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.
The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.- Martin Luther King Jr., Strength to Love, 1963
Several Weeks later
"Greetings, my esteemed friends," Tahir smiled as Aragorn and Faramir were shown into his home. He gestured for the King and Steward to sit on the large cushions in the spacious living room then called for a servant to bring sherbet tea and dates.
"My fair blossom regrets that she cannot be with us today," said Tahir once Aragorn and Faramir were seated. "Our sweet Ithiliel is teething and she had no sleep with tending to her."
"Well do I understand," said Faramir. Éowyn and I have suffered many sleepless nights without our little ones. Tell me, my friend, how is Fikri, um, I mean Fathi faring?"
"Better than I had hoped, esteemed friend, though he is much troubled by nightmares, and sometimes seems sullen and distant," Tahir replied. " I decided to let the boy keep the name he was accustomed to as I thought it might make it easier for him to settle in his new life. I have hired a trusted man of our tribe to be constantly at his side, both to care for Fikri and to protect my fair blossom and my little ones until I know he can be trusted."
"A wise move," said Aragorn.
"Fikri does at least appear to be loyal to his tribe like most of our people. He is respectful towards me and my fair blossom."
"I know that the Haradrim value loyalty to the tribe above all, even above their own lives," said Aragorn.
"You understand us well, esteemed friend, but then you dwelt amongst us for a while. Fikri seems to accept that he is of our tribe and wants to know about his parents. The boy is lamentably ignorant in the most basic knowledge, so I have hired a tutor for him as soon as he is strong enough for lessons. My personal healer is tending to him daily and reports he is making a good recovery. His arm and shoulder remain weak, though. He cannot even lift a spoon in his right hand."
"The arrow tore the ligaments and muscles badly as well as damaging the bone," said Aragorn. "The healer who removed it was not the most skilled of our physicians."
"Or maybe he took less care over an enemy combatant," Tahir observed shrewdly.
"Sadly, that could be so," Aragorn agreed. "We tell our healers to treat every patient with equal care, but my men were angry over the abduction of Lord Faramir."
"You were gracious indeed to spare Fikri, esteemed friend," said Tahir.
"You have Faramir to thank for that," said the King. "Maybe the Elven arts I know might help your nephew regain more use of his arm, if he would consent to my treatments. I warn you, though, it is unlikely he will ever hold a sword again."
"Maybe that is as well, esteemed friends," said the Ambassador. "It would be good if he could hold a spoon though."
"I will see what I can do if he will see me," said Aragorn.
"He will obey the elder of his tribe," said Tahir. "I have explained to him that you are a brother of our tribe through our friendship and sharing of the hamam."
"I will stay here unless you have need of me," said Faramir. "Fikri might be even more uncomfortable with too many folk present."
"He understands that you too are a brother," said Tahir. "You show him great consideration after what he did to you, esteemed friend."
"I may not have survived the ordeal without Fikri," Faramir said gravely.
"I have some new rare maps you may enjoy, esteemed friend," said Tahir. "I will show them to you once I have taken esteemed Lord Aragorn to Fikri."
Tahir led Aragorn down a long corridor supported by marble pillars. "How fares esteemed Lord Faramir?" he enquired. "He still looks somewhat drawn."
"To be almost burned alive a second time was a great ordeal for him," said Aragorn. "It will take time for him to fully recover, but eventually he will. He is a strong man."
"May the Lord and Lady of the moon smile upon him!" said Tahir. "How it grieves my heart that one of my blood should harm my esteemed friend!"
"Do not trouble yourself," said Aragorn. "Faramir speaks well of Fikri despite the circumstances under which they met."
The two men walked across a courtyard to the chambers where Fikri was housed. A guard was outside his door. When Aragorn entered, he found Fikri sprawled across a couch staring blankly at the elaborate tiles that decorated the wall. A man, dressed as a servant hovered nearby. Tahir dismissed him with a nod.
