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18 December 2007 | 23561 words
Series: The Road Ahead
Sequel to: The Ritual
Author: Valkyrie (email)
Pairings: Aragorn/Faramir, Aragorn/Arwen (implied), Faramir/Éowyn (implied)
Archive: yes, but let me know where
Warnings: m/m relationship
Summary: Faramir is slowly fading away dragging Aragorn with him.
Author’s note: this is totally AU. If you like to read things canon, this is not a story for you.
Feedback: kind words will be welcome as well as constructive criticism.
Disclaimer: The characters are property of J.R.R. Tolkien. I have not and will not receive any money for this story. It is free for all to read.
Very especial thanks to my beta reader Chris. All remaining mistakes are mine.
Part One – The Sleeping Steward
Faramir was at peace. He was at his favourite place, dwelling by his beloved waterfalls. Every day he spend his time here, watching Anor rise and fall, watching Ithil bathe the night, hypnotized by the stars which gave him a comfort he somehow knew they had not offered before. They gave him a respite. From what, he did not know.
He lounged on the green grass, unaware of time. No past or future, only now. He did not realise whether he slept or not, whether he ate or not. He only knew that here, he was safe. Here, no hurt would come to pass. He was content, watching his paradise and basking in its radiance.
Thus, he did not like the few times an unknown presence had tried to invade his haven. He had felt unease. His heart had faltered and begun a mad rhythm. The first time it happened, it was during daylight. He felt an immense sadness wash over him and dark clouds covered the sky; a cold breeze hit his face like a slap. He was walking but stopped altogether, sitting down in the grass, taking deep breaths and closing his eyes until the dire feeling passed.
From that day on, he felt it three more times at closer and closer intervals, the insistence of it leaving him with a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach. He felt endangered, but of what he did not know, and that fact unnerved him above all.
Today, though, was one of the most beautiful days he had witnessed. Anor was radiant and the sky had the dark blue of a clear fall day without clouds obscuring his view. His green haven offered a wonderful contrast to it and the sound of the falling waters invited him to sleep. He lay down on the plush grass and closed his eyes, the waters singing him their soft lullaby. It was in that moment of complete solace that he felt it. A presence approached him, soft footsteps making their way on the grass. This time though, he felt no unease.
“What are you doing, little brother?”
Faramir was up in an instant. He opened his eyes and sat looking mesmerized at the man beside him, not giving credence to what he was seeing. He looked at the familiar face and saw the ever-present smirk directed at him once more, the eyes shining mischievously. Faramir realised his visitor was wearing the clothes he always favoured when he was at home: comfortable trousers, a simple shirt and his favourite boots. He reached out his hand to lay a finger on the side of one boot, to assure himself this was no vision, that this was his beloved brother in front of him. As soon as he touched the boot’s leather he retrieved his hand as if it burned and watched his brother sitting down beside him.
“What are you doing, little brother?” his brother asked again, this time accompanying his question with a simple gesture, brushing Faramir’s unruly tresses with a light touch of his hand.
“Boromir?” said Faramir, finding his voice at last. “Are you really here?” he continued, his voice breaking with emotion. “Are you real or have I gone mad?”
“I am as real as the place you are in, little brother,” answered Boromir, lowering his hand to accommodate himself more comfortably on the grass.
“But…you were dead,” Faramir said, his heart beating madly in his chest. The dark clouds were approaching again to mar his limpid sky. Something was not right.
Faramir had no recollection of his brother until now that he presented himself. Suddenly, he remembered saying goodbye to his brother, who was on a horse. He shook his head and placed his hands at each side of his head, as though denying what he just remembered.
“What are you doing, little brother?” repeated Boromir for the third time. “You must awake and face your destiny. You must awake and face love,” he continued, lifting himself from the grass, seeing Faramir’s incredulous look.
Faramir was sure now that this was not his brother. His brother would not torment him. He would not bring the dark clouds. He looked fearfully at the man standing at his side. Faramir thought this man looked so much like his brother, but it could not be. He whimpered as a great pain pierced his heart at the same time that a thunder cracked in the distance. In a detached manner, he thought that he had not heard a thunder in his little piece of heaven before. He clutched his chest as the pain increased, leaving him breathless, his gaze pleading with his apparent brother, pleading for the pain to stop.
“No, little brother, this is not your place, you have to move on. Go to your loved ones.”
