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22 December 2006 | 8007 words
Title: Starlight over Ithilien
Beta: the fabuloso Zoe! Take a bow, Zoe!
Pairing: Faramir; Boromir; Aragorn
Feedback: Yes please!
Disclaimer: Tolkien’s characters but my pervy ideas.
This wasn’t how he’d wanted it to be.
A silent darkness had crept into his life, eating away all that was good. Not the darkness of Sauron and the Ring, but a more personal destruction. His only brother dead, his marriage a failure… Now he was wracked with a new, unquenchable desire and because of it, was failing his King. It would have been better if he had perished in that suicidal mission to Osgiliath, for that Southron arrow to have been fatal.
Shadows of twilight were falling across the land. Sitting at the high tower window of his chamber in Minas Tirith, Faramir watched as the stars winked into light above the far distant mountains. They would be shining down on his beloved Ithilien, his Princedom. Days of Council meetings, debate and decision – a task in which his quick mind usually reveled – had left him stale, unable to concentrate on the matter at hand. His persuasiveness, insight, skill with words, understanding of how to turn the stubbornness of an opponent into support, all now reduced to childish amateur stumbling.
The King had looked askance at him too many times during the day’s long wrangling over trade tariffs, looks not of anger, but of concern. Perhaps anger would have been better; Faramir didn’t want to be yet another problem for his King to worry over. A flash of impatience, a dressing down perhaps, even an order for Prince Imrahil to replace him, anything would have been better. He wanted to be away from this place of memory and be free of politics and governance for a while. Free, with the wind in his hair, exploring the fresh woods and sweet glades of his home in Ithilien. Without it, he feared that this darkness would settle permanently within his mind.
So much had happened over the last few years. The coming of the King, longed for over so many years as to become almost a dream…That it was he, Faramir, who had handed the White Rod of the Steward into the hands of the King, was still a fact he had difficulty coming to terms with. So many boyhood nights he had read himself to sleep, poring over dusty parchments and slipping into just such a dream. But then it had been only a dream. Boromir would succeed their father, and if anyone was born to lead Gondor it had been his elder brother.
Boromir. Despite the very public ceremony held to honour the fallen hero, Faramir’s grief still festered. He had been grave and controlled, and had remained so ever since. No-one had been as close to Boromir as he, not even their father, nor anyone to himself as his lost, beloved brother. A whole life alone, except for Boromir, and now there was no one. No one to share the memories and the grief of the past. No one with whom he could now share the same love, trust and almost psychic bond.
Faramir cursed. His mind had wandered to places he now rarely let it venture. Boromir had been the one source of unconditional love in his life. Finduilas, their mother, was a distant memory of precious but disjointed images. The soft touch of her lips, the perfume of her hair, a silver laugh…that was all that remained. Denethor had ever been cold and grew colder still after his wife’s death. Any love for his younger son had been swallowed and soured by grief and loss; all hopes and expectations were laid upon his first-born’s shoulders. Faramir had grown up surrounded by courtiers ready to respond to his every command, supply his every wish, except the one he needed most: to be loved, cherished and accepted for who he was. Ever had younger sons been burdened, he supposed, but the knowledge made his life no easier.
But he had always had Boromir.
His elder brother was always there, loved him, never scorned him as their father did, never regarded him as a threat or a rival. They had always been together, for as long as Faramir could remember they had done everything together. It had been Boromir who had taught him to ride, heaving his younger brother up onto a mountain of a warhorse when the riding master was wary of letting him loose on even an aged pony. It had been Boromir who had schooled him in fencing and sword play, honing his own skills at the same time whilst weaving stories of battles won, dragons slain and demons vanquished. All preparations made for the day when they would ride out together at the head of the armies of Gondor; an unbeatable fighting partnership. In turn, when Faramir had proved naturally more proficient with the bow, Boromir had not taken it ill but had begged his brother for lessons to improve his own abilities. Thus they had ever shared.
Later, older, they had shared so much more.
Again his mind took him back to a painful place of remembrance, he could contain his grief no longer. A cry escaped him as at last the healing tears fell and the memories that he had suppressed for so long came flooding back. Grief for the man who had been brother, friend and lover. Even now, faced with the horror of his loss, Faramir’s body thrilled at the thought of Boromir, his pulse quickened and a fire flashed through his veins.
The first time…
At last Faramir wrenched himself away from the memory. Face wet with tears, shivering in the night air and yet aroused as he had not been since Boromir’s death. The love they had shared for so long, so many years.
Of course, it was accepted for Gondorian men to love one another and the mysterious, sacred ritual of sexual bonding between King and Steward had been the highest of ancient customs. Highest, yet rarely acted upon.
