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18 December 2005 | 25334 words | Work in Progress
TITLE: Borne Upon a Dark Wind
WARNINGS: AU, Dark elements, Rape.
PAIRINGS: Faramir/Aragorn, Faramir/Rhisiart (OMC)
FEEDBACK: Always Appreciated! Some explanation of what that means to me is here if you wish to see it
DISCLAIMER: All characters belong to the Tolkien estate. This AU is written for love not money and has no intention of infringing upon copyright.
AN: The history of Númenor as well as Gondor shows that no race is immune to the lure of evil. In The Return of the King, we are told that the Mouth of Sauron was said to be “of the race of those that are named the Black Númenoreans; for they established their dwellings in Middle-earth during the years of Sauron’s domination, and they worshipped him, being enamoured of evil knowledge.” This fic’s AU premise is that during their long exile, Aragorn’s line and many of the Dúnedain joined the Black Númenoreans in worship of Sauron. The date is 3008. Faramir, 25, has been newly appointed Captain in Ithilien.
Borne Upon a Dark Wind
The small plant was nearly perfect. A straight stem branched into three green leaves veined with silver. The leaves, shaped like arrowheads, cradled a single white bloom. Growing in the shade of the large tree, the plant was still wet with dew.
The morning had been misty as was often the case in Ithilien during Víressë. Warm moist winds from the South would meet the cooler airs from the mountains to make mist-shrouded mornings clearing to glorious afternoons.
This white bloom was stained with red.
Faramir gasped then clenched his teeth as Rhisiart pulled him to his feet, the pain of the movement cutting through him.
Rhisiart shrugged under Faramir’s arm, gripping his wrist, then sliding an arm around Faramir’s waist to half carry him.
The ambush had come without warning, perfectly planned, the whisper of sound heard just before the arrows hit. Half his men had fallen in the first moments.
The image of the arrow in Anborn’s throat burned in Faramir’s mind. Long and fletched with grey feathers, it was no Orc arrow.
Branches whipped across Faramir’s face. He bent his head, forced his legs to move. The cut on his thigh had been hastily bound. Shallow but bloody, it hampered his movement as they half ran, half slid down the steep slope, taking cover in a dense thicket.
His foot catching on an exposed root, Faramir fell, heavily, pulling his companion down.
The leaves and earth beneath him were damp, moisture soaking through the heavy leggings, the smell of decay and rot catching in the back of his throat. Head spinning, Faramir convulsed, vomited, half-choking.
After the spasms stopped, he wiped his mouth, opening his eyes to see Rhisiart kneeling beside him.
“Don’t be a fool.” Rhisiart pushed dark gold hair back, scanning their back trail.
“You sent the others on. You should go too.”
Shaking his head, Rhisiart offered Faramir a water-bottle. He took a scant mouthful to rinse his mouth, spat and drank.
Rhisiart had led a small group of men out of the fight, pulling Faramir along, half stunned from a blow to the head. As soon as they’d won free, he’d told the others to split up, going as many ways as possible, all to try to get the news of this new force back to Minas Tirith — some going toward Cair Andros, others Osgiliath, by hidden ways. He had stayed with Faramir despite his protests.
“You’re the Steward’s son.”
Faramir nearly said that meant nothing in the face of his failure but managed to bite back the words in time. He did not know Rhisiart well, having met him only when taking command in Ithilien last autumn.
The man was older than most of the Rangers but his skills and strength had made him stand out nearly as much as his light hair and green eyes. He talked little, even when they were safe in the cave or another of Gondor’s secret camps, spending the time betweeen daymeal and sleep sitting quietly, working at small tasks.
Rhisiart looked down at him, frowning. Faramir tried to rise, despite the dizziness.
“No, stay down a moment.” Rhisiart laid a hand on Faramir’s shoulder, drew a long-bladed knife. “Let’s get rid of that.”
Tapping the White Tree blazoned on Faramir’s jerkin, Rhisiart said, “This. And anything else that shows your rank.”
Faramir managed to sit. Rhisiart slit the jerkin’s laces and pulled it off, shoving it under a low-growing juniper. Faramir felt chilled, his shirt and tunic damp with sweat, the cold ground hard under him. He ignored it.
“Nothing. I lost my sword,” Faramir said. His clothing was no finer than the others wore, his only other mark of rank the jerkin which Boromir had given him last year.
Nodding, Rhisiart sheathed his knife “Let’s go.”
Faramir held out his arm and managed to stand with Rhisiart’s help but was glad for his support as they began to move. And for his warmth.
As the sun was westering, they came to a small river. They had traveled slowly and by no straight way. Faramir was numb. He kept his eyes on the stony path, not daring to look up and to the west where he knew Anduin lay and, beyond the River, his father’s city.
Slowly, they made their way up the gorge.
When the green-cloaked figures appeared in front of them, Faramir took them for his own sentries and smiled a greeting, unprepared for the glint of weapons and the sudden violence.
