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The Healer's Gambit
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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3

Aragorn was vaguely stunned by the speed with which Faramir had suddenly come after him, and was even more surprised by the blow to his stomach, which knocked the wind from him. He was suddenly on his back, with Faramir's blade against his neck. Aragorn only had to look at Faramir's eyes, gone wide and nearly black, to realize he was not himself. Legolas was there not a moment later, restraining Faramir's sword arm and calling his name.

He knew immediately when Faramir returned from whatever waking nightmare he had experienced, for his eyes cleared. He began to shake as he realized what had happened, and he fell onto the pitch on his knees, his sword dropping from nerveless fingers.

"Faramir!" Aragorn called, reaching for him, but Legolas was already at his side.

"He's unconscious!" he said, rolling Faramir onto his back.

Aragorn checked his breathing and heartbeat, and then pressed the back of his hand to Faramir's forehead, his healer's instincts taking over. "He's feverish," he muttered, cursing himself a fool for the second time that day. "Let's get him to the Citadel."

***

Arwen heard strands of the tale as her husband and Legolas brought Faramir into the King's House, settling him on a bed in the guest quarters. While Legolas told her what had happened, Aragorn issued the brisk, no-nonsense orders of a healer on urgent business, sending servants to bring him hot water, cloths, and the leather bag that held his herbs and other supplies. He was about to send another with a summons to fetch the Prince of Dol Amroth, but Legolas offered to go, and with a grateful nod from Aragorn, he departed immediately.

She sat on the other side of the bed from her husband, examining Faramir while Aragorn ground herbs in a bowl. After she checked his breathing and color, she closed her eyes a moment as she touched his forehead, reaching out with her other senses as her father had taught her.

Aragorn met her eyes, his own full of concern. "What think you?"

"His fever is mild, husband. He may have fainted more from the shock of what happened than aught else," she said. "But his mind is unquiet, and he is exhausted."

He touched the back of his hand to Faramir's forehead and nodded.

Arwen thought a moment longer of her promise to keep Éowyn's confidence, and hoped she would be forgiven. Even if she were not, Faramir's well-being was more important than being forsworn. "He has been suffering nightmares, Aragorn," she said quietly. "And sleeping little."

Aragorn looked at her steadily, waiting as she continued. "Éowyn spoke to me in confidence, and I have been keeping as best an eye as I could on him in her absence. I have heard of no waking nightmares, though he sleeps little."

He nodded. "I understand her wish, and your promise. But I wish I had known. And I know not what to do now, other than to treat the fever, however mild."

"I wrote to Grandmother," Arwen said. "Asking what might be done to help a warrior suffering from such nightmares, one who had already been stricken with the Black Breath. I sent the letter through Elladan, and received her response only today. She might be able to help, she says, were we to bring him to Lórien."

Aragorn raised an eyebrow. "Did you name the warrior on whose behalf you inquired?"

She shook her head. "Though that means little."

"Indeed."

Faramir's eyes blinked open then, and he glanced around, clearly confused. His cheeks were flushed, but his eyes were clear, and Arwen's concern for him eased.

"Rest easy, Faramir, you are in our guest quarters," Aragorn said quietly, placing a gentle hand on his arm.

"What happened?" he asked in a raspy voice, his eyes darting to each of them. Aragorn poured a cup of water, and slid a hand behind Faramir's neck to support him as he drank before gently lowering his head to the pillow once again. Arwen smiled at her husband's gentle healer's manner.

"We..." Aragorn considered. "We had a mishap on the fencing pitch, and you fell unconscious for a time. You have a mild fever, and appear to be exhausted."

Dawning realization came into Faramir's eyes, and then the flushed color drained completely from his face. "I attacked you! I could have hurt you! It was... treason!" He tried without success to move away, as if afraid his presence might hurt Aragorn.

He grasped Faramir's arm, shaking his head. "Nonsense. You were not yourself. We were using practice swords, and no damage was done."

Arwen could see that Aragorn's words were unpersuasive. Practice swords had their edges blunted, but they were nonetheless heavy and potentially dangerous. Her heart reached out to Faramir, and she wished Éowyn were there.

Aragorn gazed at Faramir steadily. "I will hear no more of this. Here," he said, handing him a cup of hot liquid, "Drink this. It will reduce the fever, and help you to sleep."

Faramir began to protest, but was swiftly forestalled. "Must I command it?" Aragorn asked. "Drink," he said, handing Faramir the cup.

They watched as Faramir drank the tea without further argument. "We will speak later," Aragorn said. "Rest now, and I beg you, do not torment yourself further."