But such a coupling of brother with brother was unprecedented, unless such a love had previously been kept as secret as their own. Denethor, they both knew, would have seen only an abhorrent and depraved weakness. He would doubtless blame Faramir for leading Boromir astray and force their total separation by whatever means necessary. And so the secret was kept, their love undiscovered over the years. Their trust in each other was total, their need for each other desperate and endless. And now, Faramir was alone.
He had tried so hard with Éowyn and at the time, it had seemed right. A new beginning, a healing of his loss, his grief. She too had suffered loneliness; loss of her parents, of the cousin she had expected to marry. She also knew the power of a brother’s love – though not, of course, brotherly love like that of the sons of Gondor. They had both experienced the horrors of war, and the healing of their physical scars had brought them together in what had seemed also a mental, spiritual rebirth. But that had been a dream, and the gradual awakening; that what their shared experiences had kindled was not truly enough to sustain their real lives, was a pain he found hard to bear.
Éowyn was beautiful, but cold. There had seemed to be melting of frost in the Gondorian spring, but ever and again her eyes turned towards the horselands of Rohan, her brother and her home in Edoras. He had tried to love her as she deserved, but the desire and passion he knew that he should feel for his wife never came. His love had only been, and could only be, for his lost brother. So very hard he had tried, and she too had done her best, but it was clear to them both that their marriage had been built upon a false belief. Éowyn was at heart a Shieldmaiden of Rohan and that was where she desired to be, at the feasting hall of her people, not the polite court of a foreign people. Faramir knew also that she was not at ease being so close to the King. Her heart still felt shame at the memory of how she had desired him – and how he had rejected her – although no man could have done so more lovingly or more gently.
Pulling his thick cloak tightly around himself, Faramir rose from his cold stone seat and made his way back to the dying embers of his fireplace. His bed was empty. Éowyn had left on what was intended to be a short visit to her homeland, but had not returned. They had both known she would not. He missed her in a way, but knew in his heart that the separation was for the best. He hoped a way could be found for a civilised breaking of the contract and that Éowyn would find what she needed amongst her own people. He had not intended to make her unhappy and knew that she understood that. Their marriage had in its way been a casualty of war and their bed empty of passion long before her departure.
The bed where he and Boromir had slept together on their return from the grasslands that first time.
It had been a slow journey home. Any wild gallops were out of the question, even a gently trot was agony, and it had been long past midnight by the time they reached Minas Tirith. Luckily, for the sons of the Steward there was no problem in gaining entrance to the riders’ gate, and a lifetime’s knowledge of the secret and forgotten ways of the city and the citadel itself allowed them easy passage home. Faramir’s chamber, furthest from that of their father, was the natural destination. Reaching it, they had collapsed with exhaustion onto that very bed.
When their breathing calmed Faramir had risen, fed the almost-dead fire prepared earlier by the servants, and lit the spirit lamp in the curtained alcove to warm water. As it heated, they had slipped from their clothes to stand naked before each other again. Different brothers now, changed brothers, but essentially the same as they had always been. Embracing, they stood as silent statues, locked in a love they could not express by words, only by touch. They had washed each other gently, massaging scented oil into aching muscles and torn, bruised skin, a sacrament of passion.
Both had bled from the violence of their first love-making, each now cleansed the other. Aroused by soft touches, by warm breath, by fire-lit skin, they fell back onto the bed and into each other’s embrace once more. Too hurt to take each other as they had before, silently and with one accord they moved to lie and accept each other with their mouths, slowly finding a rhythm, a harmony, a connection with the soul of the other.
That same bed.
And now he was tormented by visions of another lover in that bed, visions that were driving him mad. At first he had thought he had understood what was happening to him, believed himself capable of conquering it. It had seemed inevitable. After the loss of his beloved brother, he had rebounded into a doomed marriage. When that failed he had gradually turned his yearning instead to the one most like his lost love. Another warrior of strength and power, another supple body he longed to touch, to lie with, to love, a man whose mouth he ached to taste, into whose steady grey eyes he could sink forever. A King. His king, Elessar…
He was losing the fight. More and more often he was called from Ithilien for Council duty, less and less often could he keep his mind on the business of the day rather than on the images his mind conjured whenever he was in Elessar’s presence. He dreamed of consummating the ancient bond between King and Steward, but it was just a dream. An act that only the Steward could offer to the King, not the King ask of his Steward. Few had taken that route and only then after the long years had built a mutual trust and devotion. Only after he had conquered this all-consuming lust could Faramir ever hope to lead Elessar into the silent moves that would bond them forever, and his lust still overwhelmed him. Sighing, the Steward sank into his bed and buried his head into the pillows, searching for oblivion.
