Disclaimer - These characters all belong to the estate of J.R.R. Tolkien. This story was written for pleasure and not for financial gain
With grateful thanks to Raksha and Ellynn.
A/n This story was written several years ago and I have only just decided to edit and post it. It is a multi- chaptered story in much the same style as "Shadow and Thought".
Anxious not to disturb his sleeping wife, Faramir slid out of bed with the stealth that only a former Ranger could accomplish. His efforts proved vain, though as Éowyn sleepily opened her eyes.
"Faramir?" she protested sleepily. " I know you desired an early morning ride but it is not even light yet."
"It will be by the time I am dressed and ready to leave. I will be able to see the sun rise, and hear the dawn chorus. I will be back in time for breakfast."
"Mmm." Éowyn was already asleep again before Faramir reached his dressing room where he shed his night attire in favour of a simple but finely woven tunic and breeches in dark green woollen cloth, over which he donned his favourite cloak, securing it with a brooch, which had been a gift from the King. The treasured cloak was made of an Elven fabric that the Queen had been given by her grandmother. He paused before buckling on his sword, wondering did he really need it for a short ride within his own lands in times of peace. Sadly, there were still the occasional sightings of Orcs, also reports had reached him that bandits had been harassing travellers. He had sent patrols after them, but they had not yet been caught. With a sigh, he buckled on his old sword. He would save Glamdring, which he had pulled from the tree where Gandalf had left it, for an occasion worthy of such a blade. He made his way towards the stables.
Faramir rarely rode out quite so early, but today he needed time alone to think. Aragorn had entrusted him with the drawing up of a treaty, which hopefully would improve relations with Khand. The conscientious Steward was concerned over the wording of a clause meant to ease trade between the two nations, but if worded ill, it could damage the livelihood of the cloth merchants in Gondor. He had sat up last night working on the document until his head ached, but a way to be fair to both parties had so far eluded him. He hoped the fresh morning air would clear his head.
"Do you wish for an escort, my lord?" a sleepy eyed young guard enquired as Faramir saddled Iavas, his chestnut mare.
"No, thank you, I should like to be alone."
"Very well, my lord." The guard did not look surprised. Faramir had spent so long as a captain faring for himself that he usually only took guards when his official duties did not require them.
"Come Iavas!" Faramir led the mare from her stall. A loud neigh from the neighbouring stall caught his attention.
"I am sorry, Zachus, it is Iavas' turn to bear me." He patted the gelding. The bay snorted in response.
Once outside, Faramir mounted and rode away swiftly down the hill. He paused briefly on the lower slope, admiring the rosy dawn sky and debating whether to ride through the woods or across the fields. Given his urge for solitude, the woods seemed a better choice. Soon the farmers would begin their day's labours and all would call out greetings to their Prince. Usually, Faramir would gladly stop to talk to his people, but today, he knew he must concentrate on the treaty.
He urged Iavas into a brisk canter along the woodland path leading deep into the heart of the forest. It was one of those mornings unique to early autumn, when everywhere seemed bathed in pale golden light. It promised to be a warm day later, though as yet the air held a distinct nip and a layer of fine mist enveloped the woodland. The sun grew stronger as Faramir rode ever onwards, its bright beams illuminating the forest paths and clearings.
The path wound uphill again, and twisted and turned. The trees were beautiful at this time of year, and the undergrowth of bracken a glorious colour. The trail narrowed as he approached a slight bend at the top of the incline. Faramir was too engrossed in his thoughts to pay his surroundings much heed. Neither did he notice the thin rope spread out across his path at shoulder height until it was too late.
Iavas whinnied in panic and came to an abrupt halt. Unable to move forward, she reared up. Faramir struggled to remain in the saddle, but in vain. He was pitched forward to the ground where he lay stunned.
As if out of nowhere, a small group of men emerged from amongst the trees. One, a burly fellow with a coarse black beard made a grab for Iavas' bridle. "We are in luck 'ere, lads," he smirked. "This 'orse alone is worth a small fortune!" He secured the protesting mare's reins to a nearby tree.
"And just look at 'is sword. These be real jewels as is this 'ere pin!" said a second man, a short fellow with brown hair.
"Look at 'is clothes too. The cloak alone is worth a poor man's wages for a year," said a third, a man with a prominent scar across his cheek. He knelt beside Faramir's prone form and unfastened the cloak. "This 'ere fellow looks familiar," he remarked. "I'm sure I've seen 'im somewhere."