Silently, he nodded, and Arwen saw the strong herbal concoction beginning to take effect, his eyes heavy as he settled into the bed. Aragorn's eyes caught hers, and she pressed a kiss to Faramir's forehead before following her husband into the adjacent sitting room.

Legolas and Prince Imrahil were already present. Imrahil was deeply concerned, relaxing only slightly as Aragorn told him of Faramir's condition and the nightmares he had been experiencing.

"I should have kept a closer eye upon him," Imrahil said. "I might have suspected he would become battle weary, but he seemed to flourish so well in the days after the war."

Aragorn nodded. "I am beginning to suspect he was simply too occupied, at first."

"And he was in love," Arwen added, though she agreed with her husband's assessment.

"Should we send for Éowyn?" Legolas asked.

"Not if we are going to Lothlórien," Aragorn said, and then explained to Imrahil and Legolas about the Lady's letter. "The wedding is only six weeks hence. If we leave at once, and can find Faramir the help he needs, we can go directly from there to Edoras."

Arwen smiled at Aragorn's matter-of-fact statement, but was not surprised. Indeed, she would have been surprised if Aragorn had not insisted on taking Faramir to Lórien himself. He cared for the prince deeply, and probably held himself to blame for his condition, at least in part.

"I would see him there myself," said Imrahil, "but the wedding makes that impossible. Perhaps it should be postponed."

"Faramir would be dismayed," Legolas observed, "should word of this become public."

Aragorn nodded. "We should prevent that, if we can." He considered a moment. "I think, perhaps, that Faramir merely wishes to fulfill a lifelong dream to visit Lórien, and I wished to visit once more myself, and cement our ties with East Lórien."

"And I decided to travel with my friends, and visit my kin," added Legolas. Arwen smiled at him warmly, grateful for his support.

Aragorn reached for her hand, lifting it to his lips. She gave him a reassuring squeeze in return. "You will not mind traveling to Edoras with the Prince's party?"

She beamed a smile at Imrahil, whom she adored. "Of course not, my love. I would see Faramir well again, for his sake, and Éowyn's, and for all those who love him."

Thus plans were made to depart the day after next, if Faramir was well enough -- tomorrow, Legolas would arrange their horses and gear while Aragorn would undertake what would surely be a rather unpleasant interview with Lord Húrin. He did not particularly approve when Aragorn went riding for an afternoon without his guard; he would surely be horrified that he planned a journey of more than three hundred leagues without an armed escort.

"It is safe enough," Aragorn said. "We will travel along the road, then cross-country through Rohan. Éomer's riders have been busy ridding the Mark of every orc between the mountains and the Anduin."

The others merely raised eyebrows, aware this argument would hold little sway with Húrin. Aragorn shrugged. "We are going, and we must travel swift and light, and keep Faramir's troubles in our confidence. Húrin may not approve, but in the end, he has little say in the matter."

***

Later that night, Aragorn closed his eyes and tried to rest, but sleep would not come. If the Lady was unable to help...

"You are troubled," Arwen whispered in his ear.

Aragorn turned onto his back to face her. "I am sorry, my love, I do not wish to disturb your rest."

"You worry for him," she said. She did not need to say to whom she referred.

"I do," he admitted. "I have seen men come undone at far less than he has suffered. And I am saddened that he did not seek our aid before this."

"He feared you would think less of him."

"I know." Aragorn sighed. "What saddens me is that he does not know that I would not."

She combed her fingers through his hair as she gazed steadily into his eyes. "You mean so much to him, I think, that he could not bear to lose your good opinion."

"At times," he said, "I wish he would see me more as a man, and less as the King out of prophecy."

"You fear losing him as you lost his brother."

"He has suffered too much already, and deserves peace," he said, "I would help him heal, if I can."

"If anyone can help him, my love, you can, with Grandmother's aid." She leaned over to kiss him lightly, and he wrapped his arms around her. "You must keep that hope in your heart on this long journey."

"I will miss you terribly," he murmured, tracing the line of her ear with his fingertips.

She shivered pleasurably. "As I will miss you. But you are always in my heart."

"As you are in mine, wherever I go." He smiled as he reached for her, his heart lighter than it had been before.

***

Faramir awoke and glanced around, taking in his surroundings. As he remembered what had happened the previous night, he was torn between the desire to flee and the urge to pull the covers over his head and retreat into blissful unconsciousness. He had not dreamt, for the first time in many nights, then he recalled the sleeping draught Aragorn had given him.

