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Trial and Judgment (NC-17) Print

Written by Mcguffan

04 April 2004 | 57094 words

[ all pages ]

Title: Trial and Judgment
Author: Mcguffan (anne_robbins@yahoo.com)
Rating: NC 17
Pairing: Aragorn/Faramir, others mentioned
Summary: Post ROTK, How exactly is the race that is to rule the new age chosen?
Notes: Please review, I really want to know what people think
Archive: Please ask before archiving this.

For the eighth day in a row, I woke up in blinding pain. I must have moaned for Éowyn stirred beside me. “Is it your head again?” She questioned softly. I made what I hoped was an affirmative sound. My wife got out of our bed careful not to do disturb me or make any unnecessary noise. She tiptoed across the room and out the door. I knew she had gone to make the foul tea that had been recommenced the last time I had consulted a healer about my headaches. The tea did not help, but I had not told Éowyn that. She could not bear to feel helpless so I let the her believe the noxious brew was of some assistance to me. Éowyn and I were well matched for many reasons but perhaps the most important thing we shared was that we understood each others’ wounds and respected them.

My wife returned to the room, brimming cup in hand and placed it on the stand near the bed. “I love you,” she whispered.

“I love you too,” I whispered back as she left the room. When I had one of my headaches all noise, light and even motion were agony to me. Éowyn had an intuitive grasp of the situation and always left me to recover in my own way. I had felt guilty in the early months of our marriage about needing to be by myself during my headaches, but once Leonin had come to live with us I was able to feel better about many aspects of my relationship with my wife.

Leonin came from the south. She was the daughter of a merchant who had been killed along with Leonin’s mother and sisters in an orc raid. When Éowyn and I had been traveling around the country recruiting troops to make up the horrible losses of the ring war Leonin had been the first to show up. She had no natural aptitude for weapons or war, but she was persistent. No matter what the circumstances she always had a smile and a cheerful word. During the months of training Leonin did not improve very much. She tried harder than any of the others but she was an abominable archer and a worse swordswoman. Éowyn had been drawn to the young southron, however, and the two had become fast friends. Upon careful inquiry Éowyn had found out the Leonin’s father had taught his daughter the basics of his trade including accounting. So Leonin put away the bow and sword and took up the stylus and the ledger. The army accounts had never been run more efficiently.

One day Éowyn brought me a book. She claimed that she had been browsing through the library and the book happened to have caught her eye and she wanted my opinion of it. As soon as I opened the volume I knew Éowyn was trying to tell me something specific. The ancient script and yellowed sheets as well as the librarian’s notes on the first page meant that one could not find one’s way to this book in the library unless one had a bakery full of bread crumbs to mark the path.

The book itself contained an account of a small community of elves. According to the author the female elves took one male for their husband but they also shared their favors with other females. These bonds between the two females could often be as close or even closer than the bond between the husband and wife. I thought this over for a few days. I loved Éowyn but I knew there were things I could not do for her, things I could not give her. Both of us had suffered in our youth. It seemed sometimes that we were both made of glass and that if we dared touch one another we would shatter. I made my decision and returned the book to Éowyn. I told her that I found the book quite interesting and that I had made some notes she might want to read. My ‘notes’ were actually a copy of the only poem Éowyn liked that did not mention war. The poem was about love and friendship. The next day Leonin moved into our home.

As the night wore on the pain slowly began to subside. I hoped fervently that I would be well by morning. Every ten days the king called a council for discussions. I loved these days. The king always had a new idea or project for improving the City. He had already begun a system for training healers so that citizens would not be at the mercy of every quack with a homemade cure. I thought this idea might be expanded into training programs for other professions. The guilds had grown increasingly lax in insuring the competence of their members. Also guild membership was too often a question of nepotism. I had drafted a plan for reforming the guilds that I hoped would guarantee opportunities to the most talented. I was eager to share these ideas with the king and also the other councillors.

Even more important to me than the council meeting, however, was the time I spent with the king afterward. When the council adjourned, the king would ask some of us to stay and share lunch with him. Over lunch the conversation would become more enthusiastic as we began to discuss our ideas in greater detail. Often there would be disagreements but these disagreements spurred everyone to refine their ideas. After lunch the king would inspect the guard, oversee the repair or the remodeling of a building or simply walk in the garden. When he had first asked me to accompany him on one of these expeditions he had joked that since the war was over we would have to get our exercise this way. Of course it was common knowledge that the king always spent at least an hour a day sparring with his guardsmen. For myself, I did enjoy the exercise, the beautiful gardens and the engineering projects. I also liked the time to digest everything that had been said earlier. If I was particularly lucky the king would have a light schedule and we would spend time simply reading together or talking casually. Sometimes the queen or another of the king’s close counselors would join us. It almost felt like a family gathering. Later we would have dinner. All sorts of artists and poets were drawn to court and there was never a lack of witty conversation. I decided that I would not let a mere headache or a lack of sleep keep me away from spending what could potentially be the entire day with my king.

When I rose from bed at dawn, I felt nearly myself again. I had slept no more than three hours a night for more than a week and I feared exhaustion would slow my brain but other than feeling tired I was ready for the day. As I poured the cup of tea Éowyn had brought me in the night out the window into the bushes I thought the frequency of my headaches was becoming far too great. Sooner or later, I would have to consult another healer, I decided grimly.

When I went in to breakfast Éowyn and Leonin were already at the table. “Good morning, ladies,” I greeted them as I kissed Éowyn on the cheek.

“Are you feeling any better, Faramir?” Leonin asked solicitously.

“Yes, thank you.” I answered.

“Did you manage to get any more sleep last night?” Éowyn questioned, a small frown of concern on her face.

“Yes, it was not nearly as bad as I thought it was going to be.” I lied.

After two muffins and a bit more small talk Éowyn and I were ready to depart for the City. Éowyn was always invited to the council meetings but she preferred to spend the time talking with guardsmen and the various captains of the City. She found the meetings too theoretical and a bit boring but she loved to visit Minas Tirith, meet with the king and dine at court. The romantic aspect of Éowyn’s infatuation with the king was long over but there still existed between them a bond of great love and devotion. Moreover, ever since her marriage to the king the queen had been making a special effort to befriend Éowyn- Éowyn had few female friends besides Leonin and she really didn’t count that way. It had been nearly three years but my stubborn wife was finally beginning to warm to the lady Arwen. The two now spent large parts of the day in each other’s company.

The council meeting had gone better than I could have hoped. My reform plan had met with nearly universal praise. Success and lack of sleep were making me slightly giddy. I was much more talkative at lunch than was my wont. Once when I was laughing a little too loudly at some remark made by the Lord Chamberlain I caught the king’s eye on me. I did my best to settle down after that. I would die of shame if I ever did anything to lower myself in my king’s regard.

When lunch was finished and all had departed save the king and myself, I found that my lord had again focused his gaze upon me. I flushed a little, unsure of what his scrutiny portended. It took all my self-control to refrain from jumping to my feet and tidying all the abandoned dishes and tableware. My father had always hated disorder. Thus, whenever I was nervous as a child I was in the habit of straightening anything and everything in the vicinity so that there would be nothing to further strain father’s patience.

After a moment more the king sighed and rose from his chair. “Would you care to walk with me in the garden, Faramir? The queen has managed to coax into bloom several flower species which before could only be found in Rivendell.”

“I would be delighted.” I replied, getting to my feet as soon as the king stood. “Gondor is indeed fortunate to be a home to so much elfin beauty.” This last statement was a courtier’s remark since it could be applied to the queen herself as well as horticulture. I was sincere but I blushed a shade deeper thinking how trite the comment must have sounded to someone used to and unimpressed by facile compliments.

He must have perceived my guilelessness for he smiled a little. “Excellent, for I value your company as much as I do your opinion. You made some ingenious suggestions today, Faramir. You have been an incomparable asset to me since I began my kingship. I am very proud of you.” As he said this he moved over to me and placed an approving hand on my shoulder.

Whether fate had decided to work malice upon me on a whim or whether my own body decided to rise up in rebellion over all the wrongs done to it in the past by my mind I will never know. Whatever the cause at the king’s words, at the king’s touch I burst into helpless sobs.

Once it had begun I could not stop it. I wished for death but all that came were more tears. Even as the first tear dripped down my face I felt myself enfolded in strong arms. I was weeping into my king’s shoulder and- oh gods forgive me- I was clinging to him as a drowning man clings to his rescuer. Time passed and still my body was racked by sobs. I cried as I had never cried as a child. I did not cry prettily either. The beautiful fabric of the king’s shirt was soaked where I had pressed my face. Moisture seeped from my eyes, nose and mouth. The king held me tightly as I cried and he whispered words that were soft and kind but unintelligible. Perhaps he spoke in Elvish or perhaps I had simply lost all comprehension.

Several times I mustered enough control of myself to try and pull away from the undeserved shelter of my king’s embrace either to run off into the City and disappear or more simply to throw myself out the nearest window. Elessar, however, held me tightly to him preventing my escape. Why, oh why was this happening now? I would have greatly preferred to lose control in front of the entire army, my wife, my very worst enemy or even my father, rather than in front of the man I honored and respected above all others.

When the terrible flood seemed to have abated a little I tried to speak. “My lord, I- I’m so- so sor-” The attempt was too much for me and I again succumbed to the humiliating tears.

“Hush, Faramir. I will hear of no apology for you have nothing to apologize for. Hush, it’s all right. It’s all right.” The compassion in his voice provoked even more tears. It was not all right. It would never be all right again. I had wanted so very badly to be of some use to my country, to my king, but I was too weak, too stupidly weak. If Boromir had lived he would have been a stout bulwark of Elessar’s reign but of what use was a weeping fool? For the thousandth time I wished that I had died in my brother’s place.

I continued crying. I cried noisily my entire body shuddering, then the spasms would ease and silent tears would cascade down my face. Finally, finally I had no more tears left and I leaned quiet and exhausted against Elessar. I dreaded the moment he would let me go for I knew that I had not the courage to face the consequences of what I had done. What was more, in my drained state I could almost forget my terrible shame and I wanted to focus only on the comfort and safety of being held tightly by someone I trusted.