"The esteemed Lord King has agreed to tend your arm, my sister son," said Tahir. "It is permitted, he is a brother of our tribe."
"Please let me be, honoured kinsman," said Fikri.
"It is my wish that the esteemed Lord King treat your arm," Tahir said sternly.
"As you will, lord." Fikri said in an expressionless tone.
"I require hot water and a blanket," said Aragorn.
Tahir ordered the servant to fetch them. Meanwhile Tahir continued to regard them both with a somewhat sullen expression. Aragorn studied his reluctant patient carefully without the boy being aware of his scrutiny. Elven healing treated both mind and body and he concluded that Fikri was in greatest need of healing for the former.
As soon as the servant had brought the water and blanket, Aragorn asked Fikri if he might look at his shoulder and arm. Fikri fiddled with the fastenings of the dark blue robe he was wearing, obviously struggling to use his right hand deftly. Tahir assisted him. "It is well," he said. "Lord Aragorn is an esteemed brother of our tribe. Were he not, I have would have preferred death rather than to remove my robe in front of him. To remove one's robe in front of a brother will not bar you from the Celestial oasis. "
"I dwelt amongst those whom I believed to be my brothers for most of my life and bathed with them. I suppose I am already barred from your Celestial Oasis?" Fikri's tone was defiant but his eyes were fearful.
"Not at all according to our lore." Tahir hastened to reassure him. "You were neither of age, nor aware of your true origins."
Aragorn was grateful for his healer's training to conceal his surprise when Fikri's upper body was revealed to his gaze. Tahir's tattoo artist had obviously been summoned, for the eye markings on the boy's uninjured side had been skilfully changed into butterflies. He wrapped the blanket around the boy, leaving only his right arm and shoulder uncovered.
"Butterflies are an ancient symbol of our tribe," said the Ambassador. "We believe that after death, our souls fly to the Celestial Oasis in the form of butterflies, watched over by the Moon God and Goddess."
"A beautiful idea," said Aragorn.
"Alas, Fikri would not watch the Goddess rise in the sky to greet her consort last night," sighed Tahir. "It is my wish that he will attend the festival of their great union."
Aragorn smiled at the memory of attending the previous year's festival with Faramir. It had been held on the banks of the Anduin and had been both joyful and uplifting." You should enjoy it," he told Fikri, beginning to examine the injured shoulder and arm, "if only for the delicacies that are served. Lady Adiva and Mistress Falah make cakes flavoured with rose petals and a ginger syllabub. My Lady and I have never tasted better. Do not fear the wrath of the Lord of Gifts, by turning to your uncle's faith, Fikri. I saw his spirit borne away on the wind with mine own eyes, as did many others. He cannot return to punish you."
Fikri said nothing but Aragorn felt him tremble beneath his touch.
"Would you and your esteemed lady honour us again by attending the sacred festival?" asked Tahir.
"We would be delighted to," said Aragorn. He took some athelas leaves from the healer's pouch he had brought with him and cast them into the bowl of hot water. He inhaled deeply of the living freshness that filled the room and bade Fikri do likewise.
"It still hurts my ribs to breathe deeply," Fikri said sullenly.
"The esteemed Lord Aragorn's medicine is good," said Tahir, as he inhaled the vapours with obvious pleasure.
"He should breathe sufficient whether he will or not," Aragorn said calmly. "He reminds me a good deal of a young farmer I once treated."
"I am no farmer, I am a warrior!" Fikri snapped. "At least I was." He lapsed into silence and Aragorn saw tears glistening on his lashes.
Aragorn said nothing and concentrated on the livid scar that stood out starkly even amongst all the others that disfigured the boy's skin. It had at least healed cleanly and without infection. Aragorn wished to use both his healing senses and healing arts to help the injury mend sufficiently for Fikri to use his arm for non-arduous tasks, such as dressing and eating. The hand at least was undamaged. Given the boy's continued anger and anguish, perhaps it was just as well that he could no longer be a warrior.
