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Ars Poetica (PG-13) Print

Written by Tal

02 January 2010 | 6846 words

Disclaimer: Lord of the Rings and all its characters belong to Tolkien. The name “Altaïr” (but not the character) was shamelessly filched from “Assassin’s Creed”.
Rating: PG-13 for romantic themes and some violence.
Warnings: Slash, character death.
Summary: Politics, poetry, passion, and everything between them.

Written for the 2009 Midwinter Swap.

Request by Helmboy: I would like to see something about a doublecross, with Faramir unaware of it and someone compelled by kingdom or necessity to do the doublecross. I don’t want hobbits as the main focus but they can be there as bystanders or observers. I would like it to be something that is serious and compells a discussion between Faramir when he is made or becomes aware and involves serious emotions and commentary.

Ars Poetica

“And I say –” Lord General Folarch banged his fist on the council table – “the Haradrim cannot be trusted! They behold the White City and their eyes are dazzled with envy! Think you they can lay down generations of hate at the drop of a sword?”

Faramir massaged his temples, safe in the knowledge that all eyes rested on the general. The council meeting was spiraling out of control. He flicked a glance at Elessar, who was sitting in regal silence at the head of the table. If the high king shared his steward’s desire to bash a certain skull against some stone wall, he never showed it. A true statesman.

“This treaty is preposterous,” the lord general continued. “The mere idea –”

“This treaty,” Faramir interrupted despite himself, “was drafted by the high king himself, General. Mind your words.”

From the corner of his eye, he saw Elessar give a tiny grimace. He didn’t share the offense, then, only the broader displeasure.

General Folarch bowed to Elessar. “My apologies, Highness. I was not criticizing the content of the treaty in itself, only the idea of proposing one. What we should be proposing are the terms of their surrender! The Haradrim –”

Yes, Faramir mused as he squeezed his eyes shut, that’s one skull that needs meet a wall, soon.

“Thank you, General,” Elessar finally interrupted. “My lords, when one has grown up outside Gondor, one has the benefit of a different vantage point. As such, I tell you this: not alone do the Haradrim find it hard to lay down hate. The time for change is come, and it falls to you to cast off a bloody history and seek a better future. That is no simple task, I grant you. But we are now stronger than ever, and I have all faith that you will each find the power to do so.”

Many in the council stirred, as if to say that desire and not power was the issue at hand, but Elessar swept on.

“I bid you contemplate my words tonight. Tomorrow we shall reconvene with clearer heads to resume this discussion. You may leave.”

Chairs scraped and clothes rustled as the lords and generals bowed their obedience and exited the council chambers, allowing a fresh breath of air to slip in. Faramir, held back by a minute gesture from the king, remained seated and silent until the doors closed again and they were alone.

“An impressive speech,” he said.

Elessar leaned back and pinched the bridge of his nose. “It was either that, or knocking the general’s head against a wall.”

A surprised laugh burst out of Faramir. He quickly covered by saying, “Others support him, in thought if not in action. The other generals. Anfalas. Belfalas.”

Elessar’s head shot up. “Your uncle?”

Faramir nodded reluctantly. “As you said, Highness, history is not easily dismissed. These are fierce warriors, raised in battle. They’ve suckled this war at their mother’s tits, and now you ask them to forgive their enemy.”

“There’s a fault in your logic. Lossarnach is no warrior, and even he resents the idea, however quietly.”

A good point. Still, “Galasdel is the lord of a rich estate, Sire.” And at Elessar’s bemused look, “He dislikes commercial competition.”

Elessar’s gray eyes narrowed as he seemed to mull this over. Faramir rose to his feet, wondering if it was his chair or his bones that creaked in protest. He was about to beg leave when Elessar’s voice halted him.

“So it’s either prejudice or profit?”

Faramir looked to the ceiling, pretending to weigh the statement, then let his gaze fall back to his liege. “That pretty much sums it up, Sire.”

Elessar buried his head in his hands. “You depress me.”

Faramir bowed. “At your service, Sire.”

He left before Elessar Telcontar the First, High King of Gondor and Arnor, could chuck an inkwell at his half-suppressed grin.

He was halfway back to his rooms when he heard his name called. Faramir turned in time to catch a most unusual sight: a dark-skinned Haradrim dressed in flowing white robes, hurrying towards him with a smile on his face and an outstretched hand.

“Lord Steward!”

“Ambassador Altaïr,” Faramir replied.

They exchanged bows, Faramir with his arm crossed over his waist, the Southron with his hands steepled in front of him.