Faramir had believed himself incapable of sleep, but awoke to find the morning well advanced, though the night had thankfully not taunted him with the usual lustful dreams. The release of his grief for Boromir and the arousal he had felt at the memory of his brother’s love had brought a new vision. Boromir had seemed so real, so close, so alive. He had come to Faramir in the night, held him and kissed him as he had so often done in life. He had spoken, weaved visions within visions, laughed, and left.
The morning well advanced? Memory of the vision vanished as Faramir came fully to his senses and threw himself out of bed. What time was it? The sun was high above the tower opposite his casement. Now he truly had failed his King! He was late for, or more likely had entirely missed the early Council meeting. Perhaps now the reprimand and dismissal would come. A breakfast tray had been left for him, obviously some hours earlier for the hot rolls and warm weak ale were now both cold. Also on the tray was a sealed parchment bearing the King’s mark. His fate? Was this confused late breakfast to be his last in Minas Tirith? Hands shaking, Faramir sat on the edge of the bed, broke the wax impression, unrolled the note and read.
It was the last thing he expected. The King had cancelled all meetings for the next week, asking his Council instead to refresh themselves and enjoy the glorious summer weather. Obviously a standard message to all Counsellors, there was also a personal note to Faramir in the King’s own hand:
I see in your eyes each day a longing for fair Ithilien. I know also that you dislike wasted days. If you feel so inclined, it would be useful to make a summer check on Henneth Annûn in readiness for possible need. I offer this merely as a suggestion. Elessar
A mixture of grateful relief at this unexpected release and confusion at the King’s concerned perception flooded Faramir’s mind. He wanted to be away from Minas Tirith, away from the memories and visions, the impossible dreams and desires that haunted him. Here he was lonely; in Ithilien he could be merely alone. If he had anything to be grateful to his father for, it was the role of Captain of the Rangers who patrolled Ithilien, the fairest of Gondor’s lands, whose woods and glades had ever held his heart.
That it had also been the land closest to Mordor, ravaged by Sauron’s orcs, had made its rebirth all the more dear. His gratitude to the King for granting the lands to him as a Princedom knew no bounds. There was no conscious decision that he would travel once more as a border Ranger, go on foot rather than by horse, slipping quietly out of the postern rather than by the main gate. Within an hour, only a keen-sighted elf might have discerned a green-grey shadow heading north-east towards Cair Andros and beyond.
It was strange to be at Henneth Annûn alone, without the organised bustle of his fellow Rangers around him. Being alone, Faramir thought, was to be his lot in life. He would have to work hard to ensure that his solitude did not allow those dark shadows to flood back and taint his soul and his spirit.
Hard work. Yes, that was the answer.
He set about inspecting the coffers and barrels, checking their number and contents against the list made when the Rangers had last left the refuge. Important work, though Faramir knew in his heart that it was unnecessary, that the last audit had been thorough and complete and that he would not find it wanting. But Elessar had suggested that he carry out this task and he would obey his King’s request before allowing himself to enjoy once more the lush beauty of his Princedom as a reward for his work. And that reward would include finding himself some supper. Faramir relished the prospect of hunting for his meal, knowing not whether it would be fish or fowl or game, having to fend for himself after the endless ease provided by the kitchens of Minas Tirith.
As the afternoon sun began its slow descent, Faramir left the hidden cave and slipped silently into the wooded landscape below. Thrilling at once again being a Ranger of Ithilien, Prince or not, he crept slowly through the thickets, alert to every sound, every scent, especially those which might lead to supper. A gentle breeze blew into his face, carrying with it a whiff of…of what? Faint, but yes, it could only be pipeweed.
Someone was close by and was smoking pipeweed! His mind raced with possibilities as to who it could be. He had learned the custom himself from the Halflings, but it was impossible that one of them should have ventured here alone and unannounced. Who else? Some of the Northern Rangers followed the habit and they were indeed still occasionally to be found upon the Southern road. Burrowing through the undergrowth, silent as a snake, Faramir followed the trail with all senses.
It was indeed a Northern Ranger, seated back against a tree in a small clearing with what looked like the remains of a stew on a dying fire before him and a long pipe in his mouth. Faramir could not see the stranger’s face under his deep hood, though the man was surely a fellow Dunedain of the King and therefore a friend. How to approach him? Faramir was, after all the Prince of this region and had every right to challenge the traveller, but something made him hold back.
The stranger slowly removed his pipe, looked towards Faramir and spoke softly, a strangely familiar Northern lilt in his voice.
