These characters all belong to the estate of J.R.R. Tolkien. This story was written for pleasure and not for financial gain.
Walk on walk on with hope in your heart
And you'll never walk alone
You'll never walk alone - R. Rogers/O. Hammerstein II
Faramir knew they would be missed when they did not return by nightfall. Éowyn would send out search parties. No doubt as soon as they reached the path, they would come across the searchers. With this new hope kindled in his heart, Faramir filled both their water bottles and transferred what was left of the healing supplies into his pack.
“We cannot stay here,” he told Aragorn. “We must make our way back to the house.”
“I know, but how?”
“I will carry you.”
“You cannot bear my weight.”
“I shall try. If the strength of Númenor be in my blood, I can do this.”
“Give me a little time to rest and I will be able to walk. I too, have the strength of my forebears.”
Faramir regarded his lord doubtfully. It took all his strength at present to speak, let alone walk. “We cannot delay, mellon nîn,” he said. “The sun will soon set and we cannot tarry here after nightfall.”
“I am ready,” said Aragorn. “If you could just help me up?”
Faramir gripped both Aragorn’s forearms and hoisted him to his feet. Aragorn groaned loudly and promptly swooned. He sagged forward, almost knocking Faramir off his feet. For one dreadful moment, the Steward feared that Aragorn was dead. “Ada!” he cried. He placed a hand on Aragorn’s chest and could have wept with relief when he detected a faint heartbeat.
As a soldier, Faramir had been trained to lift wounded men to bear them from the battlefield. He eased the King up on to his feet. Faramir then bent his knees and hoisted Aragorn across his shoulder. Faramir straightened up, staggering slightly beneath the weight he bore. Aragorn was as slender as a sapling, but he was an exceptionally tall man and well-muscled. Faramir gritted his teeth and concentrated on the task at hand, one step at a time, pushing his way through the undergrowth and between the mighty oaks and birches. How he wished for a horse, or even a friendly dragon to bear them to safety! But his horses were all in their stable and Súlion had returned to the East from whence he came.
Sweat was soon dripping from his brow and his back felt as if it would break. To make matters worse, the wool from his tunic irritated his skin and he itched as if a multitude of fleas had taken up residence in his clothing. Ignoring the discomfort, he trudged resolutely onwards. He would happily have traded everything he owned for a horse at that moment or even the dragon he had befriended!
Aragorn had regained consciousness and was groaning. Every step Faramir took was jarring the angry wounds in his back.
“Stop, put me down!”
“I am sorry, mellon nîn, but I must bear you to safety.” It tore Faramir’s soul to cause his lord pain, but there was no other choice. The pain in his own limbs increased and he felt as if his back would snap in two. Aragorn fell silent again apart from the occasional groan.
The light started to dim. Faramir stumbled onwards until he caught his foot against a tree root and almost stumbled. He could go no further tonight. He looked around him for somewhere they could rest. Fortunately, a mighty oak had fallen nearby, creating a clearing in the forest.
He laid Aragorn down as gently as he could beneath one of the great trees, placing him on his side. It was Faramir’s turn to groan when he straightened up. Ignoring his own discomfort, he knelt beside Aragorn, who lay unmoving, his eyes closed.
“Faramir?” Aragorn’s grey eyes flickered open.
“We can go no further tonight. I will gather wood for a fire to keep the creature, or any other savage beasts, at bay. Would you like a drink?”
Faramir supported his lord’s head and held the water bottle to his lips. When Aragorn had drunk his fill, Faramir gathered branches from the fallen oak and built a fire. Fortunately, he had his tinderbox to kindle a flame and it was soon blazing merrily. Now they had some defence against any wild beasts that might be lurking, Faramir turned his attention to the King. In the firelight Aragorn’s face looked haggard as if he were in considerable pain, but at least the bandages were only a little bloodied.
“What manner of a cat could do this?” he mused aloud.
“A lynx,” Aragorn replied. “Did you not see the tufts on its ears?”
“A savage creature indeed,” said Faramir.
“Only rarely,” said Aragorn. “They are timid beasts that usually live off rabbits.”
“It had a nasty festering gash on its side.”
“Wounded beasts are the most dangerous.” Aragorn then lapsed into silence. He shifted restlessly.
Faramir settled himself down beside the King, trying to ignore the throbbing in his back and the itchy wool against his skin.
“You should try to rest now, mellon nîn,” said Faramir. “I will keep watch.” He sighed and tried to scratch surreptitiously.
“Use the salve,” said Aragorn.
“For rashes. You have one!”