When the king was satisfied I had truly finished with my little display he began walking slowly across the room. I had no choice but to shuffle along beside him since he still held me against him. We moved like clumsy children in a three legged race. I smiled very faintly at the image and as I smiled two more tears leaked from my eyes. When we came up against a table we stopped. Elessar kept one arm about me as I heard him pour water into a glass.

“Drink this.”

With the greatest reluctance I turned away from his shoulder and reached for the cup. I needed both hands to hold the glass, even then the king helped to guide the water to my lips. I drank thirstily. The cool liquid running down my throat soothed the pounding in my temples and the aching in my chest. When I finished the first glass the king poured another. This time I was allowed to hold the cup by myself. I felt as though all the intense, painful emotion had been wrung out of me with my tears leaving a sort of calmness that was almost like peace. After I finished the second cup of water I was led, quite unresisting, to the long sofa that stood against the far wall piled high with cushions.

“Sit down here, Faramir. I want you to rest for a moment.”

I sat down, rather stiffly. If I relaxed at all I knew I would sink my elbows onto my knees and bury my head in my hands. I looked up at the king rather forlornly. I wondered if I should officially resign all duties and commissions right now. No, probably better to wait and write a letter in case there was within me yet another floodgate ready to burst open at any provocation. I had just proven myself to be far too unstable for any serious responsibility.

“Stay right there, I will be back in just a moment.” The king placed a hand on my shoulder and pressed down gently as if to demonstrate the meaning of his words.

Without his gaze to hold me upright I dropped forward a bit and covered my face in my hands. I heard the king walk to the door, open it and give some instructions to one of the pages in the corridor. I did not hear what was said but it was not difficult to guess. He had sent for Éowyn. My poor wife! I hoped that I would merely be delivered into her care and that none of this horror would reflect badly upon her. She was de facto captain of the soldiers of Ithilien. Though technically we shared command I had had enough of the army for my lifetime. Also she was working hard to import the tradition of the Shield Maiden to Gondor. These things mattered so much to her. I knew Éowyn was capable of great generosity but she would never forgive me for shaming myself and her also by association in front of our king.

I heard Elessar return. I felt him take a seat next to me. I was behaving terribly but I no longer had enough will to raise my head.

“Will you tell me what troubles you, Faramir?” The king asked, putting a reassuring arm around my shoulders. I gave a short bark of laughter. I bit my lip hard to stop the sound. It appeared I was still dangerously close to hysteria.

“My lord, I can think of nothing to explain this … this …” I could think of no word to describe what had just happened so I simply trailed off. The worst part of it was that it was true. There was simply no reason at all for me to be upset. If I had been asked an hour ago I would have said that this was the happiest I had ever been. I had thought the worst was truly over and from now on things would continue to get better day by day. I hoped he believed me. I would rather have him think me mad than believe I would ever lie to him.

“Then do not try to explain it. Simply talk to me. Tell me something trivial. What did you think of Maigin’s Second Treatise on Navigable Waterways? How many cavalry mounts does Éowyn hope to extort from her brother for her Shield-Maidens? What did you have for breakfast this morning?”

I knew that he was trying to distract me and I appreciated it. I tried to think. I had actually found Maigin’s second treatise very interesting. “It occurred to me that there are several places along the Andurin where we could build locks. I think we could increase export …” It was not working I couldn’t concentrate. I could not force myself to ignore what had just happened and talk about commerce. I was utterly unredeemable.

The king drew me closer. I huddled against him, unable to speak further. All my strength had left me. It was so easy just to relax against him, letting him support me. My mind was starting to drift. I must have started imagining things for I thought I heard someone speaking- no singing. The voice was deep and very quiet. I had to strain to hear the low melody. My fatigued brain must have indeed been playing tricks for it seemed as though the song was for me yet no one had ever sung to me before. Wondrous strange.

The first thing I became aware of when I woke was that for the first time in more than a week I had not been wakened by terrible pain in my head. The second thing I became aware of was that my unaching head was resting on someone’s lap.

“My lord?” I asked, sitting up slowly. Somehow I must have stretched out on the soft cushions and fallen asleep.

“How are you feeling, Faramir?” Elessar asked, flexing and extending his long legs. How long had he sat there, still and quiet, watching over me?

“Much better, thank you.” It was true. I still couldn’t believe I had really made such a complete fool out of myself and my face was a bit flushed from having allowed myself to fall asleep in such a position. But I did feel better, better than I had in quite some time. I had a sense of inner calm that had long been missing. “How long did I sleep?” I asked sheepishly.

“A little more than three hours.” Three hours! I deserved to be hanged for wasting so much of his time. I was about to say as much but he the king spoke first. “We need not ever speak of this afternoon if that is what you would prefer, Faramir. My opinion of your great wisdom, intelligence and courage has not changed. Only I hope that you will come to me if there is ever anything you might wish to tell me. I would like to hear anything you would like to say.”

I had no words so I simply bowed my head in a sign of my grateful acknowledgment.

“I would like for you and Éowyn to have dinner with the queen and me this evening.” Elessar continued his voice becoming more businesslike. “I have duties that will occupy my next few hours but you are welcome to rest here.” So saying he led the way across the room to a doorway. The doorway had not been hidden so much as easy to overlook. I had certainly never noticed it before. As I entered I immediately became aware of the aroma of pipe smoke. The room was small and very tidy. Books lined the walls floor to ceiling. There was a work bench with a mortar and pestle, several neatly labeled jars of various specimens, a few potted plants, and a notebook. Large stacks of papers were arranged on the desk. The camp bed in the corner had a beautifully embroidered coverlet. The silken blanket was out of place in a room that was so obviously meant for work or solitary reflection. In an alcove there was a pitcher of water, a basin, soap and a washcloth but no mirror. This must be the king’s private study.

“No one will disturb you here. Rest, read, do whatever pleases you. I shall send someone when dinner is ready.”

“My lord?” He had already turned to go but I wanted to keep him with me if only for a moment longer.

He turned back to face me, his expression patient.

“Thank you.” I whispered.

“You’re welcome.” He said showing me a beautiful smile. Then he was gone

When the door had closed I looked longingly at the cot. I could have easily slept again but I did not want to risk a headache. So I washed my face and began looking over the books on the shelves.

I settled down with a book inscribed to the ‘Dúnedain’. I absorbed the quiet and serenity of my surroundings, soaking up the feeling- the spirit of the one who spent the most time in this place, for I could almost sense my lord’s presence all about me. I was very glad not to have to face the outside world for a little while longer. After several minutes I had become completely engrossed in the world of hobbits and riddles.

There was a knock on the door. “Come in.” I called without raising my eyes from the page. When I finished the paragraph and raised my eyes I saw Elessar leaning casually against a bookshelf. He was not really smiling but he seemed somehow amused. I nearly dropped the book in my hurry to get to my feet. He came over to me and took the leather bound volume from my hand. This wasn’t fair he had said he would send someone to fetch me not come himself.

“I shall send this home with you after we have eaten. Come, the ladies are waiting.” What was wrong with me? I was constantly letting my guard down in Elessar’s presence, even though, it was so important that he think well of me. Since I was apparently destined to bungle everything else perhaps I should consider applying for the position of court jester.

When we entered a small private dining room Queen Arwen and Lady Éowyn were deep in conversation. Each was beautiful in her own way. The queen was tall and slim with porcelain skin and night black hair. My wife was shorter than the queen, more compact like a coiled spring. Her ice blue eyes and flame gold hair always sending out confusing messages of cold and warmth. Together they were breathtaking.

Dinner was going very well. The queen and Éowyn compared stories of growing up in two very different royal courts. The king would sometimes make a comment or ask a question but he told no stories of his own. Occasionally Queen Arwen would invite me into the conversation but I preferred to be quiet and simply listen to their lovely voices.

The soup bowls had been discretely removed and we were awaiting the main course when there was a flurry of activity just outside the dining room. Suddenly the door shivered then burst open in a small shower of splinters revealing an angry wizard wielding a glowing staff.

“Damn it man, do you think those who plot evil make their plans around the king’s dinner schedule.” The target of the intruder’s harangue was a flustered but still defiant secretary.

“There was no need to actually break down the door.” Spluttered the secretary, eyes very wide.

“Welcome Mithrandir. Would you care to join us?” We had all jumped to our feet at the sudden disturbance, but the queen was first to recover her poise.

The intruder was indeed Gandalf the White and I felt myself smile to see the old wizard.

“No, no dear lady. Thank you, but no.” Mad magician had been completely replaced by kindly old man as Gandalf and the queen embraced. My wife nodded cooly to the newcomer and I shook his hand fondly.

“No, I fear I have come on urgent business. Do forgive the manner of my coming, but I have need of speech with you, Aragorn.”

“Then speech you shall have, my friend. Faramir, ladies, I hope you will excuse me.” With that the king left to follow the impatient wizard, stopping at the door to say some soothing words to the distraught secretary.

The commotion had not lasted long. Immediately upon the departure of Elessar and Gandalf, a large platter of baked river trout was brought in.

“Well, shall we resume our meal?” The queen asked, returning to her seat.

“If there is some danger should we not…” Éowyn began.

The queen laughed gently. “Mithrandir is a dear friend as well as a wise and good counselor but the last evil to threaten the kingdom took the form of a junior clark who had misfiled some of Mithrandir’s research in the royal archives.”

Éowyn resumed her seat, reassured but I sucked in my breath. “The villainy! I hope the wretch was duly scourged.” All of Gondor knew of my passion for accurate record keeping.

“Oh, Faramir, I cannot decide. Are you jesting?” The queen asked feigning confusion.

I made as if to respond but stopped myself. Then I answered in a puzzled tone: “Ma’am, I am not entirely certain.”

The queen laughed and Éowyn smiled but the smile did not last long. “Even so, would it not be more courteous for the wizard to seek an audience before indulging his eccentricity?” Éowyn did not like Gandalf. She believed he had deliberately delayed freeing her late uncle from Gríma’s enchantment until a time that best suited his own plans. I owed Gandalf my life so I could not share my wife’s animosity without being churlish.