‘Greetings, fellow Ranger. There is a little supper left if you are hungry and a full pipe if you care for the South Farthing’s best.’
Faramir gasped at the shock of being discovered. Was city life dulling his abilities and his cunning? All he could do was reveal himself. The hooded stranger rose and walked towards him, and before Faramir knew it he was welcomed with a warm embrace.
‘Please, sit, I will warm the stew. And there is some wine in that skin there.’
Recovering himself as best he could, Faramir watched the stranger.
‘What brings you to Ithilien, my friend?’ he asked, controlling his ire as best he could. ‘Rarely now do we greet the Rangers of the North in Gondor.’
A gentle chuckle precluded the reply.
‘But your King Elessar was many years a Northern Ranger. Do you not greet him when you see him?’
Faramir wondered at this, but answered politely.
‘Naturally, but I would ever greet him as my lord King than fellow Ranger.’
The chuckle came again and grew into a loud warm laugh.
‘Really?’ asked the stranger as he threw back his hood.
It was the King.
Faramir was thrown into confusion.
‘My liege!’ he stuttered, scrambling to his feet and making an awkward bow.
Elessar sprang forward and pulled him up into another embrace.
‘My apologies, dearest friend! Forgive me! I could not resist the trick!’
Trickery of this kind was something Faramir had never suspected of his King. He knew not what to do or say; only that he wanted the embrace to never end.
‘Faramir! Do not be disconcerted!’
The King hugged him again, before holding him at arms length, scrutinising his face.
‘Forgive me. I too have longed for the sweet rowan trees of Ithilien. I could not resist the temptation to venture here also, to throw on the garb of a Ranger once again! Do not doubt your skill as a Ranger – only another could have detected you, and I was expecting you after all. Why else would I have prepared supper for two?’
Faramir laughed now, but there was tension still.
Elessar stopped him.
‘Here I am not Elessar, not the King. My name is Aragorn. And you are not the Steward of Gondor or Prince of Ithilien, just Faramir. We are two Rangers met upon the road, sharing food and wine, tales and news and a well-earned pipe. There’s some bread there if you want it.’
Faramir was still unsure whether the King had planned this before sending him to Ithilien or had acted on a whim afterwards. He wanted to relax but how could he? There were still so many unanswered questions and here he was, alone with the man he desired above all others.
The King – or was it the Ranger? – handed him a bowl of stew.
‘It’ll probably be better now, second time around. Have some more wine. I suppose I should apologise for poaching your rabbits, but then, it’s not as if you were the local Prince or anything…’
The Ranger flashed a wicked smile that Faramir had never before seen on the face of his King.
‘Eat up, and then maybe you’ll find your voice.’
Faramir tucked in gratefully, desperate with every mouthful to swallow his lust as well as his food.
When the bread had sopped up the last of the gravy, Faramir put the bowl aside and contemplated his position. Aragorn – for now he must think of the man as that – was enjoying his pipe again, watching him. Those eyes. Faramir longed to cover them with kisses. He could not stay silent forever. Warmed and emboldened by the wine, Faramir found his voice.
‘Did you plan this, my lor…Aragorn? Did you send me here on purpose for this meeting?’
Rather too much of him hoped that it was indeed planned, that the King had recognized his need and would now quench it, but Aragorn shook his head
‘No, my friend, nothing was planned, although,’ he added in a lower tone Faramir was unsure he was supposed to catch, ‘sometimes that which we think is but a whim may prove otherwise.’
The King smiled again. ‘If you remember, it was only a suggestion that you come here, though I little doubted that you would. After writing those words, thoughts of the beauty of Ithilien, free of the shadow of Mordor filled my mind and a longing came upon me to roam unrecognised again. I was certain that in time either I would find you or you would find me. And so it proved. The supper was well-timed, was it not?’
Faramir could only agree.
The wine and some pipe weed settled Faramir’s tensions further, though his senses still danced to the pulse that raced through him at Aragorn’s nearness. As dusk settled and the bright stars rose over Ithilien, talk turned not to Gondorian politics but to exchanges of the adventures and exploits of fellow Rangers. As the moon rose it was not with the King that Faramir spoke, but with a friend and a brother. Spoke freely with him as he had with only one other before.
And somewhere, deep within him something moved and was healed, the lurid dreams that had haunted his nights faded into nothingness. Now that he was truly alone with his King, with Aragorn, nothing was as he had imagined it might be. He felt strong, controlled, and master of the love for the other man that flowed around him. Imperceptibly, the vision of his brother crept back into his mind. As it did so, pieces of a puzzle dropped satisfyingly into place. It was as if Boromir held him, touched and healed his tortured soul and set him free to love again.