“I would ask the honor of a moment of the lord’s time,” Altaïr said.

The Haradrim phrase rendered in Westron made Faramir smile – or was it a natural reaction to the ambassador’s smile? He shook himself mentally. “Gladly. Shall we walk?”

He steered them away from the residential wing and his rooms, and instead headed for the gardens. A year of peace had done wonders for the place. Elessar had opened the gardens to the people of Minas Tirith, so that even now families were taking outdoor supper on the lush lawns, and couples were strolling along tree-shaded paths. Faramir loved the sight of greenery and of his people at rest, which was one reason he’d chosen the gardens. The other was for the subtly placed guards that permeated the place.

“Remarkable,” Altaïr said as walked beside him, hands clasped behind his back. “For all the stony countenance of this city, its people celebrate the beauty of nature at its very heart.”

Faramir looked at him, surprised. “An interesting insight, Ambassador.”

“It is said that poets see the world as few others can.” Altaïr’s white teeth flashed in a smile, exotic against his dark skin. “Now I would wish I was a poet.”

Faramir chuckled and wondered at himself for doing so. Questions about Haradrim poetry and high arts flew to the tip of his tongue, but he clamped down on them. It felt strange to speak philosophy with one of those who had nearly laid waste to his city.

Elessar had been right indeed.

Somber all at once, Faramir came to the point: “You’re wondering how to broach the subject of the council meeting.”

Altaïr dipped his head. “The lord steward’s way would suffice, I imagine.”

“Well? What of it?”

The ambassador seemed to be choosing his words. “A prudent rider always harks to the winds of the desert, for it is in their mercy that his journey may continue.”

“Your journey –” Faramir began, then blew his breath irritably. “My people know not what to make of you. I admit I share their confusion.”

“It is understandable,” said Altaïr. They strolled in silence for another moment, then, “Look around, Lord Steward. The people of the White City see my face, and still they see the face of their enemy.”

Faramir glanced around the gardens and saw that the Southron was correct. They have circled one of the great lawns; in their wake, men had turned to glare at the ambassador, while women had pulled children into their protective arms. Everywhere eyes were narrowed at the man of Harad. Only in the faces of the youngest did innocent fascination shine.

Faramir felt blood suffuse his cheeks for more reasons than he cared to admit. “I apologize, Ambassador. I was unthinking in bringing us here.”

Altaïr held up a clenched hand and opened it, as if releasing or dismissing the subject.

“Are you?” Faramir demanded suddenly, abandoning etiquette in favor of a burning need to know.

Altaïr’s black eyebrows arched up.

“Are your people still an enemy to mine?”

They had stopped walking and were standing face to face in the middle of a walkway, close enough for Faramir to breathe in the scent of mint from the Southron ambassador as the latter weighed his reply.

“We are a proud people, Lord Faramir,” Altaïr finally said. “We hold honor above life. Respect us, and you will find us worthy allies. Continue in your disdain, and you will find there are always those who repay insult with blood.

“This I say not as a threat, but to help your people understand. The same unspoken rules exist even among our clans, even between our families, even within each household. Does it make you the enemy?” Again he made that letting-go gesture. “I would argue it makes you our equals.”

Faramir took in this speech in silence, though his mind was buffeted by roiling thoughts and emotions. Altaïr’s brown eyes glittered with intelligence in his sculptured face, waiting for an answer. Or perhaps knowing it already.

They continued their circuit of the gardens also in silence, and in silence departed. At the entrance to his rooms, for once turning his keen sight inward, Faramir wondered if he was repelling Altaïr in gut reaction to being so drawn to him.

Elessar’s adjournment had gained them an evening of respite but no more. On the next morrow, General Folarch hardly waited for the pleasantries to conclude before pressing the attack.

“My Liege, I must object to the presence of a Haradrim envoy within the Citadel. He cannot be trusted! I sleep uneasily knowing he is lurking at such close proximity to your highness.”

Elessar waved this aside. “He is not given free run of the Citadel. The public areas are well-guarded.”

“Be that as it may, one must worry for your safety –”

“I thank you, General –” Elessar’s cold voice cut across him like a sword-slash “– but I am more than capable of looking after myself.”

Faramir stifled a smile. Folarch had blundered when he’d taken this tack to undermine Altaïr’s presence. It did not do to question the king’s prowess in battle – not this king.

But his stifled smile dissolved into dismay when the general changed tack.

“And what of your citizens? What can they do, when your steward flaunts this Southron before the widows of the war with Harad?”

