These characters are the property of the EState of J R R TOlkien. No profit has been made from this story.

Shadow and Thought

Chapter One

June 3020
The Golden Hall at Edoras was filled to capacity for the Wedding Feast of Faramir and Eowyn, which was even graced by the attendance of the High King himself and his Queen.

Eowyn wearing a gown of white embroidered with green and silver, a gift from the Queen herself, had never looked so beautiful, while Faramir looked resplendent in black velvet embroidered with the white tree of Gondor.

Eowyn smiled at her handsome husband and thought how blessed she was to have met such a man and gained his affections. As sister of Eomer, King of Rohan, she had never expected to have been fortunate enough to marry for love but rather for political reasons and still marvelled that a man such as Faramir would have chosen her rather than one of the cultured ladies of Gondor.

The young couple smilingly greeted their guests. As the High King approached, they both bowed. Secure in her love for Faramir, Eowyn was no longer uncomfortable in Aragorn’s presence as she realised the feelings she had had for him had been nothing more than infatuation, embarrassing for them both at the time, but now in the past.

Aragorn embraced Faramir and kissed him on the forehead, murmuring words of congratulation. He then kissed Eowyn on the cheek and said:

“It gladdens my heart, Lady, to see you in bliss. It was indeed a happy day when I told Faramir to care for you!”

The smile froze on Eowyn’s lips as her dreams crumbled to dust. It was all a sham, all Faramir’s protestations of love for her, nothing but a political ploy to unite Rohan and Gondor and avoid her being an embarrassment to Aragorn’s Queen!

A curious remark Aragorn had made to her brother at Theoden’s funeral feast about him giving the fairest ‘thing’ in Rohan to Gondor was now all too clear. She was just a ‘thing’ to be disposed of however the King pleased.

Her distress went unnoticed even by Faramir as Eomer called for a toast to round off the festivities.

Eowyn lay in the carved marriage bed used for generations by the house of Eorl. Her maid had helped her undress and change into a nightgown of finest linen adorned with lace.

The bed had been sprinkled with pink and white sweet briar and blessings said for the prosperity and fertility of their union. Now all that was lacking was the bridegroom. She had looked forward to this night but now the thought of Faramir’s embraces was as repulsive to her as if she were a slave sold to pleasure the highest bidder. A tear rolled down her pale cheek.

She could not help but love him despite it all, although the fact he and the King had deceived her over this marriage tore at her heart. It was impossible to hate Faramir, so quiet, gentle and shy, but as for Aragorn, fury blazed within her at what he had done. She would hate him until her dying day.

She tried to calm herself by thinking that at least the coming night would show whether Faramir felt any attraction towards her at all, or was just blindly doing his King’s bidding.

The door opened and Faramir entered blushing furiously. She could hear the raucous shouts of the men outside.

“Tonight you venture deep into Rohan, be sure to leave a colt or at least a filly behind as proof of your visit!”

Faramir drew off his velvet robe revealing his nightshirt beneath. He climbed into bed beside her. She took a deep breath, determined not to show her feelings.

He turned towards her and planted a gentle kiss on her cheek.
“You look exhausted, my Lady, this day has been tiring for us both .I will leave you to your sleep.”

With that, he turned away from her, blew out the candle, and fell into a deep slumber. Eowyn lay sleepless beside him, silent tears pouring down her cheeks. She had feared him taking her, knowing he did not love her, but this proof of utter indifference to her charms was even worst. No doubt his thoughts were with some Gondorian beauty who was his mistress!

A few hours later, Faramir awakened and lay gazing at his beautiful bride as the light of early dawn came into the room.

How he loved her but he had been greatly troubled by her obvious sorrow the night before. His experiences with his harsh father had made him determined that no one, least of all his wife, should ever think him cruel or unfeeling and if Eowyn felt uncomfortable about the intimacies of marriage he was willing to wait until she showed some sign of wanting him to take her.

The next day Eowyn and Faramir, together with the King and Queen and their attendants, returned to Gondor. That night and the nights that followed, Faramir spent in his dressing room.

During the daytime, Eowyn was polite and dutiful but cold as ice. Faramir often wondered what had become of the woman he had fallen in love with but assumed that although a year had passed, she still grieved for her Uncle or maybe missed her home and her brother.

He buried himself in his work, trying to put aside his feelings of being rejected yet again. He had hoped so much for a wife who loved him and could give him a large brood of children to raise in a happier manner than he had been brought up.

It seemed he was destined to be rejected. His only consolation was his love for his King, who treated him with the kindness and compassion that Denethor had denied him. Yet for all the King’s kindness, he feared that one day, he would reject him too and dismiss him as not good enough to serve one so great.

Eowyn brooded over how the King had tricked her and wondered what Faramir’s true love looked like

February 3021

Aragorn Elessar, High King of the reunited kingdoms of Gondor and Arnor, struggled to suppress a yawn as the fourth course of the state banquet was served. Surely only a Hobbit could enjoy eating so much food, he thought.

A trade delegation was visiting from the lands of the Haradrim in the South, and this was the third banquet this week which was being held in their honour.

Aragorn was seated beside Eowyn, Princess of Rohan, and now wife of his Steward Faramir, Prince of Ilithien. She was engaged in an animated conversation with a Gondorian noble several places down the table, concerning the relative merits of the horses of Gondor and Rohan and was ignoring the King completely. He tried once more to involve her in the conversation.

“You have been in Gondor for a month now, my Lady, how do you like it?” he asked pleasantly, as he cut up the venison on his plate.

“Not at all.” she snapped.” I detest stone cities, wood is far superior such as my people build with.”

The Gondorians looked shocked at Eowyn’s outburst .A deathly silence hung over the gathering as all eyes focussed upon Eowyn. Faramir, who sat on her other side, blushed scarlet; looking as if he wished the floor would open and devour him.

Queen Arwen, ever the diplomat, hastily tried to smooth matters by saying: “It takes a while to learn to like a new environment I know. I too missed my home at Rivendell for a time.”

“Yes, my Queen. Indeed that is so.” Eowyn replied pleasantly enough much to Faramir’s relief. The King smiled proudly at his wife. Faramir could not help but notice that she seemed to have put on weight and seemed to have an especial glow around her tonight. Obviously, life in Gondor suited the beautiful Elf.
Trying to put his Steward at his ease, the King turned to him and asked. “The silk which we have been shown is very fine, do you not think, Prince Faramir? Should we ask for a regular supply to be delivered to the city?”

“As you wish, my Lord King.” Faramir replied.

“I wondered what you thought.” Aragorn persisted.

Faramir flushed. “I defer to your judgement in all matters, my Liege,” he answered.
Aragorn sighed and gave up attempting to make Faramir express an opinion. He caught the eye of Imrahil, Faramir’s uncle, seated across the table. The Prince of Dol Amroth shook his head and started a hasty conversation about the weather in Harad.

“Only one more course and we can retire!” Arwen whispered in her husband’s ear.

He smiled and forced himself to continue playing the polite host.

“Why were you so rude to the King?” Faramir demanded of Eowyn once they were alone in their apartments. Eowyn had dismissed her maid and was un-braiding her long golden tresses.

“I detest the man and his stone prison of a city! He patronises me and has done from the moment we first met!” she replied forcefully, brushing her hair with increased vigour.

“But you owe him your life, we both do!” Faramir protested.

“Had he not scorned me, I would never have despaired so much in the first place. He is nothing but a hypocrite, who pretends to be good and noble while he ruins others’ lives!” Eowyn snapped, putting down her hairbrush. “Your gratitude will have to suffice for us both as you act like the man’s lap dog! Enough of him, I’m going to bed now!”

“He is a good man, Eowyn.” Faramir protested, “I just do not understand why you hate him so much.”

“You are under his spell just like my brother!” Eowyn retorted.

“I will leave you to sleep, my Lady. Goodnight.” Faramir said quietly, repressing his feelings as he had been taught to do since early childhood.

Fearful of incurring his wife’s wrath by saying more, the Steward retired to his dressing room, leaving Eowyn alone in the large bed.

Climbing into bed, she buried her face in the pillow, stifling her sobs.

On the other side of the wall, Faramir wept quietly too. ‘Why had it all gone so wrong?’ he mused. He loved her so much and yet now she hardly seemed to be able to endure being in the same room as him.
She had looked so happy when they had spoken their wedding vows yet before night had fallen she was cold as ice and he had shrank from her scornful gaze since that day. He wondered if secretly she still loved the King and that was why she professed to detest him so.

In the Royal Apartments, Aragorn and Arwen lay side by side in the darkness.

“You are troubled, Estel.” Arwen made it a statement rather than a question.

He turned towards her and stroked her hair.
“You always know what I’m thinking.” he replied

“You will toss and turn all night if you continue to fret.” she said, sitting up to light the bedside candle. “Now tell me what troubles you!”

“I did not mean to keep you awake.” He sighed and turned to face her, thinking how beautiful she looked by candlelight, her black hair framing her ivory completion and tumbling over the shoulders of her lace trimmed nightgown.

“I was wondering if I might have made a mistake keeping Faramir as my Steward, though no one could work harder than he, nor know more about Gondor. Yet I need someone who will give me different opinions and tell me when I make mistakes but Faramir looks as if I mean to beat him every time he is spoken to and has never once voiced an opinion of his own!

Arwen listened sympathetically to her husband’s outburst.

The banquet tonight was the last straw! “Aragorn continued, “I think he resents me taking his place! Yet at first, I thought we could be friends. Although I could never fill the place of his brother, I hoped I could be as family to him, or at least befriend him. I truly like the man and yet he always acts around me like a hound waiting to beaten! I am sure he is in pain still from his old wounds, yet if I offer to treat them, he reacts as if I wanted to torture him!”

As for Lady Eowyn, how she pains me too! Though I would have been as a brother to her, and thought I could be; yet since her wedding day she looks on me with such hatred! I have tried so hard, but if I could still have you as my wife, I would gladly return to the simple life of a ranger!”

Arwen shook her head at the despair in her husband’s voice.
“Faramir loves and respects you, Estel, I see it in his eyes, but he also fears you, as you, like his father before you, hold authority over him. He fears he will do something that irks you and you will be angry with him, though make no mistake, however timid he might seem, he would stand up for what he believed to be right, whatever the cost. For did he not face his father’s wrath by letting Frodo go? Give him time to get to know you. He will come to see that you are no tyrant like Denethor was. As for Eowyn, no doubt she still smarts from having once loved you.”

“Eowyn pains Faramir too. I can see it in his eyes” Aragorn said gloomily.” The poor man is married to a shrew! I pitied him tonight.”

Arwen laughed.
“You misjudge the Lady Eowyn.” She said. “I like her; she has a good heart beneath that prickly exterior. She and I are fast becoming close friends.”

Aragorn looked surprised.

“She still feels rejected by you, so you feel the rough edge of her tongue.” Arwen explained. “I see her with the other ladies, where she is much loved and admired, but no woman looks fondly on any man who rejected her, even if it were but a young maid’s infatuation! Then she feels caged in the city, after the plains of Rohan. You could not have asked her a worst question!”

Aragorn nuzzled his wife’s cheek.
“You are wise, my Evenstar and see things that I do not.”

Arwen laughed, a soft musical sound that her husband never tired of hearing.
“You forget I have lived many more years than you and there is little that I have not seen or experienced. I can also see you feel caged and are lonely.”

“Lonely? But you are everything I dreamed of and more, Arwen!” Aragorn protested, while at the same time looking slightly sheepish.

Arwen stroked his dark hair soothingly. “Remember how Ada used to say that love was like a rainbow and one needed to see all the colours?” she replied. “You miss the freedom; to be able to go out riding or hunting with good friends when you can forget the pressures of being King for a time. Your fellow rangers and the members of the fellowship now that Legolas and Gimli are in Mirkwood are all far away. While Eomer is busy in Rohan with his royal duties. I have my ladies as companions, you are surrounded by bickering nobles and a steward who could be your friend but acts like a beaten lapdog! You need to remedy that and get away from the Court and the city, which stifle you.”

“Maybe if we were to ride out in the countryside, without any retainers and get to know each other better, that perhaps Faramir would learn then that I am just a man like any other and then be comfortable when he is with me.”

“You are not just any man, I would have no other!” Arwen said, embracing him. He drew her close, savouring her nearness, her touch, and her scent. How he hated it when cares of state kept them apart.

“Did you manage to pass the afternoon pleasantly?” he asked, thinking ruefully of the Council Meeting with the visiting Ambassadors.

“Yes, I spent it with Ioreth.”

“Ioreth?” Aragorn was puzzled.” I had no idea you enjoyed that old crone’s company!”

Arwen chose her words carefully before replying. She wished now she had managed to avoid mentioning Ioreth’s name, as she had no wish to awaken her husband’s curiosity just yet.
“She is wise and is telling me many things I need to know about mortal women.” she replied carefully. Aragorn merely yawned.
” Now let us sleep as you have another meeting with the Harad delegates tomorrow.” Arwen suggested.

Aragorn groaned as he blew out the candle.
“I’ll need you with your diplomatic skills at my side to endure it!” he grumbled.

“I will be there and in a few days they will be gone and you can plan how you can escape for a while and maybe befriend your Steward too.” She said as she lay down beside her husband. Within a few moments, he was snoring peacefully. Arwen lay awake for a while, pondering the complexity of human emotions, and wondering when the time would be right to tell her husband her secret.

Early March 3021

Faramir climbed out of bed and reached for his drawers and breeches, pulling them on under his nightshirt. He wandered out to the closet in the main bedroom and sighed with relief that Eowyn; always an early riser had already vacated the chamber.

He anxiously looked through his clothes, wondering what he should wear for the private audience to which the King had summoned him.

He loved the King dearly and yet he dreaded every audience with him, fearful that he might do something wrong and see the same scorn and contempt in his Sovereign’s eyes that was always present in his father’s.

There were so many things he would have liked to ask Aragorn to tell him about. The Elves, his travels, and tales of the ring bearer but always the words froze on his lips.

By now, he supposed, the King must think him half witted.

He carefully selected a shirt of fine linen and tunic of blue velvet and laid them on the bed.

It was unusual for one of his rank not to have a servant to help them dress, but why burden them with the sight of these scars, or for that matter endure the embarrassment of their pitying and curious looks? Faramir thought sadly, as he pulled off his nightshirt, winching at the pain in his shoulder, where the Southeron arrow had torn into the muscles almost two years before.

The healers were amazed he could use the arm and shoulder at all and he supposed he had the King to thank for that.

Aragorn had offered him more help and not for the first time, he wondered if he should have accepted, but it was so embarrassing to appear weak in front of his Sovereign and it was doubtful that the offer was ever made as anything other than a gesture.

After all, the King had far more important matters to concern himself with than his Steward’s old wounds and how could he ever remove his shirt in front of him and let the shameful scars he bore across his back be seen by his Sovereign? He could only hope that he would have forgotten seeing them when he tended his wounds two years ago.

He tried to eat breakfast but was too nervous to swallow more than a slice of bread and honey and made his way to the King’s study. He knocked timidly at the door and a kindly voice bade him enter.

How he hated this room, which had been his father’s! There were new hangings on the walls, tapestries of the kings of old, brought from Rivendell, but in the aftermath of the war, new furniture was still in short supply and Aragorn still used Denethor’s desk and chair.

He shuddered to recall all the times; he had been beaten in that room, over that very desk.

Aragorn rose to his feet and smiled as he entered. The King was obviously finishing his breakfast as he had a tray in front of him.

“Have you eaten?” he asked Faramir.

“Yes thank you, my Liege.”

“I am glad someone besides my self still eats breakfast, the Queen says she is not hungry these past weeks, so I must eat it on my own! Do try one of these honey cakes, they are delicious and only a Hobbit could eat all the food the kitchens provide for me!”

Faramir was unable to resist the proffered delicacy and wondered if the King knew his weakness for honey cakes although the butterflies in his stomach made it difficult to swallow.

To his relief, Aragorn settled himself on the couch by the window rather than behind the desk and gestured Faramir to sit beside him.

They sat eating honey cakes in silence for a few minutes, listening to the rain outside.

“Thank you for organising my birthday celebrations so well, Faramir.” Aragorn said after the last cake was finished and washed down with wine.

“It was my pleasure, Sire. It is hard to believe you are ninety, you look scarcely more than half that age!” Faramir replied, hoping that this was all the King wanted to talk to him about as obviously his efforts had met with approval.

Aragorn laughed.

“Everyone says the same. In the North, the Chieftains never married outside the Numenorean lineage, so I could perhaps live another hundred years providing I do not fall in battle.”

“I wish you many more years.” Faramir said formally.

“I did not send for you to talk about that though, apart from expressing my pleasure…” Aragorn continued. Faramir’s heart sank. He knew he must have done something wrong.

Aragorn rose to his feet, Faramir did likewise.

“Has the couch caught fire?” Aragorn teased.

“No but I cannot remain seated while you stand, my King!”

“I have told you many times there is no need outside the Council Chambers. Now sit down and be at ease!”

Faramir complied. He could never get used to Aragorn’s disregard for court etiquette.
After wiping his hands on a moist towel by the tray, Aragorn picked up a parchment that was lying on the desk and unrolled it.

“I have just learned that Duilin of Morthond’s last surviving brother has died, leaving no male heir. His widow and daughters inherit his lands but under the terms of his grandfather’s will, his hunting lodge now belongs to the state of Gondor, as he left it to the male line only. It is in the forest about a day’s ride from here. As there are no pressing affairs of state at present and the New Year Celebrations are three weeks away, I thought that you and I and our ladies might go and spend some time there.”

“Sire?” Faramir was at a loss for words, torn between delight at the honour of being invited to spend time with the King and terror that he was bound to disappoint in some way.

“Protocol dictates we must have an escort to travel there We must have an escort to travel there but we can dismiss them once we arrive, ” Aragorn continued, ” I will be frank with you, I miss my old life sometimes and yearn for the freedom of the woods and fields, to eat and dress simply and pass by unrecognised as a ranger rather than a king.”

Faramir nodded, used as he was to court life, he still sometimes missed the simple life of a soldier and thought it must be even harder for the King.

“But why do you want Eowyn and myself to come?” He was unable to stop himself voicing his thoughts aloud.

“Your wife once told me she feared a cage, and she makes no secret that she sees this city as one, riding out in the open countryside would benefit her as the builders are still working on your new home in Ilithien. As for you, Faramir,” Aragorn paused and gave him one of his rare smiles.” You work far too hard and need a respite. Also I would like to get to know you better. We work together closely and yet I feel I know you little better than when we first met!”

Faramir blushed.” I fear you would find me a dull companion, my Lord.”

“Your Uncle tells me quite the contrary. I would know the truth!” Aragorn’s tone was stern but there was a twinkle in is eye as he spoke. “Now, tell me will you come? I feel you should see the Hunting Lodge and help me decide what to do with it as I assume Duilin’s intent was that your family should have the use of it as the will was made in your father’s time.”

Faramir bowed deeply. “I am obedient to your commands, Sire.”

Aragorn sighed. “I meant it as an invitation, not an order, but I assume that means you will come?”

“I am honoured to accept, Sire.”

“Good, now go and tell your Lady. We leave in three days time.”

Faramir made his farewells bowed again and left

Aragorn slumped on the couch. He found every private audience with Faramir wearing, as he felt torn between a desire to shake the man for his over formality and nervousness and to embrace him as a troubled soul in need of the love and reassurance his father had denied him since his birth, or so Imrahil had confided over a late night glass of wine, thus confirming what Aragorn had suspected from his Steward’s anxious demeanour.

He glanced out of the window behind him. The rain had almost stopped and the sun was struggling to come out from behind a cloud.

Aragorn rose to his feet and went to look out. A beautiful rainbow had formed and stood out in sharp contrast to the black clouds hovering over the city. Maybe it was a good sign for the future.

“I am sorry, my Love, I cannot.”

The ladies of the court dismissed, Aragorn was alone with Arwen in her sitting room as she sewed a tapestry. He looked dismayed at her reaction to the trip to the hunting lodge.

“But, Beloved, it was your idea!”

“I know and normally I would love to come with you but Ioreth says I must not.”

Aragorn looked bewildered. “Ioreth? Whatever is it to do with her?”

Arwen realised she could keep her secret no longer.

“She is the most experienced midwife in Gondor.”

“You mean, you are…?”

Arwen wished she could capture his expression and cherish it for always.

“Yes, Estel. We are going to have a child.”

“But when, how?”

She smiled at him, wondering why men were so lost for words about something so natural.

“The usual way, I believe, and our child should be born in a few month’s time, though Ioreth is uncertain about the exact date when the mother is an Elf and the father a human.”

“Why did you not tell me before?” Aragorn looked hurt. “I expect all of Gondor knows by now and I am the last to be told!”

“I disliked hiding it from you but I feared something could go wrong. Ioreth assures me now, all is well, and now that some months have passed, I should carry the babe to term. She may let her tongue run away with her, but never about the ladies whom she attends. She is most discreet on that account. You have not said if you are pleased or not” She pretended to look annoyed as she could read the answer in his eyes.

He drew her close in a fast embrace. “Beloved, I am delighted! I dreamed of our child for so long! I will cancel the trip, as I cannot leave you at such a time!”

Arwen laughed. “There is no need, Ioreth assures me, I am strong as a horse and the babe is not due until at least September, probably later!”

She reached across the table and picked up a small piece of parchment lying there and her expression grew sombre. “I have just had word that my brothers are due to arrive any day and I have much to discuss with them.”

Aragorn’s own eyes were filled with a mixture of sadness and guilt. “I took you from your family and soon you will be parted from them for eternity!”

Arwen gripped his hand fiercely and planted a loving kiss on his lips. “It was my choice and I would rather follow you beyond this world than sail to Valinor with my family. Soon, I will hold our child in my arms and we will create a new family, you and I!”

Aragorn returned her kiss.

“I know, but you love your family dearly.”

“They could stay here for our lifetime if they chose to do so!” She snapped, jabbing her needle into the tapestry with vigour. “But it is their choice not to. I have chosen to be with the one, who loves me most!”

“You have given up so much for me, though” Aragorn’s eyes were moist with unshed tears.

“It is what I want, many suitors asked for my hand, but you were the only one, I ever loved and desired to wed! Now let us plan your hunting trip as I hope you catch some friends there!” Arwen laughed, her mood changing suddenly “I will have need of the Lady Eowyn in the months ahead!”

“Eowyn?” Aragorn was puzzled.

“Yes, I would have her with me both as a healer and a friend. Ioreth is very competent, but hardly comforting.”

Aragorn was about to comment that comforting was hardly a word to apply to the Lady Eowyn when he remembered how she had comforted the women and children at Helm’s Deep and helped the midwives deliver a babe in the Glittering caves. Arwen’s choice was doubtless a wise one. He drew her close and kissed her again.

“I will miss you, Beloved!”

Arwen laughed as she drew him close.” Once you are out in the wilds again, you will be so happy, you will forget all about me until you return!” she teased. “You might be King, but you are still a ranger at heart! ”

Aragorn wisely said nothing as she drew his hand to her belly. He found himself trembling, as he contemplated the miracle of new life growing within her.

Eowyn’s reaction to the news was very different.
“What?” She shrieked, “Spend weeks in the middle of nowhere with that horrible man! I will not go!”
“You should not speak of the King so disrespectfully!” Faramir chided.” You must come with me, Eowyn, the King especially requested it and he is our Liege Lord. We owe him our duty.”
“Has he not done enough to ruin my life already?” she raged.
Faramir sighed. As he feared, she was still in love with Aragorn and how could he ever compete? “You need not see much of the King and you will be able to ride out in the countryside to your heart’s content.” he said calmly in an attempt to mollify her.
“I love riding but not with him!” she snapped and stormed out of the room. Faramir let her go, wondering sadly if she would ever again look at him as she had on the day he had proposed to her.
Eowyn wept in the privacy of her bedroom. This was the last straw. Not only had the King trapped her in a loveless marriage but now was forcing her to spend time in his company. Maybe he even planned to try and make her his mistress, as she knew such was the custom of past kings of Gondor and of Rohan too, or so she had been told.
Drying her eyes, she came to a decision.
She went into Faramir’s study, as she knew he kept parchment and ink on his desk and helped herself to both. She had only learned to write properly since coming to Gondor, but was adept enough to write a short letter.
Dipping the pen in the ink, she began.
‘Dearest brother,
I beg you to come and take me home. Faramir does not love me and cares nothing for my honour. I can endure it no longer.
Your loving sister, Eowyn.’
She addressed the missive and put it to one side, awaiting a chance to slip it amongst other documents being sent to Rohan. Eomer could not read well but he had a scribe at Edoras who would tell him the letter’s contents.
Feeling better after having decided to complain to her brother, she washed her face, changed her gown, and went down to lunch.

Chapter two
The next morning, Faramir accompanied by a furious Eowyn, was waiting in the courtyard for the King and Queen to appear.
The small detachment of guards who were to accompany them, resplendent in their livery of the White Tree, was already assembled when Aragorn finally appeared on his own.
“Greetings, my friends!” He said.” I am so glad you are coming with me today. The Queen regrets she cannot come with us, as she is indisposed.”
“Can’t we wait until she is better?” Eowyn challenged.
Ignoring her tone, Aragorn replied. “She bids us go and enjoy ourselves in her absence. Come, my friends!”
“I’m sure she is very happy about her husband going off for weeks in the middle of nowhere!” Eowyn said sarcastically, supposedly under her breath, but loud enough to heard.
“Control, yourself! “Faramir hissed, pulling his mount up beside his wife’s. “You almost speak, treason, my Lady!”
Eowyn tossed her head defiantly but hardly spoke a word more that day.
They passed through cheering crowds in the city, who presented flowers to their King and Steward and then rode through the villages, surrounded by now fertile farmland and out into the open countryside until they reached the forest, which they journeyed through for several hours.
Aragorn attempted pleasant conversation with Faramir and tried to include Eowyn but her replies were monosyllabic and he eventually abandoned the attempt.
It was late afternoon when they reached a large house, standing in a clearing of the forest. It was built of grey stone and had a slightly neglected appearance, though it was surrounded by a small and fairly well kept garden with a small courtyard in front.
“Will we be expected, Sire?” Faramir asked.
“Duilin of Morthond kept his Hunting Lodge in constant readiness for visitors.” Aragorn replied, “There should be a gardener and handyman and sufficient maidservants to keep the house running in good order. They should have had a message though, that we were coming soon.”
A middle-aged woman, who appeared to be the housekeeper, appeared on the threshold, no doubt alerted by the clatter of hoof beats on the stones.
The woman bowed low and after introductions were made, led them inside, the guards to the kitchens for refreshments and to be shown their lodgings before they rode back to Minas Tirith the next day, and Aragorn, Faramir and Eowyn to the main apartments.
The Housekeeper threw open a door to reveal a chamber dominated by a huge bed, surrounded by heavy tapestries showing hunting scenes. A few uncomfortable looking chairs and a table completed the furnishings. A log fire, blazing in the grate softened the somewhat austere surroundings.
“The rooms are all like this,” the woman explained. “I’m afraid they are somewhat lacking in elegance, Sire, but the late master used to come here with many companions, who would hunt all day and then feast and retire late, six or eight to a bed and rise again at dawn for the chase. We have not had a lady here in a long time.”
“The rooms will suffice, Mistress, as we too plan to be out riding most of the time.” Aragorn replied and dismissed the woman with his thanks.
He took the first of the chambers and then left Eowyn and Faramir to choose where they wanted to sleep. He secretly wished that they could spend at least one night together in the same room, as if camping out, talking far into the night and getting to know each other better. If only Arwen had been there, as Eowyn liked her and she had the Elven power to calm even the most nervous and highly strung individuals.
Faramir chose the room next to Aragorn’s, which was almost identical and asked Eowyn to make her choice of the others.
It was on the tip of her tongue to retort.
“Can you stand my company so little, you would not even be at the other side of one of these huge beds?” but she stayed silent.
Faramir for his part longed to ask her would she stay with him, however as she said nothing, felt it would only anger her to ask.
They unpacked their possessions in their separate chambers.
The next morning dawned bright and sunny, so that even Eowyn felt in a better mood.
Dinner the night before had been a gloomy affair for them all, as Aragorn struggled to make conversation, Faramir was too nervous to make other than polite replies while Eowyn had sat in glowering silence. Had she not been so hungry after a hard day’s riding, she would have stayed in her room and refused to attend the meal.

The Captain of the King’s Escort came to inform Aragorn that the men and horses were rested and ask for further instructions.

“Take your men and ride back to Minas Tirith and take leave to spend with your families before returning for us before the New Year celebrations.” Aragorn replied.

“May I speak freely, Sire?” the Captain asked.

“Certainly, you may.” Aragorn replied.

“I know we were only ordered to escort you here, but surely some of us should stay to guard Your Majesty and the Prince and Princess of Ilithien?” the Captain suggested.

“I know you mean well, Captain, but the purpose of this trip was that we could be away from the Court formality. ” Aragorn replied. “The Orcs are destroyed with Sauron’s defeat and there are few wild beasts in these parts. I have lived in the wild before we enjoyed safety and peace and come to no harm, so you need not worry. Go and enjoy your leave!”

He gave the man a silver coin. The Captain bowed and departed, still looking worried.

After the Captain had gone, Aragorn turned to Faramir and Eowyn and smiled at them.

“I have been looking forward to returning to my old ranger days and casting off court etiquette for a time, so shall we enjoy our freedom and go out riding my friends?”

“Yes, My Lord King, I will see that the horses are saddled.” Faramir replied. Aragorn sighed inwardly at the formality but hoped matters would improve over the coming days.

“I have a headache. I would be excused.” Eowyn said coldly.

“Maybe some fresh air would do you good or I have herbs I could give you to ease it.” Aragorn offered.

Eowyn realised her mistake and wished she had pleaded some female malady instead, which the men would consider indelicate to question.

“Rest and solitude are the best remedies, my Lord.” Her snub was coldly intentional. Aragorn looked at her, the hurt obvious in his eyes. Faramir looked away to hide his discomfort.

“I wish you a speedy recovery my Lady.” Aragorn said, bending to kiss her hand and brushing his fingers lightly across her forehead.

“Leave me alone!” she snapped. “I do not want your help. You think you can solve everything, but you are not omnipotent, My Lord!”

Aragorn’s grey eyes flashed with sudden anger.

“You forget to whom you speak!” he said coldly.

“You pretend you want us to be your friends but you don’t hesitate to remind us who you are if we speak our minds!” she retorted, her green eyes flashing

Faramir wished the ground would open and swallow him. He pretended to be adjusting Iavas’ bridle.

The fine chestnut had been a wedding gift to him from Eomer and was Faramir’s pride and joy, as he had never owned such a magnificent horse before.

Aragorn and Eowyn stood glaring at each other for what must have been but a few seconds but felt like hours to Faramir, watching nervously out of the corner of his eye.

Aragorn bowed his head slightly.

“You speak the truth, Lady. I ask your pardon. I would ask you to treat me with neither more nor less courtesy than any other man you encounter.”

“I will remember that, My Lord.” Eowyn said icily.

“We will leave you to rest then, Eowyn! ” Faramir said, anxious to depart before another argument could break out. “If you decide to ride out later, take good care in these wild places!”

“You, my Lords, are not armed, so why should I fear?” Eowyn retorted, blushing slightly that Faramir had so obviously guessed her intention of taking Windfola out once they were gone.

“We are riding, not hunting, swords would merely burden the horses, but a woman needs to protect herself more carefully.” Faramir replied, bending to kiss her cold cheek.

“Farewell!” said Eowyn and without a second glance, went back into the house.

“I apologise for Eowyn’s behaviour, Sire.” Faramir said as they rode away side by side.

“It is not your fault and she did speak the truth, however outrageously, I fear. Obviously something makes the lady unhappy.” Aragorn said calmly. “I hope her spirits will improve.”

“I do not know what ails her.” Faramir said gloomily.

“She is usually happy on horseback.” Aragorn replied wryly. “Maybe we will eventually see her smile. Now let us enjoy our ride, shall we follow the path and let the horses have their heads?”

The path led uphill and Aragorn and Faramir let their mounts choose their own pace.

Both were good horsemen and Faramir always felt more confident when astride a horse as that was one of the few areas in which he had outclassed his father and brother.

The wind blew on their faces, carrying the scent of early spring blossoms.

