Rating: T, for adult themes and mild violence and battle scenes.
Disclaimer: These characters( apart from my original characters) all belong to the estate of J.R.R. Tolkien. This story was written for pleasure and not for financial gain.
With thanks to Raksha and Deandra.
"An offering by fire unto the LORD, a burnt offering" – The Bible – numbers;15.3
Bound and gagged, Faramir was tossed around the covered cart like a sack of grain as it travelled along the rough road. Every bone in his body ached from his rough treatment at the hands of his captors and his mouth felt drier than parchment. The air inside the cart felt hot and oppressive and it was difficult to breathe through the gag. His armour had been removed and was tossed in a heap a few feet away, leaving him clad only in his shirt and breeches.
Worst, though was the humiliation of being captured thus, drawn into an ambush and carried off from the battlefield while his men were distracted. He flinched at the memory of poor Fain's cry of agony. Did his noble steed still live? Fain had been a Yuletide gift from Éomer, but a few short months before. He was the finest horse the Steward had ever ridden. The panicked horse had reared and thrown Faramir. Before he could remount, he had been hit on the head from behind and the next thing he recalled was waking up in this cart, trussed up like a chicken for market.
Cautiously, Faramir opened his eyes and examined his surroundings. The cart was full of logs, upon which two Southron warriors were sitting, watching him like vultures observing their prey. One was obviously a veteran of many battles; he bore a livid scar down one cheek and was missing an eye, while the other was little more than a boy: his nut- brown skin unmarked and the contours of his beardless face still rounded. Both bore the emblems of the serpent and the lidless eye upon their scarlet robes.
Faramir tried to calm his pounding heart. They were men who had abducted him, not Orcs. No doubt they planned to hold him to ransom; a ransom that the King would gladly pay. These men were rebels against the rule of the Kha Khan. His men would free Gondor's Steward once they knew of his whereabouts. His captors must be lunatics to risk the wrath of both Aragorn and the Kha Khan. It was not a comforting thought that he had been captured by madmen. What did they want with him? Was it as simple as gold?
A cloud of dust blew through a gap in the side of the wagon into the confined space. Faramir started to cough. He could not clear his throat properly, though, because of the gag and started to choke. He started to flail around like a fish out of water as panic seized him.
The youth looked at him with startled brown eyes then got up and removed the gag. Faramir coughed and spluttered before thankfully breathing in lungfuls of air.
"You young fool!" the older man said to the boy with a curse. "We are still within Gondor's borders. What if he cries out?" He drew his dagger and waved it in front of Faramir's face. "Call for help, tark, and you die!" he said in heavily accented Weston.
Faramir nodded. He was still coughing too much to speak.
"I thought he would choke," said the boy in his own tongue.
"I doubt it, but we need him alive if the sacrifice is to succeed," said the older man.
Faramir started in horror. He was to be a sacrifice? He tried to maintain his composure. These men had no idea he could understand their language, albeit with some difficulty. It was a quite different dialect than the elegant tongue used by ambassador Tahir. Maybe that knowledge would help him.
"Why have you captured me?" Faramir asked, or rather croaked, once his coughing had finally subsided.
"We need you as a sacrifice to the Lord of Gifts, tark," said the older man. He smiled for the first time.
"His spirit was carried away on the winds, he is no more in Arda," Faramir croaked in reply.
The young man stared at Faramir again then fumbled at his belt and produced a water bottle, which he uncorked and held to Faramir's lips. The water was stale, but tasted like nectar to the parched Steward.
The older man glared at this gesture of mercy before saying. "The Lord of Gifts was only vanquished because the sacrifice, which would have given him measureless might, was not completed, thanks to the accursed wizard's meddling. Your father, tark, was obedient, for it is written in our lore that the Lord of Gifts will reign supreme when a father of high lineage offers himself and his son to him."
"My father was no worshipper of Sauron!" Faramir retorted. "He chose the pyre so that the Orcs could not give him a worse death!"
The scarred warrior struck Faramir across the face. "Silence, tark! Did they not tell you that your father followed the sacrificial ritual that the Lord of Gifts used on the Star Island?"
Faramir did not reply. It was useless to argue with a madman. He tried to look defiant as he licked the blood from his lips.
Time passed slowly, yet at the same time too quickly. The cart rumbled onwards towards its destination. Faramir kept his eyes closed, pretending to sleep, partly because of a pounding headache and partly in the hope that he might avoid further abuse from his captors. When they finally stopped, the scarred man called to the driver asking him why.
"It grows too dark to see the road and the horses can go no further," the driver called.
"Very well, but we resume our journey at first light," said the scarred man. "We shall spend the night here in the wagon." He prodded Faramir with his foot. "Wake up, tark!" he snarled in the common tongue, before addressing the younger man in his own language. "You had best take the tark in the wood to relieve himself. We don't want him to stink. He should be kept clean for the sacrifice. Don't let him escape, these tarks are cunning rats."
The two men half dragged, half carried Faramir from the cart, adding to his bruises in the process. The older man then loosened the Steward's bonds sufficiently for him to move his hands and to place one foot in front of the other. They dragged him to his feet. Faramir could hardly stand while the sudden rush of blood as proper circulation was restored to his limbs was excruciating. He gulped in great lungfuls of fresh air.