For a moment, Faramir’s blood ran cold and he knew not how to answer the accusation. More than the implied attack on his own person, it pained him that he’d opened the king to this move. Unthinking? He’d been irresponsible! And for what? Not to flaunt Altaïr before the people, certainly not that – but perhaps, to show off his people to Altaïr? Explain that at council!

Elessar’s calm voice grabbed his attention: “Nothing of that nature occurred, General. Lord Faramir was discussing with the ambassador some matters on my behalf. As for my people –” the tiniest stress on ‘my’ – “They will learn to look upon the Haradrim with a peaceful eye only when their leaders, such as the lord steward, set them the right example.”

It was parry, riposte, and touché, but Faramir could not take heart. His own blunder had forced the king to expend his power in protecting him. And what had Elessar meant, on his behalf? Why had he felt the need to sanction Faramir’s actions after the fact?

Perhaps he’d been wrong to speak with Altaïr. The turmoil of his thoughts suggested as much. From now on, he would keep his distance from the ambassador.

The sense of loss he felt at that decision probably proved it was the right one to make.

Faramir soldiered on through the meeting and exhaled a long breath at its end. As was their wont, he and King Elessar remained behind while the councilors filtered out. This time, he both waited for and dreaded their conversation.

He rose to his feet as soon as the door closed. “Sire, I apologize. I never meant to compromise –”


It was the sound of his given name, naked of etiquette, that stilled his tongue. Elessar was looking at him with a warm smile and a glimmer in his eyes.

“Sire?” Then, because black eyebrows arched in challenge over those gray eyes, “Yes, Elessar?”

“You have earned happiness, young one. Go find it wherever it turns up.”

He didn’t know about happiness, but he found Altaïr in one of the open balconies of the tower. He was wearing his custom white robes, in stark contrast to his dark skin. (They absorbed the least heat, he’d mentioned once, and Harad after all was the Sunland.) His short black curls accentuated the clean lines of his face. There was elegance and purity and fierceness in him, all at once, and this was the last thing Faramir should be noticing when –

“Lord Steward.” Altaïr turned and bowed with touching fingertips. “It is a pleasure.”

Faramir felt heat tinge his cheeks, and for a moment he envied the ambassador his dark skin.

“Ambassador.” He returned the bow, and waved away the guard that had wandered over. “I did not mean to hover. I bring news of the council.”

Altaïr’s face lit with anticipation.

“We have made some progress,” Faramir allowed, wondering vaguely whom he meant by ‘we’. “It is no longer questioned that a treaty be put forth; only the details of the document are under discussion.”

“The lord steward’s words gladden my heart,” Altaïr said. There was sincere warmth in his voice, and Faramir felt himself open to it.

“Please,” he said, “call me Faramir. Lord Faramir, at most. Whenever you speak of this lord steward, I must curb the impulse to look for him over my shoulder.”

He was rewarded with a laugh, thick and smooth as hot chocolate, and a smile crept up his face in response.

“Among my people,” Altaïr said, “it is merely a sign of respect. But, I am among your people now. I thank the l– I thank you for teaching me, Lord Faramir.”

Something in his demeanor, the way he angled his body, invited Faramir onto the balcony. They stood side by side, overlooking the white tree and the fountain. The Southron’s white robes may have been protecting him from the heat, but to Faramir it felt as if they reflected that heat at him.

“Can you speak to me of these details that are being discussed?”

Faramir glanced up at him, then away. “I fear I’m bound by office to refuse.”

That same letting-go gesture. “As I was bound by office to ask. But now, Lord Faramir, can you speak to me the story of the White Tree?”

Surprised but pleased, Faramir launched into the tale of first the original tree and its decay, then of Elessar’s living shoot.

“You admire him,” Altaïr noted.

“He is a great Man.” He turned to face the ambassador. “He is very dedicated to this peace, Altaïr. He will see it happen.”

They were face to face again, so close that Faramir could feel the Southron’s breath ghost over his face in puffs of mint and spice. His eyes caught on Altaïr’s lips, full and smooth and so darker than his own, and the flash of white and pink between them as he said, “I am glad.”

Another Age might have started while they stood there, breathing together.

Faramir leaned forward, hesitated, touched.

Spice and chocolate.

There was no urgency in it, just a tentative exploration of an accepting mouth and tongue, a dance in uncharted realms in which Faramir took the lead. He drew back a hairsbreadth and stayed there, with brushing lips and mingling breath, waiting for Altaïr to meet him again.

Altaïr did not.

Sobered, Faramir stepped back and searched the ambassador’s face. Altaïr’s lips were parted; his nostrils, flared; his brown eyes torn wide and rimmed with white. Like a spooked stallion, Faramir thought, suddenly dreadful himself. Had his sight and judgment failed him now of all times?

