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In Aragorn's Safekeeping
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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23
Preparations

Disclaimer: I do not own any of the recognizable characters; I am only borrowing them for fun for a little while. They belong to J.R.R. Tolkien.

Many thanks to my wonderful Beta’s, Marsha and J.

Words in italics are elvish and individual words are translated at the end of the chapter.


~~~

Aragorn stared unseeingly at the canvas wall of the tent as he sat waiting for Éomer and Imrahil to arrive so they could begin their discussions. Gandalf, Elladan, and Elrohir were looking at maps, but he had no need to study them, the terrain had changed little since he had led patrols in Ithilien forty odd years ago. His mind wandered to Frodo and Sam and his brow furrowed as he pondered the information Faramir had shared with Gandalf. Aragorn could not understand how Frodo had come to trust Gollum and why they were taking the path through the Morgul Vale and Cirith Ungol. The rumors of that place and the dark terror it contained were enough to frighten even the bravest man – himself included. Still, as far as they could tell, the hobbits were still free or Sauron would have revealed himself in his full power. Aragorn sighed and looked up as the tent flap opened and Laegrist stuck his head in.

“My lord, Prince Imrahil and Éomer King are here to see you.”

“Send them in.” Aragorn shook his head at this sudden need to have guards posted, but both Gandalf and Halbarad had insisted on it. He supposed it was something he would need to get used to if and when the Dark Lord was cast down, but he chaffed at the loss of privacy and freedom. Aragorn thrust those thoughts aside as Éomer and Imrahil entered.

Aragorn nodded in response to their greetings as he took in their exhausted appearance and especially Éomer’s grief-stricken eyes which he knew probably mirrored his own. The loss of his men was something he did not have time to deal with now, but it was there nonetheless. But Éomer had lost someone who was as a father to him and that grief and the additional burden of becoming the King of Rohan was adding to his exhaustion. Aragorn looked to Gandalf as the wizard started speaking, his voice grim and his eyes shadowed.

“I fear we have only two options. We can sit here and wait for Sauron to send another horde of his orcs and men against us or we can go and confront him.”

“Ride against Mordor?” Imrahil asked incredulously, glancing from face to face. “We do not have enough men to defeat him.” Aragorn and his brothers looked at him impassively, only Éomer looked as if he agreed, though he remained silent.

“Has Denethor been successful by remaining behind his walls?” Gandalf asked. Imrahil shook his head. “It matters little; we cannot defeat Sauron by strength of arms either here or there.” Imrahil and Éomer looked at him in confusion, but Gandalf turned to Aragorn. “Am I correct in assuming that you revealed yourself to Sauron?”

“Yes, I used the palantir before we left Helm’s Deep. I felt it wise to draw his gaze away from his own lands and away from,” Aragorn hesitated briefly as he glanced at Éomer and Imrahil, “the Ring-bearer.”

Gandalf nodded, “I thought as much. I believe he fears that you have the Ring and if we march on his gates all of his attention will be drawn to us.”

“Pardon me, my lords,” Imrahil inquired, “but what is this ring you speak of?”

“It is Sauron’s Ring of power that was cut from his hand by Isildur three thousand years ago,” Gandalf replied. “It was lost for thousands of years and is now in the hands of Frodo Baggins, a hobbit of the Shire.”

“Many things that have been lost seem to be turning up,” Imrahil commented wryly, glancing at Aragorn who inclined his head.

“Our Fellowship set out from Rivendell to take the Ring to Mt. Doom to destroy it,” Aragorn explained, “and…”

“You brought Rebecca knowing it would be such a dangerous journey?” Éomer looked at Aragorn in disbelief.

“Rebecca and Thomas’s tale is for another time, Éomer,” Aragorn said, giving him a sharp look. Éomer nodded and stared down at his feet as Aragorn continued. “Frodo, the Ring-bearer, and his companion, Samwise, left our Fellowship on the 26th of Némimë at the Falls of Rauros. Faramir saw them in Ithilien ten days ago. They were still on their way into Mordor at that time.”

“Our only real hope is if they destroy the Ring,” Gandalf said looking at Imrahil and Éomer. “If we ourselves perish and the Ring is destroyed, then the people left behind will have a chance of peace and to live in freedom.”

Elladan spoke up, “Adar felt that this course of action would be necessary, Aragorn. I know he would counsel you so.”

Aragorn nodded, “I believe we should follow the counsel of Gandalf, his wisdom has never led me astray.” He turned and looked at Éomer questioningly.

“I’ll follow you, my brother, wherever you lead,” Éomer said quietly. “Though I don’t know how many men I can bring with me knowing the forces that are still in Anórien and threatening Rohan.”

“We cannot leave the city unprotected,” Imrahil pointed out.

“We will not.” Aragorn gave Imrahil a searching, intent look. “Do you support this decision? I would have us all of one accord if possible.”

“My lord king, I will follow your commands whatever they may be.” A slight smile tugged at his lips before he sobered. “Truly though I see no other options before us.”

They turned then to the matter of the men they would take and when they would leave. Knowing that the men and horses needed some rest, they agreed to spend one more day in Minas Tirith and to set out at dawn the following day. Éomer would supply 1,000 men; only 500 on horse as so many horses had been lost during the battle. Imrahil would provide 3,500 foot soldiers – from the city guard and his own troops, and an additional 500 on horse – his Swan Knights and others of the city who were horsemen. And Aragorn would bring 2,000 men from the Gondorians who had sailed with him from the south. Another 3,000 Rohirrim under Marshal Elfhelm were to head north to fight the enemy in Anórien the Rohirrim had snuck around on their way to Minas Tirith. The city would be protected by the rest of the city guard and by the thousands of additional men Aragorn had sent marching from the south. Even now some of the smaller, slower ships and barges were arriving at the Harlond carrying men and horses.

At last, their discussions and decisions finished, they leaned back and looked at each other with various expressions of sorrow or disbelief and it was Imrahil who started chuckling quietly as he shook his head. “7,000 men against the forces of Mordor, my lords. It shall go down in the history books as one of the noblest, bravest sacrifices in the annals of Gondor… or the most foolish.” Having said that, he stood and bowed deeply to Aragorn before leaving the tent.

Aragorn also made for the opening of the tent followed by the others, but he turned and stared at his brothers. “You both need to sleep; even elves need rest and Elladan you seriously depleted yourself last night.”

Elladan and Elrohir just stared at him with eyebrows raised, but Aragorn did not back down under their steely regard and finally Elladan inclined his head a fraction. “With the battle ahead it might be wise to take some rest,” he acknowledged. Aragorn looked at Elrohir. “I will rest soon,” he promised.

“Today?” Aragorn pushed him to commit knowing that ‘soon’ was a very vague term for an elf.

“Yes, Estel.” Elrohir gave a long-suffering sigh, though there was a twinkle of amusement in his eyes. “You do realize that Elladan and I are the older brothers, do you not?”

“Yes, and sometimes they need to be taken care of as well,” Aragorn replied as he slipped out of the tent.

---------

Starting awake at the sound of the door opening, Thomas smiled sleepily at Merry as the hobbit crept quietly into the room followed closely by Pippin. They stared down at Rebecca for a moment and then turned to where Thomas sat leaning back against the wall near the head of the bed.

“Hello, Merry, Pippin,” Thomas said fighting back a yawn as he looked Merry up and down taking in his sling and bandaged arm. “I’m sorry I haven’t been to see you, but…” his voice trailed off as he realized he should have taken a moment to check on his friend.

The hobbits sat down beside him and Merry took Thomas’s hand in his uninjured one, “Don’t be worrying about things like that, Thomas,” he scolded gently. “I’ve just now gotten up and about and you need to be here with Rebecca, I had Pip with me. And it looks like you needed to sleep.”

“How is she doing?” Pippin asked.

“I think she’s doing all right. Aragorn called her awake this morning…”

“Like he did to you, Merry,” Pippin interrupted.

Thomas smiled at Pippin. “I don’t know, but anyway she awoke and we talked to her for a few minutes. She’s in a lot of pain, but he gave her that special tea,” he grimaced. “Then Aragorn sent her into a healing sleep about,” he glanced out the window, “six hours ago... I slept a long time. Anyway, she won’t wake up until he calls her back. At least I don’t think so, but when he put her in one after Helm’s Deep he had to wake her up.”

“Oh,” Merry said with a frown, “I wanted to talk with her, but I’m sure this is what’s best.”

“She can’t even move, Merry, without pain,” Thomas whispered staring at the floor, “so this keeps her still at least.” Pippin patted his shoulder.

The door opened again and Gimli and Legolas stepped inside and after quick nods to Thomas and the hobbits they crossed to the bed and gazed down at Rebecca.

“She is much improved,” Legolas said softly, touching her forehead briefly. Gimli grunted in agreement and there was a pleased look in his eyes. Legolas turned to the others, “Come out to the garden so we may talk without disturbing her.” The hobbits got to their feet, but Thomas stayed where he was. “You too, Thomas,” Legolas said holding his hand down as Gimli and the hobbits disappeared out the door. Thomas hesitated for a brief moment and then grabbed Legolas’s hand and let the elf pull him to his feet. There was nothing he could do for Rebecca right now anyway.

“Will someone stay with her?” Thomas asked as they walked out the door. Legolas nodded to an aide across the hallway and she entered the room behind them.

