help also his armour, as he sensed a long and potentially draining night lay ahead. After telling the women who were there tending to the sick to heat water, he washed his hands and went to Faramir’s bedside.

It seemed that the Steward’s son was much loved, as the room seemed full of people, many of whom were weeping. He would dearly have loved to dismiss them all as healing was hardly a spectator sport and they made his own doubts that he could actually help Faramir intensify, as the spectators watched his every move as if expecting some sort of instant miracle, which if it failed to materialise would leave him a laughing stock. He dared not ask them to leave though, for if Faramir were to die, at least they would witness that he played no part in the death of his possible rival.

“I know you will help Lord Faramir, Strider. He is very nice for one of the big folk and I really like him, and then you’ll help Merry too, I know!” Pippin said trustingly while the others, apart from his companions muttered amongst themselves.

His sharp hearing made out such comments as “Whatever is the city coming to when they send for those Northern rangers to tend the sick? He’s no right to be near Lord Faramir, who does he think he is as our best healers cannot help our Lord. Has he come to gloat over our loss as there is nothing he could possibly do to help?” None of it made his task easier.

He unlaced the neck of the young man’s sweat soaked nightshirt to examine the wound he was suffering from. It crossed his mind the fever wracked man might be more comfortable without the drenched garment, but with so many women present, it seemed removing it might humiliate him, that is if he ever awoke to find out, so he merely pulled aside the bandage covering the injured shoulder to reveal a deep wound to the muscle. He had expected it to be the cause of the fever, yet the wound was clean and already starting to heal, a matter, which puzzled Imrahil greatly given his nephew’s condition as he had tended him when he was brought in from the battlefield.

It was clear that Faramir could only be suffering from the Black Breath, which was a deadly condition with little hope of a cure, unless maybe there was some athelas in this place.

The Herb Master entered only to confirm what the garrulous Ioreth had told him, that they did not keep supplies of the herb as it was of little use.

Gandalf demanded that they should search until some be found.

Aragorn took the young man’s hand and noted sadly that his pulse was weak and rapid as he struggled to breathe. Dipping a cloth in the freshly heated water, he bathed Faramir’s sweat soaked brow.

Gandalf had told him how Faramir had been sent on a near suicide mission by his father with cruel words that he should have died in Boromir’s place his only farewell.
When he returned wounded, Denethor had lost his wits and decided to burn himself on a funeral pyre taking his son with him. Only the last minute intervention of Pippin and Gandalf had saved Faramir from being burned alive.

Aragorn suddenly felt overwhelmed with compassion towards this young man whom life had dealt a series of grievous blows. He must have been heartbroken at the loss of his only brother, as from Boromir he had learned they were very close and such grief combined with his father’s disdain must have hurt him deeply, making him very susceptible to the Black Breath when the Nazgul drew near.

Faramir more closely resembled Denethor as Aragorn remembered him in his youth, rather than Boromir. He had the black hair and carven features of those of pure or almost pure, Numenorean lineage.

This was the man who if he lived would hold Aragorn’s fate in his hands. His supposedly grey eyes were closed and framed by exceptionally long lashes which gave him a very vulnerable look as they served to highlight that for one of his people, he was yet very young. He looked so helpless lying there, another innocent sacrifice in the war ravaging Middle Earth.

“Poor Faramir!” Imrahil lamented, “He always did his duty and fought bravely to defend the country he loved, but he is a man of peace and learning who holds no love for the sword unlike his brother!”

Faramir seemed to be growing weaker by the minute as his laboured breathing slowed. It would take a miracle to save him now.

Aragorn suddenly dropped on his knees and knelt by Faramir’s side. He placed one hand on the sweat soaked brow and clasped the other which lay limply on the coverlet in his own, seeking to somehow connect with the dying man.

“Faramir, Faramir!” he called, “Wake up, come to me!”

Faramir made no reply but there was just the slightest pressure on Aragorn’s hand as if some corner of the sick man’s mind responded.

He reached out, using the gift of his Line, seeking the younger man’s spirit with his own. He could sense great weariness and despair, a wounded soul that had endured too much and was now willing to embrace death as a welcome release from his grief and pain.

Aragorn felt as if he were trying to hold a drowning man who was being swept away by the current.

He felt such overwhelming compassion for this man of sorrows and found himself willing his own strength into him, an ability he had, but which Elrond had warned him was far to dangerous to use, especially without athelas.

Over and over he called Faramir’s name as he searched for the lost and wounded spirit to bring him back. He was oblivious to all else now, what had begun, as a less than welcome favour for the wizard had become a highly personal quest. He wanted, nay needed to save this man.

He could sense now that here was a man of quality, a man that Gondor needed and that he would need too if he ever became King. He would value this man’s friendship and the opportunity to try and make up to him for all he had lost or been denied.