They halted upon reaching the brow of the hill. Faramir broke the silence, speaking his thoughts aloud.

“I used to come here with Boromir on the rare occasions we both had leave.” he said. “It was one of the few places where we could just be as brothers together away from the pressures of the Court. I believe Boromir visited the Hunting Lodge too as he knew Duilin of Morthond well.”

“Maybe I should not have brought you here if it makes you sad. I did not know you came here with your brother.” Aragorn said regretfully.

“The memories are happy ones.” Faramir replied. “Our father never knew we came to this place. We felt free for a while.”

“Shall we dismount and let the horses graze? It is a pleasant spot to sit and look at the view.” Aragorn swung easily from the saddle. Faramir followed but jarred his shoulder as his feet touched the ground. He winched from the pain.

“Does your shoulder pain you still?” Aragorn’s voice was full of concern.

“It is nothing, Sire. Just a twinge now and then.” Faramir inwardly cursed himself. Just as he was managing to acquit himself well for once with his King, he had to show some weakness again!

Aragorn seated himself on a fallen tree trunk and gestured for Faramir to sit beside him.

They sat in silence for a few minutes looking towards the White City, which was just visible on the horizon, the towers gleaming in the sunlight.

“The arrow damaged the muscle if I recall rightly. Let me ease it for you.” Aragorn said, his voice gentle but firm.

“It is nothing, Sire, just a mere twinge which has passed. It is a while since I have ridden so far in one day. It would not be fitting for the King to tend his subject.”

Aragorn sighed.

“It is surely fitting that one friend should aid another,” he said. “There is no need for you to be so formal, Faramir. We are not in the Council Chamber!”

Faramir shifted uneasily on the log and opened his mouth to issue another denial only to jar his shoulder again which caused him to hiss with pain.

“Let me aid you, please. I do know how I can help ease the pain. It is hard to watch another suffer when you have the means to give them ease!” Aragorn’s tone was almost pleading much to Faramir’s surprise.

Realising if he continued to refuse, he would appear as ungracious as Eowyn had done earlier, Faramir nodded and reluctantly loosened the lacing on his shirt, pulling his clothing away from the injured shoulder and baring the heavily scarred flesh, repressing an inward shudder as he did so, as he hated having the ugly scars revealed.

He supposed he should be thankful that his shirt still covered his back, as those scars distressed him even more, having been caused by repeated floggings rather than honourable battle wounds.

It still shamed him to remember that Aragorn had seen them in the Houses of Healing, despite the King’s kindness to him then.

Aragorn moved closer to him and Faramir looked away not wanting the King to see either his embarrassment or the pain in his eyes when the injury was touched.

Warm fingers touched the old injury and gently prodded the deep scar. He tensed in anticipation of the pain that would follow.

To his surprise, instead of agony, he felt a great sense of warmth enveloping the injured joint. He remembered the sensation now from when Aragorn had tended him before, but afterwards had wondered if he had dreamt it.

He stole a glance at the King who appeared to be almost in a trance with his eyes closed.

Faramir found himself holding his breath wondering what would happen next.

Aragorn opened his eyes and blinked in the bright sunlight. He looked strangely weary.

“That should have eased the pain,” he said, looking at Faramir, his grey eyes full of compassion.

Faramir gingerly moved the joint and smiled.

“How did you do that?” he asked, curiosity overcoming his embarrassment that yet again the King had seen the ugly scarring and felt the need to tend a mere subject like himself!

Aragorn shrugged. “I scarcely know. It is a gift those of my lineage possess, a kind of energy transference that heals, though it usually takes several times before a hurt is completely cured. You should have told me your wound still pained you .I can see now that it has not healed well.”

“You have too many affairs of state to concern you, my Liege, to be troubled over me.” Faramir replied knowing full well he had disobeyed his King’s instructions.

“The health of my Steward is a primary concern. Obviously you do not know me well!”

There was a brief flash of anger in Aragorn’s usually calm demeanour, which he immediately regretted when Faramir cringed as if struck.

“Peace! I am not angry, Faramir, just saddened that you seem unable to approach me as your friend rather than just as your King! I fear Eowyn was correct, but would ask you to treat me simply as Aragorn, the ranger from the North when we are in private!”

“I am unused to such kindness. You have always been most gracious to me, my Lord. I am your most humble servant.” Faramir replied with downcast eyes.

Aragorn inwardly cursed Denethor yet again as Faramir looked to be torn between wanting to fall on his knees or flee.

“I command you not to fear me then, as I do not eat my Stewards for breakfast though I know I lose my temper at times I do not bite! You are quite welcome to give me the rough side of your tongue should I merit it!” He grinned at Faramir. “Now let me massage your shoulder. It should ease it further.”

“Yes, my Lord.” Faramir said obediently but still looked rather apprehensive.

Aragorn controlled his exasperation as Faramir looked at him a way reminiscent of a trapped mouse waiting to be devoured by a cat. The pulse in the younger man’s neck throbbed far too rapidly.

“I am not going to hurt you,” the King said gently, as he started to work on the damaged muscle.

“I know that, Sire ” Faramir replied. “It is just that …” His voice trailed off. He could hardly tell the King that now he was in Denethor’s place, he kept expecting him to treat him as his father did, as that sounded so irrational.

“This will work better if you relax.” Aragorn instructed.” Forget about me, and about your father! Again Aragorn seemed to read his Steward’s mind. ” Just take deep breaths, and concentrate on that lovely view of the city!”

Faramir strove to do as he was bidden, all the while remembering the attentions of the court healers and the pain they had caused him in the past.

To his surprise, the King’s touch was so gentle he felt no pain, even though it felt as if the damaged muscle were somehow being remoulded. He relaxed finding the soothing strokes of Aragorn’s warm fingers oddly comforting. He started to feel drowsy and forced himself back to full wakefulness by asking:

“Is this another gift Elendil’s line possesses?”

Aragorn laughed. “No, it is a simple Elven technique that any could learn. Arwen is far more skilled at it than I am.”

Faramir remembered the Queen was unwell.

“I hope her Majesty’s indisposition is not serious,” he said. To his surprise, Aragorn smiled.

“No, not at all! I will take you into my confidence, Faramir, as I can trust you not to tell anyone else yet, Arwen is expecting our child!”

Any lingering doubt Aragorn might have felt about Faramir resenting being supplanted as a possible successor vanished at the other’s immediate and delighted reaction.”

“That is wonderful news! I am so happy for you both.” Faramir turned and beamed delightedly at his King, who had rarely seen him looking so happy before.

“Thank you, Faramir. We are keeping the news private until it is impossible to conceal but I wanted to share such glad tidings with you as I have waited so long to be a father!”

“You are truly blessed, I envy you! ” Faramir exclaimed.

“I am sure you and Lady Eowyn will soon be blessed too.” Aragorn replied.

“I don’t know, Eowyn, we haven’t …” his voice trailed away embarrassed at the turn the conversation had taken.

“Does she not desire to be a mother?” Aragorn asked.” Many women are nervous at first.”

“I don’t know.” Faramir replied truthfully “I would not have her think me a brute by forcing my wish for children upon her! I love her too much.”

He blushed scarlet and wished the ground would swallow him, realising the implications of what he had said. Why did he always say and do the wrong thing when he was with the King?

“My Liege, I am so sorry, I didn’t mean …”

Aragorn never paused in gently kneading Faramir’s damaged muscles. He was beginning to understand now much of what had puzzled him before.

“I know you meant no insult.” he said, smiling reassuringly. “I am also certain you know Elves only bear children when they wish to. You have a gentle nature quite unlike your father, Faramir, so banish such thoughts far from your mind, though I do know that even he was kind to your mother. Though it is not my place to tell you how to conduct your marriage, I suggest that you talk to your lady. It is better not to surmise what others think, especially women. Arwen never fails to surprise me and I have known her for sixty years now! One word of advice I do give you, though, remember women easily feel rejected and then expect men to read their minds for the reasons why, so take care that you ask!”

“I will take your advice; Sire, though sometimes I fear Eowyn does not love me. I wonder if…” His voice trailed away, too embarrassed to mention his suspicions.

“Well she certainly has no love for me. I see only hatred in her eyes.” Aragorn replied, again reading his thoughts. “That saddens me as I have always loved her since our first meeting.”

Faramir stared at the King, shocked.

“As I would a sister, naturally, as Arwen is the only woman I have ever been in love with and always will be.” Aragorn said calmly.” But I would not lie by pretending I shared Eowyn’s hatred for me. Put your mind at rest on that count, as I doubt she would have become fast friends with Arwen, were she still in love with me!”

“I am sorry, my Liege to have spoken so boldly.” Faramir was bright red at his own outspokenness.

“It is good to hear you speak freely, Faramir as I will always be here for you if you desire someone to confide in. It is best there should be no shadows from the past between us.”

Faramir remained silent as Aragorn continued massaging his shoulder, now with a slow circular motion of his fingertips, wondering whatever had lulled him into such outspokenness.

“Now, your shoulder should feel easier but I must keep tending it until it is fully healed.” Aragorn said at last.

Faramir stirred reluctantly, he had become so relaxed that he was almost asleep.

He nodded agreement as Aragorn finished massaging his shoulder and eased his shirt back in place.

“Thank you, Sire. I will do as you say.”

“Be thou blessed and healed!” Aragorn impulsively laid a hand in blessing on Faramir’s head.

To the young Steward’s horror; a dreadful vision came into his mind just like it had happened two years before.
This time he saw Aragorn sprawled across a bed; his naked flesh bloodied and torn while he wept bitterly.

The vision could not have lasted more than a few seconds, but its intensity left Faramir feeling faint and dizzy.

He would have fallen from the log had not the King caught him.

“What is the matter?” Aragorn’s voice was full of concern. “Are you unwell?” He placed a comforting arm round Faramir’s shoulders and steadied him.

Faramir tried to compose himself, wiping the sweat from his brow.

“I will be well in a moment, Sire. I have these visions at times. Boromir and my father had them too though less frequently than I. It usually happened when were in close proximity to each other”

Aragorn nodded. “I know, many of our Race are gifted or cursed with them to some degree. What did you see?”

Faramir hesitated, wondering what he should say before deciding he should warn Aragorn.

“I saw you, Sire. You were badly injured. I know not when or how, but I beg you to be careful.”

Aragorn, touched by the emotion in Faramir’s voice, forced himself to smile reassuringly. “I will do my best, but you could be seeing the aftermath of a battle fifty years from hence!”

“It may be; my Lord. I do not know. It could be that it is a mere trick of the mind. The last vision I had of you was false, praise the Valar!”

“And what was that vision, pray tell me?”

“It was before you rode out to Mordor. I had a vision of you badly wounded, maybe dying, with your friends weeping by your side.” Faramir laughed. “Thankfully that vision was totally false.”

Aragorn froze as he felt his blood run cold.

“Your vision told you the truth, Faramir. I was indeed badly wounded and only lived by the grace of the Valar. It was decided that it was best that few knew about it, as some of Sauron’s forces were still fighting and preserving the morale of the men was important. Then afterwards, I kept it quiet to spare the feelings of the Hobbits as that time was hard enough for them, without the burden of knowing I was wounded while I was tending to them.”

Faramir shuddered but could think of nothing to say. Aragorn patted his arm reassuringly.

“Since neither you nor I can prevent such visions, we just have to use them as best we may. Now, we had better be moving on, if you are able to stand?”

Faramir nodded. His head had stopped spinning but the fearful image lingered in his mind.

Still feeling slightly dazed, Faramir permitted Aragorn to help him to his feet as they called the horses and remounted.

They rode on until the sun was high in the sky when they reached the outskirts of a small settlement comprising a handful of dilapidated huts of the kind used by charcoal burners.

An old woman was sitting outside a hut and called to them.

“Well, I never did, if it isn’t the King himself!”

Aragorn and Faramir dismounted. The old woman dropped a deep curtsey.

“Arise, good lady!” Aragorn said, smiling at her kindly. “How did you know who I am?”

“I watched your coronation with my family.” she replied. “You must be thirsty my lords, will you do me the honour of tasting my home made wine?”

Aragorn hesitated, if past experiences were anything to go by, the wine would probably taste worst than vinegar, but as King he had a duty to respect his subjects’ feelings and after all, wine, unlike water did not carry the risk of coming from a contaminated well.

He took the proffered goblet, thinking as he did so, that it was fine workmanship for a poor woman to own, no doubt a family heirloom. He gestured to Faramir to do likewise.

The wine, apart from having a slightly bitter taste, was better than anticipated and they drained the goblets and returned them to the old woman, thanking her before remounting and riding off.

Aragorn glanced back. The crone was still staring after them, a strange expression on her face.

“That old woman unnerves me.” he remarked.

“I suppose she has never spoken to a King before, she would not expect you to ride past her threshold when she saw you crowned.” Faramir replied groggily.

The Steward was starting to feel very strange. “I think I need to dismount,” he told Aragorn, dismayed at showing yet another sign of weakness.

“The trouble with drinking wine is that nature calls soon afterwards!” Aragorn said wryly. “I think we had better both stop here.”

They had reached a clearing surrounded by trees. Faramir half slid and half fell from his horse and tottered behind the nearest tree. He stole a furtive glance at the King and was alarmed to notice he was no steadier on his feet. They stumbled back into the clearing both yawning.

“I will have to sit down!” Faramir gasped and sunk to the ground.

Aragorn tried to collect his befuddled wits. “The wine was drugged!” he exclaimed. “We must get away from here! We should have brought weapons!” He tried to mount Roheryn but his feet refused to obey him.

“Can’t keep my eyes open!” Faramir murmured sleepily.” I don’t feel well!”

Aragorn tried to go to his aid but sank unconscious at his Steward’s side.

Aragorn had no idea how much time passed before he came to his senses. At first he thought he must have fallen asleep on the grass and wondered why his mouth was so dry and his head pounding. He tried to get up only to find to his dismay and fury that his hands and feet were bound securely. A groan alerted him to Faramir’s presence at his side.

Before he could fully gather his wits, a rough voice said with mock courtesy:

“Let me introduce myself to Your Majesty and My Lord Steward. I am Fennas and this is my brother in law Calardan. We were waiting for you to wake up as we didn’t want you to miss any of our surprise!”

“I have not had the dubious pleasure of making your acquaintance before!” Aragorn snapped, wishing his voice sounded less hoarse. “Now let us go immediately and maybe I will not deal with you too harshly!”

“I remember, you, Fennas, why are you doing this?” Faramir’s voice, sounding equally husky broke in.

Fennas laughed; an ugly sound devoid of mirth! “You should already know the answer to that, Faramir. For forty years my father served as Porter to your father, only to be cut down and slain by your friends who wanted to save you, the worthless whelp of a great man!”

“I grieved for your loss, but I cannot be held responsible for it” Faramir replied with dignity. “Your quarrel, if there be one, lies with me, so release the King at once!”

Calardan spoke for the first time. He was taller than Fennas and carried a bow on his back.

“You both have a lot to answer for!” He growled. “I was married to Fennas’ sister and a right comely lass she was too and about to have our first child, when the Black Breath came upon her. She lingered for days growing weaker .I lost all hope and then heard tidings that the King had come and had the power to heal her malady. I went off to find you, Your Majesty, but you were far too busy with that useless runt there, and your other fine friends, to save my poor wife and our child! She was the daughter of that poor old woman who gave you the wine just now.” He brushed away a tear with a dirty sleeve.

Aragorn looked at him with genuine compassion. “I would have helped your wife had I known.” He said. “I feel for your losses and will pardon your behaviour if you release us at once!”

Fennas gave an evil grin as he opened a bag, which had been lying on the grass. A variety of kitchen utensils fell out onto the grass, including several knives, a pair of tongs, a poker and more ominously amidst such everyday objects, a horsewhip.

“You and your useless steward won’t escape that easily, Elessar.” He said. “I intend to teach you both a lesson to avenge my poor father and sister so they can rest easily in the afterlife. Maybe, if I feel generous, I will let one of you live, it all depends on how much entertainment you provide me with!”

Aragorn repressed a shudder as he glanced at Faramir’s white face. They were obviously dealing with madmen. He struggled to free himself from the ropes securing his limbs. A well-aimed kick from Calardan had him bent double with agony. He bit his lip to suppress a cry.

Faramir was roughly dragged to his knees by Fennas, while Calardan picked up one of the knives and slit Faramir’s tunic and undershirt down the back.

“It seems only appropriate we should use my wife’s possessions to avenge her.” He smirked.

“We should have stripped them before they woke up.” Fennas grumbled. “Those are good clothes, worth two months’ wages to the likes of us!”

“It’s too late to grumble about that, now, we’ll just have to cut their clothes off.” Calardan retorted. “We should have secured the horses too before they wandered off.”

Aragorn and Faramir struggled to remain impassive, as the situation seemed to worsen by the minute. They were bound and helpless with no prospect of rescue. Aragorn silently cursed his own foolishness for allowing himself to get into this situation, and worse still, involve Faramir. If only they had refused the wine, yet it had seemed but a small courtesy to accept a drink from an apparently loyal subject.

Fennas picked up the horsewhip; it was a cruel version with the thongs weighted by lead, a type officially banned since Aragorn had ascended the throne as the King hated to see horses ill treated.

Smirking at his victims, Fennas lifted the whip and with considerable force brought it down on Faramir’s unprotected back The Steward tried to crawl away from the source of the blows but was tied too tightly to do so.

Aragorn briefly closed his eyes, remembering how he had vowed never to let Faramir be beaten again .He felt overwhelmed with anger at his own helplessness to prevent it happening.

The whip fell again and again, as Fennas brandished it with considerable vigour.

Silent tears fell down Faramir’s cheeks, but he made no sound.

“Leave him be!” Aragorn cried in his most commanding tone. “He has never harmed you nor wished you ill!”

Fennas lowered the whip, dragged Faramir to his feet, and aided by Calardan pulled him to the nearest tree and secured another rope round his feet. He then pulled the Steward upright and yanked his arms over his head and secured them to the birch tree.

If it had not been that Aragorn had earlier eased his shoulder, Faramir would have screamed in agony at the rough treatment.

Aragorn was dragged to his knees and felt the cold steel against his flesh as his tunic was slit and his back was bared.

“Pleased to oblige, Your Majesty.” Fennas said with mock humility. “We can always beat you instead of your imbecile Steward!”

He flexed his muscular arm and raised the whip.

The lash tore brutally into Aragorn’s flesh, over and over again. He bit back the cries of pain, which rose to his lips, determined not to give them that satisfaction as he felt the warm blood oozing from the wounds.

Faramir could only watch in horror, as his King was brutally flogged .His own back throbbed painfully but seeing Aragorn suffer was a crueller torment than being beaten himself. He wondered why ever had the King taken his place as the victim.

“Let him be! I am the cause of your anger!” Faramir pleaded. “Take me instead!”

Even through the mist of pain, Aragorn was touched by Faramir’s self sacrifice.

” Why are you letting us beat you, Your Majesty? You have only to say the word and we beat him instead!” Calardan offered from where he stood watching, obviously enjoying the spectacle.

Aragorn gritted his teeth and said nothing. Faramir had already known too much pain in his life and if he could protect him, he intended to whatever the cost. He had little hope that either of them would emerge from the ordeal alive, but maybe if they vented their wrath on him, they would at least grant his Stewart a quick and painless death.

“Enough!” Calardan cried after what seemed an eternity. “We want them to live to enjoy all we have to offer!”

The two men roughly dragged Aragorn to his feet and rammed him against an ash tree, securing his ankles and then tying his hands above his head, painfully jarring his already injured back and shoulders

The rough bark scraped the open wounds on his back and this time he was unable to prevent himself crying out in agony.

Fennas and Calardan roared with laughter. “So his Majesty knows how to scream then!” They giggled. “We thought he was struck dumb!”

Calardan then approached to Faramir, brandishing a pair of kitchen tongs. The Steward shuddered and was almost relieved when the man started to pinch his arms and legs with them. It was painful but nothing like the whip.

But then Fennas picked up a knife and cut into Faramir’s arm.

“Leave him be!” Aragorn gasped, as Faramir squeaked with pain “This man has suffered enough!”

Despite their predicament, Faramir felt overwhelmed that his King should try to save him despite having been tormented even more cruelly.

Fennas grinned, “Your wish is my command, Your Majesty!” he smirked.
Approaching Aragorn, he slit what remained of his tunic down the front and then cut his the cloth of his breeches from the waistband, exposing the vulnerable flesh of his belly.

Calardan approached with a strange looking knife.

“No!” Faramir screamed, trying vainly to break his bonds. “Leave him alone!”

“Make sure our loved ones are remembered!” Fennas cried.

The knife cut into Aragorn’s chest with a searing pain and he moaned despite his attempts to stay silent as Calardan cut in methodical strokes down his ribs and across his belly with an occasional slash at his legs.

“No! Please no, stop it, don’t hurt him!” Faramir begged vainly.

Calardan stepped back as if to survey his handiwork.

Faramir was now weeping unable to endure it any longer, seeing his King, his saviour, the kind and gentle man who had healed and comforted him, being hurt and humiliated like this. There might be some, who deserved torment, but not Aragorn, whose goodness had helped so many.

He closed his eyes unable to look at the King’s bruised and bleeding body.

“You are going to watch or we can do something else!” Fennas’ harsh voice told him. The man was watching him like a hawk, enjoying his anguish. “How about blinding him or maybe ensuring neither of you ever father children?”

Faramir forced his eyes open again. Their main quarrel was with him, why must they hurt Aragorn so?

Fennas had now kindled a fire and was holding the kitchen poker in the flames.

He approached Aragorn. “Now you can choose who has this treat.” He said. “You can try it first, but just say the word and your Steward gets it instead!”

Aragorn said nothing and bit back the cry as the poker touched the tender skin beneath his ribs.

Faramir started to retch as he remembered the day his father tried to burn him alive.

He realised now, how wrong he had been to fear Aragorn and believe he would treat him as his father had done. If only he had realised it before they could have been friends!

He wanted to beg them to torture him instead of the King but the words stuck in his throat, so great was his fear of fire.

“I’m growing tired of this!” Calardan said after a few moments of cruelly jabbing Aragorn with the poker.” It’s time, I practised my archery skills as I rarely have such good targets to shoot at, sitting ducks you might call them! Which one shall we shoot first?”

“I would enjoy seeing the expression on my Lord Steward’s face when we shoot the his oh so noble Majesty!” Fennas chortled.

Aragorn bowed his head and sent a silent prayer to the Valar to protect his loved ones and watch over Arwen and their child. He had hoped and dreamed of so much and now his life would end for nothing at the hands of deranged ruffians.

“Let the King, go!” Faramir begged.

“Let my Steward go!” Aragorn said with all the authority his abused body could command. “You have had your revenge and wounded me almost to the death already, but you could still show mercy and spare him.”

“Maybe I will and maybe I won’t.” Fennas replied. “You will not live to find out, Elessar! Your line has ended; that which destroyed mine and who cares about your Steward, a man so unlike his noble father that men say his mother lay with a common soldier to get him!”

Faramir blanched with fury at the outrageous insult but it was soon forgotten as Calardan fitted the arrow to the bow, pulled the bowstring taut and let the arrow fly.

“No!” he screamed, struggling uselessly against his bonds.

Aragorn saw the arrow coming towards him and smiled. His line would not end here, as Arwen carried their child. He hoped she would tell his child how much he had loved them both.

The arrow pierced his chest and he knew no more.

Faramir allowed himself to close his eyes now that they could hurt his King no longer.

Maybe the arrow had missed his heart but no one could continue to endure such treatment for long and still live. A feeling of total emptiness and desolation swept over him. Ever since he could remember, he had yearned for the King to return and when Aragorn had come, he was everything he had dreamed of and more. Now he was dying and with him the hopes of Middle Earth. He no longer cared about his own peril.

“Cowards!” He screamed. “What sort of revenge entails killing a bound and helpless man? Your lost loved ones would despise you if they can see you now! Curse you!”

Calardan raised his bow.

“We were going to spare you, but you will pay for your insolence, you misbegotten imp of a fallen house!” Fennas jeered. “Hold with the arrow, that is too quick a death for him!”

He advanced towards Faramir clutching the now red-hot poker, which had been resting in the now blazing fire.

Faramir braced himself for the pain, which for all his fear of fire, could be as nothing compared with the anguish he felt in his heart.

Chapter three

Eowyn had sat inside brooding for a time after the men left, then as it was such a fine day had been unable to resist saddling Windfola and riding out. She hated being in this deserted place with only a King she despised and a husband who shunned her for company, but it did at least afford a perfect opportunity to engage in her favourite pastime.

As was her custom when riding alone, rather than because Faramir’s had told her to, she took her sword with her.

She rode along the track leading into the forest lost in her own thoughts and passed the charcoal burners’ huts without even noticing them.

She was surprised and somewhat alarmed to come across the two riderless horses still saddled and bridled. She knew both Faramir and the King, despite all their drawbacks, were devoted to their steeds and would not let them stray into possible danger, as wolves inhabited the forest.

Roheryn neighed and indicated that he wanted her to follow which she did. The horse was Elvish and much as she hated to admit it, had superior senses even to the famed horses of her homeland.

Suddenly she heard shouts and screams and galloped towards the source of the sound, drawing her sword as she went as a precaution.

A horrific sight met her eyes, as she saw Faramir tied to a tree threatened by a man wielding a red-hot poker, obviously intent on causing him harm. A second man, wielding a bow stood beside the first and she could hear them boasting about how much pain they intended to cause Faramir by first burning, and then shooting arrows into him.

Blind fury overcame her, she was angry with Faramir for marrying her for political reasons and for shunning her bed, but how dare those ruffians attack such a gentle and kind- natured man in cold blood?

Using surprise as an advantage, she urged Windfola even faster and lashed out at Fennas,just as he was preoccupied with raising the poker to strike Faramir in the ribs. The sword caught his throat, piercing a main artery. He swayed, made a gurgling sound ,then fell like a stone and lay lifeless on the ground.

Calardan tried to draw his bow, but Roheryn, her Elvish instincts sensing evil, reared up at him trampling him to the ground with her powerful hooves.

The man screamed under the animal’s powerful hooves, but soon fell silent as the life ebbed from him.

Eowyn leapt from her mount and rushed to Faramir’s side, quickly slashing the ropes that secured him and supporting him as he almost fell when the bonds were loosened.

“You’re hurt!” she gasped. Any doubts that Faramir harboured that she still loved the King rather than him vanished at that moment, when he saw the love and concern in her eyes but any elation he felt was overshadowed by his concern for Aragorn.

He trembled with shock and pain as she held him but quickly collected himself.

“My hurts are slight,” he said, flexing his arms that felt as if they had been torn from their sockets. “I think they have killed the King though!”

Eowyn made her way to the tree where Aragorn was secured closely followed by Faramir who stumbled along as best he could.

Aragorn’s head lolled to one side and he was drenched in blood. The arrow protruded from his chest, and his many open wounds oozed blood.

Faramir feared they were too late as his wife cut the ropes. Waves of nausea and dread swept over him. As Steward, he ought to have protected his Sovereign!

Aragorn sank to the ground before Faramir, hindered by the pain and stiffness in his limbs, could catch him.

To the Steward’s relief Aragorn obviously still lived, as when he hit the ground, he moaned and curled into a foetal position as if trying to ward off further blows.

Faramir knelt beside him, cradling the King in his arms.

“He is alive! Help him Eowyn, please! You are trained in healing arts!” he begged, though he feared all they could do was to make the King’s last moments more comfortable.

Eowyn stood looking down at Aragorn with an unreadable expression, which somehow uncomfortably reminded Faramir of that of a cat, which had just captured a particularly stubborn rodent.

Aragorn opened his eyes and saw Faramir bending over him.

“Leave me; save yourself!” he murmured before losing consciousness again.

Eowyn’s expression suddenly softened.

“Can you help me get him on the horse?” she asked.

Faramir nodded. ” I will do anything to help my King,” he said staunchly. “Will he live?”
He held his breath awaiting her answer.

“I cannot tell until I’ve seen how bad the wounds are.” she replied.” They are not bleeding profusely, which is good sign, but if the arrow has pierced his lung, I fear he has little chance of surviving.”

As Eowyn spoke, she stamped out the fire and studied the collection of kitchen implements, which had been put to such evil use.

She picked up the knife, which was covered with the king’s blood and looked at it carefully. “This is an Orc blade,” she pronounced at last. “Not sharp; yet designed to cause pain. Many kitchen maids use them to tenderise meat as their men folk brought them as trophies from the war .Our cook uses one.”

Faramir felt another wave of nausea sweeping over him as he recalled being forced to watch the blade dragged across Aragorn’s flesh.

Her gaze lingered over the poker, the horsewhip, the tongs, and the knives. When she finally lifted her eyes again, there was something like fear in them.

“Did they use any of these on you, my husband?”

” I have a few lashes, cuts and bruises, nothing worse. Do not worry about me. The King needs your help far more.”

Eowyn kicked the implements into a ditch, unable to look at them any longer.

She led Windfola to where Aragorn lay and murmured in his ear. The horse, trained to bear those wounded in battle, sank to his knees and knelt beside the King. Eowyn and Faramir dragged him across his back.

“You mount behind him and see he doesn’t fall.” she said, easing him into the saddle.” I’ll ride your Iavas and Roheryn can follow us.

“What of the bodies?” Faramir asked.

“Let the wolves have them!” Eowyn snapped with some relish. Faramir silently agreed with her.

The ride, though only of a few minutes duration seemed to take hours. Faramir had to hold on to Aragorn as best he could to prevent him from sliding off the horse, even though he knew he was aggravating his wounds by touching him. Aragorn moaned softly but remained barely conscious.
After what was in fact a short ride, but felt like an eternity, they reached the sanctuary of the lodge

Eowyn helped Faramir dismount with the King, whom they half dragged, half carried inside to his bedroom, and laid him of the huge bed, a vast piece of furniture, which seemed designed to accommodate at least six people.

A fire was already burning in the grate and the lamps were lit against the gathering dusk of the late afternoon.

Eowyn called to the serving maids to fetch hot water and towels while Faramir pulled off Aragorn’s boots.

She only now noticed Faramir’s torn clothing, as the lashes from the whip appeared like scarlet ribbons, visible where the tunic had been slashed from his back.

“I shall tend you first, husband,” she said firmly, her eyes brimming with concern.

Faramir shook his head though touched by her obvious distress.

“They treated the King far more cruelly. My hurts can wait.”

Eowyn nodded reluctantly .At that moment one of the maids came with the water and towels. Faramir was relieved that Eowyn took them from the girl at the door, rather than letting her enter the room and gape at the stricken King.

Frowning, she placed the bowls by the bed and washed her hands, sizing up the King’s condition as she did so. Her frown deepened.

“You must let me see your hurts if I’m to help you.” she said, shaking Aragorn gently. Unaware of his surroundings, he instinctively curled up, his hands clutching his wounded body as if expecting further mistreatment.

He moaned but made no sign of having understood,

Faramir impulsively moved nearer and gently gripped the King’s hands.

“Please my Liege.” he begged. “Let us aid you, I beg of you!”

Aragorn opened his eyes, which were dulled with pain and confusion. It tore Faramir’s heart to see his King so stricken.

Aragorn groaned again but made no further attempt to resist their ministrations when they moved him.

Faramir gently prised his clutching hands away, as he moved to assist Eowyn.

“That arrow must be removed first.” Eowyn announced “We’ll have to turn him on his back.”

Aragorn groaned in pain at the pressure of the mattress against his wounds.

“I’d better get a knife.” Eowyn said, calling to the servant, whom she’d instructed to wait outside the door. “It will have to be cut out.”

Faramir shuddered .He knew the arrow must be removed but wondered how much more Aragorn could endure or even if it would be of any benefit, as he must be very close to death already.

She bent over Aragorn and noticed for the first time, that he was wearing a silk shirt.

“I’ll try pulling it first,” she said. Hold him down!”

Faramir gasped: “You will tear the flesh if you do that!” he protested.

“If I am to help him, you must trust me!” Eowyn snapped. “I know what I’m doing, now hold him so he doesn’t struggle!”

Fighting back waves of nausea, Faramir obeyed and gripped Aragorn’s arms and held them He could not bring himself to look at the King’s face.

Eowyn gave a tug and Aragorn arched and cried out in agony.

