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58
Song of Hope

Song of Hope by Linda Hoyland

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

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

For Julia, a birthday gift.

With grateful thanks to Pandemonium

Prologue -Lord of Gifts

"You are the Elven-smith?"

Fingal looked up from the tapestry depicting the Valar in majestic splendour that he had been studying, to observe the speaker.

The man had features of dazzling beauty fairer than any maiden that he had beheld. Such beauty was both compelling and deeply unsettling. Annatar smiled, but the smile did not reach his eyes.

"My master Celebrimbor, told me that you had need of my skills, Lord Annatar," said Fingal. He bowed low.

"Your master is skilled in making rings," said Annatar. "He told me that your skills surpass his in the crafting of weapons."

"So I have been told, lord."

"I desire you fashion daggers for me," said Annatar. "Not mere weapons, but blades of great beauty, pleasing to the eye; weapons that no man could resist; gifts fit for princes or kings of men. Daggers that would please the Valar themselves, such as Aul├ź might have crafted!"

"I shall do my utmost to give satisfaction, lord. I will begin the work on the morrow. The Elven- smith bowed low and took his leave.

000

Fingal had just poured the molten metal into the moulds the next day when he had an unexpected visitor.

"I came to see how the work was progressing, my friend," said Annatar. He dazzled the smith with another smile then drew his hand across his brow. "I had forgotten just how hot a forge can be. Could you fetch me some water?"

Fingal hurried off. As soon as he had gone, Annatar took his daggerfrom its sheath and cut his hand, letting a few drops of blood fall into each mould of molten metal. He whispered a charm in the Black Speech "No man can behold and resist the desire, once he touches it, he is both destroyer and destroyed! The mightier the man, the mightier the magic." The spell spoken, he spoke another charm and the cut on his hand immediately closed over. When Fingal returned, he found his guest studying some weapons that hung on the wall on the opposite side of the forge from the furnace.

Annatar felt well content as Fingal showed him designs for the finished weapons. He had already drawn many to his service with his gifts, now he could ensnare yet more men with weapons they could not resist. He would leave them too where leaders of Men might find them, thus would their resistance crumble. Annatar laughed. Men were weak and corrupt. Once he had persuaded the Elven- smiths to create sufficient Rings of Power and bespelled weapons, he would have mighty armies at his call and he would rule supreme until Arda was remade.


Canst thou not minister to a mind diseased,
Pluck from the memory a rooted sorrow,
Raze out the written troubles of the brain,
And with some sweet oblivious antidote
Cleanse the stuff'd bosom of that perilous stuff
Which weighs upon the heart?- Shakespeare- Macbeth- Act 5.scene. 3

"This reminds me of my Ranger days," said Aragorn as he reached up to pluck another rosy apple from the tree.

´┐Żowyn looked puzzled. "I thought you spent your time fighting Orcs and guarding the Shire?"

"I did, but every man, woman and child helped with the apple harvest in the Ranger villages," said the King. "Always we had to watch our backs, though." He looked around him and smiled contentedly. ´┐Żowyn's apple trees were laden with ripe fruit and her household, together with her guests were lending a hand with the harvest. Eldarion and Elestelle were picking up windfalls while Arwen helped pack the fruit neatly into wooden boxes. Only baby Elboron was excused from the day's labour. He slumbered on a blanket in the shade, watched over by a nursemaid.

"Faramir will be so sorry that he wasn't here this afternoon," said ´┐Żowyn. "He was so eager to inspect the work at Minas Ithil. He is hoping that some rebuilding might start in the spring. I fear he works too hard sometimes"

"He does indeed, "Aragorn replied. "I tell him often that he should rest more. He was not to know that my meeting was cancelled and that we were coming today, though. I hope our early arrival did not inconvenience you?"

Indeed not," said ´┐Żowyn. "Our best guest chamber is always ready for you and Arwen." She laughed. "And you are working hard for your keep!"

Just then, a dishevelled member of the White Company rushed into the orchard. "Lady ´┐Żowyn!" he cried. "Come quickly. Lord Faramir has been taken ill!"

´┐Żowyn paled but quickly collected herself. "What happened?" she asked.

"I don't know, my lady. They are bringing him indoors now."

"Ada is home?" asked Elestelle excitedly.

"Yes, dear one, but he is not feeling well," ´┐Żowyn replied. "You will see him later when he is rested."

Aragorn had hastened to ´┐Żowyn's side. "Has he been wounded?" he asked the messenger.

"I don't think so, sire. He collapsed suddenly and we could not rouse him."

Aragorn ran towards the house followed by ´┐Żowyn, who was somewhat hampered by her heavy skirts.

Mistress Elwen, the elderly housekeeper stood in the doorway wringing her hands. "I told them to take Lord Faramir to the downstairs guest chamber," she said. "Captain Beregond is with him."

Faramir lay motionless on the bed, his face as white as ´┐Żowyn's favourite gown. Aragorn laid a hand on his brow. It felt cold and clammy. "What happened?" he demanded of Beregond, who hovered at the bedside.

"We found a chest in a ruined building. Lord Faramir opened it. Within it were several daggers of rich and ancient design. Lord Faramir picked one up and it melted clean away in his hand leaving only the hilt. He gave a cry and fell into a deep swoon from which we could not rouse him."

"Was he wearing gloves?" Aragorn enquired.

