13 September 2011 | 2432 words
Title: The Price of Love and Duty (or alternately, Ebony and Gold.)
Warnings: Mild slash, mild het, angst.
Disclaimer: None of these characters belong to me. All written in good fun with no offence intended!
Author’s Note: Again I explore my current love-affair with the theme of the unworthy/unwilling king…but this is a bit of an odd one that I can’t really explain. Upheaval in real life spilled over and this came out, I think! I hope you enjoy this :) (I’ll write something really sappy soon, promise.)
Looking up, he sees stars.
Vast, endless swathes of glittering gauze held invisibly skyward sweep over the stillness of the forest, and Faramir lies wakened, unenlightened as to what disturbed him particularly, though he nurses sleepy-minded suspicions.
The King lies next to him, fitful. Knees bent, huddled, somnolent features hidden beneath a protectively slung forearm, Elessar dreams, and Faramir turns his head from the light-freckled tableau above to read worry and discomfort throughout his companion’s composure. This had seemed a grand notion, sleeping beneath the stars, with the clean, wild air of Ithilien soothing them by the gentle spit of the campfire.
The soft grey scent of smoke hangs in the air yet, and Faramir rubs at eyes that water as the night breeze carries the memory of heat and flame over them both. It had almost been the King’s idea. Not quite worded, but Faramir could see it was ending him. If but a single night could be spared, and might Elessar lie beneath the fathomless skies and feel something, then mayhaps that which plagued him and him alone would be dissuaded, vanquished, laid to rest. The same reasoning, the same excuse, the same lies Faramir tells himself. This time, all will be well. He took his majesty’s hand and led him from the gates, and they crossed green fields and singing rivers together upon the white coursers Éowyn had gifted him. He had known they had come far enough when the King Elessar fell from his horse, and lay, unmoving, upon the cool grasses.
Faramir props himself up on one elbow, and pulls the blanket up over the King’s bunched shoulders. Elessar shifts, reaching with his lower hand, and Faramir takes it, bringing his lips down to the knuckles to press a cold kiss to the skin. This was a mistake, Faramir realises now, but it would be further folly to attempt a return at this hour. He thought it would help, but Elessar only grips his hand tighter and begins to surface.
Faramir thinks of Éowyn, and squeezes his eyes shut. She told him to go, to take the King where he needed to be. They all watched it with breaking hearts; the slow slide into despair, the growing absences of the man they all loved well. The distance in Elessar’s eyes, the hesitation before every response, as if drawing himself unwillingly back to reality with each question asked of him. Faramir is not sure of the last time he heard anyone call him Aragorn.
Elessar wakes, staring upward at the sky.
Loosening his hand from the long-fingered grip Faramir rearranges the blanket once again. “What did you see?” he asks in a low voice. When the nightmares, the foreboding shadow-images that sporadically assailed him in his bed ceased after a lifetime, Faramir had revelled internally until it became known to him, in unobtrusive and personal ways, that they had begun to assault the King in his place.
“Stars,” says Elessar. “Many bright stars, falling from the sky, breaking the city asunder and felling the towers. Ithilien burned, and the river could not quench the flames.”
He knows he could offer words of kindness and try and dismiss these visions as products of a weary mind, but he knows Elessar is no fool, and he knows from past attempts that his breath would be wasted. Instead, he digs an arm beneath Elessar’s shoulders and helps him to sit upright. Elessar slumps against him, but Faramir lowers his arm from around him quickly. “There are still many night hours left.”
Elessar looks at him, a shadowy form of flattened hair and tense exhaustion. There is a flicker of Strider in the tone of his voice, but no more. “Did I wake you, friend Faramir?”
The endearment comes easily to his lips, and Faramir for his part tries not to react to what he knows is the strained innocence of it. He knows his King would rather call him something different, something much closer. He has done so in the past, but Faramir has asked him to stop. “You did not, my King.”
