1. A Difficult Task
Aragorn knew he had to talk to Faramir in case he never had another chance as the Host was due to set out to Mordor at first light tomorrow.
The Steward deserved to know of his brother's last moments and how bravely he had fought to defend the Hobbits from Sauraman's forces but Aragorn disliked having to tell him now, while he was still lying recovering, but still very weak in the Houses of Healing.
Yet if he were to fall before the Black Gate of Mordor, he would never have the chance to hear of his beloved brother's death from the one who was with him at the time and thereby maybe he would gain some peace of mind from knowing the truth.
Aragorn was exhausted after the battle, tending those under the shadow of the Black Breath and debating with the other leaders about how best they could give Frodo a chance to destroy the Dark Lord's power, but he would not seek his tent to rest until he had fulfilled the duty he felt he owed both to Boromir and Faramir.
Clad simply with his grey cloak concealing the green gem he wore, he made his way to the young captain's room, hoping that he was feeling stronger now.
The struggle to save Faramir's life had been the hardest Aragorn had ever experienced.
Faramir fallen into the depths of shadow and despair, and never before had he needed to reach so deeply into the mind of another to lead them back into the world of the living.
Aragorn had sensed such darkness and desolation, as this was a gentle soul driven to the very limits and yet underneath the shadow, he sensed a kindred spirit, which had made him all the more determined to save Faramir's life, whatever the cost to his own strength.
And indeed the cost was high, as his companions had all feared for his own well-being before Bergil had brought some athelas, which had served to revive both Faramir and himself.
When he entered Faramir's room, the healers were tending the Steward's wounds and he was propped up in bed with his nightshirt pulled down to his waist.
Faramir blushed scarlet as the King entered the room and tried to rise and pull up his nightshirt to cover himself. His expression suggested the mixture of the love and respect, which Aragorn had noticed two nights before but now that was overshadowed by a look of overwhelming fear.
Faramir fell back against the pillows caught by the healers' restraining hands.
"My apologies, my lord," Faramir gasped." I fear I am not properly clad to receive you and I cannot rise."
Aragorn smiled attempting to reassure him." There is nothing to apologise for Faramir," he said gently."I only wished to speak to you." He wondered, not for the first time, how he could approach the subject of Boromir's death.
He then turned to the healers.
"I will tend his wound myself," the King said.
"As you wish, my lord." The healers bowed and left, grateful to have one less to tend as many were waiting for their help in these dark days.
Aragorn felt Faramir's flushed brow and once reassured he was not feverish but merely ill at ease, took the bowl of warm water the healers had left and started to bathe the wound on Faramir's shoulder.
It was healing well and Aragorn felt relieved, although he feared the muscle was damaged, which could cause much future pain if neglected.
"It is not fitting that my King should be tending me." Faramir protested.
"I have been a healer far longer than I have been a King, if indeed I am ever crowned as such, should I return from Mordor. Tell me if this wound continues to pain you as I think I will need to treat it further." Aragorn replied, gently dabbing the injured shoulder dry with a towel and applying a salve the sons of Elrond had provided.
Faramir flinched at each touch, despite the slow gentle movements of the King's fingertips and bit back a hiss of pain, when the ointment stung the raw flesh even though Aragorn was far gentler than the healers of Gondor, who had been attending him.
Strange warmth emanated from the King's hands, which felt both soothing and frightening to Faramir, as he had never encountered anything quite like it before.
The Steward stared mutely at his hands lying limply on the coverlet as if lost in thought.
The King wondered whether it was the wounds or the grief he must undoubtedly be feeling that caused Faramir so much pain.
He placed a soft pad of cloth over the shoulder wound and started to wind a bandage across Faramir's chest and round his back to keep it in place.
He moved round the bed and gasped when he saw the old scars of many lash wounds, too many to count across the exposed back.
Even worse, these were overlaid with fresh welts that could not have been inflicted more than a few days ago.
What horrors had this man endured? He wondered. Granted that most young men felt the lash at some time during unruly youth but very seldom sufficiently to leave such scars, especially in the noble houses.
Fortunately, Faramir seemed too nervous at being in the presence of his King to even notice the look of horror on the other's face.
"Will you turn on your side? I would like to tend your back." Aragorn said.
Faramir nodded reluctantly, his dark eyes haunted with a mixture of shame and fear.
Aragorn helped him roll on to his uninjured side, pulled the cover down as far as his hips and began very gently bathing the ugly looking and painful welts that disfigured Faramir's flesh.
They had been inflicted with such force that even the gentle cleansing caused them to bleed afresh.
Faramir flinched at each touch as if expecting further blows. Aragorn was baffled as to why he had been lashed.
