With grateful thanks to Raksha, Deandra 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".
Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.- The Bible -Romans xii. 21.
Éowyn stormed into the kitchens, Elbeth trailing her like a foal scampering after its war-mare mother. She had received Aragorn's message, and deployed the White Company and household guard to greatest advantage. Her children were well-guarded, more men had been assigned to surround the great house and stables; and White Guards rode round the villages of Emyn Arnen and the fields below it in a continuous circuit, to best protect their people.
The messengers and their horses were being cared for; Éowyn had selected new horses and riders and they were being prepared to leave even now. She quickly pulled out various freshly picked vegetables that needed to be chopped. She could not go to Faramir; she was needed here, and she knew that Aragorn surpassed her in the healing arts and would take good care of her husband. But she could do this for him, make sure that Faramir could get some nourishing soup by sending fresh ingredients to the woodcutter's cottage that Aragorn had described. She would send a large iron pan, freshly scoured, just in case the one in the cottage was rusted or dirty.
Who could have hurt her husband in this fashion, she wondered, and cut a large carrot in half with a loud thwack of the knife on the cutting board, declining a kitchen maid's offer to do it instead. She needed a task to occupy her hands. When we find these folk, men, orcs, or other fiends, they shall be put horribly to death, she decided with another satisfactory thwack at the carrot. We shall tie them between two horses and have them pulled apart, as was done to traitors in ancient times in the Mark. Thwack, thwack, thwack; and the carrot was satisfactorily chopped. No, that is a faster death than they deserve; she reconsidered, grabbing the next carrot and placing it on the cutting board. Perhaps hanging, drawing and quartering instead, Éowyn mused as she brought down the knife hard upon the hapless carrot.
A pang of sorrow struck her then, as sudden and sharp as the cut of the knife she held. Faramir would never allow such cruelty, even in an execution! He would say that we must be better than that, take the path of the High whenever we can, she remembered.
And he would be right. Oh, Faramir... Éowyn dropped the knife, and struggled not to scream or cry. She must be strong for Elbeth, who stood looking at her with wide, frightened eyes, and for everyone else who depended upon her.
She slowly picked up the knife and washed it before handing it hilt first to Elbeth. "My hands are tired, Elbeth," she said. "Would you finish chopping these carrots for me, please? Your uncle and the King will need some fresh vegetables in their soup; and it will take less time to make if we chop some carrots and onions for them. The maids will help you."
"Yes, Aunt Éowyn," Elbeth replied obediently. "I want to help."
Éowyn went to help gather the rest of the supplies that Aragorn had asked for and a few more things besides.
In the woodcutter's cottage, Faramir shifted uneasily on the lumpy pillows, struggling to cough painfully. Aragorn pulled aside the covers a few inches and tried to ease his friend's breathing with an Elven skill that Elrond had taught him. Usually patients found the procedure painless and even pleasant and relaxing, but it was all too obvious that even the lightest touch of Aragorn's skilled fingers across Faramir's chest and back caused him pain.
"I am sorry, ion nîn, but this will help you breathe," Aragorn soothed, wishing he did not need to cause further discomfort, however necessary. He was uncertain if Faramir even knew who he was. At least his ministrations made Faramir's breathing less laboured and the Steward drifted in and out of an uneasy slumber.
Aragorn was thankful when a few hours later several of the heavily armed White Company arrived bearing with them the supplies he had requested, together with and a message from Éowyn. He unsealed the parchment and read. "Thank you, my friend, for finding my husband. I would give much to be at his side. I trust you above all others, though, to tend him in my stead. I have sent all I can in this haste for his comfort. Please tell Faramir that the girls and I send our loving greetings and wishes that he speedily be restored to us. Please send me word again soon of how Faramir is faring. If you need anything more for him or for the men, tell me and it shall be sent. Your loyal subject and friend, Éowyn.
Éowyn had sent several pairs of fine linen sheets, warm blankets, together with a pelt, four soft pillows stuffed with goose feathers and a light feather quilt. There was a full set of clothes for Faramir, together with several nightshirts and changes of underwear and two robes, which Aragorn hoped the Steward might be able to wear while his shoulders were healing.
Éowyn had also sent two freshly slaughtered and plucked chickens for the pot, freshly cut vegetables with a hastily scrawled recipe for soup, several varieties of teas, including those favoured by the Hobbits, and fresh horses.
Aragorn smiled approvingly as he sorted through the clothing and bedding. Trust Éowyn to have considered everything he could possibly need to help care for her husband.
Calling Beregond in, he asked the Captain to help him change the bedding. Soon the scratchy sheets and thin blankets were lying in a discarded heap in the corner and Faramir was more comfortably cocooned in the bedding from his own home and propped high on the plump pillows. He seemed to rest more easily thus, helped Aragorn was certain by the faint whiff of Éowyn's favourite perfume, which she had apparently added to the sheets.
Although Faramir still did not seem fully aware, he continued to drink as much water as Aragorn offered him. The King sighed with relief when the next time he pinched the skin on Faramir's arm, it quickly fell back in place.
When darkness fell, Beregond came to him and suggested that he rest.
"I thank you for your concern, but I cannot leave Lord Faramir's side," said Aragorn.