Clutching the arrow, Eowyn almost fell backwards it came away so easily.

Hastily she grabbed a towel and pressed it over the wound to staunch the bleeding. With her free hand, she forced the King’s mouth open and looked inside.

Faramir stared in amazement at the discarded arrow, now lying on the floor.
“Arrows can come out easily if the victim is wearing a silk shirt ” Eowyn explained, “I’ve heard stories that the Easterlings are so hard to better in battle as they take little hurt from arrow wounds, unless the tip pierces a vital organ, as the silk tunics they wear protect their flesh from being torn by arrows, but I never believed such tales before!”

She lifted the cloth and looked at the colour of the blood staining it.
“There’s no blood in his mouth and the blood here isn’t pink or frothy so I don’t think his lung was pieced, or even a rib damaged.” Eowyn announced as the bleeding started to slow. “It appears to be just a flesh wound, which should heal. Maybe I will cauterise it!”

“No!” Faramir almost shouted. “Can you not see that he has endured enough of hot irons?”

Eowyn shrugged, and said coldly “As you wish; it matters not, but do not blame me if it becomes infected!”

She fastened a makeshift bandage round it then sighed as she eyed the many wounds covering Aragorn’s bloodied and battered form.

“I hardly know where to start,” she murmured as she picked up the knife. “Help me get these rags off him and then I can see the rest of his hurts properly.”

Grasping the knife, she slashed the remainder of his clothing pulling the rags away from the battered flesh.

Before she cut what was left of the breeches away, Faramir grabbed one of the towels and placed it over the King’s hips in an attempt to preserve some modesty for his sovereign.

Eowyn looked wryly amused.

“I have seen plenty of unclothed males in my time.” she said much to Faramir’s shocked surprise. “Your Gondorian women are sheltered compared with those of Rohan!”

Aragorn felt he was having a nightmare; his whole body throbbed with pain, varying in intensity according to where he was being prodded.

He had often been wounded in battle but this pain was far worst. Mocking voices echoed round his head followed by a sensation that he was lying naked on a bed under the harsh scrutiny of Lady Eowyn’s gaze.

He forced himself to open his eyes to dispel the images only to see her blonde hair and green eyes hovering above. He closed his eyes again, even Arwen had never seen him thus as they always disrobed in separate rooms and blew out the bedside candles prior to martial intimacy.

He tried to protest but the pain was too great to allow him to utter any other sound than a high-pitched moan.

“He’s coming round!” said Faramir. He clasped Aragorn’s hand. “You’re safe now, my King.” he said soothingly.

“Come on, help me move him on his side!” Eowyn ordered impatiently.” The sooner this is over, the better!”

Aragorn felt a sharp stab of pain in his back as he was turned and then the agony eased a little; apart from the painful sensation of none too gentle fingers probing his wounds.

Eowyn pulled away the last shreds of Aragorn’s ruined clothing and ran her hands over his injured body, pressing her fingers down to check for broken bones, and making him gasp with pain when she touched his wounds. Once she would have delighted in touching him but now she was filled with revulsion.

“I can’t find any fractures,” she announced at length. “There are countless wounds but none of them seem very deep.”

“Will he live?” Faramir asked almost pleadingly. “Can you help him?”

“His heart still beats strongly so he may recover ,as long there is no great infection and he can endure the pain” she said thoughtfully. “Each one is not dangerous of itself but there are so many and they look very painful. First they must be thoroughly cleansed.”

Eowyn called for the servants and ordered them to bring more hot water, cloths, and salt.

She settled herself on the edge of the bed held up a lamp to better examine the cruel lash marks crisscrossing Aragorn’s back.

“I will start by cleaning these.” she said “They will be the hardest to treat, as they have bark and even small insects in them!”

Faramir looked and shuddered as he remembered the men flinging the King against the ash tree and his agonised cry as the rough bark jarred the lacerated flesh.

Adding some salt to the hot water she placed the cloth on Aragorn’s back to start the cleansing, rubbing the lacerated flesh much as if she were scouring a cooking pot.

Aragorn jerked away, crying out in pain.

“Hold him still!” she instructed Faramir. “This must be done.”

“Please be gentle.” Faramir pleaded.

“I can always get one of the maids to do if you’re not satisfied!” she retorted.

Faramir moved round to the other side of the bed and sat facing Aragorn. He meant to grasp his arms and secure him, but at that moment, the King’s eyes flickered open again.

The Steward had always found it hard to meet his gaze, so piercing and yet so compassionate but now those same eyes were dulled with pain and fear.

Impulsively he held out his hands to the King. “Eowyn needs to clean your wounds, you must be still, my Liege!” he said, offering his hands in a gesture of comfort.

Rather to his surprise, Aragorn reached out and gripped them. Faramir nodded to Eowyn to proceed.

Whether Faramir somehow succeeded in offering some comfort of whether Eowyn was more gentle, neither would ever know though the next minutes felt like an eternity as Eowyn bathed and cleaned and extracted the fragments of bark from the raw wounds.

The grip on Faramir’s hands tightened to the extent he almost cried out as he wondered if every bone in his hands would be crushed.

Aragorn made no further sound but an occasional silent tear rolled down his cheek

“That’s done!” Eowyn said at last. Aragorn loosened his grip and Faramir gave an audible sign of relief.

“So sorry… hurt you.” Faramir had to bend to catch the whispered words.

“Think noting of it, Sire,” he said, brushing the tears from the pale cheeks and blinking away the moisture in his own eyes.

Eowyn called for more water and moved round the other side of the bed. Faramir rose to his feet giving her room to work as she cleaned the shallow but jagged gashes disfiguring Aragorn’s chest and belly.

Faramir swallowed to hold back the nausea, which threatened to overwhelm him as he saw all too clearly the results of the attackers’ handiwork and felt a stab of guilt for if Beregond had not saved him by attacking the porter and he had died with his father, would Aragorn not now be at home with his Queen, safe and well?

Eowyn had turned her attention to the burns, which she dabbed with cold water.

“I doubt these will even scar.” She said calmly. “That fire wasn’t very hot fortunately.
Now go fetch me some old sheets and some honey!”

Faramir, startled, moved back towards the bed.

“Don’t you want some bread as well?” he asked puzzled how she could eat at a time like this.

He looked anxiously at Aragorn, who lay panting slightly as Eowyn moved down to clean the gashes on his legs. The wounds covering his body were still bleeding sluggishly but looked clean.

“She knows what she is doing.” There was almost a hint of a smile in Aragorn’s voice.

“I’m glad you approve, your Majesty!” she said tartly. “You need bathing next.” She made as if to lift the towel Faramir had covered the King with but changed her mind when she saw how he was looking at her.

“On second thoughts, you can bathe him, while I fetch the things I need. Unless you would rather I fetch one of the serving girls? Eowyn added, noting Faramir’s expression of alarm. “I cannot do everything!”

Alone with the King, Faramir felt even more uncomfortable and wondered where he had found the audacity to clasp his hands and wipe his tears away earlier.

He would never have dared to do such a thing for his father, let alone bathe him. And Aragorn was not just Denethor, Ruling Steward of Gondor but the High King, a figure that had appeared out of legend, heir of Elendil wielding the sword that was broken and bringing healing in his hands.

He picked up the cloth and hesitated looking down at the injured man on the bed.

“I do not bite, Faramir and I thank you for your thoughtfulness.”

Aragorn’s quiet voice made Faramir jump.
“I am sorry you should have to bathe me, but do it if you would, before your lady returns, as alas I am too weak to bathe myself!”

Faramir suddenly recalled the memories he had tried so hard to suppress of when he first met Aragorn, and how the then ranger had fought against his own weariness to treat his wounds. Feeling ashamed of his own reluctance, he picked up the bowl and began bathing his King, starting with his face.

“It is my honour to serve your Majesty,” he said formally.

“I would rather you call me by my name. Titles are not used between friends in private. And as you can see, I am a man made like any other!” Aragorn said softly as Faramir dried his face and started on his arms, noting as he did so that the shoulders looked bruised and distended where his arms had been stretched, while the wrists were red and raw from the where the ropes had bitten.

He imagined his own aching arms and shoulders would look much the same once there was time to investigate

“I would rather you call me by my name. Titles are not used between friends in private. And as you can see now, I am a man like any other!” Aragorn said softly as Faramir dried his face and started on his arms, noting as he did so that the shoulders looked bruised and distended where his arms had been stretched, while the wrists were red and raw from the where the ropes had bitten. He imagined his own body would look little better once there was time to investigate.

“As you wish; Sire.” Faramir replied inadvertently disobeying the request immediately.

Aragorn said nothing; exhausted from the brief conversation. The pain from the wounds seemed to increase with every moment. The King lay gasping from the pain as Faramir gently moved the washcloth over his relatively uninjured parts.

“Would you like us to try and fetch the Queen? She would be of comfort to you.” Faramir asked impulsively.

“No! I forbid it!” Aragorn shook his head and spoke with all the strength he could muster. “It would distress her too much to see me thus and I would not risk our child by having her travel. I see how my hurts distress you, who were a soldier and she is not even accustomed to mortal pain. You are comforting me, so I am not alone. Promise me you will not send for her!”

“I promise and I will stay here with you.” Faramir could see the wisdom behind the King’s words, as he realised what the shock of seeing her husband so cruelly hurt could do to the gentle Elf, although he wished someone better qualified than himself could comfort Aragorn.

He continued washing the King but hesitated when he reached the towel covering his hips.

He looked up and met Aragorn’s rueful expression.

“Please do it, Faramir, rather you than the serving maid your Lady offered to fetch!”

Faramir, despite the Aragorn’s words felt he was committing almost a sacrilege to see the King naked when he moved aside the towel, but he forced himself to bathe him and at the same time check for any further injuries. To his relief, he found none apart from a bruise, which looked as if it would heal on its own. He took up a clean towel and wound it round Aragorn, fastening it like a loincloth.

“Thirsty.” Aragorn murmured.

Faramir filled a goblet with some of the clean boiled water and held it to the King’s lips before returning to his task.

He was just drying Aragorn’s feet when Eowyn returned.

Faramir went to help her with the armful of supplies she carried.

“You look as if you just climbed Orodruin!” she exclaimed seeing her husband’s expression.

“That is the High King, you just told me to bathe!” Faramir replied. “I have often helped look after my men when they were injured, but this is different as they were not figures out of legend!”

“After a few days of bathing, changing bandages and emptying chamber pots, I doubt you will be so awestruck!” she commented wryly. ” I remember when my brother, Eomer King was just a naughty boy whom I ducked in the horse trough when he pulled my hair; I expect the King of Gondor was once much the same!”

Faramir was unsure whether to smile at her words or blanch at the reminder of what else his nursing duties would entail.

Eowyn placed the pot of honey on a table by the bed and then started tearing the sheets into strips. Faramir helped her, wishing his arms and shoulders did not ache so much, not to mention the dull throbbing in his back.

Eowyn opened the jar of honey, washed her hands in clean water, and approached the bed.

“You had better hold him again.” she gestured to Faramir, as she plunged her fingers into the jar and started to smear the honey thickly across Aragorn’s raw back. He gave a cry and clutched Faramir’s hands as the wounds smarted as the sugary liquid seeped into them but gave no other protest, his healer’s knowledge aware that what she was doing would aid him.

She moved round the bed and smeared an equally thick layer across his chest and belly and the gashes on his legs. He endured it patiently, his sharp intake of breath the only indication of how much pain he felt.

Finally, Eowyn unbound the arrow wound and smothered it with honey. This time Aragorn moaned in distress and almost crushed Faramir’s hands as he clutched them so tightly.

Eowyn washed her hands again then folded strips of torn sheet to make soft cloth pads, which she pressed against Aragorn’s many wounds.

“Can you lift him?” she asked Faramir. “I need to bandage him now.”

Faramir braced himself against the bed as he lifted Aragorn as gently as possible, while Eowyn secured the pads in place with torn strips of sheet. Then while Faramir still supported the King in his arms, she peeled off the bloodied covers and replaced them with clean ones.

Panting, Faramir lowered the King back on the bed and Eowyn covered him, first with a sheet of fine linen and then several blankets. She placed a pillow under his head and tucked the covers under his chin, then stepped back, turning her head away from the tears of pain that ran down the man’s face.

Faramir reached under the covers and squeezed Aragorn’s hand in sympathy. He stood there a few moments looking anxiously at the King’s face. His face was contorted with agony and every now and again, a low moan escaped his lips.

Mercifully, either unconsciousness or sleep eventually overcame him and his features relaxed.

“We have done all we can for the King. ” Eowyn said firmly. “It is your turn now, Faramir. Take off your shirt. I only wish I had some sort of pain relief to give you.”

Faramir was painfully self conscious about his many scars which he had managed to conceal from Eowyn until now, but had little choice but to let her see his wounds, though when he tried to lift his arms to remove his torn and bloodied tunic, he found they refused to obey him as the damaged muscles protested at being hoisted above his head.

Eowyn stood watching him, half chidingly and half sympathetically before taking up the knife she’d used to remove the King’s clothing and doing the same for her husband.

Quickly she cut away the torn tunic and undershirt and pulled the cloth away from his body.

“No!” she gasped when she saw the multitude of cuts and bruises adorning his arms and the cruel welts disfiguring his back. “You must be in so much pain, why didn’t you let me tend you first?”

“The King’s need was greater.” Faramir said looking across at the still form on the bed.

Then the realisation hit him that had it not been for Aragorn, his injuries would be those the King was enduring now.

He shuddered, and no longer able to maintain his iron self control, burst into tears.

Eowyn impulsively held him close for a few moments and soothed him, much as one would a child, as his body convulsed with grief and shock.

Then she gently disengaged him from her arms and picked up a cloth to bathe his wounds.

“What happened exactly?” she asked in a matter of fact tone.

“We accepted a drink from an old woman which turned out be drugged, but we realised it too late and collapsed unconscious. We came to our senses at the place where you found us.” he told her, wiping his face with his hand. “There were two men there, brothers in law named Fennas and Calardan. They blamed the King and myself for the deaths of their kinsfolk and wanted to make us suffer to avenge them.” Faramir swallowed hard. “They had a whip and used it on me and then the King…”His voice faltered.

Eowyn paused in her ministrations. “You’ll feel better if you tell me,” she coaxed gently.

“He told them to leave me be. So they started beating him and told him but to say the word and they would leave him alone and return to beating me. Yet, he was silent. I begged them to let him go but they would not listen. One of them cut me a few times then pinched my arms and legs with tongs, after tying me to a tree but compared with what the King endured it was nothing!”

He gave her only the bare facts and did not pause for breath as he spoke in case he was unable to continue. The taunts were too painful to repeat.

He looked towards the still form on the bed. “That ‘hypocrite’ as you recently called him was willing to give his life just to spare me pain! I can hardly bear to look at his wounds knowing I should be suffering and not him! Why could I not spare him, they would not listen to me! Why was I not strong enough to help him?”

Faramir started to sob again. Eowyn soothed him but her glance kept wandering towards where Aragorn lay. She wondered if she had somehow misjudged him, yet the fact remained he had tricked her into a loveless marriage, of which Faramir was as much a victim as she. Such a thought was too painful to dwell on.

She focused her attentions on Faramir’s wounds, rubbing his back so vigorously that he cried out. “I’m sorry. It is almost done,” she said wiping away the blood. Then she saw the old scars and gasped. “You’ve been flogged before?”

The memories came flooding back to Faramir of his father’s many cruelties and that last beating which had so weakened him before the battle that it almost cost his life.

He thought back to his first meetings with Aragorn and how gently he had been tended and his shame that his King should see him thus. Why had he continued to fear the man despite his kindness and even refused the offer of Elven remedies to fade the old wounds? It all seemed so foolish now.

Eowyn was looking directly at him, her eyes demanding an answer.

“My father was a hard man and I could never please him,” he said simply. “I fell short of his expectations so I was punished.”

He tried to shrug but the movement sent waves of pain through his bruised shoulders.

He saw the pity he both feared and expected in his wife’s eyes.

“I’m sorry,” she said gently “I scarcely knew my father but my uncle who raised me was a kind man.
She picked up the honey jar and smeared her hands with the thick, sticky liquid.

Faramir felt the honey sting and bit back a cry as she applied a generous amount to his back.

Eowyn then washed her hands and applied a bandage before turning her attentions to the cuts and bruises on his arms and shoulders.

She started to apply a salve and had the circumstances been different, Faramir would have thrilled at the rare pleasure of her closeness and touch, but such was his pain, he wished fervently that Aragorn were tending him, as he recalled the gentleness of his hands compared with his wife’s rough though well meaning ministrations.

He would gladly welcome her touch in the bedchamber but she lacked the hands of a naturally gifted healer.

“I’ll tend the hurts on your legs now,” she said briskly. “You’ll need to take off your breeches and drawers.”

Faramir flushed scarlet, wishing he could be more comfortable with his wife. And yet she was still a stranger to him.

“I’ve no serious injuries on my legs. They are but scratches, which there is no need to bother you with!” he protested, a note of rising panic in his voice.

“I am your wife!” Eowyn said, a hint of sarcasm in her voice.

Looking wretched, Faramir reluctantly started to unfasten his breeches.

“On second thoughts, you can reach there unlike your back. I’ll go and fetch some fresh clothes after I’ve helped you with your boots.” Eowyn said, taking unexpected pity on him. “I will be back soon if you need more help.”

Faramir heaved a sigh of relief as she left, and after a hurried glance to check that Aragorn was still asleep, turned away from the bed and peeled off the remainder of his clothing.

He found he was bruised from the kitchen tongs that Fennas had pinched his legs with, but not too badly so. Hastily he bathed the hurts and rubbed on the salve.

He just managed to drape a towel round his waist when Eowyn returned with a bundle of clean clothing.

“Do you need any help?” she asked.

Faramir shook his head. “These hurts are slight,” he answered.

“Be sure to tell me if they get worse.” Eowyn admonished. “I’ll help you with your shirt and then I am going to get some food and will leave you to finish dressing.”

The soft linen undershirt felt pleasant to his skin and he was pleased she had chosen a lightweight velvet tunic to go over it.

He sat meekly on the chair as she eased them over his head then to his surprise she turned and swiftly kissed him on the lips before leaving the room.

A rush of pleasure spread through his body at this unexpected show of affection. Her reactions to his injuries suggested that maybe she cared for him after all. In any other circumstances he would have been ecstatic, but the throbbing pain in his back and shoulders and the fact that the King was seriously ill from his wounds drove all other considerations from his mind.

He found it easy enough to pull on the linen drawers and thick cloth breeches but his boots were a different matter and he was forced to sit barefoot until Eowyn returned with food and drink for him.

He drained the proffered cup greedily and again when she refilled it but the bread and meat felt like sawdust in his mouth and he could only manage to eat a little fruit.

As Eowyn looked anxiously at her husband’s drawn and tear stained features, she thought how much she could have loved him had only she not been so deceived.

Political unions were usual amongst her class and had her marriage been presented as that from the start, she might have accepted it, given that Faramir was attractive and a union to cement the alliance between Rohan and Gondor made perfect sense.

Yet to have been tricked into thinking he loved her, only to learn the marriage was decreed by Aragorn to rid himself of potential embarrassment, prior to Arwen’s arrival, still made her blaze to think of it. She hated the King and yet he had unselfishly endured pain beyond imagining trying to spare Faramir.

The man was an enigma. Unable to wrestle with her troubled thoughts any longer, she went to see how Windfola was faring as she distrusted the competence of the young stable lad, little more than a child, whom circumstances had forced her to leave her beloved horse with.
Faramir maintained his vigil with the King and tried his best to attend to his needs when he briefly awoke, braving their mutual discomfort, and despite Eowyn’s predictions, his reverence for his King was not lessened by such mundane and embarrassing tasks.

By the time the sun set, Eowyn had returned to Aragorn’s bedside, where she sat with her husband, as they both maintained a vigil over the wounded King.

They said very little, Faramir was too distressed after his ordeal to talk and Eowyn was too irate at being forced to care for the King and troubled by her earlier speculations.

Had it been anyone else on Middle Earth, she would have helped them gladly, but not this wretched man who had caused her nothing but turmoil since she first laid eyes on him.

After several hours had elapsed, and Faramir, exhausted from the day’s events, had fallen asleep in the uncomfortable chair, Eowyn decided that she had better check Aragorn’s bandages before retiring to bed.

Much to her annoyance, the ones covering his back were heavily stained and she concluded it was better to change them now, in case they soaked through on to the bed linen overnight.

” Wake up! I need you to help me change his bandages.” she told Faramir, rousing him from an uneasy doze.

“Could it not wait until morning? He seems to be resting peacefully and sleep is a great healer.” Faramir replied as he awoke with a start.

“So you are the healer now! Maybe you should do it?” she retorted, as in truth she would rather have doing anything save tending this particular wounded man.

Faramir deemed it best to say nothing. He was in too much pain to feel like arguing. Sleeping in the chair had only served to intensify the burning throb in his back and arms.

Eowyn called for a servant and asked her to fetch water and clean linen .As soon as they were brought, she impatiently pulled down the covers to begin her task.

” You had best hold him down.” she instructed Faramir.

“I will awaken him first as it might be a shock otherwise.” he insisted.

He gently squeezed Aragorn’s hand and called him.

“My Lord, wake up! It is time to change your bandages!”

Aragorn’s only response was to groan and murmur; “Water!”

Faramir filled a cup and lifted it to Aragorn’s lips and gently supported his head as he sipped the drink.

Eowyn stood by the bed, arms akimbo, waiting impatiently to proceed.

Satisfied that Aragorn had drunk his fill, Faramir put down the cup and clasped the King’s hands, feeling them tighten round his own in expectation of the inevitable pain that was coming.

Eowyn determinedly pulled the blankets further down and started to unwrap the bandages, beginning with those covering the lacerations on Aragorn’s back

The first one came away easily enough, but the second refused to yield to a gentle tug. It was stuck so she tugged harder. Still it refused to yield. Exasperated, she snatched at it with all her strength.

This time the bandage came free and with it a large piece of attached flesh.

Aragorn arched in agony and gave a piercing scream of pain and shock almost crushing Faramir’s hands in his distress.

“No! What have you done? Are you trying to kill him?” Faramir cried as Eowyn grabbed a cloth to staunch the now copious flow of blood.

He swallowed hard to control a sudden rush of nausea at the sight of the discarded wrapping, and worse the deep and gory laceration on Aragorn’s back.

“I forgot to soak it.” There was a scarcely detectable hint of panic in her voice.

Faramir could hardly bear to look at Aragorn’s face, so great was the pain in his eyes.

The King was gasping and trying unsuccessfully to hold back the tears.

“It will soon be over and you can rest again.” Faramir said with a calmness he did not feel. “Peace, my Liege, Just grasp my hands. I will not leave you.”

Aragorn managed somehow to give him a faint smile.

Eowyn finally succeeded in staunching the bleeding and now soaked the other bandages with lukewarm water to ease them off.

She waited a few moments after which they came away easily and then, a little more gently than before, washed the wounds, applied more honey and bound them again.

To her relief, apart from where she had torn off the bandage, they looked no worse than earlier.

Faramir stayed, holding Aragorn’s hands until he fell asleep. Only then did he turn on Eowyn.

“Could you not you have been more careful?” he chided angrily. “His pain will be worst than ever now!”

“It was an accident.” She said rather sulkily. “I did not think they would stick so soon.
Maybe we should sit with him a while longer.” she added in an attempt to pacify her husband.

Faramir said no more for fear of disturbing Aragorn but looked at Eowyn with an expression of great sorrow mixed with fury burning in his dark eyes.

Aragorn did not awaken again although he twitched and moaned frequently in his sleep. After an hour or so had passed, Eowyn suggested they retire to bed.

Faramir shook his head.

“The King should not be left,” he said. “What if he should wake and need something?”

“One of the maids could sit with him.” she replied.

“I will not leave my King.” Faramir said firmly. “I can sleep on the chair here.”

“Do as you wish.” she shrugged, although there was anxiety in her eyes. “Though do not forget that you are injured too. If you must stay here, why not sleep on the bed? It is large enough. I’m sure you have had to share often enough.”

Faramir protested. “Not with a living legend; besides I might somehow aggravate his wounds!”

“How could you in a bed this size?” Eowyn said incredulously. “I think not, but if you wish to be uncomfortable, I leave you to it. Don’t let the fire burn too low and if you are in pain, call me. Goodnight!”

Fearing she might soften if she lingered, she swept out of the room without a second glance. Faramir stared after her for a few moments and then resumed his vigil over Aragorn.

Aragorn seemed to grow more restless over the next hour but did not open his eyes.

Faramir watched him anxiously but as the hours passed, sleep overcame his desire to be vigilant.

He woke with a start, roused by a loud moan from the bed. He was on his feet within seconds and by Aragorn’s side.

“Sire?” He whispered.

Aragorn’s eyes were open but he seemed unaware aware of Faramir or his surroundings.

His eyes were wide with terror, and to Faramir’s alarm, he was shaking convulsively, breathing with ragged and shallow gasps.

Faramir placed a tentative hand on his brow and found the skin was cold, clammy, and drenched with sweat. He struggled to hold back the feeling of panic that threatened to overwhelm him.

“I will be back soon.” he told the unresponsive man, as he left the room and hurried as best he could to fetch Eowyn.

Despite his haste, he still felt he should tap at the door before entering.

She was sitting up in bed reaching for her robe as he entered.

“What is it?” she asked sleepily.

“The King, I think he is dying!” Faramir gasped.

Chapter four

Eowyn was on her feet in an instant. Faramir turned his back discreetly as she pulled her robe over her nightgown, thankful that she would at least come.

He followed her as she hurried to where Aragorn lay.

Eowyn felt the King’s forehead, an inscrutable expression on her face, and then pulled back the blankets and felt his heartbeat.

As she had feared it was dangerously weak and rapid. This was the last thing she needed, the King of Arnor and Gondor to die in her care, however much she detested the man.

His skin felt like ice to the touch. She quickly pulled the covers back over him.

“What ails him?” Faramir asked anxiously.

“He is suffering from shock.” she replied. “As I feared the pain and trauma are proving too much for him to endure.”

“Is it dangerous?” Faramir could not hide the fear in his voice.

“Very, in his weakened condition he could easily die.”

“No!” Faramir made the word sound like a cry of pain. “Surely you can do something?” he pleaded.

“He needs to be warmed and calmed but I do not know how. The fire is high, he has plenty of blankets.” Eowyn replied grimly. “If he could swallow a warm drink that might help.” She added as an afterthought.

Faramir stood looking down on Aragorn, his eyes wet with tears. This was the promised King, and more than that, the noble and compassionate man who had saved his life and comforted him during his darkest hour.

He felt overwhelmed by a turmoil of emotions; an overwhelming responsibility mixed with helplessness; fear, compassion, and burning anger for the men who had brought his King to such a plight.

He wondered now why he had feared him as he feared Denethor, for now he knew that he loved the King, loved him as he had done his brother.

It had been his mistake to fear that all figures of authority were like his father and shy away from the warmth and kindness Aragorn had freely given him.

He tried to force his racing thoughts to still and asked himself what would he do were it Boromir and not the King before him. Taking a deep breath, he inwardly resolved. ‘I could not save my brother but I will save my King!’

Forgetting his own injuries, he bent to try and pull off his boots, only to groan with pain.

“What are you doing?” Eowyn asked.

“What you suggested earlier!” he replied. “Help me get them off and the tunic, please!” He was too agitated now to feel more than a hint of his usual shyness.

Struggling to suppress a wry smile, Eowyn did as she was bidden.

Once divested of his tunic and shirt, Faramir hesitated for a moment, amazed at his own boldness, and then started to remove the bandages covering the upper half of his body. Luckily they did not stick to his flesh.

“Whatever are you doing?” Eowyn demanded, “You need those bandages to protect your wounds! You are risking your own health now!”

“They also trap my body heat which I need to share with my King.” Faramir said simply. “You can replace them later.”

Faramir gingerly eased himself up beside Aragorn and turned on his side facing the badly injured man.

Taking care not to touch his wounds, he gripped the cold arms with his warm hands.

Aragorn’s flesh felt even colder now than a few minutes before. Faramir tried to suppress his feelings of dread as he murmured soothingly.

“My Liege, you are safe now, no other shall harm you, be at ease!”

“You would be better using his given name; you sound as if you are at a Council Meeting!” Eowyn said sarcastically.

Faramir resented her tone but saw the wisdom of the advice.

“Aragorn!” It sounded so strange to address his King so informally and Faramir had to push aside years of carefully taught court etiquette to so. “Aragorn, you are safe, you are with friends that love you!”

Eowyn’s glare could have killed if looks were capable of so doing.

“He is so cold!” Faramir gasped after a few moments. “Eowyn, help him! He is dying, I think!”

“How?” she asked, trying to conceal the rising sense of panic she felt. “This is beyond any arts I know.”

“Help keep him warm!” he pleaded. “Come the other side, you hold him too!”

“What?” she gasped outraged, it was bad enough that her husband shunned her bed, let alone demand she share it with another no matter how chastely. “You ask too much! Whatever would the Queen think? ”

” She would understand that nothing improper was taking place and plead for the life of her husband! Were it a sick stable boy, you would not hesitate, I saw you comforting that lad who broke his leg last autumn. Can you not at least find a servant to help if you will not? Why do you hate him so much?” Faramir asked desperately.

Eowyn did not reply. Once she would have shared Aragorn’s bed gladly, even as his mistress, but not after the way in which he had tricked her.

At that moment, Aragorn’s shaking became worse causing him to slide from Faramir’s grasp and over on his flayed back.

Even in the state of shock, he was in, the pain registered and he cried out in agony.

Eowyn felt a sudden stab of compassion mixed with guilt. She knew the kind of shock Aragorn was suffering from was usually caused either by severe loss of blood or extreme pain. She doubted he had lost a dangerous amount of blood, so pain was the most likely cause, some of which he had suffered at her hands.

She hastily slipped off her robe before she could reverse her decision again and climbed in the bed and helped Faramir ease Aragorn back on his side.

She then settled behind Aragorn, helping her husband to hold him, as she tried to suppress her feelings of shame and revulsion. Much to her surprise, she found herself feeling pity for the shivering man she held.

He was far too ill even to realise she was there. Strangely though, she found she was far more disturbed by the close proximity of Faramir, whose fingers brushed against hers as they held Aragorn.

It seemed almost apt that Aragorn should now lie between them literally as he had always come between them by being the man she had first and most fully given her heart to and then by his meddling ensuring her love for Faramir had been no more than a shadow and a thought either, as Faramir would never have courted her, had he not been ordered to.

Faramir knew better than to comment at her change of mind. How many nights he had longed for Eowyn to be beside him but now he was too anguished to fully appreciate the fact, other than that she had agreed to help him try and save the King.

He still felt angry with her for her earlier cruelty as he felt certain, had she not handled Aragorn so roughly, there would not be any need for this desperate and somewhat undignified attempt to save him.

Aragorn still shook convulsively. Faramir guided the King’s cold head against his own warm shoulder and gently smoothed the dark hair.

He could now feel the dangerously weak and rapid heartbeat vibrating against his own stronger one. ‘You cannot die!’ he thought, ‘I could not bear it and what of Arwen and your child? What of Gondor and her people?’

Aragorn’s eyes were open, staring straight at him but unseeing as his mind remained locked in the dark horror of the day’s events.

Faramir, desperate for any remedy, impulsively started to sing an Elvish lullaby, hoping that the familiar sounds of Aragorn’s youth might soothe him and reach him on some level that words could not.

He wished fervently that he had Aragorn’s power to give his strength to another as he would gladly give his last ounce of strength to save his King. He wondered if such a thing could be so if he willed it hard enough as his father’s line were of similar Numenorean heritage.

He continued the lullaby all the while focussing his energy into the man beside him, remembering when they had first met and how much care and tenderness the King had shown to him, even though he was a stranger to him at the time. Aragorn had given him everything; friendship, kindness, lands, titles, he owed his very life to him.

He was determined now to try and repay him.

Aragorn felt cold, so cold that he trembled He could hardly breathe now, as the pain seemed to intensify with every passing moment driving him into some dark realm, where he craved a merciful oblivion.

He could still see their faces, their features contorted with hate as they tormented him.

He was trapped and helpless to fight off the cruel instruments of torture. There was no escape from the pain and humiliation.

