31 March 2004 | 2974 words
Disclaimer: LOTR and all its characters belong to Tolkien
Summary: The day before the army rides out to the East, Aragorn pays a visit in the houses of healing, and finds a patient requiring some care and reassurance
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A/N: This will have slashy overtones. Italics represent thoughts.
Faramir was the steward now.
They had not meant to tell him yet, he knew, but he had insisted on seeing his father. He had been worried, so very worried. His shoulder hurt incessantly, his head was pounding unmercifully and he could feel the heat of a fever coursing through his veins. But he had to know what his father thought of him now. He had lost so many men and been forced to retreat. It seemed apparent however that the city had managed to hold out despite that. Someone mentioned Rohan and he deduced that aid had finally reached Minas Tirith. And he knew the king had returned. The king had woken him up the night before. He had called him out of his dreams. Dreams that he did not wish to return to ever again.
He had wanted to see his father. If his father would not come to him, he would go to him. Denethor might still be angry with his younger son, but after wandering along strange paths of imagination for so long, the son had to see his father. He had arisen, not without difficulty, and had managed to stumble as far as the door before his uncle and Mithrandir had appeared. He could remember the words tripping out of his mouth incoherent and muddled, but he had ensured one word was spoken clearly – father. They had exchanged a worried glance; one that told him something was amiss. He had almost guessed but his heart would not let him accept it. Then they had told him.
He finally understood what his dreams had tried to tell him. They had not had to go into the details of the death. He already knew.
He was steward now for the king was to ride off to battle the second morning from then. And he had nothing left to live for. His family was dead, and everyone else he cared for was riding off t war while he would lie here as an invalid. His uncle was going, Mithrandir was going, even Beregond was going. And those of his men who survived would all be going. And the king would be going. All would go to fight a great foe with a tiny army pitted against the might of a nameless one. All seemed lost. They faced defeat even before they left for they were few in number. Minas Tirith would fall, and the sun would never again shine upon the white tower. He suddenly found himself wishing his father had succeeded in taking him away from this world of no hope.
It was past noon when Aragorn headed for Merry’s room. He had become very fond of all the little hobbits and to hear that Merry was recovering fairly quickly had done him a world of good. Éomer of Rohan had also told him that his sister Éowyn was doing much better that day. All his charges were slowly and steadily making their way back to good health. Or so he thought, until he saw Prince Imrahil’s face. The graceful countenance looked worried and grim now.
“My nephew has leaned of his father’s death,” Imrahil told him heavily when he saw the inquiring glance Aragorn directed towards him.
“It is too early to have told him,” Aragorn mused.
“There was no other way.”
“How has he taken it?” he asked, a little curiously. He did not know much of the man who was now steward of his rightful inheritance, save what little he had heard of him from his brother Boromir and a little that Pippin had now told him. But he knew Mithrandir thought very highly of the younger man, and he could see that the uncle was quite fond of him. In the little while he had known Imrahil, Aragorn had come to respect the prince from Dol Amroth a great deal.
“Not very well, and ‘tis natural, I deem. But I cannot help but worry for him. He loved his father a great deal, and I fear he may worry over much of what has transpired.”
“I will speak to the warden and ensure that he does not exert himself,” Aragorn told him.
Imrahil sighed a little, “It will not stop him ruing his father’s death. They parted in grief. It will take him time to get over it. And he is unhappy that he cannot ride out to battle with us.”
Aragorn placed a hand on the man’s shoulder, “He seems a strong willed man, and one conscious of his duty. I am sure he will do as is required.”
“You speak the truth there. He has always done as is required of him,” Imrahil said, a little tersely, it seemed to Aragorn, “If perhaps, you were to speak to him before the armies march -?”
“I had planned to do so,” Aragorn assured him, “I will stop by his room after seeing Merry.”
“That will do him much good,” Imrahil said, his face immediately looking much more cheerful.
He knew it would be dark soon. He should get up soon, he decided, if he intended to do as he planned. He could not lie here like this and let others ride off to certain death! All he held near and dear to him were riding off. His uncle, his cousin, his mentor, and his king. If anything should happen to them, and he feared very much that something *would* happen, then he wanted to be with them. He could not survive in a world bereft of all of them.
He would ride too. They would not let him, and he knew that from talking to his uncle and Mithrandir, but he would ride. He was steward of Gondor now, and none could stop him. Save the king, of course, but why bother the king with such petty details.