“Mithrandir has been a good friend to my husband for that I would forgive him any amount of discourtesy and any number of broken doors.” The queen spoke graciously as always but she continued though I thought she had made her point. “It has not always been easy for Aragorn and Mithrandir has been a source of solace. You know of the necessity of certain friendships and how little the ordinary rules can be applied to them, Éowyn.” Was the queen lecturing? She sounded very intense.

“Yes, I do understand.” Éowyn also sounded intense. To my surprise and discomfort they both turned their attention on me.

“Faramir, you understand the sacrifices that must sometimes be made if those we love are to have the happiness they deserve.” The queen was not asking a question but she seemed to want some sort of an answer. I hurriedly stuffed a forkful of fish into my mouth and made- what I hoped was- a polite but non-committal sound. Was the queen saying that she knew about the friendship between Leonin and Éowyn but was not going to make a scandal. If that was so then I was certainly grateful but I was truly not sure what she was talking about.

“For myself, I would never oppose anything which brought my husband joy. To elves there is no firm line between love and friendship as there seems to be for humans. I have cast in my lot with humanity but I believe that when it comes to the sharing of intimacy it is the elves who have the right of it.” The queen was gazing at me and I felt the fey power of her stare. I had to press my fingernails hard into my palms to keep from fidgeting.

Éowyn was nodding. “You express noble sentiments, lady. I could do no better than to echo them.” Though she was speaking to the queen her eyes never left me. I hurriedly faked a cough so I could turn away. I brought my napkin up to my mouth, hoping against hope that all of this intense scrutiny was merely the ladies’ polite way of telling me I had some fish sauce on my chin.

To my great relief a serving maid entered the room, at that moment, bringing a bowl of apples and a platter of cheese. She quickly collected the dinner plates, before exiting gracefully. When the girl had departed, the queen turned back to Éowyn and asked her to continue with the story she had been telling before Gandalf arrived.

I was indulging in a second helping of cheese when the king returned to the room accompanied by the wizard. Éowyn and I made as if to rise but he gestured us back to our seats. Gandalf helped himself to an apple and started munching.

The king looked concerned. “The news is somewhat grave, this time.” He announced. placing a hand on the queen’s shoulder.

At the king’s statement I thought I heard Gandalf mutter around bits of apple: “‘somewhat?’” and then “‘this time?!” Éowyn was closer to the wizard and she shot him a look that seemed to say ‘Shut up, old man!’ so I had probably heard correctly. I tried to give Gandalf an apologetic smile without my wife noticing.

“At Gandalf’s entreaty the King of Mirkwood sent a group of three elves into Mordor to investigate reports of unnatural weather and strange creatures. None of the elves have returned and Thrandruil will send no more.”

Here Gandalf interrupted the king’s narrative: “Thrandruil is quite wroth with me for he believes I deliberately sent his elves into peril, but at the time I truly thought the biggest danger would be the masterless bands of orcs. It was not until after the elves had departed that I started sensing strange and powerful magic from within Mordor.”

“Next Gandalf went to Lord Elrond.” The king resumed. “Elrond recalled that there had been a first such phenomenon at the beginning of the second age, but the signs stopped of themselves. He suggested Gandalf seek counsel with the Lady of the Wood but all she would say was that the leader of the new age must go to the Black Tower- Faramir, what is wrong?”

Dream images flooded my mind. I saw the black tower and super imposed over it an image of scales. On one side of the balance stood a small group of men. I somehow knew that I stood among them. As the dream image grew clearer I recognized my king and there were three others besides Elessar. Only one was a man- I saw now- Gandalf was in the group along with a dwarf and an elf. On the other balance I felt rather than saw the weight of history as well as a force that was somehow alien. Next, I saw a pool of water that shimmered to reveal images of past and future. The pool was then replaced by the One Ring that had been destroyed. A third image was now displayed before me but my gaze seemed always to slide off it and I could not tell what it was I saw. I knew these images for I had dreamed them every night for the past eight nights but each morning they had been sent fleeing from my mind by the terrible headaches. I would not have remembered now except that I had dreamed again this very afternoon but then the embarrassment of my sleeping with- of my sleeping had distracted me from recalling the dream.

“Faramir. Faramir!” I recognized the voice and made my way towards it. I suddenly realized that I was surrounded by concerned faces. Éowyn was kneeling by my chair and chafing my hands. Gandalf hovered near peering with worried owlish eyes into my face. The queen stood a little ways away, ready to carry out any practical suggestion made by her husband or the wizard. The king stood directly in front of me, holding me by the shoulders. Of course it had been Elessar’s summons that had snapped me back to myself.

“Dream …” I still felt a little foggy. I shook my head to clear it.

“What, just now? Did you dream just now?” Gandalf demanded.

“No, not just now. Last night and before. I only just now remembered. When you, my lord, spoke of the black tower, it all came back to me.” I replied doing my best to appear in control.

The wizard threw questions at me fast and furious. ‘When did I first have the dream?’ ‘Was it the same dream every time?’ ‘Why had I not mentioned it earlier?’ ‘Had I always had headaches?’ ‘What was the dream?’ I answered as well as I could and when I had described the dream. Everyone was silent for a moment.

“What was different about the last time you had the dream, Faramir? Why did you not get a headache then?” The wizard asked in all innocence. I flushed crimson.

“I am afraid the council this morning was particularly animated and as a result we all over indulged a bit at lunch. After a little more talk it was difficult not to drowse for a while. I cannot think what you mean by asking ‘what was different,’ Gandalf.” The king answered for me and I felt the rush of panic subside a little.

“Ah, so that was why you sent a message asking me to review the building contracts for the third level for you. You have been playing truant, Aragorn. And I spent all day frightened that you were trying to punish me for some imagined fault.” The queen feigned indignation and her pretended pout was inexpressibly sweet.

“I must be a monster that my own wife could believe me so cruel. Again I apologize, beloved, I shall never forgive myself for not defending you from that fierce horde of legal documents.” The king answered her in tones of mock despair and self reproach. The two could not keep their faces straight, however. By the time Elessar had finished speaking they were grinning at each other. One could not help but smile with them.

“Well,” Gandalf put in breaking the mood, “Faramir’s dream supports lady Galadriel’s advice. We must go to Bara-Dur, Aragorn, the sooner the better.

The queen’s grin had disappeared and she turned to me, a look of pleading in her eyes. “Faramir, in your dream, the elf, could it have been me?”

I hated to disappoint her but I had no choice. “No, lady. The elf in my dream was not only male but blond.” At my words her face fell and she sank back into her chair. The king was up immediately to put his arms around her.

“That is no mystery. A blond elf with a dwarf could only be Legolas and Gimli.” Gandalf said chewing his lip. I could not be sure but the dream image of the pair fit my memory of the two heroes of the ring quest and I nodded to myself.

“But Legolas and Gimli are traveling. They could be anywhere in Middle- Earth. If they are meant to accompany you then surely you will not have to leave soon.” The queen had recovered herself although she still held the king’s hand tightly.

“What? Did I not say before? Legolas and Gimli are here now.” said Gandalf in full blown absent-minded mage character.

“What?” Elessar demanded incredulous.

“Yes, surely I mentioned it. I met them on my way to Minas Tirith. They had heard that there was something you wanted to discuss with them so they were on their way to visit. When we met I told them a little of my concerns and from then on they would not be turned aside from this new adventure. This is all quite serendipitous, really.” Said the wizard in the tone of one who never ceases to be amazed by life’s coincidences.

“But where are they, now? Why did they not come with you?” The king asked a note of impatience entering his voice.

“I left them in the vestibule or was it an antechamber. I don’t recall precisely. They said something about refusing to break in upon a man while he is in the middle of his dinner and would not follow me.” The wizard shrugged his shoulders helplessly.

Elessar sighed and helped the queen to her feet. “Éowyn, Faramir, could I impose upon you to summon as much of the council as remains in the City while we go and find our guests?”

“Sire, No! You are not actually considering leaving with this man.” Éowyn was pale and she was looking murder at the wizard.

“We will discuss it in council, Éowyn,” replied the king. Éowyn looked upset but she knew the council would not allow our king to leave us so she bowed in temporary submission.

We were almost out of the room when the wizard spoke. “With your permission, Aragorn, I would like to ask Faramir some more questions.” I had not thought it possible but Éowyn’s glare grew harder. She held my hand tightly, unwilling to surrender me to the wizard’s interrogation.

The king had also been anxious to leave and seek his friends but he stopped to consider Gandalf’s request. Elessar took in the possessive grip Éowyn had on my hand as well as my obvious reluctance to talk at any greater length about my dream. “We will discuss it all in council, Gandalf.” With that Éowyn and I departed to search for the leaders of the land.

An hour later Éowyn and I stood in the council chamber with as many of the wise men of the kingdom as we had been able to find. Unfortunately, Prince Imrahil had already departed for Dol Armoth and a few of the younger councilmen had also left to attend to urgent business. The atmosphere was thick with apprehension. Éowyn and I had been as diplomatic as we were able without revealing anything but late night summonses were a rare phenomenon and everyone was anxious. I studied the nervous faces. I wondered if they would be able to resist Gandalf’s advice. I let my gaze linger upon Lord Everstil, the King’s Champion. In the absence of Imrahil, Everstil would be the most opposed to allowing the king to leave the City without a full contingent of guards. Though, the title ‘King’s Champion’ was largely meaningless since no one issued personal challenges to the king these days, Everstil still saw himself as personally responsible for the king’s safety. The man reminded me much of Boromir and for that reason I liked him
very much but for the same reason it was often difficult for me to spend time with him.

Éowyn’s thoughts must have tracked mine for she squeezed my hand. “Neither you nor the king will go on this foolish expedition. You are both needed here. Damn Gandalf and his fantasies.”

“But my dream Éowyn, I cannot dismiss that as fantasy. Though I wish I could. Perhaps if I go then it will not be necessary for the king to go also.” I didn’t really believe this but I felt a terrible sense of responsibility. I knew my dream would convince many who could ignore Gandalf and I did not wish for Elessar to go to Mordor any more than Éowyn did.