With a choked curse, Rhisiart pushed Faramir behind him. Stumbling, Faramir felt himself falling, light-headed, into blackness.
Blinking, Faramir strained to see. He was lying on his back. Fumbling around in the dark, he realized a blanket covered him. He was not bound. When he tried to sit, the pain in his head froze him, groaning.
Lying as still as he could, Faramir waited for the pain to subside. Finally, he could speak. “Yes. Where are we?”
“Where we were going. Henneth Annûn. I’m tied. We’re in one of the back storage caves.”
Shock drowning memory of pain, Faramir managed to sit, panting. The secret of the Window on the West had been held for generations by the Rangers. No enemy could know its location. They had been betrayed.
“Did they follow us?”
“No. They had time to take the caves, kill our men, and start making their daymeal before we walked right into their arms.” Rhisiart’s voice was level, but Faramir heard the anger.
Swallowing the bitter fluid that rose in his throat when he moved, Faramir began to crawl in the direction of Rhisiart’s voice. They wouldn’t be in one of the caves that held weapons which meant it had to be one of the smaller ones, and soon his reaching hand brushed against cloth. He extended a hand, trying to orient himself by feel.
“Lower down, to your left,” Rhisiart sounded amused. “My knees and ankles are tied. And wrists.”
Flushing, Faramir moved left, feeling heavy cloth then the harsh strands of rope, tightly knotted. He had barely found the first knot when he heard the scrape of wood over stone.
Two men entered, bearing weapons and torches which they set in holders
Faramir squinted in the light, anger rising when he saw they were wearing the greens and browns of the Ithilien company. He did not recognize them, or the third man who followed them. He held no torch, and his sword was sheathed. Tall and dark haired, he wore dark leathers and cloth. Blue eyes and the green gem on a large silver ring he wore were the only touches of colour.
He did not speak, crossing to haul Faramir to his feet, using one hand as if he was a child.
Pulling away, Faramir felt the chill stone at his back, was trapped when the man stepped in front of him, still gripping his arm.
Half a head taller than any other in the room, broad-shouldered, the stranger’s physical authority could be felt. Reminded of his father, Faramir straightened, standing straight, ignoring his wounds, pushing aside the teasing sense of familiarity. He was not a child. There was no true resemblance.
“What is your name?” The man’s voice was low but clear, bore no trace of outlander speech.
One of the other men snorted.
Moving closer, until their bodies nearly touched, the man smiled, tilted his head slightly. “You are lying, Faramir, son of Denethor. My kinsman has been in your City. He knows your face. Had he not been here, you would be dead.”
“Who are you?” Faramir braced himself against the stone wall, welcoming the cold that seeped through his clothing. The man was so close to him that Faramir could feel warm breath on his face, smell leather and smoke over the salt of sweat. He tried to pull away, gasped in pain as the grip around his upper arm tightened.
“You can still die, if you’re no use to us.”
“How did you learn of this place?”
Faramir was surprised to see the sudden smile, almost a wide grin, that lightened the man’s expression.
“I once served Gondor.”
The grip on Faramir’s arm loosened. Perhaps this was his chance. “And now? Whom do you serve?”
Throwing his free arm around the man, Faramir half fell, half flung himself forward. The fall was jarring, their combined weight coming full on Faramir’s arm a moment before the hard body under him twisted, trying to roll, but Faramir’s other arm was free. Amidst shouting that echoed in the cave, Faramir ignored the blows to wrap one hand around his enemy’s throat. He felt the pulse of blood against his skin, heard the harsh breathing falter, tried to pull his other hand free but hard hands gripped him, pulled him away.
He fought knowing he had no real chance, but they easily forced him to his knees.
Rolling easily to his feet, rubbing his throat, the third man stood over Faramir. “What will your father will give for your safe return?”
Faramir stared at the high leather boots, worn but well-cared for, and refused to answer.
A hand gripped his chin, hard, forcing his face up. He stared into the blue eyes, shook his head.
“Bring him. Kill the other.”
The man turned away, releasing Faramir. One of the men behind him also moved.
Looking back, the man gestured, a wave of his hand.
Straining, Faramir tried to see Rhisiart. Because of the flickering torches, shadows and the bodies of the men standing around him, he could see little.
“Will you answer my question then?”
“I do not know what my father would do,” Faramir said. “I do not think the Steward will give anything to Gondor’s enemy.”
“Not even to buy your life?”
Faramir shrugged. “Men die in war. And he has another son.”
Silence, save for the drip of water. Faramir waited, feeling the beating of his heart in his throat, conscious of every breath he took. Even the pain in his head and thigh reminded him he lived. For now.
Shaking his head, the man turned back. “Stand,” he said.
Awkward, scrambling, Faramir shifted his weight, managed to stand, hampered by the man behind him who would not release his shoulders.
“You are too eager to die, Captain.” As the man in front of him spoke, he placed a hand at the base of Faramir’s neck.
Faramir breathed shallowly, feeling no pressure yet from the warm hand but aware of the threat.