When Boromir died, Faramir should have been named as heir to the Stewardship and Captain General of the Army but Denethor obviously had prized this younger son so little that even his birthright was denied him.

Aragorn turned grey with weariness to the alarm of his companions. He continued to call Faramir, but now his voice was so faint it seemed that he too was in some dark vale calling for one who was lost.

He looked as if he were about to collapse and Eomer placed a hand on his friend’s shoulder to prevent him from falling.

“Strider!” Pippin exclaimed anxiously, “Are you alright!” Aragorn did not hear he was so locked in the healing trance.

Alarmed, Gandalf shook his protégé,” You must stop this!” he ordered. “You have tried and no man could do more, but to persist, you will risk you own life and you are needed for far greater deeds! Faramir is a worthy man but not so much that you should hazard your own life for him!”

Roused from his trance, Aragorn turned on his mentor, eyes flashing,” I shall do this thing!” he snapped, “And my will not be gainsaid! What I have begun, I will finish!”

Pippin shivered, this was not Strider, the somewhat dour and reticent guide whom he had grown to love but someone altogether different with his newfound air of authority. He would not like to ever feel the man’s wrath directed against himself, as he feared he would be seared by the fire in his eyes.

As if there had been no interruption, Aragorn resumed calling Faramir.

Faramir lost in dark dreams and gripped by the fever, which threatened to consume him, was dimly aware that someone was calling him but he was so weary, he lacked the will to respond. He longed for death so that he could be reunited with Boromir; the only person apart from his mother whom he had ever felt truly loved by.

They had been inseparable, best friends as well as brothers and Boromir had always protected his little brother, even though he had never delighted in the arts of warfare any more than Boromir had enjoyed books.

He could hear other voices calling now as a sense of peace enveloped him and he felt he was being drawn towards a tunnel in which a bright light seemed to beckon him to the other side.

“You will never be as good as your brother, yet I would have you both beside me!” That was Denethor’s voice, yet what was his father doing here? Was he no longer amongst the living as this surely was somewhere beyond the circles of this world?

“My dear son! You are so precious, too precious to be here yet!” That was his mother’s voice; strange he should remember it so well after thirty years.

“Faramir, go back, you are needed by your King, he is a good man and you can trust him. You will always be with me, little brother though you remain on Arda for a while yet!” That voice was Boromir’s, Faramir now wanted more than ever to join him as there was no doubt now that they would be reunited in death.

He heard other voices too, those of his loyal men whom he had led out to die at Osgiliath and seen fall all around him.

Aragorn realised he was losing Faramir as the death rattle was now in his throat and once or twice he had stopped breathing completely only to be kept alive by the sheer force of Aragorn’s will but it was becoming harder to keep him alive as his own strength waned.

He would have swooned had he not felt steadying hands on his shoulders, supporting him, Eomer’s no doubt as he sensed his friend nearby.

A young boy ran into the room pushing towards Aragorn, carrying a cloth, tightly grasped in his hand. “It is kingsfoil, Sir,” he said, but not fresh I fear. It must have been culled two weeks ago at the least. I hope it will serve, Sir?”

He then caught sight of Faramir and burst into tears.

Pippin hastened to his side and placed a comforting arm around him, “Don’t worry, Bergil!” he said, “Strider is very good at almost everything, if anyone can cure Faramir, he can!”

As if revived by the very presence of the athelas, Aragorn turned to the boy and smiled at him, “It will serve,” he said. “The worst is now over. Stay and be comforted!”

He then took two of the dried leaves and breathed on them and then crushed them in his hands. He then cast the leaves into a bowl of steaming water, which stood, on the table by Faramir’s bedside and straightaway a living freshness filled the room, filling it with joy.

Aragorn now stood tall and strong as one invigorated and his eyes smiled as he held the bowl in front of Faramir’s face and called him again.

Faramir suddenly felt himself being pulled back through the tunnel again and the bright light faded. He tried to reach out towards his mother and brother but they seemed to be moving further and further away from him as he was forced back into the world of the living. Another, unknown hand
reached out towards him and he grasped it as an unfamiliar yet compelling voice called his name and the air was filled with a wonderful fragrance.

The voice called his name again and this time he knew who it was that called him, as he had seen him many times in his dreams. It was the heir of Elendil, the long lost King of Gondor and Arnor!

Faramir could no longer resist as he breathed the steaming water which gave off such a wonderful invigorating scent, he felt compelled to answer the King, the man who called him repeatedly and yet he feared to meet the man and offer his heart as his foresight sensed great danger surrounding him.

