Danger in Ithilien by Linda Hoyland
Summary:

An early morning ride has dire consequences for Faramir.


Categories: Fiction Characters: Aragorn, Arwen, Beregond, Éowyn, Faramir, OFC, OMC
Content: Action/Adventure, Angst, Gen, Hurt/Comfort
Challenges: None
Series: None
Chapters: 7 Completed: No Word count: 16774 Read: 3506 Published: June 26, 2015 Updated: April 15, 2017

1. An Early Morning Ride by Linda Hoyland

2. They also serve who only stand and wait by Linda Hoyland

3. Dreams that do come True. by Linda Hoyland

4. Seek and ye shall find by Linda Hoyland

5. Be not overcome of evil by Linda Hoyland

6. To live is to suffer by Linda Hoyland

7. Oh, to be home again by Linda Hoyland

An Early Morning Ride by Linda Hoyland

Danger in Ithilien

Disclaimer - These characters all belong to the estate of J.R.R. Tolkien. This story was written for pleasure and not for financial gain

With grateful thanks to Raksha and Ellynn.

A/n This story was written several years ago and I have only just decided to edit and post it. It is a multi- chaptered story in much the same style as "Shadow and Thought".

Anxious not to disturb his sleeping wife, Faramir slid out of bed with the stealth that only a former Ranger could accomplish. His efforts proved vain, though as Éowyn stirred and sleepily opened her eyes.

"Faramir?" she protested. "I know you desired an early morning ride but it is not even light yet."

"It will be by the time I am dressed and ready to leave. I will be able to enjoy the sunrise, and hear the dawn chorus if I go now. I will be back in time for breakfast."

"Mmm." Éowyn was already asleep again before Faramir reached his dressing room. He shed his night attire in favour of a simple but finely woven tunic and breeches in dark green woollen cloth, over which he donned his favourite cloak, securing it with a brooch, which had been a gift from the King. The treasured cloak was made of an Elven fabric that the Queen had been given by her grandmother. He paused before buckling on his sword, wondering did he really need it for a short ride within his own lands in times of peace. Sadly, there were still the occasional sightings of Orcs, also reports had reached him that bandits had been harassing travellers. He had sent patrols after them, but they had not yet been caught. With a sigh, he buckled on his old sword. He would save Glamdring, which he had pulled from the tree where Gandalf had left it, for an occasion worthy of such a blade. He made his way towards the stables.

Faramir rarely rode out quite so early, but today he needed time alone to think. Aragorn had entrusted him with the drawing up of a treaty, which hopefully would improve relations with Khand. The conscientious Steward was concerned over the wording of a clause meant to ease trade between the two nations, but if worded ill, it could damage the livelihood of the cloth merchants in Gondor. He had sat up late the night before until his head ached, but a way to be fair to both parties had so far eluded him. He hoped the fresh morning air would clear his head. Perhaps he would find the track of the white deer, for the fabled beast had been seen of late in his woods. The white deer would make a fair portent for a Prince of the Moon-land, Faramir thought.

"Do you wish for an escort, my lord?" a sleepy eyed young guard enquired as Faramir saddled Iavas, his chestnut mare.

"No, thank you, I should like to be alone."

"Very well, my lord." The guard did not look surprised. Faramir had spent so long as a captain faring for himself that he usually only took guards when his official duties did not require them.

"Come Iavas!" Faramir led the mare from her stall. A loud neigh from the neighbouring stall caught his attention.

"I am sorry, Zachus, it is Iavas' turn to bear me." He patted the gelding. The bay snorted in response.

Once outside, Faramir mounted and rode away swiftly down the hill. He paused briefly on the lower slope, admiring the rosy dawn sky and debating whether to ride through the woods or across the fields. Given his urge for solitude, the woods seemed a better choice. Soon the farmers would begin their day's labours and all would call out greetings to their Prince. Usually Faramir would gladly stop to talk to his people, but he knew he must concentrate on the treaty today.

He ignored the main trail and instead urged Iavas into a brisk canter along a little used woodland path leading deep into the heart of the forest. It was one of those mornings unique to early autumn, when everywhere seemed bathed in pale golden light. It promised to be a warm day later, though the air still held a distinct nip and a layer of fine mist enveloped the woodland. The sun grew stronger as Faramir rode ever onwards, its bright beams illuminating the forest paths and clearings.

The trees were beautiful at this time of year, and the undergrowth of bracken a glorious colour. The path wound uphill again twisting and turning. Then he espied the delicate, familiar track of a deer, a yearling by the size of the tracks. Could it be the white deer he sought? The trail narrowed as he approached a slight bend at the top of the incline. Focusing on the deer tracks, Faramir failed to pay his surroundings much heed. Neither did he notice the thin rope spread out across his path at shoulder height until it was too late. Iavas whinnied in panic and came to an abrupt halt. Unable to move forward, she reared up. Faramir struggled to remain in the saddle, but in vain. He was pitched forward to the ground where he lay stunned.

As if out of nowhere, a small group of men emerged from amongst the trees. One, a burly fellow with a coarse black beard made a grab for Iavas' bridle. "We are in luck 'ere, lads," he smirked. "This 'orse alone is worth a small fortune!" He secured the protesting mare's reins to a nearby tree.

"And just look at 'is sword. These be real jewels as is this 'ere pin!" said a second man, a short fellow with brown hair.

"Look at 'is clothes too. The cloak alone is worth a poor man's wages for a year," said a third, a man with a prominent scar across his cheek. He knelt beside Faramir's prone form and unfastened the cloak. "This 'ere fellow looks familiar," he remarked. "I'm sure I've seen 'im somewhere."

The black bearded man took a closer look just as Faramir groaned and opened one eye. "Valar!" the thief cried. "This be the Steward!"

"We're done for!" exclaimed the short man. "Every blasted guard in the realm will come after us one word gets around we robbed 'im!"

"Not if they don't know, they won't!" said the black bearded one, starting to remove Faramir's clothing. He smiled as he fingered the fine wool greedily. Faramir started to struggle. The man kicked him viciously.

"We ain't killers," said the scar-faced man doubtfully.

"Who said owt about killing? We simply leaves 'im 'ere and if 'e dies, it just 'appened, I reckon. Serve 'im right for what 'is lord does to the likes of us. 'ave you got some ropes?"

"I can 'ear something," the short man said nervously as he roughly yanked Faramir's shirt over his head. "Let's get out of 'ere!"

"Tis but a wild animal," said the black bearded man. "Still, we'd best get moving. I've 'eard there still be Orcs in these parts. Leave 'is drawers, they'll take too long to get off and I don't fancy wearing 'em any'ow. We'll tie 'im to yonder tree." He produced a dirty rag and with it gagged the Steward before tying coarse ropes round his wrists and ankles.

The three men dragged Faramir roughly to a massive oak. One of them climbed up to secure the rope. Together the three suspended Faramir by his arms about three feet from the ground. They then secured his ankles to the trunk with another rope.

The bandit's leader took a knife from his belt and advanced upon Faramir.

"I thought you said we'd leave 'im to die of 'is own accord, natural like," said the scar faced man.

"I ain't going to kill 'im, just leave 'im a souvenir." With the same nonchalance that was usually found when whittling wood, the black bearded man cut the word "Arandur" across the Steward's chest. He stood back for a moment to admire his handiwork. "I'd love to see the King's face when he 'ears what 'appened ere! That'll show 'im!"

""d surely 'ang us all!" said the scar faced man.

"We'll be well away from 'ere by then," said the leader.

"You forgot the stars," remarked the short man.

"So I did!" The black bearded man made several cuts into the soft flesh of Faramir's upper belly. "Come on, lads, then, let's get out of 'ere. We'll live well for weeks on the proceeds of our spoils. Damgond, get the 'orse!"

Dragging the protesting Iavas by her bridle, the bandits disappeared into the forest.

0000

Faramir was left alone, blood oozing from his wounds. He had vainly struggled against his captors and the humiliation of having his clothes removed, but he was too stunned to make other than a feeble protest. After several vicious kicks, he deemed it best to appear senseless and seek a chance to escape once his attackers had lowered their guard. It was not to be. The stuffed a filthy rag in his mouth before securely binding his wrists. Then he felt himself being dragged upwards into the tree. For a dreadful few moments, he thought they were going to hang him, but instead they tied his wrists to a branch.

Then Faramir he felt a knife cutting into his chest and then into the tender flesh around his waist. He felt almost grateful for the gag that denied these miscreants the satisfaction of hearing him scream. He kept his eyes tightly closed. At last, there was silence and he dared look around him. His head still spun from his fall and it took him some time to take stock of his surroundings.

He was in a forest clearing, his only companions the birds and the insects, which buzzed around his head and crawled over his skin. Faramir observed that he was suspended only a few feet above the ground. He tried to wriggle free from the bonds that secured him, but only succeeded in digging the ropes more tightly into his wrists and making his arms feel as if they were about to be wrested from their sockets. The branches were thick and sturdy. Only a fierce storm or an axe would sever them.

The pain forced him to cease struggling. There was no sign of Iavas. The brutes must have taken her. Faramir felt a surge of fury. The beautiful, gentle mare did not deserve such a fate! His wedding ring and a chain Éowyn had given him was gone too, together with his favourite cloak and brooch he used to clasp it, both gifts from his King and irreplaceable.

He supposed he should be grateful they had left him his drawers in their haste to escape with their ill-gotten gains. Who was there to stop them though in the forest? Even the woodcutter, whose cottage was nearby, had gone to visit his daughter in Minas Tirith.

Faramir cursed himself inwardly for riding alone, without guards, through an area still mostly wild. No doubt, he had unwittingly ridden close to the bandits' hidden lair. Yet he should be safe in his own domain, so close to his home! And if those brigands had dared to strike the Steward Prince, what would they do to his people, whom he was bound to protect? The gag stifled a cry of rage and anguish. Dejectedly he tried to think of some means by which he could free himself. None presented itself. Already his arms and hands throbbed painfully as did the cuts on his chest. His head ached and his mouth was uncomfortably dry. Faramir pushed his feet against the tree trunk to support himself as he increasingly struggled to breathe.

