I can't think of any sorrow in the world that a hot bath wouldn't help, just a little bit.
Susan Glaspell, The Visioning, 1911
Faramir swallowed hard. "Never while I have breath in my body will I leave you!" he said. Summoning up his remaining reserves of strength, he willed himself onwards, this time half dragging, half carrying Aragorn.
The sun rose higher in the sky and the woodland started to thin out. At last he had reached the path. Suddenly, Faramir heard the sound of approaching hoof beats. He called out as a rider came into sight. "Stop, we need help!"
The rider halted. Faramir could have wept with relief. It was Beregond.
"My lord!" Beregond stared at Faramir and the King in sheer horror. Only then did Faramir realise what they must look like; covered in blood and only half clothed.
"Are you injured, my lord?" Beregond was already drawing off his cloak.
"I am well enough, but the King is sore hurt. A great cat attacked him. Could you help me get him on to your horse? Never have I been so glad to see you, friend!"
"And I, you, my lord! Every available man is out looking for you. My men are close behind. Your lady organised search parties when you did not return last night."
Faramir wrapped Aragorn carefully in the cloak.
"You mount my horse and I will lift the King up," said Beregond. "Let us prop him against this tree for a moment."
Assisted by Beregond, Faramir gently laid Aragorn down. The King did not stir.
"He appears gravely wounded indeed," said Beregond.
"He is, and I must get him to the house without delay." Faramir tried to mount but his numbed limbs failed him miserably. Wordlessly the Captain offered him a hand."Could you lend me your tunic, Beregond?" The Steward asked, suddenly realising his state of undress. "I do not wish to cause offence appearing before anyone else like this."
"Of course, my friend." Beregond was wearing leather armour, which he removed together with the tunic, which he handed to his lord. He replaced the breastplate over his shirt.
Faramir thankfully donned the borrowed garb. It was even itchier than his own.
With some difficultly Beregond lifted the semi- conscious King on to his horse. The animal snorted restlessly, uneasy at the scent of blood, but quieted at a word from Faramir.
Beregond slapped the gelding's rump. "I will follow you on foot," he called, as the horse set off in the direction of the house.
"Have a care, the beast might still be on the prowl!" Faramir called after him.
Faramir gripped Aragorn tightly around his waist and urged the horse into a brisk canter. Roused by the motion, Aragorn groaned.
"Easy, Aragorn," Faramir soothed. "You will soon be safe now."
They had only travelled a short distance when they came upon two of Beregond's troop. Faramir commanded one to ride after the Captain and the other, who rode the swiftest horse, to go and alert Éowyn that the King was badly injured.
Faramir again urged the borrowed horse forward. He had always loved horses, but today especially appreciated that the noble beasts would suffer to bear men upon their backs. A distance, which while carrying the King on foot had seemed endless, did not seem so at all on horseback.
It was not long before the house came into sight and he could hear his hounds barking. Éowyn ran out to greet him, his niece Elbeth beside her.
"Faramir, my love!" Éowyn cried, anxiously regarding his dishevelled and blood splattered form.
"What has happened to you and Strider?" asked Elbeth.
"I am well enough," he assured them. "The King, though, is badly injured, set upon by the great cat that savaged your foals! Help me get him inside!"
Faramir was almost at once surrounded by servants and guards. Two burly sergeants lifted Aragorn down from the horse and carried him within.
"Be careful, his back is injured," Faramir called after them. "Lay him on his side."
Éowyn followed, calling out instructions to the servants. A groom helped Faramir dismount. The Steward bade him care for the horse. He stiffly followed his wife on unsteady legs.
The men carried Aragorn to a spacious guestchamber on the ground floor and laid him on the bed. Éowyn had already ordered a fire lit and her healing supplies were laid out ready. The housekeeper and the maids bustled hither and thither with hot water and towels.
Éowyn was already unwrapping Beregond's cloak from around the King when Faramir entered the room. Elbeth was expertly laying out her Aunt's healing supplies upon a table.
Aragorn groaned and opened his eyes trying to focus on his surroundings. "You are safe now at my home, mellon nîn," said Faramir, gripping his lord's hand.
Éowyn frowned as she caught side of the blood stained makeshift bandages that covered Aragorn's upper body. She felt his pulse, then laid a hand on Aragorn's brow and sighed deeply. The King moaned softly at the lightest touch.
"We will tend your wounds now and all will be well," Faramir soothed.
"You, Faramir, are going to have refreshment, a hot bath, and clean clothes," Éowyn said firmly. "The servants have them waiting for you."
"I cannot leave him," Faramir protested.
"You are half dead on your feet and in no fit state to be in a sickroom!" said Éowyn. "I need to give him poppy juice before I attempt to remove these bandages and it takes a while to take effect. All I plan to do while you bathe, is to examine him and give him some medicine and plenty of fluids."
Faramir could see the sense in her words and made to leave. Éowyn moved across to a table and filled a glass with water, to which she added several drops of poppy juice. She supported Aragorn's head so that he could swallow. After he had drained the glass, she replaced it on the table and covered the King with a warm blanket. Elbeth tucked it around him.
"Do not leave me!" Aragorn muttered feverishly and clutched frantically at Faramir's hand. "Arwen, where is she?"
"I will return very soon and I will send for your lady. You have my word." Faramir reluctantly freed himself and made his way to his study, where he scribbled a note to the Queen telling her that her husband was injured and needed her. He gave the message to a servant, telling them to despatch a messenger to the City with all haste.
