Song of Hope by Linda Hoyland
These characters all belong to the estate of J.R.R. Tolkien. This story was written for pleasure and not for financial gain.
Canst thou not minister to a mind diseased,
Pluck from the memory a rooted sorrow,
Raze out the written troubles of the brain,
And with some sweet oblivious antidote
Cleanse the stuff'd bosom of that perilous stuff
Which weighs upon the heart?- Shakespeare- Macbeth- Act 5.scene. 3
"This reminds me of my Ranger days," said Aragorn as he reached up to pluck another rosy apple from the tree.
Éowyn looked puzzled. "I thought you spent your time fighting Orcs and guarding the Shire?"
"I did, but every man, woman and child helped with the apple harvest in the Ranger villages," said the King. "Always we had to watch our backs, though." He looked around him and smiled contentedly. Éowyn's apple trees were laden with ripe fruit and her household, together with her guests were lending a hand with the harvest. Eldarion and Elestelle were picking up windfalls while Arwen helped pack the fruit neatly into wooden boxes. Only baby Elboron was excused from the day's labour. He slumbered on a blanket in the shade, watched over by a nursemaid.
"Faramir will be so sorry that he wasn't here this afternoon," said Éowyn. "He was so eager to inspect the work at Minas Ithil. He is hoping that some rebuilding might start in the spring. I fear he works too hard sometimes"
"He does indeed, "Aragorn replied. "I tell him often that he should rest more. He was not to know that my meeting was cancelled and that we were coming today, though. I hope our early arrival did not inconvenience you?"
Indeed not," said Éowyn. "Our best guest chamber is always ready for you and Arwen." She laughed. "And you are working hard for your keep!"
Just then, a dishevelled member of the White Company rushed into the orchard. "Lady Éowyn!" he cried. "Come quickly. Lord Faramir has been taken ill!"
Éowyn paled but quickly collected herself. "What happened?" she asked.
"I don't know, my lady. They are bringing him indoors now."
"Ada is home?" asked Elestelle excitedly.
"Yes, dear one, but he is not feeling well," Éowyn replied. "You will see him later when he is rested."
Aragorn had hastened to Éowyn's side. "Has he been wounded?" he asked the messenger.
"I don't think so, sire. He collapsed suddenly and we could not rouse him."
Aragorn ran towards the house followed by Éowyn, who was somewhat hampered by her heavy skirts.
Mistress Elwen, the elderly housekeeper stood in the doorway wringing her hands. "I told them to take Lord Faramir to the downstairs guest chamber," she said. "Captain Beregond is with him."
Faramir lay motionless on the bed, his face as white as Éowyn's favourite gown. Aragorn laid a hand on his brow. It felt cold and clammy. "What happened?" he demanded of Beregond, who hovered at the bedside.
"We found a chest in a ruined building. Lord Faramir opened it. Within it were several daggers of rich and ancient design. Lord Faramir picked one up and it melted clean away in his hand leaving only the hilt. He gave a cry and fell into a deep swoon from which we could not rouse him."
"Was he wearing gloves?" Aragorn enquired.
"No, my lord; the day is too warm."
"Did anyone else touch the daggers?"
"One of the recruits did, sire. He felt faint and cold but recovered within a few minutes once we took him out into the sunlight. He has returned with Lord Faramir."
"I will speak to him later. Do you have the hilt?"
"No, sire. We left the accursed object where it had fallen, fearing some dark magic!"
"What ails my husband?" Éowyn asked impatiently, fear in her eyes. She had gripped Faramir's cold hand with one of her own. With her other hand she stroked his face. "Is it..?"
Aragorn looked grave. "I cannot be certain until I have examined him properly, but I fear it is the Black Breath!"
"I thought the Dark Lord's powers died with him?" Beregond remarked.
"Mostly they did," said Aragorn. "Faramir, though, fell victim to the Black Breath when Sauron's power was at its strongest. I believe touching an enemy weapon has caused a relapse in him. It would have little effect on your young colleague as he has not been exposed to it before."
"No!" Éowyn looked as if she were about to burst into tears.
"I need athelas and hot water," Aragorn said firmly. "Could you get some for me, please? You have athelas in the herb garden? If not, there is some in my pack. "
Éowyn hurried away to do his bidding.
"Beregond, will you help me undress Lord Faramir and put him to bed, please?"
"Yes, my lord." Beregond was already unbuckling Faramir's sword and dagger. He placed the dagger on the dressing table and propped the sword in a corner.
They swiftly undressed Faramir. Aragorn thoroughly examined him and was relieved that Faramir had no wounds on him or unusual marks of any kind. He was still troubled, though. For a man to have experienced a relapse after having suffered so badly from the Black Breath in the past was a serious matter. Faramir's symptoms now were far more typical of the condition than the fever he had suffered when Aragorn first met him, but this worried the King. Fever at least showed that the sufferer was fighting the affliction. Granted, Merry had survived two brushes with the deadly condition, but Hobbits were far more resilient to dark magic than the strongest of Men. Faramir's skin was icy to the touch and his heart beat too slowly. With Beregond's help, he dressed Faramir in a nightshirt and covered him in warm blankets.
Just then, Éowyn bustled in with a handful of freshly gathered athelas from her herb garden. She was closely followed by Mistress Elwen bearing a bowl of steaming water.
"It is indeed the Black Breath, I fear, my lady," said Aragorn. "Be of good cheer, though, the athelas should swiftly revive him".