Faramir could not repress a smile. Even as badly injured as he was, Aragorn never forgot that he was a healer. The Steward rummaged amongst the depleted healing supplies and took out the little pot. He pulled off his tunic and found he was indeed covered in red itchy blotches where the wool had chafed his skin. He smothered them in the soothing cream.
“So cold,” Aragorn muttered.
“You have my tunic,” said Faramir. He cut the seams open with his dagger and wrapped it around the King, together with his blood-drenched cloak and Aragorn’s torn one. As he did so, he placed a hand on the King’s forehead. It was drenched in cold sweat. It seemed that the King was developing a fever.
“Huddle close and you will be warm,” said Faramir. He stretched out beside the King and drew him into a protective embrace. He shifted himself into as comfortable a position as he could for both of them with Aragorn’s head pillowed against his shoulder. He feared it would be a very long night.
The last remnants of the sunset quickly dropped below the western horizon and the moon rose, though little of its silvery light penetrated the dense forest. An owl hooted then swooped in search of prey. Faramir could only hope that no less friendly predators were abroad that night. He stretched out his hand and threw more branches upon the fire. The movement disturbed Aragorn. “Thirsty,” he murmured.
Faramir reached for the water bottle and held it to his lord’s lips.
Aragorn drank deeply then muttered. “So cold.”
“I wish I had a better means to keep you warm,” Faramir said ruefully. He was starting to feel cold himself being without shirt or tunic. Cold sweat from Aragorn’s brow dripped on to his shoulder.
“Do not leave me!” Aragorn reached out a shaking hand.
Faramir grasped it, his heart lurching .The King must be even more gravely ill than he had feared to plead with him like a frightened child. “I will never leave you,” he said firmly.
Aragorn seemed to settle for a little while then he groaned loudly. “Arwen, alas, Arwen!”
“I will take you to her,” Faramir promised.
“So much pain, so cold- tell Arwen I am sorry.
“There is nothing to be sorry about, be easy now.”
“Gave so much- so short a time, alas!”
“You must not abandon hope, Aragorn,” Faramir said firmly. “Éowyn will tend your wounds and you will soon be well again. I will not let you perish! We have survived many misadventures before, you and I. This one will be no different.” Despite his encouraging words, Faramir’s own spirits sank even lower. He did not think Aragorn’s wounds were mortal, but he knew from the bitter experience of losing comrades that the infection that followed was often more deadly than the wound. He had also seen men appear to recover then lose the ability to swallow and die horribly.
The Steward shuddered. Gondor had waited too long for her King to lose him again after so short a time. Faramir had only known Aragorn little more than a decade, but he could hardly imagine life without him. The King had a larger than life presence that brought light and warmth to all it touched. Faramir had loved his lord since their first meeting when Aragorn had healed Faramir of the Black Breath. To think that such a man might die while trying to help Faramir and his lady protect their herds. It was unthinkable! It would be as if the brightest of stars had ceased to shine over Gondor! He tucked the tattered garments more firmly around his lord and huddled closer.
Aragorn eventually fell into an uneasy sleep, but Faramir tried to remain alert. Eventually, though, weariness overcame him and he slept.
Faramir awoke to the joyous sounds of the birds greeting the dawn. For an instant, he wondered where he was. Then he remembered. Aragorn lay still against his shoulder. His heart lurched. Then the King stirred and opened his eyes. They were filled with pain and glazed with fever, but he still lived.
Faramir reached for the water bottle, noting with dismay that there was not much left. As he moved, every muscle in his body protested. Faramir ignored the agony and held the water bottle to the King’s lips. When Aragorn had drunk he said, “I need to stretch my legs for a moment, then we will be on our way.”
“Do not leave me!”
“I will not. You have my word.”
Faramir paced the clearing trying to ease his stiffness with little success. He returned to Aragorn. After tending to him as best he could, he eased him to his feet and hoisted him over his shoulder.
Today the weight seemed twice as heavy. Even worse, Aragorn made no protest at being carried like a sack of stones.
Faramir started off, concentrating on one step at a time. His back felt as if it were breaking and so did his heart.
The Steward trudged onwards, weary step after weary step. He dared not stop to rest for fear he would not be able to get up again. Only an occasional groan from Aragorn assured him that the King yet lived. His legs started to buckle and he stumbled. He collapsed exhausted on the ground with the King beside him. Faramir cradled Aragorn in his arms. He feared now that they might both be fated to die here in these woods.
The grey eyes flickered open. “Faramir?” Aragorn feebly reached out a clammy hand.
“You can go no further. Leave me, son of my heart. Tell Arwen I -,” His strength exhausted, he fell silent.