"No, my lord; the day is too warm."

"Did anyone else touch the daggers?"

"One of the recruits did, sire. He felt faint and cold but recovered within a few minutes once we took him out into the sunlight. He has returned with Lord Faramir."

"I will speak to him later. Do you have the hilt?"

"No, sire. We left the accursed object where it had fallen, fearing some dark magic!"

"What ails my husband?" ´┐Żowyn asked impatiently, fear in her eyes. She had gripped Faramir's cold hand with one of her own. With her other hand she stroked his face. "Is it..?"

Aragorn looked grave. "I cannot be certain until I have examined him properly, but I fear it is the Black Breath!"

"I thought the Dark Lord's powers died with him?" Beregond remarked.

"Mostly they did," said Aragorn. "Faramir, though, fell victim to the Black Breath when Sauron's power was at its strongest. I believe touching an enemy weapon has caused a relapse in him. It would have little effect on your young colleague as he has not been exposed to it before."

"No!" ´┐Żowyn looked as if she were about to burst into tears.

"I need athelas and hot water," Aragorn said firmly. "Could you get some for me, please? You have athelas in the herb garden? If not, there is some in my pack. "

´┐Żowyn hurried away to do his bidding.

"Beregond, will you help me undress Lord Faramir and put him to bed, please?"

"Yes, my lord." Beregond was already unbuckling Faramir's sword and dagger. He placed the dagger on the dressing table and propped the sword in a corner.

They swiftly undressed Faramir. Aragorn thoroughly examined him and was relieved that Faramir had no wounds on him or unusual marks of any kind. He was still troubled, though. For a man to have experienced a relapse after having suffered so badly from the Black Breath in the past was a serious matter. Faramir's symptoms now were far more typical of the condition than the fever he had suffered when Aragorn first met him, but this worried the King. Fever at least showed that the sufferer was fighting the affliction. Granted, Merry had survived two brushes with the deadly condition, but Hobbits were far more resilient to dark magic than the strongest of Men. Faramir's skin was icy to the touch and his heart beat too slowly. With Beregond's help, he dressed Faramir in a nightshirt and covered him in warm blankets.

Just then, ´┐Żowyn bustled in with a handful of freshly gathered athelas from her herb garden. She was closely followed by Mistress Elwen bearing a bowl of steaming water.

"It is indeed the Black Breath, I fear, my lady," said Aragorn. "Be of good cheer, though, the athelas should swiftly revive him".

Thus saying, he took two leaves and breathed on them, then crumbled them and cast them into the bowl of water. At once, a living freshness filled the room.

Aragorn placed one hand on Faramir's brow and with the other clasped the Steward's right hand. He was overwhelmed by a sensation of coldness and despair and anticipated a struggle to revive the unconscious man. Much to his surprise, Faramir almost immediately opened his eyes. He looked somewhat dazed. "I had such dark dreams," he said, "they have left me sore weary." With that, he closed his eyes again and fell asleep.

´┐Żowyn sighed with relief. "Thank you, my friend," she said. "With rest my husband should swiftly recover."

Aragorn studied the sleeping man. Faramir was still too pale for his liking but he was breathing deeply and his pulse was much stronger. "I will stay with him for a while," he said.

"There is surely no need, Aragorn," said ´┐Żowyn. "I will stay by my husband. You should re-join your lady and your son in the orchard. It is too fine a day to be indoors. Maybe you would reassure Elestelle?"

"Very well, but call me at once if you need me. I will speak to the boy who was affected first, though." With a final glance at his sleeping Steward, Aragorn asked a servant to send the recruit to him.

Aragorn interviewed the lad in Faramir's study. He was a lanky young fellow with a pleasant open countenance, which was currently clouded by an anxious frown. Although Aragorn had never met him before, he looked vaguely familiar

"What is your name?" he asked.

"Turgon, my lord," the boy replied, shuffling his feet nervously. I was named for my grandsire who was a soldier too. I serve in the White Company under Captain Beregond."

"Sit down, Turgon, there is nothing to fear." Aragorn smiled at the boy. He recalled several men called Turgon from his time as Captain Thorongil. Maybe this lad was the grandson of one of them? "I believe you were there when Lord Faramir was taken ill. Did you touch the daggers too?"

"I did. I'm sorry, sire, I didn't mean any harm."

"I am certain you did not. I would just like to know exactly what befell."

"We were clearing away some rubble in the corner of a ruined building, sire, and found an old chest beneath it with strange emblems carved upon the lid. One of the men called for Lord Faramir, thinking he ought to know. He came at once and opened the chest, which wasn't locked. Inside were three large daggers with curved blades, which gleamed strangely. The hilts were ornate and set with many gems. Lord Faramir exclaimed that they must be of great antiquity. He reached out to take one and I did the same, I don't know why, sire, I only planned to look, but it seemed to compel me."

Aragorn smiled grimly. "A trap set by the Enemy."

"I felt a shudder go through me and I felt sick and faint and overwhelmed by despair. It were as if my parents had died, my sweetheart left me for another, my comrades were all slain, and Gondor was overrun by enemies all at the same time! Lord Faramir gave a cry and swooned a moment later. One of my fellows led me outside into the sunlight. I was very cold, but then I felt better, as if nothing had happened, but poor Lord Faramir was unconscious. I was so afraid, sire." The boy coloured and shifted uncomfortably in his seat.