“You asked. I answered. I will not be of any use to you.” He felt the grip on his throat tighten, leaned forward.
“You haven’t asked if I would be.”
Rhisiart’s voice cut through the silence, jolting both Faramir and his enemy.
Releasing Faramir, the man spoke without turning away.
“I might be.”
“What do you need?”
Faramir concentrated on breathing steadily, aware of being watched. He was sure Rhisiart was lying.
“Bind his hands,” the man ordered. “And bring them both out.” He turned and left, moving swiftly and silently.
Faramir stood as his hands were tied behind his back. He was turned, then shoved forward, toward the open door. He could finally see Rhisiart, sitting against the wall, as the other man knelt, cutting the ropes from his legs.
Walking through the door, Faramir turned toward the main cave without being prompted. The narrow passage was short. When they came through the narrow door into the main chamber, he stopped, fighting the feeling that he was lost in a bad dream. All seemed as it had this morning, early, before they had left to investigate reports of Southrons marching to Mordor. Torches flickered on the walls, and green clad men sat around, eating and drinking. The roar of the water falling sounded a familiar song.
Across the way, near a recess cut into the back wall, partly screened by a curtain, the man who commanded here stood talking to one even taller than he.
The man behind Faramir pushed him forward.
As they came closer, the two men looked at them. The taller one, black-haired and black-eyed, smiled. “So you think they’ll be of some use?”
“Perhaps. Wait till the last scouts come in and find out what they have to report.”
The black-haired man nodded and left.
A torch burned in a holder. A chair and two stools were there.
Wary, Faramir entered, then Rhisiart. The man waved their guards away and entered, letting the curtain fall behind him.
Faramir thought about refusing, but hunger and thirst as well as his injury made even the stool look appealing. So he sat.
Rhisiart leaned against the wall, head tilted.
“Your name?” The man dropped into the chair, sighing, his legs stretched in front of him.
“Morthond Vale. And yours?”
“Aragorn, son of Arathorn. Of Arnor.”
“That cannot be,” Faramir said. “Arnor was destroyed.”
Aragorn looked at him, expressionless. “The kingdom was divided. Petty wars sapped its strength until Angmar overthrew Fornost, but the line of Kings did not die.”
“You are of that line? And serve Gondor’s greatest enemy?”
“Gondor has fallen into decay.”
Rhisiart shifted, the rasp of cloth against stone loud in the quiet. “So you’re moving against Gondor. What do you need from me?”
“You said you served Gondor. You knew this place.”
“I served under Ecthelion, more than thirty years ago. I need recent information. But why should I trust you?”
“I’d prefer to live.”
“Not die by the side of your lord?” Aragorn sat, pulling his legs in and leaning forward, arms on his knees.
Faramir felt heat rise in his face at the mocking tone and bit back hasty words.
“If I’d saved him and gotten him back to his father, I’m sure I’d have been rewarded.”
“Ah.” Rising, Aragorn stood in front of Rhisiart who did not move, slouching gracefully against the wall.
After some moments, Aragorn nodded. “You’ll meet with Halbarad when he returns—my kinsman, the one I was speaking to earlier—and tell him everything you know. I’ll have men watching you. If what you tell us is useful, you may join us. Turn.” Drawing a long-bladed knife, Aragorn cut through the ropes on Rhisiart’s wrists, letting the cut pieces fall to the floor. “Come.”
Faramir watched as the curtain fell back after the two left, hearing the rumble of voices, not paying attention to words. Rhisiart had seemed to change as he spoke to Aragorn. Or was this a truth Faramir had never seen? Morthond, the Blackroot Vale, lay far to the west, in the far reaches of the White Mountains. The Vale held the haunted Stone of Erech. The folk who lived there came seldom to Gondor. The Rangers of Ithilien were drawn mostly from those whose families had once lived in the land.
The curtain opened and Aragorn entered. Alone.
Faramir stood, unwilling to meet what would come sitting.
Standing a moment, smiling slightly, Aragorn watched Faramir. “I’ll send a message to your father tomorrow.”
Aragorn stepped closer, hands out. His dark clothing pulled the light from the room.
Faramir backed away as far as he could, coming up hard against the wall. He could feel his breath coming faster.
“You need Healing.” Light seemed to gather around Aragorn’s hands. “Come to me.”
Mouth too dry to speak, Faramir shook his head.
But he could not escape Aragorn’s touch.
The large hands slid through his hair, gripping his head, Aragorn’s body pressing his against hard stone. Almost delicately, fingers moved over his head to touch the lump on the back. He gasped as the touch sent pain slicing through him and shut his eyes. Warm breath brushed against Faramir’s face as the pain ebbed.
He breathed out but could not relax, still feeling the lean strength pressed against him, unmoving.
One hand moved down around his throat then Aragorn stepped back, his other hand sliding down over shoulder, chest, and belly, to rest on the bandage stiffened with blood wrapped around Faramir’s thigh. The sword cut had been high on his leg, on the outside of his right thigh.