Before Éowyn could reply the king entered with the queen, Gandalf, Legolas and Gimli. The king summarized Gandalf’s information as well as my dream. When he finished he took a deep breath: “I am inclined to believe that there exists a serious threat to Middle Earth that will be best allayed if Faramir and I accompany Gandalf, Legolas and Gimli to the Black Tower as early as possible, that is, tomorrow dawn. But I would hear your opinions on this matter, my friends.”

There was a moment’s silence as those around the table tried to absorb what had been said. As I had guessed Lord Everstil was the first to speak. “I see no threat to Middle Earth generally or Gondor specifically in this tale. What concern is it of ours if it snows in July in Mordor? If the wizard finds it troubling then perhaps he might find some volunteers among our young men to investigate. I beg your pardon my lord but neither you nor the lord Faramir has any business on such an errand.” Everstil spoke in the controlled tone of someone carefully explaining something that was so obvious that it really should not have to be explained. There was vigorous nodding all around the table. “Don’t be deliberately dense. This is not simply a question of weather, that is only a symptom. I have sensed magic I cannot understand. There will be some terrible consequence if we ignore this summons or if the wrong person responds first.” Gandalf retorted.

Something Gandalf said suddenly struck a cord. ‘Summons’, yes the dream had been a summons. It was a summons that had been sent in the beginning of previous ages and answered by the Dark Lord and the Lady of the Wood. I shivered a little: What would this strange power make of the king of men?

As I pursued my own thoughts the debate raged around me. Hours passed and tempers grew short. Occasionally one or another of the councilmen would interject a point but the real sport was between Gandalf and Everstil. “For the love of reason, man, if ill befalls Middle Earth then necessarily ill will befall Gondor. In case you had not noticed there is a world beyond the City gates.” Insisted the wizard. Gandalf who could be tetchy at the best of times was becoming sarcastic.

“That is not fair and you know it. Gondor has done more, sacrificed more for the protection of Middle Earth than any other power. Well, enough is enough. You want money? Men? Arms? Fine. But we have waited generations for the return of the kings, we are not going to risk losing him, not now! not ever!” Everstil was definitely ahead on points. I wanted to agree with him but the damn dream would not let me so I remained silent.

“With great power comes great responsibility, Everstil. You are not children that you may think only of yourselves” Even to my somewhat sympathetic ear the wizard’s rejoinder sounded both fatuous and offensive.

Everstil was angry, frustrated and tired. He was past the point of being able to judge his words carefully before speaking. “Tell that to the sodding elves. How dare you prate to men of responsibility? Let the all- favored ‘first born’ share some of the burden. Gods know how little of an elf’s immortal life is spent in healing the sick, feeding the hungry and defending the weak.” As soon as the words were out it was obvious he wished to recall them. There was an abrupt silence. Everyone took a sudden and overpowering interest in examining the table top.

Prince Legolas looked as though Everstil’s tirade had shocked him speechless. The queen only appeared a little sad. I saw from under my eyelashes that Gandalf’s face was carefully blank. I replayed the preceding hours in my head. It was just possible that the wizard had been bating Everstil from the very start. If so it had been a dirty but effective tactic. The king regarded Everstil with a politely inquisitive look which was all the more intimidating because of its mildness.

“My Lady Queen, Prince Legolas, I apologize. I spoke without thinking. I meant no insult to you or to your people.” The apology sounded very loud in the silence of the room. The queen nodded with her usual grace. Prince Legolas still looked affronted but pulled himself together and made a hand gesture that seemed to say: ‘Both insult and apology are of like indifference to me.’

“I think that we have learned all that might be learned from this discussion. I thank you all for your contributions. Though it grieves me I feel I have no choice but to accept the advice of Gandalf and Lady Galadriel supported as it is by Lord Faramir’s dream-vision. I promise I shall be absent for as brief a time as possible. In the meanwhile I have no hesitation in entrusting the rule of the realm to the queen who will be ably advised by both Prince Imrahil and the Lady Éowyn as well as this council. Gandalf, Prince Legolas, Lord Gimli and I will leave tomorrow morning. My lord Faramir would you please join this company.” At this I bowed my head in acceptance of what I understood to be a politely phrased command. Having received my acknowledgment the king continued. “It grows late. I thank you all again for your patience.”

The council was dismissed and the officers began to form little clusters of shock or despondence. With a motion of his hand the king summoned Éowyn to his side. Though Éowyn heartily opposed the king’s leaving she could not help but be flattered at being specifically named along with Prince Imrahil to help govern Gondor. When she returned to me she said in a neutral tone: “If you have a headache tonight I am to send for him immediately.”

I blushed. “That is really not necessary. I can deal with any-”

Éowyn cut me off. “I have no doubt, my love, but I must follow orders.” I knew Éowyn worried about me and that she was glad of the king’s command but she did not let her tone reflect her approval. She was always good to me like that.

The first councilman had nearly made his way to the door when the king spoke once more. “My lord Everstil, a moment if you please.”

At this ominous request the dignified leading men of Gondor nearly stampeded over one another to escape the room. Éowyn and I were the last to leave. I turned to close the doors behind us and saw lord Everstil standing proudly but not defiantly before the king. I hastily shut the door. The man was certainly in for a severe dressing down. Everstil was entitled to his opinion- and who did not think as he had spoken at least once in a while- but the king was very protective of the queen. Everstil had not only insulted her but he had also insulted Prince Legolas, a hero of the ring fellowship and a royal guest.

Éowyn had been trying to see over my shoulder into the room. “I would give my sword arm to be behind one of those arrases.” She said, once the door was closed. A very odd smile tugged at the corners of her mouth.

“I thought you were fond of lord Everstil.” I said surprised. Éowyn did not usually delight in the discomfort of others.

“I am.” She replied, a little perplexed as though my comment was in no way pertinent to her original statement. “Perhaps if I approach him correctly he will tell me what was said.”

I gazed at her in frank astonishment. I did not understand her interest in the matter. I felt a little giddy and lightheaded at the mere thought of what was going on between Everstil and the king. If I had been in Everstil’s place nothing would convince me to reveal details of such an encounter. Another woman might have said ‘not everyone is as closed mouthed as you on matters of emotional significance’ but my wife did not say this. She reached up to kiss me and said: “I will miss you, Faramir, but I know you will bring great honor to our House on this quest.” As I have said she was ever good to me.

I had no headaches that night, a fact for which I duly gave thanks. A servant had come before dawn with a fully loaded pack and clothing more suitable to travel than court appearances. As sun rose in the east I was standing in the courtyard with Éowyn. Gandalf was already mounted and looking about impatiently for the rest of the group. Most of those who had been at the council were there to wish the travelers safe journey. Men came up to me to shake my hand and wish me well. The elf and dwarf were preparing to mount, Arod and a squire had brought up my horse.

Suddenly my shoulder was caught in a vicelike grip and I was spun around. “Well, lord Faramir, I cannot say that I would not prefer to be going in your place.” Lord Everstil gave me a half-hearted smile to show that he did not mean to diminish me. “Or better yet I would rather be going in his place.” It was obvious who Everstil referred to.

“In that last we are of like mind.” I answered sincerely.

“Well, do take care of him, Faramir. It is important, you know. Take care of yourself too.” He did not wait for a reply, but slapped me on the back and quickly stalked off.

“Where is the king?” I whispered to Éowyn, rubbing my shoulder and searching the small groups of people.

“He is talking with the queen. Do you not see him?” Éowyn sounded surprised as she gestured toward the throng surrounding lady Arwen.

I returned my gaze to the queen. There was a tall hooded man beside her. Just then the hooded man turned and came toward us, the queen walking at his side. As he faced us I saw the king. He was dressed as a simple ranger from the north. I would always recognize my king but he had transformed his bearing as well as his raiment. He moved like a predatory animal, all stealth and danger. There was something wild in his looks that I had never seen before.

“Did you sleep well, Faramir?” Lady Arwen inquired. She stood arm in arm with the king. The image of the noble lady standing next to the rough traveler should have appeared strange but it did not.

“Yes, thank you, ma’am.” I answered. At my reply the king shot Éowyn a quick glance and my wife nodded almost imperceptibly. Apparently my story would not be accepted without verification.

The queen leaned forward to kiss my cheek. “Remember what I have said, Faramir. I trust you to do all you can to ensure my husband’s happiness.” I felt her warm breath against my ear and I was reminded of Spring. When she had finished whispering she lay a hand on my shoulder in benediction. I took her hand from my shoulder and kissed it softly. I would do all I could to protect and serve my king but I wondered at her odd choice of words.

While the queen spoke to me Elessar opened his arms to Éowyn and she walked unhesitatingly into his embrace. If any words passed between them I could not tell. After a moment the two broke apart and the king bent down to kiss her on the forehead. After that Éowyn bowed very low and returned to stand next to me.

“I love you, Éowyn. I shall return soon.” I told her. Then I kissed my wife deeply, wishing her an affectionate farewell. Then I turned and mounted my horse.

The king and queen were also saying a final good bye but I did not want to watch. The whole courtyard was staring at them. They did not need my eyes on them as well. I rode over to where Gandalf sat muttering curses under his breath and waited, my eyes lowered to the ground.

Moments later the king was mounted. With a final exasperated sigh the wizard led the way out of the courtyard. Soon the five of us were past the City gates heading east into the sun.

In the fist few days of our journey we pushed hard, riding long into the night and resting infrequently. I tried to stay in the background as much as possible. In the years since the end of the ring war I had lost some of my stamina and I often had no energy left at the end of a day. Also Elessar, Gandalf, Legolas and Gimli had traveled together before. I felt a bit as though I were the odd one out. I was most ill at ease around Prince Legolas and Lord Gimli. The way they interacted with one another was very disconcerting. The first time I heard Prince Legolas suggest that ‘keeping watch was unnecessary so long as Gimli continued to snore for no creature would dare risk its eardrums by approaching’ I thought we would have a full scale war on our hands. I had met them both at Elessar’s coronation but everyone had still been in a state of near shock and I did not remember much about them. So many legends had grown up around the two but none of the stories mentioned the constant teasing and friendly bickering.