"You need to take rest yourself, my lord," Beregond insisted.
"You would order me, Captain?" There was a dangerous glint in Aragorn's tired eyes.
"You too are a soldier, sire, and a healer as well. We take rest when we may, the better to defeat the enemy. I can watch over Lord Faramir. I will call you at once if he has need of your care."
Aragorn sighed resignedly. He knew a stubborn man when he saw one. Faramir appeared to be resting now, but he would have need of his King's healing skills in abundance over the next few days. Aragorn needed far less sleep than most men, but the more rested he was, the stronger would be his healing powers to help Faramir. "Very well," he conceded. "You can stay with Lord Faramir for a little while, but if he needs anything at all, you call me. You understand?"
"Of course, my lord. Rest easy, I will take good care of him. You have my word."
Aragorn rose from Faramir's bedside gesturing to Beregond to take his place there. It was indeed a blessed relief to stretch his legs. When he entered the adjoining room, a chorus of enquiries greeted him as to how Faramir fared. It was obvious that he was not the only one present who loved Faramir and held him in high regard.
He needed first to go outside. While he was without, he checked that his horse was being well cared for. Éowyn would have his head should the mare come to any harm! The beautiful chestnut had the same sire as Faramir's missing mare. He could only hope she was faring better at the hands of the outlaws than her master had.
After speaking to the two sentries that would watch throughout the night, and hearing their reports, Aragorn found that his bedroll had been laid out for him. One man brought him a mug of tea, while another offered a plate of food. Touched by their concern, he thanked them and bade them rest. Soon the only sound in the room was that of snoring. Sleep was slower to come to Aragorn. The image of finding Faramir hanging in agony from the tree swam before his eyes. Could his friend ever hope to fully recover from such an ordeal? He could heal Faramir's body, but would his soul remain forever scarred by his cruel ordeal?
Eventually weariness overcame Aragorn and he slept.
Young Sador, who was slumbering next to Aragorn, stirred in his sleep uneasily and cried out.
Aragorn, who over long years of practise slept almost like a cat, always on the alert lest he be called to action, woke with a start. He sat bolt upright.
"I'm sorry, sire," Sador whispered, roused by his own cry.
"What ails you lad?" Even in such dim light, Aragorn could see the boy was shaking.
"Nothing, my lord, well I..."
"I see that your heart is troubled. Come outside so as not to wake the others," Aragorn said in a low voice.
The boy scrambled to his feet and went towards the doorway. After picking up a blanket, Aragorn followed.
"It was just an ill dream, sire," Sador said in response to the King's questioning gaze.
"It troubled you though." Aragorn threw the blanket around the boy's shaking shoulders. "Tell me what you dreamt!"
"I dreamed of Lord Faramir, how we found him hanging all butchered like that," the boy blurted out. "It was horrible! I thought I was going to be sick! They told me I'd see bad things if I went to war, but I didn't expect anything like this, not here in Ithilien and not since the Dark Lord's no more! I thought only Orcs did such foul deeds, not Men! And Lord Faramir too! He's a good man, he is! How could anyone do that to him?" He trembled violently.
Aragorn placed a comforting arm around the youth. He pondered for a few moments before answering his question. "I have lived many years longer than you have, Sador, and travelled to far off lands where even the stars are strange. Everywhere I have been, I have seen good men and evil ones. Why some turn to evil, I know not. Maybe others treated them ill, or they were born with darkness in their hearts. No man knows the answer, not even the Wise, like Master Elrond and Mithrandir have solved such mysteries as this and learned why good men often suffer greatly, as do innocent women and children. Soldiers such as we are sworn to protect the innocent."
Sador ceased trembling and drew himself to his full height. "Let's go after those villains who so abused Lord Faramir, then!" he cried. "I will make them suffer as he suffered and worse! I'll rip them to shreds and leave what remains of them to be devoured by the crows!" He clenched his fists, the knuckles white with tension.
"Nay, Sador," Aragorn said gently. "We cannot stoop as low as they by resorting to torture and violence. Two wrongs cannot make a right. We must indeed capture the miscreants, but then justice must be meted out, not revenge."
"But Lord Faramir is your friend, sire!" Sador protested.
"That is all the more reason that they must be judged according to the law, lad," Aragorn answered. "My feelings are as strong as yours, and stronger, but I cannot be ruled by how I feel. All we can do is to try to follow the path of goodness ourselves and fight against evil."
Sador's posture gradually relaxed. "I'm sorry, my lord, you must think me foolish."
Aragorn shook his head. "It should trouble a gentle heart to see a good man mistreated. As you grow older, you will learn to better control your feelings, but never let your heart become too hard to feel pity and horror."
"Thank you, sire. I will always try to fight to protect those in need, I promise!"
"Are you ready to go back inside now and get some rest?" Aragorn asked. "You will have a long day tomorrow."
The King and the young soldier returned to their comrades. Aragorn looked inside the bedroom and was pleased Faramir's fever was abating and the Steward appeared to be sleeping peacefully, watched over by a vigilant Beregond. He settled down to rest himself. He seemed only to have slept for a short time when Beregond's urgent call awakened him. "My lord, please come quickly!"