“Just a cut.” Faramir was dizzy, hunger and exhaustion making him more sensitive to sound and touch. He tried to step sideways, but the hand around his neck tightened slightly in warning.
“You should lie down for me to tend it.”
Faramir jerked in revulsion, grinding his shoulder blades against the stone, hearing the rasp of cloth or his breathing. He could not speak for a moment. “No.”
“Then stand. Do not move.”
Feeling the hands lift off him, Faramir opened his eyes. Aragorn had moved to speak to someone in the main room, leaning through the cloth that masked the opening. After a moment, he turned back, holding a shallow pan and several lengths of cloth which he set on a stool.
He stood a moment, in front of Faramir, eyes intent. Defiant, Faramir stared back, doing his best to ignore the deft hands that undid his sword belt, tugging it free and letting it drop on the floor, then slid up under his tunic to untie his leggings, letting them sag down.
“This will hurt,” Aragorn said softly, smiling, and knelt to pick at the knotted bandage.
Faramir thought about kicking but even a slight shift of weight made his head spin.
The stiff bandage pulled free, stinging. “Now,” Aragorn said and reached to grasp the loose cloth at Faramir’s hips, yanking the leggings down, ripping free the heavy cloth that was glued to skin and wound. Pain blazed, and Faramir felt blood trickling down the side of his leg as he jerked, head jarring against rock.
“Now will you sit, or lie?”
Shaking his head, Faramir braced himself again. Cold air twined around thighs and body. The twisted cloth of the filthy leggings around his ankles hobbled him.
Soaking a cloth in the pan of water, Aragorn washed dried blood away, rinsed the cloth, then folded and lifted it to press against Faramir’s wound. Hard.
When Faramir grunted, Aragorn looked up, the smile on his face freezing Faramir. He refused to beg him to stop, looked away, pretending not to have seen the look of satisfaction.
The damp cloth lifted away and air on wet skin chilled Faramir. He swallowed, feeling damp fingers stroke up the side of his thigh, was half prepared for the pain that stitched up and down the wound at Aragorn’s touch, but not for what happened next. Aragorn set a hand on each of Faramir’s thighs, palms flat against him, fingers splayed across his skin.
Aragorn gripped hard with both hands, fingers sinking into flesh. The pain was greater than when the sword had sliced him, cutting through both legs, forcing agonized sound from Faramir’s throat as his legs gave out and he slid down the wall. Trapped in his own clothing, he ended up half kneeling, half sprawled to the side, leaning against Aragorn.
“I told you,” Aragorn said. “Healing can be difficult.” He leaned back, releasing Faramir, and stood, stepping back.
Bracing himself the best he could, feeling sweat cold on his back and face, Faramir looked down to see a scarred ridge where there had been an open wound. He forgot his half-nakedness in his shock.
Aragorn bent to him, sliding hands under his arms, pulling him up and over to sit on the stool, then stripped his boots and leggings from him. Aragorn left, carrying Faramir’s clothing and boots.
Biting back a protest, Faramir leaned against the wall, pulling his arms apart, trying to twist the ropes which bound his wrists. He had a time while he was unobserved. If what had happened was truly a Healing, then perhaps he could act. He ignored the cold and his hunger and thirst, focusing on repeating the movements.
But Aragorn was gone only a short time, returning with a steaming bowl and a jug. The rich smell of stewed meat and roots seemed to fill the small room, and Faramir swallowed hard. He no longer worked on the ropes, telling himself he felt some small slack for his efforts, and tried to sit as if at ease in his father’s hall.
It might have been easier if he could remember being at ease around Lord Denethor.
“Hungry?” Aragorn set the food and jug on the other stool and pulled the chair across the floor to sit at Faramir’s side.
He nodded, then watched in disbelief as Aragorn picked the bowl up and dipped a spoonful out, holding it out.
“Untie my hands,” Faramir said.
Shaking his head, Aragorn pushed the spoon against Faramir’s mouth.
Faramir turned his head away but could hear Aragorn chew and swallow, the chink of the spoon against the bowl.
“It’s good. Halbarad tells me it was on the fire when my men arrived.”
Trying to breathe evenly, to give nothing away, Faramir did not move.
After a few moments of silence, Aragorn spoke again. “Water?”
Faramir could not help turning back to Aragorn, mouth and throat so dry that thirst was a torment. He had drunk nothing since the few sips of water in the thicket hours ago.
He licked his lips, feeling dizzy.
Aragorn was holding the plain metal jug, full to the brim, close to Faramir’s face. The one torch that lit the room reflected off the side, the flickering light seeming almost too bright. Faramir squinted, seeing only the water before him. He could smell it, taste it, taken from the unceasing fall of water outside the cave, so cold year round it froze the mouth, so fresh it soothed any thirst.
The voice was quiet, soothing. “Lean forward, just a bit.”