As the fire died the chill of the summer evening nipped at them.
‘I think it best if we retreat to the caves of Hennth Annûn ‘ suggested Aragorn, shivering a little. ‘Summer evenings are ever deceptive, summer nights always the coldest, and you have no bed-roll with you. Lead the way!’
Quickly and efficiently as only experienced Rangers could be, they hid the traces of their camp and slipped silently as shadows into the trees. They easily covered the short distance to the stronghold, and Faramir was glad on their arrival that all was indeed in order. Only a fire remained to be lit. He found candles, some extra bedding, more wine, and the two Rangers settled down in comfort.
Many tales were told that evening, and Aragorn’s speech came naturally, inevitably, to tell of his sternest test as a Ranger, the journey of the Fellowship of the Ring.
Eventually Aragorn paused, and raised his eyes to his companion. Faramir was silent, unmoving, although his mind was racing, longing to hear of his beloved brother from the lips of the man he now desired in his stead.
‘I knew Boromir for such a short time, a few brief months. I cannot pretend that it was always an easy relationship. We were of course the only men of the Fellowship, which offered us a bond, but we differed over many matters, disagreed over many choices. And he was wary of who I was; the King returned, Isildur’s heir.’
Faramir stared into the dying fire. Silence fell again. Then slowly, hesitantly, Aragorn continued.
‘It was too short a time, but in that time I grew to love him. Faramir, I have told no one of this before…I believed I loved him deeply.’
Aragorn’s voice was low and he was gently rocking, hugging himself as he spoke.
‘I loved him, and he knew it, but…but…’ he looked up and saw the pain in Faramir’s eyes before looking away and continuing, ‘but he never betrayed you, never betrayed the love you shared.’.
His whisper was almost inaudible.
Shocked by the realisation that the King knew the whole nature of his relationship with Boromir, Faramir said nothing. Aragorn was rocking more violently and despite his own distress, Faramir ached to comfort him, to hold him. He stepped awkwardly across to where Aragorn sat and dropped down to take the man who had loved his brother into his arms and hold him close. So many nights he had dreamed of Elessar falling helplessly into his arms, but he had never imagined it to happen in this way. Now they were together his lust was gone, he felt only love and pity for the other’s sorrow.
‘Tell me,’ he whispered.
Aragorn gradually grew still, curled tightly into himself as Faramir held him.
‘His strength, his beauty… I desired his kiss, his touch. And he could see it; he knew the look of need for him in another man’s face. Neither of us gave voice to what was happening, but there were moments when our eyes met and something secret was acknowledged, accidental touches that blazed through me like fire. For so long I dared not declare my love for him and he, in return, offered nothing.’
Still Faramir held Aragorn, waiting.
‘In Lothlorien…we rested there for many days. Sometimes Boromir and I…we would fence, keep up our sword skills… There was a wide glade encircled by low rocks, flat, plenty of space. One day, that day…he had beaten me, whipped my sword from my hand, driven me backwards until I was sat on a rock with the tip of his blade at my throat. He teased me, laughed that great laugh of his, declared that he had the King at his mercy and enquired what ransom he should demand for my release.’
Aragorn half-smiled at the memory.
‘At that moment I wanted him more than I had ever done before. It was then that I told him that I wanted no mercy, that I was in his power where I wished to remain forever, that I wanted him to take me and use my body for his pleasure, that I was willing to give myself to him in any way he desired. As though I were the Steward, offering myself to my King to be ritually bound by blood to his body.’
For a moment Aragorn paused and glanced nervously at Faramir, whose mind began to race as Aragorn continued.
‘He dropped his sword from my throat and I fell to my knees before him, but he bent and pulled me up to stand before him. The touch of his hands on my skin, it was almost more than I could bear. He held my arms to my sides, looked deep into my soul and spoke to me. There was no blame, no censure, only truth and honour. He told me that he would ever love me as his lord and King, that he would treasure the gift that I offered him, but that he could not, would not accept it. He said that his true love was not his to give, that his heart belonged ever to another, his soul bound to one from whom he could not be parted. I could never be his, nor he mine. And I wept. He held me as you hold me now and I felt strength flowing into me from him as I feel it now from you, strength to continue when all seemed lost. And he kissed me, chastely, on the brow and called me his King.’
Faramir continued to hold Aragorn.
‘Is there more I should know?’ he asked.
Aragorn smiled at him and nodded.
‘We never spoke again of what had happened. Somehow by holding me, by speaking the truth, he had given me the power to master my passion, to see it as an infatuation.’