Would his heart not be broken again by the loss of yet another he loved, for he knew should the King return, an event he had dreamed of and foreseen he would offer him unquestioning love and fealty as this man, mightier by far than Denethor, would be the long desired saviour of Gondor. Yet how could he not answer the call of his King?”

Aragorn waited, dimly aware of Ioreth chattering in the background. He had kept Faramir alive long enough for some athelas to be found as that herb in his hands alone could cure Faramir of the Black Breath.

Faramir was no longer struggling to breathe and the flush of fever was leaving his cheeks. He should awaken any moment now. Aragorn decided it was best not to tell him yet who he was.

Better to wait until he was stronger when he would decide either to recognise him as King or dismiss him as a Pretender as his ancestor Arvedui had been rejected in the past. From what he knew of Faramir’s father and brother, the latter seemed the most likely outcome as the Council would follow his lead when he made his claim to the crown.

Faramir then stirred, slowly opened his eyes and looked at Aragorn who was still bending over him, smiling at him encouragingly.

Faramir at first looked dazed, then as his eyes focussed he looked directly at Aragorn with such knowledge and love in his eyes that Aragorn was astonished .He felt even more drawn to this man as a kindred soul, whatever he decided in the future.
Faramir whispered through parched lips, “My Lord, you called me. I come. What does the King command?”

Aragorn felt breathless with awe and was so amazed that he almost dropped the bowl he was holding. Hastily, he placed it on the bedside table. However did Faramir know who he was as he had never seen him before?

“Walk no more in the darkness, but awake!” Aragorn told him, holding a glass of water to his lips so he could drink.” You are weary. Rest awhile and take food and be ready when I return.”

His mind was full of questions but now was not the right time to ask them. He needed a long talk with Faramir once he was stronger as he owed it to him to tell him about the last moments of his brother. Also he would like to get to know this younger son of Denethor’s.

“I will, Lord,” said Faramir shyly. “For who would lie idle when the King has returned?”

There it was again, the acknowledgement of his claim to kingship. If he were to survive the coming battle he would owe this man a dept of gratitude, which could never be repaid, as by his acknowledgement the way was now opened for him to become King of the reunited Kingdom of Gondor and Arnor and win the hand of his beloved Arwen.

He grasped Faramir’s hand in unspoken thanks and instantly Faramir tried to lift it to his lips to kiss in fealty.

“Farewell then for a while!” said Aragorn. “I must go to others who need me.”

With tears in his eyes he bent and kissed Faramir on the brow and turned and left the room but not before telling the Healers to bring a nourishing broth for Faramir and see that he was bathed and that his sweat soaked nightshirt and bed linen were changed to make him more comfortable.

The garrulous Ioreth naturally had to have the last word “King! Did you hear that? What did I say? The hands of a healer I said!”

Aragorn smiled ruefully, so much for his attempt to come into the city unnoticed, as now he was certain all of Minas Tirith would be aware of his coming.

But most importantly, he had saved Faramir and he hoped if the Valar saw him through the coming war that he could rule with this man as his Steward by his side.

Faramir lay gazing after him, his mind filled with conflicting emotions, joy that the long awaited King had returned combined with horror at his own numerous albeit unavoidable lapses of etiquette.

He shivered as the nightshirt he woe felt cold and damp now that the fever had broken.

Whatever would the King think that he had been unable to stand and bow to him, or would he be insulted that he was wearing only this sweat soaked nightshirt and not his velvet court robes, which he was certain were the correct attire for greeting a King in? He had been taught to wear them when Theoden of Rohan visited his father and this man was a greater King by far.
Then had he addressed him correctly, should he have said Your Majesty?

His musings were interrupted when two young apprentice healers came to bathe him and change his bedding and nightshirt. The Times must be grave indeed if no others could be spared to attend to him, as it was usual for only the most senior healers to tend the ruling family even if only for the most basic nursing needs.

Although he knew he needed their help, being too weak still to do anything for himself, he flushed scarlet when they undressed him, kind and discreet as they were, as he hated being unclothed in front of others. He supposed he should be thankful they had not sent Ioreth or any of the other women who tended the sick here!

“Are you well my Lord Steward?” one of them asked, feeling his forehead for any signs of returning fever.

“Yes, I am well, thank you, but why do you address me thus? Is my father dead?” It seemed that his vision was correct. His father must have fallen in the great battle he knew was coming.

Neither of the young men would look him in the eye as one mumbled. “Yes he is dead, my Lord Steward, I offer my sincere condolences.”

“How did he die?” Faramir asked as a clean bandage was wound round his shoulder. The wound throbbed painfully as did his back. His hair felt oddly greasy and uncomfortable but as neither offered to wash it, he said nothing, as it was obvious they were hard pressed with so many sick and wounded to care for.