The five of them sat on the grass under a tree in the garden and shared all that had happened since they had last been together and it was hard for Thomas to realize it had only been a week since they had parted. He was both horrified and fascinated to hear of Merry’s journey with the Rohirrim and the hobbit’s encounter with the Witch-king. Pippin’s tale of his time in Minas Tirith was no less intriguing and Thomas could hear the sorrow in the hobbit’s voice as he briefly spoke of Faramir and how he had come to be in the Houses of Healing. Thomas refused to speak of the Paths of the Dead, leaving that to Legolas, but he did tell the hobbits about the long exhausting ride to Pelargir.

They were all quiet for a time until Thomas spoke, “You know, I think this is the first day we have not had to paddle, or run, or ride, or fight since Lothlórien. It’s like a vacation,” he smiled until he noticed their blank looks and he sighed. “In my world a vacation is like a holiday… a break from your regular work.” He could tell none of the others understood him. “Maybe an example… I worked on a horse ranch, right?” They all nodded. “All year I work hard, but two weeks of the year my boss lets me go do something else… something fun… like to a lake to go fishing and swimming.” Thomas saw dawning comprehension though there was still confusion. “I still get paid and everything. Anyway, I just meant that today it was nice not to have to go and do something and to just relax,” he finished weakly.

Legolas smiled. “Thomas you are so much a part of us that I often forget you come from elsewhere and then you tell us something like that.” He shook his head. “It is nice to have a day to rest in this garden even though I know,” his gaze became piercing as he looked at Thomas, “our battle is far from over.”

“Has Aragorn decided what he is going to do, Legolas?” Pippin asked with a worried frown.

“I have not heard, he was speaking with Gandalf, Éomer, Imrahil, and his brothers as Gimli and I came up here. Perhaps Lord Elrohir can inform us.” Legolas glanced up at the elf that had silently approached.

“Estel has not given me leave to speak of our decision,” Elrohir said as he glanced around the group before gracefully sinking down onto the grass between Merry and Thomas. “However, I know he will be much occupied this day and the word will soon be spreading in the city, so perhaps it is best if I tell you directly. We will be marching out the day after tomorrow with 7,000 men to assault the Black Gate of Mordor.” Elrohir’s voice was emotionless as he said this last and his gaze was fixed on Thomas who, along with the hobbits, gasped.

“Is everyone going?” Thomas asked.

“All of Estel’s men are,” Elrohir confirmed and Thomas nodded before staring down at the grass.

“C-can we defeat them?” Pippin asked in a very small voice.

“I know not, Master Peregrin,” Elrohir said gravely. “Our chief aim is to draw Sauron’s attention so that Frodo and Samwise have time to destroy the Ring.” He turned to Thomas. “I have come to remove your stitches.” Thomas looked down at his hands in surprise and then touched the stitches on his face. The bandages on his face had come off the day before when he had removed his helm and he had forgotten to have it replaced. “I noticed this morning that they needed to be removed. Turn this way.” Singing briefly over his hands, Elrohir started to pull the stitches from each hand while the conversation continued around them. Lost in thought about leaving Rebecca alone in Minas Tirith, Thomas barely noticed when Elrohir began removing the ones on his face. He glanced up at Hinluin as the young Ranger came running over to their group.

“How is Rebecca?” he panted.

“She is doing well,” Legolas replied. “Lord Aragorn put her in a healing sleep this morning.”

Hinluin smiled at Thomas. “Lord Aragorn sent me to bring Thomas and to ask Prince Legolas and Gimli to come down to speak with him.”

“As soon as Lord Elrohir is finished with Thomas, we will come,” Legolas replied after he glanced at Gimli who nodded.

“What about us?” Pippin asked.

“I believe it is time for Master Merry to be back in bed,” Elrohir said as he looked the hobbit over. Merry nodded.

“I guess I could go with him for awhile and I do have guard duty later,” Pippin said rather glumly.

Applying a salve and a light bandage to Thomas’s face, Elrohir declared him ready to go and the five of them headed to the Pelennor while the hobbits returned to Merry’s room.

-------------

Talking with Imrahil, Aragorn saw Thomas, Legolas, Gimli, and Hinluin approaching and gave them a brief nod before turning his attention fully back to the Prince.

“These are Faramir’s most experienced and trusted Rangers, my lord,” Imrahil said as he turned and beckoned the men forward.

Aragorn looked them over carefully, seeing that they moved like men used to moving stealthily through the forest and that they were dressed similarly to his own Rangers only in muted greens and browns instead of silvery-grey. Imrahil introduced them.

“This is Captain Mablung, Lieutenants Anborn and Damrod, and two of their top scouts, Rilost and Beraid.” Each of the men bowed and murmured greetings to Aragorn. The one thing that struck Aragorn the most was the youth of the two scouts, they appeared to be no older than Hinluin. But then he realized that Ithilien was probably even a more dangerous place than the northern wilds of Eriador and that he would find many of these Rangers in the south quite young.

“Captain Mablung, how many Rangers do you have available?” Aragorn asked.

“About one hundred fifty that can travel with us, my lord king,” Mablung replied, pursing his lips as he studied the ground.

Aragorn narrowed his eyes in thought for a moment. “I will need your men as scouts since you know the area, though I would like a few of my men to accompany yours.” Mablung nodded. Aragorn caught the dismayed glances Rilost and Beraid exchanged and smiled inwardly before he spoke. “My Rangers may not know the area, but I assure you that they are quite capable in the woods.” He heard Halbarad snort while the two young scouts stared at the ground. “I would like you to work with Captain Caladithil and Gilost…” he paused and looked away for a moment when he remembered that Gilost had died. Looking back at Mablung and seeing understanding in his eyes, he cleared his throat and continued quietly, “Not Gilost, but Hinhael.” Aragorn gestured to the two Rangers. “Do we have scouts out now?” he turned to Imrahil questioningly.

“Yes, my lord. I sent men out this morning, but forgot to mention it to you, things have been rather busy.”

“I had noticed,” he said dryly. With a nod to Caladithil and Mablung, Aragorn turned to Thomas and the others. Imrahil moved to leave as well, but Aragorn called him back. “Imrahil, I would have you meet my companions. This is Prince Legolas of Mirkwood, Gimli son of Gloin, and another of my wards, Thomas son of Morgan.” Imrahil started at that, but recovered smoothly.

“Prince Legolas, Gimli, Lord Thomas,” he bowed and they all bowed in return with various greetings. Imrahil looked at Aragorn and asked hesitantly, “My lord king, how many wards do you have?”

Aragorn chuckled, “Just two, both of them lost their parents and have come into my keeping.”

Imrahil looked at Thomas intently for a long moment with his head slightly cocked. Thomas returned his gaze steadily though he shifted nervously under the scrutiny wondering why the prince was staring since he knew he looked and dressed the same as everyone else now. Even his hair was almost the same length. Finally, Thomas cleared his throat and asked, somewhat hesitantly as he was so unfamiliar with the terms and etiquette, “My lord prince, is there something wrong?”

Shaking his head, Imrahil gave Thomas a faint smile, “No, my lord, forgive me,” and he turned back to Aragorn leaving Thomas totally confused. “How fares the young lady?”

“She is recovering,” Aragorn glanced at Thomas.

“Yes… my lord, she was sleeping peacefully when I left.” Thomas ignored the eyebrow Aragorn raised when he said ‘my lord’.

“I am glad to hear it. I will take my leave of you now, my lords.” Imrahil bowed and walked briskly away followed closely by several of his Swan Knights.

“Why did he stare of me like that?” Thomas asked Aragorn, staring after the prince in confusion.

“I know not,” Aragorn shrugged slightly and shot Thomas a warning glance as there were currently several Rangers within earshot. “Legolas, would you go and take charge of our horses? The barges have arrived from Pelargir and I would like you and several others to go and take them to the stables in the city.”

“Of course, mellon nín.

“Hah, Thomas,” Gimli grunted, “I told you Aragorn would get you your horse.”

“Is Baldor here?” Thomas looked at Aragorn hopefully.

“All of our horses are supposed to be here, so I assume he is. I want you to go with Legolas. Hinluin, Alvist and…” Aragorn glanced around, “… Laegrist may go as well.”

Halbarad cleared his throat, “Laegrist is on guard duty, my lord.”

Aragorn glared at his cousin and then sighed, “Faerlain, then.”

Gimli stayed with Aragorn deciding he would be of little use with the horses and Legolas, Thomas, and the three Rangers set off immediately for the Harlond dock. They stuck to the main road which had mostly been cleared of bodies and debris. Thomas kept his eyes focused on the horizon as much as possible, trying to ignore the horrific sights surrounding him.

At the docks they found their horses had already been unloaded and were tied off to one side. As they approached, Thomas searched for Baldor and broke into a huge grin when he saw the horse. Baldor was not particularly happy to see him, pulling away and acting as if he had never even seen Thomas before. But Thomas didn’t mind he just started speaking quietly and settling the horse down. It seemed some things never changed.

The tack had been piled near the horses and it took a long time to separate and match saddles with horses. The three Rangers knew which saddle went with which horse, but it took a couple of hours to sort and saddle each of the thirty some horses. When all were ready, they tied long lead lines on the spare horses and mounted their own for the long trip to the stables in Minas Tirith. Some of the horses became difficult to control as they crossed the Pelennor, the smell of blood and the burning of bodies made them nervous, but they eventually arrived at the makeshift stables just inside the city gates where they stripped the tack off and left the horses.