Shutting his eyes, lips opening, Faramir leaned forward, was rewarded with coolness, the lip of the jug pressing against his, water spilling into his mouth, over his skin. He sucked, greedy, wanting more, lurched forward when it was pulled away.
“Go slowly,” Aragorn said. “Or you’ll be ill.”
Flushing, Faramir pushed himself back, stiff, angry at his weakness.
“You can have more soon. Now will you eat?” Aragorn picked up the food, tilted his head when Faramir shook his.
“I can call Halbarad in, some others, to hold you, while I feed you. Or you can choose to eat.”
“Why not untie me?”
“I don’t trust you.” Aragorn smiled again.
“You can call them in, untie me, and they can guard me while I eat. Or lock me in one of the rooms with the food,” Faramir said. The water soothed him, grounded him, and he felt more alert than he had since waking in the dark.
“I could. But I won’t.”
“Why?” None of what had happened since Rhisiart left made any sense.
Aragorn relaxed, cradling the bowl in his hands, leaning back, one leg extended, brushing against Faramir’s. “I knew your father, before. I think you are right, that he will not give any ground, will not concede anything, to save you.”
“Then you may as well kill me.”
“Not if you wish it,” Aragorn said. “I’ll keep you here, a while. See what comes. And while you’re here, you’ll obey me.” He scooped up the stew, leaning forward. “So, will you eat, or shall I call the others?”
Hesitating, Faramir weighed giving in to the demand, or forcing Aragorn to act. Finally, he opened his mouth and allowed Aragorn to feed him like a child too young to be trusted at the table. The cooling stew was still savoury, and Faramir tried not to think of what must have happened to the man who had made it. After the bowl was empty, Aragorn allowed him more water.
Aragorn nodded at him when he finished, rose and collected the dishes.
As Aragorn left, Faramir began pulling on the rope again. He had more time than before and could feel soreness as skin abraded on his wrists before Aragorn returned, holding the curtain aside, to let Halbarad enter, carrying a hammer and chains. Aragorn dropped two bedrools on the floor and stood just inside the entrance.
Halbarad looked at Faramir, grinning, and shook his head at Aragorn. “Amusing yourself again, are you?”
Aragorn gestured across the room. “There.”
Faramir watched as Halbarad knelt, dropping the chains beside him with a clatter, and picked something up. He ran his hands over walls and floor, then grunted and began to work. His body hid what he was doing, but the ringing blows of the hammer were loud. When he stood and moved several feet to begin again, Faramir could see the bolt, with a chain attached, cuffs at the end.
He knew Gondor kept no such gear in the caves. After the second bolt was installed, Halbarad stood, hammer dangling from one large hand.
“Want me to chain him for you?”
“You can help.”
Halbarad grinned at Faramir, moved across the room to set the hammer outside.
Feeling cold within, Faramir pushed himself to his feet, kicking the stool aside. He watched as Aragorn picked up one of the bedrolls, shook it out, and spread the thin pallet and blankets on the floor between the bolts, against the wall.
As Halabarad turned back, Faramir waited until he stepped forward, leaving a clear path to the entrance, and then ran. He had no clear sense of what he would do, just knew he wanted out of the small room which reeked of danger.
He stumbled into the main cave, which was dimly lit, seeing the shapes of men sleeping, smelling the mingled scents of cooking, leather, sweat and blood, before he was knocked to the floor from behind. Pinned, lying on his belly, stunned at the quickness of it all, Faramir tried to fight as hard hands flipped him over, grasped his shoulders and ankles, and picked him up. He writhed, kicked, feeling the impact of flesh and hearing a gasp of pain. He was dropped, then hauled roughly back into the small room, rock scraping bare skin.
Halbarad pushed him over and pinned him. Faramir felt the tug and the cut rope fall away. Arms numb, he could not prevent them chaining his wrists and ankles.
He lay, panting, feeling the metal cuffs chill against his skin.
“Need any more help?”
Faramir tried to pull away from the hand that gripped his hair, hearing the note in Halbarad’s voice.
“No.” Aragorn’s voice was cold. “Except you can take the chair and stools out with you.”
Halbarad released Faramir who blinked, turning his head, seeing Halbarad move in and out of the room, shifting the wooden furniture. Slowly, Faramir realized he was lying on the pallet, Aragorn sitting cross-legged next to him.
Aragorn drew a long-bladed knife. Shutting his eyes, Faramir waited, body tightening as he anticipated the first cut. He gasped out when he felt pressure around his neck and chest, realizing his tunic was being held and cut as he heard the small sound of a sharp blade cutting cloth. He felt the cloth fall around him, the chill as his damp shirt was exposed, the further pressure as the blade moved to cut through the tunic at sleeve and shoulder seams.
Pushing himself up onto his hands, head down, Faramir froze as he felt the blade rest lightly on the back of his neck.
“Lie. Down.” Aragorn’s voice was no louder than it had been but carried a clear promise.
Faramir lowered himself, silently cursing his cowardice, resting his head on folded arms.