Faramir looked around him to distract himself from the pain. They were still in Ithilien. He recognised the forest of great trees that his forebears had planted long ago. He had assumed his captors were taking him to Harad, but this way led into Mordor. It seemed that they were planning to sacrifice him in Sauron's former realm. Aragorn had garrisoned what was left of the Black Gate, but Ithilien shared miles of border with Sauron's former realm, which it had not seemed either needful or practical to patrol.
The young man urged him forward into the trees and allowed him a little privacy behind a huge pine. Faramir toyed with the idea of using this brief moment of solitude to attempt to escape. He could hardly walk, though, impeded as he was by his bonds and stiff limbs.
"You are highly honoured, tark," said the young man as he grabbed Faramir's arm to usher him back to the wagon.
"Honoured?" Faramir could not help but sound bitter.
"You will be forever remembered as the great sacrifice that recalled the Lord of Gifts to life," the young man said, in the kind of tone used to comfort a child.
"How can you be so certain?"
"The Lord of Gift's high priest has pronounced it so."
"What gifts did he bestow on you?"
"My prowess as a warrior and my very life."
"It is the One who gives life," said Faramir. "The Lord of Gifts no more created you than Mithrandir created me. What is your name, boy?"
"I am called Fikri," said the young man. "You lie, tark. The Lord of Gifts gave us everything."
"My name is Faramir," said the Steward. "You could have even more if you accepted peace. Most of your folk have done so already. How many are attending this 'sacrifice'?"
Fikri's boyish face hardened. "We do not surrender to tarks. Our comrades in arms and the elders of the faithful will all come to witness the rising of the Lord of Gifts. Do not think that you can escape! "
They had reached the bend in the road where the wagon was parked. "Kneel!" Fikri ordered. "I must tighten your bonds again before Lord Zafir returns."
By the time the older warrior reappeared from amongst the trees from the opposite direction to where Faramir had been taken, the Steward was again securely trussed up, though his bonds did not cut as tightly into his flesh as they did before.
Faramir was dragged back inside the wagon. His captors pulled food from their packs and ate, but they did not offer him a single bite nor a further swallow of water from their skins. When darkness fell, they wrapped themselves in their cloaks and slept. Faramir was left with his thoughts. They were far from comforting. Ever since his father had tried to burn him alive, Faramir had especially feared death by fire. He had been mercifully unconscious at the time, but for a long time afterwards, he had been haunted by nightmares filled with the stench of smoke and burning flesh. A horrible, slow, and painful death. He often wondered just how much his father had suffered. To think that he had been spared once from death by fire, only to meet the same fate years later! Faramir was no coward, but he was terrified. His stomach churned and his heart thumped at the very thought. He shivered and not only from the chill night air.
He did not want to die yet. He was not ready to leave Éowyn or his children, nor the King he loved and served. He would gladly have given his life to defend those he loved or his beloved land, but to be sacrificed to a false god was a cruel fate indeed!
Then what of his father? Despite his defiant words, the Steward was troubled by his captors' certainty that Denethor had offered himself as a sacrifice to the Dark Lord. Denethor had hated Sauron and all he stood for, but what if in his madness, he had turned to his old adversary. Would his soul ever find rest if he had?
The Steward shifted restlessly wishing that every bone and muscle in his body did not ache so. He needed to escape, but how? He was tightly bound and had no weapon. If only he could have left some sign for Aragorn to follow! It was futile to hope for rescue, though. It would be some time before anyone noticed he was missing in the heat of battle, and Aragorn and Beregond would first scour the field for his body. Then they would no doubt assume he had been carried off to Harad for ransom and send pursuers in the wrong direction. With that far from comforting thought, Faramir finally drifted into an uneasy slumber.
Aragorn reined Roheryn to a halt. "We will rest here by this stream for a few hours," he told Damrod. "Loth though I am to stop, the horses can go no further and we cannot see the trail in the darkness."
"Shall I make a fire, sire?" Damrod asked. He slid from his horse and patted the sweating animal.
"Yes, our quarry is still way ahead," said Aragorn. "I had hoped we would have caught up with them ere nightfall."
"Maybe our reinforcements will arrive in the morning," said Damrod as the two men tended to their horses.
"It takes time to gather men and supplies," said Aragorn. "Faramir's best hope of rescue lies with us." He patted Roheryn and left the great stallion to graze.
"What do you think his captors want with Lord Faramir?" asked Damrod.
"I can think of several things, none of them pleasant," Aragorn replied grimly.
Damrod soon had a cheerful fire blazing. The two former Rangers ate a meagre supper of dried biscuit washed down with water. They then wrapped themselves in their cloaks and settled down for the night.
Damrod almost immediately fell asleep, but rest was slow to come to Aragorn. He lay looking up at the stars. Could Faramir still see those same stars? Did he yet live? Aragorn shuddered then chided himself. Surely he would sense it if his friend were dead. How were his captors treating him, though? Was Faramir being put to torment? Aragorn could not bear to dwell on the thought. Inwardly he vowed to save his friend and Steward whatever the cost. With that thought, he slept.
A/N. Events in this story take place not long after "Wars and Rumours of Wars" and "Brothers of the Tribe."