The only opportunity for conversation came in the evening before exhaustion overtook us. The former ring fellowship had many jokes and stories to share with one another. Out of misguided pity, occasionally someone would try to draw me into the discussion. “Lembas and dainty little pastries are all very well but in the end a person needs something to sink his teeth into, something that will stick to his ribs. Let us put the question to an impartial observer. What say you, lord Faramir, would pretty elfish fare or wholesome, nourishing dwarfish food suit you better on a campaign?” Gimli asked me on the second evening of our journey after a rather lengthy debate with Legolas over rations.

“There is little opportunity to sample either cuisine in the cities of men, lord Gimli.” I demurred, unwilling to take sides in an argument when I had no strong feelings either way. “That is no answer. You are sophisticated- as far as that term may be applied to a man; surely you have an opinion.” Said the dwarf, clapping me on the back with an enthusiasm that was probably meant to be encouraging.

“Leave him be, Friend Gimli. Not everyone interprets an invitation to join a quarrel as a friendly overture.” The elf remonstrated turning an appraising eye on me.

“Your pardon Lord Gimli, Prince Legolas. It is not easy for me to tell what may rightly be said in jest. We are not well acquainted and I would prefer not to test my boundaries so soon.” I replied with what dignity I could muster.

The elf prince laughed good naturedly. “Well, in the interests of bettering our acquaintance I shall call you ‘Faramir’ and you shall call me ‘Legolas’. Thus, we shall become informal with one another by natural degrees.”

“You had better call me ‘Gimli’, then. We wouldn’t want to embarrass the elf by showing proper manners, would we?” Announced the dwarf with another bone jarring thump to my back.

“Legolas and Gimli” I said nodding to each as I spoke the names without the honorifics. How bizarre it seemed to address a Mirkwood prince and a high noble of the Lonely Mountain so casually.

“While we are on the subject of names, for this expedition I would like you to call me ‘Aragorn’, Faramir. We are proceeding as simple travelers after all.” The king spoke quietly and yet his voice seemed to carry silencing any competing sounds. He was leaning against a tree and smoking his pipe watching all that happened around him.

“Why not ‘Strider’? Isn’t that the name you use when you play humble ranger?” The dwarf asked with his usual gruff tone.

“Or ‘Thorongil’? I rather liked ‘Thorongil’; it had such an aura of mystery about it.” The elf added, gently mocking.

Rather than responding in kind the king answered seriously: “I suppose I think of myself as ‘Aragorn’.” Then after reflecting a moment he added: “At least, most of the time that is how I think of myself.” I was fascinated. I tried to think of how I thought of myself, as ‘Faramir’ probably or ‘damn fool’ more often. Of course Aragorn would always be ‘my lord’ to me however he thought of himself. Still I could not ignore his request, perhaps I could call him ‘lord Aragorn’ as a compromise solution. I tried it and he looked amused but also a little sad.

As we drew nearer to Mordor and the Black Tower, we had to slow our pace. The terrain was less familiar and we were attacked often in the nights by confused and disorganized bands or orcs. Without anyone to lead them the orcs would give up after only a few of their number had been killed, but there were always more orcs later. The first time the orcs had attacked Gandalf had been on watch. I woke from sleep at his shout of alarm and I had just enough time to find my sword and get to my feet before they were upon us. I quickly realized that I was in the company of true warriors. My brother had been one such, but I was only as good as diligent training and effort could make a man. Even Gandalf who did not use magic for fear of attracting attention wielded his staff as though he were born to it. The others took absurd risks darting under the enemy’s guard in the sure and certain knowledge that they were too strong, too fast and too good to be caught. I fought conservatively keeping close to my king’s side. I did little to protect him, I fear. He protected himself well enough.

As we traveled I had grown more comfortable with my companions. I could not bring myself to join the teasing between prin- between Legolas and Gimli but I grew to appreciate it. Most of the quarrels seemed to be for the benefit of the observers anyway to conceal the true depth of their friendship. Gandalf seemed absorbed in his own thoughts most of the time. He usually ignored me except to abruptly ask some question about my dream or my headaches that he had already asked several times before. I attributed it to a wizard’s natural testiness and took no offense. My lord was quieter than he had been in Gondor. He could never have been described as garrulous, yet now he did not need to give orders, soothe ruffled feelings, give out praise, deliver reprimands or keep discussions on task. I wondered if he was happier letting others do most of the talking.

When we finally crossed the border into Mordor we found the land desolate and ugly. Orcs attacked more often, sometimes three of four times in a single night. Even though the orcs did not truly pose a great threat I was still very nervous when I saw Aragorn rise from his place with an empty canteen and disappear into the night in the direction of a sluggish stream we had found earlier. I grabbed my own canteen and hurried after him.

“Faramir that bag is nearly three quarters full.” The voice of Legolas stopped me in mid stride. Elves are indeed sharp sighted.

“It won’t be by the time I have caught up to him.” I answered in haste to be on my way.

Gimli chuckled but the elf did not. “Perhaps he wishes to have some time to himself.” The elf suggested in a tone which implied that the very smartest thing I could do would be to sit down and be quiet.

I wasn’t intimidated by the elf’s tone. I respected the friendship between my lord and the Mirkwood prince but I would not leave my king unattended in a strange land. I was formulating a polite but firm response when the dwarf spoke. “Now you leave him be, Friend Legolas. He is only doing his duty. If Aragorn was unwilling to spend the rest of his life under the watchful eye of his devoted subjects then he never should have accepted the crown.”

Legolas had no answer to this and I was free to go on my way but now I did feel a certain guilt. After a moment’s struggle I decided that I had to go after him. I would try to be inconspicuous but even the remote chance that Aragorn might be in danger out there all alone was simply too abhorrent to even contemplate. I had no choice. I had to go.

I poured the contents of my three quarters full canteen out as I made my way to the river. I used my own hard won skills of stealth to keep silent as I moved. If I could protect his privacy while still making sure he was safe then I would. When I emerged from the sparse tree cover I saw the king sitting cross legged on the river’s bank gazing out. I thought the elf had been right he did want time to himself. A terrifying thought struck me. How much of a burden was his kingship to him? He was a great king, truly Gondor was lucky, but was he happy? Did he miss the life of a free wanderer? He had always seemed to be quite content occasionally joyful but sometimes there was a sadness, a yearning in his eyes. Oh gods, what if Gondor lost him… What if I lost him!

In my sudden panic I moved forward, I had an almost irresistible urge to run to him and hold him so he could not disappear into the wild. While I fought down my absurd impulse I stepped on some dry underbrush and there was a cracking sound. In one fluid motion Aragorn stood, turned toward the sound and drew his sword. He was staring straight at me though I doubted he could see me in the shadow of the trees. I cursed my own idiocy and emerged from the shelter with my arms extended in the universal gesture of harmlessness. I had taken three of four steps before he recognized me and lowered his weapon.

“If you had needed water, Faramir, I could have easily fetched it.” He said eyeing the empty canteen I held before me almost like a shield.

“I’m sorry to intrude, my lord Aragorn, but if anything were to happen to you there are many in Gondor who would have my head. Indeed my wife would be at the front of the line.” As soon as I said it I realized how stupid it sounded, the idea that I could somehow manage to protect him. “I can wait back here a little ways until you are ready to return to camp. I’m sorry. I’ll try not to disturb you again.” I offered backing away.

“No, you need not retreat. Come, bear me company a while. I shall have to be extra cautious from now on. I would hate for any ill to befall you for my sake especially at the hands of the lovely Éowyn.” He sounded sincere but he was ever courteous especially to those he thought particularly vulnerable or in need of protection.

When I was seated next to him looking out over the river he asked, “Have you had a chance to think further about our mission?”

I was glad of the question for ideas had been percolating through my subconscious since the council. “I interpret my dream to mean that both Galardriel’s mirror and Sauron’s ring were gifts or somehow a product of an encounter with whatever power calls from Bara’dur. I could not see the third image in my dream because men have not been offered anything yet.”

The king gazed at the water. “Do you think there is some sort of test for us to face?”

I had struggled with this for a while. “I don’t know. I thought so at first but I cannot imagine a test that both Galadriel and Sauron could pass.”

“Perhaps there is a different test for each age.” Aragorn suggested. It was plausible or at least as plausible as anything else in this madness.

We continued to speculate about what awaited us at the end of our journey but in the end there was no way for us to know until we arrived. We sat in companionable silence for a while watching the reflection of the starlight on the water. Finally, my lord turned to me. “Was there something that you wanted to talk about- I mean was there any reason that you came seeking me, besides your laudable conscientiousness and the water of course?” Was there a note of shyness in his tone? No, of course not. I was being absurd.

“No- well yes, that is, I just wondered- its none of my business certainly- but it occurred to me that you might be glad to be living the life of a ranger once again.” I don’t know why I gave voice to the fear that had assailed me earlier. Aragorn often managed to ask me what I was thinking when I was thinking something presumptions. I was always so flustered that I ended up saying more than I should.

To my surprise he laughed, “Do you mean do I miss sleeping in the cold and the rain? Eating only what I can catch or carry? Enduring the scorn of honest men and fleeing from thieves? No, Faramir, I do not miss the life of a ranger.”

I was reassured and yet I had to keep pressing. “What of freedom and privacy, does not a ranger have these?”

“‘No man is free who needs air to breathe.’ A ranger is as much a prisoner of time and chance as any. As for privacy, well, I am able to keep my own secrets. There are even secrets I wish to reveal but I find I cannot.” He spoke wistfully and I was saddened by his sadness.

“My lord, I-” Aragorn had cut me off gesturing urgently for silence, then I heard it too. There was a rustling and a muffled sound of metal against metal. We were both on our feet with our swords drawn when the orcs fell upon us. As I always did in battle I heard in my mind the voice of my old fencing master calling out commands: ‘Parry, parry, dodge left, wait, slash upward, stab forward.’ Beside me the “Flame of the West” was glutting itself on orc blood. Soon the ground was littered with stinking carcasses. In all previous attacks the orcs had run shrieking back into the night by the time we had killed so many of their number. This time, however, the orcs kept coming.