Faramir could but nod; there were so many similarities to what he himself felt for the King.
‘But still I wanted to know who held his heart. He never said and I could never ask, but so often when he spoke, one name would occur again and again, a name he held in such honour, such adoration, such devotion, that I came to realise who indeed was Boromir’s true lover, this man who was so clearly ever in his thoughts and his heart. Then I knew how deeply he loved his brother.’
Aragorn was silent again for a time and Faramir did not prompt him to continue.
‘Forgive me, Faramir…’
‘You ask me for forgiveness?’
‘You do not hate me for having thought I loved him, for wanting him?’
‘No, never. As Éowyn believed she loved you and as I believed I loved her, so you loved Boromir. There is nothing to forgive.’
Gently, tenderly, Faramir kissed Aragorn’s temple, brushed the long black hair back from his face and kissed the grey eyes closed. He leaned them both down onto the ground, tugged their boots off then pulled the blankets around them. He held Aragorn tightly in his arms and soothed his King to sleep.
‘Sleep, Aragorn. I am here and I shall not leave you. The stars are bright above Ithilien and we are safe. Sleep. I shall be here when you awake.’
Softly, under his breath, he crooned a long-unheard lullaby. Had his mother sung that to him? He could not remember. Soon, he too fell under its spell and sleep took them both.
Faramir awoke with a sharp pang of loss at finding himself alone. Surely not another dream, another vision? For a long time he dared not open his eyes, but when he did he found Aragorn’s clothes neatly piled beside their makeshift bed and from the uneven splashing of the waterfall at the cave’s mouth he knew where his King had gone. A torrent of thoughts and emotions washed through his mind, and it took some time to steady the rush and consider what his next move should be. Holding Aragorn as he slept had been the fulfillment of so much that Faramir had desired. He knew now with certainty that he loved the King as he had loved only his own brother before and that he wanted to offer that love without condition or compromise.
As Steward to the King, there was one way he could do this by which Aragorn would know, without any doubt, just how truly that love ran. It was a terrifying choice, but Faramir wanted nothing more than to make the attempt. He could only hope that Aragorn would understand and accept his offer, for no words must be spoken until the ritual was complete.
He tidied the rumpled blankets then raided the nearby chests for winter furs, more blankets and the few cushions he knew to be there. Other caskets met the rest of his needs. He lit fresh candles, rebuilt the fire and scattered handfuls of intoxicating herbs amongst the embers, set wine and oil to warm amongst the ashes. Lastly, reverently, he placed his own small mithril knife and a coil of cord at the edge of the fire and offered up his prayer to Manwë, asking that the Valar see and accept his actions. Then he undressed and went to seek the man he loved.
Against the late morning sun, Aragorn was a sinuous dark shadow. Faramir shaded his eyes until they became accustomed to the light. Aragorn had neither seen nor heard his approach, naked under the waterfall, head back, eyes closed, and the icy water shimmering rivers of liquid silver over his tanned body. For a moment Faramir closed his own eyes and bowed his head in awe at the sheer beauty of the man before him. When he looked again, the shining vision remained and his heart was glad. Then he too stepped under the cascade, shuddering and gasping at its freezing force, and took his King into his arms as once, long ago he had held his brother.
Aragorn turned in surprise to speak but Faramir raised a finger to his King’s lips, demanding silence. Confused yet compliant, Aragorn did not speak, allowed Faramir to wordlessly wash and soothe him. Did Aragorn already recognise what Faramir was doing? He himself had referred to the ritual the previous evening. Surely he must know of the steps that it involved. Faramir prayed silently that Ulmo was indeed within all waters and that he would carry the message of the ritual to those for whom it was intended.
When the chill became too much for either of them to bear, Faramir took Aragorn’s hand and led him slowly back into the warm depths of the cave, to the fragrant nest he had prepared for them. Aragorn looked at the fire, smelt the herbs, saw the wine and oil, his gaze lingering on the mithril knife and line of cord. The look he turned upon his Steward was full of concern, yet tempered with humility and tenderness. And love; there was no mistaking the love that was there. Still they were silent, and Faramir knew that Aragorn understood what was happening and was accepting his offer, yet that acceptance only made his heart race and his breath shorten in fear of what was to come.
They did not notice the waterfall cease for a moment to allow entrance to Manwë’s silent witness.