TBC


They also serve who only stand and wait by Linda Hoyland

Danger in Ithilien

Disclaimer - These characters all belong to the estate of J.R.R. Tolkien. This story was written for pleasure and not for financial gain

With grateful thanks to Raksha and Ellynn.

A/n This story was written several years ago and I have only just decided to edit and post it. It is a multi- chaptered story in much the same style as "Shadow and Thought".

"They also serve who only stand and wait" - Milton

Éowyn was awakened with a start by the Elboron's crying. Clambering out of bed, she lifted her son from his cradle, and then took him back into bed with her to suckle him.

Only then, did she instinctively she look for her husband beside her, as Faramir was usually slower to awaken in the mornings than she was. Then she remembered that the Steward had decided to go for an early morning ride.

Her maid knocked on the door and entered, bearing a cup of Éowyn's favourite mint tea. While Éowyn sipped her drink, her little daughter ran into the room. "Where's ada?" Elestelle demanded.

"He has gone riding. He will be back soon," Éowyn reassured the child.

Elestelle clambered up into bed beside her mother and baby brother.

Éowyn finished her tea and the baby his breakfast. The maid took the child to his nurse, then brought her warm water to wash in and laid out the gown Éowyn intended to wear that day. By now, Éowyn had expected that Faramir would have returned and would be waiting in the dining room for her. She was vaguely annoyed when he was not. Although Faramir was a conscientious man, he did occasionally lose track of time when he was deeply engrossed in thought.

She ate her breakfast in an increasingly ill humour for there had been several pressing household matters she desired to discuss with him over the meal. She knew all too well he intended to shut himself away with that wretched treaty for most of the day. He could at least have spent time with her over breakfast! It did not help that Faramir's young niece, Elbeth, kept asking her where he was and wanting to know when could she go riding with her uncle.

Breakfast was cleared away, and after spending some time with the children and discussing her plans for the household that day with the housekeeper, Mistress Elwen, Éowyn went out to the stables while Elbeth started her lessons. Éowyn expected Faramir to appear any moment. He did not. She went back inside. By mid- morning, Éowyn had become seriously worried when her husband failed to appear. Could he have fallen from his horse? Surely if that had happened, the mare would have found her way home by now. Could there still be Orcs around waiting to waylay him? She shuddered at the thought. She knew that remained a possibility, despite the White Company's best efforts to clear them from Ithilien. It was useless to wonder what had happened to her husband. It was time to act. Little Elboron started to cry to be fed, reminding her of her other responsibilities.

She decided to send out a search party. Faramir's men were well trained and she could trust them. Éowyn called to a passing guard. "Fetch Captain Beregond to me, please!"

"He is out on a training exercise with Captain Damrod and the recruits," said the guard.

"Where?" demanded Éowyn.

"He did not say exactly, my lady."

"Send him to me the instant he returns," Éowyn ordered. Elboron's wails were growing louder. An afterthought struck her. The King should know that his Steward and close friend was missing. She hurried to write a note; then entrusted it to a messenger, bidding him ride with all haste for the Citadel. Once, she would have ridden out herself in search of her lord. She was older and wiser now, though, and had her children's welfare to consider too. She took Elboron from the arms of the nursemaid and sat down on the rocking chair to suckle him.

000

Aragorn had awoken early; as was his custom, and was enjoying breakfast with his wife. The day ahead did not promise to be especially arduous, though the King feared it would prove tedious. He had little love of paperwork, preferring to leave most of it in his Steward's capable hands. It was only fair, though, that Faramir should spend time in Ithilien with his family, however much his friend and lord might miss him.

"Eldarion recited the alphabet to me last night," Arwen said proudly. "How I wish you could have heard him!"

"Maybe I shall tonight," said the King beaming at his four year old son's achievement. "I am not expecting to work late today." He turned his attention to his plate and attacked his egg and sausage with relish. His hand suddenly froze in mid- air as he lifted his fork to his mouth. A sudden feeling of dread assailed him and pain coursed through his body. He turned pale.

"What is wrong, Estel?" Arwen exclaimed in alarm. "Are you unwell? Shall I summon Master Aedred?"

"I am well, vanimelda," he assured her, forcing a smile. "I fear Faramir is not, though."

Arwen looked puzzled. "You told me that you gave him an Elven treatment ere he departed last week and he was in perfect health after you had finished treating the twinges in his back."

"He is in great pain and distress now," Aragorn said gravely. "I can sense it."

"Then you must go to him at once." Arwen knew from experience how the Thought Bonded could sense when something was wrong. She always knew when Aragorn was injured or even sore of heart.

"I shall depart for Ithilien immediately," said Aragorn, pushing his plate to one side. "I leave the City in your capable hands, vanimelda. I fear hearing Eldarion recite his letters will have to wait."

"I will help you pack, Estel," said Arwen, her expression full of concern for their dear friends.

"I shall travel light. I require only a few provisions, healing supplies, and a change of linens," said the King. He hurried from the room pausing only to request a servant to take a message to the captain of his personal guard.

000

The sun rose higher in the sky until it was almost overhead. Faramir's ordeal continued. His mouth was parched. It was an unseasonably warm day for October and the sun burned mercilessly down on his bare skin. Flies crawled over his throbbing wounds. The pain in his arms and shoulders was indescribable. He tried not to give way to despair. Surely, someone would find him soon. Éowyn must have noticed he was missing and sent out a search party. Then would not Aragorn sense that something was amiss?

Why had his captors treated him thus, desiring to condemn him to a horrible death?

Then he recalled that because lawless men had increasingly been attacking travellers; Aragorn had recently decreed that all bandits were to be executed, if found guilty after a fair trial. Several had already been hung for their crimes in Lossarnach. The Steward had increased patrols in Ithilien against them, though without success. Obviously, these ruffians thought they had nothing to lose. Maybe they had known the men executed and sought revenge or were seeking to convey their contempt for the King and his laws.

Then he heard sounds in the distance. Someone was coming! His spirits soared. If only he could cry out! The sounds grew fainter and died away. Faramir's head sagged. They had not found him.

000

Flanked by a dozen of his heavily armed personal guard, Aragorn rode with all haste for Faramir's home. It was a beautiful morning, but for once, the beauty of nature did not stir the King. His heart was heavy and his feeling of dread increased with every mile he travelled. He led the men relentlessly, allowing only the briefest of stops to rest the horses.

They were about half way to their destination when a rider approached from the opposite direction. He was dressed in the colours of the Prince of Ithilien. On espying the Royal party, the man approached them. "My lord King!" he called, pausing to catch his breath. "I bring a message from the Lady Éowyn." He handed a folded parchment to Aragorn.

Aragorn reined in Roheryn and called to his men to halt. Swiftly unfolding the parchment, he recognised Éowyn's distinctive hand. It was brief and devoid of the usual formalities. Faramir is missing. He went riding at dawn and never returned. I fear some ill has befallen him. I beg of you to come, Éowyn.

The King's heart sank. It seemed that his forebodings were all too true. "We will return with you in all haste," he said, urging Roheryn to a gallop.

000

Éowyn was standing in the open doorway of her home when the King arrivedflanked by Elestelle and Elbeth and a nursemaid carrying Elboron. Heedless of protocol, she hurried outside to greet the King, her face pale but composed. "Valar be praised! You have come. But how did you travel so swiftly? I sent my letter but two hours ago!"

"I sensed that you had need of me," said Aragorn trying not to alarm her. He kissed her on the brow, and then bestowed a kiss on Elbeth. He scooped up little Elestelle who was demanding attention.

"Faramir would never just go off without telling me," Éowyn explained, leading the King inside. She called for Mistress Elwen to bring refreshments for them and for something to be taken outside for the men.

"Have you sent out a search party?" Aragorn enquired as he accepted a mug of home brewed ale.

"I have sent a messenger in search of Beregond," Éowyn replied. "He is training his men. Most of the older ones are fighting rebels on the border, so the younger ones are undergoing military exercises. So far we have not been able to find them." She lifted her troubled eyes to meet those of her King and sighed deeply. "I wish I could go and look for him."

"No!" Aragorn said sharply. "There could be more to this than meets the eye. I hope that Faramir's horse has simply gone lame or he has met with some other minor mischance that has delayed him. Yet is possible that his disappearance is more sinister. There might yet be some involved in the plot against me that Faramir foiled who have gone detected or unpunished, or new plots to destabilise our realm. Éowyn, you are Lady of Ithilien, and in Faramir's absence, I rely on you to hold Emyn Arnen safe. You are needed here; to defend your children and Elbeth. I would advise you to double your guards and keep your sword at your side."

Éowyn nodded. Elbeth's small hands clenched into fists. "I can help, Uncle Strider! Let me ride out with you and search for Uncle Faramir!" the child urged.

Éowyn smiled, with, it seemed to Aragorn, memories of her own youthful unrest. She touched Elbeth's hair in a brief caress, and then looked the child in the eyes. "Uncle Faramir would be so proud of you. I will need you to bring me messages as I make preparations. And it would comfort both Uncle Faramir and I to know that you will watch over Elestelle and Elboron. Can you obey me in this, brother-daughter?"

"Yes, Aunt," Elbeth answered. Éowyn briefly hugged her daughter and niece; then dispatched Elbeth, who took Elestelle by the hand, and the nurse who carried Elboron, outside to the gardens, four household guards following at a discreet distance.

Éowyn emitted the faintest of sighs before turning her eyes from the retreating children to Aragorn. She squared her shoulders, lifted her head; and Aragorn saw once more the proud Shield-maiden he had left behind at Dunharrow. Éowyn must have seen his disquiet; for she spoke quickly: "This time I will stay. Elboron relies on me for sustenance still. Nor will I chance leaving our children motherless, unless it be to die saving them from harm. I promised Faramir that I would put them first, even above his own life."

"I know Faramir yet lives," Aragorn reassured her. "The Thought Bond we share would make it certain I would know had he departed the Circles of the World. I swear to you that I shall find him and restore him to you."

Once Éowyn would have argued, but now she knew better. "If only I had not been half asleep when he departed!" she lamented. "He might have told me where he planned to ride. He could have gone in any direction. We have so many miles of tracks in the forest. I have not explored half of them yet! Then he might have ridden out by the fields. I simply do not know!" She rubbed her brow frowning in frustration.