"Far braver men than you quail at such dark magic, Turgon, even the greatest of the Age. Were you in Minas Tirith during the siege?"

"No, sire. I was but a small child then and went to Lossarnach with my mother and sisters when Lord Denethor ordered the evacuation."

"Which hand did you touch the dagger with, Turgon?"

"My left, sire, I favour that hand."

"Give me your hand, please"

Turgon held out his left hand. Aragorn took it in his own. It was warm and unblemished.

"It seems you have had a lucky escape, Turgon. However, if your hand feels cold, or you feel sad or have dark dreams these next few days, come to me. I can treat you with athelas."

"Thank you, sire. Will the athelas help Lord Faramir, sire?"

"He is already much better." Aragorn smiled at the boy. "Now let us go outside and gather apples. The sunlight and fresh air will be good for you."

000

"I had hoped that Faramir would join us for dinner, but he said he wished to rest," said ´┐Żowyn. "Mistress Elwen is sitting with him."

"He is missing a delicious meal," said the Queen as she tasted the soup made with tomatoes freshly picked from ´┐Żowyn's kitchen garden.

"I will see how Faramir fares before we retire for the night," said Aragorn.

The conversation turned to the subject of the apple harvest as the meal progressed. ´┐Żowyn's cook had surpassed herself with a selection of three different apple desserts.

"I thought we might have cider made from last year's harvest to end the meal," said ´┐Żowyn.

Just then, a loud cry came from the downstairs bedchamber. ´┐Żowyn and Aragorn leapt to their feet as a servant ran into the dining room calling, "My lord, my lady, Lord Faramir has lost his wits!"

Aragorn ran with the speed of a deer to the chamber that housed the Steward. ´┐Żowyn followed as best she could. A grim sight met his eyes. Beregond and Mistress Elwen were trying to wrest a dagger from Faramir. The front of the Steward's nightshirt was covered in blood.

"Give me the dagger, Faramir." Aragorn said firmly.

"Once my worthless heart ceases to beat!" cried Faramir.

"Whatever do you mean, ion nin?" said Aragorn.

"I should not even be your Steward, my brother alone was worthy. Thus said my lord father." Faramir regarded the King bleakly. "Why did you wrest me back from the shadow to face a life of torment?"

"Please, my husband, cease this madness,"said ´┐Żowyn.

"I am not the husband you desired. How can I compare with the King? You wed me only because he was betrothed to another!" Faramir brushed aside those attempting to restrain him and raised the blade aiming at his heart.

"Faramir, no!" ´┐Żowyn cried.

TBC.

A/n This story was written for the Teitho "Music" Contest where it was placed third.

Wishing all my readers in the USA a very Happy Thanksgiving.

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



With thanks to Virtuella.

For of the most High cometh healing. - The Bible Ecclesiasticus xxxviii. 2



´┐ŻYour King commands you to give him the weapon.´┐Ż Aragorn spoke in a tone more often heard in commanding troops or calling an unruly council to order.

Faramir hesitated for a moment before replying, ´┐ŻMy lord, I am sorry, I cannot.´┐Ż

´┐ŻLook over there!´┐Ż Aragorn cried. He pointed to the far corner of the chamber. While Faramir was momentarily distracted he lunged and grabbed the dagger from his Steward´┐Żs hand.

Faramir glared at Aragorn and looked longingly at the blade. ´┐ŻAgain you thwart, me, Elessar!´┐Ż he cried. ´┐ŻI curse you!´┐Ż

´┐Żowyn paled. ´┐ŻNo, Faramir. To speak thus is treason!´┐Ż

Aragorn gave no reaction to the outburst. ´┐ŻSit down, Faramir,´┐Ż he said calmly. ´┐ŻYou are not well.´┐Ż

´┐ŻNo! My life must end now.´┐Ż

Aragorn reached out and gripped Faramir´┐Żs arm. The Steward collapsed on the floor with a cry. The King cushioned his fall and sank to his knees, supporting the semi-conscious man.

´┐Żowyn knelt beside them, a troubled expression on her face.

Aragorn turned to face the crowd of curious servants who had gathered. ´┐ŻMistress Elwen, you bring me hot water,´┐Ż he said, ´┐Żthe rest of you return to your duties. Lord Faramir is not himself. Captain Beregond, take the dagger and stow it away safely, together with your lord´┐Żs sword.´┐Ż

The servants scuttled away, Beregond followed at a more sedate place

´┐ŻWhat´┐Żs happening to him?´┐Ż asked ´┐Żowyn.

Aragorn took Faramir´┐Żs hand, which was again deathly cold and felt his brow. Faramir´┐Żs teeth were chattering and he stared blankly ahead of him.

´┐ŻI fear this is another effect of the Black Breath,´┐Ż said Aragorn. ´┐ŻI have seen it take men this way before, driving out all that is good and hopeful from their hearts and filling them with despair. I should never have left him!´┐Ż

´┐ŻNor should I.´┐Ż said ´┐Żowyn. ´┐ŻBut tell me, my friend, will he recover?´┐Ż Her eyes were wide with fear. She laid a loving hand on her husband´┐Żs arm, but he recoiled from her touch.

