Faramir was roused abruptly from a deep slumber by the King’s cries of distress. The lamp had gone out, leaving the hut was in almost complete darkness. A blow landed on his face. He yelped in pain, groping in the darkness for Aragorn’s hands in order to restrain him.
“Wake up, mellon nîn!” the Steward called urgently.
“No, no!” Aragorn cried. “Release me! No more!”
Faramir narrowly dodged another blow as Aragorn became increasingly agitated. Not only was he concerned for his friend’s distress, but also his dignity, fearing that he would be subjected to the curious stares of half the village if he continued to cry out.
“Faramir, no, no!” Aragorn screamed.
“Come, wake up!” Faramir placed his hand over Aragorn’s mouth, fearful the whole village would not only be roused, but soon know their true identities too. Aragorn’s shouts subsided to dull whimpers, but he continued to lash out wildly. Abandoning his attempts at grasping the flailing arms, Faramir braved the blows and aimed to grip his lord’s shoulders. Finally, he managed to shake him awake, sustaining a blow to the nose as he did so.
Aragorn woke with a start. Faramir could feel the King's thin body shaking beneath his hands, even through two layers of clothing. By now, his keen eyesight, honed from years as a Ranger, had made out a faint chink of light, which must be the doorway. “Come on!” he said. Throwing the blanket round him, he half dragged, half carried the King outside.
“What do you think you are doing?” Thoron asked suspiciously, emerging from the shadows.
“My father needs some air,” Faramir told him. To his relief, the countryside was bathed in bright moonlight. The air was chill and fresh after the stuffy confinement of the hut.
“You drunken city dwellers might think it well to rouse hard-working farmers from their beds, but that is not the way things are done here!” Thoron said angrily. “The pair of you deserve a beating! And who is Faramir, other than the Steward who got away with treason?”
Faramir struggled for an answer that was not a lie. "My father fought in the war, and saw many terrible things, including the dark things that hunted the Steward. He has evil dreams sometimes.”
“My father died in the war alongside our good Lord Forlong,” said Thoron sourly. “I do not spend my nights waking weary men from their sleep!”
“Peace Thoron!” Borlach arrived on the scene, carrying a lantern. “Go to bed now, I will take the next watch.”
“What are you going to do about these drunkards?” the young man demanded.
“That is for me to decide,” said the old man. “I do not think they consumed any more wine than the rest of us. I seem to recall that you drank far more than they did at supper. Now go; your mother and sisters might be alarmed by the shouting and have need of you.”
Thoron scowled and departed without another word.
“He is a troubled young man,” said Borlach. “Since his father died he has had to support his family, and has little time for the joyful celebrations shared by some of the other young fellows. I think he resents sons who have fathers to love and teach them.”
“I am sorry for the trouble we caused,” said Faramir looking anxiously at Aragorn. The King had not spoken and looked pale and drawn.
“So many of the men who fought against Sauron have nightmares that we are accustomed to it,” said Borlach. ”I suggest the pair of you try to get some rest, you will have another hard day’s work ahead of you.”
“We will stay outside,” said Faramir. ”My father needs air.”
“Please yourselves, at the least the rain clouds seem to have blown over. I will leave you now. Rest easy!” With those words, the old man turned to patrol the huts at the far side of the village.
Faramir shepherded Aragorn to a log near the embers of the fire they had sat round several hours before and tucked the blanket round him. He then settled himself beside him, with a comforting arm around Aragorn’s still trembling shoulders.
“You were dreaming. Peace, all is well now! The lamp went out, which I expect caused the nightmare.”
“You were there!” Aragorn shivered even more violently. “Pain, so much pain!”
Faramir shuddered inwardly, wondering if Aragorn were doomed to dream of that dreadful moment when he had branded him for the rest of his days. “I am sorry,” he said quietly, “You understand now, do you not, that I had no choice and it almost broke my heart?”
“Yes, I do, but that was not what I dreamed,” Aragorn replied. “You tried to save me and the rebels had captured you. I was beaten, then chained up forced to watch them torture you. It was horrible, I could not stop them!”