Using his inherited healing senses and the power of the Elessar, he sensed that the damaged ribs were knitting together nicely and the bump on Fikri's head had disappeared.
Aragorn bathed the arrow scar with the athelas mixture and then applied a comfrey salve to aid healing.
Fikri glared at him balefully each time he caught the boy's eye, but said nothing. Every now and again, he sighed deeply and looked towards his uncle.
"I shall use an Elven skill to massage the damaged muscles to help stimulate the flow of blood," Aragorn explained. "Could I have some more hot water, please, Tahir?"
Fikri gave an even louder sigh.
"You should treat the esteemed Lord Aragorn with courtesy, nephew," Tahir chided.
"I did not ask him to come," said Fikri. "You already have a healer who treats me daily."
"Do not forget the honour due to a guest and brother of our tribe," Tahir said sternly."
Uncle and nephew glared at each other, locked in a silent battle of wills.
Aragorn cleared his throat loudly. "Faramir wished to discuss some diplomatic matters in private with you and I know you wish to show him your new maps. We need to leave soon after I have finished Fikri's treatment."
"You are certain I should leave you, esteemed friend?" Tahir looked troubled.
"I have dealt with a young farmer very like Fikri, as I have already mentioned," Aragorn said dryly. "I am here to tell the tale!"
"I am no farmer!" Fikri said ever more furiously than before.
"Then behave like a man nobly born!" said Tahir. "For your shameful insolence, you shall be confined within your chamber for the rest of the day." He bowed. "Esteemed Lord Aragorn, I will return with all haste."
A servant brought the hot water Aragorn had requested just as the Ambassador was leaving the room. The King again cast two athelas leaves into the water. He began to lightly massage Fikri's injured arm and shoulder, with slow circular movements. The boy felt as tense as a strung bowstring beneath his touch. "Tell me if I am causing you pain," Aragorn told Fikri and then fell silent.
The refreshing athelas vapours filled the chamber. Aragorn continued his ministrations and as he had hoped, felt Fikri's tension ebbing away beneath his skilled fingertips. He started working on the knots in the back of the boy's neck, an art taught to him by Master Elrond, which usually soothed all but the most reluctant patients. Elven healing closely combined both body and soul and was only effective if both healer and patient achieved a degree of harmony.
"Does the law of your land forbid beating as punishment?" Fikri asked suddenly.
"A man may not strike a woman or infant and may not cause serious injury," Aragorn replied.
"My uncle does not beat me." Fikri sounded puzzled. "Neither does he beat his sons."
"Ambassador Tahir is a good man, a man of peace," said Aragorn.
"He is weak! Lord Zafir beat me often."
"Ambassador Tahir is one of the bravest men I know," Aragorn said gravely. "Not long ago, I had to cut an arrow from his flesh. Never once did he cry out, neither did he swoon. It takes an even braver man to try to bring peace between two nations that have been enemies for countless generations. Like the others of his tribe, he also clung to his faith in the Moon God and Goddess when it would have been death to him had he been discovered."
"I had not thought of that," said Fikri hesitantly. "The moon still shines brightly in the night sky." He lapsed into silence again. Aragorn resumed massaging his arm. A few moments later, he spoke again. "Will I ever use it again?"
"I believe you should be able to do such things as fasten laces or feed yourself in time," said Aragorn. "I am willing to continue to treat you, but only if you wish it."
Fikri hesitated then gave a barely perceptible nod.
Aragorn continued his ministrations until the boy fell into a deep and peaceful slumber. He lingered for a few moments longer, holding his hands a few inches above Fikri and pouring healing energy into the damaged shoulder. He then held his hands above the boy's head, trying to both sense what lay within his troubled mind and calm the turmoil and confusion he sensed there. The lad had been touched by evil, but Aragorn did not believe that he was inherently evil, simply a very troubled youth.