Not one but two 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.
"Dropped like a stone he did," said the kitchen maid, stirring the broth vigorously. "I overheard the Warden and his assistant talking about it. The Warden says he's suffering from severe exhaustion."
"Little wonder after riding through the night," said the cook. "I heard the Warden said he was undernourished too!"
"Most likely he gives most of his rations to his men," said the girl. "My brother serves with him and last winter the enemy disrupted the supply lines. He loves his captain. He told me he really cared about the men. He pushes himself harder than any of them and is always the first to wake and the last abed at night."
"Just like Captain Thorongil," said the cook. She sampled the contents of the cooking pot and frowned. "This needs more salt. Now, my father served under Captain Thorongil and there was nothing he wouldn't do for his men's welfare. We shan't see the like of him again, alas."
"Is Lord Faramir's broth ready yet?" asked Ioreth, appearing in the doorway.
"It is almost done, Dame Ioreth," said the cook.
"The poor lad might well starve to death while you stand here gossiping," Ioreth said sternly. "The Warden ordered that Lord Faramir have rest and good food and that he shall have or my name's not Ioreth! If only we had parsley and dill we could make the recipe that my grandmother, may she rest in peace, used to make. I remember when I had a fever that she fed me for a week on her special recipe and I…"
"The broth is ready now," said the cook. She placed a steaming bowl on a tray. "Do you want the girl to carry it for you?"
"I'll take it myself," said Ioreth. "She'll only make sheep's eyes at him all day. The poor lad needs his rest."
Faramir was lying propped up against the pillows looking pale and drawn.
"How are you feeling, Lord Faramir?" asked Ioreth. She placed the tray on the bedside table. "I've brought you some broth. You eat it all up and get your strength back and then you can have a nice nap." She paused for breath.
"I am well enough, Dame Ioreth. How is Boromir?"
"His fever has broken. The Warden says he will be back on his feet in a day or two, though I say that…"
"Valar be praised!" Faramir's face lit up. "When I received my uncle's message I feared for my brother's life. But I should not be lying abed here! When I have seen Boromir I must return to my men."
"You'll do nothing of the sort, lad. The Warden says you are to rest for a week and rebuild your strength."
Faramir frowned. "My father will be displeased that I am neglecting my duties."
"Never say that, lad. You appear to have worked yourself almost to the bone. Now eat your broth or do you want me to feed you?"
"I am not a babe, Dame Ioreth, I can feed myself! I have to work hard or the enemy would slip past our defences. Lately they have harried us ceaselessly, day and night."
"I remember you being born, lad. A sweet baby you were with your mother's eyes, though you were too skinny even then. Now eat your broth, or I will indeed feed it to you, though you be a babe no longer."
Faramir laughed and flushed slightly, but obediently took up the spoon.
Later that day Ioreth was on her way to Faramir's room again when she espied Lord Denethor coming out of Boromir's chamber. She paused in the corridor, expecting him to next visit his younger son next, but he walked straight past the door of Faramir's room, The Steward was a just enough lord, but a grim man who few dared to cross. Ioreth approached him, anger overcoming her apprehension.
"Lord Faramir is able to receive visitors, my lord," she said.
"My duties call me elsewhere," said Denethor not pausing in his stride. "As should my youngest son's responsibilities. He should not be idling away his time here!"
Ioreth hurried after him. "Lord Faramir feared his brother was dying when Prince Imrahil sent for him. He had ridden hard and not slept nor eaten properly in days. And you, my lord, look like you have not rested either. Both you and Lord Faramir should take better care of yourselves."
"It would take more than an arrow to kill a mighty warrior like my Boromir. As for Faramir, he is a soldier and it is a soldier's lot to endure hardship. A man must be hardy to survive in these times in which we live. Now excuse me, Dame Ioreth, I have visited my son and must return to my duties."
"Do not forget that you have two sons, not just one, my lord!" said Ioreth.
Denethor finally halted and glowered at the old woman. "I should report you to the Warden for impertinence," he said coldly. "Be thankful for your advanced years or it would go very ill for you!" Without a backward glance, he swept away, his black robes billowing about him.