“We do not know. “The chorused in unison almost as if reciting a pre rehearsed script. “We were working here and have not left these Houses for many days. All we know is that you are the Ruling Steward now.”

Faramir was puzzled by their reticence as so many must have fallen these past days, they must by now be accustomed to the grim task of telling relatives that their loved ones had fallen.

He felt numb and too weary to press them further. Maybe the tears would come when he was alone, as he had been trained from early childhood to repress his emotions. Even when only five years old he had been told if he wept at his mother’s funeral, he would be beaten afterwards. All his life he had striven for his father’s approval and now he would never gain it, yet all he could feel was a vague sense of relief that never again would he face his wrath.

“Was that really the King just then?” asked the younger looking of the two healers, as if trying to distract him.

“Yes that was indeed our Sovereign Lord, so I shall be the last of my House to bear the office.” He replied in a muffed tone, as a clean nightshirt was drawn over his head. “Gladly do I surrender the White Rod to him.”?

One of the healers brought him some broth, tucked a cloth under his chin to protect the clean nightshirt and then fed it to him spoonful by spoonful. He felt as if he were a small child again, but then it would have been his nurse or elder brother feeding him. He hated being so helpless but the broth tasted good and at least was clothed now!

Faramir was then left to rest but sleep was slow to come to him as he kept thinking about Boromir, about his father and most of all about the King, who had returned to claim his throne after so long.

The King had said he would return to him in a while. Whatever was he going to say to him? He had not even thanked him for saving his life, another unforgivable breach of etiquette!

He had felt strongly drawn to the man who had looked at him with such kind eyes but he was the mightiest man in Middle Earth and would no doubt be even harder to please than his father!

He then thought of his loyal men who had ridden out beside him to Osgiliath and wondered how many had survived. He could see their faces and hear their screams as the enemy’s arrows rained down upon them whenever he tried to close his eyes.

Finally he fell into an uneasy sleep.

Aragorn was about to leave the Houses of Healing and seek out any others stricken by the Black Breath that needed his help. He had sent for the sons of Elrond to come and help him face the magnitude of the task at hand.

Lady Eowyn and Merry had been far easier to awaken than Faramir as he had the athelas to help him rouse them but now he was weary beyond measure for as he had told Merry, he had not slept in a bed since Dunharrow nor eaten since before dawn.

Something made him look into Faramir’s room to see how his Steward was faring as the young man had been so very close to death.

He found him alone in his room, tossing in an uneasy sleep. After feeling Faramir’s forehead and satisfying himself that the fever had truly left him, Aragorn lightly brushed his fingertips over the restless man’s eyelids while making small circles with his thumb on his forehead.

Faramir settled into a deep untroubled sleep almost at once.

Aragorn smiled in satisfaction, he would heal now and regain his strength. He felt protective towards this young man, for had he been allowed to marry when he wished, he could easily have a son of his age by now and any child of his and Arwen’s would have raven hair and grey eyes like Faramir and as the young Steward had made it clear he accepted him as King, maybe soon he would be blessed with a son of his own.

Quietly he left the room. As soon as Faramir was strong enough, he would visit him and talk to him about his brother and most importantly get to know his future Steward whom he hoped would also be his friend.

The End

Facing the Darkness

Chapter one

Aragorn knew he had to talk to Faramir in case he never had another chance as the Host was due to set out to Mordor at first light tomorrow.

The Steward deserved to know of his brother’s last moments and how bravely he had fought to defend the Hobbits from Sauraman’s forces but Aragorn disliked having to tell him now, while he was still lying recovering, but still very weak in the Houses of Healing.

This was the last thing he would usually wish to do, cause emotional distress to one as frail as Faramir still was.

Yet if he were to fall before the Black Gate of Mordor, he would never have the chance to hear of his beloved brother’s death from the one who was with him at the time and thereby maybe he would gain some peace of mind from knowing the truth.

Aragorn was exhausted after the battle, tending those under the shadow of the Black Breath and debating with the other leaders about how best they could give Frodo a chance to destroy the Dark Lord’s power, but he would not seek his tent to rest until he had fulfilled the duty he felt he owed both to Boromir and Faramir.

Clad simply with his grey cloak concealing the green gem he wore, he made his way to the young captain’s room, hoping that he was feeling stronger now.

The struggle to save Faramir’s life had been the hardest Aragorn had ever experienced.

Faramir fallen into the depths of shadow and despair, and never before had he needed to reach so deeply into the mind of another to lead them back into the world of the living.

Aragorn had sensed such darkness and desolation, as this was a gentle soul driven to the very limits and yet underneath the shadow, he sensed a kindred spirit, which had made him all the more determined to save Faramir’s life, whatever the cost to his own strength.

And indeed the cost was high, as his companions had all feared for his own well-being before Bergil had brought some athelas, which had served to revive both Faramir and himself.