He was sorely tempted to use his people’s ability to give back the Gift.

Then suddenly something reached out to him in the darkness, like a star piercing the blackness of the night sky.

He was dimly aware of someone holding him, cradling him in comforting warmth and he could hear a familiar lullaby remembered from his childhood.

He wondered if he was dying but surely the pain would fade if he were.

The agony of his tortured body was almost unbearable, yet somehow the warm arms and familiar words brought comfort. He struggled against the darkness with renewed resolve.

Faramir continued to sing, though he had to choke back the tears to do so. He now felt very cold and started to shiver as he gave his own body heat to the King.

Eowyn had not heard her husband sing before and the beauty and richness of his voice took her by surprise and distracted her somewhat from their situation.

Together they cocooned the King in their warmth as they waited through the long hours of the night.

Cramped, uncomfortable and now more that a little embarrassed at his own boldness, Faramir fought for the life of his King in the only way he could think of, however hopeless it seemed.

His injured arms and back throbbed painfully but he would not move until he was sure his King had no further need of his aid.

He impulsively planted a gentle kiss on the King’s cold brow, willing him to live.

Eventually, Faramir saw that Aragorn has closed his eyes, though whether that was good or ill he knew not.

Gradually, Aragorn stopped shaking and lay quietly. His breathing became less ragged and slowly Faramir could feel some warmth returning to his body.

“How is he faring?” he whispered to Eowyn.

She moved her hand round to feel Aragorn’s heartbeat. It felt stronger and steadier.

Slowly, she sat up, taking care not to jar the King’s injuries.

“I think he is a little better,” she said. “I’m going try him with a hot drink, stay there with him while I get it!”

She slid from the bed and pulled on her robe then lit another candle before making her way to the kitchens.

Faramir waited anxiously, continuing singing, wishing Aragorn would come round while at the same time wondering however such a dignified man would react to finding himself being held like a child by his Steward.

Eowyn reappeared a few minutes’ later, clutching three steaming cups one which she placed on the small table by the bed, the other two by the fire.

“Can you sit up with him?” she asked.

Faramir was so stiff he could scarcely move. He slowly eased himself into a sitting position, still holding on to Aragorn.

Eowyn took some of the weight from him.

Aragorn slowly opened his eyes, groaned, and looked at Faramir, an expression of bewilderment on his face.

“What happened?” he whispered through parched lips. “I had such dreams! It was so cold and dark! Everything hurts!”

“You were badly hurt but you are safe now. I am here with you, Aragorn.” Faramir said reassuringly.

Eowyn held out the mug. “Try to drink this, it should help you. It is the tea the Hobbits drink. Merry sent some from the Shire for me and I brought it here with me.”

Faramir moved his position slightly, allowing his wife to hold the cup to the King’s lips.

Aragorn took a sip and swallowed.

“Tastes nice, warm.” he murmured.

To their great relief he kept drinking the tea until the cup was empty.

They gently eased him back onto the bed, this time lying on his other side. Overcome with pain and exhaustion, he fell asleep at once. Eowyn felt his brow.

“I think the crisis has passed.” She said quietly.

“The Valar be praised!” Faramir gave an audible sob of relief. “Thank you for helping him.”

“For some reason my brother dotes on him as you do, so I would prefer him to live to spare the tears of you both!” she said dryly.

“Why do you hate him so?” Faramir asked yet again.

“The reason is too obvious to speak of, especially as you are as wronged as I am!” she snorted; going over to the fire and collecting the two cups she had left there.

” I have no idea what you mean, The King has never wronged me. I could not wish for a kinder Lord!” Faramir said fervently.

“You men are all the same, the way you refuse to see each other’s faults!” Eowyn retorted.

Faramir felt too exhausted to press the matter any further that night. He was shivering and the pain in his back and shoulders had grown almost unbearable.

Eowyn pressed a cup of lukewarm tea into his hands.

“Drink this, you look as if you need it!”

He took it from her gratefully. Picking up a spare blanket, she draped it round his bare shoulders. He pulled it close across his chest and sipped the tea. It was strong and liberally sweetened with honey.

Eowyn took up her own cup and stood by the fire sipping the drink, her golden hair gleaming like burnished copper in the firelight.

He briefly met her gaze then looked away.

“Drink your tea.” she coaxed. “You have had a shock too and need it. Then you must have your bandages replaced.”

His eyes grew heavy as he drained the cup and he was only dimly aware of Eowyn taking it from him .He struggled to keep upright as she smeared his back with honey and bandaged the painful welts before helping him back to the bed.

Overcome by pain and exhaustion he could fight against sleep no longer.

Eowyn climbed into the bed beside him and lay gazing at her husband’s face, the handsome features marred with lines of grief and pain.

If only he could be honest with her, she thought then maybe their marriage would have a chance. She glared at the sleeping King, the other side of Faramir, annoyed with herself for softening towards him earlier though she was greatly relieved he still lived.

She wondered though whatever had possessed her to hold him, unless it were a kind of remorse for her earlier rough treatment, though the man deserved to suffer as he had made her suffer!

The sound of the door closing awakened Faramir just after dawn. One of the serving maids tending the fire, he supposed sleepily.

Then the events of the last day came flooding back and he realised he was lying in a huge bed in the hunting lodge with the King asleep on one side of him and Eowyn on the other.

He sat up cautiously so as not to disturb the others, every muscle feeling stiff and sore after his ordeal of the previous day, while his back still throbbed painfully.

Aragorn suddenly moved in his sleep and cried out. Faramir laid a gentle hand on his King’s forehead. To his alarm, it was burning hot to the touch.
Faramir turned and shook Eowyn awake.
” I think the King has a fever!” he cried.
Yawning, she struggled to wake up before leaning over him to see for herself.
“It is only to be expected.” she replied calmly, as she felt Aragorn’s burning forehead. “With wounds like these, there is usually some infection. We will find out where it is when I change the bandages later. Try and get some more sleep for now!” Eowyn settled herself back down on the bed, pulling the covers round herself.
“Are you just going to do nothing?” Faramir protested.
” What can I do? I have nothing to give him to lower the fever. As the King seems in no immediate danger and is sleeping, I shall rest while I can.” she retorted, her voice muffled under the bedclothes. “If you are so worried, you could bathe his face, but I would advise you to rest a while longer as you have had so little sleep. Remember you are injured too!”

Ignoring her protests, Faramir slowly and painfully climbed over her to get out of bed and then struggled with great difficulty to pull his shirt over his head.
He had no intention of walking into the kitchens only half clad, unlike Boromir, who would often stride in from sword practise, clad only in breeches and boots to ask the maids for a drink and bask in their admiration of his muscular frame, adorned with battle scars with made him all the more interesting to the fairer sex.
Faramir often surmised that showing off to the maids was Boromir’s main reason for visiting the kitchens, rather than thirst enjoyed teasing his brother about it.
Boromir would laugh and in turn remind Faramir of the time, when he was about three years old, he had walked into the servants’ quarters stark naked and dripping wet in search of his nurse, who had gone to fetch a towel after his bath and stayed gossiping to the laundress.
The servants had found the whole incident highly amusing, but Denethor had not and that night he had received the first of many beatings, which became a regular pattern of his life leaving Faramir’s back covered in scars from the repeated floggings which he felt shamed him and made him look like a convicted criminal.
The servants were already up and about when Faramir entered the kitchens in search of some water to bathe Aragorn with.
Although it was early, the sun was rising and it promised to be a fine day.
A young girl, who looked about twelve years old, was scrubbing the stone floor, while a sulky looking woman, who could have been any age between twenty and forty, was watching a kettle boiling on the fire. They both got up and curtsied as Faramir entered.
“I would like hot water, clean cloths and some firewood sent up to the King’s room please,” he said. “Please knock and leave the things outside the door.”
“Yes, my Lord.” the older woman said. As Faramir was about to leave, she called after him.
“Will the King live?” The question sounded more than casual and Faramir found her expression unreadable and it troubled him for some reason.
She looked vaguely familiar but he could not place where he might have seen her before. He thought had she had a more pleasant demeanour, she was the sort of woman his brother might have found attractive, though at present her features were unreadable, though Faramir felt she might laugh at him once he was out of earshot.
“I hope so, as must we all.” Faramir replied and would have said more, but the woman pointedly turned her back and returned her attention to the boiling kettle.
“Please tell the cook we would like some chicken broth later,” he said, ignoring her rudeness and left the room.
Back in the bedroom, he waited for the water to be brought and then settled himself on the other side of the bed beside the King and gently sponged his face, neck, and arms.
Aragorn relaxed slightly in his sleep as though comforted, but Faramir felt increasingly worried as he felt the heat burning through the cloth in his hand. He wished Eowyn would awaken
She only stirred when Aragorn cried out in his sleep, obviously reliving the attack upon him.
This time she felt the King’s brow and sighed.
“It is worse than I thought. When I have dressed, we must try to find the source of the infection.” With that, she left for her own room, leaving Faramir feeling more anxious than ever.
A short while afterwards she returned fully dressed and having instructed the servants to bring what was needed.
Approaching the bed, she yanked down the covers, causing Aragorn to shiver and moan.
Faramir carefully soothed him and smoothed the towel over his hips in place again.
When she leaned over him to start soaking off the bandages, he recoiled and tried to fight her off, some corner of his fevered brain obviously recalling the night before.
“You’ll have to restrain him!” she ordered Faramir. “Why does he have to be so difficult? It is bad enough to be confined indoors on a fine day like this!”
“More kindness would not go amiss!” Faramir retorted.
“I suggest you do it yourself then!” she snapped.
“I will and gladly.” he replied, taking up the cloth and pulling the covers further up to try and keep Aragorn from getting chilled.
He started to sing an Elvish song again as he very gently soaked off the wrappings covering the King’s upper body.
This time Aragorn lay still and quiet under his touch. Without being asked, Eowyn helped him lift the King into a sitting position to remove the wrappings.
Eowyn then washed her hands and carefully felt the edges of the wounds.
The arrow wound at least was clean, while the burns were already healing, as were the leg wounds.
They soon found the source of the infection. Several of the stripes on his back felt hot and inflamed and were swollen with infection, as was one of the cuts just below his ribs.
Eowyn frowned as she examined them, as they were far worse than she had anticipated.
“I did clean them as best I could.” she said defensively, as if expecting Faramir to blame her.
“I know you did, but I think it was impossible the way they rammed him against the tree.” He shuddered at the memory. “Then they cut him with a rusting blade which would make things worse.”
“All I can do is clean them and then bathing him might bring his temperature down.” Eowyn said, voicing her thoughts aloud.
Together, they gently laid him back on his side and Eowyn began her task.
Aragorn struggled as the pain coursed through his body .Too feverish to be aware of his surroundings; he tried to struggle and cried out. “No more! Leave me alone, Let him be!”
Faramir had to struggle to restrain him, while even Eowyn’s strong stomach was turned as she cleaned the evil yellowish pus oozing from one of the wounds, and scraped away fragments of tree bark, which clung to the lacerated flesh.
She applied a mixture of honey and vinegar in an attempt to combat the infection, causing the semi conscious King to scream in agony as the astringent mixture stung the torn flesh
Faramir was then left alone to bathe the King as he had done the previous day, but this time, he did not speak or show any sign of being aware of what was happening.

Although Faramir had felt uncomfortable the day before in having to carry out such intimate duties for one he had placed on a pedestal, he would have given anything for the King to be well enough to understand what was happening now and be able to speak to him.

He respectfully kept Aragorn covered by the blankets as he washed him, both to protect his modesty and so as not to aggravate the fever, as he alternately sweated and shivered as the infection ravaged his body.

Eowyn then returned with clean bed linen and Faramir helped her to change the sheets.

Aragorn writhed and moaned constantly, so Eowyn placed pillows either side of him to try and stop him turning on his back and aggravating the wounds.

She sighed when they had finished. “I don’t know what else I can do. I might not like the man, but I don’t want him to die! His heart still beats strongly but the pain and infection are fast draining his strength.”

Faramir gently persuaded the King to drink some water and then sat beside him on the bed bathing his face, singing in Elfish and trying all he could to bring the fever down.

His own wounds throbbed and ached but he could think only of the King’s worsening plight.

Aragorn cried out repeatedly, calling for his mother, Arwen, and several names that Faramir had no idea of who they were.

Faramir grasped the King’s hand, which seemed to calm him a little, but still the fever raged unabated.

He realised Aragorn was wise not to want Arwen here, as the sight of him in such pain would greatly distress the gentle Elf and together with the journey would endanger the unborn heir to the throne of Gondor, yet it was hard to sit there watching him cry out for her.

From earliest childhood, Faramir had learned that Gondor must always come first, and she had ever proved a demanding mistress.

He felt he had failed both Aragorn and Gondor, as it should have been him lying there and not the King. If only he had endured the lash better, if only he had the strength and courage of his King !

He wept, thinking there was none to see if he allowed himself to release some of his pent up emotions.

Much to his shame, Eowyn returned and saw his tears before he could stifle them.

Surprisingly, she did not chide him for his weakness but quietly sat on the bed beside him, a comforting hand on his arm.

She said nothing, yet he was unexpectedly glad at her presence though he still seethed at her brutality towards Aragorn.

She stayed with him until his tears stopped and then said quietly. “I’ll get us something to eat. It will make you feel better.”

Eowyn went to the kitchens and returned with some broth for them both. It tasted surprisingly good and Faramir found himself relishing it, though if he had been asked, he would have denied feeling hungry.

“Should we try and get the King to swallow some?” Faramir suggested.

Eowyn shook her head. “No, not while his fever rages, he just needs water and plenty of it .If only I had something I could give him for the pain and fever as I fear he is getting weaker. I think I will look outside in the garden to see if any healing herbs grow there. I wish I had brought some with me.”

Faramir had a sudden thought. “I wonder if the King brought healing supplies.” he mused aloud.

“I doubt it as he would hardly expect to be doing any healing here.” Eowyn replied. This was supposed to be a holiday!”

“Before we were attacked, he tended my shoulder yesterday, as it pained me and did not seem taken aback that he was doing so. I wonder if he did bring any healing supplies, as when he was a ranger, he would travel prepared for emergencies.” Faramir pointed out.

Eowyn rose to her feet. “I will fetch his pack and we’ll find out. Why ever didn’t I think of that before?”

Aragorn was now sweating and shivering violently as Faramir breathed a silent prayer to the Valar for his life as he awaited his wife’s return.

She was soon back, clutching the worn leather satchel Aragorn had brought with him.

Faramir wondered if it were left over from his days as a Ranger, as it looked so ancient and battered.

The Steward hardly dared to hope as he unfastened the frayed straps, for what if it only contained clothing, or even a secret stash of pipe weed, though Aragorn had sworn he had given up the Halfling’s vice.

“His spare clothing is in his pack.” Eowyn announced as if reading Faramir’s thoughts. She unfastened the satchel and carefully tipped out the contents on the small bedside table. Faramir left Aragorn’s side to see the heap of packets and jars revealed.

“Here’s willow bark, feverfew, marigold, dandelion, garlic, arnica, cashew nut oil and even poppy juice!” She exclaimed. “If only I had thought of this before! I should have brought my own healing supplies too!”

“You could not have known!” Faramir soothed. “Can you make a tea to help him?”

She nodded. “Yes, I have all that is needed here. But first, I’ll give him some poppy juice for the pain as I fear that taxes his strength the most.”

She carefully measured a small drop of the thick liquid into some water and handed the cup to Faramir. He lifted it to Aragorn’s lips but the King moaned and turned away.

“Aragorn, drink this, it will help you!” he whispered in Elfish, gently stroking the stricken man’s head to soothe him.

Aragorn briefly opened his eyes and a brief flicker of recognition was in their grey depths. He swallowed the liquid, struggling not to choke over it.

Eowyn had started to boil water over the fire for the tea.

“Keep holding him!” she instructed her husband. “This will soon be ready.”

Faramir felt he was holding his breath as she mixed the brew, willing it to work. As the moments went by, he felt Aragorn relax a little and dared to hope it was easing him.

Eowyn brought the tea, blowing on it to cool the steaming liquid. She sipped it and pulled a face. “This tastes vile!” she exclaimed. “I don’t even know if it will be effective as he is very ill, then even if it does work, it will take time.”

She handed Faramir the cup, together with the spoon, she had used to mix it with. “You had better use this.” She suggested. “I doubt he will drink it easily!”

Faramir started spooning the brew into Aragorn’s mouth. To their surprise, he swallowed obediently as if his healer’s training had conditioned him to take it.

When the cup was empty, Faramir lowered him back on his pillows, where within moments, the tension had left his body and he slept, his noble features no longer contorted with agony.

Faramir found he was shaking. Eowyn pushed him down on the bed and pulled the covers over him.

“Drink this and rest!” she said, handing him a cup. “I was going to tend your wounds but that can wait. I will stay here and watch over you.”

He drank obediently, unaware of the poppy juice she had added.

Kissing him on the cheek, she watched him fall asleep, the lines of pain and worry easing from his face. She felt angrier than ever with Aragorn as it was his fault her husband was injured by bringing him here and also his fault he was unhappily married to her rather than to some Gondorian beauty of his choice. The more time she spent with Faramir, the more she grew to love him, an affection which he could never return as Aragorn had ordered him to deceive her into a loveless marriage!

She settled herself on the chair but it was hard and uncomfortable. The bed looked soft and inviting, despite the fact it was partially occupied by the man she hated so much.
Eventually she gave up trying to resist and climbed up beside Faramir, as far away as possible from Aragorn and lay on top of the covers.

Despite her attempts to stay awake, she was soon slumbering peacefully beside Faramir and the King.

When Eowyn awoke again, the position of the sun in the sky suggested it was well past midday.

She was surprised to discover that beside her, Faramir had nuzzled his head against her shoulder, while his hand was stretched out protectively towards the King.

Trying not to awaken Faramir, she leaned across to feel Aragorn’s forehead. It was still burning hot to the touch. She sighed, realising she would have to continue fighting for the life of one she so despised.

Beside her, Faramir yawned and sat up, slowly and painfully.

“You drugged me!” he complained. “I only meant to rest a little, but I must have slept for hours!” He turned to Aragorn. “How is the King?”

“There is no improvement .He is still feverish.” Eowyn replied. “As for you, you badly needed rest, so I shall not apologise.” She smiled at him, despite her stern words. “I will send for food and drink and then tend your wounds.”

Faramir protested: “But… the King! Should we not see to his needs first?”

“He can wait a little longer as the poppy juice is still making him sleep.” Eowyn said coolly, getting to her feet to summon a servant to bring refreshments.

They ate a light meal, as neither was very hungry as Faramir was too concerned about Aragorn while Eowyn was eager to examine Faramir’s wounds.

Faramir sighed as his wife helped him remove his tunic and undershirt. He was slightly less embarrassed than the previous day, but still disliked anyone seeing his scarred body.

Only hardened criminals usually bore so many scars from the lash and he felt shamed to carry such disfigurements.

Eowyn called for warm water and then she gently removed the bandages covering Faramir’s back and arms before bathing his wounds.

To her great relief, the injuries, although still red, painful, and raw were clean and bore no signs of infection.

“Well?” he asked her a trifle anxiously.

“You are healing and the wounds are not inflamed. You must be stronger than you look!” She grinned at him before applying herself to smothering the wounds in honey again and covering them with clean bandages. “Do your legs still hurt?” she asked.

Faramir shook his head. “No more than bruises usually do. I’ve had far worse. They just need time to heal.”

“Would you like me to mix something for the pain in your back?” She asked.

“I feel much better, I do not need it.”

Eowyn looked doubtful but let the matter go as she helped Faramir ease his rshirt and tunic back over his head

She picked up the bowl and left the room, sighing.

Aragorn shifted on the bed and groaned. Faramir was at his side in an instant, grasping the restless hands.

“Aragorn, are you in pain?” He asked anxiously.

The King’s eyes opened this time with a flicker of recognition. “Faramir? So much pain…burning. Water, please!” he murmured disjointedly
Faramir raised Aragorn’s head with one hand and raised the cup of water to his lips with the other. Aragorn drank thirstily and drained the cup. Faramir filled it again, noting with alarm how parched and dry the King’s lips looked.

The King’s forehead was dripping with sweat, so he moistened a cloth and gently wiped Aragorn’s face.

“Thank you, my friend.” Aragorn whispered, as the water revived him. “I am glad you are here.”

He lay still for a few minutes and then started shifting restlessly on the bed again, as the fever continued to rise.

Eowyn returned to the sickroom after what felt like an age to Faramir. She looked more cheerful than before and her cheeks were slightly flushed.

“Go outside for a few minutes!” She ordered him much to his surprise.

“But why, the King could need…?”

“Whatever he needs, can wait. I will sit with him while you are gone. I’ve just been out for a walk round the garden and to see to the horses and feel much better for it. Now you should take a turn outside too. You need some fresh air or you could become ill as he is, now go!” She pushed him towards the door.

Faramir reluctantly made his way to the garden. It was a small rather neglected patch of land cleared from the surrounding forest, containing a vegetable patch, bare at present, as it was so early in the year, and a herb garden populated by a few sparse plants.

A short path led to a meadow, where the horses were grazing. He stiffly and painfully made his way there.

The cowslips and primroses were in bloom, creating a cheerful carpet of yellow and reminding Faramir of his early childhood, when his mother was still alive. She had loved primroses and Boromir would take his little brother out into the gardens to gather the blooms for her.

During the last few months of her life, she had been too frail to go outside and had liked having flowers brought to her room.

There had been one day though, in springtime, when she had felt a little stronger and had put on her favourite blue mantle embroidered with stars, which had been a gift from her brother, the Prince of Dol Amroth and gone out into the gardens of the citadel with her children and her maids.

She had sat on a bench smiling and watching her sons play then Faramir had picked her a bunch of primroses. She took them from him and kissed him and called him her special little gentleman. That was his last happy memory of her, as she had grown paler and thinner by the day and before summer was over, she was dead.

Faramir’s childhood happiness had ended that summer too as his father; always a stern man had grown grimmer with the death of his wife. The only time, Faramir had ever seen him weep was the night that she died. Afterwards, he became cold and withdrawn and the two brothers were forced to rely increasingly on each other for mutual support.

Finduilas had already taught Faramir his letters before she died, and his love of books and learning had come from her. This infuriated his father who would rage: “Gondor needs soldiers, not scholars!” every time he caught him reading. He could never please his father who was fond of saying: “Your mother was strong before you were born!” which made him fear from an early age that he must somehow have killed his mother

His uncle told him when he was older that Faramir was much wanted and his mother had lost several babies both before and after him, but the hurt remained.

As if sensing his melancholy, Iavas came up to nuzzle his face and he stroked the silky chestnut mane for comfort.

He had known so many losses, his mother, Boromir, his loyal comrades who fell at Osgiliath and his father. He had willingly embraced the darkness until Aragorn had come along and saved him; not only healing his body, but also giving him the love and compassion he so craved and needed.

Now he had the chance to repay the debt. Impulsively picking a handful of primroses, he made his way back to the house. He was aware that the serving woman, he had seen in the kitchens earlier was standing watching him. He assumed she was curious about her new masters.

He called at the kitchen to collect a small jar of water and asked the housekeeper the woman’s name.

“That will be Hanna, you mean, my Lord.” she replied. “Not quite right in the head, poor thing after some family tragedy but she does her work well enough.”

When he returned to the sickroom and placed the flowers by the King’s bedside. Eowyn was sitting in a chair, frowning and lost in thought.

When Faramir came in she looked up. “The fresh air looks to have done you good.” she commented. “Now you are back, you can help me treat the King’s wounds. The fever is still very high, so I fear the infection has not lessened. I suspect they need draining.”

Feeling increasingly anxious Faramir washed his hands and prepared to assist his wife.

” You were right about the fresh air, I feel much better.” He told her in an attempt to make conversation. “I picked some flowers while I was out and I put them here where Aragorn can see them too.”

Eowyn’s resentment flared anew at having to care for Aragorn.

Caring for her husband had softened her attitude towards him. She prized courage and admired the stoicism with which Faramir endured his hurts and would have liked to be able to concentrate her attentions on him, as maybe he could eventually grow to love her if she cared for him tenderly enough.

Yet to her fury, she had to devote most of her energies to Aragorn, the man she once loved, whom she now hated as intensely as she had once adored him.

Approaching the bed, she pulled the covers down to Aragorn’s hips and after washing her hands too, started to soak off the bandages.

Faramir grasped Aragorn’s hands but he no longer seemed to have the strength to struggle against her ministrations.

If anything, the wounds looked even worst than they had done that morning. She sighed, realising she would have to try an alternative treatment.

“Can you bathe the wounds?” she asked her husband. “I need to fetch something.”

Faramir nodded silently as he felt nauseous and did not trust himself to speak as he looked at the cruelly abused flesh laid bare to his gaze, reawakening the memories of the torture they had both endured.

He had of course; seen Aragorn’s injuries before, while bathing him and while Eowyn changed the bandages, but then there had been no time to reflect as he concentrated on the task.

Somehow, the longer the torn and inflamed flesh was visible, the worse it seemed and the greater his grief and sense of outrage at seeing a man like Aragorn so abused and humiliated lying helpless and vulnerable, exposed on this vast bed.

His guilt intensified that he was unable to prevent Fennas and Calardan hurting Aragorn.

He felt as if he had broken his sworn oath of fealty, as his first duty was to protect the King. He had seen many injuries before in the aftermath of battle, and helped tend the wounded, but somehow none seemed as cruel as what he had witnessed being done to Aragorn.

At least a soldier had a weapon in his hand and was expecting to fight, not helplessly bound.
Fighting to control his feelings of guilt, he started very gently to bathe Aragorn’s hands and face, before attending to the wounds.

Progress was painfully slow as he was all too aware that each touch of the cloth would pain his King. He wondered why Eowyn had not given him more poppy juice first.

Sometimes it seemed almost as if she liked seeing Aragorn suffer, though Faramir did not dare dwell on that thought for fear where it might lead. He could not understand his wife at all, as she had tended his own wounds with kindness and as gently as she appeared to be capable of.

Just then, Eowyn returned with a large bowl of steaming water clean bandages and a sharp knife. Behind her a maid carried a basket of firewood, which she left at the door on Eowyn’s instructions.

She called to the waiting maidservant.

“Wait here as I will need you to fetch more water.” Entering the room, she placed the logs by the fire and turned to look at her husband’s anxious face.

“Can we not cover him?” he asked, as Aragorn shivered in the grip of the fever.

“No, I need him uncovered to treat him. That’s why I’ve built the fire up, so he doesn’t take a chill.” she replied. “Let’s get it over with quickly!”

“The King is in pain, he needs more poppy juice!” Faramir said firmly, his tone brokering no argument.

Eowyn glared at him. “It all takes time and I cannot delay in draining these wounds any longer. He is becoming dehydrated from the fever.”
To illustrate the point she pinched the skin on the back of his hand.

“And I cannot agree until you give him something for the pain!” Faramir insisted.

Grumbling under her breath, Eowyn mixed the poppy juice in some water and Faramir held the cup to Aragorn’s lips. The King stared at him glassy eyed, as the sweat poured from his face and body.

Eowyn was stirring a large quantity of salt into the hot water. She soaked one of the cloths and laid it across Aragorn’s exposed back. He cried out and twitched convulsively.

“Eowyn!” Faramir chided.

“This is an old and proven method to treat infected wounds” She insisted. “But it would be faster to lance the infections.”

Faramir shuddered and gripped Aragorn’s hands, which were slippery with sweat.
“No!” he protested. “The shock will kill him!”

“And the infection will if I do nothing” Determinedly, she held the knife into the fire until the blade glowed red hot.

“Keeping applying the cloths should do the same thing. “Faramir argued. “We preferred to do that when my men were wounded.”

“It is too slow. Now hold him down!”

Before Faramir could protest further, she had sliced into one of the infected stripes on the King’s back, just beneath the left shoulder blade.

Aragorn screamed, arching his back in agony.

Eowyn ignored his distress as she applied a salt soaked cloth to the now oozing wound. The King writhed again in pain as the salt made the wounds smart and silent tears poured down his cheeks as he began to gasp and tremble.

“Stop it!” Faramir demanded. “You are torturing him now!”

It needs to be done, I tell you. Hold him down again!” She rinsed the knife in the bowl of water and returned to the fire with it.

Faramir rose to his feet.” I tell you, no! You are going to kill him. I will keep applying cloths until the wounds drain. I do not care if it does take all day as I can wait.”

Eowyn advanced towards her husband, glaring. ‘Why did this wretched King always have to come between them?’ she thought.

Faramir laid his hand on Aragorn’s chest. “If you don’t believe me, just feel his heartbeat,” he said coldly. “I am no healer but can tell it is far too rapid. He is going into shock again.”

Reluctantly she did as he asked and found he was correct.

“Very well, we will try the cloths.” she conceded. “Hold him down!”

She picked up a cloth to place on the wound below Aragorn’s ribs He pulled his hands away from Faramir’s and held them clenched protectively over the wound.

“Why does he have to be so difficult? “Eowyn complained.

“I think you would be if you had been beaten, burned, shot and cut!” Faramir retorted. “Give it to me, I will do it! You go and ride your precious Windfola after you have mixed some herbs for the King

Making the offer was immensely difficult for him, as he hated causing Aragorn pain in any way, yet he felt he could do it more gently. Damrod had been the most skilled healer amongst his men, so Faramir lacked any great skills or experience, as being of a somewhat squeamish disposition he had left generally the care of the wounded to those more able, though he had often sat with injured comrades to comfort them.

Sulkily, Eowyn measured out the correct quantities of herbs to make a tea to help reduce the fever. “Very well, then. I shall be with the horses.” Eowyn replied, furious at her husband’s tone yet relieved to be away from the confines of the room and most of all from the man she so detested.

Now Aragorn had destroyed the rapport she had slowly built with her husband over the past two days! “Keep changing the cloths as soon as they start to dry out!” she reminded him as she strode out without a second glance.

Alone with Aragorn, Faramir first put the water by the fire to keep hot and then took some cooler water and sat on the bed by the King and gently bathed his hands and face again, all the while talking and singing in Elvish. Whether it was this or the poppy juice beginning to take effect, Faramir was uncertain, but gradually Aragorn became calmer.

“Aragorn, listen to me.” he said quietly, as he stroked the sweat soaked hair away from the King’s brow,. “I am trying to help you. Please let me put the cloths on. If you take deep breaths, it should not hurt too much.” He remembered many years ago, doing the same for Boromir when he had a painful boil on his neck, which he was loath to have lanced.

“Help me, please!” Aragorn whispered. “So hot, hurts.”

Slowly the hands unclenched to reveal the infected wound. Faramir took a deep breath and very gently applied the cloth to the tender flesh. Aragorn gasped but did not cry out this time.

Faramir repeated the procedure with the other wounds until he was rewarded by the infections oozing their evil contents over the cloth. The poppy juice had worked, as by now, the King was relaxed and half asleep.

Overcoming his nausea at the sight of the evil yellow pus mixed with fragments of bark, he cleaned the wounds and applied one of the salves they had found in Aragorn’s pack, which was labelled for the purpose.

He then carefully re bandaged each injury, sliding the cloth under the King as not to need to lift him more than a fraction, which he somehow managed on his own and then prepared the herbal tea for him to drink.

Relieved the task was done; he banked down the fire and covered Aragorn again. He then climbed back on to the bed and sat there holding Aragorn’s hand, only letting go when he repeatedly bathed the sweat from the King’s face until he fell into a deep and peaceful sleep, the lines of pain and distress smoothed from his face. Faramir collapsed by his side totally exhausted.

Eowyn returned some time later when it was almost dark. Loath to disturb the sleepers, she crept into bed beside Faramir and promptly fell asleep.

“The King!” Faramir gasped as he awoke many hours later. “I should not have fallen asleep.”

Aragorn was no longer moaning and tossing and lay still and quiet, Faramir was overcome by dread as he leaned over, afraid of what might have happened while he had slept.

“Aragorn!” he cried.

Aragorn slowly opened his eyes. “Faramir? Water!” He croaked through parched lips.

Filled with relief, Faramir reached for a cup of water and held it so the King could drink. He drained it thirstily.

“How do you feel?” Faramir asked him, feeling Aragorn’s forehead. His temperature appeared to be almost normal much to his delight. The slight infection, which remained ,could he hoped be easily remedied by plenty of fluids to flush the poisons from his body.