´┐ŻI will use every art known to me to ensure that he does.´┐Ż Aragorn said firmly. ´┐ŻFirstly, we must get him warm and I must tend his wounds. Do you have any furs?´┐Ż

´┐ŻI have fur cloaks in my wardrobe,´┐Ż ´┐Żowyn replied. ´┐ŻShall I fetch them from my chamber?´┐Ż

´┐ŻPlease do, ´┐Żowyn.´┐Ż

´┐Żowyn hurried away. Aragorn looked up and became aware that Beregond hovered in the doorway.

´┐ŻHave you stowed the weapons away safely?´┐Ż Aragorn asked the Captain.

´┐ŻYes, my lord, and one of the guards is cleaning the dagger.´┐Ż

´┐ŻClose the door then and help me lift Lord Faramir on to the bed, please.´┐Ż

Together the two men accomplished their task. Aragorn then bade Beregond make up the fire. He pulled the blankets up to the Steward´┐Żs waist and removed the blood-spattered nightshirt. Faramir struggled feebly and seemed deaf to the soothing words of reassurance the King offered. As he had expected, he found several shallow cuts across Faramir´┐Żs chest. Aragorn had seen this before, men driven to despair who sought to take their own lives usually made a few tentative cuts before achieving their lethal purpose. He shuddered. He had come too close this night to losing his dearest friend and wisest counsellor. He pressed his ear against Faramir´┐Żs chest and found that his heart beat far too slowly while his skin felt like ice. He placed a hand on Faramir´┐Żs forehead, seeking to connect with his mind, but it was like trying to swim beneath dark and clouded waters full of ice, which he could not break.

Mistress Elwen knocked on the door. Beregond took the bowl of steaming water that she brought and placed in on the table beside Faramir´┐Żs bed. Aragorn crumbled some athelas leaves into the water.

´┐ŻTake deep breaths of the steam,´┐Ż he instructed his friend.

´┐ŻNo, no!´┐Ż Faramir cried. ´┐ŻIt sears, it burns!´┐Ż

Aragorn groaned inwardly. Faramir was obviously deep in the grip of some dark enchantment, which even the athelas seemed to have little power against. The herb had roused him from the deathly slumber, but a darkness lingered in the Steward´┐Żs mind, which threatened to destroy him body and soul. He dipped a cloth in the athelas mixture and began to cleanse Faramir´┐Żs wounds.

´┐ŻNo!´┐Ż Faramir protested. ´┐ŻThis worthless body must be utterly destroyed. Let me follow my father into the fire, which alone can cleanse the foulness!´┐Ż

´┐ŻI cannot let you bleed, son of my heart, nor permit your wounds to become infected while you are not yourself,´┐Ż Aragorn said firmly.

Faramir ceased struggling but seemed to withdraw even further in some dark corner of his tortured mind.

Aragorn tied the bandage; he took Faramir´┐Żs icy hands between his own and started to chafe them. Faramir, though, jerked away from his touch as if it burned him.

´┐Żowyn returned carrying an armful of furs. ´┐ŻHow is he?´┐Ż she asked.

´┐ŻHis wounds are slight, but his mind is clouded with darkness,´┐Ż Aragorn told her. He took the cloaks from her and wrapped them around Faramir, with the fur next to his skin. Instead of snuggling into the warm covers, though, the Steward seemed to recoil from them as he did from their touch.

Beregond threw more logs on the fire and discreetly withdrew.

The King moved to the foot of the bed and studied Faramir´┐Żs face. The Steward´┐Żs eyes were closed and he had his head turned away from both his lady and his lord. He seemed to be in the grip of some dreadful waking dream, which was destroying him. Aragorn tried to recall everything Master Elrond had ever taught him concerning the Black Breath. It seemed that a trace of the malady had lingered within Faramir´┐Żs spirit, which had been stirred by him touching the bespelled dagger. Aragorn knew he must find a way to reawaken Faramir´┐Żs soul to all the goodness and beauty within Arda and within his life. Warmth did not seem to be helping the Steward, neither did athelas, the most potent weapon known to healers against the deadly illness.

Faramir lifted his head a little and spoke. ´┐ŻGo, leave me, ´┐Żowyn,´┐Ż he said. ´┐ŻYou never truly loved me, now you will be free to wed one more worthy. And you, Elessar, I know you pitied me, which is why you offered me friendship and called me your son, while in your heart you secretly despised me!´┐Ż

´┐Żowyn began to weep quietly. Aragorn opened his mouth to remind Faramir that their shared Thought Bond could conceal no falsehoods He remained silent, though, knowing it was futile to try to reason with one whose mind was so disturbed. Just as futile as ´┐Żowyn´┐Żs tears. He knew he must find a way to save the one he loved as dearly as a son. Maybe a healing chant would help, but would it hold sufficient power?

´┐ŻEstel?´┐Ż Arwen´┐Żs voice called from outside the door.

´┐ŻCome in, my love.´┐Ż

The Queen entered her lovely eyes full of concern. ´┐ŻHow is Faramir?´┐Ż she asked. ´┐ŻBeregond told me he was not faring well.´┐Ż

Aragorn nodded sadly. ´┐ŻI was wondering if a healing chant might aid him,´┐Ż he said.

Arwen nodded. ´┐ŻIt might, but a healing song would have more power. Did not song create order out of nothingness at the beginning? But first, light candles to banish every shadow from the chamber.´┐Ż

Glad to be given a new sense of purpose, ´┐Żowyn bustled from the room in search of candles.