His body was tense with the desire for flight as Aragorn’s hand stroked down his back, as Aragorn moved over him, sitting on his thighs, sliding the shirt up Faramir’s body.
Calloused hands stroked and gripped his buttocks, kneading, hard enough to bruise. Faramir felt his body clench as the weight on top of him shifted, as slick hardness pressed against him. He had barely enough time to bite on the flesh of his arm before pain split him. He would not cry out, would not respond.
Hunching his back and shoulders, Faramir endured as Aragorn slowly pushed into him, body flexing above, a hand tangling in his hair, the other sliding under his arm and chest. The hum of satisfaction as he sank deeper in Faramir was more felt than heard as Aragorn sank down, chest against back, their skins slick. Moving faster, harder, grunting, Aragorn took his pleasure.
Faramir counted his heartbeats, thought of the blood-stained flower in the grass of Ithilien, until finally, with a last shudder and surge of wetness, Aragorn collapsed, forcing the breath from Faramir.
He lay still, the taste of blood in his mouth, refusing to move, refusing to acknowledge the hand that stroked his head. Finally, sliding out and away, Aragorn left him. Faramir shifted, turning his head away, hearing the small sounds of movement, the rustling of cloth. He jumped as blankets fell over him.
A hand gripped his shoulder, shook him.
“You will obey me,” Aragorn said.
Aching, Faramir turned stiffly onto his side, looked up. Aragorn stood beside him, wearing only a loose shirt as Faramir did, dark hair loose on his shoulders. The torch, burning low behind him, outlined him in light, touching glints off hair and cloth and skin.
“No,” Faramir said, voice hoarse.
“Then you’ll be punished.” Aragorn turned to where the other pallet had been unrolled, well out of reach Faramir realized with regret, and slid under the blankets. After watching him a few moments, Faramir lay down again. Remembering what Boromir had once told him, after his first injury in battle, Faramir concentrated on trying to contain the pain in his body, on building a wall beween him and it, on making the wall high and thick.
Faramir woke slowly, hearing the familiar sounds of morning around him. He felt tired, reluctant to open his eyes. When he stretched, he froze at hearing the clank of chains. The memories of yesterday flooded back, and he opened his eyes, cautious, peering through his lashes. He was stiff and his body ached, but neither of his injuries pained him.
A new torch burned in a holder on the wall. The small room was empty, a bedroll tied and neat against the far wall. Small noises from outside were familiar, men talking, the rasp of a whetstone against a blade, all underlaid by the noise of falling water.
Glad he was alone, Faramir opened his eyes, pushing himself up on one arm, trying to ignore the weight of the cuffs and chains. At the foot of his bedroll were two buckets. Next to them sat several oatcakes and apples.
Wincing at the soreness in his back and legs, Faramir sat, pushing the wool blanket behind him and trying to see how much of range of movement he had. He could sit, and with care, pivot and move close enough to reach the food and buckets. One was empty, the other full of water and heavy. Pulling it closer, he used his cupped hands to drink, over and over. The water was cool, tasting faintly of wood, but seemed the best he’d ever had. When he was done, he moved the water bucket to the head of his bedroll and picked up the food.
The oatcakes were still warm, the apples the last of the winter store, wrinkled but still firm. His mouth watered. Now that his thirst was quenched, he felt hollow, starving. He checked his first impulse, and set aside one of the cakes and an apple for later and made himself eat slowly, not bolting the food. He chewed deliberately, eating two oatcakes first, then an apple, until there was little more left than the seeds.
He sat, listening, but could hear little other than an occasional joke, comments about the food and weather. He did not think many men were in the cave.
He used the empty bucket, pushing it away after, and shrugged half out of the torn, stained shirt that was all he wore. He tipped the water bucket to dampen the cleanest portion of the cloth and washed. He cleaned himself as well as he could, awkward, shifting and tugging against his bonds. Afterwards, he hesitated. He did not want to be naked when Aragorn returned, but the shirt reeked, hung nearly in strips.
Shrugging, he pulled it back over his shoulders, stretched out under the blanket, and closed his eyes. He could think of nothing to do. Seeking some escape, even temporary, he thought of years ago, his mother’s insistence that he and his brother rest during the day before one of the banquets to honor a visiting noble.
Faramir would not have minded spending time in the room he shared with Boromir, imagining himself in long-ago Númenor, sailing with Elendil and his sons, but Boromir was too restless for such a thing. He had tugged Faramir after him, into one hiding place, then another. They had ended up in the stables, finally, where curled up next to each other, burrowed deep in the straw of one of the stalls, they had fallen asleep.
Their father’s laughter had woken them as he tugged them to their feet, straw tangled in their hair, Boromir’s red tunic and Faramir’s green one sprinkled with dust and chaff, and marched them back to their mother. The baths that night had been particularly stringent. Faramir could still remember feeling as if his skin was scrubbed raw.
Faramir felt himself drifting off to sleep as he tried to remember the last time he had heard his father laugh, rich and joyous.