"Gandalf once spoke of me as the greatest tracker of the Age," Aragorn said in a lighter tone. "My skills might by now have grown a little rusty, but I can still follow a trail!"

Just then, a servant announced Captain Beregond's return. Éowyn requested that he be shown in.

"My apologies, my lady," Beregond said. "Damrod and I were taking the new recruits out on a training mission to Henneth-Annûn. They need to be able to fight in difficult terrain should the need arise. " He belatedly noticed Aragorn and bowed low. "My lord, my apologies, I did not realise we were honoured by your presence."

"Have you seen Lord Faramir?" Aragorn asked him abruptly, gesturing for him to rise.

Beregond shook his head. "No, my lord, not since yesterday when he dined at the garrison. He inspected the Company and pronounced himself well satisfied with their progress."

"My husband is missing, Captain," Éowyn explained. "He went out riding at dawn and has not returned. I wish you to gather your most experienced men and organise and form search parties."

Beregond paled, but swiftly composed himself and nodded. "Of course, my lady. I will begin by questioning anyone who might have seen him leave and could give us word of his intentions and the direction he took."

"And I will see if Faramir wore or took anything out of the ordinary," Éowyn said. "Captain, will you and my lord King meet me at the stable in a half-hour to share what we have learned?"

Half-hour later, Éowyn met Aragorn and Beregond in the stable, bringing the guardsman who had exchanged words with Faramir, twenty soldiers of her household guard, and her own determination. The three made plans to disperse riders and walking soldiers in an ever-widening sweep down through the hills and across the fields and then into the forest. The searchers were given instructions to stay in groups of no less than three, and use horns to signal sightings of Faramir's possible tracks or warnings of any danger. Éowyn also sent messages to the Rangers and Legolas to ask for their help.

The afternoon wore on. Messengers and riders from the teams of searchers came and went, delivering tidings to Éowyn and then leaving with orders and fresh supplies. But when the day cooled with the sun's descent, the searchers had succeeded only in finding places and trails that held no sign of Faramir. It were as if the Prince had vanished from his land.

000

The sun slipped down from the sky, taking with it Faramir's hopes of discovery. Several times, he thought he had heard booted footfalls, someone approaching, but always the sounds always faded; each time further destroying what little hope remained.

Nightfall had at least brought a respite from the tormenting insects and the beady greedy eyes of the crows that watched him from a tree on the far side of the clearing. As the sun sank, so did the temperature and Faramir shivered with cold.

The Steward sadly realised that he was unlikely to ever again see those whom he loved, never again to clasp his wife in his arms, nor to watch his children grow up. Never again would he enjoy the King's companionship and the joy of being loved as a honoured son. What a wretched end for the Steward of Gondor, who had so much yet to do for his land, his people, his family! He would die here alone, with only bats and owls for witnesses! Would his bones even be found and decently laid to rest?

The pain in Faramir's arms was beyond anything he had ever felt now, and thirst raged in his arid throat. Silent tears of agony rolled down his cheeks. It was becoming increasingly difficult to breathe. He tried to reach out with his mind to Aragorn, hoping that the mental bond between them might bring his lord to save him.

Faramir heard wolves howling somewhere in the distance and felt a stab of primeval fear. He must be strong; he must fight to live; for as someone might yet find him! Then the pain flared up, stronger than before; and he fell into a merciful swoon.

TBC


Dreams that do come True. by Linda Hoyland

Danger in Ithilien

Disclaimer - These characters all belong to the estate of J.R.R. Tolkien. This story was written for pleasure and not for financial gain

With grateful thanks to Raksha and Ellynn. Most of this chapter was written by Raksha.

A/n This story was written several years ago and I have only just decided to edit and post it. It is a multi- chaptered story in much the same style as "Shadow and Thought".

Dreams that do come true can be as unsettling as those that don't.- Brett Butler, 'Knee Deep in Paradise'

It was a worried King and a tense, weary group of King's guard, White Guards, Prince's household guard, Ithilien Rangers, and common men of Emin Arnen who returned to Éowyn that night. They had combed the hills, the fields and many riding trails of the forest, but had found no trace of the missing prince.

"He is out there, Éowyn," Aragorn assured the lady over a bowl of soup he could hardly bear to touch. "He is still alive; but we have not yet found his trail yet. Fox-tracks, deer-tracks, and signs of other forest creatures we saw in abundance, but none of Iavas, nor of Faramir. The forest is vast and we have, as yet, only covered a small part of it."

Éowyn, who had personally welcomed and encouraged all the returned searchers and overseen their refreshment, nodded briskly at her King and friend. "You will find him, Aragorn; I am sure of it. But you must eat and drink now, to keep up your strength."

Only Aragorn saw the anguish in her eyes.

Legolas arrived soon afterwards, bringing twenty Elves skilled in forestry and tracking. They had searched the woods north of Emyn Arnen in vain, but their presence heartened the other searchers.

"We saw nothing new," Legolas added; "Save for a young buck of a silver-white colour, that crossed our path more than once. Such deer are rare; a sign of hope and luck, so we never slay them. I pray that the silver deer will bring us good fortune in finding Faramir."

Éowyn found sleep long in coming. Deer or no deer, she feared some terrible fate had taken her beloved husband. She forced herself not to weep; for Elestelle and Elbeth had come to sleep beside her, one child on either side, seeking solace for their own fears. Elboron was the only one in perhaps all of Emyn Arnen to sleep soundly, curled up in his cradle, beside the bed. The footfalls of guards patrolling the hallways outside her family's chambers both soothed and unsettled Éowyn.

Suddenly, Elestelle cried out softly in her sleep: "Aida, Ada!" She twisted, hurling her fists against the pillow and then against Éowyn, and suddenly awakened.

"Hush, hush, now," Éowyn said as gently as her raw nerves would allow. She gathered her daughter in her arms. The little girl began to cry.

"I saw Ada and he was hurt," sobbed Elestelle.

"You were dreaming, dear one," Éowyn soothed.

"I saw Ada, I did!" Elestelle insisted. "He was hanging, like Maedhros in Ada's big book, only by both hands. He called for help, but no one could hear him."

Faramir had recently read the story of Maedhros' rescue from Thangodorim to Elbeth and Elestelle after they had seen a picture in his book and asked about it. Strange, at the time that Faramir had read the girls the story, Elestelle had not been frightened at all, clapping her hands at the arrival of Fingon and the great eagle. Faramir had deliberately omitted any facts from the story that might upset his little daughter, especially the unpleasant fact of Fingon's having to cut off his kinsman's hand to free him. He liked to answer any questions the children put to him in a manner appropriate for their ages. Elbeth was old enough to hear the full story, but was not as interested in it as cousin.

"If Uncle Faramir is hanging off some cliff side, then an Eagle will come and save him," Elbeth sleepily assured her cousin.

"It was just a bad dream," Éowyn said, stroking Elestelle's hair. "Go back to sleep now." Both children huddled against her. She felt their young bodies relax, and, eventually revert to the steady, quiet rhythm of slumber. Éowyn lay still the rest of the night, unable to find peace or rest.

000

Alone in the well-appointed guest chamber, Aragorn stretched his long legs out on the comfortable bed and seemed to wander far while sleeping beneath the coverlets. He found himself roaming the new road that led out from Faramir's holding, down towards the woods, then taking to the air like some great bird. He flew over the trees and wove between them. Images and scents came up to meet his senses - the cool green fragrance of the autumn forest, a pale deer dipping his head into a stand of moonflowers and then raising it to look mournfully at Aragorn, the screaming neigh of a frightened horse, a horse he knew!Beware! Beware! And Faramir, somewhere near, calling for help.

Aragorn awoke, his brow streaked with sweat, his heart pounding. He sat up, only to see the dawn breaking outside the window. The answer is out there, he thought; what am I missing? By all the searchers' accounts and his own observations, Faramir had not ridden through or by the fields nor had travelled towards the river. Legolas had told of seeing the white deer Northwest of Emyn Arnen, below Osgiliath, some fifteen miles away. And as he knew well, deer had a fondness for the leaves of fair white blossoms that were called moonflowers, or sometimes Isildur's Tears, that bloomed in the thickets of Ithilien.

Suddenly Aragorn remembered Faramir's mentioning, during one of their conversations in Minas Tirith only last week, the news that the white deer had been sighted in the wood just north of Emin Arnen. They had spoken of it as a good omen; since the deer had not been seen in abundance since Ithilien had been abandoned after the Shadow's rising. Aragorn himself had seen one, fleeing towards the White Mountains, when he had patrolled with Faramir's father in western Ithilien so many years ago. Faramir had been eager to see the deer for himself.

What if Faramir had seen the same deer that Legolas had come upon last night? The white deer were very rare, and only a few of the beasts had been reported.

Aragorn leapt to his feet, and then sought hastily for his boots and the rest of his clothing. If they rode fresh horses, they could reach the place where Legolas had seen the deer in an hour or two; and then they could follow the tracks it had made to get there. If the deer had come from the south, there was at least a chance of finding Faramir's trail. Aragorn was certain that his friend would have followed the deer.

He had to spend more time than he would have liked to rouse Legolas and Éowyn, gather ten men of his own and the White Guard. Éowyn picked out ten fresh horses best suited for a hard, fast ride. They would have to circle, take a wider route than Aragorn would have liked, to reach the hillock where Legolas had seen the deer, so as to avoid the risk of erasing the very tracks they sought.

Just as Aragorn and the searchers were about to leave, Éowyn called out, "My lord, wait!"

Aragorn turned back to her.

"You may think me foolish to mention this, but Elestelle had a strange dream last night that her father was hanging, like Maedhros in the story, only by both hands. She said he called for help, but no one could hear him. It is probably nothing, I scolded Faramir last week for telling her such a tale so young and yet-"

"The blood of Númenor runs true in Elestelle as it does in Faramir," Aragorn said thoughtfully. "This dream might have some portent. You did well to tell me. Farewell, I hope to return soon with news."