´┐ŻWe will together call upon Est´┐Ż,´┐Ż said Arwen. ´┐ŻI would not have our friend and Steward fall victim to the darkness.´┐Ż

´┐ŻHis mind is so clouded he might try to flee from the song,´┐Ż said Aragorn.

´┐ŻThen we shall lock the door and bid his loyal captain to return lest we need his help,´┐Ż said the Queen. She called Mistress Elwen to summon Beregond.

´┐Żowyn lit candles in every corner of the chamber until it resembled the Merethrond on a feast day. Beregond was bidden to stand by the bed and be watchful. Aragorn called for more hot water and steeped several leaves of athelas in it. The herb might not be working for Faramir, but it would raise his own spirits and strengthen his resolve.

Aragorn placed his hand on Faramir´┐Żs forehead and began with a simple prayer to Est´┐Ż, a chant rather than a song. Then Arwen joined in and began to weave a melody.

´┐Żowyn had little time for Elvish music, finding it insipid compared to the hearty songs of her homeland. The songs of the Rohirrim told of the great deeds of their ancestors or the beauty of their horses and the land where they roamed. Such songs fired the blood on a chilly night or made the farmer´┐Żs labours easier. Elvish songs seemed to have little purpose other than to sound sweet and while away the hours of the immortal singers. Usually ´┐Żowyn struggled to remain awake during them. This song though was different; it made the hairs on the back of her neck stand on end and every fibre of her being feel more alive. The song was both sweet and painful, sad and joyful, ancient yet new, and all at the same time as the King and Queen´┐Żs voices rose and fell in perfect harmony.

For a few moments, Faramir remained motionless and silent. Then suddenly he groaned and writhed as if in pain. He raised his hands and covered his ears with them. Aragorn gently but firmly prised them away. He grasped one cold hand in his own, all the while never pausing in his song. He gestured to ´┐Żowyn to take Faramir's other hand. Beregond remained alert in case it became needful to restrain the Steward.

The song continued; the words telling of the great deeds of the Valar and the beauties of the world they had created out of song. The melodies became ever sweeter and the harmonies more complex. Aragorn's deep resonant bass, mingled perfectly with Arwen´┐Żs high sweet soprano.

Faramir's eyes flickered open. For a few moments, his gaze darted wildly around the room before meeting Aragorn's kindly and concerned gaze. His writhing ceased and he breathed deeply of the athelas vapours, all the while listening to the song as if entranced.

At last, the voices died away, the final notes appearing almost to float in the evening air.

Faramir slowly sat up and studied the anxious faces surrounding him. ´┐ŻWhat happened?´┐Ż he asked. ´┐Ż´┐Żowyn? Aragorn?´┐Ż

´┐ŻWhat do you remember?´┐Ż asked Aragorn.

´┐ŻI was in Minas Ithil and we found an ancient chest. There were finely crafted daggers within of skilled and ancient design. I picked one up and was enveloped in a cold dark fog from which I could not escape until I heard the music. It was a foul place indeed, without light or hope. But how did I come to be here and where are my clothes?´┐Ż He belatedly noticed the Queen's presence and pulled the furs more closely about him.

´┐ŻIt is a long story,´┐Ż said Aragorn. ´┐ŻSuffice to say for now that Beregond brought you home from Minas Ithil and we sang to lead you back into the light.´┐Ż

´┐ŻI was lost and could not find you, father of my heart, nor could I find could ´┐Żowyn, nor my little ones, nor any of the happiness I have known these past years. Gondor herself was lost in darkness. It seemed as if all that was good was lost to me forever.´┐Ż

´┐ŻIt was but a trick caused by the Enemy´┐Żs dark arts,´┐Ż said Aragorn. ´┐ŻAll is well and as it should be.´┐Ż

´┐ŻHow do you feel now?´┐Ż asked ´┐Żowyn.

´┐ŻI am hungry and this room is far too hot!´┐Ż His features clouded again. ´┐ŻYoung Turgon touched the daggers too. How does he fare?´┐Ż

´┐ŻI am certain the cook will have some food for you,´┐Ż said ´┐Żowyn. She looked at her husband and then at the King and Queen and her heart swelled with love and gratitude. Fearing she might burst into tears, she hastened from the room.

´┐ŻTurgon is well, I have spoken with him. He has been picking apples all afternoon then ate a hearty supper,´┐Ż said Aragorn.

´┐ŻThe Valar be praised! That chest and its contents must be destroyed before any more unwary souls can fall victim to the dark magic.´┐Ż

´┐ŻA wise decision.´┐Ż

´┐ŻCan someone fetch me some clothes so I can get out of bed?´┐Ż Faramir asked.

´┐ŻI will go and ask your manservant to bring some,´┐Ż said Beregond.

´┐ŻI promised Eldarion I would tell him a bedtime story,´┐Ż said Arwen. ´┐ŻI will leave you with your patient, Estel.´┐Ż She left the room, closing the door behind her.