With our backs to the river we could not be surrounded. Orcs were stupid creatures that depended upon overwhelming numbers and the fear of their victims in battle. They had no chance against men trained in combat who stood their ground so why did they keep coming? I felt something sing past my face not so much as a breath away from my throat. I looked around distracted and I barely dodged a well aimed knife to my ribs. I got my sword up in time to block the second attack but I had seen the cause of the distraction. A little distance away stood the largest orc I had ever seen. He carried a bow and he was grinning. Another arrow sailed past me even closer than last time. The creature was toying with me. I tried to keep low using the orcs in front of me as a shield even as I fought them.

“My lord,” I called out to warn the king of the new threat. Aragorn, intent on the task before him, had not yet noticed the tall orc. As I shouted a third arrow flew over my head grazing my scalp. Aragorn turned in time to see the arrow and then his eye raced to the tall orc. He let out an almost animal cry of rage. He dispatched the orc before him with a stroke that cut from the creature’s right shoulder to its left hip. Then he was running towards the bow wielder. With a studied nonchalance the large orc cast aside the bow and drew a long sword then took up a fighting stance to await Aragorn’s arrival. I waded through the orcs still swarming around me in Aragorn’s wake. I fought to keep up but I was bogged down and I had to stop to fight the creatures before me.

With a loud clash the king crossed swords with the monster. I had to keep part of my attention on my own battle but my eyes danced constantly to my lord. The creature could not have been an orc; it fought with too much skill and too much strength. Orcs were dying around me but I hardly noticed as I hacked through bone and sinew. Aragorn was attacking aggressively stroke followed stroke with lightening speed. The monster did not make any move to attack but defended itself with an economy of motion. Perhaps it hoped Aragorn would exhaust himself and then it could move in for the kill. But Aragorn did not tire if anything he moved faster. I had seen him fight often on this journey and before. He always seemed to move with a sort of cold blooded efficiency, but now he was fueled by red hot fury. With a snarl of triumph Aragorn broke through the creature’s guard and buried Andúril so deep into the thing’s chest that the tip emerged on the other side. It was only when the brute hit the ground that I realized that the rest of the attackers had died by my hand.

Aragorn had to put his boot on the monster’s neck to tug Andúril free. Sword thrust in his belt he stalked back to where I stood. I could still feel the anger radiating off of him. “Are you hurt? Did it hurt you?” His voice was thick and hoarse with urgency. He had taken me by the shoulders and by the look on his face I expected him to crush my bones to powder but his grip was only firm not painful.

“No, no, I’m all right” I replied, a little frightened by his intensity. I lifted my hand to my forehead where a tiny trickle of blood from my scalp wound had already dried. “It was the shallowest of cuts. Are you unharmed?” I asked hoping he would lose that terrible look in his eye.

He did not answer my question but said instead: “That was a Uruk-hai.”

“Boromir,” I whispered closing my eyes. My brother always provoked strong feelings in those who knew him. Aragorn must have cared for him very much.

“What happened here?” Asked Gandalf who had just come upon us with Legolas and Gimli.

“Doesn’t look like they left any fun for us.” Groused the dwarf.

“We were getting worried about you.” Added the elf. Quickly Aragorn explained all that had happened as we moved back to our camp. “I don’t like this at all. It feels deliberate. I have been meditating upon this journey and-”

The wizard was cut off by Gimli’s spluttering. “Meditating, is it? I would have said you were sulking.”

“Where is your respect for the aged, Gimli? Let us say he was moping- no brooding that makes his sulkiness seem like its dignified.” Legolas admonished.

“If I wanted cheeky answers I would be traveling with hobbits for at least they can cook.” The wizard shot back. Legolas had been the one to prepare our evening meal. We were well on our way to a complete reprise of the debate of a few days ago when the wizard ended the levity by striking his staff on the ground.

“As I was saying I doubt that Faramir’s headaches which kept him from remembering his dreams as well as the fact that orcs led by a Uruk-hai attack when the humans of our company are isolated from the rest of us can be explained by coincidence. For myself I have sent my mind questing through the ether and each time I have been thrown back. Someone is working against us. We must be on our guard.”

At dawn we stood at the entrance to the Black Tower, the gate open before us. We had arrived the afternoon before but no one had wanted to begin the exploration of Bara-Dur with evening approaching so we had waited at the gate. One could see nothing save barren rock formations that reached up to pierce the sky scattered over the landscape. No bird or animal stirred within the dark tower’s shadow. Isolated patches of scrub grass were the only evidence of plant life that could be seen when one stood at the bottom of the tower. Our own horses were skittish but they succumbed to our soothing.

“Well, the object of our quest lies within our grasp shall we go on?” Gimli asked adjusting his axe in his belt and preparing to march forward.

“I shall remain here. I would prefer not to be closed within the walls of Sauron’s lair. If you have need call to me and I shall come but for now let me hold the camp and keep watch.” Legolas looked pale as he spoke.

“Yes, elf. That is well. We may proceed with greater assurance knowing a prince of Mirkwood guards our backs.” The dwarf said reassuringly patting Legolas on the arm, before returning to where the rest of us stood. I suppose elves must be more susceptible to the atmosphere of a place than mortals.

The dark tower was built along a similar model to any lord’s hall. There were guard rooms, kitchens, guest quarters, and store rooms. We spent hours wandering long corridors and climbing tall towers. All these rooms, however, were completely empty. There was not so much as a dust mote. Though, it was eerie we were heartily grateful for this emptiness when we came to the dungeons. The only room that had anything to distinguish it was the great hall where stood a large throne set on a dais. The throne was made to fit the proportions of a normal sized man but it had been carved from solid rock and gave an impression of immense size, age and power. I noticed that we all avoided standing directly before it.

Behind the throne there was a huge arch decorated with deep carvings and a tapestry covered the wall. The tapestry seemed, at first, to be a random array of colors but the more I looked at it the more I felt there was a pattern just beyond my ability to perceive. The wall hanging must have been a comparatively recent addition or surely the fabric would have rotted away. Using his staff Gandalf moved the tapestry aside. There was nothing behind the tapestry but bare wall.

Gimli had laid his hand on the arch with a reverent touch. “This stone is older than the rest of this place. Look at the keystone. I would guess that the entire tower had been built around the arch. This is not of the dark lord’s construction. I can make nothing of these carvings, though. I wonder how they were made.” He was caressing the stone as it sloped gently upward. He wore the same expression on his face that I had seen Queen Arwen wear standing in her garden.

At the dwarf’s words Gandalf took a keener interest in the carvings, peering at them from different angles. “They could be runes.” The wizard opined unrolling a sheet of parchment from his satchel, holding it over the indentations in the stone and rubbing a piece of charcoal over the parchment. “I wish I had my books with me. I suppose that figure could be related to the ancient K’marhas symbol for ‘three’.” Gandalf’s eyes were starting to take on the slightly glazed look of a scholar faced with an interesting puzzle.

Aragorn placed a gentle hand on the wizard’s shoulder. “It grows late. Let us return to camp. We can study the symbols more tomorrow.” The wizard nodded a little absently his mind still on deciphering the carven figures.

When we emerged into the late afternoon light, Legolas came up to meet us with a look of relief. “Did you find what you were looking for?” He asked.

“Perhaps we have found a clue.” The wizard mused. “Tell me, Prince, what do you make of this?” Gandalf asked retrieving the parchment that contained a copy of some of the arch’s symbols. The two were soon seated by a small fire, heads close together in discussion. I took the first watch and the elf and wizard were still talking in low voices by the time I roused Gimli.

When I woke in the morning Gandalf and Legolas were still puzzling over the parchment. I wondered if they had slept at all. Gimli still slept and Aragorn was up tending the horses. I got up and went to join my lord by the horses. We exchanged greetings and I began checking the hooves of my mount. “Do you know if they have made any progress on those symbols?” I asked referring to the two oldest members of our company.

“I imagine that they have made some or they would not have so much to talk about. It would be better, though, if we did not anticipate much success, so that we can be properly awed when we are presented with a perfect translation.” I smiled at that. I knew very well that the wizard enjoyed showing off and I imagined the elf probably didn’t mind it too much either. Gimli was awake and scavenging through our packs for something to eat when a loud cough signaled us all that the elf and wizard were ready to share what they had discovered. Aragorn, Gimli and I gathered around appropriately attentive. First, Gandalf described a little of the difficulty of trying to understand symbols that were so ancient. After several minutes of this he came to the heart of the matter. “The runes on the arch invite those who would lead the new age to enter and endure a three day test.” Announced the wizard with considerable satisfaction. Aragorn and I were suitably impressed. Gimli was not so effusive but even he admitted that it was quite a feat to translate the symbols of a dead language armed only with a partial knowledge of a second dead language that had been derived from the first.

“But ‘enter’ what? Where?” asked the dwarf once Gandalf and Legolas had finished basking in the well earned praise.

“The arch, I would think” Gandalf answered tentatively.

“There was nothing but a stone wall behind the arch. Before you ask I am certain that that wall is as old as the arch itself and I would not be surprised if both were standing at the creation of the world. There is no chance that wall was built to conceal something through the arch” Gimli spoke with the assurance of one who could find an ounce of quartz in a marble quarry by smell alone.

“Maybe there is some concealed entrance in the wall?” Offered Aragorn diffidently.

“Possible, but such a thing would have had to be cunningly devised to have escaped my notice.” The dwarf said.

“There was something very odd about that tapestry.” It wasn’t until I saw that everyone’s eyes focused on me that I realized I had spoken the thought aloud. I blushed and made a gesture to indicate that my previous comment should be ignored.

“Well, why should we speculate when the answer could be before us. I am anxious to translate the rest of the symbols.” Gandalf said, thankfully drawing everyone’s attention away from me and my foolish tongue. “Legolas it would save time if you would come to see the arch.” This last was said carefully.

“I will stay here.” The Mirkwood prince replied.

Gandalf looked like he wanted to press the issue. Gimli moved to Legolas and took up a stance that seemed to say ‘if the elf doesn’t want to go then the elf isn’t going to go.’