A steaming bath awaited Faramir in his bathing chamber. On a tray beside the tub were jugs of wine and of cordial and glasses, together with a plate of thinly cut bread and slices of cheese and fruit. Faramir poured himself a drink. He had not realised just how thirsty he was. He thankfully discarded the itchy woollen tunic followed by the rest of his stained garments and eased his aching back and limbs into the soothing warm water.
Faramir had little appetite, but forced himself to eat while he soaked in the tub. He had succeeded in getting Aragorn to safety, but he was still desperately worried about the man he loved dearly as a father. He finished his ablutions swiftly and donned the clean clothing laid out for him. It felt good to have linen rather than wool next to his skin again.
The bath somewhat eased Faramir's many aches and pains and he walked back more easily to the King's chamber. Aragorn lay much as he had left him, though his features looked less haggard now the pain relieving draught was taking effect. Éowyn had dismissed the hovering servants and was bending over the King, taking his pulse. Elbeth was holding his other hand.
"How is he?" Faramir asked.
"A little easier I think," said Éowyn. "We will tend his wounds now."
"Elbeth should not see such sights," said Faramir.
"She is no longer a child and if she desires to be a healer she will see much worse," said Éowyn. "She has a strong stomach, she helped deliver our child."
"And do not forget I helped tend Strider when he was tortured by the rebels," said Elbeth. "What could be worse than that?"
"Very well, you can stay," Faramir conceded.
"We have removed his boots, but will leave you to put him to bed once his wounds are tended. I know he would prefer that." Éowyn dipped a cloth in a bowl of warm water and begun to soak off the bandages. Elbeth did likewise. It was a slow and laborious process as the blood had dried hard. Aragorn groaned and shifted restlessly on the bed. Faramir knelt beside the bed in front of him. He gripped both his lord's hands. Easy, mellon nîn," he soothed. "It will soon be over."
Éowyn bit back a cry of dismay when the wounds were finally revealed. Elbeth closed her eyes for a moment then resumed concentrating on her task. Aragorn's back and shoulders resembled a chunk of raw meat and were crisscrossed with deep angry scratches, which oozed pus and blood. "This is even worse than what befell my poor foals!" Éowyn exclaimed. Gritting her teeth, she began to clean the wounds as gently as she could. Elbeth held the bowl for her aunt.
Aragorn moaned softly, his features contorted with pain. He gripped Faramir's hands tightly.
Éowyn then regarded the wounds critically. "They are all deep enough to need stitching," she said. "I think it is better to leave them open to drain, though. I dare not close them, lest I trap poisons within."
She smothered the wounds in honey and covered them with clean bandages, Elbeth deftly handing her the things she needed.
Aragorn never released his grip on Faramir's hands. He groaned softly, but did not otherwise cry out.
"There, there, Aragorn, all over now," Éowyn said at last, relief evident in her tone. Her pale blue gown was now splattered with blood, giving her a somewhat alarming appearance. Elbeth's gown was only slightly less splattered. "Thorongil's feed is due and Elbeth and I must go and change before we alarm the household. I will leave Faramir to put you to bed."
"Thank you, my friends," Aragorn murmured. He lay back exhausted against the pillows.
Faramir straightened up, grimacing at the pain in his back and legs.
"Are you well, my love?" Éowyn enquired. "Maybe the servants should aid the King?"
"I am just a little stiff," said Faramir. "I will tend him."
A sudden thought struck Éowyn. "We could find no trace of you in the fields or the wood," she said. "Where was the beast?"
"Deep in the uncleared forest. The King followed its tracks to its lair where it attacked him."
"You took no horses. However did you manage to bring the King home?"
"I carried him."
Éowyn's jaw gaped. "You carried him? But how? Such a feat would take several men or a horse."
"Uncle Faramir!" Elbeth's eyes were full of admiration.
"He is as a father to me, my friend, and my lord," Faramir said simply. "To him have I sworn both love and fealty. He once brought us both forth from the dark vale, so how could I leave him to perish alone in the dark forest? I carried him hence on my back."
"You are a remarkable Man, Faramir of Gondor!" Éowyn planted a tender kiss on Faramir's lips, and then bustled from the room with Elbeth.
A servant brought fresh water and cloths. As quickly and gently as he could, Faramir removed the rest of Aragorn's blood stained clothing, bathed him, and dressed him in clean linen drawers. He then pulled the bedclothes over him and fluffed up the pillows.
Aragorn looked unhappy at needing to be tended like an infant, but bore the ministrations patiently enough. He then asked for water, and by the time Éowyn had returned, he had drifted into an uneasy sleep.
"I have persuaded Elbeth to amuse the children," said Éowyn. "She has seen enough horrors for one day."
"She is a remarkable girl, as one would expect from Boromir's daughter. How do the children fare?"
"Elestelle was fretful when you did not return last night and Elboron missed his bedtime story. Thorongil is too tiny to notice anything amiss though he woke earlier than usual for his feed," said Éowyn.
"I will see them as soon as I can," said Faramir.
"You should go and rest now, husband," said Éowyn. "I will sit with Aragorn."
"I will stay with him until the Queen gets here," said Faramir in a determined tone.
"Just as I thought you would, I know you to be a stubborn man," said Éowyn. "We will both sit with him then."
"How will he fare, Éowyn?" There was fear in Faramir's voice."
"Such hurts would have killed a lesser man," said Éowyn. "The King, though, is of pure Númenorean descent and exceptionally strong. He is sore wounded and has a fever, but I can detect neither broken bones nor hurts within. We can but wait and hope."
"May the Valar protect him!" said Faramir. He kissed Aragorn lightly on the brow to emphasise the blessing.
"The Queen's presence should help him," said Éowyn. "If she rides a swift horse she should be here before nightfall."