Faramir squeezed his eyes shut and fell to one side, curling in on himself and gasping. Between half lidded eyes he saw how Boromir’s presence shimmered and disappeared. He heard the echo of his brother’s voice, saying, “Aragorn awaits you.” Then he knew no more.
The next time Faramir woke, he did not know why he had fallen asleep and neither did he remember when he had done so. This fact, though, did not bother him much, for he could see the day was perfect, and he was at his favourite place, dwelling beside his beloved waterfalls.
Arwen paused at the bedchamber entrance for a moment to watch her husband, a sad look painted on her face. Aragorn was sitting at Faramir’s side as he had been doing since they transferred the young man from his rooms to the Houses of Healing. Two weeks had passed since the crowning and Faramir had not awakened still. The Steward of Gondor seemed to fade with every passing hour, and no one, not even the King himself, had been able to do anything about it.
The Queen’s heart was tearing apart, though she hid it well. She witnessed how Aragorn lost hope with every passing day and attempt to get Faramir back. He had tried to awake the young man three times with no results; and every time he made a new attempt, he came from it weakened, a new shred torn from the fragile veil of hope. Soon none would be left. And she did not want to think about what would happen if the worst came to pass.
As she did every single day since that fatal one, she stared at her husband’s back waiting to be acknowledged, but to no avail. Aragorn’s keen senses were focused on the still form on the bed. He sat at Faramir’s side, day after day, night after night, only resting when his body could not stand it anymore and only eating when his wife dragged him away to do so.
Faramir was fading and Aragorn with him. The once healthy and happy ranger reduced to a man consumed by guilt, a wan face and dull eyes speaking of unbearable suffering. And Arwen thought, from her vigil at the doorstep, that fate was being cruel with them all.
“Come,” she said, her tone showing that she would not take no for an answer. “Or do you prefer that I make arrangements to drag you out of here?” she continued, a single eyebrow as high as it could go, a gesture inherited from her father, no doubt.
“I am not hungry, Arwen. Please, you go. I will eat something later,” said a dejected king, pleading, as a child would do but still not turning around to face his wife. His voice sounded weak and if one looked carefully one could see an imperceptible shaking all over his body.
“You made another attempt.” It was a statement, not a question. Arwen could see the signs all over him. She guessed that if he were to attempt to rise from his sitting position now, he would fall to the floor. “You cannot go on like this, Aragorn. You will come with me; you will have a nice bath, a good meal and a good night’s sleep in your own bed. Even if I have to drag you out of here myself!” said an exasperated queen and then continued in a more soothing tone: “I understand, my love, for surely I would do the same were I in your place, but you have to comply with me in this. I am sure you would do this for me if our roles were reversed.”
Arwen slowly approached Aragorn, who was still focused on his charge. She leaned in and embraced Aragorn from behind, gathering his arms, placing them against his chest, encased by her own. She held him tight and gave him a tiny kiss on the side of his face; the slightest rocking motion and four words.
“Let the pain go.”
Aragorn tensed in the embrace. He felt so tired. He would not survive this. He did not want to either and was glad that if Faramir faded he would soon follow. His beautiful Arwen always tried to comfort him but to no avail and he felt for her and despaired at the thought of leaving her alone so soon. Now, her simple gesture and plea touched him so. Now he felt so unbalanced, so vulnerable when before he had felt strong and unyielding, his vigil unwavering. Deep inside, he knew the answer as to why.
Now hope was lost.
He started to cry. His head down, gripping Arwen’s arms with maddening force and feeling her hold tighten around him even more. He sobbed bitterly, releasing all the tears he had held inside for so long.
“Come, my love, rest if only for a little while. What good would it do to you and to him if you exhaust yourself? Recover your strength and be well for he will need your support. He will need you strong,” finished Arwen, feeling confident that Aragorn would yield. Every time she had found something to say to convince Aragorn to eat or rest a little. Every time her task was proving more and more difficult.
Aragorn took Arwen’s hands and gave them a little kiss. He let go of her embrace, stood up and leaned over the man on the bed, giving him a tiny kiss on the forehead.
“I will come back soon, my love,” he said softly. Then, Aragorn took Arwen’s hand and exited the room, leaving the sleeping form of the Steward of Gondor behind.
Two silent figures sat in the dining hall. One was watching closely to ensure that the other ate his dinner.
“You have not eaten anything, my love,” said Arwen in a sad tone.