The sun was disappearing into the west as they left the stables. Returning to the encampment, Legolas and the Rangers disappeared in the direction of their tents leaving Thomas alone. He poked his head cautiously into his tent knowing that Elladan and Elrohir had both been sleeping earlier, but no one was there now. Frowning, he looked around to see if there was someone he could tell or ask if he could go up and see Rebecca, but now he couldn’t even see Legolas. He knew Aragorn would be upset if he just left and he let out a sigh of frustration. Thomas plopped down on the ground in front of the tent realizing he was also hungry and he wondered if he should eat or wait and maybe get something hot at the Houses of Healing. Voices made him look up and he scrambled to his feet as Aragorn, Halbarad, and Laegrist approached. As he looked at Aragorn, Thomas realized that, for today at least, his exhaustion and grief made him look old.

“Thomas, did the horses get to the stables?” Aragorn asked abruptly.

“Yes, my lord, we…”

“Thomas,” Aragorn growled, “I told you before not to call me lord.”

“I know, but I thought with these princes and lords and now you’ll be king,” Thomas shrugged.

“It might be a good idea,” Halbarad quietly suggested.

Aragorn turned furious grey eyes on Halbarad. “I will not have those I consider my… family and friends call me lord,” he hissed angrily. “I wish you would not call me it either, but I know I cannot change you.” Aragorn paused and sighed in frustration. “Halbarad, I already have to adjust to having guards,” he gestured to Laegrist, who was standing just out of earshot, “and I know things will change even more should we prevail. But I will not change in this, Cousin, do not ask me to.” His voice had gotten quieter by the time he finished and the look he gave Halbarad was almost pleading for understanding.

Halbarad nodded slowly as he responded, “No more roaming the woods alone, no more freedom to go when and where you choose.”

“I need that part that is just me, Halbarad. Not king, not lord, just Aragorn, or Estel, or even Strider.”

“All right… Aragorn,” Halbarad smiled faintly.

Thomas watched the interaction quietly, suddenly understanding the enormous change becoming king would be for Aragorn. “Aragorn,” he asked hesitantly, “do you have to become king? Can’t you just go home if you want to when this is done?”

Aragorn frowned, but his eyes softened as he saw the genuine concern in Thomas’s eyes. He put his arm around the young man’s shoulders and steered him toward the gate. “I will try and explain as we go to see Rebecca.” Thomas’s eyes lit up and Aragorn glanced back at Halbarad. “Come, it will not get any easier,” he called and Halbarad reluctantly followed. “It is my duty to become king of this land and people and it will be an honor to serve them. Yes, it will be difficult for me in many ways, though I do know of one benefit for me personally.” Aragorn smiled a small secret smile. “My whole life has been, in various ways, preparing me for this and while I will miss certain things, I will adjust to my life here.”

Thomas laughed quietly, “Adjusting to a new life can be difficult,” he agreed, “but I’m sure you’ll be fine. At least you’ll be in the same world and with people you know,” he pointed out.

“I imagine my adjustment will be somewhat easier than yours,” Aragorn smiled slightly in acknowledgement.

“Hopefully,” Thomas shrugged and changed the subject. “Will you wake Rebecca?”

“Yes, for a short time.”

“When will you tell her that we are leaving?”

Continuing their swift pace for several moments, Aragorn’s brow furrowed as he thought. “Tonight. I will push her back to sleep, but tomorrow when I wake her, I cannot. I intend to speak with Faramir and ask him to watch over her and I want her to meet him tomorrow if he is able.”

“Boromir would have liked that,” Thomas said quietly and Aragorn nodded. “Éowyn will be here with her and Merry and Pippin.”

“Pippin is going with us.”

Thomas looked up at Aragorn in dismay. “Why? He’s just a hobbit… I mean he’s so little, Aragorn. He’ll be killed for sure.”

“Peace, Thomas.” Aragorn laid his hand on Thomas’s shoulder. “Every race in Middle-earth needs to be represented when we confront Sauron.” Aragorn’s eyes were both stern and full of sorrow.

“Does he know?”

“I will inform him tonight.”

Thomas shook his head. “Not a fun night for you,” he commented.

“Pippin will surprise you,” Aragorn said as they entered the Houses of Healing. “It will be harder on Merry to have him leave. Do you want to eat?” he glanced down at the younger man.

“Later,” Thomas said dismissively.

“I want to speak with Faramir and Merry first. Halbarad, I believe that we could send Laegrist to get a meal while we are here since I have you and Thomas to guard me.”

Halbarad stared hard at Aragorn for a moment and then nodded before dismissing the Ranger. Aragorn bit back a smile and proceeded to Faramir’s room where Beregond again stood watch. “Do you know if Lord Faramir is awake?” Aragorn noted that Beregond no longer wore the silver and black of the elite citadel guard, but the simpler black and white of the city guard.

“He was a short time ago, my lord, he was eating supper.” Beregond’s dark eyes swept past Aragorn and looked Halbarad and Thomas over.

“Good,” Aragorn knocked on the door and at the muffled call of ‘enter’, opened the door and walked in. Faramir was seated at a small table eating and started to rise as Aragorn entered. “Sit, Lord Faramir,” he said motioning the Steward to stay seated.

Faramir sat even as he commented, “It is not proper that I should sit while my king is standing, my lord.”

“It is when I am not yet your king and you are injured and obviously tired,” Aragorn said as he noted Faramir’s pale face. He reached for the other chair at the table. “However, as I am weary, I shall sit as well.”

Thomas stopped just inside the door as he got his first glimpse of Faramir; he looked so much like Boromir. There were differences of course, but his hair, eyes, and his mouth were all very similar. And while his voice was softer, there was a distinct tone that reminded him of Boromir. Halbarad nudged Thomas in the back and he stepped into the room standing there uncertainly while thoughts and images of Boromir flashed through his mind.

“Lord Faramir, this is my ward, Thomas, and my cousin, Halbarad.”

Thomas and Halbarad bowed and Thomas couldn’t help staring at Faramir again until he noticed the steward was looking at him curiously.

“Is there something the matter, Lord Thomas?” Faramir asked in a soft, yet strong voice.

Thomas shook his head, “No, my lord, you just… you just look a lot like… Boromir and…” he shrugged helplessly looking from Faramir to Aragorn and back to find Faramir’s eyes closed. “I’m sorry, my lord,” he whispered, “I didn’t mean to cause you grief.”

Faramir opened his eyes and Thomas could see they were glistening with unshed tears. “You do not cause my grief, Lord Thomas. You cared deeply for him,” he observed, looking at Thomas intently, his piercing gaze reminding Thomas of Boromir.

Thomas glanced at Aragorn who was frowning slightly and he knew he had to be cautious. “We traveled a long way together and… I don’t know any other way to say this, Lord Faramir, except that Boromir became almost like… a-a brother to me.” He watched Faramir carefully for his reaction.

Nodding, Faramir absentmindedly pushed the food around on his plate before he looked back at Thomas. “I greatly miss my brother,” he said, “and when you return I would like to hear of your journey and the time you spent with him.” Thomas nodded and glanced again at Aragorn who began speaking while Thomas leaned wearily against the wall, rubbing his hands across his eyes.

“Lord Faramir, there is a favor I would ask of you during the time we are gone.”

“I am ever yours to command, my lord king,” Faramir replied, “though I do not think the Warden will release me for some days yet.” He frowned and Aragorn could see a hint of worry darken his eyes.

“Be at peace. Another of my wards is here and I would ask that you watch over her. Rebecca will not be up for several days yet, but I would like you to meet her tomorrow when I awaken her. She was also close to Boromir and I know he spoke of you and she wanted to meet you. Though,” Aragorn sighed deeply, “not under these circumstances. There are two other people here in the Houses that Rebecca knows, but I would be comforted knowing that she was under your protection and care.”

“Of course, my lord.” Aragorn could see questions in Faramir’s eyes, but also hesitancy and knew it stemmed from his stormy relationship with his father. You did not ask Denethor questions, you simply obeyed his commands.

Aragorn rubbed his hand along the edge of the table as he began speaking again, his grey eyes never leaving Faramir’s as they regarded each other, each man trying to gain a sense of the other. “Faramir, if I do indeed become king, I would always have you ask me any question that you may have. And, I expect you to tell me things that I need to hear. I do not need or want a steward who is not honest in his opinions and who only agrees with me or my decisions. I considered Boromir a friend... and while I know we just met, I do hope that in time we may become friends as well.”

Faramir stared at Aragorn searchingly for a long moment and then blinked his eyes and drew a deep breath. “I believe we shall, my lord, and I hope you are serious about me asking questions because I always have many.” He gave Aragorn a guarded half smile.

“So Boromir mentioned. I believe you have some right now about Rebecca.”

“Yes, my lord. Why is she here? How was she injured and how badly? You said she was close to Boromir… in what way?” Thomas straightened up at that and opened his mouth, but Aragorn raised his hand to forestall him and he sagged back against the wall.

“Rebecca is younger than Thomas, and Boromir had great affection for her and saw her as you might a niece or a sister… as do I.” Thomas blinked at that, having never heard Aragorn say anything like that before, though he realized it made perfect sense. Aragorn continued, “She was injured quite severely during the battle yesterday, in fact we thought she was going to die. As to why she is here, that is a long tale and is something that I will wait and tell you if we…”

“When we return,” Halbarad interrupted.

Aragorn glanced at his cousin and nodded, “When we return.”

“I will wait, my lord.” Faramir glanced up at Thomas, “And is she your sister or… something more?” Thomas saw a faint twinkle of amusement in his eyes.