The wind sifts through their hair with unseen fingers and Faramir waits for Elessar to say it. The King looks up at him, dark eyes glinting. “I am sorry.”
Quietly; “I love you.”
“Hush now.” And then, because the ache within Faramir’s chest is as pressing as the weight of Elessar against him; “I know.”
Elessar nods, accepting it. Faramir sighs through his nose and lifts his arm to encircle his King’s shoulders again. It has been so hard, to know, to discover slowly over so much time that the feelings of deep love and friendship he has harboured toward his King were returned in a manner he could never reciprocate. The night he told Éowyn, with a halting voice and hands that shook as his fingers reached for hers, of how the King had embraced him, as a brother would, and in drawing back had left a kiss upon his cheek with a question that turned Faramir‘s stomach to lead; that night, Éowyn had wept, and his heart had almost broken.
Still he stood by Elessar’s side. He would never abandon him, not in this despair, nor by shirking his duties would he leave such a man ever grasping for another who would understand. But Faramir cannot give himself to Elessar in the way the King would like. He loves his wife, and seeks not in men any completion.
Elessar loves him, and he must bear it.
“The stars watch over us, loftily, with no flame or chaos.” Faramir points upwards, and Elessar follows his gaze to the shimmer of the heavens. “There is no danger here, only us. Do you no longer find peace in the wild?”
“No,” is the answer, and Faramir sighs again and looks out across the rolling meadows until he becomes aware of Elessar’s hand upon his thigh.
“My King.” The hand does not move, and Faramir finds himself thinking suddenly of Éowyn on their wedding night with her pale palm placed lightly upon his naked leg. Her eyes had held a question, and he had not hesitated to answer it. “My King…”
Elessar lifts his hand and looks down at it, hair blowing gently in the moving air. His words when they come rush across Faramir like the heralding of the last day. “I know I cannot ask it of you.” His form is hunched forward, a shaking hand reaching up to cover eyes creased shut. “But still I would dare ask.”
It does not disgust him, but still Faramir feels ice settle in his belly as their old debate comes back to the fore. He loves his King, as his King, and as a friend and ally and someone he could not envisage his life without. But his touch does nothing. His kisses excite him not, and in the darkest days, when it seemed that he would lose Elessar completely to the sorrow slowly eating the Dùnedan from within did he pull images of his wife into his mind and kiss him back, pretending that stubble-dashed skin was the flawless porcelain of his Éowyn’s cheek. It would work for a moment. A heartbeat or two, and then he must turn his head, and hope it had been enough to stave off Elessar’s misery for another day.
“You know my answer, my King.”
When Éowyn discovered the reason for Arwen’s departure she had come first to Faramir, skirts whirling and eyes wide and frightened. They had talked long into the night, and he had reassured her, open and honest in all that had passed between the King and himself, the proposition, the rejection, what he had seen in Arwen’s eyes as she passed him in the corridor. Not hate, nor anger, but sadness, and calm comfort in the way she had smiled at him; it was not Faramir she blamed for any of this, and perhaps the Lady Undomiel held in her heart strange hope that Elessar might find what he sought in Faramir now that he was free from the bonds of their ill-fated marriage. Éowyn had taken his hand, and kissed the palm, and he had pulled her to him and kissed her deeply, holding her close until he knew not where she ended and he began. “I pity him,” she had said afterwards in his arms, flesh cooling, hair strewn across the scattered pillows. He had kissed the hollow of her collarbones and run a hand lightly across her ribs and made love to her, and she had screamed his name, and he hers, and that was how it would be. “He must envy me.” And Faramir had lain silent, though Éowyn had shown Elessar only kindness, and the King to her only grace, after that.
“If it is only kisses…” she had said, on another night, before drifting into sleep with her cheek upon his shoulder. Faramir had not slept, and the tears that stained the pillows and fell amid their tangled hair were silent markers of his unwilling betrayal. How to serve both wife and King. How to put one before the other, though he loved both eternally it would never be the same love. Before sleep found him Faramir realised that in the end, his heart would be pierced just as fatally by an arrow made of ebony as of gold.
