Remember that whether you have the adult content filter switched on or off, this is always an adults only site.
18 February 2011 | 3575 words
Title: The Stranger
Beta: thanks, Nancy!
The story I wrote for the Slashy Valentine exchange. My kind requester let me off the hook by saying “no fluff”, so here’s a somewhat hard-edged look at one possible way Strider (Aragorn) and Faramir may have made each other’s acquaintance.
Story Notes: My sincere thanks my beta, Nancy.
Assignment: Man/Man, Elf/Elf, Prefer Third Age setting, not Silmarillion; a challenge to be overcome, however you’d care to interpret that.
“A hunted man sometimes wearies of distrust and longs for friendship”
(Strider, Fellowship of the Ring)
“Damrod! Behind you!”
Damrod swung round in response to his captain’s urgent shout. Now he had an orc on each hand and, good warrior though he was, he was sorely beset. Sensing blood, two more orcs hurled themselves into the assault.
All of a sudden, one of the orcs spat blood and collapsed dead on the ground. Fighting with all his might, Damrod became vaguely aware of a tall man beside him swinging a sword with great skill and strength. It was only when they were surrounded by a circle of dead enemies that they were able to stop for breath and take stock of each other. The newcomer was dressed, as were Damrod and all the Rangers, in the colours of the forest, but he was not masked as they were. Instead, his grim, weathered face was partly hidden by a large hood, which he now pulled forward with what seemed a gesture of long habit.
“I thank you, stranger,” panted Damrod. “Your arrival was most timely!”
The man nodded, but any reply he might have made was lost as battle resumed and each was drawn away fighting new foes. More than once the stranger found himself in mortal danger, swarmed by the numerous and reckless orcs, but his new companions did not abandon him, and when silence fell over the battlefield at last, the hooded man was alive and unscathed.
The Captain of the Rangers strode across to greet him, pulling off his mask as he came. He held out his hand, and the stranger shook it frankly.
“I am Faramir, Captain of Gondor, and I thank you for your redoubtable aid today,” said the tall young man. “I judge by your attire that you too are a Ranger, though not of these parts.”
With only the slightest hesitation, the stranger pushed back his hood, exposing a proud, calm face, much lined with care and unkempt with hard living, yet still unmistakably noble. Grey eyes met grey eyes, and Faramir felt a curious tug of kinship.
“Faramir of Gondor,” said the stranger in a voice surprisingly mild for one of such fierce aspect. “You are much renowned for your deeds of valour, sir; your reputation has reached even beyond the Misty Mountains.”
“Ah, my surmise was correct then, sir,” replied Faramir, gratified. “You are of the Dúnedain of the North. May I enquire to whom we all have the honour to be indebted? Damrod in particular, I am sure, will wish to know who saved his life.”
The stranger cast down his eyes for a moment. “You must forgive me, for I cannot tell you,” he replied with obvious regret. “I am a hunted man, and I tell my true name to none. I am known on my travels as Strider.”
“No name is needed when you have shown such friendship in deeds,” Faramir assured him. “Strider it is. We are returning to our base to take some rest. Will you accompany us?”
So it was that Strider came in the company of the Ithilien Rangers to the woods neighbouring their refuge behind the waterfall at Henneth Annûn. Strider knew well that distrust was necessary for survival in those hard days, so he submitted with wry grace to the blindfold and was led through twisting paths to the Rangers’ cavern. As they went, Strider’s attention was caught by the repetition of a most curious bird-like whistle.
“Welcome to our den,” said Faramir, personally and rather apologetically removing the blindfold at last. Strider looked around the cavern, a bleak place, and but dimly lit with a minimum of braziers and torches, but full of purposeful activity. Some men were preparing a rough meal, others pulling out blankets for the night from niches in the walls, and yet more clustered around the wounded they had brought back with them. Strider gestured to that group, saying, “I have a little training in healing. May I help?”
“Your help will be welcomed,” responded Faramir immediately, and Strider to work with no more ado. He carried water and bound up wounds, brought blankets for those shivering in shock – did, in fact, whatever he was asked to do. And though he was no chatterer, the Rangers warmed to him and by the time everyone was settled for the night, they were calling him by name and slapping his shoulder in gruff friendship.
Strider looked around for Faramir for the first time in several hours, and spotted him sitting a little apart with his lieutenants, Mablung and Damrod. Faramir beckoned him over, and he joined them at their small table, gratefully accepting a mug of ale they pushed his way.
“Came you from the North, Strider?” asked Faramir.