“Something more, my lord.” Thomas grinned and as Halbarad coughed suddenly he tried to elbow the Ranger in the stomach, but Halbarad neatly side-stepped and his elbow hit the wall instead. “Damn,” he swore softly, rubbing his arm.

Aragorn got to his feet, “We will leave you to your rest. I thank you, Lord Faramir, it will give me peace to know Rebecca will have someone I trust watching over her.” He saw Faramir’s eyes widen slightly at that comment before he replied.

“I will not let you down,” he bowed as they made their way out the door.

“Rest well and we shall return tomorrow evening.”

Walking down the hall to Merry’s room, Aragorn kept a watchful eye on Thomas, somewhat worried about Rebecca’s reaction to meeting Faramir. Based on Thomas’s response it might be more traumatic for her than he had thought it would be, especially in the condition she was currently in. Still, there was nothing else he could do and he knew he needed to have someone watch over her for his own peace of mind if nothing else. Aragorn suppressed a sigh as they walked into Merry’s room.

Merry and Pippin had just finished supper and Merry was laying back down when they entered. The hobbits greeted them with a smile and Pippin said, “You just missed supper. If we’d have known you were coming we would have saved you something.”

“Not likely,” Thomas retorted with a grin.

“Probably not,” Pippin admitted, “but we would have asked for more food,” he returned Thomas’s grin.

“You would have eaten that, too if we had been even a little bit late, Pippin,” Aragorn said, touching the hobbit’s shoulder briefly before moving to the bed and sitting down to check on Merry.

“He’s right, Pip, you would have,” Merry said, glancing at his cousin before looking up at Aragorn.

“How do you fare?” Aragorn asked as he looked at Merry closely, noting his tired eyes and his too pale cheeks. He placed his hand on his forehead, but it was cool.

“I’m tired and my arm still tingles and aches.”

“Did you rest at all today? Or did you and Pippin spend too much time together?” he frowned and gave Pippin a stern glance.

“I rested all afternoon,” Merry protested. “From right after lunch until Pippin came for supper. And this morning I mostly sat around talking with Thomas, Legolas, and Gimli.”

Aragorn nodded, “Good.” He unwrapped the bandaged arm and massaged it gently, feeling the cold and stiffness that lay within. “Move your fingers.” He watched intently as Merry moved each finger. “Does that hurt?” The hobbit shook his head. “Well, it feels better on the outside than last night so I have to assume it is just going to take time to heal. If I had more athelas I would bathe your arm in it again, but there is none to be had. Time and rest will have to be enough.”

“Right now I’m just glad it works at all,” Merry whispered. “It was so…” he shuddered. “Thanks, Aragorn.”

Nodding, Aragorn fixed his gaze on Pippin who was standing anxiously nearby. “I also came to talk with you, Pippin. Gandalf and I have decided that when we march to Mordor we should have a representative of each race in our company. As you are…”

“He’s too young,” Merry protested, grabbing Aragorn’s sleeve. Thomas closed his eyes against the anguish he saw in Merry’s.

Aragorn looked down at Merry with eyes full of sorrow. “I am sorry, Merry, but Pippin is also a guard of the citadel now and as such has a responsibility to serve Gondor.” He glanced at Pippin and saw him standing straight and proud in his silver and black uniform. “Pippin, I would like you to come with us of your own free will, but…”

“Of course I’ll go, Strider.” Pippin stared at the floor briefly before meeting Aragorn’s eyes. “I’m part of this Fellowship too and I’ve been nothing but a tagalong and a bother. This is something I can do – represent my people and I won’t let you down. I’ll be all right, Merry,” he said glancing down at his cousin.

“I-I know you will, Pip,” Merry choked out in a tear-filled voice. “You have to go; I just wish I could go with you.”

“Rebecca will be here,” Thomas spoke up. “She’ll need you.”

Merry nodded and turned his face toward the wall. Aragorn gently patted his shoulder and stood to leave. “I will see you tomorrow.” There was no response and Pippin shot Aragorn an apologetic glance before sitting on the bed and taking Merry’s hand. Without another word the three men left the room.

“That went well,” Aragorn muttered sarcastically as they entered Rebecca’s room. Thomas patted his shoulder as he followed him into the room.

“Merry will be all right. You know he will.”

Aragorn glanced back at Thomas to reply, but his glance fell on Halbarad and he read the unease and guilt on his cousin’s face. Stepping aside to let Thomas pass, Aragorn brought Halbarad to a halt while Thomas rushed to Rebecca’s side. “Did I tell you that you were the first thing she asked about?” Halbarad shook his head. “She will be glad to see you, even if you are vexing at times,” a small smile tugged at Aragorn’s lips.

“It’s seeing her hurt that’s so hard,” he replied, ignoring the attempt at humor.

“Yes, but she is alive and she is recovering,” Aragorn said as he walked to the bed.

“I don’t think Rebecca’s moved at all, Aragorn.” Thomas gave him a worried glance. “Is that normal?”

“I sent her very deeply to sleep and at that level there would be no movement. I do not want her to move around and further injure herself.” Aragorn moved Thomas aside and sat on the bed taking Rebecca’s small hand in his own large, sword-calloused one. Her coloring was good, temperature normal and he felt that the danger of infection had passed. Placing his hand on Rebecca’s forehead he closed his eyes and called to her.

Rebecca slowly opened her eyes, her eyelids fluttering against the brightness in the room. Focusing her eyes on Aragorn she shifted slightly and then froze as the pain flared. “It still hurts,” she whispered.

“Yes, it will for some time, Rebecca. I am sorry,” Aragorn said with compassion in his eyes as he gently squeezed her hand.

“How long have I been asleep?”

“All day.” Aragorn glanced at Halbarad, “Will you get her some water?”

Rebecca’s eyes followed Aragorn’s and she smiled at Thomas before she saw Halbarad. “Halbarad!” she exclaimed, grimacing at the pain that shot through her. “Are you all right?” she asked in a much quieter tone, looking the Ranger over carefully as he handed Aragorn the water which she eagerly drank.

“I’m fine, lady,” he replied gruffly, meeting her eyes for the first time.

“Good,” she smiled warmly, “Aragorn said you were, but I wanted to see you for myself.”

Halbarad cleared his throat, “You-you look better than last night.” He frowned and looked down.

“I imagine so,” she whispered, trying not to think about how she must have looked with the arrows and the long sword gash. She remembered too many other battles and injured men… and women. She glanced at Aragorn and Thomas, “I’m glad I slept through it.” Rebecca narrowed her eyes in thought. “The only thing I really remember is… noise and then… I remember falling. Then there was blackness until I heard Aragorn calling me. I was so worried that I wasn’t going to leave there, Aragorn.”

“It took me a while to find you,” he said, not adding how concerned he had been about not being able to find her in that blackness where her mind had fled. “Are you hungry? I think you should eat something before I send you back to sleep, but I will not force it as long as you are drinking water.”

“Is it just dried meat? I don’t think I could eat that, but is there anything else?” she asked hopefully.

“They have soup and I had porridge this morning and bread,” Thomas said. “I’m sure they would have something you would like.”

“Soup,” Aragorn said firmly and Halbarad left the room without a word.

Rebecca watched him go with a puzzled expression before looking back at the other two men and their dark, shadowed eyes and weary faces. “You both look exhausted.”

“There is much work to be done. This was only a single battle and Sauron is not yet defeated.”

“Are you the king now?”

Aragorn shook his head. “No, but I am nevertheless busy helping Gandalf, Éomer, and Imrahil plan our next step.”

“Éomer and not Théoden? Who’s Imrahil?’

Smiling slightly and shaking his head at her endless curiosity, Aragorn replied, “Prince Imrahil is in charge here for now and… Théoden died in the battle. Éomer is the King of Rohan now.”

“Poor Éomer… Éowyn will be devastated when she hears,” Rebecca murmured.

“Éowyn’s here,” Thomas said. Aragorn glared at him as he had not wanted to overwhelm her with too many details of the battle all at once.

“Here? How? Why?” Rebecca’s eyes darted back and forth between the two.

“She and Merry rode in secret with the Rohirrim,” Thomas explained.

“Merry is here, too?” her eyes grew large. “And Pippin… Pip was supposed to be with Gandalf. Are they both all right?”

“Calm yourself, Rebecca,” Aragorn said softly, yet firmly as he laid his hand on her arm. “Pippin is fine and Merry in the next room recovering from a… minor wound,” he gestured to the left.

“They were both in here this morning to see you,” Thomas said.

“Legolas? Gimli? I forgot to ask about them,” she whispered.

“They are fine,” Aragorn said soothingly, “and very concerned about you.” He sighed and stood, motioning for Thomas to take his place.

Rebecca smiled at Thomas when he took her hand, but her eyes went back to Aragorn, taking in his uneasy stance and slightly worried expression. “What’s the matter, Aragorn?”

He met her eyes steadily for a moment before replying. “We are leaving Minas Tirith the day after tomorrow to march to Mordor.” Rebecca’s grip on Thomas’s hand tightened as Aragorn continued. “All of us, except Merry, will be going.” Tears started rolling down Rebecca’s cheeks, but her eyes never left Aragorn’s. “I know it will be difficult for you, but we have no choice. We have to try and draw Sauron’s eye away from Frodo and Sam and this is the best way to do that.” Rebecca nodded slightly, though she still said nothing. “Merry and Éowyn will be here and…” Aragorn paused briefly, “I have asked the Steward, Faramir, to keep watch over you while I am gone.”