When he entered Faramir’s room, the healers were tending the Steward’s wounds and he was propped up in bed with his nightshirt pulled down to his waist. For the first time it struck Aragorn how painfully thin the young man was and the many old or partially healed wounds on his body showed evidence of long hardship and neglect.

Faramir blushed scarlet as the King entered the room and tried to rise and pull up his nightshirt to cover himself. His expression suggested the mixture of the love and respect, which Aragorn had noticed two nights before but now that was overshadowed by a look of overwhelming fear.

Faramir fell back against the pillows caught by the healers’ restraining hands.

“My apologies, my Lord,” Faramir gasped.” I fear I am not properly clad to receive your Grace and I cannot rise.”

Aragorn smiled attempting to reassure him.” There is nothing to apologise for Faramir,” he said gently.” I only wished to speak to you.” He wondered, not for the first time, how he could approach the subject of Boromir’s death.

He then turned to the healers.

“I will tend his wound myself,” the King said.

“As you wish, my Lord.” The healers bowed and left, grateful to have one less to tend as many were waiting for their help in these dark days.

Aragorn felt Faramir’s flushed brow and once reassured he was not feverish but merely ill at ease, took the bowl of warm water the healers had left and started to bathe the wound on Faramir’s shoulder.

It was healing well and Aragorn felt relieved, although he feared the muscle was damaged, which could cause Faramir much future pain if neglected.

“It is not fitting that my King should be tending me.” Faramir protested.

“I have been a healer far longer than I have been a King, if indeed I am ever crowned as such, should I return from Mordor. Tell me if this wound continues to pain you as I think I will need to treat it further.” Aragorn replied, gently dabbing the injured shoulder dry with a towel and applying a salve the sons of Elrond had provided, not only to the arrow wound, but also to the other half healed hurts across the younger man’s chest and shoulders.

Faramir flinched at each touch, despite the slow gentle movements of the King’s fingertips and bit back a hiss of pain, as the ointment stung the raw flesh even though he was far gentler than the healers of Gondor, who had been attending him.

Strange warmth emanated from the King’s hands, which felt both soothing and frightening to Faramir, as he had never encountered anything quite like it before.

The Steward stared mutely at his hands lying limply on the coverlet as if lost in thought.

The King wondered whether it was the wounds or the grief he must undoubtedly be feeling that caused Faramir so much pain.

He placed a soft pad of cloth over the shoulder wound and started to wind a bandage across Faramir’s chest and round his back to keep it in place.

He moved round the bed and gasped when he saw the old scars of many lash wounds, too many to count across the exposed back.

Even worse, these were overlaid with fresh welts that could not have been inflicted more than a few days ago.

What horrors had this man endured? He wondered. Granted that most young men felt the lash at some time during unruly youth but very seldom sufficiently to leave such scars, especially in the noble houses.

Fortunately, Faramir seemed too nervous at being in the presence of his King to even notice the look of horror on the other’s face.

“Will you turn on your side? I would like to tend your back.” Aragorn said.

Faramir nodded reluctantly, his dark eyes haunted with a mixture of shame and fear.

Aragorn helped him roll on to his uninjured side, pulled the cover down as far as his hips and began very gently bathing the ugly looking and painful welts that disfigured Faramir’s flesh.

They had been inflicted with such force that even the gentle cleansing caused them to bleed afresh.

Faramir tensed at each touch as if expecting further blows. Aragorn was baffled as to why he had been lashed.

He knew from his years of service there that the Gondorians would flog a disobedient soldier but only for a most heinous offence, which it seemed unthinkable that a highly respected captain such as Faramir would ever commit.

It also seemed that the lashes had been inflicted before he rode out to Osgiliath and what commander would show such madness as to weaken a worthy captain in such a fashion before sending him into the thick of battle? Small wonder Faramir had been grievously ill and close to death when he had first set eyes on him.

Aragorn started to spread ointment across the painful injuries disfiguring the woefully thin back.

Beneath his hands, Faramir trembled and recoiled with embarrassment that his King should see these dishonourable lashes. He had always imagined he would meet his King, riding out dressed in his finest velvets, not sprawled across a sickbed with the shameful marks of his father’s displeasure revealed.

The healers had told him that Aragorn had laboured for hours to save his life and it puzzled him why the King should so concern himself for one such as he, Faramir, the constant disappointment to his father.

“How did you come by these hurts?” Aragorn asked him gently.” Try to be still while I tend them, that I may ease you. If I am able to, in the future I can give you an Elven treatment to fade the scars.”

” It was a punishment, my Liege. I allowed the Perian to go and then Osgiliath fell whilst under my command.”

Aragorn paused briefly from his task, shocked by the words. Only one man could have ordered Faramir to be flogged and that man was his father.