Sinking to the ground and kneeling face to face upon the cushioning furs, they held each other and looked deep into each other’s eyes, aware they must not speak during this most secret of mysteries. Aragorn took a deep breath to steady himself, astounded that Faramir wanted to do this, eternally grateful for his Steward’s devotion and love, certain in the knowledge that they both knew what was involved in the ritual that had remained unperformed for so very many years. He looked deeply into Faramir’s eyes to convey all he could not say, asked with his eyes whether Faramir was truly willing to do this, whether he was ready to begin, and was given in return a trust so total it was overwhelming.
Forbidden to kiss, to speak of his desire, Aragorn told Faramir all he could through his gaze and his touch. The Steward understood every unspoken eloquence. Faramir allowed Aragorn to slowly lower him to the bed of furs where they had lain the night before. Gladly he allowed his thighs to be parted and his most secret place to be exposed. Joyfully he felt the gentle touch of strong oiled fingers upon him, tenderly preparing him for what was to come. The sternest test was upon him. He must remain silent as he was entered and filled, must not allow himself to climax until long after Aragorn was spent within him, must not close his eyes nor break contact with the gaze of his King.
He had wanted Aragorn for so long. If he could fulfill the demands of the ritual then his love would be confirmed beyond doubt. Faramir held back, locked with Aragorn’s eyes but trying not to see them, to see instead the most unerotic, unarousing images he could possibly conjure, though the pleasure his body was being subjected to made his mind reel and his control begin to slip away from him. The day his beloved but by now ancient first pony had to be sent to whatever halls Mandos reserved for such beasts. His father, consumed by the flames of his own madness. Orcs mowing down his fellow warriors in the charge on Osgiliath. Images that were anything other than the beautiful face and body that towered above him, anything than the realisation that the King was using him to obtain ultimate pleasure. Anything but… Then suddenly, silently, Aragorn lurched and Faramir was filled with long hot liquid pulses, blood slowly oozing from the King’s lip where he had bitten it to stifle his moans.
They pulled apart clumsily but with enough care to prevent Faramir’s climax, both short of breath and shuddering. Still bound by silence, desperate and heaving, the two men came together again as they must, Aragorn once more applying warm oil before taking Faramir’s straining erection in one hand and reaching behind to touch and prepare himself with the other.
Apart from the unnoticed watcher, only they were witness to what they performed, only they knew the torment to which they, Faramir especially, were subject. Eyes locked once more, Aragorn’s hands trembled as he pleasured both himself and his Steward. He didn’t know whether speed or slowness was the better option, only that he must be aware of the slightest change in Faramir’s reactions in order to judge when the final step must be taken.
Both men were slick with sweat, hypnotised by each other and by the significance of what they were doing. Neither could quite believe that they were indeed in the midst of such an ancient and sacred act, neither could bear to falter and fail. Faramir was thick and heavy within Aragorn’s grasp and he in turn longed for the Steward’s length to replace his own fingers and plunge deep into his aching body.
The sea-blue eyes told him of longing and lust, of devotion and desire; of a love given freely that he knew would be returned in equal measure. He told Faramir the unspoken story of his own love until he felt the Steward’s body begin to arch even further. Then he rose and straddled the prone body, at last feeling the hardness he so desired enter deep within him. For a long moment they were both still as they must be, then Aragorn spoke the words both needed to hear more than any others, his voice cracking with emotion.
‘I accept your body; I accept your seed as I have given my seed to you. Bind yourself to me, my Steward, become one with me.’
Faramir bucked uncontrollably as his release came, and yet the rite remained unfinished.
Both were consumed by exhaustion but they could not stop until the final act was performed. Aragorn reached for the mithril knife, Faramir for the wine, then once again they knelt to face each other, trembling at what had passed and what was to come. Aragorn lifted Faramir’s left hand and drew the blade slowly across the palm – the Steward did not shudder – then lifted the dripping hand so that blood ran into the wine flask. Knife and flask were exchanged and the act repeated upon Aragorn, Faramir struggling to support his king’s hand now that he himself was deeply cut. Blood flowed again and was collected, then the wounds were pressed together in clasped hands, bound awkwardly with the thin cord. The men took turns to drink from the flask, speaking the sacred words in unison:
‘My brother, my lover, my master, my servant, my Steward, my King. I am bound to you by heart and by body, by blood and by seed, by spirit and by soul. Death cannot part us. I am yours to possess. I give myself to you and bind myself to you. May Manwë bless and reward our union.’
Their lips met in a kiss of total consummation. The ritual was complete.
Neither heard the music of the waterfall falter again as the hawk that had watched them flew from the cave, circled once around the high crags then turned west towards Valinor.