Aragorn. Faramir had attacked him on the practice ground, yet he had been so patient and kind the prior evening. Shame and regret welled up in his chest, forcing a sigh to expel the heaviness. Aragorn should see him as someone reliable, unswerving in his loyalty and devotion; he did not want to be the kind of disappointment to Aragorn that he had been to his father.

He remembered the day of Aragorn's coronation before the gates of Minas Tirith. He had not known Aragorn's mind when he offered him the rod of the Steward's office; he had thought, perhaps, that the role of his house had ended, and that Aragorn might wish one of his own men of the north to serve in Faramir's stead. But Aragorn had been unswerving and steadfast, both on the field and later, in the great hall, where the senior nobles of Gondor had assembled.

As Steward, Faramir had been the first to approach the King, and he had knelt before Aragorn, the hilt of his sword clasped between his hands. Aragorn's hands were a warm and reassuring presence as they covered his, yet his heart was pounding, and it was not because the eyes of Gondor's nobility were upon him. The King out of legend is returned, he had thought. He is truly here. I have dreamed of this moment, but never believed it would come to pass.

Thus it required all of Faramir's concentration to keep his voice steady as he swore the oath: "Here do I swear fealty and service to Gondor, and to the King of the realm, to speak and to be silent, to do and to let be, to come and to go, in need or plenty, in peace or war, in living or dying, from this hour henceforth, until my lord release me, or death take me, or the world end. So say I, Faramir, son of Denethor, Steward of Gondor."

But Aragorn's voice was clear and certain, ringing with vigor and confidence. "And this do I hear, Faramir, son of Denethor, and I will not forget it, nor fail to reward that which is given: valor with honor, oath-breaking with justice, fealty with love." His voice was so warm and affectionate that Faramir could not help but lift his eyes to the King's face, and his glance was met with a kind smile as the King completed the oath: "So say I, Aragorn son of Arathorn, King Elessar of Gondor and Arnor."

Faramir felt the sincerity behind the words, and had reflected that this public and joyous exchange of oaths could not have been more different than the somber and private occasion on which he had sworn fealty to his father upon receiving his military commission. Aragorn lifted him to his feet after he finished speaking, and once Faramir had sheathed his sword, he grasped Faramir's arm in a warrior's clasp, his grey eyes shining and merry. Days later, Aragorn had elevated Faramir from servant of royalty to royalty himself, and he had never in his life felt more blessed or honored, save when Éowyn had agreed to marry him.

But now... Faramir's eyes closed as the memory of joy and pride was replaced by shame. He was a disappointment -- a battle-weary former warrior unable to control his mind's misery.

He started a bit as the door opened, and his heart surged with regret as Aragorn entered.

"Good morning, my friend," Aragorn said warmly. "How fare you today?" He pulled a chair to the bedside and sat, taking Faramir's wrist in one hand while pressing the other against his forehead.

"I am well, my lord," Faramir said, his voice unconvincing even to himself.

"Indeed," Aragorn replied wryly, pressing Faramir's hand gently as he released his wrist. "Your feverishness seems to have abated, but I imagine you are weary. Is that not so?"

"My lord, why are you here?" he asked. "Surely you could have sent for a healer from the Houses..."

"But I am a healer, my lord Prince," he said, echoing Faramir's formality in a slightly amused tone. "And I am also the King, which is a fortunate happenstance when dealing with particularly stubborn patients." He studied Faramir pointedly. "I am also most circumspect when treating patients who would not have word of any infirmity, temporary though it might be, become common knowledge."

That had not occurred to Faramir. "I thank you for that... my lord... Aragorn," he corrected.

Aragorn inclined his head slightly in acknowledgment. "I know of your dreams," he said. Faramir was not surprised, though he did not know how Aragorn had learned of them. "Why did you not tell me of this, Faramir? At the least, I might have helped you sleep."

"You are the King," he said. "You bear too many burdens. As Steward, I am supposed to help you bear them, not add my own."

"Are we not friends as well as liege and vassal?" Faramir blinked at Aragorn's sad tone. "I had hoped we were."

"Of course, and I value your friendship dearly," Faramir said, with a new understanding of just how true that was.

Aragorn sighed. "Then if we are friends, Faramir, I would have you trust me as you would a friend, and ask when you need aid."

"I regret that I did not."

"Do not regret," he said. "But do let me help you." Aragorn told him then of Éowyn's confidence to Arwen, and what had followed, along with his plan to seek help in Lothlórien. Faramir agreed, feeling hope in his heart that a way might be found to end the nightmares' torment.

"Lothlórien," Faramir murmured. "You might as well tell me we are going to Doriath, or Gondolin."

Aragorn laughed then. "Would that we could, my friend, would that we could."

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