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A Time to Reap
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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15
Something wicked this way comes

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

By the pricking of my thumbs,

Something wicked this way comes. - Shakespeare – Macbeth Act 4.1

With special thanks to Raksha for all her help. Many off the events in this chapter were initially her ideas, which were far too good not to use.

Warning – This chapter contains angst.


~~~

Faramir waited, listening to the almost musical sound the breeze rippling through the tall grasses, all the while watching the King. The Steward continued idly playing with the grasses. He plucked some rye grass, fondly remembering tickling his sleeping brother's feet on the warm sands of Belfalas. Temptation reared its head again. This time, repressing the urge to laugh like an unruly child, Faramir tickled the King across his belly with a strand of meadow grass.

He was somewhat amazed at his own audacity. Not all that long ago, Faramir would have sooner poked a sleeping dragon than he would have dared to tickle the High King. Never in his wildest imaginings could he have thought to treat the Heir of Elendil with such familiarity.

This time, Aragorn did not open his eyes; but instead asked sleepily, ”Have the butterflies returned?”

“I have not seen any for a while,” Faramir replied truthfully, surprised that he had not been caught and laughingly rebuked for such childish behaviour. Unlike Denethor, the King was usually slow to anger and reserved the full force of his wrath for matters that deserved it.

Aragorn stretched his long limbs like a cat and then turned over, sprawling amongst the buttercups and clover.

Faramir plucked another stalk of fox-tailed grass and trawled it lazily between Aragorn's shoulder blades. Then, somewhat pleased with himself at having thrice bested his lord, he lay back satisfied. His eyelids grew heavy, too heavy for continued alertness. Even as he closed his eyes, Faramir felt again the sense of unease he had experienced earlier return. 'Twas hard to tell what there was to fear here, under the lovely warm sun by the bank of the placid river. He could hear the usual sounds of birdsong and insect, naught was amiss. He began to drowse, but became dimly aware of something tickling the back of his neck. When he put up his hand to investigate, there was nothing there. Aragorn still lay beside him with his eyes closed, obviously fast asleep. The Steward turned over, lying on his belly to shield his eyes from the sun. He soon fell fast asleep.

He awoke with a start to find himself being relentlessly tickled on the soles of his feet by a batch of cat-tails held in the firm hand of his sovereign.

“Why you...!” Faramir exclaimed, rolling over and pressing his feet against the ground to escape the merciless onslaught.

“This is most unjust!” the Steward complained, once he could catch his breath.

“I thought you wanted to play this game!” The King was thoroughly enjoying the absurdity of it all. Foolish and childish it might be, but he badly needed such light- hearted distraction and suspected Faramir did as well. The certainty that his courtiers would most likely faint with shock if they could but see their King and Steward frolicking like children, only served to add to his enjoyment.

With difficulty, Faramir broke free. He scrambled to his feet and snatched a handful of grass that he brandished with much menace as he advanced upon Aragorn.

“Then it is war?” Aragorn enquired with mock solemnity.

“Let battle commence. I give no quarter!” Faramir replied with equal feigned earnestness.

“The loser prepares our dinner tonight!” Aragorn retorted, snatching up a bunch of grasses.

Laughing they ducked and weaved and dodged in their mock dual.

Caught suddenly off balance, Aragorn flopped on the ground and lay on his back like a playful puppy, legs flaying in the air, his bunch of grass poised for a further onslaught.

When Faramir advanced, Aragorn involuntarily recoiled, remembering that terrible night in the cellar, when Faramir had wielded the brand upon his helpless flesh. He forced himself to relax, knowing that Faramir would never willingly harm him. That terrible night was long past now.

Faramir saw the King’s body tense. His eyes fastened on the livid scar disfiguring Aragorn’s shoulder and he froze. It was as if the Steward stood once more in Dervorin’s cellar, seeing the look of horror on his lord’s face when he had brought the brand down on his flesh.

Apart from the scar left by the brand, Aragorn's flesh was now healed. The features that had been contorted with agony were now crinkled with laughter.

It was too much for Faramir. He sank to his knees and broke down, sobbing wildly as if his heart would break.

The mock fight forgotten, Aragorn immediately came to his side. ”Faramir, whatever is the matter?” he asked, placing a comforting hand on his shoulder.

“Your scar!” Faramir sobbed brokenly, “What they did to you...what I did to you. To see you now… When I did it, I yearned to tell you the truth, but I could not! If I had let the traitor's mask slip, but for a moment, I could not have played that part again. I am sorry, so very sorry! I love you too much. I had to do it, even though it hurt you, or they would have slain me before I could free you. I could not lose you! I had to…I had to! ”

Aragorn finally understood. Everything Faramir had done was out of love and there had never been any thought of treason in his heart. “All is well now it is over!” Aragorn soothed, enfolding him in a comforting embrace. “Be at peace now, ion nîn. The traitors would have branded me with the mark of their hatred; Faramir, but you set it upon me out of love; a love so great and terrible it fills me with awe. I bless the hands that wounded me!” Impulsively, he grasped Faramir’s hands in his own, he raised them to his lips and reverently kissed them.

Faramir wept all the harder at this unexpected gesture.

