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.
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.
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.
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.
Éowyn was standing in the open doorway of her home when the King arrived, flanked 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.
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.