Jerking awake, Faramir felt hard hands on him, one shaking his shoulder, one over his mouth, and tried to strike.
“Hsst. It’s me.”
Faramir blinked, pushing hair out of his eyes, and saw the large man kneeling next to him. When he opened his mouth, Rhisiart’s hand pressed against his lips, and he shook his head.
Hope rising, Faramir nodded. The large hand lifted away, and Rhisiart bent until his face was next to Faramir’s, speaking low.
“Thought you’d be tied. Ropes.”
Shrugging, Faramir shook his head, turned to reply, leaning close, darkgold hair tickling his face. “You escaping?”
“I was, but—”
“Go,” Faramir breathed. “Get to Boromir. Tell him.”
“Do it. You can’t help me here.” Faramir pushed against Rhisiart, smelling smoke and sap over a rich dark scent, desperate to convince him. The hand on his shoulder slid along his back, rubbing. Faramir felt the rasp of cloth against his arm, was suddenly cold when Rhisiart moved away, rising to one knee. Looking around, Rhisiart drew his knife.
Confused, Faramir pulled back, then relaxed as Rhisiart slid the knife under the bedroll, green eyes watching until Faramir nodded his understanding.
Rhisiart stood. He had turned to leave, was within arm’s reach of the entrance, when the cloth was pulled back.
Faramir saw Rhisiart move, flinging his arms around somebody, swinging round, grunts loud in the quiet of the room. It was Halbarad, Faramir saw, as the two big men struggled, muscles straining, teeth gleaming.
Rhisiart was hampered by the need for silence, to keep one hand muffling Halbarad’s mouth. Kicking back, he nearly pulled free. Faramir lunged to grab an ankle, one hand slipping off heavy leather, the grip still enough to throw Halbarad off balance. The two men crashed to the ground, still fighting.
Sliding over, Faramir pinned Halbarad’s legs, ignoring the solid kick to his own ribs, until Rhisiart thumped the dark head against the stone floor.
Faramir lay over the still legs as Rhisiart unwound himself, sat heavily next to the stunned body, and panted. Listening, Faramir could hear nothing from the cave beyond. He sat, pulled the blanket around him, to watch as Rhisiart stood, rubbing his mouth. Blood smearing his face, he looked around, frowning, then tugged the limp body across to the opposite side. Untying the bedroll, Rhisiart pushed Halbarad over onto his side to lash ankles and wrists together.
Wincing to see the strain of the position, Faramir was glad the man was facing away from him.
Pulling out another knife, Rhisiart cut strips from the blanket to gag and blindfold the unconscious man. A few moments later, standing, Rhisiart turned back to grip Faramir’s shoulder and smile at him before sliding through the cloth to the cave beyond.
Holding his breath until his ears rang, Faramir heard nothing. He pulled his knees up, resting his head on them, feeling his heart pounding so fast it hurt. He tried to breathe evenly, forcing himself to calm. He did not know what hour it was, how long before Aragorn was likely to return, or someone to come looking for Halbarad. However long it was, whoever came, Faramir knew that his punishment would be great.
He slid a hand cautiously over the thin pad, the hard shape of hilt and blade reassuring him, and set himself to wait.
The torch had burned out some time ago. Sitting in the cool darkness, Faramir had eaten the food he’d saved, listening to Halbarad’s heavy breathing, almost snoring, the only sound beyond the falling water. He had grunted loudly once, and Faramir guessed from the sounds that he was aware and trying to free himself, then realized the futility.
Now, half-dozing, leaning back against the cold wall, Faramir was shocked awake by the sounds of men returning, in a good mood by the sound of their laughter.
He blinked in the light as the cloth was pulled back, seeing first the torch, then Aragorn, head turned to praise someone for their kill. He was wearing dark leggings, a loose red shirt, no gear of war. When he stepped into the room, raising the torch, he was smiling. When he saw Halbarad, he stopped smiling, turned to see Faramir, sitting against the stone.
Lifting his chin, Faramir sat, refusing to look away, defiant. Blue eyes burned into him as Aragorn considered him in a long moment of silence. Then, tossing the stump of the dead torch away, Aragorn slotted the fresh one into the holder, knelt by Halbarad’s side. Faramir watched the broad back, caught the glint of a drawn knife.
“What happened?” Aragorn pulled Halbarad over.
Coughing, Halbarad said nothing a moment, moving his legs and arms. Finally, “Rhisiart,” Halbarad said.
Aragorn stood as Halbard sat, rubbing his arms. “How long?”
“Just after noon. We were the gorge and I saw him slip away, followed him back. Good thing you used the chains.”
“How much did he know?”
Stretching, Halbarad winced, then began rubbing his leg. “Nothing. I warned everybody.”
Reaching down a hand, Aragorn waited for Halbarad to grasp it, then pulled him to his feet. “Good. Send men out. I don’t want him making it across the River.”
“You already sent your messages. They’ll know in the City late tonight, early tomorrow. What does it matter if one more Ranger stumbles in late with news of their defeat?”