“Faramir? Boromir’s brother?” she asked, her expression a mixture of pain and curiosity. Aragorn nodded.

“Yes, I talked to him this evening and he has agreed.”

“He looks a lot like Boromir,” Thomas said. “Of course there are differences, but it was strange seeing him.” He stared down at her hand and caressed it gently.

“How long will you be… never mind,” she muttered, closing her eyes as tears continued to fall.

“None of us know, Rebecca.” Aragorn crouched down by the bed and stroked her hair gently. Deciding to be totally honest with her, he continued. “If we fail and Frodo succeeds, it will be worth it for all of the free peoples of Middle-earth will survive.” Her eyes shot open, looking at him in horror. “If Frodo fails, you know that there is no place that is safe and I cannot protect you anywhere.” She nodded once. ”This is something that we have to risk, you know that.” Rebecca nodded again.

“If-if Frodo destroys the Ring and you don’t come… if no one comes,” she glanced at Thomas to see tears in his eyes and she swallowed hard. Rebecca tried to move, but the pain was too great and she took deep breaths to recover. “In Lothlórien I was to stay there, but what would I do here?” Tears flowed harder.

Aragorn sighed, “Faramir will provide a place for you here. Or, you could go to Edoras with Éowyn, though I think Minas Tirith would suit you better. It will be your decision.” She nodded for the third time.

Silence fell on the room as they considered the uncertainties that lay ahead of them. Rebecca had learned too much in the past weeks to try and extract promises of their return. She also knew, somewhere deep inside of her, that she would be able to survive even the loss of her friends. Though, she wasn’t sure if that included Thomas, who was much more than a friend.

The creaking of the door signaled the return of Halbarad and they all looked up, relieved, as his appearance seemed to ease the tension that had built. He carefully carried the tray over and handed it to Thomas.

“Halbarad and I will help you sit up,” Aragorn said as he motioned his cousin to the other side of the bed. Slowly and gently they slid her into a half sitting position with her right back and side cushioned with pillows and her left shoulder also protected. As gentle as they were, however, she was still left gasping in pain and it was several moments before she opened her eyes and was able to even think about eating.

Thomas immediately started feeding her the soup knowing that she needed to go back to sleep as soon as possible. Once she started eating, Rebecca found that she was ravenous and she ate most of the soup and drank greedily of the water Aragorn helped her with. She found that she could, if she were careful, hold the cup in her left hand and take sips of water by herself. When she finished, Thomas set the tray aside and Halbarad and Aragorn helped her lay back down, once again causing her pain.

“I am sorry for the pain I have caused you, Rebecca,” Aragorn said quietly. “But I wanted you to know now so that you will not be overwhelmed tomorrow when you meet Faramir.”

“I understand, truly I do,” her eyes became sad and distant as she looked away. “I understand a lot more about things than I used to,” she said as she returned her gaze to him.

“Yes, you do,” his eyes were also full of sorrow as he looked at her. “I will see you tomorrow night then. Sleep well.” He kissed her brow tenderly before placing his hand on her forehead and sending her to sleep.

The three men looked at each other and Thomas sighed deeply before kissing her hand and standing. “I’m hungry now,” he said and the three of them quietly left the room for a late supper.

--------

Aragorn awoke well before dawn and slipped from the tent leaving a lightly snoring Thomas behind. He wondered where his brothers were as they had not been there when he had gone to sleep, though he supposed they could have slipped in and out without him being aware of it. He nodded at Faerlain and the Ranger followed a short distance behind Aragorn as he walked away from the tent. He had no particular destination in mind; he just wanted a chance for some quiet time alone before the busyness of the day started. Pushing aside thoughts of the war, since he knew that this day and most of the days following would be devoted solely to that, Aragorn allowed himself the luxury of thinking about Arwen. Sitting on a piece of debris, his mind drifted back to their parting the night before the Fellowship left Rivendell. She had looked so beautiful when she met him near their favorite waterfall. They had had so little time together over the many years of their betrothal that just sitting with her and talking was something that Aragorn treasured. Of course, their talk had eventually trailed off and Aragorn smiled as he remembered both the tender and passionate kisses they had shared that evening.

“Only Arwen can cause a smile like that,” Legolas’s amused voice spoke from just in front of him. Aragorn started and looked up as Halbarad’s quiet chuckle also broke the stillness of the morning.

Aragorn briefly scowled at them before breaking into a sly smile. “Do you need me or are you just here to annoy me?”

Sobering quickly, Halbarad responded, “Gandalf and Imrahil are looking for you, my lord.”

Nodding, Aragorn got to his feet and stretched before swiftly striding back toward the gate. “I believe I may have to speak with my guards about who they allow to sneak up on me,” he commented, glancing first at Legolas and then Halbarad. Legolas laughed and Halbarad shook his head and gave his cousin a small smile. “Did Gandalf or Imrahil tell you what they wanted to speak with me about?”

“Imrahil said something about food rations and supplies for the men,” Halbarad replied.

“Gandalf wondered if you had talked with Pippin.” Legolas paused briefly before he continued in a quiet, concerned voice. “Is he going with us?”

“Yes,” Aragorn replied, “Gandalf and I believe that we need someone from every race there when we confront Sauron.”

Legolas nodded, though his eyes were troubled.

Aragorn patted his shoulder, “I know, mellon nín, I know. Will you go wake Thomas and send him to me? I have plans for him today.”

“I can help as well,” Legolas offered.

“Then wake Gimli and bring him as well.” Legolas nodded and veered off towards the tents while Aragorn continued on towards the gate where he could see Gandalf and Imrahil. “Gandalf, Prince Imrahil,” he greeted them.

“My lord king,” Imrahil bowed, while Gandalf nodded and turned right to business.

“Did you speak with Peregrin last night?”

“Yes, he has agreed to come, though Merry is most distressed.”

“Hmmm, I thought he would be, but it cannot be helped. How is Rebecca?” Gandalf inquired in a much softer voice.

“As well as can be expected, she is also distressed at our leaving, but understands the necessity of it. Her wounds are healing well, though she is still in quite a bit of pain. I will introduce her to Faramir tonight.” Aragorn glanced at Imrahil, “I have asked him to watch over her while we are gone.”

Gandalf nodded, “Boromir would be pleased. Now, Imrahil, what is it about the lack of supplies for the men?”

“We are running short on many of the basic food supplies. Minas Tirith has basically been in a state of siege for months and supplies were already low. Now with the Rohirrim here and the men from the south we are in a difficult situation. They only brought enough food with them for a week or so.”

“We have to take what we need with us,” said Aragorn. “We cannot stop to hunt and even if we had the time, we could not find enough game to feed so many men. Can we send for food from the south? Take what we need with us and leave the city with short supplies and send ships down south for what they will need?”

Imrahil looked doubtful. “We are leaving so many wounded behind, my lord and I hate to see them shorted on food, even for a short time.”

Gandalf snorted. “If we do not succeed, Imrahil, then lack of food for a few days will be of small consequence.” His eyes softened and his voice was gentle as he spoke. “Though I do agree that the wounded should get the best of the available food that is in the city and the soldiers stationed here will just have to do with less for a time.” He glanced at Aragorn who nodded.

“I do not see another solution. Please see to it, my lord prince and have the towns in the south send as much as they can spare. If… no, when we prevail, it will be a long time before we are fully recovered here in Minas Tirith.”

“My lord,” Imrahil bowed deeply before he walked up into the city greeting Elladan and Elrohir as he passed them.

“Where have you two been?” Aragorn asked his brothers as they joined him and Gandalf.

“I went up to sing over Rebecca’s wounds,” Elladan said. His grey eyes darkened as he looked at Aragorn. “Though she did not move and was deeply asleep, I sensed her spirit was troubled.”

“Probably so, I informed her last night that we are leaving tomorrow.”

The twins exchanged horrified looks, but it was Elrohir who responded first. “You told her already? As injured as she is, when she needs to be putting all of her energy into healing?”

“Estel, you know the first few days are crucial for a patient, why did you do so? Why did you not wait until this evening at least?” Elladan looked both puzzled and concerned.

Switching to elvish as he saw Thomas approaching, Aragorn tried to rein in his mounting anger. “I did so because I believed it was best for Rebecca. I will be introducing her to Faramir tonight because I have asked him to watch over her while we are gone. She was so very close to Boromir that that is already going to be difficult for her. For her to meet him, to find out we are leaving, and to say good-bye to us, would have been overwhelming for her and I would not do that to her all at once. Do not question my judgment on this; you know I would not do anything to harm her.”

Looking slightly stunned at his outburst, Elrohir quietly said, “Forgive me, Estel.”

“While I still believe it could have waited until this evening, I will grant that your reasons are sound and that Rebecca will probably take no lasting harm.”
Elladan did not back down in the face of Aragorn’s anger.

Taking a deep breath and somewhat calmed by their responses, Aragorn nodded and started to turn to Thomas before pausing. “Forgive me for responding such to your concerns; I know your concerns for Rebecca are not any less than my own. I am just… never mind,” he met his brother’s eyes in turn to see understanding there. The elves nodded and Aragorn changed the subject. “What are you doing the rest of the day?”

“We came to see if you needed help,” Elladan replied.