Aragorn remembered Denethor from forty years or so before, as a cold hard man and yet a loving father to young Boromir.

However how could any man order his already ailing son to be flogged and then send him out to almost certain death he wondered?

Ever since Boromir had died, he had felt the duty had fallen on him to protect his younger brother. If only I had come sooner, he thought as he bandaged soft pads of cloth against the wheals, his heart brimming with pity.

He swore a silent oath that should he become king, none should ever harm Faramir in this fashion again.

“Are you feeling any stronger today?” Aragorn asked as he gently pulled the nightshirt up over the Steward’s shoulders and fastened the laces round the neck. He then seated himself on a chair by the bed.

“I am much better, Sire and thank you for saving my life. I apologise for not having thanked you before”

Faramir sank back against the pillows but the tension failed to leave him. He sat staring at his King like a frightened rabbit caught by a fox.

Aragorn took his patient’s hand and frowned at the racing pulse. If Faramir would not be calm, the fever could return in his weakened condition.

Aragorn gently laid his hands on the other’s head, stroking his hair and massaging the back of his neck with a healing touch.

Initially Faramir flinched again as if expecting a blow but gradually the tension left his hunched body as he felt the King’s power.

Aragorn removed his hand, wishing he could ease his Steward more but feeling too weary to do so.

He noticed the other’s hair was still covered in oil and picked up the towel to wipe it from his hands.

“It was thanks enough to see you recovering. You do not need to keep apologising, my Lord Steward. I would not have you fear me,” he said with a smile. Fixing Faramir with a gentle but penetrating gaze Aragorn asked:” Tell me how you knew who I was?”

“I have dreams that foretell the future.” Faramir replied “I saw you in one coming to save Gondor. You wield the sword that was broken. My brother too had such dreams though not as often as I and we both dreamed of the broken sword in Imladis. My father sent Boromir to seek counsel there, even though I begged for the errand.”

He shuddered as he spoke unable to mention the dream he had awoken from that morning, a vision so hideous that he forced himself to stifle the initial warmth he had felt towards his King and saviour, as he could endure no more losses of those he loved.

The touch of the man’s hands had only made the hideous vision clearer as he saw the King, his body bruised and broken, lying in some field, surrounded by a small group of weeping companions.

Aragorn was thinking the conversation was leading where he hoped it would, when Faramir noticed him wiping his hands.

“Why is my hair covered in oil? ” Faramir asked with increasing confidence, as the elfish relaxation technique Aragorn had used, started to work.” I know the healers have been too busy to help me wash it but when I ask why no one will even tell me that or how my father died!”

Aragorn wet the towel in the basin and rubbed Faramir’s head with it while desperately wondering how to answer him. This was the one subject he wished to avoid above all others.

“Thank you, that feels better.” Faramir said rubbing his hands through his damp but now much cleaner hair.

Aragorn held his breath wondering what would come next.

“Do you know how my father died?”

Faramir had asked the one question, Aragorn had no wish to answer, at least not until the man was fully recovered.

“I was not there. I only heard tidings of his death when I reached the city gates.” Aragorn said evasively.

“But surely they told you how he died?” Faramir insisted.

Aragorn sighed deeply. It seemed his attempts to calm Faramir to his presence had worked all too well.

“It is not a pleasant story.” Aragorn said.” Are you certain you wish to know?”

“Nothing could be worst than what I imagine!” Faramir replied.

Aragorn rose to his feet, “One who was there is in the next room.” he said “I will fetch him to you.”

Chapter Two

Merry and Pippin were sitting on Merry’s bed, a large tray laden with food between them.

They looked up as Aragorn entered and smiled with delight to see their visitor.

“Strider, how good to see you!” Merry exclaimed.

“Do have a cake, they taste good!” Pippin said proffering a plate in greeting.

Aragorn accepted, despite the urgency of his errand, hoping the sweet cake might make him feel a little less weary.

He noticed with a flash of amusement that the hobbits had somehow managed to procure some of the tea, which they were so fond of drinking in the Shire.

He helped himself to a cup, knowing it was famed for its invigorating properties.

“How is your, arm, Merry?” he asked, noticing that Merry held his teacup in his left hand.

“Much better, thank you,” Merry replied, hastily changing the cup to the other hand where it wobbled alarmingly.

“I will look at it later.” Aragorn replied, unconvinced, ” But first I must ask Pippin to come with me to see the Lord Faramir.”

Pippin looked alarmed.

“What’s the matter?” he asked.” Has his fever come back?”

Aragorn shook his head. “No, he is recovering from his injuries but he wants to know how his father died and begged me to fetch someone who was there, loathe though I am to do so.”

Pippin stared at the King in horror.