Aragorn looked at her and gave her a tiny smile. Then, he forced himself to pick up some more bites of food to comply with his wife. He felt guilty that this was taking its toll on her, too. He was dragging Arwen down with him and that was not fair. She had not given up immortality for this, she deserved better.
“You are brooding again,” she said, reaching out to smooth the frown that had formed on Aragorn’s forehead.
Aragorn chuckled under his breath. “You know me too well, my love, more than I know myself.”
“You do not have to feel guilt. None of this was your fault. You did not ask for the Ritual, nor set its rules,” she tried to convince him.
“But I feel responsible for the path our relationship took. I was first to kiss him. He got under my skin and I did not even realise when that happened. I should have restrained myself but I was weak and gave in to my feelings for him, and now I must face the consequences of my foolishness. If we were not in love, this would not have happened. He…he would not have felt the pain run so deep, and he would be well right now,” he said, his tone betraying all the anguish he felt inside.
“Aragorn, if you were not in such distress I would beat sense into you! Nobody holds the reins of their own heart. You are not more responsible for Faramir falling in love with you than he is for making you fall in love with him. Love is a capricious thing and you might be King but in that, you have no more say than the next,” she finished with a smile.
“You are right as always,” he said, “but…I cannot help but feel guilty for what happened. Are you aware that people are saying that he did not pass the test? That the Ritual is slowly killing him?” he finished, a pleading look on his face.
“You must not feel guilt for something out of your hands. You have to be strong for when he wakens,” said Arwen, placing a comforting hand on Aragorn’s besides the half empty plate. “And as for what people say, pay no attention.”
“If he wakes someday, two weeks have passed,” he said quietly, “two weeks and he still keeps fading away. Every day that passes, he goes more and more out of reach. I have not been able to get to him. The few times I have tried, I have not even been able to sense him. I could feel him so easily when I first healed him. Now, bond and all, I cannot sense him. I am afraid that he is all but gone. Only his body remains in Arda to waste itself slowly, to punish me for what I did to him,” he said, his voice breaking in the end.
Arwen stood up from her chair and embraced Aragorn. He could not do more than sit there, basking in the comfort she offered.
“Do not lose hope, my love. Do not lose it yet,” was all that Arwen said.
Éowyn walked through the corridors of Minas Tirith, her thoughts wandering restlessly. She thought about Faramir, about the little time they had shared, about how soothing had been his presence to her. She thought about how much she wanted Faramir to get well to talk with him once more.
She thought of Aragorn as well. It was sad to see him so desperate about the fate of his Steward. It seemed to her that the King was wasting away along with Faramir that they were connected, but she did not know all the things that had transpired on the crowning day. She knew Gondor’s famous tradition of testing the Stewards had to do something with Faramir’s state. But other than that, she knew nothing more.
She arrived at the Houses of Healing without realising it, her steps guiding her as if on their own accord.
“My lady, how are you today?” asked Varan, who was on his way out of the Houses of Healing.
“I am well, Varan. Is there any change?”
“No, my lady, Lord Faramir has not awakened yet. The King has left to rest a little.”
“I will stay with him for a little while.”
Though she knew the state Faramir was in, she was never prepared to see him more and more deteriorated every time she came to visit. He was getting thinner with the passing days and the semblance of death already settling on his pale face. She could not help the tears that fell down her face or the strangled sob that caught in her throat.
“Oh, Faramir, when are you going to wake?” she said approaching the ever still form on the bed, reaching out with a trembling hand to run her fingers through strands of Faramir’s hair, longer now and having lost its previous luster. The colour, though, was the same mixture she remembered so well.
Bitter tears spilled Éowyn of Rohan at Faramir’s bedside. In that instant she knew she had lost her heart some time ago without even noticing it. Fate was cruel to give her what she had not had a chance to know or taste, only to pull it back mercilessly.
“Faramir,” she repeated over and over again, her left hand caressing his head and her right gripping his now fragile right hand. “Why did you cease fighting? We must never give up life! Never! As long as we live there is hope,” she said earnestly.
Faramir did not answer her; he did not even move a muscle. In the end, it was too much and she left the Houses of Healing heartbroken.
Arwen sat on the bed, her back against the headboard with Aragorn’s head in her lap, guarding his rest. She had slipped a mild sleeping draught into her husband’s drink. She thanked the Valar that at least he drank it even if he could not eat all the food on his plate. When they came back to their chambers after dinner, she had helped him to get comfortable and as soon as his head hit the pillow, he was sound asleep. He had not stirred once and that was good, for that meant that he would get some real sleep. She had wanted to do that for long and now, she thought, she should have done so sooner.