Aragorn left Merry’s room after an hour, in a happy frame of mind. Merry did indeed seem much, much better. He remembered his assurance to Imrahil and turned towards the corridor where Faramir’s room was. He knew the moment he neared the long corridor that something was wrong. Outside the shadows had begun to fall, and the staff of the houses had begun to light up the lamps. A faint light from outside was all that lit up the hall and it came through the open door of one of the rooms.
He went over to the room, recognizing it as Faramir’s. The curtains were open and what little light was left outside filtered in through the open window onto an empty bed.
Faramir was not there. A quick survey of the other passageways led him to conclude the steward was not in the houses of healing at all.
*Then where could he have gone?* Aragorn wondered. He came out and stood in a quiet garden that offered a view of most of the city. *Where should I begin to search? The city has changed much from when I was last here!*
He glanced up at the citadel, its windows now dark and empty as though mourning the loss of so many of its inhabitants. A faint shaft of light showed up through one of the windows, and it did not take long for Aragorn to race up the levels into the now empty palace, and head for the passage where he knew the light had come from. The palace had not hanged at all, since his old days.
Faramir was kneeling by a wooden chest and pulling out his chain mail one-handed, panting softly from the exertion. The shutters on the window were down. The flickering yellow light of a small lamp provided illumination.
“What are you doing here?” Aragorn asked, his voice sharper than he had intended.
His sudden entry obviously surprised the other man. The chain mail slipped from alarmed hands and fell to the floor clattering noisily as it did so. The sound rang through the silence, but alerted no one. There was no one else in the citadel, all able-bodied men having been pressed into various tasks that the city’s siege and the impeding march had thrown up.
Grey eyes turned towards him, their steady expression and the firm chin assuring him that he would have to tread carefully with his words here, much as he had had to often do with Denethor many years prior. Then Faramir rose a little unsteadily.
“Sire,” came the respectful murmur, “I hope you are not facing any trouble – “
“I am well, but what brings you out of your room?” he continued firmly.
“I could not find my armor or weapons. It occurred to me they may be here,” cam the audacious reply.
He stared back at the younger man’s quiet face, his keen eyes not missing out the lines of pain and weariness etched onto it.
“Why would you need those in the houses of healing?” he asked firmly.
“I do not desire to remain there while the army sets out. I wish to ride with you to battle, my king. I wish to fight by your side and to protect you, as a steward ought to. Not to lie in bed like an old maid who is too weak to move,” his voice came out in soft raspy breaths now, and he leaned against the chest a little.
Aragorn moved closer, “There will be many a battle left to fight in future. This will not be the last. You may ride out with me then. But not now. Your city needs you, my lord steward. You cannot leave it bereft of a leader at a time when it needs one the most.”
“Húrin will handle the charge well. I desire to come with you, sire,” Faramir said stubbornly. A shiny layer of sweat covered his pale brow.
“Your desires are not of importance, Faramir. No army can afford to march with a wounded commander leading it when there are other options available. You must stay here and recover.”
“I cannot do that. You are the king, and if you ride out then I will ride at your side,” came the stubborn reply.
“I am not yet the king, but if you insist on referring to me as such, then as king I will order you to stay behind and mind my kingdom for me. Nay, I would command you to do it. Would you disobey your lord’s command, Faramir?” Aragorn found himself snapping angrily.
The worn face in front of him fell even before the words were out of his month. The head shook stiltedly, and the lean body trembled a little. Faramir seemed to sway a little, and cradled his injured hand against his chest, his eyes still lowered to the ground. Aragorn darted forward, and grabbed him around the waist.
“Nay I would not go against the king’s command even if it grieves me to do so, and even though I know it is not what I deem right,” Faramir accepted his hold distractedly. His mind seemed to be somewhere else. The words to follow dripped with a bitterness deep enough to startle Aragorn, “It will not be the first time I have undertaken a command that I disagreed with. But I will obey and if as the last time, I find I have to repent it, I will repent again - because you have asked me to, and you are my king. If this is how you wish to test my loyalty I accept it.”
“No,” Aragorn cried out alarmed, “It is not to test your loyalty that I request this of you. And no, I do not order you, I request you, as a friend. And as a healer I can assure you that you are in no condition to ride out to battle.”
“A friend? But you do not even know me!”
“You are Boromir’s brother and the steward of Gondor. That is enough for me to know,” Aragorn said sincerely.