“That…” Altaïr spoke as if the touch of his tongue against his teeth felt strange to him. “That is not done, among my people.”

“My apologies,” Faramir said quickly, withdrawing another step. “I meant no –”

“But, I am among your people now…”

Hardly daring to breathe, Faramir watched as Altaïr blinked once, twice, then ran the tip of his pink tongue over his lips and swallowed. Faramir swallowed in sympathy. His breath was hot and raspy in his throat again. Altaïr leaned forward slightly, as if wanting to move but not knowing how. Faramir closed the distance for him and stood still, open and offering. With a soft exhale, Altaïr dipped his head and brought their lips together again.


“We cannot offer them free rein of the Southron Road,” General Folarch insisted.

Faramir splayed his hands on the council table and leaned forward. “How else do you suppose to establish commerce between Gondor and Harad, my lord?”

“Commerce?” The lord general snorted. “We’ll have spies and thieves flowing up that road sooner than silk or gems! Gondor needs not the rabble of Harad to come begging at her gates.”

Faramir’s hand clenched into a fist. “The rabble you speak of are people much like Gondor’s own, General. They are a proud people. They do not come to beg, but to build a decent life for themselves. How can you begrudge them that?”

General Folarch made a disgusted noise and leaned back in his chair. “You may be the steward’s younger son, Lord Faramir, but time has come for you to grow up and lay aside this naivety.”

From the corner of his eye, Faramir saw King Elessar move to intervene – but it was a flitting observation, quickly forgotten as he himself surged to his feet. “No, the time has come for you to lay aside this blindness, General! All of you!” He raked his stare over the councilors. “You wish to keep Gondor free of Haradrim presence, to shun a people you deem lowlier than yours. Let them rot in their Sunlands,” he mimicked.

Assenting murmurs rose around the table, but Faramir spoke over them.

“They will not rot, my lords. They will lick their wounds and grow stronger, and they will nurse this insult. In five, six years from now, Gondor and Harad will clash in arms again. I have no doubt –” he raised his hands to restrain a few outbursts – “I have no doubt that you imagine Gondor victorious. You may be right. But the Haradrim will fall back and lick their wounds again, and grow strong again, now nursing an ever greater hatred. Is this the legacy you wish to pass on to your children? An endless cycle of suffering and strife?”

There was a moment of silence around the table.

Then General Folarch spoke again: “Do not think to sway us with histrionics, Lord Steward. Now that our troops are not engaged against the East, the Haradrim threat can be nipped in the bud. Be they foolish enough to take arms against Gondor, we will strike off their sword-arm once and for all.”

“You’re right, General,” Faramir said with strange calm, making that letting-go gesture over the table. “The only other solution is to destroy them altogether.”

He resumed his seat. Catching the king’s visage in his peripheral vision, Faramir noted that Elessar was suppressing a smile. The silence in the council chambers stretched long and heavy.

Prince Imrahil was the first to break it. “No one is suggesting that, Lord Faramir,” he said gruffly, and other voices echoed the sentiment.

King Elessar finally stirred in his seat. “What are you suggesting then, Prince?”

More silence, then: “We can post patrols along the Southron road to oversee the movement of merchants…”

“The treaty is coming together,” Faramir told Altaïr that evening as they walked along a second-floor hallway. Excitement – over what, he wasn’t sure – made his heart prance, and he suppressed the impulse to touch the ambassador’s shoulder only by clasping his hands behind his back.

“Your words gladden my heart,” Altaïr said almost automatically.

Faramir studied him from the corner of his eye. The ambassador’s usual grace was replaced with stiffness, almost awkwardness. “Your words are light,” he acknowledged. “But your heart seems heavy. Are you free to share with me that which burdens you?”

He saw Altaïr’s eyes flick to the guards that dotted the hallway like statues, and that he had overlooked with years of practice. The ambassador’s lips twisted. “In truth, I am not.”

Faramir nodded, and they walked on in heavy silence. Then, “We can speak in the privacy of my rooms, if you’d like.”

By the time Faramir realized that Altaïr had stopped, he was three paces ahead of the ambassador. He turned back an saw the Southron staring aside and scowling, as if trapped in some inner battle. Then those deep brown eyes met his and cleared.

A quick nod, almost jerky. “I would like that, Lord Faramir.”

It was hard to repress the impertinent butterfly that fluttered in Faramir’s chest, but he spent the walk to his rooms doing just that. That he wanted to get closer to Altaïr – yes, but not under guise, and not at this cost. He was a man of honor, after all.