She caressed Aragorn’s forehead, regretting the shadows under the closed lids. Her Aragorn was wasting away like Faramir, the bond they shared, dragging him along, too. She could do nothing for all was in Faramir’s hands. All depended on Faramir’s will to live and it was painfully clear, he did not want to.
A knock on the door interrupted her reverie.
“Enter,” she said, annoyed for she had made it clear to the guards that nobody was to disturb the King’s rest.
A guard entered and closing the door behind him, nervously said, “My Queen—”
“I told you the King would not be disturbed,” she interrupted him, her displeasure very clear.
“Yes, but it is the Lady Éowyn and she wants to speak with you, my Queen. She is very insistent about it.” “Is she out there?” asked Arwen, her tone much calmer now.
“Yes, my Queen.”
“Tell her to enter and… Forgive me for my earlier rudeness, I did not mean to snap at you,” said Arwen. The guard was bewildered and thought Elves were very strange indeed, for when had royalty apologized to a mere guard before? “There is no need to apologize, my Queen,” he said, bowing his head and exiting the room.
Moments later a very distressed Éowyn entered the chambers and Arwen bade her to sit in the chair beside the bed.
Éowyn sat, brushing away stray tears. She looked at Arwen and said, “Forgive me, my Lady—”
“Arwen, please,” interrupted said Queen.
“Arwen,” continued Éowyn, “forgive if I am being inopportune. I am obviously disturbing you at a bad moment,” she spared a glance at Aragorn, who lay on the bed oblivious to anything, “but I…”
“Éowyn, you do not need to apologize,” said Arwen, never ceasing her caress of Aragorn’s forehead. “I can see you love him, too,” she said, a smile on her face.
Éowyn’s eyes widened in surprise for a moment. “The fame of the Elves in reading people’s emotions is not unfounded,” she offered. Arwen chuckled and said, “Oh, not all of us are thus. I, for my part, inherited my father’s sight. He can give people quite the fright sometimes, his sight is uncanny,” she said, her face full of remembrance, “Have you seen him?” she asked in a more serious tone.
Éowyn knew of whom she was talking. “Yes,” she answered and then very quietly added, “I did not imagine he could be that bad.”
“And you realised you love him?” Arwen continued her prodding.
“Yes,” answered Éowyn. “What did you mean by ‘you can see I love him, too’?” she asked, the phrase falling into place at that moment for it meant someone else regarded Faramir so.
Arwen gave her a tiny nod. “What I will tell you must not leave these chambers for only the two implicated can make the decision of uncovering their situation. Nevertheless, I will tell you for I see, from now on, you will be as much implicated as I,” stated Arwen.
“I swear upon my honour I will tell nothing, my Queen,” answered Éowyn.
“Arwen. Please,” the Queen insisted once more.
“Yes, forgive me,” said Éowyn, offering a smile, sad as it was.
“Aragorn and Faramir are bonded. Their lives depend on one another. Meaning that, if one dies the other would follow,” said Arwen waiting for the information to sink in. She saw how Éowyn looked at the sleeping form of the King and how, suddenly, everything fell into place for her. She continued when Éowyn looked at her again, her eyes silently questioning.
“Gondor had this tradition called the Ritual which Aragorn wanted to abolish for it involved an awful act. Unfortunately, said Ritual was an act of magic. The Valar’s magic, to be exact, twisted by a Númenórean King. This magic could not be undone without provoking Faramir’s death. Thus, the Ritual was performed. The act itself involved the submission of the Steward to his King and the submission was of a sexual nature. Aragorn and Faramir were forced to follow this tradition where the final goal was to test the Steward’s loyalty and create a mild bond for military purposes. Sadly, the magic of the act forced the King to virtually… rape the Steward.
Éowyn gasped. She lifted a hand to her mouth and looked at Aragorn’s sleeping form. She wanted to say something but her brain had gone numb. With a heavy heart she listened to the rest of Arwen’s dire tale.
“The magic of the Ritual tested the Steward in this humiliating and debasing manner, giving him no other choice than to yield or die.”
Arwen paused for a moment to look at the sleeping form of her husband, regretting the fact that not even in sleep her beloved encountered a semblance of peace for Aragorn’s face was troubled even now. She continued her tale; her eyes on his beloved face, not wanting to let thoughts of despair enter her mind. For if Faramir died, Aragorn would follow and she would be left alone.