´┐ŻI feel perfectly well,´┐Ż Faramir protested as Aragorn felt his forehead and checked his heartbeat. He then noticed the bandages and stared at them in bewilderment. ´┐ŻI do not recall being wounded?´┐Ż

´┐ŻYou tried to hurt yourself with your dagger,´┐Ż Aragorn said gently. ´┐ŻYou suffered a recurrence of the Black Breath and were not yourself.´┐Ż

Faramir looked horrified. ´┐ŻI cut myself with my dagger? What else did I do and say?´┐Ż

´┐ŻNothing of any consequence,´┐Ż Aragorn said firmly. ´┐ŻThe Black Breath destroys all sense of hope and joy. It caused you to talk gibberish.´┐Ż

´┐ŻAm I doomed to be mad like my father, melancholy like my mother, and plagued with recurrences of the Black Breath?´┐Ż There was fear in Faramir's voice.

´┐ŻIndeed not, my friend.´┐Ż Aragorn shook his head. ´┐ŻYou have one of the greatest minds of this age. Unlike your father, you have fought the dread malady and triumphed. You also resisted the lure of the Ring, which takes the strongest of wills. As for your mother, it was the presence of the Enemy nearby and longing for the sea that lowered her spirits. She was joyous in her youth. I very much doubt you will ever suffer another relapse as long as you avoid bespelled weapons. You were enchanted with an ancient evil magic. However, I would like you to inhale athelas daily for a while and take some herbs I will prepare for you, just to make absolutely certain you are healed. Also, you must tell me at once if you feel melancholy or your soul is troubled in any way.´┐Ż

´┐ŻI must be a weakling as Turgon was unscathed,´┐Ż Faramir said sadly. ´┐ŻI will of course do as you say.´┐Ż

´┐ŻYou are no weakling. That young recruit had never encountered the Black Breath before. I also believe that the Enemy created his vile weapons to worst afflict the bravest and noblest of heart and mind.´┐Ż

Faramir sighed then his eyes lit up. ´┐ŻMy heart is full of thankfulness that you rescued me again from the darkness.´┐Ż

´┐ŻIt was my pleasure. I would not be without you, ion n´┐Żn.´┐Ż Aragorn smiled. ´┐ŻMy heart rejoices that I was able to heal you.´┐Ż

´┐ŻNever before have I heard so sweet a song,´┐Ż said Faramir. ´┐ŻCould even L´┐Żthien when she sang before Melkor have weaved such magic?´┐Ż

Aragorn laughed. ´┐ŻYou had better tell my lady that,´┐Ż he said. ´┐ŻShe is said to be as fair as L´┐Żthien so she might well share her gift for music too.´┐Ż

´┐ŻYou and your lady should sing together more often,´┐Ż said Faramir.

´┐Żowyn, together with Faramir´┐Żs manservant came back into the room, the latter carrying an armful of clothing.

´┐ŻYou and Arwen must sing the hymn to Yavanna at our harvest celebrations,´┐Ż said ´┐Żowyn. ´┐ŻSuch sweet music should be heard by all our folk here.´┐Ż

´┐ŻWe will, for there is much to thank Lady Yavanna for,´┐Ż said Aragorn. His eyes met ´┐Żowyn´┐Żs and they both looked towards Faramir. He smiled at them both, his world was full of hope and joy once more.

The quality of mercy is not strained.
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven- Shakespeare ľ The Merchant of Venice.

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

"I ought to be there when you destroy the daggers," said Faramir. Several days had elapsed since Faramir's collapse and the Steward appeared fully restored to his usual good health and spirits.

"I think not. You must stay within doors until the task is accomplished," Aragorn said firmly. "It could harm you to even come within the vicinity of such evil weapons again."

"I shall not let him out of my sight," said ╔owyn. "And I will cast the athelas leaves you prepared into hot water if Faramir shows any signs of distress."

"Farewell for a little while, then."

"May the Valar protect you!" said Faramir.

"And you, ion nţn."

Aragorn made his way to the smithy. At his command, everyone was within doors and the usually bustling courtyards were deserted. He was taking no chances and had insisted that Arwen and Eldarion return to the City. It was possible that the destruction the remaining enspelled dagger and the hilts might give off foul and poisonous vapours.

Only a furnace had sufficient heat to melt metal and Faramir and ╔owyn's smith had been stoking the fire all morning for the purpose. The King had ordered four young guards who had never been exposed to the Black Breath to bring the sealed chest from Minas Ithil. They now stood patiently waiting outside the forge, their eyes never leaving the plain wooden chest that they guarded.

The King instinctively recoiled from the blazing heat as he entered the smithy. The smith, a burly fellow, his sleeves rolled up to expose massive arms, hardly seemed aware of the temperature. "I have made the furnace as hot as I can, sire", he informed Aragorn.

"Thank you. Now go and take shelter in the stables while I perform my task."

"Are you sure, sire? I could cast a chest into the fire easy enough."

"I am certain that you could, friend, but you are not familiar with the weapons of the enemy and the arts the Dark Lord used."

"I'm very thankful that I'm not, sire. If you are certain I can't help you, I'll be going then."

"You will need your cloak out of doors."

" I suppose I will."

Aragorn waited while the smith took a garment of ancient appearance from a hook behind the door. He then called to the guards to bring the chest inside and dismissed them, ordering them to join the smith in the stables. They hesitated slightly, but obediently departed.

The King studied the wooden chest for a few moments. It looked so ordinary and harmless. Yet his keen senses could detect the lingering presence of some evil therein.

He closed his eyes and spoke prayers against evil that Master Elrond had taught him, invoking Elbereth to protect him from evil enchantments and help him cleanse Arda of this latest peril. Then he took up the chest and prepared to cast it into the flames.