Thus saying, he took two leaves and breathed on them, then crumbled them and cast them into the bowl of water. At once, a living freshness filled the room.
Aragorn placed one hand on Faramir's brow and with the other clasped the Steward's right hand. He was overwhelmed by a sensation of coldness and despair and anticipated a struggle to revive the unconscious man. Much to his surprise, Faramir almost immediately opened his eyes. He looked somewhat dazed. "I had such dark dreams," he said, "they have left me sore weary." With that, he closed his eyes again and fell asleep.
Éowyn sighed with relief. "Thank you, my friend," she said. "With rest my husband should swiftly recover."
Aragorn studied the sleeping man. Faramir was still too pale for his liking but he was breathing deeply and his pulse was much stronger. "I will stay with him for a while," he said.
"There is surely no need, Aragorn," said Éowyn. "I will stay by my husband. You should re-join your lady and your son in the orchard. It is too fine a day to be indoors. Maybe you would reassure Elestelle?"
"Very well, but call me at once if you need me. I will speak to the boy who was affected first, though." With a final glance at his sleeping Steward, Aragorn asked a servant to send the recruit to him.
Aragorn interviewed the lad in Faramir's study. He was a lanky young fellow with a pleasant open countenance, which was currently clouded by an anxious frown. Although Aragorn had never met him before, he looked vaguely familiar
"What is your name?" he asked.
"Turgon, my lord," the boy replied, shuffling his feet nervously. I was named for my grandsire who was a soldier too. I serve in the White Company under Captain Beregond."
"Sit down, Turgon, there is nothing to fear." Aragorn smiled at the boy. He recalled several men called Turgon from his time as Captain Thorongil. Maybe this lad was the grandson of one of them? "I believe you were there when Lord Faramir was taken ill. Did you touch the daggers too?"
"I did. I'm sorry, sire, I didn't mean any harm."
"I am certain you did not. I would just like to know exactly what befell."
"We were clearing away some rubble in the corner of a ruined building, sire, and found an old chest beneath it with strange emblems carved upon the lid. One of the men called for Lord Faramir, thinking he ought to know. He came at once and opened the chest, which wasn't locked. Inside were three large daggers with curved blades, which gleamed strangely. The hilts were ornate and set with many gems. Lord Faramir exclaimed that they must be of great antiquity. He reached out to take one and I did the same, I don't know why, sire, I only planned to look, but it seemed to compel me."
Aragorn smiled grimly. "A trap set by the Enemy."
"I felt a shudder go through me and I felt sick and faint and overwhelmed by despair. It were as if my parents had died, my sweetheart left me for another, my comrades were all slain, and Gondor was overrun by enemies all at the same time! Lord Faramir gave a cry and swooned a moment later. One of my fellows led me outside into the sunlight. I was very cold, but then I felt better, as if nothing had happened, but poor Lord Faramir was unconscious. I was so afraid, sire." The boy coloured and shifted uncomfortably in his seat.
"Far braver men than you quail at such dark magic, Turgon, even the greatest of the Age. Were you in Minas Tirith during the siege?"
"No, sire. I was but a small child then and went to Lossarnach with my mother and sisters when Lord Denethor ordered the evacuation."
"Which hand did you touch the dagger with, Turgon?"
"My left, sire, I favour that hand."
"Give me your hand, please"
Turgon held out his left hand. Aragorn took it in his own. It was warm and unblemished.
"It seems you have had a lucky escape, Turgon. However, if your hand feels cold, or you feel sad or have dark dreams these next few days, come to me. I can treat you with athelas."
"Thank you, sire. Will the athelas help Lord Faramir, sire?"
"He is already much better." Aragorn smiled at the boy. "Now let us go outside and gather apples. The sunlight and fresh air will be good for you."
"I had hoped that Faramir would join us for dinner, but he said he wished to rest," said Éowyn. "Mistress Elwen is sitting with him."
"He is missing a delicious meal," said the Queen as she tasted the soup made with tomatoes freshly picked from Éowyn's kitchen garden.
"I will see how Faramir fares before we retire for the night," said Aragorn.
The conversation turned to the subject of the apple harvest as the meal progressed. Éowyn's cook had surpassed herself with a selection of three different apple desserts.
"I thought we might have cider made from last year's harvest to end the meal," said Éowyn.
Just then, a loud cry came from the downstairs bedchamber. Éowyn and Aragorn leapt to their feet as a servant ran into the dining room calling, "My lord, my lady, Lord Faramir has lost his wits!"
Aragorn ran with the speed of a deer to the chamber that housed the Steward. Éowyn followed as best she could. A grim sight met his eyes. Beregond and Mistress Elwen were trying to wrest a dagger from Faramir. The front of the Steward's nightshirt was covered in blood.
"Give me the dagger, Faramir." Aragorn said firmly.
"Once my worthless heart ceases to beat!" cried Faramir.
"Whatever do you mean, ion nin?" said Aragorn.
"I should not even be your Steward, my brother alone was worthy. Thus said my lord father." Faramir regarded the King bleakly. "Why did you wrest me back from the shadow to face a life of torment?"
"Please, my husband, cease this madness,"said Éowyn.
"I am not the husband you desired. How can I compare with the King? You wed me only because he was betrothed to another!" Faramir brushed aside those attempting to restrain him and raised the blade aiming at his heart.
"Faramir, no!" Éowyn cried.
A/n This story was written for the Teitho "Music" Contest where it was placed third.
Wishing all my readers in the USA a very Happy Thanksgiving.