They settled in the drawing room, on armchairs that faced each other at an angle. Altaïr had refused wine but accepted a bowl of palm-dates that his own people had brought in tribute. He was sitting on the edge of his seat, hunched over, elbows propped on his thighs. Faramir himself was far from relaxed, but he leaned against the high backrest and tried to project calmness. He had chosen the lightest of drinks, and was sipping it sparingly. Better to err on the side of safety.

He had an inkling of how hard it would be to up and pour out one’s troubles, and he cast about for words to smooth the way for Altaïr. His appreciating of the ambassador leapt up several notches when the man started speaking of his own accord.

“I have been thinking, lately…” Altaïr frowned, then huffed and sat up, making his letting-go motion. “I have been thinking of many things. Of honor. Of duty. Of the love you bear your people – of the love I bear mine.”

Faramir watched, open and listening, as the ambassador struggled to order his mind.

Altaïr suddenly pinned him with a fierce stare. “There must be peace between our people, Lord Faramir.”

“I agree wholeheartedly.”

“Even though some may try to – what is the phrase – shove a pole to trip this mûmak, yes?”

A charmed smile shot up Faramir’s lips, and he took a sip of wine to cover it. “I anticipate difficulties, Ambassador. They will not stop us. As long as Harad does not wage war on Gondor, the king is resolute in this matter. As am I.”

Altaïr’s gaze was still intent and demanding; his body still tense on the edge of his seat. “Our people will mingle in craft and commerce. One day, the time may come that a single man of Harad raises his hand against a single man of Gondor. What then?”

Faramir rearranged himself in the armchair, grappling with the direction the conversation had taken. His word as steward was binding; was he within his rights to answer? Yet he felt certain enough he knew Elessar’s mind – and heart – in this matter.

“What you describe is all but inevitable, Ambassador, as is the opposite case. We will set laws that govern these incidents in a just and peaceful way – though I cannot speak as to the details yet.”

Altaïr held his gaze a moment longer, then slumped back in his seat. “Good,” he said, flashing a smile for the first time that evening. He picked a date from the side-table, bit into its flesh, and stripped it back from the pit with his teeth.

Despite his bewilderment, Faramir found himself following every movement with hungry eyes. He reached for his glass to distract himself, but his traitorous hand knew the way by itself. He ended up draining the rest of his wine.

Altaïr tilted his head back and swallowed. “You are a man of honor, are you not, Lord Faramir?”

Faramir stiffened at the words that seemed to echo his earlier thoughts. Was Altaïr seeing through him and doubting his motives?

Could he blame him for doing so?

“I would like to think I am,” he said slowly.

Altaïr nodded once. “As do I. We understand each other, you and I, do we not, Faramir?”

The sound of his name, spoken so intimately, made Faramir’s breath hitch. He nodded mutely, but the honor Altaïr had spoken of was compelling him to speak. “Ambassador, I was perhaps wrong to –”

“Is it common among the people of Gondor, this love between men?”

Faramir blinked.

Altaïr grinned at him – grinned! – and picked another date. This one he toyed with rather than eat. “What else is done, beside kissing?”

“I – well – “ Faramir put down his glass and stood, walked behind his armchair. “I did not mean to take advantage of –”

“Not that I complain of the kissing,” Altaïr added, still baring those white teeth in a smug – challenging? teasing? – smile. He sobered suddenly. “Unless it was not to your liking.”

“No,” Faramir said quickly, too quickly; he cursed himself for the urgency in his voice. “It was… pleasing.” Oh, wonderful. For this to be the first time that words failed him!

Serious now, Altaïr also rose from his seat, abandoning the piece of fruit. “It was pleasing to me as well. Faramir.”

Faramir fought the urge to back away as the Southron ambassador moved closer and closer. He gripped the backrest like a crutch, fighting the paralysis that had taken over his tongue. Valar help him, he was supposed to be an eloquent scholar!

“I don’t want to push you,” he managed.

By now Altaïr had reached his side, and one dark palm, warm and strong and calloused, covered his own tense hand. “Not push,” the ambassador breathed in his ear. “Teach.”

Faramir shuddered.

He turned his head, but it was Altaïr who leaned in and cured the paralysis of his tongue. “Altaïr,” he breathed when he could again.

He let go of the backrest and devoted himself to the scholarship of touch.

He’d been dreaming of his Ranger days; perhaps that’s why he woke up so suddenly and completely aware of his surroundings. Bed, tangled sheets. The smell of their seed. A cold lack of presence at his side.