“It was but an evil dream,” Faramir soothed. “We are both safe and free. Just look at the stars, how beautiful and peaceful they are!” He tucked the blanket more closely round the distressed King, whose breath came in ragged gasps, and held him more tightly.
Aragorn looked up and sighed, suddenly coming fully to his senses. “You must think me very foolish,” he said, “I must still fear confinement in a strange, dark place, even among kindly people."
“There is nothing to feel ashamed about. It takes time to recover from an ordeal like you suffered, as a healer; you should know that, as you have told me many times! We should never have slept in that hut. It was far too like the cellar. Little wonder you were upset!” Faramir replied. “Let me rub your back again for you. Maybe I can ease it?”
Tasariel suddenly emerged from one of the nearby huts, clutching two mugs of steaming tea. “You both look in need of a drink,” she said matter of factly. “Drink up! I’ve added some horsetail and valerian to Master Morrandir’s drink to ease him.”
“Thank you; please forgive our having disturbed you,” Aragorn said contritely.
“Don’t worry about it!” replied Tasariel cheerfully. “My brother was just the same. A raiding party of Orcs captured him. He only survived to come home to us as a group of villagers saw him taken and pursued them. When the dark dreams came upon him, we could only sit and hold him, and give him some of my tea. He is much better now, though and the evil dreams rarely trouble him these days. Was your Ada captured?”
“Yes, Ara-um-Ada was captured by evil men,” Faramir said, gratefully sipping his drink.
“That is even worse!” Tasariel exclaimed. “Orcs now, they can’t help their foul ways, but Men should know better!”
“They should indeed,” Faramir replied sadly.
“I say we’ve nought to worry about now the King has returned,” the woman said confidently. “We can all sleep safe in our beds now! I had better go before my men folk miss me and cause a commotion. You can leave your mugs here by the log when you’ve finished your drink.” She turned and went back to her hut.
Faramir set his mug aside and started to gently rub Aragorn’s shoulders. The King sighed gratefully, but Faramir could still feel him shaking slightly. “Is the pain very bad?” the Steward asked sympathetically.
“I have known far worse,” Aragorn said.
“Your heart is sorely troubled, I can sense it,” Faramir said quietly.
Aragorn took a deep breath. “I had never been so afraid,” he said at last, somewhat hesitantly. “The dream brought it all back, the cellar, the torture, the pain, and worst of all, the fear I would not be strong enough to withstand them.”
“But you did,” Faramir said, continuing his ministrations. “You protected your wife and son. No man could have been braver.”
“I feared. I feared that… No, I cannot speak of it!”
“Maybe it would help if you did,” Faramir said gently. “I think I understand.”
Aragorn swallowed a mouthful of tea then swallowed hard. ”Yes, I believe you do, after what Mahrod would have subjected you to,” he said at last. “I feared that what they might do to me would cause me to have betrayed my vows to Arwen. I have kept myself for her, and her alone my life long. To break that vow, however unwillingly would destroy us both! I know all too well what Hanna wanted!”
“I know,” Faramir said grimly, shuddering at the memories. “I was prepared to take your life rather than let them subject you to further humiliation and worse pain.”
“And I thank you for that, ion nîn.”
“They would have had me betray my Éowyn too,” Faramir confided. “Two vows I hold sacred, my marriage vow, and my vow of fealty. Rather would I die than break either oath!” His voice trembled slightly. “I am at least faithful to my wife.”
“Never were you more faithful than when you seemed faithless!” said Aragorn firmly. He took another sip of tea and managed a faint smile at his Steward.
“Sleeping inside a darkened, strange place brings back too many painful memories for you,” said Faramir after a moment’s thought. He hesitated, and then reaching a decision, said firmly. “We should tell them who we are, and send some men from Minas Tirith to help them instead. I know you seek to protect me, but I will not have you risking your health on my behalf!”
“Nor would I have your reputation damaged!” Aragorn replied with equal firmness. “I have wronged you, and this is my chance to make amends. Do not deny it me. Do not forget that I made yet another vow, one to protect you. A vow I have shamefully neglected, and almost broken.”
Faramir knew that when his lord used that tone of voice he would not be dissuaded. “I would beg to differ,” he said resignedly.