Aragorn pushed him toward the entrance. “He was among us, knows our numbers, the locations. None of the others did, and we killed many who escaped from the ambush. Go.”
As Halbarad left, Aragorn turned back to Faramir, smiling, stepped to his side, hand out. Faramir did not try to avoid the hand which slid through his hair, gripping hard, pulling his head back.
“All was well today,” Aragorn said softly. “Until now. You will pay, my Captain, in the coin I choose.”
Bending, Aragorn tore Faramir’s shirt off him. Faramir forced himself to remain still, feeling Aragorn’s leg pressing against his arm, struggled to show no expression as he often had to with his father. Letting his gaze drift away from Aragorn’s, unfocused, Faramir did not fight. Not yet. He wanted Aragorn distracted.
Aragorn knelt easily beside him, one hand tangled in his hair, the other pressing against his throat.
One stroke, finger tips only, trailed down Faramir’s chest to his belly, stopping just short of the blanket edge. The caress, skin warm and rough, could have been a lover’s, but Faramir felt muscles clench, forced his hands to remain still beside him, feeling the pressure of the cuffs.
Another stroke, still delicate, but Faramir jerked back, feeling as if he was cut deep within by a razor-sharp blade. The cold stone behind him prevented escape. Hand flat against Faramir’s belly, Aragorn waited, breath hot and fast against Faramir’s face.
Red pain seized him, rending; convulsing, Faramir screamed, flung himself into sideways, fell into darkness.
Drenched in sweat, huddled around himself, Faramir blinked, feeling hot tears in his eyes. His vision blurred, he could see little beyond the grey blanket under him, the hair that fell over his face. He realized dully he was lying on his side. His gut throbbed, and he felt he would vomit if he moved. He breathed, shallowly, through his mouth until the pain dulled, and he could swallow, lick dry lips.
“Water?” Aragorn appeared in front of him, smoothing back his hair.
Faramir flinched back, hitting his head against the wall. He moaned, closing his eyes as pain flared again.
When he could stand to do so, he opened his eyes to see that Aragorn was sitting close, the metal jug near his leg. He was naked, dark hair on chest and belly and legs accenting pale skin. He was smiling slightly, face slightly flushed, as he watched Faramir.
Silent, Faramir nodded, once. He pushed himself up on one arm, shaking. He could not reach the jug, given how he was lying, the chains twisted around him, but Aragorn held it for him. He sipped, then drank deeply.
When Faramir finished, Aragorn set the jug down, reached out to grasp him by the arms, tug him up, chains clinking, until he knelt, knee to knee, in front of Aragorn. He realized the blanket that had covered him was gone but could not care. The illusions were all stripped away. There was no protection.
Teeth clenched, Faramir waited for pain, but there was nothing beyond the firm grip.
“Why?” Faramir finally asked, voice hoarse. He’d expected to be questioned about Rhisiart’s escape, even about the Rangers in Ithilien, but there had been nothing. Only torment.
“Because I can,” Aragorn said, releasing Faramir’s arms, hands settling on his thighs. “Because it gives me pleasure.”
Faramir could see clearly how much pleasure Aragorn felt as his warm hands moved in circles, rubbing, kneading, inching up Faramir’s legs.
“Lie down,” Aragorn said.
Faramir hesitated, then bowed his head, turning to set his hands on the bedroll, rolling over and up, slowly, feeling for the knife under the pallet. When he felt it under his palm, he moved forward, then settled into a crouch, resting his weight on his forearms. He forced himself to arch his back and spread his legs as much as the chains would allow, was rewarded by an indrawn breath, and felt Aragorn settle between his legs, hands busy.
Wait, Faramir commanded himself, and did, focusing all his attention on the weapon beneath him, feeling the hard shape press against his arm. As he had learned to do during the times when his father’s anger spilled over him like a black wave, Faramir turned within, imagining himself walking deep in the vales of Ithilien, lost in a wilderness of tree and bush and leaf, hearing the wind in the trees, water falling, imagining the great sea from whence blew the wind and water.
He let the hands move him as they would, tugging his hips up and pulling him back slightly, no longer able to feel the knife but knowing where it was. He endured the slow thrusts, the grunts and slick slide of wet skin against him, the arm around his waist as he let one arm slide to and off the edge of the bedroll, pushed by the force behind him, until he felt stone under his palm.
Breathing faster, Faramir slid his hand under the thin pad until his fingers brushed cold metal. He gripped the knife, waiting out the final spasm, feeling the weight on him, hearing the harsh panting then feeling it against his neck.
Drawing a deep breath, Faramir let himself fall forward, one arm sliding ahead of him, pulling the knife out with the other and striking behind him, turning as he struck to see the blade slice along Aragorn’s ribs, drawing red from the pale skin, exulting to see shock.
Pushing up, bucking against Aragorn’s weight, Faramir struck again, for his throat, but was pulled up short by the chains and could not avoid the blow that knocked him back against the wall.
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