“Only for love could you have dared hazard all, even your own soul, “ Aragorn continued, his own voice unsteady. “I see it all clearly now. I had allowed my pain and my pride to blind me. I never stopped loving you, but in my anguish I tried to push you away. I will not lose you again!” He crouched beside Faramir, trying to comfort him.

The King’s warm hands soothingly rubbed Faramir's back; reminding him how cold and maimed they had been but a few months since. These hands had only ever been used to give him comfort and healing. They had never struck a blow against him. His hands, the hands that Aragorn had just kissed, were a different matter altogether. He sobbed all the harder, the horror rising until he could hardly breathe.

Aragorn could feel his Steward's heart pounding against his ribs, frantic as a wild bird trapped in a cage. Wondering if it were the sight of the brand that had so upset Faramir, he released him for a moment to snatch up his shirt. He swiftly pulled it over his head.

The King was a great believer in the healing power of tears, having been taught thus by Mithrandir and Elrond. However, this measure of anguish could damage Faramir's health. He had not forgotten the damage to his Steward’s heart from the beatings Faramir had received in prison. Although Aragorn had believed him healed, he always feared that some lingering weakness could remain; ready to surface if his friend suffered too much distress. He pulled Faramir close, burying the younger man’s head against the soft fabric of his shirt and murmured soothing words in Sindarin. He gently massaged the back of the stricken man’s neck. “All is well,” he repeated over and over, “You are safe in my love, ion nîn, I will not let you go. All is well now. I am safe and alive, thanks to you.”

Faramir's hysterical sobs gave way to quieter weeping. He gradually calmed. Aragorn continued rubbing his neck with one hand, while keeping another arm around Faramir to support him and check his heartbeat. Aragorn frowned. That heartbeat was far too fast for his liking.

After some time had elapsed, Aragorn decided that words and gestures of comfort would not suffice. He needed some athelas to soothe Faramir’s spirit. He felt in his breeches pocket, where he usually carried some sprigs. To his dismay, he remembered that he had used the herb a few days ago and not replaced it. He had plenty left in his saddlebag, though. He had not even thought of using kingsfoil over the last few days. “Wait here,” he told Faramir, slowly rising to his feet, “I shall fetch some herbs to ease you.”

Left alone, Faramir felt dismayed at his own weakness. They had been so happy but a few moments before. Drained of strength by his outburst, he could hardly sit upright. He moved backwards to lean against the bank, which was hollowed out by the roots of the vast willow tree. Gradually he collected himself and his strength returned, though his heart still thumped wildly. Faramir glanced ruefully at his body: his breeches were covered in grass stains and dust, while his bare chest and arms looked even worse. He would need another swim just to get clean. Faramir stood up, shook his hair out to dislodge the bits of grass and dirt that clung to it, then kicked out his frustration against the riverbank. Little did he know that he was further annoying what lay behind the willow Slowly, he sat down again, and stretched out his legs.

Faramir felt a sudden sharp pain. He slumped forwards lifeless as a rag doll.

Just then, Aragorn reappeared clutching the kingsfoil. He wanted to use the athelas, which he had gathered, freshly at the lake. He had found it at the bottom of his healer’s bag, together with the niphredil flowers he was drying for Arwen.

A dark shape scuttled away in the undergrowth just as the King's cry of anguish rang out.

“Faramir, no!” he cried, rushing to his Steward's side and frantically feeling for a heartbeat. He found none, nor any other sign of life. This was too cruel! How could Faramir be snatched from him just as they were fully reconciled? His noble heart had cracked under the weight of his anguish. It was, as he had feared; Mahrod’s beating had finally claimed Faramir's life, by weakening his heart beyond repair.

Forcing himself to keep calm and remember his healer's training, Aragorn desperately fought to revive his Steward. All his efforts proved vain. Faramir remained lifeless, his skin a ghastly pallor while his eyes remained open and unseeing.

It was Aragorn’s turn now to weep, tears of such anguish that he felt his heart would most surely break under the weight of his loss. Through their Thought Bond, he had given Faramir part of his soul, which was about to be torn asunder as Faramir’s spirit drifted beyond the circles of the world. How could he return to tell Éowyn that her husband was no more, and that Elestelle was fatherless? Faramir had been as a beloved son to him. Not only that, but also a younger brother, wise counsellor and devoted friend. Why had he not appreciated it before and allowed bitterness to consume him? If they had been fully reconciled earlier, he would not have brought his most faithful of friends out here to die! He had thrown away the most priceless of jewels, never realising just how great his worth was until it was too late. This man had sacrificed everything for him, including his honour and reputation, the most priceless gifts he had to offer. He had given his all freely only to meet with his lord’s scorn and coldness.

Suddenly furious he shook the limp body and cried; “ Now you truly have betrayed me, Faramir! You, who should have lived a hundred years, not a mere forty! This hurts me far worse than any branding ever could!”

He stared upwards at the sky and shook his fist at the Powers that control human destiny. ”Why have you done this to me?” he demanded.” Why? Why must you take him to punish my pride and despair? If you desire a sacrifice, it is I you should take!”

Distraught with grief, yet finally accepting that he could not revive him, he lifted the Steward. He cradled him in his arms and placed a farewell kiss of blessing on his brow. His tears fell on Faramir’s face but could not wake him. Gently he closed the unseeing eyes.

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