They finished their tea in companionable silence, both comforted by the warm, soothing liquid. “We had better go back inside,” Aragorn said reluctantly, putting his empty mug on the ground. “I must face my fears.”
“What point is there in tormenting yourself?” Faramir asked. “Just how often do you sleep in a pitch black hovel? We are both likely to have nightmares for a time, but they will pass,” the Steward said firmly. “So let us sleep comfortably under that tree over there. I am not going back in that stuffy hut for what time is left before dawn! I will just fetch our cloaks.”
Aragorn raised no further objections. A sudden thought struck him: the dream had been different this time. Instead of trying to escape from Faramir, he had been trying to escape from torment with him. It seemed that he was healing and beginning to come to terms with his ordeal at last.
Faramir reappeared with their cloaks. They settled themselves under a large oak, huddled together under their cloaks and the blanket. Aragorn still found it hard to settle, as not only was he haunted by dark images, but also his stiff shoulders throbbed painfully. Faramir draped a protective arm around him, while his other hand rested on his sword hilt. “Sleep, ada nîn, I will not let any harm come to you. We are quite safe here,” he soothed. “Look up at the stars, Elbereth will grant us her protection from all dangers tonight.” He tucked the blanket snugly around the King and huddled closer to reassure him of his continued presence at his side.
The hot summer days in Gondor were often followed by chill nights and this was no exception, the hazy heat of the day having given way to a clear crisp night. Exhausted from the day’s labours and comforted by the presence of his friend beside him, Aragorn eventually fell asleep, soon followed by Faramir.
This time, they slept dreamlessly until awakened all too soon by the cock crowing to herald the dawn. Aragorn groaned as he tried to sit up. “My shoulders, my back!” he exclaimed. “I did not know that I had so many muscles!”
“I thought healers knew the name and location of every muscle?” Faramir teased, though he looked troubled.
“I know the names, but not that they could be so painful!” Aragorn retorted.
“Let us return to the hut so I can apply more of Tasariel’s salve, “ said Faramir, helping his King to his feet. “Come, I will assist you.”
“You are lucky to have such a devoted son!” Beleg said, approaching them. “The stiffness will pass once you start working. Everyone is like you to begin with, even the skilled labourers. My wife will provide breakfast for you.”
“This worse than fighting Orcs!” Aragorn lamented, as soon as they were in the privacy of the hut. “I was never this stiff the next day!”
“Let me see what I can do for you!” said Faramir, helping Aragorn remove his shirt before crouching beside him and starting to rub the salve into the King’s back and shoulders.”
”Ouch!” was the only reply he received.
“I warned you last night that I have neither skills nor experience!” Faramir retorted good-naturedly. “Just try to keep still!” He tried his uttermost to be gentle. Aragorn found his stiffness was much eased by the time he was finished.
“I will make a healer of you yet!” Aragorn informed him, turning his head to look at him and putting on his shirt. “I am sure Éowyn and Elestelle will appreciate your new found skills!” He was only just dressed in time as Tasariel poked her head around the door to announce that breakfast was served.
“Thank you, Mistress,” Faramir replied, rising to his feet. ”We are coming now.”
“You have not had your turn yet! I am not letting you escape so easily!” Aragorn said as soon as she had gone.
Faramir groaned, albeit half heartedly, as he made to remove his own shirt. “What a pair we make!” the Steward commented ruefully.
“We would frighten them if they saw us without our shirts!” Aragorn agreed.
“I grieve that I left you scarred for life,” Faramir said miserably. "I would cut off the hand that branded you if it could heal you, my lord."
“It matters not. Arwen is untroubled and so am I.” To his surprise, Aragorn realised he was not just saying the words to comfort his friend, but that he truly meant them. He thought for a moment and then said. “I have come to see the brand not as a mark of shame and pain, but rather a mark of love that I am privileged to bear.”
”You do?” Faramir was astonished.
“Yes, when I look upon the scar now, I see it as something to treasure as a symbol of your devotion to me. How many are so blessed to have a friend who will risk all that they hold most dear to save them?” He kissed Faramir on the brow as he spoke.
“I would do it again, but may the Valar protect me from seeing such a day once more!” Faramir said, almost too overwhelmed to speak.