“Better, but I ache almost everywhere.” Aragorn somewhat revived by the drink, replied as Faramir refilled the cup for him.” How long have I been ill?”

“I think it is the third day since we were attacked but all the days seem blurred to me as well.” Faramir replied. “I am so glad you are feeling better.”

“Thank you, I cannot remember very much, but I was aware you stayed with me and grateful for it. It cannot have been pleasant for you either.” Aragorn’s hand gripped Faramir’s wrist as he made to put the empty cup down.

“It was an honour Sire.” Faramir replied feeling he should revert to formality now his Sovereign was lucid. He only hoped that Aragorn was unaware of the events of the night when they had held him.

“Will you grant me one favour?” Aragorn asked, still gripping Faramir’s hand and sounding rather vulnerable.

“Anything, Sire!” Faramir replied earnestly. “What is your wish?”

” That you would continue to treat me as a human being rather than a King on a pedestal. To begin with, you would honour me by using my given name in private, I know that you can, as I heard you just now!” Aragorn managed a wan smile as he spoke. He tried unsuccessfully to move to a more comfortable position and groaned.

“I will try, Sire, um, Aragorn.” Faramir said nervously. Years of training in court etiquette were not easily undone, especially as he had always suspected that Denethor would have preferred being addressed as ‘my Lord’ even in private. Faramir could remember how he would frown every time he called him simply ‘father’.

“Thank you, I have need of a friend, not a servant or sycophant! You have seen for yourself that I am just a man such as you, neither more nor less.” He moaned as the pain became worse. The conversation had exhausted his meagre reserve of strength.

“I will get something to ease your pain.” Faramir said, gently patting the clutching hand. “Try to rest!”

“I will mix his poppy juice!” Eowyn announced yawning, having been awakened by the conversation. She slid off the bed and came over to look at Aragorn.

“I think he will heal now. “You would make a good healer, my husband!” she pronounced, in a voice devoid of emotion.

“I just did the same as you did only with more kindness.” he replied quietly.

Eowyn seethed silently at his rebuke as she mixed the painkiller and helped Aragorn swallow it.

With her now customary lack of gentleness, she began removing Aragorn’s bandages and inspecting the wounds, prodding them hard enough to make the unfortunate King cry out in pain.

“They are healing.” She pronounced. “The infections are draining away nicely and the others will soon close.”

“I should like to look after him on my own from now on.” Faramir said firmly. Despite his very rudimentary knowledge of healing, gained during his years with the Rangers in Ilithien where a skilled healer was rarely available, he felt he could care for Aragorn better than Eowyn, despite her healer’s training as her distaste for the King was so obvious.

“As you wish, but it is best that I mix the medicines and you will need help changing the bedding.” She conceded with supreme indifference.

Aragorn, though sleepy by now from the poppy juice, was sufficiently aware to heave a deep sigh of relief. Eowyn noticed and irrationally resented it

Later that morning, Aragorn was well enough to eat a little broth, which Faramir patiently spooned into his mouth.

He seemed to relish it and smiled his thanks to Faramir before asking for more water. Eowyn then dosed him with more poppy juice and herbs, which caused him to sleep for most of the day while Faramir sat beside him, patiently caring for his needs.

Eowyn spent her time out riding apart from mixing the herbs and changing Faramir’s bandages as well as helping him lift Aragorn when they changed the bedding and the bandages again before bedtime.

That night, Faramir settled himself again next to the King on the large bed and without prompting, Eowyn climbed in the other side.

She lay there wakeful as the hours passed, listening to her husband’s breathing and thinking how strange yet frustrating it felt to be sharing a bed with him, for even if he did desire her, his injuries and the presence of the King made any amorous overtures impossible.
The next morning, Faramir fetched one of Aragorn’s nightshirts from his luggage and Aragorn sighed with relief as he was eased into it. Not only did it restore some of his dignity but also it felt more comfortable next to his bruised and damaged skin than the sheet did.

With the help of the herbs and under Faramir’s gentler care, Aragorn’s wounds began to heal, but once the dosage of poppy juice was reduced, he was much plagued by nightmares when he tried to rest. Faramir found he too suffered from much the same problem as both were haunted by their ordeal.

The wounds on his back were healing well, under his wife’s care, but his arms and shoulders were still very painful, as he feared taking sufficient poppy juice to ease the pain, in case it made him too sleepy to care for Aragorn.

On the fifth day since the attack, Aragorn was finally well enough to sit up in bed surrounded by plump pillows.

His wounds were still painful and he felt weak, but he was beginning to heal and could now hold a cup and wash himself if the water were fetched, though Faramir still had to bathe his injured back.

He groaned when he saw Faramir approach with hot water salves and bandages. “Not again!” he complained. “You only changed the bandages a few hours ago!”

“Eowyn said you needed fresh ones every few hours.” Faramir said firmly, unlacing the neck of Aragorn’s nightshirt and easing it down to uncover his upper body. He gently undid the bandages to reveal the wounds.

“I believe they are healing.” Faramir said uncertainly. “What do you think, Aragorn? You know more than I do.” He gently felt the area surrounding the three wounds that had become infected, checking for any sign of heat and inflammation.

“I agree with you.” Aragorn replied, wriggling away from Faramir’s cold fingers.

“Keep still!” Faramir ordered. “How can I do this if you keep wriggling around?”

To his surprise, Aragorn burst out laughing for the first time since they were attacked. “We have come full circle since we met, have we not?” he choked. “The first proper conversation I had with you, you were in the same position with the roles reversed!”

“How long ago that seems!” Faramir mused as he gently bathed the injuries covering Aragorn’s back. “I remember you tending my wounds and telling me to look after Eowyn and fearing you would never come back from Mordor!”

“Were it not for Frodo and Sam, Sauron would have killed us all.” Aragorn said gravely as Faramir handed him the washcloth and placed the bowl of water within easy reach. “We were indeed blessed by the Valar.”

Faramir lingered in fetching the salves from the other side of the room to give the King a little privacy.

He was trying to care for the King under the unscientific but effective premise of treating him, as he would like to be treated himself, were he in a similar situation. “Have you heard any news from Frodo and Sam? Eowyn writes to Merry but he says little of Frodo.” he asked Aragorn.

Eowyn paused outside Aragorn’s room on her way to the stables. She had seen Faramir take in the water and dressings and was wondering whether or not; she ought to check the King’s wounds. Then she heard laughter and her name mentioned.

Aragorn looked sorrowful. “I think Frodo will go over the sea with my foster father within the year.” He said quietly. “I have heard he has never truly recovered from his wounds. If only he had stayed in Gondor, maybe I could have helped him. I am glad I told you to look after Eowyn, as I feared for your future too. Who could have foreseen the outcome, I get you for my Steward and you get Eowyn as your wife!” he laughed.

“You thought of everything especially as you got the crown and Lady Arwen too.” Faramir added a trifle flippantly as he replaced his bandages and eased the nightshirt back over Aragorn’s shoulders.

“Sometimes I feared it would never come to pass and all our plans would go awry.” Aragorn said thoughtfully.

They were discussing how she had been given to Faramir like some unwanted parcel!

There had been times when she had questioned if Aragorn’s remark at her wedding had really meant, what she thought it did, but here was the proof!

Overcome with rage and humiliation, Eowyn sought comfort on Windfola’s broad back.

Faramir picked up the bowl and flinched as the pain in his shoulder stabbed.

“As soon as I am sufficiently recovered, I will ease your shoulder.” Aragorn told his Steward.

“That would be nice if you could, please, I would be glad of your skills” Faramir replied as he took the bowl to a passing servant to empty.

Aragorn felt a certain sense of satisfaction; the last few days had been a nightmare beyond his wildest imaginings, but one good thing at least had come out of it. Faramir no longer feared him and spoke to him as a friend rather than merely as a King, respected and feared in equal measure.

Chapter five

It was the middle of the night when Eowyn awoke from an uneasy sleep in the chair by the King’s bed.

As Faramir and Aragorn had kept waking each other up by crying out in their sleep with nightmares, Eowyn had with difficulty tonight, persuaded her anxious husband to take a few hours rest in the other room, as she hoped his dreams would be less frequent away from the King.

She had forgotten to close the curtains and bright moonlight illuminated the room. In a corner, Anduril, the King’s legendary sword, lay propped up against the wall, where he had placed it on the day they arrived at the Lodge.

Eowyn was curious about the legendary blade, as she had never seen it unsheathed and her dislike of Aragorn had stopped her from asking if she could examine the fabled weapon.

Unable to resist the temptation, she tiptoed across the room, picked up the sword, and drew it from its sheath.

It was surprisingly light, much more so than the swords of Rohan and the blade was decorated with a design of a crescent moon and stars. There was also an inscription, which she could not read as it was in a script she was totally unfamiliar with.

She stood holding the sword for a few moments; it was very beautiful and very sharp, a unique weapon, very different to the swords used in her native land.

Just then, Aragorn moaned in his sleep, and she jumped, as she had almost forgotten his presence.

She walked over to the bed, as if in a dream, still clutching the sword.

She studied the King’s sleeping face, features she had once loved but now despised and hated. The mouth filled with lying words and the eyes filled with false compassion, when all the time he had mocked her and planned to give her to Faramir as if she were a slave!

Her life was ruined because of this man, were it not for him, she would be either the honoured hostess at her brother’s court or married to some Marshall of Rohan, who truly loved her, and maybe even the mother of a child by now.

Now there was nothing, nothing left to live for, only the blackness and emptiness that had plagued her for so long.

A few days ago, she had dared hope that Faramir was starting to develop some feelings towards her but he had made it abundantly clear that he had no need of her and now he was sufficiently recovered not even to need his wounds bandaging.
Today was the last time he needed her even for that.

Even if she returned to Eomer’s court, she would be nothing but an object of scorn and pity now. If only she had seen through the web of deceit when Faramir had proposed to her.

She had not loved him then as every other man paled in comparison to Aragorn. Her main reason for accepting his hand in marriage had been as a way of restoring her damaged pride that at least one worthy man found her desirable.

Yet as the months of their engagement went by, she had come to love the quiet Steward of Gondor and believe he loved her in return.

But Aragorn’s meddling had meant it was all nothing but a lie. How easy it would be to take her life with one thrust of this sword and better still first take the life of the man who had brought her to such misery!

With one stroke, she could end her own misery, free Faramir to marry a woman he loved and make him the most powerful man in Gondor by disposing of Aragorn.

Clutching the hilt with both hands, she raised the blade and held it poised over the King’s heart.

She hesitated as a turmoil of emotions overwhelmed her. It was harder than she had thought to do this deed.

Why could she not strike? Maybe she should just take her own life but then she would die unavenged. Again she braced herself to deal the fatal blow.

Aragorn’s eyes slowly opened and he looked at her. Not at her shaking hand, not at the sword, but deep into her eyes.

His gaze held none of the anger or contempt she expected but a mixture of sorrow, compassion and bewilderment.

His sorrow wounded her more than any display of rage ever could as she finally glimpsed the essence of the man she hated.

She took an involuntary step backwards, dropping the sword in her confusion as the expression in his grey eyes pierced her very soul.

The sword fell to the stone floor, the clatter seemed deafening after the tense silence of but a moment before.

Aragorn’s hand gripped her wrist with surprising strength for an injured man. Now she could read anger in the storm grey eyes.

The realisation of what she had been about to do stabbed her like a knife. She had committed high treason and knew her life was forfeit.

“It reads, “I am Anduril who was Narsil the sword of Elendil. Let the Thralls of Mordor flee me.” Aragorn said in a voice devoid of emotion.

Eowyn hardly dared to breathe, all too aware that she had been caught in the act of trying to assassinate the King of Gondor. What would Faramir think of her now? Worse, would he be punished for her foolish actions?

“Tell me, Lady, why were thinking of stabbing me with my own sword?” Aragorn’s calm voice was like ice, which was far more terrifying than if he had ranted and raved.

“I accept my life is now forfeit to the law of Gondor”. She said in an expressionless voice.” I desire only death.”

“I do not desire your life, Lady, but an explanation.” Aragorn said in a chilling tone she had never heard him use before. “I asked why you were thinking of killing me, not that I believe you would do the deed as you have too much honour to attack a wounded and weaponless man. Now tell me why you hate me so much, I order you as your King!”

Eowyn shivered at his tone and at how well he could read her. The grip on her wrist tightened making flight impossible.

“Do you really need to ask?” she replied.

“I am asking and I want an answer now!” His tone was like ice.

“Why should I not hate you?” Eowyn said bitterly. ” You called me back from death against my will, after you had ruined my life by rejecting my love. Then you tricked me into a loveless union by ordering Faramir to marry me to remove any possible embarrassment from Lady Arwen! You boasted of it on my wedding day and I overheard you jesting about it again today with Faramir. I can bear it no longer, I want to die, I thought of taking you with me but only truly meant the blade for my own heart!”

Aragorn gaped at her open mouthed, so astonished that he loosened the grip on her wrist.

“What?” he gasped, sounding both hurt and astonished. “I swear to you, Lady that I never told Faramir to marry you; he did so because he loved you. If I speak falsely, you are quite welcome to kill me; as such a scheming knave would deserve your fury! I do not know how you could think so ill of me! Arwen has always known that you once had romantic feelings for me, but they were but a shadow and a thought which fled once you met Faramir.”

” How could you Eowyn? The King speaks the truth!” Faramir, on hearing the commotion had entered the room unnoticed by either Eowyn or the King.” I married you because I loved you and no man influenced me!” Faramir’s reproachful tone was almost harder to bear than the King’s cold fury.

The Steward hastened to Aragorn’s bedside and grasped Eowyn’s arm, as if fearful she would mount a further attack. “Has she harmed, you, Sire?” he asked in dismay “I will kill her myself if she has! I am so sorry, I had no idea she would even think of such a deed. I accept my punishment at your hands.”

“She has not touched me, peace Faramir!” Aragorn said bleakly.

Eowyn glanced nervously at her husband and then turned back accusingly to Aragorn.

“But you told me yourself on my wedding day, my Lord, that you asked Faramir to look after me!”

Aragorn nodded. “Yes I did, Lady. I also told him to look after the Hobbit Meriadoc and all of Gondor! I requested Merry to look after you too! I hope you are not now going to accuse me of planning a bigamous marriage for you to both a man and a Hobbit or maybe the entire male population of Gondor? ”

Eowyn cringed at the biting sarcasm. She felt very foolish now.

“Remember those were dark days;” Aragorn continued.” I never thought that either your brother or myself would return alive from Mordor and did not wish you to be alone and friendless in a foreign land. All I wanted from Faramir, was to see that you were escorted safely back to Rohan, had you both survived the war! My words at your wedding feast meant merely that I was glad I had encouraged Faramir to seek your company as he came to love you and could give you his heart when I could not!”

As the full impact of their words sunk in, Eowyn covered her face with her hands.

“But you shunned my bed!” She accused Faramir, momentarily ignoring Aragorn’s presence. “I thought you didn’t love me and regretted the marriage. I even suspected you had a mistress!”

” I always thought you knew how much I loved you and I was waiting for you to show some sign you desired me, as I would never take you unwilling and at the same time I feared you would reject me! Then for a long time, I thought you still loved the King .As for a lover, my only mistress is Gondor!” Faramir replied reproachfully. “Why did you not tell me how you felt instead of attacking the King? Do you not know the penalty for such a crime is a slow and painful death?

Eowyn burst into tears at his words; Faramir hesitated, unsure whether to console her or arrest her. Aragorn gestured he should choose the former.

.”I am sorry, so very sorry, I love you so much!” she sobbed. “Now it is too late after my wicked and foolish act of treason!”

After a few moments, she pulled away from her husband’s embrace and knelt before the King. “My Liege, I wronged you and I can only say that I am sorry, though I do not expect or deserve your forgiveness for my folly! I expect no mercy except to beg of you not to punish Faramir who would never betray you or condone what I have done!”

“I do owe you my life, Lady, so far be it from me to desire to take yours!” Aragorn replied sternly. “I grant you full pardon, but I warn you, never again raise a blade against me in anger or it will go very ill indeed for you!”

Eowyn kissed his hand in fealty and gratitude. “What penance would you have me make, My Lord King?”

Aragorn smiled at her and his tone softened. “I charge you never to let such a misunderstanding arise again between you and your husband or between us! If you are angry, speak of what troubles you ere sunset of that day!”

“I give you my word, My King.” Eowyn said tearfully. “If only we could start again!”

“Dry your tears and rise, Eowyn!” Aragorn said gently. “Maybe when I am less weary, I can think of some way to symbolise putting the past behind us.”

Faramir moved forward to kneel beside his wife.

“I can never thank you enough for your mercy, my Lord King!” he said fervently.

“My friend,” Aragorn said with a wan smile.” I could not repay your kindness with anything but the same.”

Faramir grasped the King’s hand in gratitude. To his alarm, it trembled slightly and was clammy with sweat. His features looked grey and drawn as the shock of the night’s events took its toll.

“Do you have any of Merry’s tea left? “Faramir asked Eowyn, “If you do, maybe you could make us some. I think we are all in need of something with restorative properties. But first bring some water, the King needs bathing.” It was almost a relief to concentrate on these tasks, which only a few days ago had embarrassed him beyond measure.

“Merry sent me a chest of tea. I have plenty.” Eowyn replied, feeling glad of an excuse to escape. “I will fetch the water at once.”

“Could you pick up my sword please, Faramir and sheath it?” Aragorn asked as soon as she had gone.

“I would, Sire, but thought not but the King was allowed to touch it on pain of death.”

“That is so, but to draw it, not sheath it but as I am, alas too weak to get out of bed, I must make an exception whatever the custom dictates. As Lady Eowyn is a woman, she is at least exempt from that rule! Aragorn said wearily. “No harm will come to you but we cannot leave a naked blade lying on the floor or there will be more mischief this night!”

Faramir knelt and reverently picked up Anduril.

“I can hardly believe I am holding the sword of Elendil!” he whispered as he studied the inscription framed by stylised symbols of the Sun detailed in amber enamel near the hilt and the Moon interspersed by seven stars representing Elendil. He knew the Sun and Moon symbols represented the King’s ancestor Elendil’s sons Anarion and Isildur respectively.

With great respect, he sheathed the sword and went to replace it in the corner.

“Put it where I can reach it, please!” begged Aragorn. “Not that I could wield it a present. I would just feel better with it nearby.”

“Certainly.” Faramir was just propping it beside the bed when Eowyn brought the water. Too ashamed of her actions to speak, she scurried back to the kitchen.

Faramir began the uncomfortable but by now familiar rituals of seeing to the King’s needs, bringing the chamber pot and then easing the sweat soaked nightshirt from his body and bathing the clammy skin.

He found that his sympathy for the King was always mixed with a feeling of relief not to be in the same position and an equally strong feeling of guilt that Aragorn had suffered so much more than he had at the hands of their tormentors.

He handed Aragorn the cloth to wash himself but the King’s hands shook so much, that Faramir had to do it for him.

He moaned in frustration.” I thought I was improving but I cannot even bathe myself. I have almost forgotten what it feels like to feed myself, walk or even answer nature’s call in private!”

Faramir patted his hand in sympathy. “Please do not fret, Sire, you will be well soon. You have had a dreadful shock tonight.” He choked as the realisation hit him that he could so easily have entered the room and found both his King and his wife dead.

Almost as overwhelming was Aragorn’s magnanimity, as Denethor would without doubt have had Eowyn burned at the stake for treason He turned his head away as he concentrated on bathing Aragorn.

“As have you, Faramir.” Aragorn said gently. “I am sorry to have spoken thus as you care for me with great kindness and respect, which makes the indignities far easier to endure. I did not mean to sound ungrateful. My heart is heavy tonight.”

Unsure of what to say, Faramir smoothed down the clean nightshirt and plumped up Aragorn’s pillows.

He then climbed up to sit on the vast bed and grasped Aragorn’s hand again, offering both contrition and comfort.

The King’s hand still felt clammy as he gratefully accepted the gesture, squeezing his Steward’s fingers.

“I am so very sorry about Eowyn’s conduct!” Faramir said. “I never guessed how she was feeling. How could she even think of such a thing?”

Aragorn smiled wanly. “How could you know, Faramir? Women expect you to read their minds, which few men are able to do. You are not to blame for her troubled mind. I fear the shadow of the past still hangs over her and clouds her spirits.”

Faramir nodded. “I should have seen it as we both fell into darkness. Why ever did I not press her to tell me what was wrong? First I thought she still loved you then as time passed, the distance between us grew harder to overcome.”

“It is hard for a woman.” Aragorn replied. “You have had many duties of state to occupy your mind while she has had more time to brood. Then she loved me once and love and hate are close kindred of each other.”

“That is true, Sire.” Faramir replied deferentially.

“Please, no formality!” Aragorn begged, wiping his brow with the back of his other hand. “It would be sad indeed if this incident damaged the friendship we have forged. As a friend, I would advise you now, to concentrate on wooing your lady!”

“Are you in pain, Aragorn?” Faramir asked anxiously, as he picked up a cloth to wipe the King’s face again. “I am honoured you regard me as a friend.”

Aragorn shook his head. “Not really, I just feel so helpless, even in my days in the wild I never felt quite so vulnerable. I woke from another dream where I was tied to that tree to find Eowyn standing over me, aiming my own sword at my heart! It was a severe shock, as I trusted her. Will you stay here with me tonight, please?”

“Of course, I will!” Faramir was alarmed by the almost childlike plea from one he had seen as almost superhuman, even after all that had happened. He shuddered at the thought of another near tragedy so narrowly averted.

“I knew Eowyn disliked you but never believed her capable of wanting to harm you. I should have tried harder to learn what ailed her. I have nightmares too much like yours. I can understand anyone wanting to kill me in battle but such hatred as Fennas and Calardan had, is so hard to comprehend. I fear I will look on strangers with apprehension in the future. I keep wondering too, how they knew where to find us.” Faramir replied.

Eowyn at that moment entered carrying three steaming cups.

“You have just discovered the fear women always live with!” she said dryly, some of her usual confidence returning.

“How so?” Faramir asked taking the cups from her and balancing them on the bed, while she lit the candles as the moon had gone behind a cloud.

Eowyn came to sit on the bed beside her husband. She sat staring at the cup for a few moments before replying, “When we first met, my Lord King, you remarked on my skill with a blade,” she said at last. “I told you my brother had taught me but not why. When I was but twelve summers old, one of the Marshals surprised me in the stables and tried to take my virginity. Had it not been for my horse, he would have succeeded, but she lashed out with her hooves and almost broke his leg .I went that night to Eomer and pleaded with him to teach me how to use a sword, though I told him it was in case Orcs came to Edoras. I learned quickly and men were wary of me after that, as I never ventured out without my blade, though Wormtongue came to me and threatened to kill my uncle if I would not yield to his desires.”

“Eowyn!” Faramir exclaimed in horror. His knuckles tightened round the cup he held.

“Have no fear, Husband, I am still a maid!” Eowyn said bitingly. “Before he could carry out his threats, Gandalf restored my uncle’s health and Grima was banished.” She looked Aragorn straight in the eye. “Your arrival could hardly have been more opportune!”

The King smiled at her compassionately. He understood now why she had become so infatuated with him, as he must have appeared to her as the object of every maid’s fantasy, the hero who comes to whisk away the maiden in distress.

Faramir protested. “I only meant to show my horror at how you had suffered. It would make no difference to me what had happened in the past. I would still love you.”

Eowyn said nothing but planted a kiss on his cheek. Shyly he returned her gesture.

“I will make the punishments much sterner for those who violate women. Maybe you can help me decide what is appropriate, Eowyn” Aragorn promised her, trying to stifle a yawn, as his eyes grew heavy.

“I would be pleased to.”she replied, taking the cup from his hand and arranging the pillows so he could lie down. He instinctively wanted to recoil from her, but was too weary to protest at her being so close.

Aragorn tried to say something but was asleep before he could get the words out.

“I put a sedative in his tea.” Eowyn explained, feeling his pulse and frowning. “His heart still beats too rapidly. I fear now that I caused him great distress. Tonight it is best we both stay with him.” her voice trembled with remorse.

Faramir looked at her, his dark eyes brimming with sorrow, as he climbed into the bed. “I shall never know how you could even think of doing such a deed as harming the King. After all he has done for us, we neither of us would be alive were it not for him, have you forgotten that? He was exhausted after the battle but would not rest or eat until he had brought us back from the brink of death. Then he honoured me with lands and titles and above all his trust and friendship. I only hope he was right that you could not have done it! I love you very much, but you frighten me at times!” he told her. “As Aragorn has forgiven you, so must I and tomorrow we will think about making a new start and woo each other afresh.”

Eowyn said nothing, but wept quietly as she settled beside Faramir. She mutely held out her hand to him and he clasped it without hesitation. Thus, they too fell asleep, too exhausted for further thought or conversation.

The next morning Aragorn appeared totally exhausted from his ordeal of the previous night but to Faramir and Eowyn’s relief, there was no sign of a recurrence of the fever, which they had feared.

Eowyn had started to tend his wounds but as he unsurprisingly seemed very tense in her presence, she left it to Faramir, who carried out the task while Aragorn lay there still half asleep, so great was the King’s trust in his Steward.

As the day progressed, Aragorn gradually regained some of his strength and by late afternoon was again able to bathe himself and hold a spoon to eat some broth.

The more she thought about it, the more amazed Eowyn was by his mercy and kindness. She realised she could never have made him a suitable Queen as he was so far above her in nobility and lineage.

Her mistake had been failing to believe anyone could be as noble as Aragorn and not a mere fraud, wearing a mask of feigned virtue and yet he was truly nobler by far than she ever could have imagined.

She spent the day sitting with Faramir by the King’s bedside as they talked quietly about many matters they had avoided over the past months.

They realised many of their problems stemmed from cultural differences, as the culture of Gondor was far more reserved and set a far higher value on abstract learning than that of Rohan did.

They both promised to try and understand each other societies better and to learn more of each other’s cultures the better to understand and respect them.

The revelation which most surprised and gladdened Faramir, was that Eowyn desired a large family of children, as that had always been his wish too, as he longed for his own children so that he could try to give them the happy and carefree childhood that he had been denied.

They all retired early that evening, exhausted too from the previous night’s events. Deciding it was best they should stay together, they all three settled down in the huge bed with Faramir next to the King and Eowyn beside her husband.

The King was again troubled by nightmares, so Eowyn gave him poppy juice, thinking restful sleep was now what he needed above all else to help him recover.

The next morning Aragorn seemed to have recovered from his ordeal, and again Eowyn offered to change his bandages.

This time Aragorn allowed her, much to his apprehension, but he felt he must if they were ever to trust each other again.

To his surprise and great relief, she was much more gentle and made a great effort neither to aggravate his wounds nor injure his dignity.

She was amazed at how quickly the injuries were healing, not having encountered the recuperative powers of one of the Northern Numenorean bloodlines before as Faramir’s people had intermarried far more and had lost many of their former gifts.

“I think you could get up and sit in a chair by the fire if you wish, Sire,” she pronounced as she secured the final bandage round Aragorn’s shoulder.

“Gladly would I sit in a chair as I am weary of this bed!” Aragorn replied, hoping that he would feel a little less vulnerable once he was on his feet again.

She left the room and went to tend the horses while Faramir helped the King wash and don a clean nightshirt and a warm robe and then returned to help Faramir escort Aragorn to the comfortable armchair by the fire.

Aragorn gingerly eased his feet on the floor and tried to stand but his legs felt like twin jellies and he would have fallen, had not Faramir and Eowyn been either side of him, each holding his arm.

He felt like a babe newly learning to walk as they steered him the few yards across the room and settled him in the chair, then cocooned him in pillows and blankets.

He stayed sitting there until after the midday meal, then on Eowyn’s insistence returned to bed for a nap, but insisted on returning to the chair later.

This time, his legs felt stronger and though he still needed assistance, Faramir and Eowyn were no longer virtually carrying him.

Chapter six

Eowyn sat staring thoughtfully into the fire as the sun sank behind the trees outside.
At last she turned to Aragorn. “My Lord, you have travelled far and know of the ways of many cultures.” she began rather hesitantly.

“I have seen most of the cultures of Middle Earth.” he replied, smiling at her encouragingly. “What would you ask me?”

“Is there any way I could pledge myself to Faramir again?” she asked, screwing up her courage to come to the point. “I made such a dreadful mistake in believing it nothing but a loveless political union. I know I cannot undo the past but I would like to make a fresh start.” She struggled to keep back the tears.

Faramir was at her side in an instant, holding a comforting arm around her. He was both surprised and somewhat touched at her words.

“I should like that too as I know I must bear some of the blame as well,” he said. “I fear I do not find it easy to show emotion.”

“The Elves have a pledge that is a binding ceremony.” Aragorn informed them gravely. “Arwen and I used it on our wedding night, in fact. You see this ring?” He held up his right hand, so they could see the slender band of gold on his index finger.

“Arwen and I exchanged these rings when we made our private vows, as the official ceremony seemed to be more for public show than about the love we bear each other. The Elven vow is even more solemn than the marriage vow as it binds a couple not only till death but also for all eternity or until the ending of the world. Are you certain you wish to do that?” He sounded somewhat doubtful, having witnessed their earlier coldness towards each other

“I do.” Eowyn said without a moment’s hesitation. “I truly understand my husband’s worth now and love him far more than I did on my wedding day!”

“I too would bind myself completely to Eowyn. I still love her despite everything that has happened. We both made mistakes and I must have appeared so cold and unloving.” Faramir added, equally unhesitatingly. “What do we need to do?”

“You wish to do it now?” Aragorn asked.

“The sooner we put the past behind us the better!” Faramir replied.

“We need to start again after these unhappy months of misunderstandings! “Eowyn insisted.

“Very well then, this is what you need to do. Kneel facing each other and repeat the words I say after me.” Aragorn told them, seeing that they were determined.

“Is there no preparation to make?” Eowyn asked surprised.

“No, it is very simple, yet very profound.” Aragorn explained.

Faramir and Eowyn knelt before the fire, their faces illuminated both by the firelight and the red glow of the sunset, which made them appear as if crowned with living flame.

“You both say the words together so repeat them after me,” Aragorn said solemnly. “They are a pledge of eternal love and fidelity.”

They both nodded.

“I swear by the name of the Lady.” Aragorn began in Elvish. Although Eowyn understood not a word she trustingly repeated the words, so great was her desire to redeem herself in Faramir’s eyes and as they were both making the same pledge, she knew it bound them both equally.

“That I take thee as my only spouse.” Aragorn continued.

Faramir smiled reassuringly as Eowyn stumbled over the difficult words.

“And that I will be loving and faithful only to thee until the ending of the world. Thus do I plight thee my troth.”

Aragorn beckoned them to their feet, they clasped hands, and then Faramir drew Eowyn close and they kissed.

“Be thou blessed and fruitful!” Aragorn concluded in Roherric, a language of which it was Faramir’s turn to hardly know a word.

They knelt again for the King’s blessing as the sun’s dying rays bathed the room in a beautiful crimson light.

“I am wearing my oldest gown!” Eowyn lamented once the rites were concluded.

“You have never looked more lovely. When we return to Minas Tirith, we will exchange the Elven rings and you shall have a new gown then if you wish!” Faramir assured her. “Shall we send for some wine for a toast?”

They called for a servant and despatched the girl to fetch the best wine from the cellar and Faramir poured the ruby red liquid into three goblets.

“May you be granted long life and abundant blessings!” Aragorn lifted his glass in a toast to his friends, truly thankful to see them in accord at last.

“We are blessed indeed to live in these times!” Faramir replied, lifting his glass and wincing as the pain hit his shoulder.

The near constant throbbing in his shoulders, especially the one with the old injury seemed to grow worse with every movement this evening.

Maybe helping the King to the chair earlier had aggravated his injuries. Despite his attempts to disguise his pain, Aragorn’s keen eyes noticed.

” I can see you are in pain, Faramir, may I try to ease you? “Aragorn asked, “You have been unable to rest your arms and shoulders as I have.”

“Would it not overtax your strength?” Faramir asked, looking anxiously at his King. “After all, today is only the first time you have been able to get up.”

Aragorn shook his head. “It takes very little energy to use the Elven massage techniques, as it is mutually relaxing. I fear that as yet though, I lack the strength to heal you completely.”