“They were in love and had declared their feelings for one another. Aragorn had sworn to Faramir that he would be safe at his side, that the future would look brighter for him from there on,” continued Arwen, “Aragorn was beyond himself when he learned about what he would have to do. In the end, they fulfilled their duty and Faramir was proven loyal. But their love, a new factor that had never presented itself, annulled the magic of the Ritual and released the gifts from the Valar. Now, their bond runs deeper than that of a military purpose. Their bond is a soul bond. Aragorn can depart Arda when he sees fit and Faramir was given the long life of the King’s Line. His body was healed, left unmarked, showing no hints of what was done to him. Nevertheless, something happened shortly afterwards for he seemed to reject the bond, sinking into the state you see now.” Arwen finished, facing Éowyn once more.
Éowyn was shocked. She understood all that Arwen had told her but she could not believe such a thing could happen. She could see Aragorn was in pain for his sleep was restless. Her heart ached for the four of them, for the cruelty of fate. Yes, she thought, cruel in making her fall in love with one who could not reciprocate her feelings. Cruel for demanding of a gentle soul as Faramir’s such a dire duty. Cruel for subjecting Aragorn, who was fiercely protective of the ones he loved, to inflict such pain to one he cherished so. Cruel because if Faramir died, Aragorn would follow, and then, what would become of Arwen? Yes, fate was cruel, indeed, to the ones who had given so much of themselves to save their world.
Arwen watched a range of emotions cross the Rohirrim woman’s face as she unfolded her tale, but love was the strongest among them. Éowyn loved Faramir and she thought her love was forfeit.
“Do not give up hope, too, Éowyn. There is still a chance as long as we live,” said Arwen gently.
For Éowyn, there could not be words more fitting for that moment, more liberating and encouraging. These were the same words she had said to Faramir. She smiled and felt hope rise in her heart.
“Thank you, Arwen, you are wise and compassionate. You will be a great Queen,” said Éowyn, standing up from her chair. “I will bother you no more.” “I bid you to stay,” said Arwen.
“I will.” And Éowyn understood it was not an invitation to stay in the room but in Gondor.
“You are too weak to try this again, Sire. Please, listen to reason,” pleaded Varan, standing at Faramir’s bedside, trying vainly to prevent the King to approach Faramir.
“I am losing reason with every day that passes. Every day I am forced to see him like this, slowly wasting away, only but a shadow of himself,” said Aragorn in a tone that accepted no argument.
“But…” started Varan to say.
“Leave or stay, I do not care, but do not get in my way,” said Aragorn, firmly.
“Fine, Sire, but I will stay,” said Varan, his tone, too, giving no room for protest. He walked to one side, not very far, in case his King would need him.
Aragorn covered the short distance to the bed slowly, his face full of misery. “I am back, my love, forgive me if I left you alone for so long. I was delayed.” He reached out to caress the young man’s forehead with tenderness and placed a gentle kiss on his cheek.
Aragorn remembered how he had tried to be angry with Arwen when he realised he had slept through the night. As a healer he was sure Arwen must have given him something. In the end, he could not blame her, for this was draining her as well. He could not help feeling as he did now, for the bond was strong, even if Faramir did not feel it.
And the bond was dragging him along.
“How are you today?” he continued, talking to the unresponsive form of his beloved, as he had done for the past months. “Would you not gift me with one of your smiles or with a look from your beautiful eyes? Please, beloved let me hear the sound of your voice again. Even if it is in anger, I do not care. Please, Faramir.” Aragorn’s voice broke on his last words, a silver tear falling onto Faramir’s face.
Aragorn straightened back and took Faramir’s hand, which now rested over his chest. He gripped the fragile hand firmly with his right one, while with the left he never ceased the soothing gesture on the young man’s forehead. After a while, Aragorn inclined his head, closed his eyes, and stopped the soothing motion to place the entire palm on Faramir’s forehead, squeezing even more the hand in his right one.
Varan watched helplessly as his King tried once more to reach Faramir, knowing all too well, he would be exhausted when he finished. Long moments passed and the King started to falter in his stance. Varan took a step closer. He was not prepared though, when suddenly both of them opened their eyes. The King’s knees buckled under him as he lost consciousness and Varan barely had time to gather him before he reached the hard floor.
Faramir screamed, an anguish filled cry that betrayed despair beyond endurance.
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