Faramir squinted in the pale moonlight. “Altaïr?”

The scuff of feet over floor –

He rolled over, and everything happened at once. He barely recognized Altaïr standing over him – the blade in the Southron’s hand plunged down – years of practice catapulted Faramir out of the way. He was on the floor and already diving for his sword. A panicked fumble with the crossguard’s safety strap – long enough to register the burning pain in his arm, not long enough for Altaïr to close in – then he was armed. Altaïr, wielding Faramir’s own dagger, pressed the attack. His face and hands blended in with the dark; his robes and the white of his eyes shimmered ghostlike. The Southron fought fiercely, but the short weapon was no match for Faramir’s sword. The scuffle ended almost before it had began, with Altaïr lying unconscious on the carpet in a pool of his own blood.

Only then did it occur to Faramir to exhale, inhale, shiver.

He dragged his sword with him to the drawing room door and opened it a crack. The corridor was empty. Guards patrolled the residential wing but did not stand in the hallways, and naturally, now that he needed one, no patrol was in sight. He was loathe to shout out.

He needed Elessar.

No, he wanted Elessar, wanted to turn to the man like he could not have turned to his own father. But Denethor had taught him self-sufficiency, if nothing else. Faramir closed the door and marched back into his bedroom, holding his sword at the ready.

He nearly jumped out of his skin when Altaïr twitched and moaned.

Faramir shook himself. Another measure of his distress, beside his thundering heart, was the dagger he had forgotten to kick away from the ambassador’s side. He did so now, careful not to slip on the blood, and only then knelt down to assess the damage. Pulse, quick and erratic. The moonlight still shimmered on the white robes, but drowned in the crimson stain that was unfurling over the ambassador’s chest. It was a deep wound, one that Faramir had not meant to inflict. He would need a surgeon from the Houses.

A hand on his wrist stopped him from rising. Altaïr’s palm was cold and clammy now, just like Faramir felt inside.

“Please,” the ambassador said. The single word was hardly louder than a breath.

Faramir tried to pull his hand free, but Altaïr’s grip was surprisingly strong. “Let go,” Faramir said in a voice not his own. “I’ll fetch a healer.”

If anything, the fingers on his wrist tightened. “Please, no.”

For the first time since he’d woken, some sliver of emotion penetrated the void that had claimed Faramir. He bowed his head and exhaled a long breath. “You should not be speaking.”

“Just a little.” Altaïr’s teeth gleamed in a feeble smile. “Faramir… remember your promise.”

“Promise?” Faramir’s head snapped up. “You would take my life yet hold me to a promise? And which do you speak of? I made no –”

“You said – a single man of Harad – no war,” Altaïr spoke between breaths. The air whistled in his throat with every inhale.

Faramir sank down into a sitting position. His eyes roved over Altaïr’s face, finding no lasting anchor either in his visage or actions. “You would claim peace between our people? Even now?”

“There must be. I –”

Whatever Altaïr was, a rattling cough drowned it. Faramir twisted his hand to clasp Altaïr’s until it was over. Spittle, foamy and pink, hung from the Southron’s lips that stubbornly still formed words. Faramir bent closer to hear.

“… did not mean to be … pole … mûmak.”

The air that burst from Faramir was either a laugh or a sob, he wasn’t sure. “You just couldn’t conquer the impulse to kill me?”

Altaïr’s eyes flashed wide, and his speech became urgent. “Did not injure you?”

More confused than ever, Faramir shook his head. “A scratch, no more.” Talking about it made him aware of the wound, which had already stopped dripping. Aware of the ever spreading pool of blood in which he sat. Aware of something that his instinct-driven mind had noticed but not paused on. “You never meant to kill me, did you? You could have taken my sword, not my dagger. And you were barefoot – you made noise on purpose.”

Altaïr sagged in relief and nodded as if it all made sense.

Faramir scoured his memory of the abrupt fight. “I did not strike to kill,” he said slowly, remembering. “You rushed into my sword.”

Now Altaïr’s stare fled from him. “Don’t want – die – dishonor.”

Faramir choked on another laugh-sob. “You find this honorable?”

“Better than – other ways,” Altaïr said. “This, love-between-men… not done – by my people.”

Chilled by this sudden turn – or was it? – Faramir reached for the Altaïr’s cheek and brought them face to face again. “You had yourself killed because of what we did tonight?”

“No. Tonight –” Another cough racked Altaïr, and he gripped Faramir’s hand. “Tonight was – because I wanted – before you killed me.”