And then Aragorn rode out from Emyn Arnen, leaving Éowyn standing outside the house with the children. He had mounted one of Éowyn's best horses, Fione Culina, a lively chestnut mare who was strong and well-schooled and cantered along the main road as lightly as a bird skimming the treetops. Roheryn needed to rest after the hard riding of the previous day. They descended the hills and cantered into the great forest as the morning sun burned away the mist. This time they rode straight north, instead of west and south in the direction of Faramir's usual morning rides. After several miles, Legolas brought them to the hillock, near the outfall of the Morgulduin into the Anduin, where he had sighted the white stag.

"The stag turned to the west, to drink from the Anduin", the Elf explained, dismounting to find the tracks. "We saw him come up from the deeper wood. Here, Aragorn," he called, beckoning the King. Legolas' fair face relaxed and he smiled for the first time that day. "I believe you are right, mellon-nin; the deer came from the south."

Aragorn dismounted and surveyed the tracks. They were cloven, pointed at one end, possessing a familiar inverse-heart shape, a few inches in length, and unencumbered by tracks of other deer or smaller creatures. A male yearling deer had walked there within the past two days.

The next two hours passed far too slowly for Aragorn's liking. They could not ride fast; for fear of the horses' hooves obscuring the tracks that were their only hope of finding Faramir's trail. They had to slow the horses to trots and often walks as Aragorn and Legolas kept their mounts parallel to the deer's tracks, often dismounting to make sure they followed the deer's frequent twists and turns. Fortunately, the deer had kept to fairly even terrain, favouring glades where the moonflowers grew amidst good grass and shrubs dispersed among the trees.

Aragorn prayed that their hope was not in vain.

Suddenly, the track changed. The deer had run for about a mile, swerving through heavy cover, as if affrighted. And lo!, behind it, for a short way, lay the tracks of a much larger animal, one that Aragorn knew well from head to hoof. It was Iavas! Aragorn dismounted again and examined the tracks in detail. Faramir's mare's tracks converged only briefly upon those of the deer, as if she had followed the yearling for only a short way, then had turned east. What prevented Aragorn from instantly ordering the party to follow Iavas was the strange set of her hooves. She was not riding easily; her tracks were confused rather than even, and set unusually deep into the earth. She seemed to have been at odds with her rider, stopping short and forcing more weight onto the front feet. Could they have been attacked by Orcs or wild creatures, which would have also frightened the deer? But, what was this?

One, then two sets of tracks made not by horse or deer, but men! They had come up behind the horse, at some distance, running. And neither belonged to Faramir; the footfalls were made by lighter shod men with shorter legs than his friend. Aragorn ran on, stepping lightly around the tracks left by deer, mare, and men. If he found no further trace of Faramir soon, he would turn back to see if and when the men rejoined the horse and then follow Iavas' eastward tracks.

"There is some evil afoot," Legolas, coming up behind him. "Hold a moment."

"What is it?"

"The horses are uneasy. And the wind is high from the south. Aragorn, there are crows circling above the clearing ahead."

Aragorn shouted for the horses. He mounted the chestnut mare and took a moment to soothe her, then urged her into a canter. His heart in his mouth, he rode toward the small clearing that Legolas had seen. Five crows screamed and took to the air with the others. Rounding the final bend, Aragorn slowed Fione Culina and reined her to a halt. For a moment, he gazed aghast at a large ash tree. For there, suspended from a branch, was Faramir.

A/n, I have edited and reposted chapter 1 of this story.


Seek and ye shall find by Linda Hoyland

With grateful thanks to Raksha, Deandra and Ellynn.


A/n This story was written several years ago and I have only just decided to edit and post it. It is a multi- chaptered story in much the same style as "Shadow and Thought".


Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you:”- The Bible. Matthew.7.7


The Steward’s near- naked body was well- nigh unrecognisable, so covered was it in blood and bruises. Rage and grief surged through the King. How dare anyone treat his friend thus? There were no signs of Orcs in the vicinity. It was Men who had abused him thus.


Aragorn leapt from his horse and ran towards Faramir, taking his friend's weight in his arms. He prayed desperately to the Higher Powers that the one he loved as his own son still lived.


The Guards entered the clearing and stared open mouthed at the outrage. Aragorn heard Beregond swear under his breath. "Cut him down!" Aragorn ordered abruptly, pulling off his cloak as he spoke. Beregond and two of the younger men started toward the tree; but Legolas was faster. The Elf shinnied up the tree and took out his knife. "Carefully!" Aragorn urged him.


A moment later Faramir sagged in his arms, his head lolling sideways. Supporting him, Aragorn sank to a sitting position and wrapped the cloak around his friend, shielding him from the appalled and curious gaze of his men. He pressed his ear to Faramir’s wounded chest, and was rewarded by a faint and rapid heartbeat. Aragorn seized his dagger and carefully cut through the filthy rag that gagged his Steward.


Faramir gave no sign of life. Aragorn, blinking back tears, tenderly kissed his forehead. "Wake up, ion nîn!" he pleaded, smoothing the hair back from his face and noting with a healer’s instinct how cold and clammy the skin was.


Faramir slowly opened his eyes. "Ada!" he rasped with a faint smile then started to retch as result of the gag, his body contorting in agony.


As soon as the choking ceased, Aragorn held his water skin to Faramir’s dry lips. Faramir managed to drink several mouthfuls of water before lapsing back into unconsciousness.


"How is Lord Faramir?" a young soldier who was one of Beregond’s White Company, enquired. He looked somewhat pale and his tone was unsteady.


"He is very ill. He needs help quickly," Aragorn replied grimly, wondering how he could bring Faramir home. There were too many miles between them and the house to dare ride swiftly with an injured man.


"There is a woodcutter’s cottage nearby," said the young man, collecting himself.


Aragorn hesitated only an instant before voicing his assent.


"We will take him there that I may tend his wounds with all haste," he said. He looked at the young man who had mentioned the cottage. "What is your name?"


"Sador, son of Davros," said the young man. "My uncle dwells within the cottage, though he is in the City at present."


"You shall lead the way, Sador," said Aragorn. "Your uncle will be recompensed in full. I require two men to ride on ahead to the cottage, and speedily to light a fire and draw water to boil."


Two of Aragorn’s men immediately set off in the direction indicated by Sador. Aragorn turned his attention back to Faramir, swiftly examining his head and neck, determining if it were safe to move him. The Steward lay motionless in his arms, hardly seeming even to breathe. Was he too late to aid his best friend? No, that would be too cruel! He had found him while he still drew breath and somehow he would save him. "Fetch my horse here and help me lift Lord Faramir," he commanded. Aragorn debated inwardly whether to send messengers to inform Éowyn that her husband had been found. He decided to wait until he could tell her just how severe Faramir’s injuries were. It would be cruel to kindle false hopes.


Aragorn reluctantly relinquished Faramir’s prone form to Legolas while he mounted his horse. Then the Elf gently lifted the Steward up into the saddle beside him where he sagged limply against the King like a rag doll.


The King turned to Legolas, “"Those who put Lord Faramir to such torment must be brought to justice. Mellon nîn, take your Elven trackers and follow the miscreants trail. They must not escape."


"I promise I will find who did this to him!" said Legolas, uncharacteristic fury in his voice. "We will deliver the vermin straight to Minas Tirith when we catch them. I would not have them within ten leagues of Lady Éowyn and her children."


"Thank you, Legolas. We shall meet again soon".


Legolas and his twenty Elves set off in pursuit of Faramir's assailants.


Aragorn, with one arm supporting Faramir and the other guiding the chestnut mare, set off slowly, following where Sador led. The young man rode cautiously, ever alert for anyone who might wish them ill. Aragorn and the unconscious Steward were flanked by Beregond and four other White Guards, who rode with bows ready and eyes sharp.


The cottage could not have been more than a quarter mile or so distant, but the ride seemed endless. The motion of the horse roused Faramir and caused him to groan with pain. Aragorn kept stopping to ensure he was not aggravating his friend’s injuries and trying to coax him to swallow sips of water.


Aragorn could not have been happier to set foot in a palace when they finally reached the welcome shelter of the cottage. His men had worked hard and a fire was already kindled in the hearth while buckets of water were being carried inside. Beregond and four other White Guards took up the watch around the cottage. Sador supported Faramir while the King dismounted. Together they carefully carried the Steward inside the cottage and gently laid him on the bed, a surprisingly large one for such a humble dwelling. It was a sturdy, yet beautifully carved piece of furniture, obviously made lovingly by the woodcutter.


I need water to wash my hands," Aragorn ordered the man nearest to him. He swiftly unpacked his healing supplies, which one of his guards had brought to him. The cottage was better than he had dared hope, as it appeared clean and comprised two fair- sized rooms.


As soon as the water was brought, Aragorn dismissed the men, desiring to give his friend and Steward some privacy. Alone with Faramir, he sighed deeply, dreading the task ahead and what he might discover. He carefully unwrapped his cloak from around the Steward and removed the filthy and tattered garment he was wearing, which hung precariously from his hips. The firmly- tied knot had held, though. Aragorn had often seen Faramir use the same one to tie up a horse. The Steward struggled feebly.


"Easy, ion nîn," Aragorn soothed. "I seek only to tend your hurts." Aragorn’s voice was thick with emotion now he could see the true extent of Faramir’s injuries. He forced himself to control his feelings as he covered the Steward with the blanket he kept with his healing supplies. To tend a loved one was a healer’s most difficult task.


Faramir quieted at the sound of the familiar voice. By the time the King had washed his hands, the Steward had lapsed back into what Aragorn considered a merciful oblivion. Starting with Faramir’s head, he was relieved to find only minor cuts and bruises. Faramir’s lips and tongue were swollen as result of being gagged, but none of his teeth were missing. His upper body was covered in dried blood where he appeared to have been repeatedly cut with a knife. The ugly wounds were already becoming infected and were hot to the touch.


Faramir’s hands were grotesquely swollen while his wrists were raw and bloodied from the ropes that had secured him, as were his ankles. His shoulders were bruised and also swollen. When Aragorn pressed his ear to his friend’s chest, it was all too obvious that his lungs were badly congested with the effort of trying to breathe. Mercifully, though, Aragorn could detect no other damage inside, nor could his gentle touch detect any broken bones. Neither had the miscreants subjected the Steward to any worse degradation.


Faramir’s entire body was covered in bruises and insect bites. Worse and most serious, though, was his cold and shrivelled skin and racing pulse. Faramir’s life was hanging by the merest thread.