He knew from his years of service there that the Gondorians would flog a disobedient soldier but only for a most heinous offence, which it seemed unthinkable that a highly respected captain such as Faramir would ever commit.
It also seemed that the lashes had been inflicted before he rode out to Osgiliath and what commander would show such madness as to weaken a worthy captain in such a fashion before sending him into the thick of battle? Small wonder Faramir had been grievously ill and close to death when he had first set eyes on him.
Aragorn started to spread ointment across the painful injuries disfiguring the woefully thin back.
Beneath his hands, Faramir trembled and recoiled with embarrassment that his King should see these dishonourable lashes. He had always imagined he would meet his King, riding out dressed in his finest velvets, not sprawled across a sickbed with the shameful marks of his father's displeasure revealed.
The healers had told him that Aragorn had laboured for hours to save his life and it puzzled him why the King should so concern himself for one such as he, Faramir, the constant disappointment to his father.
"How did you come by these hurts?" Aragorn asked him gently." Try to be still while I tend them, so I may ease you. If I am able to, in the future I can give you an elven treatment to fade the scars."
" It was a punishment, my Liege. I allowed the Perian to go and then Osgiliath fell whilst under my command."
Aragorn paused briefly from his ministrations, shocked by the words. Only one man could have ordered Faramir to be flogged and that man was his father.
Aragorn remembered Denethor from forty years or so before, as a cold hard man and yet a loving father to young Boromir.
However how could any man order his already ailing son to be flogged and then send him out to almost certain death he wondered?
Ever since Boromir had died, he had felt the duty had fallen on him to protect his younger brother. If only I had come sooner, he thought as he bandaged soft pads of cloth against the wheals, his heart brimming with pity.
He swore a silent oath that should he become king, none should ever harm Faramir in this fashion again.
"Are you feeling any stronger today?" Aragorn asked as he gently pulled the nightshirt up over the Steward's shoulders and fastened the laces round the neck. He then seated himself on a chair by the bed.
"I am much better, sire and thank you for saving my life. I apologise for not having thanked you before"
Faramir sank back against the pillows but the tension failed to leave him. He sat staring at his King like a frightened rabbit caught by a fox.
Aragorn took his patient's hand and frowned at the racing pulse. If Faramir would not be calm, the fever could return in his weakened condition.
Aragorn gently laid his hands on the other's head, stroking his hair and massaging the back of his neck with a healing touch.
Initially Faramir flinched again as if expecting a blow but gradually the tension left his hunched body as he felt the King's power.
Aragorn removed his hand, wishing he could ease his Steward more but feeling too weary to do so.
He noticed the other's hair was still covered in oil and picked up the towel to wipe it from his hands.
"It was thanks enough to see you recovering. You do not need to keep apologising, my Lord Steward. I would not have you fear me," he said with a smile. Fixing Faramir with a gentle but penetrating gaze Aragorn asked:" Tell me how you knew who I was?"
"I have dreams that foretell the future." Faramir replied "I saw you in one coming to save Gondor. You wield the sword that was broken. My brother too had such dreams though not as often as I and we both dreamed of the broken sword in Imladis. My father sent Boromir to seek counsel there, even though I begged for the errand."
He shuddered as he spoke unable to mention the dream he had awoken from that morning, a vision so hideous that he forced himself to stifle the initial warmth he had felt towards his King and saviour, as he could endure no more losses of those he loved.
The touch of the man's hands had only made the hideous vision clearer as he saw the King, his body bruised and broken, lying in some field, surrounded by a small group of weeping companions.
Aragorn was thinking the conversation was leading where he hoped it would, when Faramir noticed him wiping his hands.
"Why is my hair covered in oil? " Faramir asked with increasing confidence, as the Elvish relaxation technique Aragorn had used, started to work." I know the healers have been too busy to help me wash it but when I ask why no one will even tell me that or how my father died!"
Aragorn wet the towel in the basin and rubbed Faramir's head with it while desperately wondering how to answer him. This was the one subject he wished to avoid above all others.
"Thank you, that feels better." Faramir said rubbing his hands through his damp but now much cleaner hair.
Aragorn held his breath wondering what would come next.
"Do you know how my father died?"
Faramir had asked the one question, Aragorn had no wish to answer, at least not until the man was fully recovered.
"I was not there. I only heard tidings of his death when I reached the city gates." Aragorn said evasively.
"But surely they told you how he died?" Faramir insisted.
Aragorn sighed deeply. It seemed his attempts to calm Faramir to his presence had worked all too well.
"It is not a pleasant story." Aragorn said." Are you certain you wish to know?"
"Nothing could be worst than what I imagine!" Faramir replied.
Aragorn rose to his feet, "One who was there is in the next room." he said "I will fetch him to you."
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.