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3
Air! Air! My heart is suffocating!

Chapter Three - Air! Air! My heart is suffocating!

These characters all belong to the estate of J.R.R. Tolkien. This story was written for pleasure and not for financial gain.

Luft! Luft!
Mir erstickt das Herz!
Öffne! Öffne dort weit!

(Air! Air! My heart is suffocating! Open! Open wide there!) - Wagner – Tristan und Isolde. Act 1,scene 1.

With grateful thanks to Raksha for all her help with this chapter.


~~~

“No, Faramir, no!” Aragorn cried, his hands flailing wildly at empty air.

“Estel, wake up!” In what had become an all too familiar ritual, Arwen rolled over to her husband’s side of the bed and attempted to rouse him. First she tried calling his name. Then she shook him, though gently. Only when it was apparent that neither of these methods would work, did she dip her fingers in the glass of water on the bedside table and sprinkle a few drops on her husband’s face.

“Whuh? Arwen? ” Aragorn awoke with a start and sat bolt upright, breathing heavily as if he had come straight from battle. The candle, which was now always kept burning throughout the night, starkly illuminated his haggard features.

“You were having a bad dream,” the Queen said quietly, gently stroking his sweat-drenched brow to soothe him.

“I am stifling, I need air!” Aragorn cried.

Arwen quickly moved off the bed and pattered over to the windows. Sighing, she pulled back the curtains and flung open the shutters. A faint, soft breeze wafted into the stuffy room.

Eldarion, roused by his father’s cries and sensing both parents’ distress, started to scream. Arwen lifted the sobbing child from his cradle, and then returned to the bed. With one arm she held her son against her, and wrapped the other around her husband. She could feel Aragorn’s slender body shaking slightly beneath the thin nightshirt he wore. “Hush now!” she soothed, not quite certain whether her husband or child were most in need of comfort.

“I am sorry, vanimelda,” Aragorn said contritely. He reached for the glass of water and drained it.

“Was it that dream again?” Arwen asked.

Aragorn nodded. ”It is always the same; one of the rebel lords is advancing towards me with either a knife or a branding iron; and then they turn into Faramir! I lie bound and helpless, powerless to resist. Somehow I break my bonds. I then draw Andúril; but instead of choosing to spare Faramir, I drive it through his heart! I then stand on the edge of a chasm, and you are holding my hand, keeping me from falling, but I stumble. Faramir, still impaled by my sword, crawls towards me and reaches out a ghostly hand. I cannot grasp it. I plunge into the abyss.” The King shuddered, the horror of the dream still lying heavily upon him.” I think I will change my nightshirt,” he sighed, sliding from her grasp. “I will send for some hot water to steep athelas.”

“You rely too much on the herb,” Arwen cautioned.

“It helps ease me,” Aragorn replied a trifle petulantly. “Maybe then I will get some sleep.”

“The servants need their rest too,” the Queen replied, offering the still howling Eldarion her breast. He had ceased to need feeding during the night several months ago, but she hoped the warm milk might soothe him back to sleep.

“Eldarion will have roused half the household by now!” Aragorn retorted, pulling on his robe and calling for hot water to be brought.

Arwen withheld her reply, then began singing a low, sweet lullaby to their son.

Moments later, Aragorn emerged from his bathing chamber, clad in a fresh nightshirt, and wiping his face with a towel. He took the steaming water from the sleepy-eyed servant at the door, then placed the bowl on the bedside table and steeped the leaves within it. The King’s tense features slowly relaxed as the sweet scent of the herb filled the chamber. He climbed back in bed beside his wife and son.

“It will take time for the nightmares to fade,” Arwen soothed, placing her free arm around him again. “Does your shoulder still pain you?”

“A little,” he answered tersely.

“Let me see; maybe I can ease it for you?” Arwen suggested.

“There is no need, it is not that painful tonight!”

“Why do you still dream about it, if that is so? Come, I would see it!” Releasing her grip on her husband, while still holding a now drowsy Eldarion, Arwen reached to light more candles, flooding the room with light.

Aragorn shook his head. ”No, I will not let my son see me thus! I am too ashamed. I would not give an innocent babe nightmares too!”

