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, Deandra and Ellynn.
Awake and alert within a moment, Aragorn raced into the next room. Faramir was shaking violently and making low moaning sounds. Aragorn immediately checked his heart rate, which raced wildly. "Faramir?" he called gently, "Easy, ion nîn , it is I."
Faramir gazed upon him with a fixed glassy stare as if oblivious of his friend's presence. His forehead was beaded with sweat, though his skin felt cold to the touch.
"What ails him?" Beregond enquired worriedly. The Captain was pacing at the foot of the bed.
"The shock to his body and mind caused by his ordeal," Aragorn said grimly. "Fetch me hot water. I need to steep some athelas and make tea for him." Thus saying, he sat on the bed beside Faramir and raised him into an upright position, guiding his friend's head against his shoulder. He draped one of the pelts around his Steward's shaking body. Faramir tried to struggle free from his grasp, but lacked even the strength of a new- born kitten.
"Be easy now, I have you safe," Aragorn repeated, gently rubbing the back of Faramir's neck using an Elven calming technique Master Elrond had taught him long ago. He tried to reach out to the troubled man with his spirit, but could sense only pain, fear, and distress instead of Faramir's usual wisdom and stoicism. "Elbereth protect him!" he prayed inwardly. This crisis would take all his healing arts, not only for the body, but for the soul too.
Beregond entered carrying hot water, while a frightened - looking Sador followed with another bowl.
A sudden inspiration struck Aragorn. "Do you know the hymn to Lady Star Kindler?" he asked them.
"Yes, sire." Both men answered at once, though they looked puzzled by the question.
"Then sing it and hope that Lady Varda will smile upon Lord Faramir if we call upon her."
Beregond began to sing softly. After the first line, Sador rather hesitantly joined in. Aragorn took two leaves of athelas and breathed upon them before crumbling them into a bowl of steaming water. He laved Faramir's brow with the mixture, all the while reaching out with his mind, reassuring Faramir that he was safe, loved, and amongst friends.
Faramir's trembling gradually eased. By the time, the song was ended; he opened his eyes. This time he recognised Aragorn and smiled faintly. With his free hand. Aragorn prepared a drink and held the cup to Faramir's lips.
"Thank you," Faramir whispered. "I had such dark dreams."
"I am with you now. You are safe, mellon nîn," Aragorn assured him.
"Where am I?"
"In a woodcutter's cottage in the forest. You needed help quickly, so I did not dare take you home to Éowyn."
"Éowyn! Is she safe and the children?"
"They are safe and well and securely guarded at Emyn Arnen," Aragorn reassured him. "I would have fetched her to you, but knew not what dangers were lurking in the forest or whether the kingdom was under attack."
"You did well. She must remain safe with my little ones. There were but three of them, but they overwhelmed me! What if my family had been with me. I could not have protected them!" Faramir groaned and started to tremble again.
Aragorn put down the cup and again put a gentle protecting arm around his friend. "Think not of it," he said. "There are many times when I have had cause to thank the Valar that Arwen and Eldarion were not with me when evildoers struck."
Faramir fell silent. "They took my clothes," he fretted.
"I swear they did not otherwise degrade you," said Aragorn. "Éowyn has sent more garments for you, but it would cause you too much pain to don a shirt just yet."
Faramir tried to lift his arm and gave a cry of pain. Aragorn held his hands over him, trying to soothe away his agony with the innate healing powers that the line of Lúthien was gifted with. It grieved him deeply to see his friend thus wounded in mind and body. He placed one hand on Faramir's brow and could sense the anguish that the one whom he loved as his own child was enduring. At least the fever appeared to have lessened somewhat.
"Feared you would not come, that I would die on that tree!" Faramir whispered, his fragmented speech showing his exhaustion. "Tried to call out in my mind to you."
"You reached me," said Aragorn. "I set out at once. I knew you were hurt, but not where you were."
"Like me when the rebels captured you," Faramir replied.
"I praise the Valar that I did find you," said Aragorn. "We are fortunate that our people can share thoughts."
"Did not want to die alone there," Faramir replied. "My poor Iavas! Must find her!" He struggled to sit up, but fell back groaning upon the pillows.
"Easy," Aragorn soothed. "Legolas and two of your Rangers have gone after her. If anyone can get her back they can."