“Come Gandalf, the sooner we copy the remaining runes the sooner you may begin your miraculous translation.” Aragorn prodded. Gandalf shrugged and moved toward the tower. Gimli made his own way to the gate anxious to get another look at the ancient stone. Only when the two would-be antagonists had passed through the gate did Aragorn follow. As usual I trailed unobtrusively at his heels. When we returned to the arch Gandalf set about studying the remaining runes. Gimli and Aragorn began carefully going over the stone wall closest to the arch looking for some flaw that might trigger an opening. My eye was again caught by the maddening almost-pattern of the tapestry. Almost without conscious decision I reached out a hand to the colors which now seemed to be undulating. Instead of touching woven silk the tips of my fingers vanished. I yelped and jumped backwards clutching my hand. I looked down at my hand in considerable trepidation, but it was whole. I rubbed the pads of my fingers together. Everything felt normal.

“What is it, Faramir?” Aragorn asked rising to his feet from where he had knelt examining the wall at my little mew of distress. Gimli also cast an inquiring look in my direction, though he had not bothered to get up. Gandalf still stared at the arch oblivious to his surroundings.

“My lord, I think I have found something interesting.” I said excited by the thrill of discovery.

“Gandalf. Gandalf!” The king nearly had to shout to get the wizard’s attention. “Show us, Faramir.” he said, turning again to me.

Once again, I cautiously extended my hand toward the tapestry. My fingers had disappeared up to the second knuckle by the time Aragorn reached me. With one strong arm around my waist he dragged me bodily away from the tapestry. When we had reached what he must have thought was a safe distance he released his grip on my waist and took hold of my wrist. I splayed my fingers bending them then straightening them to show him that everything was all right. Even so, he ran his own hand over each digit to check for himself. “I’m sorry.” I whispered cursing myself for a fool. I should have simply explained what I had found.

“No, I apologize. You knew what you were doing. I overreacted.” My lord replied releasing my wrist and patting my shoulder.

“Now we have found the door let us go in.” said Gimli. As he strode boldly toward the tapestry I could well believe the legend that claimed that once the Council of Elrond had decided to destroy the ring the dwarf had attacked it then and there shattering his axe. Gimli did not vanish. He banged his forehead so hard on the wall behind the tapestry that he fell backward landing with an undignified thump.

Gimli surveyed all of us. His expression seemed to dare any of us to find something amusing. Aragorn and Gandalf were wearing neutral faces, though I noticed the wizard was biting his lip hard. I was still a little overwhelmed by the course of events and I honestly had not noticed the humor.

“Not all are permitted admittance, it would seem.” As the wizard made his comment he was overcome by a sudden coughing fit. Aragorn’s eyelid was twitching a little with the strain on his facial muscles.

After a moment of silence in which Gimli dusted himself off and probed the lump forming on his brow Gandalf poked the tapestry with his staff. There was no effect. Then Gandalf carefully touched the tapestry. There was a blurring of the pattern where his finger touched but he could not push through. “My guess is that only men may pass through.” Mused the wizard still pushing ineffectually at the wall hanging.

“I thought an Istari was a type of man.” I said.

“Yes, but there is some room for negotiation.” The wizard answered with a wink.

During our brief exchange Aragorn had stepped in to take a turn at the gate. My lord’s hand disappeared up to the wrist. I sucked in my breath. It was indeed a startling thing to witness.

Just then a shrill whistle pierced the air. There was a brief moment of confusion before realization dawned. “Legolas.” Aragorn said, even as he began hurrying toward camp.

“What is it?” Aragorn asked. He had been the first to reach the elf, though I was not far behind.

The archer appeared to be gazing out at the bleak lifeless terrain surrounding the Black Tower. “There are riders, at least twenty. The insignia is black and gold with a boar standing beneath a noon sun.” Legolas replied without bothering to shift his gaze. The insignia belonged to the ruling house of Harad. Their presence might explain our persistent trouble with the orcs. The Southrons were not above employing mercenaries even mercenaries as tainted as orcs and uruk-hai. I wondered how the usually suspicious and unadventurous Southrons had come to involve themselves in dream summonses and quests to the heart of Mordor.

Gandalf was looking much more nervous than the prospect of twenty enemy riders should have made him. “Legolas, can you make anything of the individual riders themselves?” The wizard asked unhappily.

“Nay, I cannot. They are still too distant but they are coming quickly.” The elf replied, eyes still riveted on the horizon.

“It does not matter. I had hoped that you might tell me it was not so but…” The wizard trailed off then shook his head as if to clear it. “Berwith the Blue rides with them. I am sorry, Aragorn. I had not known one of my order had taken an interest in politics.” Here, then, was another mystery solved. Who better to occlude Gandalf’s magical sense than a fellow wizard?

“You are the leader of your order, Gandalf, not a nursemaid to every magic user in middle earth. You cannot be responsible for the action of this other. One thing only, if Berwith was the cause of Faramir’s headaches then there must be an accounting.” The king spoke the last words with his face set in lines of grim determination. I blushed. I did not want to be the cause of trouble. In any case, I had had headaches all my life. True, they had been more frequent recently but surely that could be simple coincidence.

Ever practical Gimli asked: “Should we fight or run? I am no coward but I have no wish to be anywhere near if there is to be a battle between wizards.” “Faramir and I must do what we came to do and see what adventure lies beyond the arch.” Aragorn answered for us.

“You found the way in, then?” The elf asked surprised. Before anyone could answer, Legolas continued. “Then we should all continue on. I- I am ready.” I had never seen an elf so frightened but Legolas was battling down the fear to keep company with us. I wondered why the prince was having such a strong reaction to the dark tower. Did Sauron’s aura still lie too thick about the place for an elf to endure? Could elves be so sensitive?

“You are true and stalwart, my dear Legolas but the gateway is selective and only permitted entry to me and Faramir.” Aragorn told the elf.

“If we hurry we can retreat to the nearest large rock formation. They have not seen us yet and we can wait three days for you to emerge from your adventure.” Gandalf suggested.

“That only delays our problem without solving it.” The dwarf muttered but he was already gathering up his belongings and casting speculative glances at the jagged collection of rocks jutting up from the earth around the black tower.

“If we do not return tell Everstil all that has happened.” Aragorn said to Gandalf as he bid farewell to our companions. This request surprised me. It would have seemed much more natural if he had asked that Lady Arwen or even Prince Imrahil be informed of our disappearance. I had little time to dwell on this, however. Gandalf, Legolas and Gimli had mounted. Gandalf held the reigns of our own horses as the group moved off toward their hiding place. As soon as they were on their way my lord led the way back into the dark tower. A moment later we were standing before the tapestry. Aragorn gave me a reassuring smile which I returned and side by side we walked through.

Not even a slight breeze signaled our passage through the arch. We were before the tapestry then we were simply somewhere else. Somewhere else turned out to be a large room with rounded walls. There was light but I could not tell its source. There were no furnishings at all. With no more warning than we had passing through the gate a lady appeared at the far end of the room. The lady was beautiful with something of the look of Galadriel about her but her hair was darker and her skin paler.

“Welcome, candidates” Said the lady in a pleasant but somehow cold voice.

My lord bowed with his usual courtesy, I followed his lead. “I am Aragorn son of Arathorn and this is Faramir son of Denethor. May I ask your name and what are we candidates for?”

“You know my name already, man.” The lady replied mysteriously. “And you are candidates to lead middle earth in the new age.”

“Forgive me, but I do not know you. Who are you and why do you have the right to choose who will shape the future course of history?” Aragorn questioned, keeping his tone neutral and non-confrontational.

“If you cannot recognize me then it pleases me to withhold my name from you until you do. As for why the choice falls to me: Have you taken no notice of the world around you? The flows and eddies of magic have already begun to distort around this world while I have awaited the attendance of a candidate. If I had been forced to wait much longer there would have been increasingly dire consequences.” The lady said and now her voice was so cold it seemed to steal the heat from the room.

“Perhaps, then, you have the power but I asked by what right you presume to judge.” Aragorn spoke firmly but not belligerently.

“The power gives me the right, Aragorn, King of Men. Come, we are wasting time. Will you decline my test on moral grounds? Your self- righteousness will cost you your life, the life of your companion and the prosperity of your beloved Gondor.” For the first time there was a hint of emotion in the lady’s voice. She was enjoying flaunting her power. I wondered who she could be, how much she knew about us and where she had gained her information. Did she have another mirror such as Galadriel’s? Was middle earth littered with her spies or was she reading details of our identities from our own minds?

“Tell us of your test, lady. What do you want from us?” Aragorn was still able to keep what he was feeling out of his voice. By the set of his shoulders, however, I could tell that he was appalled by the crass threats and his apparent helplessness for there was something about the lady that reeked of power.

“I only want to learn if middle earth will be safe under your guardianship, Aragorn. For that I must learn more about you and about men generally. My test consists of three parts. First both you and Faramir must each answer a question. I will know if you speak falsely.” I don’t think the lady intended to be quite so insulting but the implication that we would lie was hard for Aragorn to overlook. I wondered if the lady had spoken ironically when she spoke of ensuring security for middle earth. How could Sauron ever have been regarded as a proper guardian? Had she made a mistake or had Sauron been indeed a suitable guardian for her purpose?

“Ask your question, then.” My lord straightened and held the lady’s eye.

“Are you the cause of Arwen Undómiel’s eventual death?” The lady’s tone was again neutral. She gave no indication that she either knew or cared how brazen and impertinent her question was. She merely stood impassively returning Aragorn’s stare.

For several moments Aragorn was silent. I suddenly wished that there was somewhere I could go so that if he chose to answer the lady he would not have to do so in my presence. I had been nothing but a nuisance this entire journey and now my lord might decide to reveal something intensely personal. He wouldn’t want me hanging about him like an albatross. Did the lady really care what he thought of the queen’s chosen mortality or was she just interested in seeing if he could overcome his pride and answer? The creature was a fool if she thought she could make my lord into her plaything. I had complete confidence that Aragorn could overcome any challenge set before him, but I was angry. The lady was trying to hurt him to see how he would react and my presence was probably making it easier for her to do that.