Aragorn placed pillows under his friend’s head to help him breathe more easily. He softly called his friend’s name, but Faramir made no response. He appeared to have sunk deeper into unconsciousness. Aragorn thought quickly, knowing he must rouse him to take water if Faramir were to survive.


"Bring me a large bowl of hot water!" he called to the men waiting outside. Sador appeared within a few minutes, bringing the King what he required. Dismissing him, Aragorn reached inside his healing supplies and took out two leaves of athelas, which he breathed upon and crumbled into the water. Aragorn placed the bowl beside Faramir so that he could breathe the healing vapour. He laid a hand upon his friend’s brow. "Come now, Faramir, ion nîn!" he called. "Your friend and King bids you awaken. I know you are sore wounded in body and spirit, but you cannot leave me, cannot leave your lady and your children. Awaken!"


Faramir opened his eyes slowly and painfully and blinked. "Aragorn?" he croaked. "So much pain!"


"Drink, ion nîn, then I will try to ease you," Aragorn said raising a cup to Faramir’s peeling lips. "I will be as gentle as I can." Faramir drank until it was empty, and then closed his eyes again. "I trust you, ada," he whispered.


Aragorn dipped a cloth in the athelas mixture and started to cleanse the grime and dried blood from his friend’s body. He froze, cloth poised in mid- air above Faramir's stomach. He realised that these were no random cuts, but the Steward’s own device, carved into his living flesh! As a healer and warrior, Aragorn had a strong stomach, but this outrage made him swallow hard in revulsion. Faramir was the most gentle and loving of men. No man less deserved such treatment. Whoever had done this would pay dearly for their crimes Aragorn vowed inwardly. As Aragorn had hoped, the athelas seemed to strengthen Faramir as well as cleanse the grime from his skin and treat the numerous bruises and insect bites.


Aragorn coaxed Faramir to swallow more water then began the necessary, but painful task of cleansing the wounds thoroughly.


He placed a small, sharp knife into the fire to cleanse the blade by heating it. As soon as it glowed red-hot he removed it and placed it one side to cool. He anxiously checked Faramir’s pulse. How he wished that it were not necessary to subject the wounded man’s heart to further strain, but to leave an infection to fester could easily kill the strongest of men.


Aragorn draped a towel over Faramir’s hips and then called to Beregond. "I need you to hold Lord Faramir down," he explained. "I have to drain these wounds."


Beregond nodded; his eyes, showing that, like his King, he wished that it were not needful to subject his former Captain to further pain.


Aragorn bent over Faramir. "I am sorry, but I have to lance the wound, mellon nîn," he said gravely. "I will be as swift as I can, but fear it will pain you."


"I trust you - do it," Faramir whispered.


The site of the infection was easy to behold, as one of the grotesquely carved stars, together with one of the letters was red and swollen.


Aragorn first held his hand above the wounds, trying to ease his friend’s pain. He then nodded to Beregond, who held Faramir pinioned against the mattress as he swiftly lanced the infected wounds.


Faramir arched in agony then went limp.


Aragorn’s heart missed a beat as he anxiously searched for a pulse in Faramir’s throat. To his relief, the Steward had only swooned, but his pulse was weak and rapid.


"You can go now, thank you for your help," he told Beregond.


The Captain inclined his head and went to re-join his fellows. He was visibly relieved to be dismissed.


Aragorn had no such respite from his friend’s suffering. He staunched the wounds, which now oozed blood rather than pus and applied honey to the cuts before bandaging them. Next, he applied comfrey salves to the many bruises and swellings that disfigured his friend’s body. Aragorn wished the woodcutter’s sheets were less coarse against Faramir’s damaged skin, as he prepared to pull the covers around him.


Faramir was by now starting to regain consciousness. He moaned softly and instinctively tried to cover his nakedness with the poor maimed hands.


Knowing that Faramir would feel more comfortable with some clothing, Aragorn rummaged in his pack for his clean linens and clothed him in a pair of drawers. It was too painful for Faramir to raise his arms to don a shirt, so Aragorn simply wrapped his soft linen shirts around his tender skin. He then pulled the covers over his friend. There was still much to be done, but at least some measure of comfort and dignity had been restored to Faramir.


With the question of the Steward’s safety answered, however precariously, Aragorn now dared to send messages to Éowyn and to his own lady. He wrote that Faramir had been found alive, but wounded after being attacked and that he was caring for him. He added a stern warning to Éowyn that it was likely an unknown number of dangerous men were at large, and she and the children must be closely guarded at all times until the villains were caught. He requested that clothing, pillows, and bed linens be sent to the cottage with all haste for Faramir’s comfort.


The message sent, Aragorn returned to the wounded Steward who was being watched over by Sador. The King told the younger man to go and re-join his fellows. Faramir opened his eyes as soon as the younger man had left. "Éowyn, the children?" he whispered.


"They are safe and well," Aragorn reassured him. "Would you like another drink?"


"Please."


Aragorn held the cup to Faramir’s lips again while he drank. The Steward closed his eyes, seemingly finding even this small effort of keeping them open too exhausting. Aragorn frowned and pinched the skin on Faramir’s arm gently. It took several seconds before the fold of skin fell back into place. Faramir groaned. "Pain, very bad," he muttered.


Aragorn dared not give Faramir poppy juice yet. He needed him to stay awake to keep drinking. He pulled back the covers a few inches, revealing the Steward’s bruised and swollen arms and shoulders. How his friend had suffered and was suffering still! If only he could have found him earlier! He ought to have been able to! The thought of Faramir hanging from the tree alone and in agony for so long was too painful to contemplate. But this was no time for brooding. It was within his power to aid Faramir now. Aragorn held his hands a few inches above Faramir’s shoulders and poured as much of his healing power as he could into the younger man.


Faramir’s pain ravaged features visibly relaxed. "Do not endanger yourself, " he whispered.


"It hurts me far more to see you suffer," said Aragorn. He then gently took Faramir’s injured hands in his own and concentrated his healing powers on easing his friend’s pain.


Faramir sighed. "Thank you," he murmured, settling somewhat more comfortably on the lumpy pillows. His breathing was still far too laboured for Aragorn’s liking.


Aragorn pondered as to what herbs he should give his friend. He decided on dandelion root to help drain the fluids in Faramir’s lungs, garlic to fight infection and rosehips to promote healing. He swiftly mixed the herbs and brewed them into a tea sweetening it with honey. Faramir was still so thirsty that he drank it without complaint.


Aragorn could do little else now but sit beside his friend, give him frequent drinks, keep him warm, and wait. There was so little he could offer in the way of comfort as Faramir's hands were too wounded for him to clasp.


Beregond entered with a plate of stew for the King, the same that the men were dining upon. "Please eat something, sire," he said. "Lord Faramir will need you to keep your strength up."


Seeing the wisdom of his words, Aragorn ate, albeit with little appetite.


"How is Lord Faramir?" asked Beregond, glancing anxiously towards the bed.


"He has suffered great pain and privation, but his wounds are not mortal," Aragorn answered. "I am doing all I can to aid him.”


"Then he will soon be back on his feet!" Beregond exclaimed, relief flashing across his tired face. "I will be outside if you need me, my lord."


Aragorn forced himself to finish the stew. No doubt it was quite good, but it tasted like ashes to him.


TBC

Be not overcome of evil by Linda Hoyland

Disclaimer - These characters all belong to the estate of J.R.R. Tolkien. This story was written for pleasure and not for financial gain

With grateful thanks to Raksha, Deandra and Ellynn.

A/n This story was written several years ago and I have only just decided to edit and post it. It is a multi- chaptered story in much the same style as "Shadow and Thought".

Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.- The Bible -Romans xii. 21.

Éowyn stormed into the kitchens, Elbeth trailing her like a foal scampering after its war-mare mother. She had received Aragorn's message, and deployed the White Company and household guard to greatest advantage. Her children were well-guarded, more men had been assigned to surround the great house and stables; and White Guards rode round the villages of Emyn Arnen and the fields below it in a continuous circuit, to best protect their people.

The messengers and their horses were being cared for; Éowyn had selected new horses and riders and they were being prepared to leave even now. She quickly pulled out various freshly picked vegetables that needed to be chopped. She could not go to Faramir; she was needed here, and she knew that Aragorn surpassed her in the healing arts and would take good care of her husband. But she could do this for him, make sure that Faramir could get some nourishing soup by sending fresh ingredients to the woodcutter's cottage that Aragorn had described. She would send a large iron pan, freshly scoured, just in case the one in the cottage was rusted or dirty.

Who could have hurt her husband in this fashion, she wondered, and cut a large carrot in half with a loud thwack of the knife on the cutting board, declining a kitchen maid's offer to do it instead. She needed a task to occupy her hands. When we find these folk, men, orcs, or other fiends, they shall be put horribly to death, she decided with another satisfactory thwack at the carrot. We shall tie them between two horses and have them pulled apart, as was done to traitors in ancient times in the Mark. Thwack, thwack, thwack; and the carrot was satisfactorily chopped. No, that is a faster death than they deserve; she reconsidered, grabbing the next carrot and placing it on the cutting board. Perhaps hanging, drawing and quartering instead, Éowyn mused as she brought down the knife hard upon the hapless carrot.

A pang of sorrow struck her then, as sudden and sharp as the cut of the knife she held. Faramir would never allow such cruelty, even in an execution! He would say that we must be better than that, take the path of the High whenever we can, she remembered.

And he would be right. Oh, Faramir... Éowyn dropped the knife, and struggled not to scream or cry. She must be strong for Elbeth, who stood looking at her with wide, frightened eyes, and for everyone else who depended upon her.

She slowly picked up the knife and washed it before handing it hilt first to Elbeth. "My hands are tired, Elbeth," she said. "Would you finish chopping these carrots for me, please? Your uncle and the King will need some fresh vegetables in their soup; and it will take less time to make if we chop some carrots and onions for them. The maids will help you."

"Yes, Aunt Éowyn," Elbeth replied obediently. "I want to help."

Éowyn went to help gather the rest of the supplies that Aragorn had asked for and a few more things besides.