“I do, thank you.” Aragorn finally turned to Thomas who had been watching the three of them curiously, not understanding any of the words, except Rebecca, but understanding the tone and wondering what was causing the anger between them. “Thomas, I need you to run errands for me today. Have you eaten?” Thomas nodded. “Good, take Baldor and ride down to the docks and find out which ships have docked, how many men were on them or what the ships carried. Come back as quickly as you can.” Thomas ran towards the stable without having said a word and Aragorn watched him go with a fond look before his eyes hardened and he turned his mind to other tasks.

Thomas spent much of his day on horseback, riding to and from the docks; searching for Éomer to ask him questions for Aragorn; and once tracking down Imrahil who had ridden with some of his Swan Knights to Osgiliath. That encounter had slightly unnerved him as the prince still made him uneasy. Several times, Aragorn also sent him running up into the city looking for Gandalf, Legolas, or one of his brothers. Every time Thomas returned with whatever information Aragorn had requested he seemed to either be surrounded by men waiting to speak with him, or he sat looking at pieces of parchment – usually with a frown on his face. Finally, Aragorn told him to stable Baldor and to return to the tent.

Flopping wearily into a chair between Legolas and Gimli, Thomas watched as Aragorn intently studied the parchment in his hand as his other hand absentmindedly ran through his hair. “You look like you’re cramming for a test, Aragorn,” he observed.

“Cramming?” Aragorn dropped the parchment to the table as he lifted his gaze to Thomas.

“Another word from your world that you need to explain,” Legolas said.

Thomas shrugged. “Studying hard, staying up late, taking notes, doing anything to help you pass a test in school. You just reminded me of someone doing that.”

“This is a test we can’t fail, lad,” Gimli said in a low voice as he fingered his axe.

“No, we cannot,” Aragorn responded as he stood. “However, looking these over one more time is not going to help either. We need to eat and then see Rebecca.”

Suddenly full of energy, Thomas bounced to his feet and darted out of the tent leaving the other three behind.

“I believe he is anxious to see Rebecca,” Legolas said with a small smile.

“He’s just hungry,” Gimli retorted and they chuckled quietly as they followed Thomas up to the Houses of Healing.

After a very light supper due to the food restrictions now in force, Aragorn left his guard, Alvist, behind in the dining hall as they went to see Rebecca. Seeing Beregond posted again at Faramir’s door, Aragorn stopped and inquired, “Does no one else ever stand guard over Lord Faramir, Beregond?”

“Peregrin Took stood watch earlier today, my Lord King Elessar.”

Aragorn blinked and suppressed a sigh at picking up another name to add to his collection even though this one had been foretold at this birth. Glancing at his companions he saw confusion on the face of both Gimli and Thomas and amusement on Legolas’s, but then the elf knew the prophecies that said he would be called ‘Elessar’ – the elfstone - by his people. As soon as he started wearing the green stone Galadriel had given him, it had been inevitable. Aragorn turned back to the matter at hand. “Has Lord Faramir been out of his room today?”

“No, my lord.”

Aragorn frowned, wondering if he should even ask Faramir to come down to Rebecca’s room.

Beregond looked at him hesitantly. “He has been up and around in his room, my lord. Mithrandir is with him now.”

Nodding, Aragorn moved to knock on the door and then glanced back at the guard, “Are you coming with us tomorrow?”

“Yes, my lord.” Beregond stared at the floor.

“Lord Faramir will be well protected here, Beregond, but I need men of courage with me,” Aragorn said, staring intently into Beregond’s dark eyes as the guard raised his to meet those of his king. Beregond inclined his head a fraction and Aragorn knocked on the door. Stepping halfway into the room at Faramir’s call he motioned for Faramir to remain seated and nodded at Gandalf. “How do you fare, Lord Faramir? Are you able to meet Rebecca this evening? I do not want you to overtax yourself.” Aragorn gave him an appraising look.

“I am quite able to walk down the hallway and meet your ward, my lord king,” Faramir replied in a somewhat clipped tone.

“Indeed he is,” Gandalf agreed standing from his chair. “I believe that he would accompany us in the morning if the Warden allowed it.”

Faramir gave the wizard a tight, thin smile. “It is hard to watch you leave and stay behind to wait for news which will most surely be ill. My uncle and most of my cousins are going with you, of course I would rather go. No matter what happens in the end, I will most likely lose most of the rest of my family.” He stood abruptly walking to the window and staring outside.

As Faramir had been speaking, Aragorn had stepped fully into the room, closing the door and leaning back against it. Exchanging a brief glance with Gandalf, Aragorn cleared his throat and began speaking, keeping his gaze fixed firmly on Faramir. “Losing Boromir and your father has been a terrible blow, Lord Faramir, one that I cannot fully comprehend. However, I do understand the pain of sending those you love into this battle knowing the overwhelming odds we face.” Faramir turned from the window and nodded once in acknowledgement. “But even were the Warden to release you, I would not allow you to come.” Faramir straightened up and opened his mouth to protest, but at Aragorn’s suddenly piercing gaze he leaned back against the windowsill, though his eyes glinted with anger.

“If I die and Frodo succeeds in destroying the Ring, there must be a steward here for the people.” Faramir stared down at his feet. “If I survive, then I will need you. I will not risk your life needlessly in either case.”

“But you will risk your own?” Faramir shot back before taking a deep breath. “Forgive me, my lord,” he said bowing his head and obviously struggling to control himself. “It is not my place to question your decisions.”

Grimacing inwardly at words and reactions that Aragorn knew were once again tied to Faramir’s father, he shrugged. “It is really not my decision, the fact is you are wounded. And there is nothing to forgive.” Aragorn waited until Faramir met his eyes before continuing. “I believe you told me yesterday that you always had questions and I told you that I expected and wanted you to ask those.” His lips curled up in a faint smile.

Faramir sighed, “Yes, you did, though it may take me some time to… get used to freely asking questions,” he returned Aragorn’s smile tentatively.

“It may,” Aragorn acknowledged. “I pray that we shall have that time.”

“You have both forgotten your Gondorian law,” Gandalf spoke up.

“Which part?” Aragorn asked as his mind tried to sort through the numerous and intricate laws of Gondor. He glanced at Faramir as the steward began to chuckle.

“The part of the law that states that during the absence of the king the Steward of Gondor may not leave the city during times of war to do battle against the enemy.” Aragorn could see a very faint twinkle of amusement in the wizard’s eyes.

Shaking his head in annoyance, Aragorn turned to Faramir, “Come and meet Rebecca, my lord steward.” Opening the door, he found Gimli and Legolas waiting in the hall, while Thomas had disappeared and he looked at them with an eyebrow raised in question.

“Where do you think he went?” Gimli snorted.

“I am surprised you did not go with him.”

“I believe he wanted some time alone with her,” Legolas said with a small smile.

“She is asleep, Legolas!” Gimli looked up at the elf with a scowl.

“It matters not when you are in love, Master Dwarf!”

Aragorn turned to Faramir, “Lord Faramir, these are two more of my companions who set out with me from Rivendell, Prince Legolas of Mirkwood, and Gimli son of Gloin.” The two bowed slightly.

Faramir nodded to Gimli, “Master Dwarf.” Looking up at Legolas he said, “Mae govannen! Gîl sílerin lû e-govaded vín,” and then bowed slightly.

“Indeed it does, Lord Faramir,” Legolas smiled as they started to walk down the hall.

“When we have time, would you tell me of Mirkwood?” Faramir asked with some hesitation, but also a hint of eagerness in his voice.

“It would be a pleasure to tell you of my home. Was there something in particular you were interested in knowing about?”

Faramir smiled slightly, “Not any one thing, Prince Legolas, but as much as you can tell me about your home. I know only what I’ve read in books and most of those are very outdated.”

“You could have asked me about Mirkwood if you were that interested,” Gandalf said with a snort.

“We have only seen each other a handful of times over the last three decades, Mithrandir, and seldom had time to speak at all between your spending time in the library and various council meetings,” Faramir shook his head.

Aragorn listened to the interchange between Faramir, Gandalf, and Legolas with amazement, surprised at how relaxed Faramir suddenly seemed. He realized that Faramir would probably continue to be somewhat uneasy around him until he understood that Aragorn was truly not like Denethor and that Aragorn wanted and valued him and his opinions. While Gandalf had mentioned Denethor’s ill treatment of his son, Aragorn could not fathom it and his heart ached for Faramir’s pain. How any man could treat his son such was beyond him.

The door opened as they reached Rebecca’s room and Elladan and Elrohir stepped out. Elladan’s eyes swept over the group before resting on Aragorn, “Is the whole city coming to visit Rebecca this evening?”

Aragorn’s eyes narrowed warningly. “I believe we had this discussion this morning, Elladan,” he replied, not bothering to respond in elvish since everyone, except Gimli, spoke the language.

“Indeed we did, forgive me,” he said as he inclined his head a fraction as Elrohir placed his hand on his twin’s back.

“She is doing well,” Elrohir said, glancing between his brothers. “Elladan sang over her wounds again and we changed her bandages. The wound is healing well and I would not be surprised if she were up tomorrow evening or the next day.”

“Good,” Aragorn said. He turned to Faramir, “My lord steward, these are my brothers, the lords Elladan and Elrohir.” The elves bowed and Faramir repeated his elvish greeting, which the twins returned before taking their leave. Pausing before entering the room, he looked at Gimli and Legolas, “Would you two wait in Merry’s room until I introduce Faramir to Rebecca? I do not want too many people in there at one time.” Nodding, the two entered the room next door.