Faramir glanced up at him, his eyes wide open, and then tentatively returned his embrace.
Aragorn held him quietly, mindful of the injury, as the younger man buried his face into his shoulder. His breathing was still slow and heavy, and tremors shuddered through the exhausted body every few seconds. He gently lifted a hand and tucked a lock of sweat-dampened hair behind one ear. His fingers brushed the wan cheek lightly. It was warm, too warm.
“I am going to lose everyone I love, and you ask me to stay here. I cannot sit back and watch others ride to a death that I am not allowed to face. And I do not wish to live in a world that does not have those I love,” the muffled voice continued.
“You will not. I will bring you back your kinsmen and friends alive and well.”
Aragorn stared at the dark head leaning against his shoulder. The pale light from the lamp continued to flicker across the walls, falling on the unhappy grey eyes that stared pleadingly out at him.
“You must return too. Your realm needs you.”
There was much he wanted to say then, but could not. How could he promise to return, when they knew not what awaited them? Hope hung by a thin thread now and everything hinged on the mission of the ring bearer. But even if Frodo succeeded could he promise he would return? He wanted to tell Faramir that even if he did not return the realm would be safe in the new steward’s hands, but something deep inside him told him that that was the last thing Faramir wanted to hear.
And then very softly came the next sentence, “I need you.” It held to it the same reverence that he had heard when Faramir had awoken two days ago. A hand rose slightly and grasped his gently, pulling it up as the lowered head turned a fraction. Dry lips brushed his knuckles.
“I must need you or why would your voice have called me out of the darkness?” came the whisper.
Then Faramir disentangled himself and tried to stay up on his own, only to sway slightly. He brushed away Aragorn’s extended arm and tried walking a few steps only to nearly topple over. Aragorn promptly caught him again.
“You spoke correctly as a healer,” Faramir said, “I fear, my king, that I can barely stand out of bed.”
“Then I will return you to your room.”
“We must be careful. I would not wish the warden to know I was out. Does he already know? I suppose not, or he would have raised the alarm.”
“Come quietly then,” Aragorn said, as he helped his steward out of the room and down the passageways. By the time they entered the houses, Faramir was leaning heavily against him, and in fact almost falling to the ground.
They tiptoed in quietly and secretively, and released a collective sigh of relief as their clandestine entry went unnoticed, something that would have been derided as tardiness on the staff’s part had the times been normal. But it was wartime now and helping hands were needed everywhere.
They reached Faramir’s room and stood at the doorway.
“You have yet to give me your assurance,” Faramir said quietly, his head resting against Aragorn’s shoulder.
“What assurance?” Aragorn came to a stop at the doorway.
“That you will return.”
“Faramir – “ he began, uncertainly, unwilling to say something that might hurt the man in his arms. He suddenly discovered he never wanted to see the younger man hurt ever. He was wondering at this sudden rush of protectiveness in him, when slender fingers pressed down on his lips.
“Promise me. That is all I need.”
“I promise,” he found himself saying, “but Faramir –“
Slowly the slumped man raised himself painfully, and Aragorn watched perplexed as a perfectly shaped mouth with full lips that were too pale brushed his own mouth, blocking out all else he wished to say.
The lips stayed just a little bit longer before moving away, “That is all I need,” Faramir repeated softly.
Then he found himself holding Faramir’s entire weight for the man seemed to have collapsed into his arms. Gently, he picked up the tired figure in his arms and carried him over to the bed. Laying him upon the sheets, he sat by holding onto the slim wrist, feeling the blood pulsing through the veins, a little too fast for his liking.
The eyes opened and looked back at him with pain and weariness writ large in them but also full of the love and reverence that he had now come to recognise, “I will keep your city for you till you return. And we will give you a welcome befitting you. I promise you that.”
He squeezed the hand he held gently, and kissed the steward lightly before rising to leave.
At the doorway to the houses, he came across the warden. They greeted each other politely and spoke a little of the patients.
“Lord Faramir and Lady Éowyn have suffered the greatest,” the healer told him.
He nodded at that considering himself now well acquainted with both, “Well, perhaps, Master warden, they may find in each other some company then.”
The warden nodded somberly, “Aye my lord. The army leaves on the morrow?”
“Yes, and I must leave now to prepare for the departure,” Aragorn said and then quietly added, “But I will return.”
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