000

In the woodcutter's cottage, Faramir shifted uneasily on the lumpy pillows, struggling to cough painfully. Aragorn pulled aside the covers a few inches and tried to ease his friend's breathing with an Elven skill that Elrond had taught him. Usually patients found the procedure painless and even pleasant and relaxing, but it was all too obvious that even the lightest touch of Aragorn's skilled fingers across Faramir's chest and back caused him pain.

"I am sorry, ion nîn, but this will help you breathe," Aragorn soothed, wishing he did not need to cause further discomfort, however necessary. He was uncertain if Faramir even knew who he was. At least his ministrations made Faramir's breathing less laboured and the Steward drifted in and out of an uneasy slumber.

Aragorn was thankful when a few hours later several of the heavily armed White Company arrived bearing with them the supplies he had requested, together with and a message from Éowyn. He unsealed the parchment and read. "Thank you, my friend, for finding my husband. I would give much to be at his side. I trust you above all others, though, to tend him in my stead. I have sent all I can in this haste for his comfort. Please tell Faramir that the girls and I send our loving greetings and wishes that he speedily be restored to us. Please send me word again soon of how Faramir is faring. If you need anything more for him or for the men, tell me and it shall be sent. Your loyal subject and friend, Éowyn.

Éowyn had sent several pairs of fine linen sheets, warm blankets, together with a pelt, four soft pillows stuffed with goose feathers and a light feather quilt. There was a full set of clothes for Faramir, together with several nightshirts and changes of underwear and two robes, which Aragorn hoped the Steward might be able to wear while his shoulders were healing.

Éowyn had also sent two freshly slaughtered and plucked chickens for the pot, freshly cut vegetables with a hastily scrawled recipe for soup, several varieties of teas, including those favoured by the Hobbits, and fresh horses.

Aragorn smiled approvingly as he sorted through the clothing and bedding. Trust Éowyn to have considered everything he could possibly need to help care for her husband.

Calling Beregond in, he asked the Captain to help him change the bedding. Soon the scratchy sheets and thin blankets were lying in a discarded heap in the corner and Faramir was more comfortably cocooned in the bedding from his own home and propped high on the plump pillows. He seemed to rest more easily thus, helped Aragorn was certain by the faint whiff of Éowyn's favourite perfume, which she had apparently added to the sheets.

Although Faramir still did not seem fully aware, he continued to drink as much water as Aragorn offered him. The King sighed with relief when the next time he pinched the skin on Faramir's arm, it quickly fell back in place.

When darkness fell, Beregond came to him and suggested that he rest.

"I thank you for your concern, but I cannot leave Lord Faramir's side," said Aragorn.

"You need to take rest yourself, my lord," Beregond insisted.

"You would order me, Captain?" There was a dangerous glint in Aragorn's tired eyes.

"You too are a soldier, sire, and a healer as well. We take rest when we may, the better to defeat the enemy. I can watch over Lord Faramir. I will call you at once if he has need of your care."

Aragorn sighed resignedly. He knew a stubborn man when he saw one. Faramir appeared to be resting now, but he would have need of his King's healing skills in abundance over the next few days. Aragorn needed far less sleep than most men, but the more rested he was, the stronger would be his healing powers to help Faramir. "Very well," he conceded. "You can stay with Lord Faramir for a little while, but if he needs anything at all, you call me. You understand?"

"Of course, my lord. Rest easy, I will take good care of him. You have my word."

Aragorn rose from Faramir's bedside gesturing to Beregond to take his place there. It was indeed a blessed relief to stretch his legs. When he entered the adjoining room, a chorus of enquiries greeted him as to how Faramir fared. It was obvious that he was not the only one present who loved Faramir and held him in high regard.

He needed first to go outside. While he was without, he checked that his horse was being well cared for. Éowyn would have his head should the mare come to any harm! The beautiful chestnut had the same sire as Faramir's missing mare. He could only hope she was faring better at the hands of the outlaws than her master had.

After speaking to the two sentries that would watch throughout the night, and hearing their reports, Aragorn found that his bedroll had been laid out for him. One man brought him a mug of tea, while another offered a plate of food. Touched by their concern, he thanked them and bade them rest. Soon the only sound in the room was that of snoring. Sleep was slower to come to Aragorn. The image of finding Faramir hanging in agony from the tree swam before his eyes. Could his friend ever hope to fully recover from such an ordeal? He could heal Faramir's body, but would his soul remain forever scarred by his cruel ordeal?

Eventually weariness overcame Aragorn and he slept.

Young Sador, who was slumbering next to Aragorn, stirred in his sleep uneasily and cried out.

Aragorn, who over long years of practise slept almost like a cat, always on the alert lest he be called to action, woke with a start. He sat bolt upright.

"I'm sorry, sire," Sador whispered, roused by his own cry.

"What ails you lad?" Even in such dim light, Aragorn could see the boy was shaking.

"Nothing, my lord, well I..."

"I see that your heart is troubled. Come outside so as not to wake the others," Aragorn said in a low voice.

The boy scrambled to his feet and went towards the doorway. After picking up a blanket, Aragorn followed.

"It was just an ill dream, sire," Sador said in response to the King's questioning gaze.

"It troubled you though." Aragorn threw the blanket around the boy's shaking shoulders. "Tell me what you dreamt!"

"I dreamed of Lord Faramir, how we found him hanging all butchered like that," the boy blurted out. "It was horrible! I thought I was going to be sick! They told me I'd see bad things if I went to war, but I didn't expect anything like this, not here in Ithilien and not since the Dark Lord's no more! I thought only Orcs did such foul deeds, not Men! And Lord Faramir too! He's a good man, he is! How could anyone do that to him?" He trembled violently.

Aragorn placed a comforting arm around the youth. He pondered for a few moments before answering his question. "I have lived many years longer than you have, Sador, and travelled to far off lands where even the stars are strange. Everywhere I have been, I have seen good men and evil ones. Why some turn to evil, I know not. Maybe others treated them ill, or they were born with darkness in their hearts. No man knows the answer, not even the Wise, like Master Elrond and Mithrandir have solved such mysteries as this and learned why good men often suffer greatly, as do innocent women and children. Soldiers such as we are sworn to protect the innocent."

Sador ceased trembling and drew himself to his full height. "Let's go after those villains who so abused Lord Faramir, then!" he cried. "I will make them suffer as he suffered and worse! I'll rip them to shreds and leave what remains of them to be devoured by the crows!" He clenched his fists, the knuckles white with tension.

"Nay, Sador," Aragorn said gently. "We cannot stoop as low as they by resorting to torture and violence. Two wrongs cannot make a right. We must indeed capture the miscreants, but then justice must be meted out, not revenge."

"But Lord Faramir is your friend, sire!" Sador protested.

"That is all the more reason that they must be judged according to the law, lad," Aragorn answered. "My feelings are as strong as yours, and stronger, but I cannot be ruled by how I feel. All we can do is to try to follow the path of goodness ourselves and fight against evil."

Sador's posture gradually relaxed. "I'm sorry, my lord, you must think me foolish."

Aragorn shook his head. "It should trouble a gentle heart to see a good man mistreated. As you grow older, you will learn to better control your feelings, but never let your heart become too hard to feel pity and horror."

"Thank you, sire. I will always try to fight to protect those in need, I promise!"

"Are you ready to go back inside now and get some rest?" Aragorn asked. "You will have a long day tomorrow."

"Yes, sire."

The King and the young soldier returned to their comrades. Aragorn looked inside the bedroom and was pleased Faramir's fever was abating and the Steward appeared to be sleeping peacefully, watched over by a vigilant Beregond. He settled down to rest himself. He seemed only to have slept for a short time when Beregond's urgent call awakened him. "My lord, please come quickly!"

TBC


To live is to suffer by Linda Hoyland

To live is to suffer, to survive is to find some meaning in the suffering. Friedrich Nietzsche

Disclaimer - These characters all belong to the estate of J.R.R. Tolkien. This story was written for pleasure and not for financial gain

With grateful thanks to Raksha, Deandra and Ellynn.

Awake and alert within a moment, Aragorn raced into the next room. Faramir was shaking violently and making low moaning sounds. Aragorn immediately checked his heart rate, which raced wildly. "Faramir?" he called gently, "Easy, ion nîn , it is I."

Faramir gazed upon him with a fixed glassy stare as if oblivious of his friend's presence. His forehead was beaded with sweat, though his skin felt cold to the touch.

"What ails him?" Beregond enquired worriedly. The Captain was pacing at the foot of the bed.

"The shock to his body and mind caused by his ordeal," Aragorn said grimly. "Fetch me hot water. I need to steep some athelas and make tea for him." Thus saying, he sat on the bed beside Faramir and raised him into an upright position, guiding his friend's head against his shoulder. He draped one of the pelts around his Steward's shaking body. Faramir tried to struggle free from his grasp, but lacked even the strength of a new- born kitten.

"Be easy now, I have you safe," Aragorn repeated, gently rubbing the back of Faramir's neck using an Elven calming technique Master Elrond had taught him long ago. He tried to reach out to the troubled man with his spirit, but could sense only pain, fear, and distress instead of Faramir's usual wisdom and stoicism. "Elbereth protect him!" he prayed inwardly. This crisis would take all his healing arts, not only for the body, but for the soul too.

Beregond entered carrying hot water, while a frightened - looking Sador followed with another bowl.

A sudden inspiration struck Aragorn. "Do you know the hymn to Lady Star Kindler?" he asked them.

"Yes, sire." Both men answered at once, though they looked puzzled by the question.

"Then sing it and hope that Lady Varda will smile upon Lord Faramir if we call upon her."

Beregond began to sing softly. After the first line, Sador rather hesitantly joined in. Aragorn took two leaves of athelas and breathed upon them before crumbling them into a bowl of steaming water. He laved Faramir's brow with the mixture, all the while reaching out with his mind, reassuring Faramir that he was safe, loved, and amongst friends.

Faramir's trembling gradually eased. By the time, the song was ended; he opened his eyes. This time he recognised Aragorn and smiled faintly. With his free hand. Aragorn prepared a drink and held the cup to Faramir's lips.

"Thank you," Faramir whispered. "I had such dark dreams."

"I am with you now. You are safe, mellon nîn," Aragorn assured him.

"Where am I?"