“From the North and West,” replied Strider warily. “What of it?”
“Saw you many of the Orcs of the giant kind, the Uruk?”
Strider nodded slowly. “They are increasing both in number and in potency, I believe,” he replied.
“That is my observation also. I am returning to Minas Tirith tomorrow to report to the Steward, my father, and to my brother, who is our Captain General. Damrod and Mablung will remain here with the men, pursuing the remnants of the band of orcs that troubled us so greatly today. You are very welcome to stay with them if you wish.”
Strider said, “But I am travelling south like you. Do you want company?”
“I would welcome it,” said Faramir honestly, “but you are without a horse, and we have none to spare.”
Strider shrugged. “So long as you are not at full gallop, I can keep up,” he said, and at Faramir’s incredulous look, he added with a smile, “Try me. I will not insist on holding you back if you need to go ahead.”
The next morning at dawn, Faramir discovered that Strider had spoken no more than the truth. With his long shanks and seemingly tireless frame, he ran easily alongside Faramir’s horse for many miles at a time. Since they travelled in habited land, they took their rest at the height of the day, and made most of their journey at night. Faramir took full advantage of the opportunity to observe the stranger, and what he observed filled him with only more admiration. Here was a man as wily and clever as his father, but without his father’s bitterness of spirit; as strong and as bold as his brother, but without Boromir’s need always to be in command.
As the days passed, the darkness encouraged confidences whenever Faramir slowed his horse, and his companion, to a walk. “It is a solitary path you take,” Faramir remarked, wondering how a man so strong and adept – so attractive, as the Ithilien Ranger now honestly admitted to himself – could stand the isolation that was so obviously his way of life.
“Aye, a man can find himself longing for company sometimes. It seems I talk to beasts more than I do to men these days.”
“I too feel the sting of loneliness,” confessed Faramir, hoping that Strider could not see his face, for he feared he was showing weakness.
“You have the companionship of your men, have you not?”
“Not really,” Faramir told him. “Not since I became Captain – it makes a difference.” He did not see Strider’s slight nod, but he said, “Surely you must understand this. You are a leader of men.”
Strider laughed softly and looked behind him. “I see no army.”
“And yet I think there will be one there some day,” replied Faramir gravely. “And when there is, I would not be surprised to find myself amongst them, following – willingly.”
Strider was silent long enough for Faramir to wonder whether he had trespassed unforgivably. At length, the older man said, simply, “Thank you.” A few seconds later, he glanced sharply up at the mounted man beside him. “Faramir, do you have the Dúnedain gift of foresight?”
“Only in flashes. Usually in dreams,” Faramir told him. “And to tell truth, it is a gift I could well do without, for it never seems to solve any problems, but only to create more.”
“Aye,” replied Strider in a heartfelt tone.
“Will you not take a turn on the horse?”
But Strider shook his head to this, as he had done many times already on this journey. “I prefer to feel…”
“… my own feet upon the road,” finished Faramir for him, and they laughed together. “Are all Northern Rangers so stubborn?”
“On this point, many of us are,” conceded Strider.
“I think you are the first Northern Ranger I have ever met, or at least had the opportunity to converse with,” said Faramir thoughtfully. “You are very far from home, Strider.”
“It is true I do not often journey east of the Misty Mountains,” replied Strider cautiously and vouchsafed no more. Faramir realized his curiosity about the mission of the solitary wanderer would not be satisfied this day, and changed the subject to a safer one.
“I was too young to remember, but my family sometimes speaks of a man of your clan, of the Northern Dúnedain, who came east and lived at my grandfather’s court in Gondor many years ago. He would be an old man now, of course, but perhaps you may know him? His name was Thorongil. It means ‘Eagle of the Star’.”
Strider smiled in the darkness. “Ah yes, Thorongil. I knew him well. He is long gone now.”
“I am sorry to hear that. By all accounts, he was a brave man, and blessed with remarkable powers of stealth and endurance.”
Strider shrugged. “Rangers do not survive long if they are not courageous and hardy. That is true of your men also. We are not so very distantly related, after all.”
They were passing through a particularly dark patch of woods at that moment, difficult underfoot, full of sudden gaps and ravines, and ill-lit by the few moonbeams that struggled through the thick tree canopy. Faramir’s horse nickered and shied.
“Hush, Anardil!” soothed Faramir. “You are not usually so skittish. What is the matter?”
“Anardil?” queried Strider, amusement in his voice.