“Nonsense!” chided Arwen. “Eldarion is far too young to notice the scar and even if he did, it would scarce trouble him.” Nevertheless, she slid from the bed and carefully put the now sleeping Eldarion back into his cradle.” Your son should grow up familiar with your body; he needs to know whom he will grow up to resemble.”

“He must never see this scar!” Aragorn said adamantly. “It makes me less than a man! When the twins return, I shall ask them to either cut it out or brand something more fitting over the cursed mark, such as the winged crown or the White Tree!”

“Estel!” Arwen exclaimed in horror. ”You cannot! You must not! Why undergo such needless pain? Have you not suffered enough already?"

“I cannot go through life like this!” Aragorn retorted grimly. “Yes, I am weary of pain, but the brand is a humiliation past all endurance.”

"Then let me see it, Estel, please,” Arwen persisted in a quiet, firm voice he could not contradict.

Hesitantly, Aragorn unlaced his nightshirt, reluctant to allow his beautiful, flawless bride to look again upon such ugliness.

Arwen, determined to wait no longer, slid the garment from his shoulders, revealing the scar that so troubled her husband. It was some time since she had seen him thus. It had always been his custom to disrobe in his dressing room, and since his ordeal, he had been more eager than ever to conceal his body from her eyes. She bit back an involuntary cry of dismay at the sight of Aragorn's near naked body. His handsome form was still sadly wasted while the scar appeared angry and inflamed.

“Look!” he exclaimed bitterly, “This is the man you are now wed to, branded like a bullock ready for market! You were dealt a bad bargain indeed, when you renounced your immortality for such a poor stick of a man! If your brothers cannot heal me, there are none that can. How they must pity their sister, bound eternally to a maimed king!”

“Estel!” she chided, “I care nothing for outward appearances.” She traced slender fingers across his shoulders and down his chest, observing that the scar was cool to the touch despite its appearance. “I see only the shoulders that bravely bear the heaviest burden on Arda and the noblest heart that ever beat!” Sadly, she noted that he remained impassive to her touch, when once he would have quivered with desire. She bent to tenderly kiss the disfigurement.

“No!” Aragorn commanded, hastily pulling his nightshirt up to cover himself once more. “You must not sully your lips by letting them touch this mark of evil!”

“Are you sure it is evil?” Arwen queried. ”Might it not be a mark of love?”

“Love?” Aragorn snorted. “A strange kind of love indeed! More like hatred, betrayal, or cowardice!”

“You should not blame Faramir,” Arwen rebuked gently. “Had he not done this, you would never have escaped. I would, by far, rather have you scarred than dead. It was I who told him to do anything to save you, whatever the cost!”

“How can I not blame Faramir, when every day I have to live with the consequences of his actions?” Aragorn responded bitterly. “I have let him return to the City as you begged. I have even allowed him to eat at my table! He knows by my actions that he has my forgiveness. How much more I am expected to do for the man? Must I invite him to sleep beside me, share my thoughts, or perhaps lavish more Elven treatments upon him?”

“That might do you both good,” Arwen said calmly.

“I think not!” Aragorn snapped.

“Time will bring peace to you both; yet, only when you allow it to, shall this wound be healed,” Arwen pronounced cryptically.

“I do not understand you.” Aragorn sounded bewildered.

“You forgive Faramir with your lips, but not with your heart!” Arwen replied.

Aragorn opened his mouth to protest but his wife silenced him.

“If your nightmares did not reveal it, it was all too plain to see at dinner tonight and afterwards. If you truly have forgiven him, why do you deny him your kiss?”

“He does not want it!” Aragorn protested. “He shuns my touch.”

“As you shun his. You fear to touch lest you see in each other’s hearts,” she replied. “You are both hurting too much.”

“There is much that he did he refuses to explain. My memory was clouded during those dark days. I do not even know all that happened to me at his hands!” Aragorn said vehemently. “I do know, though, it was Faramir who branded me and caused me pain!”

“And at what cost to Faramir's own soul? A terrible cost, I fear. I wish I could have spared so bright and pure a soul the darkness to which I doomed him. But there was no other who could have gone willingly into that treasonous web and brought you out alive. But none could have foreseen: just how dark Faramir's path would be.” Arwen blew out all but one of the candles, then lay down and lovingly drew Aragorn into her arms.