"In a woodcutter's cottage in the forest. You needed help quickly, so I did not dare take you home to Éowyn."

"Éowyn! Is she safe and the children?"

"They are safe and well and securely guarded at Emyn Arnen," Aragorn reassured him. "I would have fetched her to you, but knew not what dangers were lurking in the forest or whether the kingdom was under attack."

"You did well. She must remain safe with my little ones. There were but three of them, but they overwhelmed me! What if my family had been with me. I could not have protected them!" Faramir groaned and started to tremble again.

Aragorn put down the cup and again put a gentle protecting arm around his friend. "Think not of it," he said. "There are many times when I have had cause to thank the Valar that Arwen and Eldarion were not with me when evildoers struck."

Faramir fell silent. "They took my clothes," he fretted.

"I swear they did not otherwise degrade you," said Aragorn. "Éowyn has sent more garments for you, but it would cause you too much pain to don a shirt just yet."

Faramir tried to lift his arm and gave a cry of pain. Aragorn held his hands over him, trying to soothe away his agony with the innate healing powers that the line of Lúthien was gifted with. It grieved him deeply to see his friend thus wounded in mind and body. He placed one hand on Faramir's brow and could sense the anguish that the one whom he loved as his own child was enduring. At least the fever appeared to have lessened somewhat.

"Feared you would not come, that I would die on that tree!" Faramir whispered, his fragmented speech showing his exhaustion. "Tried to call out in my mind to you."

"You reached me," said Aragorn. "I set out at once. I knew you were hurt, but not where you were."

"Like me when the rebels captured you," Faramir replied.

"I praise the Valar that I did find you," said Aragorn. "We are fortunate that our people can share thoughts."

"Did not want to die alone there," Faramir replied. "My poor Iavas! Must find her!" He struggled to sit up, but fell back groaning upon the pillows.

"Easy," Aragorn soothed. "Legolas and two of your Rangers have gone after her. If anyone can get her back they can."

"What might they do to her?" Faramir's voice was little more than a whisper.

"They will not hurt her, she is too valuable," Aragorn assured him. "I expect they will try to sell her."

"Won't obey them."

"She is a clever horse. Her sire was one of the Mearas. She might well find her own way home if Legolas does not reach her first." Aragorn tried to sound confident. He moved over to the table beside the bed and added some poppy juice to a cup of water. He raised Faramir's head and lifted the cup to his lips. "Drink this, it will ease you," he said.

Faramir drank and lay back again upon the pillows. Aragorn put the empty cup down. The King's hands trembled slightly.

"You should rest, sire," Beregond's voice started the King. The Captain, forgotten, had remained hovering in the doorway.

"You have had no rest either."

"We are taking it in turn to stay awake, sire. Have no fear, my lord, you and Lord Faramir are well guarded."

"I might be weary, but I can still wield Andúril!"

"There is a guard outside this room as well as watchful men outside the cottage," said Beregond."Sador and I can sit with Lord Faramir now he is resting."

"Very well, but I shall not leave Lord Faramir's side." Aragorn kicked off his boots and stretched out on the far side of the large bed, anxious not to aggravate Faramir's wounds. Faramir leaned his head against his friend and lord's shoulder and finally fell into a deep sleep. Still anxious for his welfare, Aragorn intended to remain wakeful, but the need to keep still, so as not to disturb Faramir finally forced him to rest.

000

Sunlight streamed through the cottage window when Aragorn next opened his eyes. Beside him, Faramir still slept fitfully, his face livid with bruises. When Aragorn laid a gentle hand on his brow, he was pleased to discover that the fever had gone. He was filled with resolve. He could not undo what had happened to Faramir, but he would do his utmost to restore him to health and see that the full weight of the law was employed against those who had used him so cruelly. He slowly swung his feet to the ground. He nodded to Sador who stood in the doorway.

Faramir groaned and his grey eyes flickered open. He looked around him wildly.

"I am here, ion nîn, you are safe now," Aragorn said reassuringly.

"Ada?"

"I am here and I will not leave you."

Faramir gave a deep sigh and visibly relaxed. "Thirsty."

Aragorn filled a glass with water from the pitcher on the bedside table and held it to Faramir's lips. The younger man drank deeply.

"How do you feel?"

"Pain everywhere."

"I will do what I can to ease you." Aragorn put down the empty glass and held his hands a few inches above Faramir's shoulders then over his other injuries.

Faramir smiled wanly. "Such power and warmth in your hands." He lifted his head a little as some of Aragorn's strength flowed into his wounded body.

"Would you like something to eat?" Aragorn asked. Faramir's bandages needed changing but that could wait. More than anything he needed to build up his friend's strength again.

Faramir nodded. "I think I could eat a little."

"We will make you some broth," said Aragorn. "Your lady prepared the ingredients with her own fair hands yesterday."

"It should taste good then," said Faramir.

Aragorn caught Sador's eye and the young man scurried off.

The broth was quickly prepared and Beregond brought it to the Steward's bedside in a bowl on a tray, which he carefully placed on the bed.

Faramir reached for the spoon only to find that his maimed hands could not grip it. He groaned with pain and frustration.

Aragorn picked up the spoon and brought a spoonful of broth to Faramir's lips. "Let me help you," he said.

"I feel like a baby!" Faramir protested. "My little daughter can feed herself far better than I!"

"Your hands took a great strain, but they will heal with time and proper nourishment," Aragorn reassured him.

"You are my lord and King, not my servant!"

"Here I am your healer," said Aragorn. "I remember well the friend, who dear as a son to me, fed and cared for me during the times I was injured. The friend, who, would not risk my dignity by assigning lowly tasks to a servant, but did all without complaint. I would do the same for you, ion nîn."

Faramir said no more, but swallowed each spoonful of broth until the bowl was empty.

"Rest a little now before I tend your wounds," said Aragorn. He arranged the pillows more comfortably and tucked the covers under Faramir's chin. The Steward closed his eyes and slept once more.

While Faramir rested, watched over by Beregond, Aragorn stretched his legs outside and broke his own fast. His heart was lighter, but he knew it would be a long and arduous road to recovery that his friend needed to tread.

When Faramir awoke again Aragorn could delay tending his wounds no longer. He had Beregond bring hot water then dismissed the captain to give Faramir more privacy. When he pulled back the covers, he saw that the bandages were heavily stained.

Aragorn carefully soaked them off. Faramir lay with his eyes closed and made no complaint about his ministrations. The ugly carvings across his chest and belly looked an even worse desecration in the cheerful morning sunlight. Aragorn was glad that Faramir did not open his eyes. There would be time enough to face up to what had happened to him when he was stronger.

He replaced the bandages and gently massaged Faramir's back and chest with light Elven touches to help keep his lungs clear and then started to work on the damaged muscles in his swollen shoulders. For the first time, Faramir opened his eyes and moaned softly.

"I am sorry to be paining you thus," said Aragorn, his eyes full of compassion. "I need to stimulate blood flow to the damaged muscles and tendons. It should help the swelling to go down and promote healing."

"I understand," said Faramir. "It is just that everything hurts."

"I know, ion nîn," Aragorn said sadly. "I know."

000

The day progressed slowly. Aragorn continued to tend Faramir and was pleased that he was able to eat more of the broth later. He sent messengers to tell Éowyn that her husband was a little better and to fetch more ingredients and fresh linens.

To keep the men from becoming restless, he sent them out on patrol in alternating pairs. No one reported any signs of the brigands who had attacked the Steward. Neither was there any word from Legolas.

Faramir spent most of the day lying with his eyes closed. Aragorn did not think that he was sleeping, though.

When night fell again, Aragorn was determined to again keep watch beside Faramir. It seemed at last that his friend slept. He decided to rest too in a manner that he had learned during his days as a Ranger, in which he slept very lightly, his senses ready to be recalled to full alertness at any moment.

He was startled into full wakefulness by a stifled sob. Immediately, Aragorn lit more candles in addition to the one that was burning so that the small chamber was flooded with warm light.

Faramir still lay with his eyes shut but tears were running down his cheeks. Very carefully, as not to aggravate his injuries, Aragorn raised him to a sitting position and placed a comforting arm around him.

"Easy now," he soothed. "I am here, ion nîn. I will not leave your side."

"I put you to so much trouble," said Faramir. "You should be with your lady and Eldarion, or ordering Gondor's affairs, not having to perform duties for me that many servants would turn pale at."

"It was my lady who sent me to look for you," Aragorn said firmly. "She is well capable of managing affairs of state. If anything, I imagine she enjoys having the charge of Gondor on occasion. Your uncle would gladly assist her if the need arises, but she has more wisdom and diplomatic experience than either of us does. As for caring for you, when I bind your wounds, I rejoice that you yet live, if I feed you, I am pleased that you want to eat, if you need to answer nature's call, I am glad that lack of fluids did no lasting damage to your kidneys. So put your mind at rest on those counts. I care for you because I love you as my own son and I need you beside me that our land may prosper from your wisdom. You are no burden to me, but a blessing!"

"I too am blessed in you," said Faramir. "But why so much pain?"

"Only the Valar could answer that question," said Aragorn. "Since Melkor wove discord in the Music that created Arda, Men and Elves have suffered as have all living creatures. Why did the innocent perish with the guilty when the great wave engulfed Númenor? Why was my lady's mother put to such torment? I trust that when we pass beyond the circles of Arda that the One will make all things plain to us. Until then, all we can do is comfort one another and hold fast to love and to loyalty and fighting for what is right."

"I know,"said Faramir. "I have always tried to uphold what is right, yet my father tried to burn me alive, Mahrod sought to defile me and now this!"

"I have heard several reports of bandits striking travellers in lonely places and leaving them to die like they did with you," said Aragorn. "They would have waylaid any traveller unlucky enough to cross their path."

"Their leader was the worse." Faramir shuddered. "I think the other two would have been content to leave me be, once they had taken everything of value I had on me."

"I will deal with them accordingly once Legolas and his men catch up with them," said Aragorn grimly.

Faramir rested his head against Aragorn's shoulder. Tears poured down the Steward's face. Aragorn gently wiped them away and continued to share loving and reassuring thoughts and memories with his troubled friend. Faramir's thoughts remained dark, though, his mind clouded with his memories of hanging from the tree in agony. Aragorn placed his hand lightly on Faramir's chest. The Steward's heart raced and sweat drenched his skin.