The black bearded man took a closer look just as Faramir groaned and opened one eye. "Valar!" the thief cried. "This be the Steward!"
"We're done for!" exclaimed the short man. "Every blasted guard in the realm will come after us one word gets around we robbed 'im!"
"Not if they don't know, they won't!" said the black bearded one, starting to remove Faramir's clothing. He smiled as he fingered the fine wool greedily. Faramir started to struggle. The man kicked him viciously.
"We ain't killers," said the scar-faced man doubtfully.
"Who said owt about killing? We simply leaves 'im 'ere and if 'e dies, it just 'appened, I reckon. 'ave you got some rope?"
"I can 'ear something," the short man said nervously as he roughly yanked Faramir's shirt over his head. "Let's get out of 'ere!"
"Tis but a wild animal," said the black bearded man. "Still, we'd best get moving. I've 'eard there still be Orcs in these parts. Leave 'is drawers, they'll take too long to get off and I don't fancy wearing 'em any'ow. We'll tie 'im to yonder tree." He produced a dirty rag and with it gagged the Steward before tying his wrists tightly together with coarse rope.
The three men dragged Faramir roughly to a massive oak. One of them climbed up to secure the rope. Together the three suspended Faramir by his arms about a foot from the ground.
The bandit's leader took a knife from his belt and advanced upon Faramir.
"I thought you said we'd leave 'im to die of 'is own accord, natural like," said the scar faced man.
"I ain't going to kill 'im, just leave 'im a souvenir." With the same nonchalance that was usually found when whittling wood, the black bearded man cut the word "Arandur" across the Steward's chest. He stood back for a moment to admire his handiwork. "I'd love to see the King's face when he 'ears what 'appened ere!"
""d surely 'ang us all!" said the scar faced man.
"We'll be well away from 'ere by then," said the leader.
"You forgot the stars," remarked the short man.
"So I did!" The black bearded man made several cuts into the soft flesh of Faramir's upper belly. "Come on, lads, then, let's get out of 'ere. We'll live well for weeks on the proceeds of our spoils. Damgond, get the 'orse!"
Dragging the protesting Iavas by her bridle, the bandits disappeared into the forest.
Faramir was left alone, blood oozing from his wounds. He had vainly struggled against his captors and the humiliation of having his clothes removed, but he was too stunned to make other than a feeble protest. After several vicious kicks, he deemed it best to appear senseless and seek a chance to escape once his attackers had lowered their guard. It was not to be. The stuffed a filthy rag in his mouth securely bound his wrists. Then he felt himself being dragged upwards into the tree. For a dreadful few moments, he thought they were going to hang him, but instead they tied his wrists to a branch.
Then Faramir he felt a knife cutting into his chest and the tender flesh around his waist. He felt almost grateful for the gag that denied these miscreants the satisfaction of hearing him scream. He kept his eyes tightly closed. At last, there was silence and he dared look around him. His head still spun from his fall and it took him some time to take stock of his surroundings.
He was in a forest clearing, his only companions the birds and the insects, which buzzed around his head and crawled over his skin. Faramir observed that he was suspended only a few feet above the ground. He tried to wriggle free from the bonds that bound him, but only succeeded in digging the ropes more tightly into his wrists and making his arms feel as if they were about to be wrested from their sockets. The branch was thick and sturdy. Only a fierce storm or an axe would sever it.
The pain forced him to cease struggling. There was no sign of Iavas. The brutes must have taken her. Faramir felt a surge of fury. The beautiful, gentle mare did not deserve such a fate! His wedding ring and a chain Éowyn had given him was gone too, together with his favourite cloak and brooch he used to clasp it, both gifts from his King and irreplaceable.
He supposed he should be grateful they had left him his drawers in their haste to escape with their ill-gotten gains. Who was there to stop them though in the forest? Even the woodcutter, whose cottage was nearby, had gone to visit his daughter in Minas Tirith.
Faramir cursed himself inwardly for riding alone, without guards, through an area still mostly wild. Yet he should be safe in his own domain, so close to his home! And if those brigands had dared to strike the Steward Prince, what would they do to his people, whom he was bound to protect? The gag stifled a cry of rage and anguish. Dejectedly he tried to think of some means by which he could free himself. None presented itself. Already his arms and hands throbbed painfully as did the cuts on his chest. His head ached and his mouth was uncomfortably dry. He increasingly struggled to breathe.