“Is it fitting the King should tend me?” Faramir asked doubtfully.

“Please, no more of that! Have you learned nothing these last days?” Aragorn chided. “It is fitting I aid you as your friend!”

“I am sorry, Aragorn. It is just hard to undo years of conditioning.” Faramir said sheepishly.” I will be honoured to accept your help as long as it does not overburden your strength.”

“Come then, sit by me and I will see what I can do.” Aragorn said, smiling encouragingly at his Steward.

Bringing a low stool from the other side of the fireplace Faramir seated himself on it directly in front of the chair the King was sitting on.

He hesitantly fingered the laces of his shirt, unsure whether to remove it or just to slide it off his shoulders,

Aragorn was astute enough to guess that Faramir associated being told to remove his shirt with preparing to be flogged and wisely said nothing.

From where, she was seated at the other side of the fireplace, Eowyn looked at her husband, her green eyes full of compassion.

Faramir realised that insisting on retaining his shirt gave the impression that he feared Aragorn was intending to heap further humiliations upon him and was an insult when being offered comfort and healing, to react as if expecting punishment, though that did not prevent him from feeling acutely embarrassed. Aragorn had been trying to persuade him to allow him to examine his wounds for the past two years but he had always managed to make excuses until now.

” Be at ease, I would neither distress nor hurt you!” Aragorn said with a sad and gentle smile. “Remember I now most likely bear as many scars as you do and you do not recoil from me in disgust having seen them, neither does your Lady.

Realising the wisdom of Aragorn’s words and somewhat shamed by his own nervousness, Faramir stood up, took a deep breath and struggled to pull his tunic and shirt over his head, but found himself groaning at the painful effort it took to raise his arms.

His wife was instantly at his side, swiftly easing the heavy garments over his head, baring the heavily scarred chest and the back still raw from his recent injuries, adding more scars to those from the many beatings in the past. It was only a day since, that Eowyn had felt it safe to leave off the bandages.

He sat again, bolt upright on the stool, with eyes downcast, his arms crossed defensively across his bare chest.

Despite the warmth of the fire, he felt very cold and shivered, conscious of two pairs of eyes scrutinising his scars in the red glow of the firelight.

It had felt different when Eowyn had changed his bandages, as he could not see her face and she had always carried out the task with merciful speed.

Aragorn waited a few moments, allowing him to compose himself before scrutinizing his injuries.

“May I?” he asked gently, reaching out his hand towards Faramir’s heavily scarred shoulder.

Faramir nodded reluctantly and submitted to the by now familiar discomfort of the injured areas being probed though he had to admit the King was very gentle, much more so than the healers in the city or Eowyn, who despite her best intentions, lacked a natural healing touch. Also his hands were surprisingly warm, so his very touch seemed to ease the pain.

“The whip caught the injury and then the muscle was torn further when your arms were forced over your head. Then the muscles in both arms and shoulders have been pulled.” Aragorn pronounced. “You must be in great pain, not only these last days but ever since your shoulder was first injured! However did you cope with all your duties as Steward? You have always fulfilled them in an exemplary manner. I should have seen you were in pain and helped you long ago, I am sorry!”

“Do not blame yourself, Sire. You had a country to rule, rebellions from the South to quell and a new bride to occupy your time. And you did offer me your help many times, but I foolishly refused.” Faramir said sheepishly, again lapsing into formality.

Too ill at ease to look, he could feel Aragorn’s fingertips warm on his cold flesh, ghosting over his racing heartbeat before starting to massage his shoulder.

“You need to relax. Take deep breaths with the rhythm of my hands and allow yourself to be eased.” Aragorn advised him. “I am not going to hurt you.”

He dared to look up and realised Eowyn was watching the King’s hands with intense fascination rather than casting a critical eye of his scarred body.

“Could I learn to do that?” she asked, as Aragorn’s nimble fingertips gently kneaded Faramir’s aching shoulder and upper arm muscles, though somewhat hampered by the Steward’s defensive pose.

Long years in the wilderness had taught Aragorn patience, so unlike others who had treated Faramir in the past he made no attempt to prise his arms away from his chest. The Steward shook slightly beneath his touch, further emphasising his discomfort.

The King decided to risk using a little of his healing power but was still too frail to give his Steward as much as he would have liked to. Faramir suddenly felt much warmer and no longer so exposed and uncomfortable as his trembling ceased.

“Of course. I could teach you if you like, or Arwen could if you prefer, she is far more adept at it than I am, having had centuries of practise”

“I thought salves or oils were required for massage?” Eowyn commented.

“The Elves prefer to use just their fingertips.” Aragorn explained. “The secret is applying just the right amount of pressure. It is quite easy to learn.”

Eowyn somewhat doubted it as she watched her husband’s tense frame slowly relax. He gave a sigh of contentment as the pain eased and gradually uncrossed his arms; letting his hands fall limply on his lap thus allowing Aragorn to properly massage his arms and shoulders, followed by his chest and the upper part of his belly. If he were a cat, he would surely have been purring, she thought.

The firelight illuminated Aragorn’s features and as Faramir raised his eyes he felt almost overwhelmed by the depths of love and compassion in his Sovereign’s eyes. A flame seemed to dance upon his brow, highlighting the nobility, which had never diminished even during the darkest of the past few days.

The Steward realised he was truly blessed to know his man and feel the power of his touch, and the look of reverence on Eowyn’s face, suggested she shared his awe.

Faramir gradually realised, rather to his surprise, that he was experiencing something different than the impersonal touch generally associated with healing, or even the technique Aragorn had used on the day they were attacked, as this had a much more caring and intimate feel and awakened long buried memories of his mother’s loving touch.

He had always craved affection but been starved of it for most of his life since the premature death of his mother. Subsequently he found it very hard to either give or receive affection. He had briefly allowed himself to in the days when Middle Earth had seemed doomed to fall to Sauron and then in the last few days when he had tried to comfort the King, but after so many years of Denethor’s disapproval had not found it easy.

His father considered any display of tenderness to be a weakness and his nurse, fearful of the Steward’s wrath had followed his edict. Boromir had loved him dearly but was too well trained to follow his father’s example to offer more than the occasional sheepish hug to his younger brother when he was certain Denethor was not looking.

It seemed to Faramir that he was at last getting the fatherly tenderness which had always been denied him and that in itself was as healing as any easing of his muscles.

Much to his shame, a single tear rolled down his cheek.

“You have been denied much of the love which was rightfully yours.” Aragorn said, with his uncanny ability to read his thoughts as wiped away the teardrop with his thumb. “Your father is dead now and it is time for you to throw off his shadow. Whatever Denethor might have said, it is no crime to give or receive a comforting touch.”

His voice was as soothing as his fingertips and Faramir gave a great sigh as he felt the past slipping away.

Still Aragorn continued, his fingertips kneading the sore muscles and unknotting the tension in slow circular movements.

It gradually grew dark and the room was illuminated only by the dancing firelight. Eowyn’s golden hair shimmered as if made of the flames it reflected. Faramir shivered again as he looked at her and this time not from cold or fear.

She noticed he was watching her and turned her attention away from the King’s hands to look him in the eye. Her eyes were full of hungry desire. Unable to withstand the intensity of her gaze, he resumed staring shyly at his hands.

“Does it take a lot of study, this massage technique?” Eowyn asked Aragorn.

“Not for the simplest version, but there are many variations.” he explained. “There are different techniques depending on whether you are using it for a servant, an acquaintance, a close friend or one as dear as a brother. Then it varies whether you are using it for healing, bonding or comforting. It does not work very well for lovers though, as there is nothing erotic about it.”

“And which are you using now?” Eowyn asked, her usual outspokenness returning.

“This is how I would ease my foster brothers if they were in pain or distress.” Aragorn answered with a smile.

Faramir felt a warm glow suffuse his entire being as he felt he only merited the treatment reserved for a servant.

Seeing Faramir was obviously enjoying the Elven treatment, Aragorn started to massage the dark head.

The King suddenly paused in his ministrations and stared unseeingly straight ahead.

“Aragorn, do you feel unwell?” Faramir gasped in alarm. “This must be too tiring for you!”

The vision surprised Aragorn in its suddenness and clarity. First, he saw a battlefield with two armies in bitter conflict. To his horror, they were a future Gondor and Rohan, each trying to destroy the other. Then the vision changed and he could see two children of about the same age, a dark haired boy whom he somehow knew was his son, and a blonde dark eyed girl that he realised was Faramir and Eowyn’s daughter.

He saw them laughing and playing together as children and then hand in hand as adults. He knew then that he saw two possible futures, the happier one of which contained their future children plighting their troth if only Eowyn and Faramir could overcome their inhibitions sufficiently to produce offspring.

“I am well.” Aragorn smiled at Faramir reassuringly and continued massaging his head. “This is relaxing for me too. Will you let me see what I can do for your back now?”

“That breaks all the rules to turn my back on the King!” Faramir protested, more out of reluctance to show Aragorn the scars he felt so embarrassed by, than his usual desire to observe the rules of court etiquette.

Aragorn placed both hands on Faramir’s shoulders .His eyes were full of warmth and compassion.

“We are far from the Court here,” he said quietly. “You can be at your ease with me. If I see your scars, I will have some idea of what my own must look like as we both endured the same torment.”

Faramir, sighing, did as he was bidden and turned around, though despite being at his most relaxed for years, was still loath to let anyone closely scrutinise his disfigured back, even by the dim light of the fire. He was unable to repress an involuntary shudder at the shame of the situation.

He had hoped over the past two years that Aragorn would have forgotten seeing the results of Denethor’s beatings while his nightshirt would conceal them from Eowyn, but the last few days had changed everything

Aragorn was prepared for the sight of the fresh welts, however he was shocked just how badly the old ones had healed, leaving numerous overlapping stripes of scar tissue across the thin back and shoulders.

He felt great revulsion, not for Faramir, but for the one who had inflicted such cruel hurts upon him. Gently feeling the scar tissue, he judged that some of the damage must have been inflicted many years ago.

A wave of compassion for this mistreated and noble man washed over him. He wondered if any at been at hand to tend him after the many beatings. He remembered the night Faramir had wept in his arms for his brother and how sad it was that he, a stranger at the time had been the only one there to comfort him.

He was determined from now on that were Faramir distressed, he would comfort him as he would his own child as Faramir these past days had cared for him as lovingly as a son would for a father.

“My poor friend!” he soothed, understanding Faramir’s reticence. ” There is no need to feel shamed as you are no criminal but a man of great honour and integrity who has suffered too much!”

He tenderly kneaded the worse scarred areas with his sensitive fingertips and Faramir relaxed again as the tightness in the damaged skin eased. He felt comforted too by Aragorn’s words for could the scars be so dishonourable if the King himself would touch them so gently?

“Does that feel better?” Aragorn asked, when finally convinced, he had done all he could to ease his Steward.

Faramir turned his head for a moment to face Aragorn again and cautiously moved his arms .To his amazement found he could lift them without pain. He could have hugged his King in gratitude but instead contented himself with a grateful smile.

“The pain is gone! Thank you!” he beamed.” And the treatment was very pleasant, I should not have feared it!”

“You are welcome. It troubles me to see you hurting so much.” Aragorn replied, tracing his finger tenderly down Faramir’s scarred back. “I wish I could have spared you such cruel injuries, as I swore none would ever beat you again, yet I was powerless to prevent it!”

Faramir slid to the floor and knelt in front of his King, clasping both his hands and looking straight into the brimming dark eyes, before impulsively kissing the hands that had eased his pain. Such open displays of affection did not come easily to him, after his harsh upbringing and he was surprised at his boldness.

Aragorn smiled inwardly. His treatment was working. He hoped that one day Faramir would embrace him as freely as he would do a brother.

“You saved my life! You must not reproach yourself, Aragorn!” Faramir said fervently.

“It is hard to be bound and helpless and watch a friend suffer as we both know.” Aragorn said sadly, lightly brushing a hand over the dark head in a gesture of blessing.

Faramir felt a vague sense of foreboding but was so blissfully relaxed that a herd of Oliphaunts charging through the room would not have perturbed him greatly. He wondered if part of his reluctance to get close to Aragorn before, had been because of the visions that any physical contact with him seemed to trigger, but as he had always respected and admired him in a way he never could his father and had come to love him as dearly as a brother, he determined that nothing should break the bond they had now formed.

“Now if you could help me back to bed then you must go and rest too. I will do this again for you soon and use my healing abilities as soon as my strength returns. When we return to Minas Tirith, I hope you will permit me to give the Elven treatment to fade your scars too as I know they trouble you and you have suffered with them too long, my friend.” Aragorn deliberately did not say what the treatment entailed as he suspected Faramir would refuse.

“Thank you. I will do that.” Faramir said shyly.

“That sounds a good idea!” Eowyn helped her husband to his feet and gently planted a kiss on the heavily scarred shoulder to reassure him that she felt no revulsion. She then helped him replace his shirt before they helped Aragorn back to bed and she went to see to the horses while Faramir tended the King.

As Faramir looked half asleep when Eowyn returned, she persuaded him to go and lie down in his own room, a plan which rather to her surprise, the King endorsed, telling his Steward that rest would make the Elven treatment even more effective.

Eowyn now found herself alone with Aragorn for the first time since the events of the night, when he had awoken to find her brandishing his sword over him. She sat nervously twisting her hands together in the chair recently vacated by the King.

“Thank you for helping Faramir. I hate to see him in pain” she said in an effort to break the tense silence that had developed between them, though her sentiments were sincerely meant.

“So do I, Lady,” Aragorn replied. Much as he hated to admit it, even to himself, he still felt rather apprehensive in her presence though his forgiveness was genuine.

Eowyn took a deep breath.
“I am truly sorry for all the pain and distress I have caused you, these last days. I know I was not gentle and it shames me now to think of it!” She blushed as she blurted out the words.

“You saved my life and Faramir’s that is all that matters.” Aragorn deliberately avoided a direct reply as he could still remember the pain when she had torn his skin away with the bandage and that was just one of many agonizing moments.

“I was so blind, I could not believe that you and Faramir could be as noble as you seemed! That was why I first loved you and the him!”

It was Aragorn’s turn to blush slightly.

” Love and hate can be mirror images of each other.” Aragorn said gently. “I hope now we can love as brother and sister. Had I, like you spent years living under the shadow of Wormtongue, I would hesitate to trust easily.”

“I think I can do that, I should like another brother!” Eowyn choked back the tears at the memories of those dreadful days when it seemed that Wormtongue’s will would prevail over everything including her body. Then her brief happiness with Faramir followed by the months of bitterness caused by her own insecurity.

Her temples throbbed as memories of past fears and present guilt threatened to overwhelm her. She buried her head in her hands.

” Will you permit me to ease you, Lady?” Aragorn asked quietly.

Eowyn lifted her head to meet the King’s gaze.

Aragorn’s gentle eyes seemed to see deep into her very soul. She hesitated to accept comfort from the hands of one whom she had wronged so much, yet she realised her refusal now could doom them never to repair the bonds of trust and friendship they had briefly enjoyed in the year before her wedding.

She moved across the room to sit on the edge of the bed.

“Thank you, I will as long as you will call me Eowyn, Lady is too formal between friends, Sire!”

“Very well, Eowyn, if you do me the same honour!”

She tensed herself, wondering what was coming next as unlike Faramir; she had no recollection of feeling the King’s healing touch or experiencing the Elven massage.

Aragorn’s long sensitive fingers brushed lightly across her forehead and massaged the tense brow in small circular movements.

Now she had reconciled herself to accepting his help, she found it oddly, even blissfully soothing and found her mind going back to almost forgotten memories of her mother’s tender caresses, the only other experience she had known of a touch totally devoid of desire and yet so intimate, warm and loving. She could understand now why Faramir had looked like a contented cat earlier.

“I have a favour to ask of you, concerning Arwen.” Aragorn broke the companionable silence that had developed between them.

“If it is within my power, I would gladly grant it.” Eowyn stiffened anxiously wondering if after her attempt on Aragorn’s life, she would still be allowed to spend time with her friend.

She had grown fond of Arwen, for although the two had very different personalities they had formed a bond as both found life in Gondor hard to adjust to. Eowyn had until yesterday believed that she and the Queen were both victims of Aragorn’s deviousness but now understood that the beautiful and sweet natured Elf had a husband worthy of her.

“I ask it for both Arwen and myself.” Aragorn said,” We are to be blessed with a child soon and Arwen requested that you attend her both as a friend and as a healer to assist Ioreth when the baby is born. I know how much you dislike being in the city, but it would mean a good deal to the Queen and myself if you would consent to be there for the birth.” He felt somewhat highly apprehensive as he voiced Arwen’s request and could only trust his wife knew what she was doing.

Eowyn glowed with pleasure at this unexpected turn of events.
“You would trust me to do this after all that has happened?” she gasped.

“You have the Queen’s trust and mine too.” Aragorn assured her, hoping fervently she would treat Arwen more gently than she had treated him, though he was certain the formidable Dame Ioreth would prevent any harm from occurring.

“I will gladly stay in Minas Tirith as long as the Queen needs me.” Eowyn assured him. “I am so happy that you are to have a child and heir! When is it due to be born?”
Aragorn smiled shyly. “Even Ioreth does not know if she will carry it for twelve months like an Elf or nine months like a human, so I fear you could have a long wait in the city.”

Eowyn smiled back.” Then it will be interesting to find out!”

“I only hope the child looks like his or her mother!” Aragorn mused wryly.

“You are not that ugly!” Eowyn retorted teasingly. “If I had not seen you beside Faramir, I would even say you were quite handsome!”

Aragorn grinned at her before changing the subject.

“Does your arm ever pain you?” he asked unexpectedly.

“You, mean the one the Nazgul injured? No, why do you ask? It is two years ago now since it happened. Sometimes it feels a little cold, but it is not painful.”

“I fear I may have neglected your injury as I was too much of a coward to face you once you were awake. I made sure that Merry was recovering but I was afraid of having to face you, as I knew you were in love with me at the time. ” The King flushed, looking rather sheepish as he spoke.

Eowyn laughed. “I could and have done, called you many things, Aragorn, but coward is not one of them!” Without prompting, she rolled up her sleeve, rather to Aragorn’s surprise. “See there is nothing!”

She now felt totally at ease with Aragorn and wondered however she could have considered his touch so repulsive as he gently felt her bared arm.

His hands were unusually warm and she felt a sudden sensation of the last vestiges of darkness being melted from her heart and with it the lifting of a burden, which she had hardly known she carried.

Aragorn finally removed his hands, trying to conceal his weariness and she laughed, a sound of pure joy.

“Whatever did you do then?” she asked. “I felt as if the sun had suddenly shone into a dark room and spring had come at last after a long winter!”

” You were touched by darkness but now that should be but a fading memory.” Aragorn said gently. “My people have the gift of healing such ills.”

“I would know more of yours and Faramir’s people!” she begged.

Aragorn willingly complied and so they talked as they never had done before, of Gondor and Rohan, of loved ones long gone, of travels and of horses and Eowyn began to realise how much she had missed in refusing to see Aragorn as a friend.

She was eager to tell Faramir that she understood now, why he found the King so special.

“I know now why Faramir loves and respects you so much.” She said at last.

“The feeling is mutual.” Aragorn assured her with a smile” Though there have been times I have feared he thought I would bite him!”

“He was afraid you might treat him as his father had done as I believe you look somewhat alike.” Eowyn confided.” I hope he is not dreaming again of that man, as he often has nightmares about him!”

“Why not go and see? I am ready to sleep now.” Aragorn suggested. “There is no need for you to have to sit up with me.”

“I don’t like to leave you.” Eowyn said torn between two men she now loved, albeit in very different ways. “What if you need something?”

” I am no longer in pain and can reach for a drink myself now and I am able to get out of bed if I need to.” he assured her. “I will sleep comfortably alone as I am well used to it from my Ranger days.”

“I shall look in on you again soon or Faramir will. Sleep well!” She bent to kiss his hand and clutching her candle, hurried away before she changed her mind about what she planned to do.

Going straight to her own chamber she undressed there, shedding her everyday garments in favour of a silken nightgown from the land of the Easterlings.

Donning her robe over the filmy material, she took a candle and quietly moved along the corridor to Faramir’s room. Turning the knob quietly, she crept inside.
For a moment she stood looking down at the handsome features, which seemed to possess an especial beauty in repose, the dark hair framing the high cheekbones standing out against the whiteness of his nightshirt and the sheets.

How she wanted him .Her desire had been rekindled the night they had lain holding the King and now blazed like a fire within her.

She took off her robe and climbed into bed beside him.

“Eowyn, is that you?” Faramir asked sleepily.” Is it time for me to sit with Aragorn? I feel rested now.”

“He said he wished to be alone now he was feeling stronger.” Eowyn told him.” One of us can see how he is later.”

She then blew out the candle and planted a passionate kiss on Faramir’s lips.

Her heart pounded while she waited to see if he would respond.

When his lips met hers there was finally no doubt in her mind that he found her attractive.

He drew her close, caressing her with slender, sensitive hands that made her quiver with delight.

He slowly traced her features with sensitive fingertips.” You are so beautiful!” He gasped. “Do you want us to? May I?” he asked shyly.” Or should we wait until we have the Elven pledge rings?”

This was the moment he had so long desired and yet he was afraid that he would be unable to give her pleasure he so yearned to if he took her now.

Like most of his race, he had always shunned casual liaisons, preferring to contain his desire until married.

Her lips met his again giving their own reply before she nibbled his ear and whispered.

” We have waited long enough! I want you body and soul! I would be your wife in more than name!”

“I am afraid of hurting you though I can scarce contain my desire!”

“You would only hurt me by denying me, I am a strong maiden of Rohan, who has spent her life astride a horse, not some fragile hothouse flower!”

Despite her words, she was suddenly afraid now the moment of surrender neared and she sensed his mounting desire.

“Am I to lose myself too, man of Gondor?” she whispered, tensing in his embrace “Will I no longer be the proud shield maiden of Rohan?”

“You will always be my fair warrior maid!” Faramir reassured her, “It is I who will lose myself wholly in you, if you will but take me!”

He curbed his own rising desire, holding back to tenderly stroke and caress her, making sure she was ready and her desire matched his own before consummating the union.

His consideration for her needs made her desire him all the more and when he finally took her, she moaned with pleasure as a great wave seemed to roar within her, the crescendo making her entire being tingle with ecstasy, his tenderness and ardour more than compensating for his lack of experience in such matters.

Finally sated they lay clasped in a close embrace.

“Why was I so foolish and fearful as to wait so long for such bliss?” Eowyn sighed.

“I should have told you before my beautiful wife, how much I loved and wanted you.” Faramir lamented. “Why was I so afraid?”

Eowyn kissed him again, this time passionately. “I made things very difficult for you, yet don’t you now fear this wild and passionate woman even more?”

“I have a confession to make.” Faramir said shyly.

“You do have a mistress then?” Eowyn teased.

“No, I would never betray you. “His shocked tone made her regret her jest.” I just wanted to tell you that on our wedding night, I was so very nervous I doubt that I would have been capable of fully making you my wife. I was almost relieved at first that you did not appear to desire me. It was only later, when we returned to Gondor, without all the jests and ribaldry that I wanted you so much that it hurt. Yet I feared to approach you in case you rejected me.”

“We have found each other now and I will never let you go!” she pledged, planting a tender kiss on his lips.

She could say no more as Faramir was smothering her with passionate kisses. She responded with equal fervour, nibbling his ears and clawing his chest in ecstasy.

No longer a Shield maiden with a heart of ice, she rejoiced in yielding to womanly passion at last. Then when their passion was finally spent, she kissed and caressed him tenderly.

He responded, holding her tightly until he felt on the verge of sleep though both nature and his inbred sense of duty were telling him he should get up. He only hoped that Aragorn was sleeping peacefully and not lying awake in need of him.
Yet content in Eowyn’s arms, he was loath to leave the warm bed as she nestled her head against his chest.

Chapter seven

Aragorn tossed uneasily in the vast bed, for despite his assurances to Eowyn, he still felt vulnerable when left alone as every time he closed his eyes, he could see his attackers leering at him while they inflicted unspeakable pain upon his helpless body.

He tried to think of other things, of Arwen and the baby, of how Faramir had cared for him so devotedly and now finally seemed to be losing his fear, and of the enigma that was Eowyn, a complicated, dangerous and yet lovable woman, but still sleep refused to come.

He wondered how she and Faramir were faring and if they had overcome their inhibitions enough to beget a child this night as he had foreseen. He felt that somehow the very future of both Gondor and Rohan might depend on whether or not their child was conceived at the right time. Foresight was not an easy gift to possess, as often the images were vague, clouded, and full of foreboding.

He began to wish that he had asked Eowyn for some poppy juice as he ached everywhere after sitting up and using his healing gift and the Elven massage techniques .It took more energy than he had admitted using, as he knew they both needed what help he could offer, two troubled souls both emotionally, and in Faramir’s case, physically scarred by the past. If only Faramir would accept the Elven remedy, though no doubt if he knew what it entailed, he would refuse outright, so easily embarrassed and reserved was the man.

Aragorn closed his eyes and tried again to rest only to be jolted back to full wakefulness when he heard the door open.

He assumed it were Faramir or Eowyn but since he had awoken to find Eowyn aiming his own sword at his heart, anyone coming in the room made him uneasy, though he knew Eowyn would never threaten him again.

To his surprise, a serving maid entered the room. He had been under the impression that Faramir and Eowyn had forbidden the servants to enter without permission but perhaps she had been told to make up the fire, though the middle of the night seemed a strange time.

She carried something in her hand, which glinted in the firelight. To his horror and dismay he realised it was a carving knife.

Before Aragorn could gather his wits to cry out, a hand was clamped over his mouth.

“You will pay now, upstart!” the woman hissed.” You killed my brother, I know as I found his body in the forest and he should have killed you as he promised me he would! It’s not fair!” She gave a keening wail and then surprisingly started to giggle.” They wouldn’t let me come and help them as I was a woman but I’ll kill you when they couldn’t! Just wait and see then it will be the turn of the one they killed my father to save his useless hide! I know how to kill pigs so it will be easy!”

She lunged at Aragorn with the knife, aiming for his heart.

He desperately summoned all his meagre reserves of strength and managed somehow to grab her wrist.

She was only slightly taken aback and tried to wrench free, fighting like a wild animal as she struggled.

Aragorn grimly hung on as she cruelly twisted his wrist, trying break away from his grasp.

In desperation, he dug his teeth into her palm covering his mouth, causing her to cry out and jerk her hand away.

Now his mouth was uncovered, he screamed at the top of his voice for help.

It seemed too cruel now to die after all he had endured. He could not leave Arwen and their child, or Faramir and Eowyn after he had tried so hard to win their friendship, or Gondor and her people.

The thoughts gave him renewed strength and he managed to roll away from her, and move across the bed, but there was nowhere to go then other than on the floor. It would be painful and undignified, given that he wore only a nightshirt, but it seemed to offer the only chance of survival, slender though it might be.

Trying to brace himself for the impact, he slid from the bed.

He landed on the thick pelt serving as a rug, which cushioned his fall a little but he still cried out in pain as the stone floor jarred his many injuries.

The woman came at him again.

He somehow found the strength to kick out with his legs. He caught her ankle, which threw her off balance.

The knife slid from her hand as she lost her footing.

He rolled on top of her trying to prevent her from regaining the knife and attacking again.
She struggled wildly, kicking him in a particularly raw region of his still tender back; leaving him wondering for how long could he hold her at bay.

He was sweating heavily and his breath was coming in ragged gasps from the exertion. The woman’s struggles increased as she punched him in the ribs.

Summoning his final reserves of strength, he lunged towards Anduril, kicking at the woman to hold her at bay.

His bare feet made little impact on her crazed struggles, until he caught her across the face giving him valuable second to draw the sword from the sheath and hold it to her throat.

The blade felt like lead and he wondered how long he could manage to hold it in his trembling hand.

“Stop struggling or I kill you!” he ordered, hoping his voice was firmer than his hand.

“Aragorn! Hold on, I am coming!”

Faramir raced through the doorway and was beside him in an instant, grabbing the woman and pulling her away from him, though he yelped in pain at the strain on his injured shoulders.

The woman stopped struggling and was now singing incoherently in a high keening voice.

Aragorn sighed with relief at his Steward’s timely intervention while Faramir was white with shock at the narrowly averted tragedy.

At that moment, Eowyn rushed into the room, seeming oblivious to the fact she was clad only in a diaphanous silk nightgown.

She was closely followed by the housekeeper, who awakened by the commotion had come to see what all the fuss was about.

Eowyn grabbed a roll of bandage from the table and bound the attacker’s wrists before she could start struggling again.

Aragorn sank back on the floor with a groan and pulled down his nightshirt, which had ridden up to his knees.

The woman’s mood changed again as she cackled “Nearly killed you, what a pity, you slew my family from the city!”

“Who are you?” Eowyn demanded.

The woman was silent, merely scowling at her captors.

“That’s Hanna.” The housekeeper interrupted the tense silence.” Not quite right in the head since her father died during the war and a few days ago, she found her brother and brother in law dead in the forest. They were all a bit strange if you ask me, always on about revenge, though we all lost loved ones during that time. My husband never came back for one and I don’t go around trying to stab honest folk in their beds! Not that he was any great loss, when all’s said and done!”

“Can you lock her up and we’ll take her away when we leave? ” Faramir asked, he leaned heavily against the wall, panting with exertion and casting anxious looks at Aragorn, who appeared to be bleeding as red stains discoloured the white nightshirt he wore.

“I’ll lock her in her room, your Highness.” the housekeeper replied.” Come on you!” She was a large woman, who towered over Hanna.

“Can you return please to make up the fire and bring hot water and towels?” Eowyn said, busying herself lighting the candles to augment the dim light of the moon, which illuminated the room.

Now there was sufficient light, Faramir recognised the attacker as the woman who had asked him if Aragorn still lived and stood watching him in the gardens. He realised now why she looked familiar, as she closely resembled Fennas, who was obviously the brother she spoke of.

As the housekeeper led her away, she spat in his direction.” You should not be in your brother’s shoes, you’re not half the man that he was!” she jeered.” You should have been left to burn with your father! All of your house have wronged me and mine! ”

Faramir shuddered but instead turned his attention to his King who now lay crumpled on the floor covered in blood. Eowyn was already at his side, anxiously feeling for a pulse.

“I think he has swooned.” Eowyn said worriedly.” He needs to be in bed, not lying on the floor! Can you help me to lift him?”

At the sound of their voices, Aragorn groaned and his eyes flickered open .He tried vainly to sit up.

“Stay still, Aragorn, you are injured!” Faramir pleaded as he knelt at the King’s side. Hanna’s words swirled round his head, reawakening old demons. He should never have left Aragorn alone, he thought. Boromir would never have been so thoughtless.

“Did she stab you?” Eowyn noticed to her horror, that the red stains on the King’s nightshirt seemed to be getting larger.

“No, I think the old wounds have reopened.” he told her, his head gradually clearing “I rolled of the bed to escape my attacker and jarred them.”

Faramir winched in sympathy as he helped ease the King upright. They were ready to lift him but he insisted on slowly walking the few steps back to bed, albeit heavily supported and grimacing in pain.

He had just collapsed back on the bed when the Housekeeper arrived with the towels hot water and firewood.

Faramir tucked a blanket round Aragorn as she entered both for warmth and to maintain his dignity in front of the servants.

“You are fortunate the kitchen fire hadn’t yet burned low!” she said, explaining her speed as she knelt to make up the fire.

Loath to begin tending Aragorn while she was there, Faramir asked if she knew anything else about Hanna.

“She lives with her old mother, who is every bit as crazy as her daughter, in a charcoal burner’s hut near here.” the woman told them.” She has a child, a girl of about five or six summers. I’ve no idea who the father was, she said he was dead.”

Everything that was previously unexplained about the attack, now fell into place. Hanna had obviously told her mother and brother when she had learned that the King and his Steward were coming and as the charcoal burner’s huts were on the only track to the Hunting Lodge, it was all too easy to trap the unsuspecting travellers.

“I will see the little girl is provided for.” Faramir said, being deprived of his own mother at a similar age, made him concerned about the unfortunate child. “Can you think of anyone to care for her?”