TBC


Oh, to be home again by Linda Hoyland

Oh, to be home again, home again, home again!
Under the apple-boughs, down by the mill! James Thomas Fields – In a Strange Land

The characters are the property of the Tolkien Estate. No profit is made from this story. With thanks to Raksha and Deandra,

Aragorn desperately sought for some means by which he might ease his friend's distress. He knew Faramir to be a man of staunch will, and possessed of great strength of both mind and body. Few Men, though, or even Elves, had infinite powers of endurance. Faramir had suffered so much; at his father's hands; from the Black Breath; from Mahrod's attack, and from Aragorn's own cruel neglect when he had shunned him. Many lesser Men would have been broken long ago. Aragorn knew that, from his mother, Faramir had inherited a tendency towards melancholy and that his father had lost his wits. Aragorn was deeply worried about how his friend would weather this latest outrage against him. He believed Faramir's body would heal, but what of his mind?

Aragorn suddenly recalled a conversation he had had long ago with Master Elrond , which he had not thought about in years. As a young man, Aragorn had been lamenting that he lacked the Elven abilities to recall everything. Elrond had shaken his head sadly and said it could be a curse rather than a blessing and told him that was why he could not heal Celebrian, as nothing he could do could blunt the memories of the torments the Orcs had inflicted upon her. Elrond then said that mortals were fortunate that time could dull their pain and also that one skilled in Elven healing could cause forgetfulness or blunt dark memories by filling the patient's mind with loving and healing thoughts. The first time he had shared thoughts with Faramir it had healed him from a melancholy, which threatened to destroy him. Maybe their Thought Bond could help him again?

The human mind was a complex and delicate thing, which a wise healer treated with great care. Aragorn was loth to try to remove any of Faramir's memories lest he fill the gaps with even worse imaginings, but maybe he could blunt the pain somewhat? He took a deep breath and paused a long moment before he spoke. "There is a way I could maybe ease your pain," he told Faramir."I would need to reach deep into your mind, though."

"I trust you, Ada," Faramir said simply. "If you think it will help heal me, please do it."

Aragorn took the kettle which was simmering on the fire and filled a basin with hot water. He then rummaged in his pouch and took two leaves of athelas, which he breathed deeply upon before crumbling them and casting them into the water.

He brought the bowl over to Faramir and held it in front of his face. "Breathe as deeply as you can," he said.

Faramir did as he was bidden.

Aragorn then took a cloth and dipped it in the mixture and laved Faramir's brow with it.

The King took deep breaths of the athelas mixture and tried to empty his mind of all thoughts save the depth of his fatherly love for Faramir and his gratitude to the man who had several times saved his life, to whom he owed his kingdom, and the wise Counsellor who had helped him rule wisely and well. He pressed his brow against Faramir's bruised forehead. The weight of Faramir's pain that he sensed caused him for an instant to recoil, but Aragorn persevered and thought only of love, gratitude and reassurance. The King could sense some of the anguish in his friend's mind calming as he shared his thoughts. He filled his mind with memories of happy times they had spent together, shared adventures with joyful outcomes as well as other times they had suffered together, but had overcome their ordeals. He reminded Faramir of the times he had cared for his King and the occasions he had saved Aragorn's life. He focussed his thoughts too on happy times he had shared with Faramir and Éowyn and their children as well as Elbeth, the daughter of Faramir's much loved brother. "The darkness will not prevail," said Aragorn. "It cannot, must not. I will not permit it."

Faramir's complete trust in his lord aided him as he made no attempt to shield his thoughts, and freely allowed his mind to be probed then filled with the thoughts that Aragorn willed. The images of his ordeal swam before his eyes while darkness and light battled against each other. Faramir cried out and wept anew.

"Sire?" Beregond's head appeared round the door. The Captain sounded anxious.

"All is well, Beregond. I am trying to use Elven healing to help Lord Faramir."

"Very well, sire." Beregond withdrew.

Aragorn used the interruption to his advantage and concentrated on how much Faramir's men loved him too. Then he imagined long rides together across the fields and shared camp fires and songs and stories."Este!" he cried. "I beg of you, heal this son of my heart!"

Faramir's torment was like an arrow within his soul, which Aragorn slowly and carefully withdrew. It was painful and the scar would remain but the instrument of torture was melting away, yielding to the power of his will. It were as if chinks of light like a candle in a dark room were reaching into the recesses of Faramir's wounded spirit.

Aragorn slowly moved his head away, but placed his hand on Faramir's brow. " Has that eased you at all?" he asked.

'The memories of my ordeal are still there, but they feel blunted as if all happened long ago!" Faramir sounded amazed.

"As I cannot send you to the Undying Lands to mend, ion nîn, my healing powers will have to suffice for you. And suffice they must, or your lady will most surely kill me!"

Faramir managed a wan smile through his tears.

"I will make you some tea," Aragorn said briskly. "You cannot afford to be losing so much fluid."

The King placed the kettle on the fire and made tea as soon as the water was boiled. He held the cup to Faramir's lips. This time the Steward made no protest at needing to be helped. Aragorn then set aside the cup and dipped a cloth in the athelas mixture and wiped Faramir's tear -stained face. He then held the cup again until Faramir had drained it.

The two then sat together in silence for a few moments lost in thought.

"We have been though so much together, you and I," Aragorn said. "I recall the times you made tea for me in the night and held the cup for me."

"I often dreamed of the coming of the King,"said Faramir, "but little did I think I would meet you on my sickbed."

"When I called you back into a world that has held a great deal of pain for you," said Aragorn sadly.

"But so much joy too!" Faramir's eye shone in the lamplight. "I have had the joy of seeing you crowned and the Enemy overthrown. I met and am wedded to the fairest and best of ladies, and I enjoy the blessing of children in a peaceful and prosperous land. What more could any man desire? This pain will pass while the good will endure."

"I will make certain of that," said Aragorn. "Are you in pain now?"

"My shoulders hurt a little as does my wound," Faramir admitted.

Aragorn held his hands over the hurts, filling the Steward's wounded body with warmth and healing. He then mixed Faramir a small quantity of poppy juice. "You should rest now," he said.

"As should you."

"I will be here beside you," said Aragorn."I shall not leave you."

"Thank you, I am glad you are here."

Aragorn stretched out his long frame on top of the covers and placed a lightly protective arm around his wounded friend. Faramir settled beside him, quickly falling into a dreamless sleep. Reassured that the son of his heart was on the way to recovery, Aragorn slept too.

When Faramir awoke the next morning he was much improved. No trace of fever remained and his wounds, though still painful and ugly looking, were starting to close. He accepted Aragorn's ministrations almost cheerfully, aware of the loving spirit in which they were offered, as a parent might tend a treasured child. He ate and drank all that was given to him, determined to build up his strength again as quickly as possible. He sat upright, propped against the pillows all morning. The insect bites now itched, but were soon eased by Aragorn's calendula salve.

By late afternoon Faramir was determined to get out of bed.

"Are you certain you are strong enough?" Aragorn fretted.

"I believe so," Faramir said staunchly. "If you would assist me first to don a robe."

That proved the hardest part as Faramir's arms and shoulders were still stiff and painful ,but once he was clothed decently enough to satisfy him, he managed a few wobbly steps supported by Aragorn's strong arms. "I intend to be strong enough to return home before the week is out, "he told the King.

"For a lesser man that would be hard to achieve," said Aragorn. You,though,Faramir, have the blood of Númenor in your veins ,which makes you amongst the hardiest of living Men."

Faramir was as good as his word. Each day he grew stronger and able to walk farther and, aided by Aragorn's healing arts, his wounds began to close. Only the damaged muscles in his hands, arms and shoulders still pained him and were slow to mend. Aragorn anointed them with comfrey salve and massaged them with the Elven healing touch, but however gentle he tried to be, Faramir found the procedure painful. Some use returned to his hands and he was at least able to hold a spoon and fasten his clothing, albeit with considerable effort.

Each day, messengers were sent to Éowyn and returned with everything he could possibly need and more besides. Messages also came from Legolas that Faramir's attackers had not yet been found.

"I am ready to go home today," Faramir announced one bright morning, a week after Aragorn had brought him to the cottage.

"Are you certain you are strong enough?" Aragorn asked. "The ride could aggravate your wounds."

"I miss my lady and my little ones," Faramir replied. "And much as I enjoy your company, I cannot keep you here any longer. Too many others have need of you. It irks me too that I am within a few leagues of home yet unable to reach it."

"I shall stay as long as you need my healing arts," said Aragorn. "I, too, miss my lady and Eldarion, but the City will thrive in Arwen's capable hands."

After further debate, Aragorn agreed that Faramir might travel. He sent a messenger to Éowyn to tell her to make ready for her husband's return and then padded Faramir's wounds against the journey and insisted that he ride upon a gentle mare for the journey ."

The ride home was painfully slow with frequent stops at Aragorn's insistence. Two men, seasoned veterans of the White Company, rode on ahead to alert them of any dangers, but they saw nothing save a few startled deer.

Aragorn rode at Faramir's side in the middle of the group of armed men. At the hour before sunset Emyn Arnen came into sight.

Never before had Faramir's home appeared so fair to him. During the darkest hours of his ordeal he had feared he would never again behold it. He blinked away a tear. Despite his pain and exhaustion he sat up straighter in the saddle.

Éowyn came running out of the door closely followed by Elbeth and Elestelle. "Faramir, my love!" she cried. She kissed him tenderly as if she feared he might break and held back little Elestelle from embracing him.

"Éowyn, beloved!" Faramir's eyes lit up for a moment and then clouded with sorrow. "Iavas," he said. "I am so sorry."

"Legolas will bring her home," Éowyn said firmly,"but if they have but harmed a single hair of that beautiful creature. I shall kill them myself!"

Aragorn helped Faramir dismount. The Steward swayed unsteadily on his feet and was forced to cling to the King's supporting arm. "It is good to be home." Faramir smiled at his wife and the two girls,and allowed Aragorn and Éowyn to lead him indoors.

TBC

A/n Wishing my readers a happy Easter, Passover and spring season.


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