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03 September 2011 | 7677 words
Title: The Malaise
Series: DH AU/Tales of the Late Third Age
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Warning: AU; Very Dark themes. Please don’t read if implied cruelty towards a child will offend you.
Disclaimer: All characters and everything else belong to Tolkien.
Summary: A little bit of background on Faramir’s best friend in the DH AU, Dervorin, son of Morvirin, an heir of the Ringlo Vale.
Beta: None, but many thanks to Minnie, Emma, and Kaylee for reading over when I asked.
A/N: Takes place between T.A. 2985, Dervorin and Faramir’s birth year in the DH AU, and some years after the Ring War.
“I am old enough to know that victory is often a thing deferred, and rarely at the summit of courage. What is at the summit of courage, I think, is freedom. The freedom that comes with the knowledge that no earthly thing can break you.” – Paula Giddings
He never knew what caused it. Never. He would be fine for weeks, months, years, and then…something would happen, and he would feel frozen inside. Couldn’t move, couldn’t speak, couldn’t eat, couldn’t drink. He did move and speak, because he had to. But he wasn’t really present, not all the way. As a young page, he would move like a ghost through the Citadel, delivering messages as directed, but taking hours sometimes. He would feel tired, and sit down, and hours would pass before he moved, even though he did not sleep. He couldn’t care enough to do his homework, even though he normally had a number of different games he played with Faramir, that made even the most boring assignments for their most snobbish tutors tolerable. They were still doing their assigned work to a high standard…and most of their tutors were not clever enough to pick up on the fact that every third letter in every tenth line spelled out an insulting commentary on the tutor’s personal hygiene. But when he felt frozen, he didn’t do his homework, or only did it part way, and didn’t play any games. The Castellan and their tutors would get angry, but Lord Denethor wouldn’t let them punish Dervorin. The Steward’s stern, strong features would become reluctantly sympathetic, and he would send for his Treasurer, and tell Morvirin that his son was sick.
Then Dev’s father would report to his tutors and armsmasters and the Castellan that his son was sick, and take him home for a few days, or weeks, or even months. Until the malaise passed. Sometimes his father was kind, but Lord Morvirin was not a well man, had not been since his right leg was crippled at the Battle to win back Osgiliath, not long after Lord Denethor first became Steward. Lord Morvirin would drink, and consume odd drugs purchased from those few traders who still dealt with the Haradrim. When Morvirin drank, he would curse at Dev, call him weak and ungrateful. And when he took drugs, he would beat his son. Sometimes Dev pretended to get better, and went back with the malaise still making him frozen inside, just trying to play at being better until he was better. Faramir would help then, kind gray eyes alert and sympathetic. He would charm the cooks into making Dervorin’s favorite foods, wheedle their tutors into discussing subjects he knew particularly interested Dev, and help Dev with his page duties, making everything into a game. Faramir would show him hidden parts of the Citadel, and sometimes the two of them would spend hours, even days, hiding in the abandoned royal wing. Faramir knew how to get in, and he said the old Kings wouldn’t mind that two boys hid there, until life seemed a bit more bearable. The old, abandoned royal rooms were dusty, but somehow still seemed welcoming. It was a pleasant respite.
Faramir would stand between Dev and their overly harsh armsmasters in those days, when Dev wasn’t feeling well, until Boromir found out about how little the armsmasters Denethor had hired cared about hurting their students. Then Boromir arranged for one of his Academy commanders to come to the Citadel for lunch with his father the Steward. Boromir had timed that visit so that he and his commander were just in time to see one of Dervorin and Faramir’s “lessons.” Captain the Lord Tyorvond had immediately admitted his slender nephew and the Steward’s second son into the academy as day students. The old campaigner, much trusted by the Lord Steward, had figured that the academy would be safer for them than being trained by idiots who thought nothing of flying at hesitating eight year olds with unblunted broad swords. And it was safer.
The academy was better, and after Dev’s father was banished was better still. No one beat Dev, or cursed at him anymore. Anyone who tried, Uncle Tyorvond, cousin Gendarion, or Boromir dealt with, quickly. But Dev sometimes still had times where he would feel frozen inside, sick to his stomach and bad, without knowing why. Faramir’s creativity was tested, when they were at the academy together. But Dev’s best friend managed to come up with plausible illnesses for Dev to have come down with, every time. Plausible enough to fool even his Uncle Ty. The Lords of the Ringlo Vale and the Ciril Vale, Dev’s family lines, were both known to be impure. They were Númenorean, yes, but they were also related to the darker-skinned native peoples of Gondor, and the pale-skinned foreigners who had followed King Valacar’s wife Vidumavi from her northern country. And so far as Tyorvond could remember, his only nephew Dervorin had been a sickly lad. Tyorvond was by and large pleased that the boy managed to keep up in his lessons and training, despite his many illnesses. And grateful, that Faramir and Boromir and their friends helped Dev, to stay caught up.
But Faramir couldn’t fool everyone. One of the veterans at the academy who taught strategy, looked at Dev on one of his bad days, and pulled Faramir aside. “Eleven years old, and he suffers from battle sickness already?” The old soldier had asked the Steward’s younger son, sympathetic but worried. Battle-sick soldiers could make mistakes, at the worst times. Not a good person to have at Denethor’s younger boy’s back, even if the Steward wasn’t fond of the child. Faramir was still their ruler’s spare heir.