“But I can’t tell him that his father tried to burn him alive!” he gasped.

“I fear you must as Gandalf is occupied with preparations for tomorrow’s departure.”

“But I don’t know what to say!” Pippin blanched at the prospect. Aragorn laid a reassuring hand on his shoulder.

“Just keep to the facts and do not go into details but emphasise how his father had lost his mind .I will be with you when you speak to him.”

“I’m glad I wasn’t there. I’m sorry you had to see all that, Pip!” Merry said as he started eating another cake.

“Faramir would have died had Pippin not been there, so Gandalf tells me.” Aragorn said gravely, swallowing the last of his tea. He replaced the cup on the tray and led Pippin towards the door.

“I will be back later to tend to your arm,” he told Merry as they left.

Instead of hastening to Faramir’s room, Aragorn lingered with Pippin in the hallway.

“Do you know why none of Denethor’s guards attempted to stop him making a pyre?” Aragorn asked the Hobbit.

“They were too afraid.” Pippin said simply.” I’d not been there long enough to learn that in recent times if you didn’t do as the Lord Steward said, you would be flogged. If I’d known, I’d have been too scared to do anything either. I helped the healers with the wounded and so many had been flogged, the healers had to ignore them to have time to tend to the wounds they received in battle. Beregond told me later about how scared of Lord Denethor everyone was. He won’t get into trouble will he for helping Faramir?” Pippin asked anxiously.

Aragorn stood lost in thought for a moment. Pippin’s words had explained much that had puzzled him. As for Beregond, he had shed another’s blood in the Hallows, a serious offence, but one that could wait for his judgement until the fate of Middle Earth was decided.

“I would not punish a man unjustly and there will be no more beatings.” The King said at last.” But until Sauron is overthrown all talk of the future is futile.”

Pippin shuddered but collected himself as they reached Faramir’s room and went within.
Faramir had not moved since Aragorn had left him and he now lay back against the pillows looking anxious.

“Here is one who was present when your father died.” Aragorn said quietly to the young Steward.

“How are you my Lord?” asked Pippin with genuine concern, as he had come to care deeply for Faramir in the short time he had known him.

“I am much better, Master Peregrin. I thank you for your concern. Now, I beg of you, tell me how my father died as my Lord King says you were there.”

Pippin took a deep breath and stared at the floor, unable to look Faramir in the eye. Then the words came tumbling out without pause for breath.

“Your father, Lord Faramir, lost his mind and I believe he thought you dead or almost so and the enemy was at the gates. So he had his servants take you to the tombs and build a funeral pyre for you both. I ran to fetch Gandalf and we pulled you from the pyre but we could not save your father. The poor Lord had quite lost his wits.”

Pippin finally stopped for breath and ventured a quick glance at Faramir.

To his surprise, the young man showed little emotion apart from a sharp intake of breath.

“It seems that I owe you my life, Master Peregrin. You have my thanks.” he said gravely.

Pippin blushed and shifted his feet uneasily. Aragorn took pity on him.

“You can return to Merry now, if you wish.” he said, smiling at the Hobbit.

Pippin inclined his head to Faramir and left, thankful the ordeal was over.

Aragorn sat down by Faramir’s bedside and studied the young man’s impassive features.

Faramir’s eyes were closed and it was impossible to know what he was thinking.

“My father had little time for me in life, strange he should wish for my company in death, is it not?” he remarked with a bitter smile.

“The dark lord poisoned his mind.” Aragorn replied. “He believed the city would fall to him ere nightfall.”

“He was angry that I still lived while Boromir had fallen.” Faramir said without any trace of rancour.” Yet, even my brother, the noblest of our people, fell under the evil spell of the one ring. Who then could resist the Dark Lord?”

Relieved that Faramir had mentioned his brother first, Aragorn said quietly.

“Your brother repented of his evil. He died with honour.”

Faramir gazed at him with sad dark eyes.

“How do you know of these things?”

“I was with your brother, when he breathed his last. Alas, I came too late to save his life!” Aragorn took Faramir’s hand and noted it was trembling slightly. “Do you wish to know more?”

Faramir nodded.

“Boromir repented of his folly in coveting the ring and did not pursue Frodo when he fled from him, but instead went to the defence of the Hobbits, Meriadoc and Peregrin when a band of Uruk Hai sent by Saruman attacked them. He fought with great valour but fell eventually pierced with many arrows, beyond my skills to heal, alas. I ran to his side and he was able to tell me what had happened before he passed beyond the circles of this world. I blessed him and he breathed his last. Then my companions and I laid him to rest in a fair Elven boat and gave his body to the river.”

Faramir smiled faintly.
“That part, I know my Lord, I saw it in a dream. It eases my heart to know that he died with honour and not alone.”