“Does Gondor even want a king?“ Aragorn mused. “They survived under the rule of the Stewards for almost a thousand years. Faramir's own father thought me unworthy of my ancestors’ throne. Imrahil told me about the celebration the Steward’s heir threw upon Thorongil’s leaving. Denethor had never before appeared so overjoyed, not even at his wedding feast. It was the talk of the Court for weeks on end: the lavish refreshments and skilled musicians. Denethor was laughing and telling his guests to rejoice! Officially, he was celebrating the defeat of the Corsairs, but he made little attempt to disguise the true reason for his joy.”

“Yet, I heard that everyone, save Denethor alone, were grieved by Thorongil’s departure. Faramir eagerly awaited your coming, and he is wiser by far than his father ever was,” Arwen reminded him. “Your people love you, far more than they ever loved Denethor.”

Aragorn nuzzled against her hair. "I used to dream of becoming king. I even dreamed of Faramir handing the White Rod to me. At first, I only wanted the throne to win your hand. As the long years passed, I wanted it for myself, to give my people a better life by reuniting Arnor and Gondor. I expected years of resistance from the South and East. Never did I believe that my own people would strike against me, and not only once, but twice within one year! Was I too harsh a lord or too lenient a one? I have had to disband half my council! If only Gandalf, or your father, were still here to advise me! The crown is indeed a heavy weight to bear!”

“You will find your own way, Estel and become the greatest of kings!” Arwen reassured him, kissing him tenderly.

“I love you, so much, my Evenstar. Whatever would I do without you?” Aragorn whispered. Relaxing into her tender embrace, his head buried in her silken hair, Aragorn was finally granted a few hours of the restful sleep he desperately needed.

However, he awoke again just before dawn, finding the air in the chamber oppressive. Taking care not to disturb his wife or son, he slid from the bed and putting on his robe, went out on the balcony, where brooding, he paced until the sun rose and he heard Arwen calling him.

While her husband was bathing, Arwen gave Eldarion into the care of his nurse, then made what had become a familiar visit to the Royal Library to consult her father’s books. The Queen had frequently consulted the volumes on healing, ever since their return to Minas Tirith, reading the same passages over and over, as she sought some knowledge that might help her husband. They gave her little solace. And some of the old writings stabbed fear into her heart.

‘When two who were Thought Bonded become estranged through sorrowful misunderstanding, the souls can sometimes suffer so much damage that both might fade.’ The passage applied to Elves rather than Men, but looking at both Aragorn and Faramir now, especially after last night, she feared greatly that it indeed applied to both.

Turning the page, she perused the suggested remedies. ’Three nights confined together, sealed in a cave might promote a reconciliation,’ she read. That was certainly not a suitable treatment for anyone as fearful of enclosed spaces as Estel had become. ’Wrestling together, preferably naked, will overcome most rifts, ’ the book continued. Arwen hardly knew whether to laugh or cry, at the unlikelihood of two extremely shy Men ever agreeing to such a thing. She turned the page again. ’ The Elven Healing Touch promotes reconciliation and soothes both mind and body,’ the book advised. Foolish advice indeed for two who seemed unable to even clasp hands!

Arwen had to restrain herself from hurling the fragile old text across the room.

Sighing, she picked up another book, a history of the Kings of the Edain, from Elros Tar-Minyatur of Númenor, her father’s beloved brother, to Eärnur, the last King of Gondor. She flicked through it idly, wondering why she had grasped a history instead of another text about healing. She was about to close it and return it to its place, when a passage caught her eye. ’In days past,’ she read with mounting excitement, ‘it was the tradition for the King to go alone to the Hallow upon the Mountain and offer thanks and praise to the One on behalf of his people and seek renewal of his own strength by so doing. Long has this tradition fallen into abeyance but it is foretold that the lineal priest kings (of whom Lúthien the Fair was a foremother) will be restored and the worship of the One renewed.’

Eyes aglow, Arwen closed the book. At last, she had an idea.

TBC

~~~

A/N. The final passage is a direct quote from one of Tolkien’s letters.



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