Ioreth glared after him, her cheeks flushed with indignation. She collected herself then went into Faramir's room.
"Did I hear my father's voice?" the young man asked. "The Warden said he was going to visit my brother."
"He said he had important duties to attend to," Ioreth replied. "Though what's more important than visiting his ailing son I don't know!"
"My brother is the heir and of far greater importance than I." Faramir's tone was calm, but his eyes were filled with sadness. "Matters of state must occupy my father's time."
"Don't hold yourself in such low regard, lad," said Ioreth. "Why, only this morning the cook was saying that you were like Captain Thorongil!"
Faramir gave a mirthless laugh. "Would that I were like the great Captain! I fear we shall not see his like again in Gondor."
"You are not that unlike him, lad, for like you, he much resembled your father in looks when he was young. He was something of a scholar too, like you as well, was Captain Thorongil. Very interested in herb lore he was, unlike most soldiers."
"Did you know him, Dame Ioreth?"
"Not really, lad. I would see him talking to the senior healers back in those days, though. Very courteous he was to everyone and we all loved him for it, but he avoided the company of women if he could. Never was there a single breath of scandal concerning him. Folk said that he had left some lady behind in whatever outlandish place he might have come from. The young women all thought that very romantic, but for all that they still hoped to catch his eye."
Faramir grinned. "Well do Boromir and I know what the poor captain had to endure from ambitious young ladies and their parents! One day I should like to wed and intend that my heart will be as steadfast as Captain Thorongil's."
"I'm sure you will, lad. Have you met the Lady Berwen, or the Lady-"
"I fear I am keeping you from your duties, Dame Ioreth."
"Not at all, lad, but it is time for you to rest. Close your eyes now and have sweet dreams. That's what I always tell my granddaughter."
"My dreams have been fair in this place. Oft I dream of a great wave that sweeps all before it, just as the land of our ancestors was engulfed, but here I have dreamed of the White Tree in blossom and the coming of the King."
"Is that not an ill dream, lad? Your father would have to surrender rod and rule if the King were to return."
"What greater honour could there be to surrender a charge that has been faithfully kept? Not that my brother would see it thus, alas. It is but a dream, though."
"I don't hold with dead trees blossoming, for whoever heard of such a thing, but a king would be mighty useful to have here in the Houses, as they say the hands of the king are the hands of a healer. Perhaps he could ease the winter coughs that plague the old folk. He might know a better cure for the ague or even -"
Faramir lay back against the pillows and closed his eyes as she rambled on.
"Well, I'll leave you to sleep now, lad. I will bring you some more nourishing broth later. Rest well and may your dreams be peaceful." Ioreth closed the door and reflected on the conversation. Maybe it would be a good thing if the king returned? Who knows, he might even treat Lord Faramir with more courtesy than his father does? She shook herself inwardly. The king would never return and it was foolish to waste time thinking about things that would never happen when there were patients to tend.
Ioreth had planned to spend time with Faramir again the next day, but was unable to do so. The Southrons had attacked one of the outlying forts and there were many casualties. Many died before reaching the Houses of Healing or soon afterwards, while others were severely wounded. She had just come from tending a young man whose leg was so badly injured that it had needed to be amputated, when she espied Lord Denethor coming out of Boromir's room again, this time accompanied by the Warden. She ducked into an alcove out of sight, fearful that if she encountered the Steward again she might do something that she would later regret. Why, many had lost their sons this day and Lord Denethor would not even visit one of the two sons he was so fortunate to have!
To her amazement, Lord Denethor paused outside Faramir's chamber.
"I must spend a little time with my younger son now, if you will excuse me, Master Tarostar," he said. "I do after all have two sons not just one."
Ioreth emerged from the alcove and hurried past the open door of Faramir's room. She glanced at the figure on the bed and saw Faramir's eyes light up at the sight of his father.
Ioreth smiled and went on her way with her heart a little lighter.
A/n. This was written for the Teitho "Numbers" challenge where it was placed second. The events take place a few years before the Ring war.
Wishing all my readers health and happiness in the New Year.