“Damn you! I had no intention of killing you!”

The shout echoed in his bedchamber, accentuated by the Altaïr’s wheezing breath.

Altaïr gave another faint smile. “I know. You had to – or else – I fall into dishonor. We are men of honor – you and I, yes?”

“What dishonor?” Faramir demanded.

“That day – balcony…”

The day they had first kissed, Faramir translated. “What of it?”

“He saw.” Altaïr screwed his eyes shut. “He wants war. I was meant – kill you, otherwise – he would tell – and this is not –”

“Done among your people,” Faramir completed despite the cold chasm that had gaped inside him at the words. “And so you made sure that you fail and that I kill you, to protect this secret.” He had to close his own eyes for a moment, to contain his pain. “Why didn’t you come to me?”

“I did.” There was a hint of amusement in Altaïr’s voice. Faramir opened his eyes onto the man’s warm smile. “This way – no regrets – what might have been.”

Altaïr’s breath hitched for a painfully long moment; when it tore free again, the air gurgled in his throat. Faramir quickly rolled his head to the side, and blood spilled out past the same lips he had kissed only that evening.

Those lips now twisted in a wry smile. As if following Faramir’s mind, Altaïr breathed out: “That kiss – was pleasing…”

Faramir nodded, swallowing back tears, and leaned down to cover Altaïr’s lips with his own, trying to taste the chocolate beyond the blood, trying to breathe in Altaïr’s essence, trying to force back the leaking life into his lungs.

When he pulled back Altaïr was smiling again, despite the sharp catch in his breath. “No regrets,” he repeated.

Faramir drew a long, shuddering breath, and willed regret to wait until later.

“You can say – personal grudge – nothing to do – with my people.” Now Altaïr was struggling to push out every choking word.

“I will. But I will also see Folarch pay for this,” Faramir promised. The look of soft bemusement on Altaïr’s face nearly undid him. “Wasn’t it General Folarch? No? Who then? Altaïr – who?”

The cold fingers that held his hand loosened and fell away.

He dreaded the morning, dreaded going to King Elessar and confessing his thrice-over foolishness. If Elessar ejected him from office, revoked his titles, and piled scorn on his head, Faramir imagined he would have accepted it with relief.

In truth, he learned what relief was only when Elessar enfolded him in a hug and whispered “I’m sorry” in his ear, and held him through his broken tears.

“I’m sorry,” Elessar said again. “I would not have encouraged this if I thought you would come to harm.”

Faramir remained silent, but he fingered the shallow wound on his arm and thought of the body that now lay wrapped in sheets on the floor of his bedchamber.


He looked up at his king. Elessar’s eyes were stormy with sorrow as he shook his head. “That’s not what I meant.”

Faramir let his hand fall from the flesh wound. The other one he couldn’t touch; didn’t want to, not so soon. “The council must be convened by now. We should go, Your Highness.”

“Yes. Walk with me?”

The king set a slow pace, for which Faramir was grateful. He used the time to marshal his thoughts if not his feelings. Those he shoved into a corner until he could afford to sort through them.

“It is important they see you about and well,” Elessar said as if by way of apology.

“I know, Sire.”

“Nevertheless, leave the speaking to me.”

Faramir nodded, again flooded with relief and love for the man he served.

Elessar bade him wait in the antechamber while he himself had private words with one of the councilors. Then they entered the council chambers side by side, and took their seats. Faramir sat tall and rigid but kept his eyes downcast, too drained to face the council.

General Folarch was the first to explode, of course. “I warned you of him, Highness! This one-sided trust could have cost us our lord steward!”

Faramir was hardly touched.

“This was unrelated to matters of state, General,” said King Elessar. “And it would appear the lord steward is also more than capable of looking after himself.”

From blades, Faramir thought wryly. He focused his stare on the general when the latter addressed him directly.

“And you, my Lord Steward? Do you still hold your high opinion on the Haradrim now?”

Faramir unclenched his jaw and said simply, clearly, “There must be peace between our people, Lord General.”

“Ach!” The General sat back with marked disgust.

A glance at the king showed that Elessar did not mean to speak. Faramir steeled himself to address the council again, but suddenly Galasdel Lord of Lossarnach stood up. His previous record of silence made this move commanding; all eyes turned to the old lord.

“The lord steward is in the right,” Lord Galasdel stated. “There must be peace. He is also right that commerce is the bridge that will join our two people. Lossarnach will welcome the trade with Harad.”

Faramir felt his jaw drop. The words Galasdel had spoken were in stark contrast to the views Faramir had always ascribed him. Had he come around, or had Faramir mistaken him from the beginning? Could he not trust his judgment about anything?