Faramir had shrugged, “Dev’s always been like this, since I’ve known him.” The young cadet had explained, “but he holds it together, when he needs to. He’ll be fine, you’ll see.”
And so Dervorin was, Trainee Soldier, then Ranger, then Lieutenant and spy. He even saved Faramir’s life a number of times, though the one that stood out was the first time that they were captured. Alone, Faramir said he would have broken. Dev doubted that, but there was no doubt that he had been able to help. Despite the pain of the torture, he’d made jokes…one that made Faramir remember an Easterling who owed the Steward’s son a favor. The torture was horrible, but…some part of Dev remembered that he’d once survive something worse. And it protected him. Though he would fall apart just as bad as Fara, after.
The Malaise would creep up on him, sometimes, at Henneth Annûn, but mostly he was too busy to be distracted by it, and that helped. He never let it take him when he was spying, though there was once he came very close. They had been meeting with two merchants from Umbar, and one of them smelled strange. A sickly sweet smell that turned Dev’s stomach, and made him terribly afraid, though he could not think why. An unnamed horror loomed out of the hidden recesses of his mind, but Dev couldn’t see the shape of the fear, this overwhelming terror that was the root of the malaise. But Faramir was there that day, thank Eru. Faramir kept the flow of the meeting going when Dev faltered, made up an excuse about questionable fish at lunch, and got them out of there alive, with the information they’d come for, and two new contacts in the form of the merchants. Then Faramir got Dev very, very drunk, and left him at Sayyida’s. When Dev awoke, he thought he’d dreamt of Faramir and Sayyida, having an in-depth conversation about him and the malaise, and Sayyida weeping on his best friend’s shoulder. But Faramir said that all was well, and Sayyida was as inscrutable as an elf when she didn’t want to explain something. Then Faramir sent Dev on leave to Dol Amroth, and Prince Imrahil took him to the apprentice of an old Healer friend of Prince Adrahil’s, who taught Dev meditation, and other tricks, that helped. Ways to turn away the malaise, when it came upon him unawares.
Years later, talking with Sayyida, after he’d stopped even looking for the cause, Dervorin found the reason for the malaise. It was a bad night, and day, and on and off there were a few bad weeks. But the malaise never hit him as hard, again. He knew what it was, its name and cause. He might never have a face. Sayyida told him that was normal, not to see the face. Knowing what it was, speaking its name to Faramir, and its cause to Fara and Sayyida, gave Dev power over the malaise, or perhaps just reduced the malaise from an unfightable nightmare, into what it was. Something very, very bad, that had happened to Dev, long, long ago.
When he met Ethiron, it had been years since he’d had a real attack of the malaise. Then Dev had a few, in the year after the Ring War. So many kinsmen and friends dead, and gone, and so much sorrow, and stress, in the wake of the Ring War, and in consolidating Gondor’s security, with their human enemies weakened but not defeated. Ethiron made Dev see a mind-healer, the new King’s foster-brother Elladan. Dev didn’t bother to tell Ethiron he’d already seen one – it wasn’t any of his bossy new commander’s business, curse it. But Elladan helped Dev, even more. And Elladan was helping Faramir, as well, even though Faramir didn’t seem aware of it. That was the first time Dev ever kept a secret from Faramir, but Faramir, once he’d figured Elladan out, was grateful for the help, and did not resent Dev, for his discretion. Faramir was fair, like that.
Dervorin would still go speak with Elladan, from time to time, in the years that followed. Not regularly, but when he smelled the sickly sweet smell of the exotic spice ilhen, the scent his fear had worn. He hardly ever had an attack of the malaise, although when its pale, weak shade darkened his eyes with remembered sorrow, in those later years, he was still prone to be reckless, or lash out. During those times, his father of the heart would wait to spank him, no matter what kind of fear or insult Dev had given Ethiron, acting out of pain. Ethiron would tempt Dev’s reluctant appetite with his favorite foods, and keep him warm, and gently amuse him, until Dev felt better. After a few days of better, and depending on how much Dev had worried his mentor (Ethiron hardly ever cared about having been insulted, if Dev had had that kind of a bad day), Dev would find himself over Ethiron’s knee, for a stern but not cruel reminder to say “I’m having a bad day, perhaps we should send a lieutenant,” rather than going out on duty himself, without mentioning how he was feeling.
Early on in their working relationship, Dev had shocked himself by just telling Ethiron, about the malaise. What it was, and why. Not the first time it came after the war, but…when he realized that he trusted the older man. Almost more than he trusted anyone but Fara.
And it was Fara, who was even more shocked that Dervorin had trusted Ethiron. Shocked, and worried and protective enough that he and Dev got into a fight about it. Not a major fight, but enough to disrupt a hunting trip and get both of them in hot water. That was when Dev realized, again, that Faramir was at least as protective of him, as he was of Faramir.
Dervorin didn’t know that the King knew of it, not until many years later. Or that the King would care. But Aragorn just gave him that gentle look of affectionate exasperation, the one that was so often reserved for Faramir or one of his younger children, and said, “You are the heart-brother of my son. Of course I care, you foolish youth.” And Aragorn said those words in the sunny long gallery of the King’s House, where once, many years ago, Dervorin and Faramir had hidden for a few hours stolen play time. And Dervorin knew, then, that the old Kings truly would not have begrudged two young boys a refuge. More, that this King wished very dearly that he had been able to do even more. But Faramir and Dervorin both had been born in a desperate hour, when the King had been far away, fighting his own battles in the North, and in stranger lands.
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