Aragorn was not surprised by the others calmness and lack of tears, given his background. Though the racing pulse he could feel as he clasped his wrist belied the seeming tranquillity.

Faramir took a deep breath.
“Thank you for telling me this, my Liege.” He said.” Now if I may, I would rest as my wounds are much less painful since you tended them.”

Aragorn looked at him doubtfully, certain he was struggling to hold back his grief, which needed release if he were to heal in mind as well as body.

“Would you not like someone to stay with you, your uncle maybe?” he enquired, hoping that Imrahil might provide the comfort needed.

“When my uncle is less burdened with cares of state. I should like to see him.” He closed his eyes as if in dismissal.

Aragorn had little choice but to leave, though he feared that Faramir’s emotions were stretched taunt as a bowstring that could snap any moment plunging him into the same dark madness that claimed his father. He despatched a messenger in search of Imrahil.

Swaying slightly with weariness and grief, Aragorn next went to speak to the chief of the women who tended Lady Eowyn and asked how the Lady of Rohan was faring.

“Her body heals but her mind is deeply troubled, sir.” the woman said.” She keeps demanding to be allowed out of bed despite her broken arm and other hurts.”

Aragorn monetarily closed his eyes and sighed. It was as he had feared and although he had never encouraged the lady to see him in a romantic light, he still felt responsible.

“She must stay here for many days, yet,” he said.” If need be, hide her clothing, so she will have to remain in her room.”

“Yes, my Lord.” the woman replied.” If you will excuse me, I must return to tend Lady Eowyn.”

“Care for her well throughout the coming days!” Aragorn instructed her before letting her leave.

He then returned to Merry’s room. The Hobbit had now returned to his bed and looked tired. Pippin was sitting beside him and they were talking nostalgically of the Shire.

Aragorn felt a sudden stab of sorrow for their lost innocence as they were so changed from the carefree young Hobbits he had first met at Bree.

He forced himself to smile at them, as he knew they looked to him for reassurance.
“I have come to see how your injured arm is faring, Merry.” he said.” I noticed you are still favouring the other one.

“It is much better.” Merry said, a little too hastily.” Just a trifle stiff.”

“Let me see!”

Merry sighed but obediently rolled up his sleeve.

Aragorn gently felt it up to the shoulder joint and noted Merry’s arm still felt slightly cold although no marks were visible.

He grasped the Hobbit’s arm with his left hand and held the right poised about two inches above the cold flesh and closed his eyes, hoping he had the strength needed.

Merry was puzzled.” What’s wrong, Strider?” he asked.” I told you, it doesn’t hurt or anything.”

He tried to pull his arm away from Aragorn’s grasp.

“Hold it still, Merry!” Aragorn ordered.” I want to make sure you have the full use of it.”

“Won’t it do later, if it’s still stiff?” Merry asked.” After all, it is only two days since I injured it.”

“I do not know if or when.” I will return and would leave you whole.” Aragorn said quietly.

He had been too weary to give Merry as much healing as he would have wished, when he saved his life, having already spend much of his strength on healing Faramir and the Lady Eowyn, while she was unconscious as he did not dare return to her later in case she mistook his attention for romantic feelings again.

Merry shuddered at the sorrow in his voice and made no further protest.

He could feel a powerful heat emanating from Aragorn’s outstretched hand, which seemed to permeate deep into his flesh and melt the coldness.

He glanced at Aragorn’s face and it appeared to him that the man was far away as if in some sort of trance. Slightly afraid, he sat still, hardly daring to breathe.

Aragorn opened his eyes and smiled at him. His face looked grey with exhaustion.

“Does that feel better?” he asked.

Merry flexed the arm and found he could now move it easily.

“Yes, it feels normal now, thank you, Strider!” he cried in amazement. “Can I ride out with you and Pippin tomorrow now?”

Aragorn shook his head.
“No, Merry, you suffered the Black Breath. It takes time to recover from that.”

“But I want to go with Pippin!”

“We have hardly ever been parted.” Pippin added pleadingly.

Aragorn’s face was grave.

“If you wish to stay here with Merry, I count it no disgrace, Pippin. You were freed from your oath to Gondor, when Lord Denethor released you.” he said quietly.” The land of Mordor is no place for a Hobbit!”

“Frodo and Sam are there, I want to help them. Don’t leave me behind! I want to fight for the Shire as much as for Gondor!” Pippin pleaded.

“You are so young.” Aragorn said sadly.” You will be risking your life. I do not know if I can protect you.”

“I wish to come.” Pippin said steadfastly.

“If that is your choice, I shall not prevent you.” Aragorn said.” I know how much you want to help your cousin and represent the Shire and that is noble, however if you wish to change your mind before morning, you still can.”

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