"What might they do to her?" Faramir's voice was little more than a whisper.
"They will not hurt her, she is too valuable," Aragorn assured him. "I expect they will try to sell her."
"Won't obey them."
"She is a clever horse. Her sire was one of the Mearas. She might well find her own way home if Legolas does not reach her first." Aragorn tried to sound confident. He moved over to the table beside the bed and added some poppy juice to a cup of water. He raised Faramir's head and lifted the cup to his lips. "Drink this, it will ease you," he said.
Faramir drank and lay back again upon the pillows. Aragorn put the empty cup down. The King's hands trembled slightly.
"You should rest, sire," Beregond's voice started the King. The Captain, forgotten, had remained hovering in the doorway.
"You have had no rest either."
"We are taking it in turn to stay awake, sire. Have no fear, my lord, you and Lord Faramir are well guarded."
"I might be weary, but I can still wield Andúril!"
"There is a guard outside this room as well as watchful men outside the cottage," said Beregond."Sador and I can sit with Lord Faramir now he is resting."
"Very well, but I shall not leave Lord Faramir's side." Aragorn kicked off his boots and stretched out on the far side of the large bed, anxious not to aggravate Faramir's wounds. Faramir leaned his head against his friend and lord's shoulder and finally fell into a deep sleep. Still anxious for his welfare, Aragorn intended to remain wakeful, but the need to keep still, so as not to disturb Faramir finally forced him to rest.
Sunlight streamed through the cottage window when Aragorn next opened his eyes. Beside him, Faramir still slept fitfully, his face livid with bruises. When Aragorn laid a gentle hand on his brow, he was pleased to discover that the fever had gone. He was filled with resolve. He could not undo what had happened to Faramir, but he would do his utmost to restore him to health and see that the full weight of the law was employed against those who had used him so cruelly. He slowly swung his feet to the ground. He nodded to Sador who stood in the doorway.
Faramir groaned and his grey eyes flickered open. He looked around him wildly.
"I am here, ion nîn, you are safe now," Aragorn said reassuringly.
"I am here and I will not leave you."
Faramir gave a deep sigh and visibly relaxed. "Thirsty."
Aragorn filled a glass with water from the pitcher on the bedside table and held it to Faramir's lips. The younger man drank deeply.
"How do you feel?"
"I will do what I can to ease you." Aragorn put down the empty glass and held his hands a few inches above Faramir's shoulders then over his other injuries.
Faramir smiled wanly. "Such power and warmth in your hands." He lifted his head a little as some of Aragorn's strength flowed into his wounded body.
"Would you like something to eat?" Aragorn asked. Faramir's bandages needed changing but that could wait. More than anything he needed to build up his friend's strength again.
Faramir nodded. "I think I could eat a little."
"We will make you some broth," said Aragorn. "Your lady prepared the ingredients with her own fair hands yesterday."
"It should taste good then," said Faramir.
Aragorn caught Sador's eye and the young man scurried off.
The broth was quickly prepared and Beregond brought it to the Steward's bedside in a bowl on a tray, which he carefully placed on the bed.
Faramir reached for the spoon only to find that his maimed hands could not grip it. He groaned with pain and frustration.
Aragorn picked up the spoon and brought a spoonful of broth to Faramir's lips. "Let me help you," he said.
"I feel like a baby!" Faramir protested. "My little daughter can feed herself far better than I!"
"Your hands took a great strain, but they will heal with time and proper nourishment," Aragorn reassured him.
"You are my lord and King, not my servant!"
"Here I am your healer," said Aragorn. "I remember well the friend, who dear as a son to me, fed and cared for me during the times I was injured. The friend, who, would not risk my dignity by assigning lowly tasks to a servant, but did all without complaint. I would do the same for you, ion nîn."
Faramir said no more, but swallowed each spoonful of broth until the bowl was empty.
"Rest a little now before I tend your wounds," said Aragorn. He arranged the pillows more comfortably and tucked the covers under Faramir's chin. The Steward closed his eyes and slept once more.
While Faramir rested, watched over by Beregond, Aragorn stretched his legs outside and broke his own fast. His heart was lighter, but he knew it would be a long and arduous road to recovery that his friend needed to tread.