"Stop, sire! Forgive me, but I cannot let you destroy such precious beauty so lightly!"

Aragorn spun around and behind Turgon, but this man looked very different from the pleasant, slightly awkward young fellow of a few days ago. His eyes were alight with menace and his hand was on his sword hilt.

"I thought you had been given leave to visit your family," Aragorn said calmly. "I do not want you exposed to this menace again."

"I heard you planned to destroy the daggers, sire, and I could not let you do it!"

"I must do my duty as you must do yours, Turgon. Leave me now and go to the stables where you will find some of your comrades."

"I do not want to hurt you; sire, but you give me no choice!" Turgon drew his sword from the scabbard and pointed it at the King with a slightly trembling hand. "Give me the precious!" he demanded. "Put down the chest and step away from it or you will taste cold steel!"

"You would dare threaten your King? You speak treason, boy!" Aragorn spoke in his most commanding tone and his eyes flashed with a fire that few could endure. Turgon took a step backwards, somewhat shaken, but did not loosen his grip on his sword.

Aragorn heard soft footsteps approaching. Faramir appeared in the doorway, also with drawn sword. The King sighed inwardly. He could deal with one young fool, but Faramir was a different matter altogether. His Steward was a seasoned warrior who could occasionally beat him in practise bouts and knew every move he might make as well as being able to sense his thoughts.

Both of the younger men were in gave peril, though they did not know it, bespelled as they both were. To touch the daggers again would most surely kill them, but not before they had most likely slaughtered him. And what of Eldarion? The Enemy weapons might had been designed to destroy the heirs of Elendil's house. Aragorn felt nauseous at the threat to his child. He inwardly debated what to do. The guards were out of earshot. If he relinquished the chest even while he summoned help, it would most likely cause the death of the man he loved as his son. Maybe he could somehow distract both men? Maybeů.

Faramir stealthily approached, sword in hand. Ignoring the King, he raised his weapon and brought down the hilt on the back of Turgon's head. The lad dropped like a stone, his sword clattering to the ground.

Without even pausing to draw breath on this unexpected turn of events, Aragorn cast the chest into the furnace. He grabbed hold of Faramir's arm and pushed him towards the doorway as the wood burst into flames. "Go!" he cried as he started to drag the unconscious Turgon outside.

"No," said Faramir. For a moment, he gazed at the flames and Aragorn feared he might try to jump in to reclaim the chest, but instead he grabbed Turgon's feet and helped the King carry the young man outside. They collapsed on the grass together breathing hard and sweating from the heat.

Still anxious, Aragorn kept a tight grip on Faramir's arm. "Thank you," he said simply. "For a moment I fearedů"

"That I too would attack you? The daggers did call to me and I locked ╔owyn in the nursery and brought the key away with me. When I saw Turgon threaten you, though, all I could think of was that the father of my heart whom I love was in danger."

"That was what Sauron never understood," said Aragorn. "The power of love."

Within, the furnace hissed and crackled and black smoke and foul odours issued forth. Faramir gave a low cry. Aragorn put his arm around the younger man's shoulders. With his other hand, he felt in his pocket and brought forth an athelas leaf, which he crumbled under Faramir's nose. "Breathe deeply," he said. "The evil is melting away forever now. It makes me wonder if Sauron wove a small part of his essence into these accursed blades as he did in much greater part with the One Ring."

Faramir glanced at Turgon who still lay senseless at their feet. "Alas for Turgon!" he said. "He was a good lad. I liked him well. His family were so proud of him."

"There is no reason they should not continue to be," said Aragorn.

"But he committed treason by threatening you."

"If the dark magic affected him as it did you, the poor young fool was not in his right mind. He should remember nothing," said Aragorn. "If he does remember, I will use what powers I have to remove the memory. It is not something I like to do, but better that than I should have to hang the boy to prevent others raising weapons against me. If he has no recollection, only you and I heard and saw his actions and I think we might forget what happened too. The headache you will have given him will be punishment enough."

"I hope I have done him no permanent damage," said Faramir. "It gladdens my heart you would show him mercy. I dread to think what I might have done, had his actions not brought me back to my senses."

"You would not have harmed me," said Aragorn. "When you were enspelled, you only tried to turn the blade on yourself." He moved across to examine the boy. "His pulse is strong," he said. "I can feel a lump the size of a goose egg on the back of his head. We will fetch the guards and ask them to carry him within doors. We shall tell them that he tripped and fell. Your lady will perhaps help me tend his hurts."

"╔owyn will be ill pleased with me." Faramir paled at the thought.

"I will tell her that you were needed after all. In future, though, Faramir, I expect you to obey my orders in all things!" Aragorn's tone was stern, but his eyes twinkled. "Now stay with Turgon until I return."

Aragorn walked across to the stables and called to the guards to follow him. They looked baffled when they beheld the unconscious boy on the ground.

"He tripped on an uneven cobblestone and banged his head," Aragorn told them. "Would you carry him within doors, please, that Lady ╔owyn might tend him?"

"I'll take the lad, he's nowt but a breath of wind," said the smith. He scooped Turgon up in his arms.

"Stay here and see that none enter the forge," said Aragorn. "The chest and its contents should be destroyed by now, but I will take no chances." He took off his cloak and cast it aside. "Our cloaks should remain out of doors to dispel any evil fumes," he said, "and we should bathe as soon as we can."