Not knowing what else to do, Faramir settles himself on the ground again, stretching out and pulling his own blanket up over his chest. Elessar looks down at him and Faramir feels now the ill pang of pity Éowyn long-since ignited within him. Elessar is dear to him, in many ways, but this cannot go on.
“Sleep, my King. We will return to the city on the morn.”
Elessar looks to the trees waving gently in the night air and does not answer. Faramir swallows down the ill-feeling that rises within him, and when the King eventually lies back down beside him, though he knows it should not, his hand finds its way to the Dùnadan’s cheek, drawing gently from grey eyes strands of lank hair and smoothing unshaven skin with his thumb. Elessar says nothing.
A moment passes, and Faramir steels himself as his hand retraces its comforting caress. “We will return in the morn, my King. All will be well.” In his mind he sees Elessar as he once was, on a day the King turned to him upon the rampart with the sun in his hair and the shadows falling in elegance across his fair features. He stood tall, and assured, and smiled the smile of old friends as Faramir approached to embrace him. They had not seen one another in weeks, and Elessar had laughed with him, and asked how his honey-month had gone. There had been no hidden ache, no duplicity in Elessar’s fond gaze. Faramir wishes time would run backwards, wishes to see this King again, the King who yet had mastery over what threatened within. The King who did not love him in symptom or in hopeless desperation, in vain attempt to assuage the misery that ate at him a little more each day. Elessar found happiness not with Arwen, and Faramir doubts he will find it within his Steward either.
He thinks of Éowyn, his Éowyn, Éowyn who stands by him and loves him more than he deserves. Éowyn who forgives his slips, occasional and unintended though they are, when he falters and the need to give aid to the man he has his whole life waited for becomes all-encompassing, and for brief, terrible seconds he knows time and again what the underside of the King’s tongue feels like against his own. It feels like any tongue, like Éowyn’s, like his own must feel. Would he forgive his wife if it was she who offered such comforts? Faramir closes his eyes against the answer to that question, stilling his fingers amongst the rough silk strands of Elessar’s hair.
When he opens them again, Elessar’s breathing has slowed, asleep, perhaps. Faramir removes his hand and rolls onto his back, gazing upward. The stars offer him no recourse, winking down at him silently and unhelpful, forever out of reach. Tomorrow they will return to the City, and all will be well. Éowyn will wait for him by the doors to their rooms in the tower, and she will know. She must smell it on him, the richness of soil and soft sweetness of crushed grass. The perfume of the wind, the musty musk of leather and horses, the tang of pipe-weed and the smoky scent of blackened firewood. She always knows, and she says nothing. Their first night together after each of Faramir’s absences from the City is spent back to back in silence. Thereafter, and until the inevitable day when Elessar needs be removed again from his white-stone prison she removes the sword from between them, and they are as man and wife again, loving, grasping, forgiving.
She is like no other woman on the earth, and Faramir’s heart is arrow-marked and beats only shamefully.
Ithilien’s son waits a moment, waits until he has counted each untouchable pinprick of light, waits until the wind dies and the ash from the fire-pit settles in dusty tribute. He waits until silence cloaks the clearing and the trees, until each branch and leaf and twig lie still and unmoving. He waits until his own breathing matches tempo with that of the King, the ranger, the Dùnadan beside him.
Faramir waits until the world stops turning, and reaches out fanned fingertips to frame weary features, looks into the reflection of starlight in grey waters and feels himself fall apart as he is devoured with hunger-no, with tenderness only, with love, with heat and fire and with gentle questing hands that slide over his ribs as his own arm drops to pull open the buckle of Elessar’s belt.
Éowyn knows, and Faramir can do nought but look to the stars.
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The following people read the story, enjoyed it, and would like to thank the author: LN Tora , December , Jeff , Bennett , Kandace , Jeanna , Marisol