“In fact,” Galasdel continued, “I will take it upon myself, as Lord of Lossarnach, to rebuild the roads that connect our nations, so that we can benefit from this exchange all the sooner.”

Now surprised murmurs broke all around the table. Under cover of the hubbub, Faramir scrutinized Lord Galasdel. The old man looked paler than usual, and his hands shook, though he clasped them before him. His eyes seemed to dart between the assembled council and the king.

The king! Faramir whipped his head to Elessar, and saw him staring at Galasdel with murderous intent. Never had Faramir seen such a look in those gray eyes. For a moment, he wondered that the old lord still lived.

With a time-warping jolt, the pieces began to fall together in Faramir’s mind.

Elessar narrowed his eyes and nodded once.

Faramir spun around in time to see Galasdel swallow and pull himself to his full height. “It is also my pleasure,” he called over the noise, which died immediately, “to announce that my elder son will be traveling to Harad to study their ways in commerce.”

Now that Faramir was listening closely, he heard the stilted clip in the old lord’s voice.

“It is my wish that through this gesture, peace and learning will be fostered among us.” A moment of hesitation, then, “I beg the council’s leave, my lords, Sire. I have much business to attend to.”

Elessar discharged him with a wave of the hand. The old lord walked proudly out of the room – pride, Faramir suspected, was all that kept him standing – and closed the doors, leaving an eerie silence behind.

General Folarch cleared his throat. “Well. May I at least appeal to this council that we choose the next envoy from Harad more carefully?”

Faramir allowed his body to sag only when the last councilor had left the room. “Lossarnach,” he snarled.

From his seat at the head of the table, King Elessar shrugged in a most un-kingly fashion. “Between prejudice and profit, I would sooner suspect profit in extortion and deceit.”

Faramir leaned forward, propping his elbows on his knees, and hung his head between his hands. Only when Elessar’s hand fell on his shoulder did he realize that the king had risen while he had remained sitting. But his scramble to uphold etiquette was blocked by soft pressure from the king’s hand. Eddies of warmth and comfort rippled through his arm and its wound.

“I’m sorry I can give you no more justice, and none of it publicly.”

“He would not want it made public. I think – “ Faramir skimmed over all he had learned from the ambassador – “I think among his people, he died with honor.” He looked up at Elessar. “They hold honor above life, you know.”

The king’s lips twitched up. “So I hear.” He stepped back, opening the space for Faramir to rise. “You should see yourself rested, Lord Faramir. You may use my rooms if you wish.”

“My thanks, Sire.” Faramir clambered to his feet. “But I am not yet tired. Rather,” he corrected quickly, “I’m not yet ready to face sleep.”

Elessar nodded at that. “What will you do, then?”

Faramir looked out the windows at the clear sky and fresh greenery outside. “I believe I’ll take a walk in the gardens. Isn’t it remarkable, that for all our stone walls and houses we still celebrate nature at our very heart?”

~ Fin

NB: Please do not distribute (by any means, including email) or repost this story (including translations) without the author's prior permission. [ more ]

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8 Comment(s)

This was a wonderful story. Thank you so much!

— Ingrid    Monday 4 January 2010, 11:11    #

Thank you, Ingrid! I’m glad you enjoyed it.

— Tal    Monday 4 January 2010, 13:03    #

this was very nicely done! I loved the quiet tone of the entire story.

— Minx    Monday 4 January 2010, 17:35    #

Thanks, Minx. The tone was a gamble in this one: I wanted a reserved and politically-conscious Faramir, which took the voice a step back from the action, so to speak. I was worried it came out as boring (ask Iris).

— Tal    Tuesday 5 January 2010, 0:34    #

Unexpected, Tal. Unexpected and interesting indeed.
Especially I liked the way Elessar looked after his steward.
Well done! Thank you!

— Anastasiya    Tuesday 5 January 2010, 4:42    #

Glad I surprised you. Elessar is a sweetie in this one, yes. Thank you!

— Tal    Wednesday 6 January 2010, 12:37    #

A wonderful story, all the better for the inclusion of a man from Harad as a love-interest for Faramir. That is very unusual, after all we know even from our own time how long it can take before old enmities have are put aside.

— Minkicat    Tuesday 12 January 2010, 22:17    #

Thanks Minkicat! Not sure where I picked up the idea of a Southron lover, but as for the political background, suffice to say I live in Israel – you couldn’t be more right about modern relevancy.

— Tal    Wednesday 13 January 2010, 13:45    #

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