“My sister lost her child to the Black Breath.” said the Housekeeper.” She would take her, but won’t she be as mad as the rest of her family?”

“Unlikely if as you say they only lost their wits after their losses in the war.” Faramir answered.” I know what grief can do to its victims. With love and care, the child should be able to have a happier future.”

” I will ask my sister then.” the Housekeeper replied.” The fire’s burning up nicely .Now if you don’t want anything else, My Lady, My Lords, I shall retire to bed.”

” We shall manage now, thank you.” Eowyn said, dismissing the woman. She hurried to Aragorn’s side and pulled back the blanket, fearful that he might go into to shock again. To her surprise apart from a racing pulse, he seemed quite calm.

“Can you sit up?” she asked.” I need to see how badly you are hurt.”

Aragorn nodded, wondering apprehensively if she were going to cause him more pain than his attacker. He was no coward, but even when trying to be gentle, Eowyn was somewhat heavy handed, though this morning had been an exception.

“Would you like me to fetch you some poppy juice first?” Eowyn asked.

Aragorn was sorely tempted to say yes but knew it was better if he were alert while his wounds were tended.” I will wait until I wish to sleep.” he replied.

Faramir helped him to sit up, surprised that after the initial jarring when struggling with Hanna, that his arms and shoulders no longer ached very much. The Elven massage was obviously highly effective, he thought, as he unfastened Aragorn’s nightshirt and gently slid it down his body.

Eowyn started to unfasten the bandages, which were stained red across Aragorn’s back, shoulder and below his ribs.

The task seemed surprisingly difficult for her as she kept remembering their conversation of but an hour or so before and she could no longer regard him almost as an inanimate object, as now he was a friend, and someone who could feel pain if she were not careful.

She gently unwound the wrappings to reveal three bleeding wounds, where the arrow had struck, the wound below his ribs, which had been badly infected, and worst of the three, where her rough handling had torn the skin from his back.

“I am so sorry!” She gasped, fighting to hold back the tears as she gently bathed the hurts.

“You did not flog me.” Aragorn said as tactfully as he could. He gritted his teeth. She was trying to be gentle but this was not a pleasant experience as her distress was making her clumsy.

“Should I stitch the hurts closed?” Eowyn pondered aloud.

Aragorn repressed a shudder; the thought of a needle in Eowyn’s hands piercing his very tender back was well nigh unbearable.

He studied the wounds he could see, trying to eye them dispassionately.

“They are partially healed.” he said, “I thinks bandages and salves should suffice. There is a greater risk of infection from stitching.”

Eowyn looked relieved as she bathed the hurts, which had already stopped bleeding, though the somewhat ungentle cleansing made them sluggishly bleed anew. She staunched them with soft pads of cloth.

“Which salves should we use?” Faramir asked, deliberately not directly addressing either his wife or the King.

“The one in the green jar.” Aragorn said from between clenched teeth.” It fights infection and promotes healing.”

Eowyn meekly did as she was bidden. “I had better check you for broken bones.” She said flushing slightly after the wounds were bandaged.” It is quite a drop from the bed to the floor.”

Aragorn reluctantly nodded his consent, knowing it was necessary but not looking forward to the experience.

He bit his lip as she started to prod him firmly. Faramir gripped his hand in sympathy as her hands felt his very sore ribs. He groaned when she touched one especially painful place.

“Your ribs are badly bruised,” she pronounced.

“It feels like it.” Aragorn said wryly.

Faramir discreetly arranged the discarded nightshirt for modesty as Eowyn uncovered a bruised hip and knee and applied a salve of comfrey and arnica as her patient instructed her.

“You have had a lucky escape!” Eowyn said at last.” You could have easily broken your leg or worse, rolling off the bed like that, I hope you won’t do it again!”

“I do not intend to do so, I assure you!” Aragorn replied, laughing with relief both at escaping Hanna’s murderous intentions and finally Eowyn’s probing fingers.

Only when Faramir was helping his King don a fresh nightshirt did he notice that Eowyn was wearing an almost transparent nightgown, made worse by damp splashes of water and blood, which made it cling revealingly to her figure.

“Eowyn!” He gasped.

“What is it?”

” Your nightgown! It is rather…”He flushed scarlet.

She glanced down at the offending garment. “Oh, this, it is rather wet, maybe I should change.” she answered unperturbedly. ” Your nightshirt doesn’t look much better! I will go and dress though and you should change too! We are not leaving the King again until he is recovered.”

“Bring me my tunic, drawers and breeches, please.” Faramir replied, not trusting himself near Eowyn at the moment without the barrier of plenty of clothing.

Aragorn was secretly glad of their decision though he felt obliged to protest.” Would you not rather be alone?”

Eowyn smiled broadly, looking like a cat with a saucer of cream. We had sufficient time together for me to become a true wife,” she announced.” There will be plenty of time in the future for further pleasures!”

It was hard to tell which of the two men blushed deeper at her outspokenness, but she was gone before either could speak.

Alone with his King, a dejected Faramir looked anxiously at Aragorn, worried how he would be reacting to this latest attack now that it had time to sink in and stricken with guilt that he had not been there to prevent it happening.

To his surprise a faint smile hovered on the King’s lips.” Do not look so troubled, Faramir. “He said.” We defended ourselves, did we not? I know it was only against a madwoman but after being so helpless, I am starting to feel better!”

Faramir still looked unconvinced.

” I should have stayed with you, it is my fault you have been injured again!”

“You needed the chance to make Eowyn your ‘true’ wife.” Aragorn replied, His tone was grave but his eyes were smiling, tempting though it was tease his Steward, he resisted. The poor man had endured enough. “Do not let the words of a madwoman disturb you, they are not worth a second thought! I told Eowyn to leave me alone and it all turned out well in the end. We had a chance once more to prove ourselves as warriors.”

Faramir hesitated for a moment and then smiled back, grasping the King’s forearms in a warrior’s clasp.” So we did, my friend.” He replied.” And I feel better for it too!”

Eowyn, now fully dressed, returned just then with a pain killing draught for Aragorn and some clothes for her husband.

Faramir first gave the drink to the King and then pulled on his drawers and breeches under his nightshirt, trying to ignore the way his wife was watching him.

“Whatever must the Housekeeper have thought?” he said, blushing as he eyed the now discarded damp nightshirt.

“It was perfectly decent before we tended to Aragorn.” Eowyn assured him.

“And voluminous to fit both of us!” Aragorn added with a grin, “Rest assured you were properly covered from head to toe!”

Although Faramir’s shoulders were still sore, he was able to don his upper garments without assistance much to his delight.

” The massage really helped me.” he told Aragorn, but the exhausted King was already fast asleep as the poppy juice quickly took effect.
He looked surprisingly peaceful after the night’s events now he slept, his dark hair spilling over the pillow.

Faramir arranged the pillows comfortably for the King and absently brushed back a lock of unruly hair from Aragorn’s brow.

He gasped as their minds briefly touched, as he knew it needed an exceptionally strong bond between two individuals of Numenorean lineage for that to happen.

He sensed love and gratitude and then saw a vision of two children but it was gone before he could understand the meaning and whether it came from Aragorn’s mind or his own.

He was fey tonight and knew not whether the Elven vows and consummating his marriage had caused it, or the prolonged physical contact with Aragorn followed by the attack. Maybe it was a mixture of all these factors.

Wondering what it might mean, he climbed into the bed beside Aragorn and Eowyn came and lay alongside him.

It was a curious conclusion to a wedding night but he felt more at ease than he could remember for a long time.

Chapter eight

The next day Aragorn slept late and awoke feeling stiff and sore but still insisted on getting up to sit by the fire.

Somehow, combating Hanna’s attack had laid the demons to rest and both he and Faramir’s minds began to heal along with their bodies though the memories of being bound and helpless while both being tortured and forced to see each other’s suffering would haunt them for a long time, they had reached a point where healing could begin.

Although Aragorn and to a much lesser extent, Faramir were still in pain during the days that followed, they were happy, as was Eowyn.

Aragorn asked the Housekeeper to sit with him on several occasions, so Faramir and Eowyn could walk alone in the gardens. He could see them through the window, hand in hand, laughing and taking as they made plans for the future which now looked so much brighter than before.

The young couple also discussed their plans with Aragorn and it was decided that once their new home in Ilithien was complete, Eowyn would stay there most of the time where she could be free from the confines of the city and ride her beloved horses and be in charge of her Household, while Faramir spent several days a week in Minas Tirith, staying with Aragorn and Arwen carrying out his duties as Steward and assisting the King.

Eowyn was honest in her opinion that she would love her husband all the more, if she could also have time to indulge her deep rooted need for freedom.

Faramir was happy too at the prospect of having time to indulge his love of scholarly pursuits and continue serving Aragorn, his duties made so much less onerous now his love was not mingled with crippling fear.

Aragorn was happy that he would spend time with his Steward and that Eowyn would finally be free of the caged existence she had once told him she dreaded. The Steward and the White Lady of Rohan were complete opposites but as they were now prepared to understand and meet each other’s needs, their love would deepen and flourish.

When Aragorn was well enough, Faramir helped him dress and he went to sit outside in the garden. It was unusually pleasant weather for March and Aragorn enjoyed watching the horses, while thinking of Arwen and their eagerly awaited child or chatting with Faramir about Gondor’s history.

The evenings were spent sitting round the fire as the three deepened their bonds of friendship as Aragorn talked about books and Elves and ancient Lore to Faramir and methods of healing and his travels to Eowyn. They also spoke of their childhoods as they were united in their losses, as Aragorn grew up fatherless, Faramir lost his mother when he was but five years old and Eowyn lost both parents in early childhood
A week passed until they felt well enough to ride out for a short distance and go to rescue Hanna’s child and bring her to the Hunting Lodge.

Aragorn had to be helped to mount Roheryn as he was still in considerable pain, although being of pure Numenorean lineage, he recovered far more quickly than most would have done from such severe injuries.

Fortunately Roheryn being of Elvish stock was sensitive to her rider’s condition and was careful not to jar her rider’s many healing wounds.

Aragorn and Faramir both felt rather apprehensive as they approached the dilapidated huts as they remembered the nightmare, which had followed their previous visit.

. This time they both carried their swords, as did Eowyn, who had insisted on coming too.

Secretly they were glad of her presence as neither had much experience with children, and although Faramir was almost fully recovered, Aragorn was stiff and sore and still bandaged beneath his clothing.

They both told themselves it was foolish to fear an old woman, but what sort of old woman, however crazed would drug them, so they could be slowly tortured to death?

“Maybe we should have waited until the Guards returned?” Faramir ventured.

“Every day we delay puts the child’s life in greater danger. ” Aragorn replied. “I think too, that the less that is known about what happened here by any but ourselves the better! They would try to keep me a prisoner in my own palace if the Council knew that we were attacked. One day, after our child is born, I shall tell Arwen the whole story, but no one else. We are more than ample match between us for one old woman!” He spoke confidently but he needed to prove it to himself as much as Faramir.

The huts appeared deserted when hey arrived and they feared they had come too late Nevertheless Aragorn called in a loud voice.

“Show yourself in the name of the King!”

The old woman who had given Aragorn and Faramir the drugged wine, appeared in the doorway, carrying what on first sight appeared to be a large bundle of rags, but when the rags started to wriggle and scream, they realised they had found Hanna’s daughter.

Aragorn drew Anduril somewhat more slowly than usual given his still frail condition, but only one who knew him well would realise or notice that his hand shook slightly as he was still weakened from his injuries.

“Madam, I arrest you for conspiring against the life of the King.” he said sternly.” I demand that you surrender yourself into our custody and deliver the child to Lady Eowyn here.”

The crone ignored his words and spat at him.

“And what makes you think I would obey the murderer of my husband and son and violator of my daughter’s honour?” she snarled.

“Your daughter tried to attack me and is in my custody.” Aragorn said coldly.” She has not been touched in any way. Now surrender, I am armed and will show no mercy!”

Faramir and Eowyn also drew their swords and together they advanced upon the old woman, planning to seize her and the child.
With surprising speed for one so wizened, she retreated inside the hut and before they could stop her, overturned an oil lamp from its stand on the mantelshelf and snatched a blazing faggot from the fire.

“I will die as the son of Lord Denethor should have died!” she screamed.” The last of my house will depart on the flames of the wind!”

She cast the brand onto the spilled oil and within seconds, the hut was ablaze. The little girl’s piercing screams rent the air.

“The child must be saved!” Aragorn made to go inside the burning building.

“No!” Faramir held him back.” It is my place to protect my King, I will save her!”

He dashed inside and tried to make out through the thick smoke where the child’s screams were coming from, as the old woman laughed dementedly as the flames sprung higher. The air was thick with smoke and the acrid smell of burning.

Faramir froze. He was no longer in the peasant’s hut but caught in a half forgotten nightmare. He was lying on a pyre as flames licked his clothing; he wanted to run but was helpless. He could hear screaming, not the old woman but the sound of his father’s voice.

“No, Father, no!” he cried, oblivious of his surroundings as part of the roof collapsed.

Eowyn tore the sleeve from her gown and doused it with her water bottle. Covering her face with the wet fabric she dived in after her husband.

Aragorn followed close behind. Seeing Faramir pinned beneath the remains of the roof, Eowyn grabbed his legs and struggled to free him before the smouldering thatch caught fire.

Another pair of hands grabbed Faramir’s ankles and she heard coughing as Aragorn helped her pull her husband away from the rubble.

” I have him!” Aragorn cried.” Save the child!”

She could hardly breathe or see, as smoke filled her eyes and lungs but propelled by some instinct, she sensed a small figure huddled against the far wall. Seizing the child by her clothing, she grabbed her and with a supreme effort of will fought her way towards the doorway,

As she reached the blessedly sweet air outside, piercing screams rang out as the old woman cried out in her death throes while the rest of the building went up in flames.

Aragorn was slumped on the ground panting for breath as he covered Faramir with his cloak and smothered the smouldering patches on the Steward’s clothing.

Both coughed and gasped from the effects of the smoke, as did Eowyn and the little girl.

Even outside the air was filled with smoke and the sickly odour of burning flesh assailed their nostrils

“Are you hurt?” Eowyn asked anxiously once she had sufficient breath to ask.
Faramir was already struggling to sit up. He was shaking like a leaf.

“I am unhurt.” He coughed. “Aragorn? The child?”

“I will be well once I get my breath back.” Aragorn replied struggling into a sitting position.

The fire burned higher, tongues of flame shooting upwards as the stench grew worse.
Faramir started to retch and his shaking grew worse.

Aragorn crawled closer to him and placed a comforting arm round his shoulders, while with the other arm he rubbed his Steward’s back.

“Father!” Faramir choked.

“Easy now.”Aragorn soothed, “You are safe, I have you, it is over now!”

Eowyn moved to Faramir’s other side and clasped his hand; belatedly realising he was reliving the horror of Denethor’s death and his own narrow escape from sharing it. It was a subject which so far, Faramir had been loathe to discuss.

All she knew of the tragedy was what she had learned from the Hobbits as Merry had told her of Pippin’s heroic rescue with Gandalf the Grey of what was then her future husband. She realised in that moment, she still had much to learn about the man she had married and the demons that haunted him.

The little girl started to cry loudly and get to her feet and Eowyn, realising that she was the only one at the moment capable of caring for her, squeezed Faramir’s hand and then went over to the child, fearing she might run back towards the flames.

She was small for her age, looking little larger than a toddler, dressed in rags filthy enough before they were blackened by soot and ash. Underneath the grime, she looked as if she might be a pretty child with jet-black hair and piercing grey eyes.

Eowyn scooped her up in her arms and comforted her as best she could. The child struggled briefly but was too traumatised by recent events to put up much of a fight.

She returned to where Faramir and Aragorn were sitting. Faramir had stopped choking and shaking.

He sat silently weeping, the tears streaking his soot-blackened face. Aragorn still sat with his arms around him, clasping him in a comforting embrace.

“Are you able to ride?” Eowyn asked the men. “We should leave this place.”

Peasants were already starting to emerge from the other huts. Fortunately the old woman’s hut was some distance apart, so the fire seemed unlikely to spread.

“An oil lamp was overturned, the old woman was trapped but we are taking the child to safety. ” Aragorn told them, pressing Faramir’s tear stained face against his still painful shoulder to hide the man’s tears from public view.

A man who looked like a charcoal burner, shook his head, “She was crazy, was old Zana, we always feared something like this would happen. Are any of you hurt?”

“We are well, thank you, “the King replied. “Take this to pay for any damage.”
He handed three gold coins to the dumbstruck man who had never seen so much money in his life before. “See that the others are safe,” he said dismissing him. The small group dispersed as if fearful the sudden bounty would be withdrawn again.

The fire was already dying down, having all but consumed the flimsy hut. Some of the charcoal burners had fetched water from a nearby stream and were keeping a watchful eye on their own properties in case the wind fanned the dying flames towards their homes, but it seemed very unlikely.

Eowyn had led the horses to them.

“Can you mount Iavas?” she asked Faramir.

He nodded mutely as she aided first him and then Aragorn to their feet.

Eowyn lifted the little girl onto Windfola’s back and then mounted behind her while Faramir aided Aragorn onto Roheryn’s saddle before he mounted Iavas.

They slowly returned to the Hunting Lodge, glad to leave the nightmarish scene behind them and get away from the hideous stench of burning flesh.

Eowyn led the way while Aragorn and Faramir rode a little way behind.

Now the first shock was over, Faramir felt deeply despondent at his behaviour.

The Steward felt a gentle touch on his shoulder as Aragorn brought his horse alongside Iavas.

“That was a very brave thing you tried to just then,” the King said quietly.

“But I failed miserably!” Faramir choked.” I just froze inside the hut, causing you to risk your life!”

“After all that has happened to you in the past, a lesser man would have run away from a fire, never mind attempted to rescue someone!” Aragorn replied firmly. “Mental scars linger long after the physical scars fade and what you tried to do took a great deal of courage.”

“My father always said I was a coward and a failure.” Faramir almost spoke under his breath.

“Your father was wrong and you will not fail again if confronted by fire.” Aragorn assured him. “Remember Faramir, you are surrounded now by those who love and respect you. You have no need to face your demons alone.”

“Thank you, Sire.” Faramir said with a catch in his voice as he heard the warmth in Aragorn’s voice.” I owe you my life yet again! I would have died without you and Eowyn.”

“I think we should both thank Eowyn.” Aragorn said more loudly as they approached the house. “She was magnificent!”

“I happen to be used to wooden buildings, unlike you gentlemen from your city of stone!!” Eowyn said haughtily as she overheard them, but she was smiling as she spoke.

They had told the Housekeeper before they left of their plans to bring Hanna’s child to the Lodge and she was waiting at the door of the lodge for them to return.

The woman gasped in horror at their bedraggled and blackened appearance. Eowyn briefly explained what had happened as she handed the child to her.

Faramir felt oddly drawn towards the little girl. She seemed oddly familiar as if she reminded him of someone, but he could not quite place her.

“What is your name, child?” he asked her gently, as she shivered in the Housekeeper’s arms, overawed by her new surroundings.

“I am called Elbeth.” She replied, shyly sucking her thumb.

“I very much doubt that!” the Housekeeper commented.” Far too grand a name for a child like her!”

“It suits her, so let that be her name, whatever her mother called her!” Faramir replied.” If she is not happy with your sister, send me word, and I will take her into my own household.”

Eowyn looked slightly taken aback but did not argue. When their new home in Ilithien was finished, there would be plenty of room to provide work and shelter for those they chose to aid.

“Come!” The Housekeeper said, It’s a bath you are needing, child! And I will send hot water for you my Lady, my Lords.” She added, “Water is already boiling as I knew the child would need a good scrubbing!”

“Treat her gently, she has endured a good deal.” Aragorn instructed. ” That child is lucky to be alive! As the Valar saw fit to spare her, so we must cherish her too.”

Returning from stabling the horses, Eowyn found Faramir and Aragorn still standing in the hallway looking slightly dazed, Faramir especially so. They presented such a sorry spectacle, she hardly knew whether to laugh or cry, though she imagined could she but see herself, she would look little better.

Faramir’s tunic was torn and he had a cut across his face .His eyebrows were singed, as was a large chunk of his hair, Aragorn’s beard was singed, his clothing torn and his hands were bleeding. Both had blackened faces and clothes.

“I wonder when we will have a peaceful ride?” Aragorn mused, her entrance jerking him out of his near stupor.” After all, we did come here to find peace and quiet!”

“Well we return to Minas Tirith in two days.” Faramir replied.” The city will seem a peaceful place after all that has happened here!

“A pity we don’t have the large baths here like we do in the city,” Eowyn commented, “You two could both wash the soot off together!”

“What?” Faramir looked horrified, Aragorn only slightly less so.

“I have never known men as shy as Gondorians!” Eowyn teased, “My brother would laugh at you both! And what of Elvish custom?” she asked Aragorn.

“We bathe alone.”

Eowyn looked sceptical. “I thought you had communal heated springs?”

“They are purely for medicinal purposes.” Aragorn replied in a somewhat evasive tone, as if not wanting to discuss the matter further.

Eowyn sneezed and rubbed a sooty palm across her face, which had been protected from the smoke by her makeshift mask, leaving a comical looking black smudge across her nose and cheeks.

“Soot does not suit you!” Aragorn quipped. She laughed but Faramir remained grim and silent.

Apart from expressing concern over Elbeth’s welfare, he had hardly spoken since their return.

“Are you well, my Love?” Eowyn asked, putting her arm round him.

“I just need to bathe and rest,” he answered,” I will see if the water is ready.”

He was gone before they could press him further; Aragorn and Eowyn exchanged anxious glances.

“I fear he is suffering from shock.” Aragorn said worriedly.

“Can you use some of your Elvish relaxation treatments for him?” Eowyn asked, “Or should I mix some herbs to help him sleep?”

“I can send people to sleep using the Elvish treatment.” Aragorn informed her.

Eowyn raised her eyebrows, “What can you not do? Raise the dead?”

“Only the oath breakers who betrayed my ancestor I fear.” Aragorn informed her with perfect seriousness.

Eowyn felt suddenly uncomfortable, as it was easy to forget the magnitude of the King’s powers.

“That was a once only occurrence, I assure you!” He smiled, putting her at her ease again. “Your ancestors are safe in their graves but I hope Faramir will permit me to help him!”

“Then it will be your turn, I need to see that your wounds have not been inflamed by riding and diving into a burning building!” Eowyn told him with her usual self-confidence.

Aragorn paled beneath the layers of soot. “There is no need, I will look when I bathe.” he told her.

Eowyn snorted. “For all your abilities, you lack eyes in the back of your head! Faramir is in no fit state to tend you today!” she informed him, “I need to see if your back is healing and there is no soot left clinging to your wounds.”

Aragorn hastened to his room before she could offer to scrub him.

Now bathed and clad in his nightshirt and looking far more presentable, Faramir sat by the fire in the room they had been sharing for most of their stay.

Eowyn had bathed the cut on his face as soon as he emerged from bathing, but apart from thanking her, he remained silent and withdrawn.

Two pairs of anxious eyes watched as he shivered despite the warmth of the room.

“I am well.” he replied to their unspoken queries for the third time in the last half hour.

Knowing his wisdom and experience was far superior to hers, Eowyn decided to let Aragorn take charge.

The King moved across to take Faramir’s hand, noting with alarm his cold flesh and racing pulse.

“Come and lie down, Mellon Nin, you have had a shock” Aragorn said gently but firmly as together with Eowyn, they shepherded Faramir to bed and tucked the blankets round him.

“Lie back and close your eyes.” Aragorn told him.

” I want to rest but I cannot!” Faramir whispered, “I keep seeing the flames and hearing my father’s screams even now! You must think me very foolish!”

“No, my Love.” Eowyn said, clasping the cold hands in her own,” I sometimes think I still see Wormtongue still.”

“I could only lie there helpless. They carried me away as he burned!” Faramir’s tone was one of deep despair as he relived the nightmares of his past.

Eowyn felt totally out of her depth as she realised the true depth of the trauma her husband had endured. “Maybe a hot drink would help you sleep?” she suggested.

Faramir shook his head miserably. “I dare not sleep, I fear what dreams may come.”

“Do you trust me, Faramir?” Aragorn asked bluntly somewhat to his Steward’s surprise.

“Yes of course.” Faramir replied without hesitation.

“Just close your eyes then!” Aragorn sat on the bed and bent over his Steward and gently started to trace circles across his forehead with his fingertips.

“Please, I cannot!” Faramir spluttered

“Be at peace!” The King intoned, his voice oddly compelling. Faramir visibly relaxed and closed his eyes, allowing Aragorn to lightly brush fingertips across his eyelids.
“Be at peace, sleep and forget!”

Faramir started to breathe deeply and his whole demeanour changed from that of terror to calm tranquillity.

Within moments the Steward was in a deep peaceful sleep. Aragorn smiled reassuringly at Eowyn, all the while continuing the motion of his fingertips across Faramir’s forehead.

He remained in the same position until Faramir started to snore softly. Aragorn then felt his Steward’s heartbeat and satisfied it had returned to normal, straightened up. “When he awakens in a few hours time, the shock will have worn off,” he told Eowyn.

“Thank you.” Eowyn sighed with relief. “You look exhausted now, you are very good to him, his shoulder is so much better too!”

Faramir looked vulnerable and far younger than his years as he slept, the scorched eyebrows highlighting his long eyelashes.

” Poor Faramir! I believe he always felt unwanted.” Eowyn said sadly. “He was just the “spare” son in his brother’s shadow, Boromir loved him but I doubt Denethor ever did, little wonder his death haunts him

“I love him, I would be the father to him that Denethor was not.” Aragorn said softly. “Or maybe he is the little brother fate denied me. We have much in common Faramir and I, as my youth was far from happy either. My world fell apart when I was told I was the heir of Elendil, supposed to succeed where many others had failed. Then to make things worse, I fell in love with Lord Elrond’s daughter! I was sent out to be a ranger in the wilderness, much like Faramir was. I know in my position it may sound foolish, but I hope I will only have one son, lest I should treat the younger differently than the elder.”

“He idolises you as the saviour of his people!” Eowyn told the King. “You should tell him all you have just told me.”

“It is Frodo, he should revere, not me!” Aragorn replied modestly.

“But you played a major part by embracing almost certain death to distract Sauron!” Eowyn argued.

Aragorn had to smile at her rare praise. “One worshipper in your family is enough!” he teased, “We all played our part, including the slayer of the Witch King!”

He yawned; exhausted from the day’s events and the energy he had expended treating Faramir. “I think I will rest now.”

“Not before I see your wounds. You are not escaping that easily!” Eowyn said firmly, going over to the table where she kept the healing supplies and picking up a jar of salve.

“There is no need!” Aragorn protested.

“Yes, there is.” Eowyn insisted, “Just look at your hands for a start! I noticed while you were tending Faramir. However did you handle your horse?”

“Roheryn is Elvish, I shall be able to ride home, it is mere scratches from clawing at the rubble.”

Eowyn applied salve liberally to Aragorn’s hands. Somehow it struck her as deeply poignant that hands such as his, so full of healing power, should be bruised and swollen and covered in deep scratches.

He flinched slightly as the salve stung. Eowyn found herself blinking away a tear.

“What are a few scratches compared to the life of Faramir and the little girl? Nothing at all!” Aragorn choked realising her distress.

Eowyn retreated behind her usual tough facade.” Off with your shirt now!” she ordered.” I need to see your back.”

Sighing deeply, Aragorn complied. Rather to Eowyn’s amusement, she noticed he immediately crossed his arms defensively across his chest, much as Faramir had done. She found Numenoreans curious compared with the uninhibited Rohirrim.

Much to her relief, Aragorn’s wounds were clean and healing well and could safely be left unbandaged while he was resting. She had not seen them since the day after Hanna’s attack as Faramir had cared for him and changed the bandages and applied the salves. Most distressing now to behold, was the ugly pattern of scar tissue forming across his back and worst of all, the deepest being where she had torn off the bandage.

She placed the salve on the bedside table where they could both reach it. “You rub it on your chest, I’ll do your back.” she said, trying to choke back the tears, as she rubbed the salve into the deep wound she had inflicted on him.

He turned round to face her, the defensive posture forgotten at her obvious distress.

“What is it, Eowyn?” he asked, taking her hand.

“Nothing, well all that has happened today and now your scars, they are as bad as Faramir’s!”

He squeezed her fingers before releasing her. “Do not trouble yourself about that. I am sorry, Eowyn, I must have inadvertently caused you a great deal of distress over these last two weeks, having to sleep here for example. I cannot remember what happened when I was very ill.” He gestured towards the bed.

She shook her head,” It did not trouble me, sleeping arrangements in Edoras are not very much different, we are usually all together with the men one side, the women the other. Just don’t tell my brother as he is over protective!” She made a mental note to destroy the letter she had written to Eomer, as soon as she could retrieve it from Faramir’s study in Minas Tirith.

She inwardly vowed never to tell Aragorn about the night they had held him, as it would only embarrass him greatly. It seemed strange now that so recently she had been so blind to his goodness and nobility and she was determined to make up for her earlier conduct.

“Faramir protected your dignity well, so you need not worry either, Aragorn, he kept the servants away and even I never saw you completely uncovered. I do so regret the brutal way I treated you now, though!”

He smiled at her reassuringly, “It is in the past now and Faramir and I can both be healed, I assure you. Just one thing I ask of you, persuade Faramir to have the Elvish treatment if he tries to change his mind again?”

“I will do my best,” she said, briskly resuming rubbing in the salve.

Much to Aragorn’s relief, she was too preoccupied to question him.

Although she was far from gentle, Aragorn was sufficiently healed not to find the experience too painful, though it could hardly be termed pleasant, though he was so weary, he struggled not to fall asleep before Eowyn finished her ministrations.

“I should see how the little girl is.” He yawned, as he replaced his shirt. “I will take one of my shirts for her, it should be softer than anything the servants have until proper clothes can be made for her. Give them some money for suitable materials and toys for her to play with.”

“I will go, you rest now.” Eowyn replied, helping him pull off his boots. Then to his surprise, she knelt and kissed his hand.

Deeply moved, he responded by placing his hand on her head in blessing. He had told Faramir the truth when he said he loved her as his sister and now it seemed she did indeed treat him as a brother with her bossy and down to earth attitude, which he knew he would need in the years ahead to combat all the fawning he was likely to encounter.

Eowyn made her way to the kitchens were she found Elbeth freshly scrubbed and clad in a flour sack. Underneath the grime, she turned out to be an attractive child with long black hair, and soulful grey eyes, framed by long lashes. With proper nourishment to fill out her stick like limbs, she could grow up to be very beautiful.

Eowyn noticed with great relief that the little girl seemed recovered from her ordeal and was sitting by the housekeeper who was feeding her bread and milk. The stern woman seemed to have softened in the face of the child’s charm.

“How is she?” Eowyn asked.

“She wasn’t very happy about being bathed, but hasn’t she scrubbed up well!” The Housekeeper replied, “Amazing what soap and water can do! My sister will love her, that’s for certain! She’s a good appetite and she likes a child who will appreciate her cooking!”

“Come here, Elbeth!” Eowyn said, moving in front of the fire, “I have a gift from the King himself!”

Elbeth shyly approached as Eowyn held up the shirt.

“Let me look at you, child, I need to see if you are hurt!” Eowyn lifted the flour sack off the surprisingly docile child and inspected the stick thin body for injuries. It seemed she was accustomed to doing as she was bidden without question or comment.

She had a few minor burns on her arms and back and some grazes and scratches on her legs. Bruises on her arms and the tops of her legs, suggested that her grandmother may not have treated her very gently but apart from these relatively minor hurts, she appeared uninjured.

Eowyn applied the same salve, she had been using earlier on Aragorn to the hurts, though with considerably more tenderness as her heart went out to this pitifully thin child. Then she slipped the King’s shirt over Elbeth’s head and rolled up the far too long sleeves.

Although much to big, the shirt fitted better than the flour sack and was infinitely more comfortable, being made of soft red linen embroidered with the white tree of Gondor.

“Nice!” Elbeth smiled as Eowyn gave the Housekeeper the money and told her the King’s instructions.

“Be certain, your sister spends all of it on the child or she with feel the King’s wrath!” Eowyn said as she handed over the money, “He is a most stern lord!”