Thomas gave Aragorn an apologetic look as he walked in the room, but he just shrugged slightly as he crossed to Rebecca’s bed and Thomas watched as he called her awake once again. He grinned as she focused on him first and a smile spread across her face. “Hello, how do you feel tonight?”

Rebecca’s brow furrowed as she slowly moved her left shoulder and arm. “My left side doesn’t hurt too badly,” she whispered hoarsely. “Is there any water?” She glanced around and saw Aragorn, “Hello, Aragorn. Gandalf!” she exclaimed quietly as he moved into her line of sight and handed Thomas the water.

“Good evening, young lady,” he said softly, his blue eyes looking at her closely as Thomas helped her carefully drink the water. “You look much better than the last time I saw you.” The wizard gently patted her hand.

“I feel better, too. Aragorn’s healing sleep works very well,” Rebecca smiled at Aragorn.

“My brother has also been here twice to sing over your injuries.”

“Should he do that? I thought he was tired out… was it yesterday?” she glanced at Thomas who nodded. “I don’t want him to get hurt just for me,” Rebecca frowned.

Aragorn smiled. “Elladan will be fine, Rebecca, and I could no more stop him from healing than I could stop Thomas from coming to see you.” He glanced at Thomas from the corner of his eye and saw him redden slightly before the young man looked at him and grinned. Rebecca smiled at the two of them, but a sudden noise made her look around in concern and Aragorn sighed. He took her hand and squeezed it gently. “Faramir is with us, Rebecca.”

Her eyes widened and she took a deep breath as all of the things Aragorn had told her the day before came flooding back. “I guess I should meet him, then. Do I look all right?” she whispered, biting her lip nervously. For some strange reason, Rebecca wanted to make a good impression on Boromir’s brother.

“You look beautiful,” Thomas replied, “but your hair is sort of messy.” Gandalf and Aragorn exchanged amused glances. Thomas carefully tried to fix Rebecca’s hair, though inwardly he was wondering why, since he knew Faramir had seen her when he walked in the door. Still, if it helped her feel better and relax, he was willing to do it. “There,” he said with a smile as he finished. “Thank you,” she whispered, squeezing his hand.

Rebecca watched as Aragorn turned and beckoned to Faramir. She drew in a sharp breath as he approached and regretted it immediately at the pain it caused her back and right side, but she pushed that aside as she looked at Boromir’s brother. Thomas was right; Faramir did look a lot like Boromir. At least until you looked in his eyes, where Rebecca could see some type of deep-rooted sorrow. She wondered if it was all grief caused by Boromir’s death or something else entirely.

“Rebecca, this is Lord Faramir,” Aragorn said quietly as he watched her intently.

“Lord Faramir,” Rebecca said with a nervous smile as she inclined her head as best she could.

“Lady Rebecca,” Faramir bowed.

Glancing at Aragorn nervously, Rebecca said hesitantly, “Boromir told me a lot about you, my lord.”

“And what did he say?” his dark grey eyes studied her intently.

Rebecca swallowed hard and looked away for a moment to blink back the tears that suddenly filled her eyes. “He-he said that I would like you,” she whispered, “because like me, you enjoy books and stories, but that you were also a great captain.” She stopped and looked away again before returning her gaze to Faramir. “He said other things, my lord, but I think that’s all I can say right now.”

Faramir nodded, “It is enough, my lady, I did not mean to distress you.”

“You didn’t, Faramir… I mean, my lord. It’s just…” her voice trailed off and she looked at Aragorn helplessly.

“Lady Rebecca,” Faramir’s soft voice called her attention back to him and she looked up to meet his suddenly gentle gaze. “From what Lord Aragorn has told me, my brother had great affection for you and it is obvious to me that you returned it.” She nodded. “When my lord asked me to watch over you, I agreed to do so as it was a request of my king. But I want you to know that I am willing to do this for your own sake and for the sake of my brother. While Lord Aragorn is gone, I would have you come to me…“ he smiled faintly as he looked her over, “or send for me, should you need anything. And if you truly enjoy books and stories…” Rebecca smiled and nodded. “…then I will bring you some.” Her face lit up.

“Boromir told me I could borrow anything I wanted from the library here and that you would be the person to ask.” Rebecca glanced at Thomas as she suddenly remembered Boromir’s promise to give them a tour of the city and she could see a look of understanding in his eyes as he tightened his grip on her hand.

Faramir chuckled, “Once you are up and moving around, I shall take you to the library and give you a tour.”

“Thank you so much, Far… my lord,” she whispered.

“You may call me Faramir if you wish, my lady,” Faramir said with a glint of amusement in his eye.

Rebecca shook her head vehemently, “No, my lord, I know it’s not proper, I just forgot,” she blushed slightly and looked at Aragorn with alarm, but he just shrugged slightly.

“You obviously called my brother by name and you do the same with Lord Aragorn, you may also do the same with me.”

“But, Aragorn is my…” she glanced at Aragorn in puzzlement. “Well, I’m his ward so I don’t know what else to call him and Boromir insisted and Éomer won’t let me call him lord either,” she sighed.

“Éomer told me not to call him lord even now that he’s the king, Rebecca,” Thomas smiled down at her, “or else he said he would be forced to call me boy.” Aragorn and Rebecca laughed while Gandalf and Faramir looked confused.

“Well, if they may insist than I believe that I can as well, Lady Rebecca,” Faramir said with a faint smile.

Shaking her head Rebecca gave up, “All right, Faramir. I don’t suppose I can talk you out of calling me ‘lady’ though.”

“No, you cannot. I do not want to tire you out, so I believe it would be best if I take my leave of you. I shall come by and see you tomorrow.” He bowed slightly and looked to Aragorn who stood and followed him out the door and partway down the hall.

Aragorn knocked on Merry’s door and Gimli quickly answered it, “You may go and see her now.” The dwarf nodded and he, Legolas, and Pippin soon disappeared into Rebecca’s room. Aragorn wondered where Merry was, but he wanted to speak with Faramir so he quickly dismissed the thought. “Thank you, Faramir,” he began, suddenly wondering if calling him less formally would put him more at ease as well. “It truly does set my mind at ease knowing there is someone here that is looking after her.”

“Then I am glad that I can do this for you, my lord.”

“The hobbit, Meriadoc,” Aragorn gestured to his room, “will also remain here in the Houses, though his injury is not severe. He is Frodo and Pippin’s cousin.”

Faramir nodded. “Pippin mentioned him to me on several occasions and I had heard he was injured when he helped destroy the Witch-king. How someone so small has so much courage amazes me.” He shook his head. “Though Frodo and Sam possess that same courage… and Pippin as well. They seem to be an amazing race, my lord.”

“They are,” Aragorn acknowledged. “Though, I believe these four are truly unique.” He turned to go and then paused, “Faramir, keep safe the city against my return.”

“I intend to, my lord. I love this city and her people dearly and will fight to the death before I will see her fall. Keep safe, My Lord King Elessar. I believe I would enjoy serving as your steward.” Smiling the first unguarded and genuine smile Aragorn had yet seen from him, Faramir bowed deeply before turning and slowly walking back to his room.

Watching him leave with a small smile of satisfaction, Aragorn looked at Rebecca’s door before he decided it would be best to visit Merry while he was alone. He found Merry sitting at the small table with his head propped on his good hand and staring at the wall. “Hello, Merry,” he said in a low quiet voice.

The hobbit glanced up and then quickly away. “Aragorn.”

Aragorn said in the chair across from him without a word and waited patiently for Merry to say something. They sat quietly for several long minutes and Aragorn just stared at the floor, he could sit for hours without moving and he knew that Merry would eventually vent his frustration and that he needed to do so.

Finally, the hobbit spoke up and when he did, he was more restrained than Aragorn thought he would be and he realized that Merry had grown a lot in the months since he had left the Shire. “I still don’t understand why Pippin has to go with you. You know how young he is and you know that he probably will be killed and – and it’s bad enough that Frodo and Sam are gone and you and Legolas and Thomas and Gimli are going and probably won’t come back and Boromir has already died. I just don’t understand.” Merry never raised his voice, but tears were streaming down his face and Aragorn could hear his anguish.

“I am sorry, Merry.” Aragorn’s steady gaze held Merry’s eyes. “I know it is difficult for you, but this battle is for control of all of Middle-earth, not just for Gondor and not just for Men. You know if Sauron prevails, then he will march against the Shire eventually and we want someone there to represent Hobbits. You cannot go and there is no one else who can. Pippin is right when he says that he is a part of our Fellowship and he is entitled to share in all parts of it, the hardships, the dangers, and the joys. Unfortunately, we have had more of the hardships and the dangers thus far. You must have hope that we shall return or that Frodo and Sam will succeed.” Aragorn reached out and grasped Merry’s hand. “It is all any of us can do, Merry, have hope.”

“I can go, Aragorn,” Merry begged. “It will take you almost a week to get to the gate from what I heard and my arm should be healed by then. Please take me.” He looked imploringly at him.

“I will not,” he said firmly. “There may be other dangers along the way and I will not risk you or bring danger to others because of your inability to defend yourself.”

Merry hung his head in defeat. “All right, Aragorn, but I had to ask.”

“I know.” Aragorn stood. “Are you coming to see Rebecca?”

Shaking his head, the hobbit looked up at Aragorn. “No, I’m not leaving so I’ll wait and see her tomorrow.”

Aragorn nodded and crouched down on one knee. “Be well, Meriadoc.” He gazed at him intently for a moment and then hugged the hobbit tightly.