“I named him after one of the ancient Kings of Gondor,” replied Faramir. “But I am sure you are familiar with that line.”
“Oh yes,” replied Strider. “All of my people can recite their names and lineage by heart, along with the northern line of Arnor.”
“And mine also,” said Faramir, delighted to have found more common ground with the stranger. “It was hammered into our schoolboy heads!”
Just at that moment a wolf howled, piercingly and very close. Faramir’s nervous horse reared and bolted. Taken unawares, Faramir was unseated and thrown violently in one direction as the horse galloped off in another.
Strider cursed and ran quickly to where Faramir had disappeared into the black underbrush. It could hardly be worse. The horse had thrown him at the edge of a steep ravine, and Faramir lay unmoving fully thirty feet below, near the small stream that had carved the jagged valley. Strider scrambled down clumsily, unable to see much of anything in the darkness.
Faramir came quickly to his senses, muttering “I am not hurt” in embarrassment as he tried to push himself upright. But he was compelled to abandon the pretence as soon as he tried to move his right leg, a stifled sound of agony forcing its way between his gritted teeth.
Strider was down at his side in an instant, and Faramir felt rather than saw a knife slicing open the leather boot encasing his painful and swelling calf. Strider’s hands explored gently. “You have broken your leg near the ankle,” he informed Faramir. “It is a clean break, and will heal, but I will need to set and splint it.” Then there was considerable rustling from the nearby trees and the sounds of a sword hacking and a knife trimming. There followed a great rip, which Faramir surmised was the destruction of Strider’s under tunic. “Hold tight,” murmured Strider sympathetically, and Faramir curled his fingers into the grass beneath him as the older Ranger did what was necessary with hard, deft hands.
After a couple of minutes of seeing many more stars than were in the heavens, Faramir dropped back to the ground, panting, knowing the worst of the pain over. Strider’s hand touched his cheek briefly. “All right?” he asked. Receiving Faramir’s nod, he scooped a handful of water from the nearby stream, and propped the younger Ranger’s head as he took eager relief from the drink.
Strider stood and surveyed the black cliffs that surrounded them and the strip of starry sky above. “It lacks yet three hours till dawn,” he said, “and if you can bear it, I would like to wait until the sun is up to make our little climb out.”
Faramir thought this an excellent idea and said so. With Strider’s help, he hopped over to a flatter piece of ground below a slight overhang – something he never would have seen, he was sure, had not the keen sighted Dúnadan pointed it out first. Faramir congratulated himself on his excellent good fortune in a travelling companion and settled himself back against the offered shoulder in relative comfort to await the coming of the sun.
They did not sleep. In that lethargy that follows intense pain, Faramir luxuriated in the warmth and comfort of another’s presence, and let himself enjoy, far more than he normally would, the sensations of Strider’s breathing and the caresses of his hands. For Strider was caressing him, there was no doubt of it. It was no more than a mother would do for her ailing infant: a gentle, repeated squeeze to neck muscles tensed against pain; a rubbing clasp of warm hands over cold ones; a calming brush of a hand against his hair when he squirmed a little fretfully. But, much as he was enjoying it, Faramir was no child, and his body was responding as no infant’s could. When Strider slid a hand softly under his tunic to rub against his ribs, Faramir knew he would have to speak.
He looked up in the darkness, and thought he could discern that the other man’s eyes were closed, as if he too were drawing comfort and pleasure from this rare contact. It made it all the harder to interrupt him.
“Strider?” said Faramir hesitantly. “I must ask. Are you of those who desire other men for bed-pleasure?”
Strider pulled away, not roughly but completely, and Faramir silently cursed himself. “Would that trouble you?” asked the older man.
“Most certainly not,” replied Faramir stoutly, but Strider was too wary to take that as the invitation it was. Or perhaps Faramir had misread his intentions entirely. It was maddening not to be able to see his face properly.
After a long and uncomfortable silence, Strider sighed and reached his hand across the space that separated them, resting it on Faramir’s forearm. “I am only a man, Faramir,” he said. “A human male. And, as you surmise, I am one who can and does take delight in other men. But you must know that I pledged my heart long ago to one who is neither human nor male. At the End of Days, she and I will be together forever.” He paused, then continued grimly, “There are times when I think it will not happen before the End of Days. Our union is hedged around with so many obstacles… In any case, what I must tell you is that this Lady is as wise as she is generous. Knowing that I am but a male and a human, she refuses to bind my body in promises, but stipulates only two things: that she is ever to be Queen in my heart as I am King in hers, and that I am to beget no children to sully our line. And now, I think, after that confession, you will want nothing more to do with me.”