“I will do as you say, “the woman promised, gazing stupefied at Elbeth, “Though I hardly think my Lord can be as harsh as you say, he must indeed have a soft heart!”

Eowyn smiled and then returned to her husband and Aragorn and found both sleeping soundly. To her amazement Faramir smiled in his sleep and murmured her name.
Satisfied all was well, she settled down beside him to rest before the evening meal.

The next day, Faramir awoke feeling refreshed and apart from making constant apologies, which Aragorn and Eowyn assured him there was no need for, seemed fully recovered from his ordeal of the day before.

Eowyn had no idea exactly how Aragorn had calmed Faramir, but was extremely grateful to his skill as by now she realised the King had abilities beyond her comprehension but it no longer troubled her as she appreciated he used them only to do good.

While she exercised the horses, Aragorn treated Faramir’s shoulder again in anticipation of the long ride ahead on the morrow.

Though less nervous than before, Faramir still looked a little apprehensive as he settled himself on the footstool by Aragorn’s chair and prepared to remove his shirt. He would never be comfortable having the scars on display, and tensed at the very thought.

To Faramir’s consternation, Aragorn slid from the chair and settled himself on the pelts, which served as a hearthrug, stretching his long legs out by the fire.

“Sire, you should not be lower than I!” Faramir protested, moving to sit on the floor beside him.

“Nor should I be higher and please do not be so formal in private!” Aragorn replied, “The more relaxed you are for this, the better. You feel too disadvantaged sitting on that stool while I am above you. This house does not have a couch and the bed is too high, so the floor will have to suffice. I want you to relax, reach out with your mind and accept what healing I can give. Elven healing is unique as it only works if both parties want it to.”

Faramir nodded and slowly unlaced his shirt. Aragorn was right; he was more comfortable like this.

“Leave your shirt on if you, wish.” Aragorn told him, I should like to massage your shoulders but alas, my fingers are too painful today, so I will do that another time for you.”

Faramir tried to ease his shirt away from his injury but it felt rather uncomfortable. Rather to his own surprise and greatly to the King’s, he pulled the shirt over his head. His scarred back looked far worse by daylight than firelight and Aragorn had to bite back a gasp of shocked concern.

“You have seen the scars,” Faramir said resignedly, “So I am foolish to still be embarrassed by them, as you never make me feel shamed like a criminal for having them. When you want to help me, despite being in pain yourself, I will not make it harder for you!”

Aragorn was both touched and pleased that Faramir was learning to trust him, though he still wondered how he would react once he discovered exactly what the Elven treatment for scars entailed.

Faramir sat beside the King and tried to relax and open his mind and reach out to receive as his hands hovered over his injury.

He felt the warmth and energy flowing from Aragorn’s hands into his damaged shoulder and felt the pain and stiffness flow away.

“You do not receive my pain when you take it away, do you?” Faramir asked in sudden alarm.

Aragorn laughed, “I feat I am not that noble! Healing should not harm the healer, though it is less taxing for Elves!”

Faramir realised that the King was as much on the road to recovery as he was as he felt the full strength of his healing power.

Aragorn moved behind him and placed his hands a few inches over the fresh welts on Faramir’s back.

“That feels so much better!” Faramir sighed, “If only you had been there all the other times!”

“It would not have happened if I had been.” Aragorn retorted, “Such a cruel punishment should be reserved for the most heinous of crimes!”

“Only once when I was a Captain, did I order a man to be flogged.” Faramir said, shuddering at the memory, “It still pains me to think of it.

“I am sure you had good cause,” Aragorn replied and seeing the younger man was troubled by the memory, changed the subject. “It will be good to be home,” he said, “I miss Arwen so much!”

“You must greatly regret coming here,” said Faramir as donned his shirt and then helped Aragorn up from the floor.

“I very much regret the pain we both suffered.” Aragorn replied, “Yet apart from that, have not these weeks been special?”

Faramir looked at the man he had once loved and feared in equal measure but over the last weeks had come to look upon a beloved brother and then thought too of his night with Eowyn and flushed slightly.

“Yes, “he agreed,” They were very special.”

Aragorn patted his shoulder and to his amazement he found himself returning the gesture. So much had changed and all for the better.

Later that day Faramir sought out Elbeth. He discovered to his relief that she was adapting to her new surroundings with surprising speed.

He had his suspicious about her origins as Boromir had been a frequent visitor to the Hunting Lodge and although not inclined towards the ties of marriage, his brother had always had a keen eye for the fairer sex and maybe Hanna had been attractive before so many misfortunes befell her. Maybe it was just wishful thinking though, as he so longed for some part of his brother to remain.

He determined to ensure she was well looked after and had almost made up his mind to take her back with them but he found cuddled on the lap of a plump motherly woman, whom the Housekeeper introduced as his sister which made him reluctantly conclude, she would be happier with her rather than a completely strange environment where she would have to conform to the rigours of Court life as well as seeing her deranged mother on the journey home.

He decided he would keep informed of her progress and if she were not happy, take her into his household

He gave her a sweet honey cake; the cook had baked that morning. Elbeth smiled at him, the oddly familiar grey eyes now sparkling and happy. Faramir stole one last look at her and wished that he had a daughter of his own of such beauty.

Chapter nine
As expected the Guards arrived two days later to escort them back to Minas Tirith. The Captain and his men had set out the day before and camped overnight, so that Aragorn, Faramir and Eowyn could depart the Lodge early.

Aragorn was undecided what to do with the house, he had known much suffering there, but also found the love and companionship that he had been seeking in abundance. He assured the servants that whatever was decided that they would be provided for.

The housekeeper saw them off and Hanna was given into the custody of the Guards, who were to take her to the asylum just outside the city, where she would be cared for until she regained her sanity.

They travelled slowly and took frequent breaks, as Aragorn and Faramir were still recovering from their injuries. If the Captain was surprised at the leisurely pace, he was too well disciplined to say anything.

Hanna ranted and screamed throughout the journey making wild accusations which grew ever more preposterous. They were glad when she was finally handed over the warden of the asylum, who was given instructions by Aragorn to keep her under careful watch and to treat her kindly.

As she was let away, she screamed at them, “I curse you, false King of Gondor you and your unworthy Steward! May your lives be destroyed as you destroyed mine, may you know only pain and sorrow!”

Her mood then changed again and she laughed wildly as the doors shut behind her.

Faramir shuddered.

“Pay no heed to her ravings, the poor woman has lost her wits!” Aragorn reassured him, “Hopefully she will recover with proper care.”

By late afternoon, they came in sight of the White City and Faramir’s heart leapt to see it again. However many times he returned to the city of his birth, he always felt the same thrill on the first sight of the White Tower.

“As soon as we have rested, join me in your father’s old apartments and we shall treat our scars.” Aragorn told Faramir as they arrived in the Fountain Courtyard, where the White Tree was already covered with fresh green leaves.

Faramir hesitated slightly and then looked at the tree. The sturdy sapling alive with new growth marked a new beginning. Faramir realised that he too had the chance to heal the scars of his past.
He smiled his acceptance to the King.

“Yes, Sire, I will await your summons. “Faramir reverted back to formality now they were in a public place.

Eowyn took her husbands arm and they prepared to go their separate ways.

“My Lord Steward!” Aragorn caught Faramir’s arm before he could go, “Thank you for everything!” He drew the younger man close and embraced him, before repeating the gesture with Eowyn, “I will see you again very soon my friends.”

“It feels strange without him!” Eowyn mused as they reached their own rooms and voicing Faramir’s unspoken thoughts as well.

“I never thought I would hear you say that!” Faramir replied, “I am so glad all is now well between us.”

Eowyn’s reply was to kiss him passionately.

Arwen was eagerly awaiting her husband’s return, and watched him arrive from her window before hurrying down to greet him.

She welcomed Aragorn home delightedly though both were too well controlled to show the true depth of their emotions in public.

Aragorn was delighted to see his wife looked glowing and happy and a slight fullness of her figure now proclaimed her impending motherhood to any with a keen enough eye to notice.

“Are you well, my love?” Aragorn asked her rather unnecessarily as he kissed her warmly, before enfolding her in a close embrace.

“I have never felt better and I have such wonderful news. My brothers and grandfather are not sailing yet. They have decided to stay at Rivendell! They are out exploring the countryside at the moment but will tell you everything over dinner. Did you have a good hunting trip? Did you find what you sought?”

“Faramir and Eowyn are now my good friends.” Aragorn told her with a smile. “Things did not go exactly as planned as some ruffians attacked us, but it served to bring us together in friendship.”

Arwen looked alarmed. “Were you badly hurt, my beloved? You do look rather pale. And your poor hands! Whatever has happened to them?”

” I took an arrow wound but I am fully recovered now. Then I helped rescue a child from a fire, which is a long story.” Aragorn assured her. “There is nothing to worry about. I just need to rest and bathe.” He intended to tell her the whole story one day but not until after their child was born.

Arm in arm, they went to their apartments, delighting to be together after three long weeks of separation.

“I must change from these travel stained clothes!” he told her, “I must reek as foul as in my days as a ranger!”

He retired to his dressing room, while she summoned a servant to bring light refreshments, and shed his travelling clothes and at the same time discarding the thick bandaging that Eowyn had insisted he wear for the journey home to protect his freshly healed wounds. They were sore from being chafed as he rode, but none had opened much to his relief.

Once Aragorn and Arwen were alone together she proceeded to tell him delightedly about her brothers’ visit and all the plans they are made for their future in Rivendell.

“We must go and visit them there,” she concluded and maybe invite Faramir and Eowyn too. So you have finally managed to befriend them? I am so relieved but I thought the hunting lodge was just the place! I hope you all huddled together on one of those huge beds for some good talks in front of the fire!”

Although Aragorn, was loathe to tell her much until after the baby was born, he was glad to be able to confess immediately about Eowyn’s presence in the same bed to prevent any possible future misunderstanding. He flushed slightly.

” Yes, we did spend our nights together, as Eowyn having healing skills needed to be near me when I was wounded. Faramir was next to me while she slept the other side of him.” he confessed. “How did you guess? I swear nothing improper occurred.”

“You have no need to tell me that, Beloved, as I know you would never be unfaithful to me. “Arwen replied, kissing his lips. “My ladies have told me about the men’s’ traditions when on hunting trips.” she said calmly.” I assumed Eowyn coming from Rohan would be unperturbed and I was hoping Faramir would have the chance to hear you snoring as he would stop being so in awe of you then!”

“I do not snore! ” Aragorn protested.

“You do! But I still missed you!” Arwen replied.

“I missed you too!” his lips met hers in a passionate kiss and they drew together in a close embrace. He flinched very slightly as his wounds were still tender.

“Your wound!” She exclaimed, tears filling her gentle eyes, “I am hurting you, show me!”

He smiled at her reassuringly and prepared for this, pulled the loose shirt, he was wearing aside just enough for her to see the almost healed arrow wound, while keeping the other scars covered.

“See, it is almost healed!” he reassured her, “Eowyn treated it most skilfully and it was worth being wounded as she softened towards me and Faramir lost his fear when he saw that I am as human as he is! We were attacked by some men who bore a grudge from the war but they were soon despatched. I thought when I had rested and eaten to treat Faramir’s old battle scars and my own at he same time with your people’s remedy!”

Aragorn held his breath as his Queen ghosted cool fingers across the scar on his chest, hoping she would not investigate further. To his great relief, she seemed satisfied when he pulled his shirt back in place. Since she had become pregnant, it seemed that her Elvish senses were somewhat dulled, which was maybe nature’s way of protecting the unborn child by keeping the mother calm.

“My silk undershirt saved me from serious injury.” he explained, “We must see about equipping all our soldiers with silk shirts to protect them in battle.”

“A wise idea!” Arwen conceded and then to Aragorn’s bewilderment suddenly giggled.

“I was thinking about Faramir.” she explained, “I should love to see his face when you have the treatment for your scars together. He is so reserved and shy quite unlike Elves!”

They settled down together to eat their light meal and then simply sat together, his head resting on her shoulder. There had been times during the last weeks; he feared he would never see her again in this life, which made him savour her nearness and her scent even more than he usually did.

He felt complete; at last he had not only his beloved wife but also now good friends as well to experience the many different facets of human love with. Arwen had been right when she had told him that love was like a rainbow, which needed all the colours to complete it.

Faramir was already feeling slightly apprehensive after resting from the journey. He realised it was time he joined Aragorn but was now unsure and wished he had thought to ask the King what he planned to do.

Eowyn grabbed his hands and pulled him from the couch where they had been resting in a mock show of strength.

“Go!” ordered Eowyn. Accept the King’s help as I know how much those scars trouble you.”

“I would be rid of them.” he replied, “But I have no idea what this treatment entails!”

“Some sort of salve, I would assume.” she replied, “What else could it be? It probably stings, so that is why Aragorn has not said anything, not that you are a coward. Now go, before he thinks you have changed your mind!”

He needed no further urging as secretly he wished he had accepted Aragorn’s offer when it was first made as not only were the scars unsightly but painful as well.

Aragorn was in the apartments, which had been occupied in the past by the ruling Steward and had ordered the huge sunken bath, which had formerly belonged to Denethor, to be filled with hot water. The King now used these rooms and he would sleep here when he was not with Arwen as according to custom, they each had their own rooms though they usually preferred to be together but it was good also to have somewhere where he could find solitude when he needed it.

He moved rather stiffly, as his wounds still pained him and he was not greatly looking forward to what was to come, not least Faramir’s reaction. He supposed he should have told him what the treatment entailed but knew if he had done, his Steward would most likely have firmly refused unless ordered and he would never abuse his authority to force him to be treated.

He had felt drawn to Faramir on their first meeting and wished for his friendship but during events of the last weeks he had grown to truly love the younger man and wanted nothing more that to see him well, happy, and freed from the shadows of his past.

Only criminals usually bore as many marks upon their backs as Faramir did, so it was little wonder the Steward was so embarrassed by his scars. He felt he could only fully recover from his past ordeals if he did not carry the constant reminders on his flesh.

He then instructed a page to wait outside the rooms to send Faramir to the bathing chamber once he arrived.

Going to the chest in the outer bedroom, where he kept his healing supplies he took out a jar of a brownish green power, which he sprinkled liberally into the bath water. While waiting for it to dissolve, he selected a jar of salve and placed it on the bedside table.

At his request, the servants had brought large quantities of towels, some of which he spread over the bed.

He then returned to the bathing chamber together with two heavy bathing robes, which he had taken from the closet, to the top of the steps where the bath was now ready. Still moving a little stiffly, he slowly undressed and climbed into the bath, gritting his teeth against the stinging sensation he knew he would feel.

“The King awaits you in the bathing chamber, My Lord Steward.” The page told Faramir when he arrived, slightly breathless from climbing the steps in a hurry.

“Thank you, you may leave us.” Faramir told the boy, who bowed his head slightly before scurrying off.

“I am here Faramir, come in!” Aragorn’s voice came from the open door leading to the sunken bath. Faramir obeyed, feeling somewhat puzzled as he had expected the King to be waiting with a salve or a potion of some sort, not that he knew much about Elven healing techniques, as those Aragorn had used on him seemed almost magical.

He slowly entered the bathing chamber and stood at the top of the steps, his mouth hanging open with astonishment at the sight which greeted him.

Aragorn lay totally submerged, apart from his head in the tub, which, seemed to be filled with a thick gooey substance that looked more unpleasant than mud scraped from the bottom of the Anduin!

“As I to probably have as many scars as you now, it seemed sensible we should both be treated at the same time.” Aragorn explained, looking somewhat embarrassed at the spectacle he knew he must be presenting to his Steward.
Faramir eyed it doubtfully, suddenly wishing he were elsewhere. He felt sorely tempted to flee, but knew that was no way to behave either with the King or his friend. He had never been tempted to run from a battlefield but this was altogether more alarming!

“Hurry up and undress, the water will get cold.” Aragorn said, trying to sound as if this were an everyday situation for them both.” The bath is plenty big enough for three or four, never mind two.”

“I know, Boromir and I would bathe together sometimes when were both very young. I remember we would play with our toy boats in the water.” Faramir said, starting to ramble.” It was such hard work for the servants to carry the buckets, we would save them the trouble of doing it twice.”

“Come on then, or the mud will congeal, you will have to undress or it will not work. You would have your clothes stuck hard to your skin!” Aragorn lifted a mud-encrusted arm from the depths to emphasise the point.

“What is that stuff? It looks horrible! I think I have changed my mind!” Faramir protested, looking horrified at the prospect both of disrobing and being covered in the ghastly looking mixture.

” It is only a special mixture of salts distilled from the hot springs at Rivendell, quite harmless and clean despite appearances Whatever would Eowyn say if you changed your mind now? Now come on in, or do I have to get out and fetch you?”

Aragorn’s tone was more teasing than commanding but the Steward knew better than to disobey.

Shuddering with embarrassment, Faramir slowly started to pull off his outer clothing, chiding himself for being foolish to feel so ill at ease, for had not Aragorn at present even more unsightly scars disfiguring his body than he had himself, and did not the King treat him as a brother? It was one thing though, to undress in front of Boromir whom he had been brought up with and quite another to shed all his clothing in front of the King.

He undressed down to his drawers and stood shivering at the top of the steps, his arms crossed over his chest.

“Can I not keep my just my drawers on?” he pleaded, “The scars are on my chest and back after all.”

Aragorn shook his head, though his eyes were compassionate, “I fear not for if you did, when you eventually removed them, your skin would come away with the cloth and that would be far more unpleasant for you. Just think of all the salves either Eowyn or myself would have to apply! You have no need to worry, I have been a healer since long before you were born and I promise not to look!”

He could have reminded Faramir that he had had to endure being bathed by him less than two weeks ago, but chose not to.

Faramir still hesitated, fingering the waistband of his drawers.

“Come on!” Aragorn coaxed, “I thought you would be more comfortable if we did this together as I would still need to be with you if we went in separately, as you have no knowledge of the Elven treatment. I assure you there is nothing to fear, it will sting a little at first but after that feel quite pleasant and you will feel much happier without your body being covered with scars. I know how much they distress you. I am sorry to spring it on you like this but feared if I told you what the treatment entailed, you would never agree. I want you to cast off the past and enjoy life fully now, as I am sure does Eowyn too.”

Faramir looked down at his heavily scarred chest and shoulder and sighed deeply. “Very well then,” he conceded, “I know I am being foolish, it is just that I have never shared a bath with any save Boromir and this mud looks so unpleasant!”

“It looks far worse that it feels.” Aragorn assured him. “Come on now while I am not looking!”

Aragorn turned his head away and discreetly pretended to study the stylised pattern depicting the White Tree surrounded by stars, which adorned the tiles, while Faramir reluctantly parted company with his drawers.

He climbed down the steps then hesitated for a moment looking at the unappetising contents of the tub, which seemed almost a worse ordeal than his nakedness. He had waded through plenty of mud in his days as a soldier but always fully clothed.

Taking a deep breath, he slid into the tub and crouched down in the mud. To his surprise, Aragorn was correct, as the mixture did not feel slimy and revolting like he had expected it to.

Aragorn was true to his word and did not look round until his Steward was sitting beside him, his lower body submerged in the mud.

” Good, you have joined me!” “Aragorn smiled encouragingly, ” Sit on the bottom of the tub and lean back now, you need to be completely submerged apart from your head,” the King told him. “I fear it will sting and you may feel a drawing sensation on the scars at first but it will soon pass. Take deep breaths and try to relax.”

Faramir obediently leaned back allowing himself to be swallowed up in what felt like a vat of custard, or rather what he imagined sitting in a giant vat of custard would be like.

The scarred areas of his flesh though, felt as if salt were being rubbed into a raw wound. He gasped and felt the King’s steadying hand on his arm as he adjusted to this strange experience.

As he became accustomed, he suddenly thought how odd they must look, like two disembodied heads. Much to his own surprise he burst out laughing.

“What is so funny?” Aragorn was curious. It was rare to hear Faramir laugh and he had not expected him too in a situation which even he found embarrassing, though truth to tell, they could hardly be more covered were they swathed in blankets!

“Aragorn, I just was thinking, we must look like two pig’s heads in a cooking pot!” Faramir choked.

Aragorn suddenly saw the image clearly in his mind’s eye and burst out laughing too, the sound echoing merrily around the tiled chamber.

They sat there for some time, lapsing into companionable silence and Faramir found that once the stinging sensation subsided, he actually felt quite comfortable as the mineral rich mud was warm and soothing, easing the aches he felt from being in the saddle most of the day.

Once the mixture started to cool, Aragorn said, “We need to get out now before it goes cold and sets with us in it!”

“I was starting to enjoy it!” Faramir sighed, much to the King’s amusement.

I told you it was not as bad as it looked did I not?” He grinned.

“As always, your Majesty was correct!” Faramir teased.

“I will get out first.” Aragorn said. “This was just the first part of the treatment. There is a robe for you to put on, so when you are ready, join me in the other room.”

It was now Faramir’s turn to study the tiles as Aragorn exited the mud bath and pulled on a bathing robe and went into the adjoining chamber.

Faramir rather reluctantly climbed out of the relaxing mud bath, donned his own robe and followed Aragorn into the adjoining bedchamber.

The King summoned the servants to empty and clean the tub and fill it with fresh water as soon as Faramir had joined him.

“What do we do now?” Faramir asked, as Aragorn settled himself on the bed. “Will this robe not stick to my skin?” He looked at it doubtfully.

“You have no need to worry, as it is on top of the layer of mud,” the King explained as he gestured Faramir to sit beside him. “Just try to relax now, while the servants clean away the mud and fill the bath with fresh water. You may feel rather light headed, which is to be expected, but it will pass before the clean water is ready.”

Aragorn lay back and closed his eyes. This was probably the most uncomfortable part of the treatment as the mud now felt tight as it dried against his skin and his head had already started to spin. Faramir was faring no better.

This will soon pass,” he reassured his Steward, “As soon as you feel steady enough, drink some water as this treatment acts rather like a sponge as it drains away impurities from the body!”

Faramir slowly reached for a cup of water, which had been placed conveniently on a table near the bedside.

“How long will the treatment take?” he asked.

Another hour or so,” Aragorn replied “Elvish treatments tend to be rather slow as they have eternity to carry them out in! ”

Faramir shuddered despite the blazing fire in the room and pulled his robe closer as the servants bustled to and fro carrying buckets.

The bath was laboriously emptied and cleaned before being refilled with clean water. By that time Faramir’s head had stopped spinning sufficiently to feel apprehensive about what was to come next. He knew he could ask the King but decided he was better off not knowing rather than making a fool of himself by objecting to whatever it might be. If he had known about the mud bath in advance, he would most certainly have refused it, yet it had not been as bad as he had feared.

“I think our bath is ready now.” Aragorn said as he sat up, stretching his long limbs as luxuriously as a cat. He helped Faramir to his feet and ascertained they were both free of any light-headedness before they returned to the bathing chamber.

” Just plunge straight in now and rinse off the mud!” the King ordered as he demonstrated by pulling off his robe and climbing thankfully into the clean water.

Faramir followed suit, this time forgetting his shyness at the weird spectacle he and his equally mud encrusted sovereign presented. Not that there was anything to feel shy about as both were so encrusted with mud that not an inch of flesh below their necks could be seen!

” I wonder what my father would have said if he could see us? We look like a pair of Uruks in his bath!” Faramir giggled.

“Not for much longer!” Aragorn sniggered, ducking his Steward under the water. Faramir emerged spluttering and promptly dunked the King in return. They giggled like two schoolboys at the absurdity of it all.

As soon as the mud was washed off and they reverted to their normal appearance and demeanour it was time to leave the water.

Out of consideration for Faramir, Aragorn climbed out first, knowing his Steward would study the tiles while he wrapped himself in some of the towels left by the servants for that purpose.

Faramir then left the tub, swathed himself in towels and followed the King into the next room.

The Steward then pulled the towel aside a little and glanced down at his chest only to be disappointed to see that the scars remained.

“It hasn’t worked!” He lamented sadly. “The scars look no different.”

“You would not make a good Elf, you are in such a hurry!” Aragorn teased. “We need to apply a special salve next and after that it will take about three days to fade the scars. They will not disappear completely as we lack the healing ability of the Eldar, but they should hardly be noticeable and they will not pain you any longer.”

He slipped on a fresh bathing robe over his towel and picked up the jar of salve.” Now you can be treated first as I will need you to observe how to apply it to me. You will need to shed some of those towels so I can see just where all your scars are. Just lie on the bed and try to relax, it may sting a little but nothing too bad!”

Faramir did as he was told and lay down on his back, discarding one towel, while draping the second round his waist. Aragorn smeared his fingertips with a strange smelling, orange hued ointment and rubbed it sparingly into the scars across Faramir’s chest and shoulders.

The old wounds suddenly felt very raw and Faramir had to grit his teeth at the stinging sensation the ointment produced. He then felt a soothing warmth from Aragorn’s fingertips, which lessened the discomfort considerably.

“You only need a little and you apply it with your fingertips.” Aragorn explained, as he finished rubbing it in.” Now turn over and let me treat your back!”

Applying ointment to this multitude of scars took far longer as Faramir had felt the lash so often in his life that his entire back was crisscrossed with deep and ugly scars.” You have had a hard life, my friend.” Aragorn murmured sympathetically as he applied the ointment, moving the towel down a little and uncovering even more disfigurements as he worked “I am sorry I could not spare you further hurts, but I swear to you that none shall ever beat you again! ”

“You endured much torment to spare me Aragorn, and have done more for me than I could ever thank you for!” Faramir said, his voice full of love and gratitude.

“We have helped each other and that is what counts” The King replied. “Now keep still for a few moments! It will sting worse if you keep wriggling so much!”

Faramir gritted his teeth again and took deep breaths until Aragorn announced.” That is it all over .You can dress now. I have put some suitable garments on the chair for you. You should feel no ill effects apart from nature calling a little more often due to some of the minerals in the water. Just be careful not to bathe the scars for the next few days.”

Faramir found loose undergarments of softest linen and a loose fitting velvet robe laid out for him. While he was dressing, Aragorn shed his bathing robe, sat down on the bed securing his towel round his hips and started applying the salve to the almost healed wounds across his chest, legs and belly.

“These would only upset Arwen if she saw them.” he said.” And I cannot say I have any wish to be reminded of Fennas and Calardan for the rest of my days.”

Faramir could only marvel at how well the King endured the stinging ointment.

Aragorn rolled over to lie face downwards.

“Will you apply the salve to my back, please?” he asked.

Faramir hesitated. “I do not like hurting you,” he said doubtfully.

“I assure you it is well worth it,” Aragorn replied, “I need to rely on you to do this.”

“I would never let you down, Mellon Nin,” Faramir replied as he picked up the jar to do his friend and Lord’s bidding, thinking as he did so that this was all Aragorn had needed him here to do and it had been yet another act of kindness to undergo the treatment alongside his Steward rather than merely administer it.

As the salve stung, Aragorn instinctively wriggled away.

“Keep still!” Faramir ordered in mock indignation, “Or do I have to fetch Eowyn to do it while I sit on you!”

Aragorn laughed then found himself pondering on just how much things had changed over the past weeks. His original plan may have gone almost fatally awry but it had succeeded very well in loosing his Steward’s fear of him.

“Stop wriggling!” Faramir ordered sternly, “You are making this very difficult!”

Aragorn grinned; he was enjoying seeing a different side to his Steward and discovering the essence of the man that Boromir had described so lovingly.

Three days later

“The King is here to see you my Lady,” the servant announced, showing Aragorn into Eowyn and Faramir’s apartments in the Citadel.

Although it was still early, Eowyn was already up and dressed, as was her custom. Smiling she rose to her feet to greet Aragorn.

“How is Faramir feeling this morning? I hope his have his scars have faded? “Aragorn asked her after exchanging greetings.

“I don’t know yet.” she replied.” He is too shy to let me look. He is in his room dressing now. He would not even tell me exactly what the treatment entailed apart from something to do with mud and salves!”

“It was a kind of mud bath using a special mixture of salts found in the hot springs at Rivendell, I did not dare tell him what it involved in advance! I swear we both looked like Uruks before it was over!” Aragorn informed her to gratify her curiosity.

Eowyn laughed at the mental picture that formed in her head, then looked at the King and laughed out loud.

Aragorn thought how happy she looked now, and she almost glowed with well being. “I wish I could have seen you both!” she said smirking.

“Not a pretty sight at all, I assure you!” Aragorn grinned back. “Now where can I find Faramir? I should like to see him before I join Arwen for breakfast.”

Faramir was in his dressing room. As was his custom, when dressing, he had donned his under drawers and breeches before removing his nightshirt.

Today he was even more loathe than usual to shed the garment as he would finally know whether the Elven treatment had worked or whether he would have to learn to live with his scars for always.

He took a deep breath, trying to summon up the courage to remove his nightshirt and see whether or not his body was still heavily scarred or if the promised miracle had taken place.

Suddenly there was a tap on the door, which opened before he could day anything and Eowyn came in, closely followed by Aragorn.

“I have come to see how you are faring, my friend.” Aragorn said.

“I have not yet finished dressing.” Faramir replied, blushing slightly at the intrusion into his morning routine.

Grinning, Eowyn turned to the King “Did the mud bath work for you?” she asked in her usual outspoken fashion.” Lift your shirt up and let me see!”

Faramir found himself holding his breath as Aragorn good-naturedly albeit rather shyly pulled up his tunic and undershirt, baring his upper body. The ugly red marks of three days ago were now so faint that had they not known, Faramir and Eowyn would not have noticed them.

Eowyn circled him, gazing intently at his now unblemished back. To her great relief, even the scar caused when she had so roughly tugged away the bandages had faded to near nothingness.

“That is amazing!” she exclaimed, “You can pull your shirt down now!”

Aragorn struggled to refrain from bursting out laughing; no one else, save maybe the garrulous Ioreth ever spoke to him like that since he had become King. He found it oddly refreshing and hoped she would never change for although he expected to be treated with the respect due to his Office, he often grew weary of fawning courtiers. It was good to have friends who would treat him as one of them, rather than as Elessar Telcontar, High King of Gondor and Arnor.

“Now it is your turn!” Aragorn said, smiling at Faramir, as he smoothed down his tunic and tucked his shirt back into his breeches.

Despite still fearing to look for fear the treatment may not have worked for him. Faramir endeavoured to do his King’s bidding.

The Steward’s fingers were suddenly all thumbs as he tried to unlace his nightshirt.

Eowyn went to assist him and before he could protest, she had whisked the garment over his head.

“That has worked very well, just as I knew it would!” Aragorn exclaimed delightedly
Faramir finally dared to look down at his chest and shoulders and gasped with delight as he realised the scars, which had plagued him for so long, had faded to almost nothing.

Aragorn had moved behind him. “The scars on your back have faded, you no longer bear any disfigurements, Mellon Nin,” he said gently.” And I give you my word, I will never let anyone lay a finger on you again!”

“Thank you so much, Aragorn!” Faramir impulsively embraced his King, closely followed by Eowyn.

“You are even more handsome than before now, I shall have to watch you with all the court beauties!” Eowyn teased.

Aragorn smiled, and returned their embraces, he had found the rainbow he sought, and it was filled now with all the colours of love and friendship.

“It is a pleasure to see you healed, my friend.” Aragorn replied.” I had also come to invite you both to a New Year supper with Arwen, her brothers, and myself.

“We gladly accept.” Eowyn replied as Faramir smiled agreement.

That evening, Aragorn was seated at the head of the dining table, with Arwen and Faramir seated either side of him.

“Your happiness for the coming year, my friends!” he said proposing a toast.

“Your happiness too!” they replied raising their glasses.

Faramir smiled happily, secure in the love of his wife and his King, as now for the first time in his life, he had cast off the shadow of his father’s disapproval.

Eowyn looked into the eyes of her handsome husband and rejoiced that he loved her for herself. She was thankful that she had never sent that letter to her brother, or now she would be back in Edoras, living off Eomer’s charity rather than enjoying her husband’s love and basking in the favour of the King and Queen.

Aragorn looked round the table at his beloved and beautiful wife, her brothers, his dear friends from childhood, his Steward, whom he had grown to love as dearly as a brother, and Eowyn who had become as a sister.

This New Year he had so much to celebrate surrounded by the love of family and friends and with the longed for promise of fatherhood before the year ended.

They clasped hands and wished each other a Happy New Year.

The End.

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