“You too, Aragorn, be safe.”

Stepping into the hallway he was surprised to see Éomer slowly pacing up and down, though the king did not notice him as he appeared lost in thought. Aragorn glanced down the hall and saw Beregond looking at Éomer curiously, though he quickly turned away when he caught Aragorn’s gaze. Alvist was also waiting down near the main door and while he appeared to be uninterested, Aragorn knew he was totally alert to everything going on in the hallway. He looked back at Éomer, “Éomer?” he asked.

The new king of Rohan stopped dead in his tracks and looked up with a startled expression. “Aragorn! Where did you come from? I didn’t see you,” he glanced around.

Aragorn gave him an amused smile, “No, you did not. What is the matter? Is something wrong with Éowyn?”

“Oh, no, she is doing quite well,” he frowned slightly. “At least as well as to be expected. It’ll be another day or so until the healers allow her to go outside, but she is up and moving around her room and they expect a full recovery.” Éomer looked at Aragorn fully, “We have talked some about her despair, but, frankly, it’s hard for me to understand. Still, it appears to help her, so…” he shrugged.

“Then why were you pacing? Oh,” he glanced at Rebecca’s room. “She is doing very well, Éomer, but I am sorry I cannot let you see her.”

“I’m glad that she’s recovering.” Éomer looked relieved. “I hadn’t heard anything and I was concerned. Is Merry all right?”

“Yes, he will be fine.”

“Good, I owe him much for what he did for my sister and Théoden.” Éomer shifted uneasily. “Since I cannot see Rebecca,” he paused and looked away from Aragorn briefly, “and it’s probably best if I don’t, will you tell her that I came by to wish her well and to say good bye?”

“I will tell her that for you, but why… “ his voice trailed off as the door opened and Gandalf, Gimli, Legolas, and Pippin walked out; he noticed that Pippin had tears in his eyes that he was rubbing at. Aragorn saw Legolas glance at Éomer with a knowing look and he realized that the elf knew of the horse-lord’s feelings for Rebecca, not that he was particularly surprised. “Thomas is saying good bye to her now?” he asked and the others nodded. “Then I will wait,” and he leaned back against the wall with a last glance at Éomer.

“If you’ll give my regards to Lady Rebecca, Aragorn, then I’ll return to my men,” Éomer said. At Aragorn’s nod, he turned and walked away.

-------

Thomas sat on Rebecca’s bed again as the others left the room, so focused on her that he was barely aware when they left. “I don’t want to leave you, Rebecca, but you know that I have to.” She nodded. “I’m so scared though,” he confessed with a whisper, his blue eyes searching hers so intently that he was startled when he felt her hand gently touch his cheek. The hand dropped after a moment and he saw the slight wince of pain that crossed her face.

“I’m sure everyone is scared.”

“Maybe, but I think it’s worse with me because I keep wondering if-if… well, this is just a guess, but if you were here to save Halbarad and you got so badly hurt, then what do I have to do and what will happen to me?” He stared down at their hands. “I’m such a coward,” he mumbled.

Rebecca looked at him in alarm. “No, you aren’t,” she protested fiercely. “Look at me. You can’t go off to a battle thinking like that or you’ll be killed for sure. You can’t second guess everything you do, you know that. It just happened with Halbarad, that orc came out of nowhere and I was so startled and I just reacted without thinking. Please don’t start thinking you’re a coward because you know that’s not true. Think about all the brave things you’ve done since we’ve been here,” her voice had risen and she was gripping his hand tighter and tighter.

“Ouch,” he said trying to loosen her grip. “Calm down, Rebecca. I shouldn’t have said anything to you, I didn’t mean to get you so stirred up when you need to be resting,” he smiled weakly.

“Don’t do that, Thomas,” she hissed. “I always want you to tell me how you feel and you have to try and let this go. Talk to Aragorn or Legolas… maybe even one of the twins.” She closed her eyes briefly to try and calm down. “Besides, you don’t even know if you’ve already done whatever it is you were supposed to do or if it’s something way down the road,” Rebecca tried to encourage him, though she wasn’t sure if it would work.

“I know, Rebecca, I know, but…” he shrugged. “I’ll try and talk to Aragorn,” he promised, “though he is so busy these days. I’ve been running errands for him all day and he always has people waiting to see him. I don’t think he’s going to like being the king.”

“How can you not like being a king?”

Thomas shrugged. “Well, he’s pretty old and he’s lived all of his life out in the wilderness. But that’s enough about our soon-to-be king,” he smiled. “I’ll miss you, and I want you to know how much I love you,” his eyes glistened and his face reflected his love and the depth of his feelings for her.

“I love you too, and I can’t imagine how this place would have been without you.” Her brown eyes filled with tears and then overflowed and started running down her cheeks and into her ears. “Be safe,” she whispered.

Thomas leaned forward and kissed her cheeks tenderly, wiping away the tears as he did so. He moved to her lips and gently kissed those as well. He sat up slightly and brushed the hair away from her forehead before kissing her there, finally he lightly kissed the tip of her nose. He sat up with a sigh and just looked her over intently, trying to memorize every feature. Rebecca watched him with a slight smile on her lips and glanced past him as the door opened and Aragorn walked in, though Thomas appeared not to notice.

“I am sorry,” Aragorn said quietly, “but Rebecca you need to sleep now.”

She looked at him quizzically, “Do you really think I’ll be able to sleep tonight, Aragorn?”

“I am going to make you something,” he gestured to the table where a variety of herbs and healing utensils were piled. “Éomer said to wish you well and to tell you good-bye,” he said as he set to work.

Rebecca sighed, “Somebody else I know who’s leaving me,” she mumbled and Aragorn turned to stare at her for a moment and she changed the subject. “I like Faramir, Aragorn, though he’s a lot different than Boromir,” she said as she watched him mix up the herbs.

“Yes, though I believe that you will find they are similar in many ways as well. Do not hesitate to go to him for anything that you need or want. He will try and obtain it for you.” Aragorn moved to the bed.

“I will.” She gazed at Aragorn as he sat on the edge of the bed holding the cup, idly swirling the contents as he studied her.

“Be at peace, Rebecca,” he finally said. “I pray that at least some of us will return to you, but if not, I want you to know that I have come to care for and see you as a daughter.” Her eyes widened in shock as she stared at him. Aragorn looked at her thoughtfully, “Does that really surprise you?”

“Well… no, I guess not, now that I think about it, but it never really crossed my mind,” she ducked her head, not able to put her own feelings for Aragorn into words.

Aragorn smiled inwardly at her embarrassment and then tilted her chin up and handed her the cup, “You need to drink this.” He helped her to drink it all and then he and Thomas helped her lie down and they fixed the blankets around her. Aragorn kissed her brow and started for the door.

“Aragorn,” she whispered as he looked back, “be careful, I don’t want to lose you, too.” He nodded and left.

Thomas ran the back of his fingers over her cheeks one last time before kissing her tenderly. “Good bye,” he said before walking swiftly from the room without looking back.

Rebecca watched him go with tears streaming down her face until the herbs Aragorn had given her took effect and she drifted into an uneasy sleep.

-------------

The distant shouts of men awoke Rebecca. She knew it was well before sunrise even though the days still remained in twilight most of the time, but now it was almost black outside. Sighing deeply at her inability to get up and look out the window to see what was happening down on the Pelennor, she tried to move. She realized that she could move her legs without pain and that while her right side still hurt, the intensity of it had decreased immensely. The sound of the door slowly opening caused Rebecca to look up and she assumed one of the aides was coming in to check on her and was surprised to see Merry cautiously poking his head in the doorway. “What are you doing up so early, Merry?”

“All the noise woke me and I thought you might be up, too, so I came to check and see,” he shrugged and walked into the room.

“It’s good to see you, Merry. I’ve missed you and I’m glad at least you’re staying here.”

The hobbit made a noise that might have meant anything before saying, “I’ve missed you too, Rebecca.” He walked to the window and stared out.

“Can you see anything?”

He shook his head, “No we’re too far from the wall, this room overlooks the garden.”

“Well, as I can’t get up anyway, I suppose it’s just as well. You can go out and look and come back and tell me.”

“I don’t want to see them leave. I just didn’t want to be alone this morning so I came to see you.”

Rebecca looked at him with sadness in her eyes, “I understand. Why don’t you sit down and tell me about your trip with Éowyn? Or, maybe something about the Shire? And I could tell you something about my world. That would help us, I think… at least for awhile.” She tried to smile, but wasn’t very successful at it.

Merry nodded and began telling her a story about one of his numerous cousins.

-----------

Thomas mounted Baldor and fought to bring him under control before moving to ride between Legolas and Halbarad and close behind Aragorn and Imrahil. Elladan and Elrohir rode nearby and Rangers and Swan Knights surrounded them to keep an eye on their lord and their prince, respectively. Pippin was marching with the citadel guards even though Thomas had offered to let him ride with him. But Pippin wanted to march with those whom he had sworn allegiance with and Thomas couldn’t fault him for that. Suddenly the order was given to march and with a last, longing glance up at the sixth level of the city, Thomas nudged Baldor forward and the free peoples of Gondor, of Rohan, of Mirkwood, the Shire, the Lonely Mountain, of Rivendell and even one young man from a distant place called earth set out to confront Sauron.

~~~

Translations:

Némimë – February
Adar - father
Mellon nín – my friend
Mae govannen! Gîl sílerin lû e-govaded vín – Well met! A star shines upon the hour of our meeting.


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