He made to withdraw his hand, but Faramir captured it. “You will beget no children with me,” he said. He could make his meaning no plainer, and he was rewarded in an instant. Strider’s reply was not more words, but one fast, hot hand lifting Faramir’s tunic, and another taking uncompromising possession of the front of his breeches. Faramir let out a happy moan and surrendered to the older man’s skilled hands and experienced mouth. A wave of pleasure washed through him so strongly he could barely think, and it was not until minutes later that he gathered himself enough to make a feeble attempt to grasp at Strider and reciprocate. He found his hand brushed away from other’s placket. “Later,” said Strider, indistinctly, and returned to driving Faramir’s wits from him with hot wetness around his organ. Within a very short time, Faramir’s world exploded.
He took two or three long breaths, then sat up grinning and said, “My turn now!” and pulled Strider close, arranging him upon his knees immediately in front for best access with hands and mouth to the already rampant organ.
“How is your leg?” asked Strider.
“Fine – my leg is fine,” replied Faramir impatiently, as he made short work of the laces of Strider’s breeches. He heard Strider laugh aloud in surprise and joy at his eagerness. Faramir liked that sound very much, and was proud to show the other man that he, too, was no novice and no fumbler. Soon the laughter turned to panting, and Faramir’s name, and the names of the Valar, and at last, to Faramir’s great joy, a long incoherent wail, like to a wolf-howl, as the quiet, self-contained Dúnadan lost himself in bliss for a precious moment.
Strider slumped to his side. “Yes?” Faramir asked.
“Yes. Oh, yes,” Strider replied, and the gleam of his grin shone in the darkness. He took himself out to the stream on slightly shaky legs, returning a minute later to make both of them comfortable and decent. “Do you think you can sleep?” he asked Faramir. It was an unnecessary question; the younger man was yawning already.
When dawn crept into their ravine, it found Strider looking down thoughtfully upon Faramir’s sleeping face. Deftly he substituted his rolled-up cloak for his own arm, which had been serving as Faramir’s pillow, and then he stood and stretched to meet the new day.
The cliff was not difficult for an able-bodied man to climb, but it would present some considerable problems for his companion. And though Strider was confident that they would reach Minas Tirith eventually, for he could carry Faramir all the way if need be, this turn of events would slow them down by several days. When he reached the top, the Ranger looked keenly all about him for the errant horse, but Anardil was nowhere to be seen.
An idea struck Strider: he whistled the distinctive birdcall he remembered from Henneth Annûn. He was rewarded upon the third try, as Anardil sidled warily out of a nearby copse.
Strider smiled and spoke gently to the beast, luring him closer until he permitted his nose to be petted and his withers scratched. The man carefully relieved the beast of reins and tackle, which were long and strong, and would serve well to help get Faramir up the cliff. Then he tied Anardil to a tree, all the while giving him a low-pitched but severe talking-to on the subject of the incorrigible matchmaking of horses. Anardil merely whickered, as if laughing at him, and permitted the familiarity.
Half an hour of strenuous effort later and Faramir was back in the saddle with Strider alongside. Were it not for the crude splint at the younger man’s ankle, it might almost seem as if the whole thing had never happened. With Anardil’s assistance they reached the edge of the Pelennor Fields, outside Minas Tirith, at sundown.
Strider put his hand upon the horse’s bridle. “This is where I must leave you,” he said.
Faramir turned to him in surprise. “You will not come to Minas Tirith and speak with the Steward?” he asked.
Strider was gazing at the white terraced city, glowing orange-tinted like a faceted jewel in the sunset. “It is very beautiful,” he said, and there was longing in his voice. “But it is not yet time.”
Faramir did not understand but he did not argue. “You will have that army at your back some day, Strider,” he said. “I know it. And when you do, call me and I will come.”
Strider smiled and, reaching up, pulled the younger man’s face to him for a kiss on the forehead. “I will, never fear,” he said.
And then, without a backward glance at man or city, the stranger strode determinedly off on his solitary path.
NB: Please do not distribute (by any means, including email) or repost this story (including translations) without the author's prior permission. [ more ]
Enjoyed this story? Then be sure to let the author know by posting a comment at http://www.faramirfiction.com/Fiction/the-stranger. Positive feedback is what keeps authors writing more stories!
Thank the author
The following people read the story, enjoyed it, and would like to thank the author: Signe