A flustered looking Mistress Elwen greeted them when they arrived back at the house. "Lady ╔owyn is locked in the nursery and I can't find the key!" she announced. "And what is wrong with that young fellow?"

Aragorn and Faramir exchanged glances. Taking pity on his friend, Aragorn whispered "Give me the key and I will release her while you organise the care of our young friend." Aloud he said, "Lord Faramir accidently took the nursery key when he went for a walk earlier. Please could you fetch hot water, a basin, and some towels?"

"Put Turgon on the bed in the downstairs guest chamber," Faramir told the smith. "One of the maids will show you the way. Thank you for your help, friend. You must take some refreshment before you leave."

Aragorn hastened to the nursery and unlocked the door. A furious looking ╔owyn burst out of the room. "How dare you!" she cried. "You are sleeping in the guest chamber tonight, husband!" She started when she saw Aragorn. "My apologies," she said. "I thought you were Faramir. I want words with him!"

"It turned out that he did need to be there when the weapons were destroyed, ╔owyn," Aragorn said gravely. "No doubt he will tell you the full story, but the truth must remain within the privacy of your bed chamber. But for now, I need your help to attend a young soldier who has met with an accident. He is in the downstairs guest chamber. Then Faramir and I will need to bathe and change as soon as he is tended."

╔owyn still looked furious, but she followed Aragorn, pausing only to collect her healing supplies.

Mistress Elwen had brought everything that Aragorn had requested. She hovered at the bedside together with a manservant who was removing Turgon's boots under Faramir's supervision. ╔owyn glared at her husband for a moment before turning her attention to the injured man on the bed. He groaned when she felt his pulse."

"You may go now," Aragorn told the servants. "Thank you for your help." He washed his hands in the water the housekeeper had brought.

"Turgon, can you hear me?" Aragorn asked as soon as the servants were out of earshot.

Turgon's eyes flickered open and he gave another groan. He struggled to sit up.

"Easy now," said Aragorn.

"I feel sick," said Turgon.

╔owyn rushed forward with the bowl and held it while Aragorn supported the young man.

When he had stopped retching, Turgon lay back, an expression of complete bewilderment on his face. "What happened?" he asked.

"What do you remember?" said Aragorn. He wiped the boy's face.

"I was on my way to see my mother and sister and I suddenly wanted to see those daggers again," he replied. "I've no idea why, the thought of them makes me shudder! Then everything went black and I woke up here. Where am I?"

"You are in Lady ╔owyn's guest chamber," said Aragorn. He smiled at the boy reassuringly. "You tripped and fell on the cobblestones by the forge and hit your head."

"I'm sorry, my lords, Lady ╔owyn. Oh my head, my back!"

"Drink this," said ╔owyn, handing him a glass of water to which she had added a few drops of poppy juice.

"I need to examine you properly and tend your hurts," said Aragorn once Turgon had drained the medicine.

"But you are the King, sire!"

"I was a healer long before I was crowned," said Aragorn. "Come on, let us get you undressed."

"I will fetch him a nightshirt," said ╔owyn, tactfully leaving the room.

Turgon made no further protest, but looked thoroughly miserable as Aragorn uncovered a large bruise on his back and another on his leg in addition to the lump on his head. Faramir felt slightly guilty as he handed jars of comfrey and marigold salves. He then thought of what might have happened and pushed the thought aside.

"You will be sore for a day or two, but should quickly recover," Aragorn told the now sleepy lad. "Someone should sit with you tonight because you knocked yourself unconscious."

"Thank you, sire." Turgon's eyes were trusting, friendly and innocent, all trace of his earlier madness destroyed together with the daggers.

"I will leave you to rest," said Aragorn, giving the boy a reassuring pat on the shoulder. He called for a servant to come and sit with his patient, then left the room, followed by Faramir.

╔owyn glared at him when the two men entered the solar.

"I am so sorry, my love," said Faramir.

"So you should be!" ╔owyn snapped. "Your bath is ready."

"I think I will pick some flowers for ╔owyn before to show her how sorry I am for locking her in," said Faramir after they had bathed and changed into fresh clothing.

"I will come with you," said Aragorn. "I feel in need of some fresh air before bedtime. I plan to leave early tomorrow. I promised Arwen we would dine together."

The two men strolled side by side through Emyn Arnen's peaceful gardens, Faramir gathering a bunch of autumn blooms as he strolled. "The cursed daggers all seem like a bad dream now," he said, gazing around the autumn countryside, now a patchwork of russet and gold gleaming under a red sunset. "Again you have saved us from the Dark Lord's lingering malice."

"You played your part too, ion nţn," Aragorn replied, patting Faramir on the shoulder. "You saved my life today. Then we should not forget the Higher Powers. I called on Elbereth for protection before I cast the bespelled weapons into the flames." He started to sing the hymn to Elbereth, at first softly then with increasing power as Faramir joined in.

"A! Elbereth Gilthoniel! silivren penna mÝrielo menel aglar elenath!"

The two voices rose and fell in rich harmony as the sun slipped beneath the western horizon. In the clear twilight sky, the stars seemed to shine especially brightly upon the King and Steward.

The end.

A/n. I was certain this story was complete two months ago, but my Muses had other ideas!

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