When Faramir awoke again Aragorn could delay tending his wounds no longer. He had Beregond bring hot water then dismissed the captain to give Faramir more privacy. When he pulled back the covers, he saw that the bandages were heavily stained.
Aragorn carefully soaked them off. Faramir lay with his eyes closed and made no complaint about his ministrations. The ugly carvings across his chest and belly looked an even worse desecration in the cheerful morning sunlight. Aragorn was glad that Faramir did not open his eyes. There would be time enough to face up to what had happened to him when he was stronger.
He replaced the bandages and gently massaged Faramir's back and chest with light Elven touches to help keep his lungs clear and then started to work on the damaged muscles in his swollen shoulders. For the first time, Faramir opened his eyes and moaned softly.
"I am sorry to be paining you thus," said Aragorn, his eyes full of compassion. "I need to stimulate blood flow to the damaged muscles and tendons. It should help the swelling to go down and promote healing."
"I understand," said Faramir. "It is just that everything hurts."
"I know, ion nîn," Aragorn said sadly. "I know."
The day progressed slowly. Aragorn continued to tend Faramir and was pleased that he was able to eat more of the broth later. He sent messengers to tell Éowyn that her husband was a little better and to fetch more ingredients and fresh linens.
To keep the men from becoming restless, he sent them out on patrol in alternating pairs. No one reported any signs of the brigands who had attacked the Steward. Neither was there any word from Legolas.
Faramir spent most of the day lying with his eyes closed. Aragorn did not think that he was sleeping, though.
When night fell again, Aragorn was determined to again keep watch beside Faramir. It seemed at last that his friend slept. He decided to rest too in a manner that he had learned during his days as a Ranger, in which he slept very lightly, his senses ready to be recalled to full alertness at any moment.
He was startled into full wakefulness by a stifled sob. Immediately, Aragorn lit more candles in addition to the one that was burning so that the small chamber was flooded with warm light.
Faramir still lay with his eyes shut but tears were running down his cheeks. Very carefully, as not to aggravate his injuries, Aragorn raised him to a sitting position and placed a comforting arm around him.
"Easy now," he soothed. "I am here, ion nîn. I will not leave your side."
"I put you to so much trouble," said Faramir. "You should be with your lady and Eldarion, or ordering Gondor's affairs, not having to perform duties for me that many servants would turn pale at."
"It was my lady who sent me to look for you," Aragorn said firmly. "She is well capable of managing affairs of state. If anything, I imagine she enjoys having the charge of Gondor on occasion. Your uncle would gladly assist her if the need arises, but she has more wisdom and diplomatic experience than either of us does. As for caring for you, when I bind your wounds, I rejoice that you yet live, if I feed you, I am pleased that you want to eat, if you need to answer nature's call, I am glad that lack of fluids did no lasting damage to your kidneys. So put your mind at rest on those counts. I care for you because I love you as my own son and I need you beside me that our land may prosper from your wisdom. You are no burden to me, but a blessing!"
"I too am blessed in you," said Faramir. "But why so much pain?"
"Only the Valar could answer that question," said Aragorn. "Since Melkor wove discord in the Music that created Arda, Men and Elves have suffered as have all living creatures. Why did the innocent perish with the guilty when the great wave engulfed Númenor? Why was my lady's mother put to such torment? I trust that when we pass beyond the circles of Arda that the One will make all things plain to us. Until then, all we can do is comfort one another and hold fast to love and to loyalty and fighting for what is right."
"I know,"said Faramir. "I have always tried to uphold what is right, yet my father tried to burn me alive, Mahrod sought to defile me and now this!"
"I have heard several reports of bandits striking travellers in lonely places and leaving them to die like they did with you," said Aragorn. "They would have waylaid any traveller unlucky enough to cross their path."
"Their leader was the worse." Faramir shuddered. "I think the other two would have been content to leave me be, once they had taken everything of value I had on me."
"I will deal with them accordingly once Legolas and his men catch up with them," said Aragorn grimly.
Faramir rested his head against Aragorn's shoulder. Tears poured down the Steward's face. Aragorn gently wiped them away and continued to share loving and reassuring thoughts and memories with his troubled friend. Faramir's thoughts remained dark, though, his mind clouded with his memories of hanging from the tree in agony. Aragorn placed his hand lightly on Faramir's chest. The Steward's heart raced and sweat drenched his skin.