Both men were shaking from the cuts they had inflicted upon each other, the permanent scars that bore witness to the oaths they had taken, shaking with emotion at the gravity of what they had undertaken, at the mutual acknowledgment of their love. They exchanged long, slow, deep kisses whilst they began to explore what they so much desired, smearing blood over skin and into hair. Denied speech for so long, now the ritual was over they found it hard to find words to express themselves. At last Aragorn entwined his arms around Faramir’s neck and burrowed his face deeply into the Steward’s soft hair.
‘Faramir, how did you know that I loved you, that I wanted this?’
The Steward sighed with relief. Despite all they had gone through, he had very much needed to hear Aragorn speak of his love.
‘I did not, though I hoped. It was a risk I had to take. When you spoke of the sacred bond last night I felt sure you must know the details of the ritual. To give myself to you without you knowing beforehand of my love for you, not sure whether you did indeed love me in return… so much more special, more binding…’
Faramir’s voice trailed away, unable to fully express what he wanted to say.
‘I am trying to recall the lore of the ritual,’ Aragorn mused. ‘I do not think that it has ever before been performed by two who have not first spent many years together, who have not ever lain together before, have not even truly kissed in passion. We shall have to write our own annal when we return. Faramir, the risk you took astounds me! I can only love you the deeper for it.’
Faramir pulled Aragorn to him and claimed his mouth.
‘And I can only love you more for the way you took me, for how your eyes spoke to me, held and guided me. I ache for the next time…’
‘You were so beautiful as you lay beneath me, holding back for so long. Next time neither, of us will know such restraint. Next time, I shall ensure our cries of pleasure will ring loud and long!’
Aragorn enfolded the Steward to him, then realised just how sticky with blood they both were.
‘Faramir, we should clean and bind these cuts before we lose much more blood. You have healing herbs here? Come, this time I shall wash you as you washed me before.’
Snuggled closely together, clean and bandaged, Faramir found himself telling Aragorn something he had hardly let himself think of before.
‘When you healed me, when I awoke…’
‘When you knew me as your King, yet it was the first time we had met…’
‘I thought it was Boromir who called me back from the darkness. I was sinking, falling fast, yet someone took my hand and pulled me back up into the light, speaking my name…Just before I opened my eyes, I thought he kissed my mouth…’
‘Ah, Faramir. I kissed you. I kissed your brow and I kissed your lips. And I too, I heard Boromir’s voice once more…he laughed, laughed and said “I could not take your gift to me, my King – but now take mine. Take him and let your life be whole.”
‘I said I believed that I loved Boromir but he saw that it was not so, he knew what love really was and that it was not what I felt. Truly, I never knew love until that moment when our lips first touched as I healed you, mine on yours. When I kissed you I felt for a moment as if Boromir lived in me. I saw through his eyes and I loved you. You were his gift to me.
Aragorn’s eyes grew smoky with memory. Tightening his grip on Faramir, he continued.
‘And then, you were taken from me, the Healers, they took you away, and I had to return to the fight. Yet I was raging, possessed, I wanted only to be with you. I fought like a madman. I was fighting not just for Gondor, for freedom and the West but for you. I let Arwen take the ship as she so desired so I could be with you.
‘Then, when it was over, when the war was won, I came back to you, joyous in my love for you…. and you had found Éowyn, were to marry Éowyn! Éowyn who had wanted me now wanted you. I have never, never known such despair. Just when I’d won everything I had set out to gain, I lost the one thing I wanted more than anything, the one prize I desired. My Steward.’
Aragorn collapsed against his beloved, drained by the outpouring of his heartfelt emotion. Faramir, deeply moved, spoke now of his own desire as he held his King once more, spoke of the desperate wanting that had torn at him and threatened to destroy him, spoke of the need he had felt to offer himself to his King, spoke of the calm certainty of love that had descended upon him and had finally allowed him to instigate and complete the ritual.
At last they were empty of words, their emotions exhausted. Faramir rose and walked to the cave entrance to gaze in wonder at the fading day. Aragorn joined him, arms winding tightly around his brother in blood and body.
‘A glorious summer’s day and we have spent it wrestling in the darkness of a cave,’ he murmured.
‘Do you suggest we should go stalking in the dusk for our supper?’
‘My love, I fear all my energy is spent, my hunting senses doused. Are there not supplies enough here for this evening?’
Faramir counted on his fingers.
‘There are four types of nut, six of dried fruit, various cured meats, hard tack and wine. I could eat all of it! I suppose I will have to rewrite the inventory before we leave…’
‘Then let us dine here above the pool and watch the stars light up over Ithilien.’
Both men knew that once the stars were all ablaze, they would cast a silvery benediction upon their renewed lovemaking as they took each other in mutual desire for the first time.
This, Faramir thought, was how he wanted it to be.
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