“Yes and no. A mortal life was her choice not mine. Her uncle chose mortality for reasons that had nothing to do with love. I think Arwen had many reasons to do what she did. Would she have done the same thing had I never been born? Perhaps not but in truth I do not know.” Aragorn’s voice was soft and sad. He sounded as though he were confiding in a friend rather than responding to an interrogation.

“But you suspect that you were the main cause and you blame yourself, do you not?” The lady asked almost mocking his feelings of guilt.

“Yes, I suspected that I was the main cause. It is a great sorrow to me for I love her dearly and because she loves me in return she will die. I would have been happy beyond my deserving if only she had agreed to stay with me for my lifetime, but I could not convince her to change her mind or even postpone her decision.” Aragorn continued to ignore the lady’s tone and concentrated only on the question.

“That sounds very noble indeed, but you would not have loved her as much were she still an immortal, would you? Did you imagine that you had concealed that truth from the Evenstar?” The lady’s scorn was beyond my ability to endure. No one should speak thus to him, no one! I wanted to yell, to tell her to shut her filthy mouth, but I could not speak. I could not push any sound past my lips. I struggled against an invisible gag, but I was completely dumb. I could do nothing to silence the harpy while she taunted my dear lord with what must have been his heart’s deepest anguish

“How can one distinguish between different infinities? Mortality forces us to live more authentically than an immortal could ever live. For all her compassion Arwen never understood empathy while she truly belonged to the protected woods of her father or her grandmother. Yet, the sheltered elfish princess possessed a mystical otherness, an other worldly majesty that the mortal queen lacks. Each choice contains a gain and a loss, but I love her in all her forms.” Still Aragorn spoke quietly and sincerely. There was pain in his eyes and voice but he was not letting the pain master him.

“You go to elaborate lengths to excuse yourself from what amounts to wife murder. Of what use is a ruler who will not accept his responsibilities?” Anyone who knew Aragorn knew that the she-demon’s allegations had now wandered into the farcical. No one took his responsibilities more seriously than Aragorn and no one worked harder to fulfill them. I knew my lord, though. He took too much responsibility. He drove himself hard struggling to meet standards that would have been impossible for anyone else to even imagine. Such was his vigilant care of everything that came within his sphere of influence that he might be tempted to believe the lady’s cruel words.

“I wish it could be my fault. If it were my responsibility then Elrond could blame me and his anger at his daughter’s loss could burn pure and clean. But it was not my choice so the one who was as a father to me chokes on his rage for how can he vent his wrath on Arwen the one he loves beyond words. If Arwen ever comes to regret her decision she will not be able to find solace in indignation but were I to blame then she might find some comfort in despising the one who took advantage of her trust. If only it could be my responsibility then I would not have to admit that I was powerless to affect the fate of my beloved. But I dare not claim responsibility. If I did then I would commit a terrible betrayal. If I come between Arwen and the responsibility for her choice then I am saying Arwen is incapable of making choices. I must respect that it was her choice and not mine.” Throughout all the terrible questions Aragorn had persisted in keeping his gaze locked with the lady’s. He continued to do so now but as I watched him gaze forthrightly ahead I saw two tears wend a slow path down his face.

‘Bitch, bitch, bitch!’ I screamed in my mind. I had never contemplated committing violence against a woman before- or anything that wore a woman’s form I thought with sudden insight. Éowyn thought this a foolish weakness on my part but the women I had known had been kind and gentle and most had been so badly used by men or simply by life that the thought of hurting them seemed gratuitously evil. This woman, though, I wished to kill- very slowly. I wanted to make her pay for making my beloved lord shed tears. There was nothing I could do to her that would be too harsh.

The moments stretched to minutes but the lady remained silent, eyes locked on Aragorn. “Are you finished?” Aragorn asked, finally. I do not know how he kept his voice so steady.

After a long pause the lady deigned to reply. “Yes, you have answered my question and you believe what you said.” Did that mean he had passed her first test or was she simply playing games.

When she turned her cold eyes to me I felt a sudden change. It was as though the light had somehow changed intensity like the sun coming out from behind a cloud. I was now the center of her sinister attention. “Will you answer my question, Faramir?”

“Yes.” I replied. My power of speech had apparently been restored to me. I suspected that my question would center around Éowyn and Leonin. I knew that such a relationship would be deeply shaming to many husbands. It was not easy to explain but I was not ashamed. I cared for Éowyn and she cared for me. I was certain of this and the creature would not be able to shake my certainty. I was equally certain that my lord would not despise me because Éowyn and Leonin loved each other. Perhaps he knew already. Lady Arwen, after all, had seemed to be aware of something. Aragorn cared for Éowyn too. He would not judge me harshly because her happiness was important to me. And if my lord did not condemn me then I could endure anyone else’s ridicule. I was ready for the creature’s question.

The lady looked perfectly serene as she asked me cooly: “How came you by the scars on your wrists, Faramir?”

I sagged as though I had been struck. I had to struggle to regain my balance. That had been so long ago. Besides myself only two others knew about that and both were dead. The little white lines, the only evidence of the event, were almost invisible. How could she have known?

“How came you by the scars on your wrists, Faramir?” She repeated not changing her tone in the slightest. I had the irrational feeling that if I did not answer she would continue to ask over and over again in that same calm tone. For some reason that prospect seemed terrible to me. I sneaked a quick look at Aragorn’s face. His brow was furrowed and his lips were tight. Perhaps he had been silenced as I had been earlier. I searched his features quickly for any sign of disgust or revulsion I could not interpret his expression but I knew I deserved his contempt. I knew and yet it broke my heart. The least I could do was try to explain myself to him:

“The scars are there because I put them there,” To my own ears I sounded utterly defeated. “On my sixteenth birthday. I didn’t plan it, not really, not consciously but I knew it was coming and I had prepared. I had made sure that I had returned all the favors that I owed and I had made little gifts to the people I cared about. I had declined to have any sort of large celebration for my birthday. This suited my father well enough for he was a busy man.

I woke before dawn and looked out the window into the night for a long time. Then I just sat down and cut. There was no pain just the peculiar feeling of my flesh parting. Then the dark warm blood was welling out of me flowing down my hands and dripping from my fingers onto the floor. I was sorry that I had not thought to get something to catch the blood. Some poor chamber maid was going to end up having to clean up the mess I was making.

I would have bled to death but just as I was starting to surrender consciousness the door opened and Boromir entered. I don’t know why he came. Perhaps it was to wish me ‘happy birthday’, perhaps he wanted to invite me on one of his frequent hunting trips. He never said and I never asked. My brother did not understand what he saw for several moments. He was familiar with violence, more familiar than any twenty-one year old should have to be but a self-inflicted injury was alien to him. I believe he actually looked around the room expecting to find some hidden enemy. His inactivity did not last long, however. He sprung to the bed tearing the sheet into long strips. In moments my wrists were being tightly bandaged. He was whispering my name, telling me to hold on and that he would take care of me.

When my wounds were bound Boromir wrapped me in a blanket and picked me up. In his panic he was not thinking clearly or he would probably have simply called a healer. Instead he carried me to our father’s study. When father opened the door and found Boromir standing there pale and frightened with me in his arms he guessed instantly what had happened. I was put on the sofa and Boromir was sent to the kitchen to fetch milk and honey. While my brother was gone father checked my bandages and started me drinking some water that was already there. Boromir was back so quickly he must have run flat out both ways. While father got the milk into me he told Boromir to go to my room and clean up the blood before anyone else came across it.

Throughout the day I drifted in and out of consciousness. When I woke either father or Boromir was there to force some liquid down my throat. By early evening I could stand and take a few steps. I was going to recover. When father saw this he sent Boromir out of the room for a few moments. Father had not spoken a word to me all day but now he turned to study me. Then with deliberate calculation he raised his hand and struck me hard across the face. It was the first and only time he ever showed me any violence. ‘You have had your one chance, Faramir, and you have bungled it. Now you will swear never again to try this.’

I looked at him sadly. I did not think I could keep that promise so I kept silent. ‘You have upset your brother terribly and you have upset me. You have duties and responsibilities. I did not raise my son to care only about himself. Swear!’ I swore. Then Boromir was allowed to come back and he helped me return to my room. He slept on the floor by my bed that night. We never spoke of it but since that time Boromir kept a close eye on me. He used to tease me in a sort of affectionate brotherly way but he stopped doing that completely. I was rather sorry because I had never minded the jokes. He had always been protective but from then on he was as ferocious as a bear protecting his cub.” I almost managed to smile a little at the thought of my fierce, strong, dear brother. He had always been so good to me. I hope he knew how much I loved him.

I took a deep breath. Somehow I had gotten through the telling. I wanted to look at my lord again but I was afraid so I kept my gaze fixed on the lady. I tried to put some measure of defiance into my posture. I did not care how this creature judged me.

“Why did you do it?” She asked her voice sounding genuinely curious. If it was a game her clever maneuvering was lost on me. It made no difference to me if she truly wanted to know or not.

“There was no good reason. Nothing was wrong, no one was hurting me. By most standards I was lucky. I tried not to be ungrateful but I did it because I did not want to face a lifetime of feeling the way I felt. I didn’t think anyone deserved that, not even me.” It was true. If I had been his dog instead of his son I believe Denethor would have had mercy on me and allowed me to escape my misery. In the end he tried to find an escape for both of us. I counted this as a sure proof of his love.

“Is that what has happened? Are you living life constantly facing the death feelings.”

“It gets better slowly. Since… since the ring war ended it has gotten easier, everything has seemed lighter.” I could have told her the precise moment when the heaviness had started to lift and I had become open to occasional moments of joy, but I did not. I knew I was commanded ‘to walk no more in the shadows’, but it was often a struggle.

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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2 Comment(s)

I loved this, and loved seeing it here. The only thing I’d love more is to see a new story by McGuffan!

— ebbingnight    Wednesday 14 March 2012, 2:39    #

Intricate and compelling story that draws the reader in completely. Most interesting for me was seeing Faramir’s opinion of elves, and Galadriel in particular, change the further along the trial he went. Like ebbingnight, I too would like to see more by McGuffan.

— LN Tora    Wednesday 14 March 2012, 21:05    #

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