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30
Strange Meeting

trange Meeting by Linda Hoyland

The characters are the property of the Tolkien Estate. No profit has been, nor will be made from this story.

Warnings – mild horror

With thanks to Virtuella

It seemed that out of the battle I escaped

Down some profound dull tunnel, long since scooped

Through granites which Titanic wars had groined.

Yet also there encumbered sleepers groaned,

Too fast in thought or death to be bestirred.

Then, as I probed them, one sprang up, and stared

With piteous recognition in fixed eyes,

Lifting distressful hands as if to bless.

And by his smile, I knew that sullen hall;

By his dead smile I knew we stood in Hell. - Strange Meeting – Wilfred Owen

The fate of the last scion of the House of Húrin lay in his hands, or so the Wizard told him. Aragorn could almost have laughed at the irony of it all as he followed Gandalf through the winding city streets. They had held his destiny in their hands for so very long.

Now, though, he wanted only to sleep, not set off on this most likely futile errand. He was weary beyond measure and could scare recall when he had last slept for longer than a snatched hour. Sleep would allow him to cast aside his cares for a little while too. Halbarad's death lay heavy on his heart, like a vast weight. Better not to dwell upon that now. If he started weeping, he might never stop.

He forced his mind on to other things and found his thoughts wandering to the brother of the man he was now being called upon to aid. It had not been an auspicious first meeting. He had known who Boromir must be when he had first beheld him at the Council of Elrond. His heart had lurched at resemblance that Boromir of Gondor had borne to his grandfather, Ecthelion.

It pained Aragorn still, even after all these years, to recall the old Steward. Ecthelion had loved him and been loved by him in return. It had almost broken the then Thorongil's heart to leave his friend and patron without even biding him farewell, but he had had little choice. The hostility of Ecthelion's son and heir towards him had increased with every day that Thorongil spent in Gondor. Denethor had taken as strong an aversion to the stranger from the North as his sire had taken a great liking to him. Aragorn had never been certain exactly why as Denethor had hated him, even long before he had guessed the Northern Captain's true lineage. Maybe he had felt supplanted in his father's affections, or maybe he resented the affection and renown that Captain Thorongil won during his time in Gondor.

Aragorn had been grief stricken when he heard tidings two years later that Ecthelion was dead.

Boromir might well have resembled his grandsire in looks, but not in his affection for Aragorn. It was hardly surprising that Boromir was less than impressed by the careworn Ranger sitting quietly in a corner at the Council of Elrond, but they had never really warmed to each other. Boromir had inherited pride and stubbornness in double measure from his father and like Denethor, saw no further than Gondor and her interests. He had been a valiant warrior, though, and his death had greatly saddened Aragorn. He still recalled the fair babe of whom Denethor and Finduilas had been so proud.

What would this brother of his be like? Aragorn wondered. Boromir had spoken often of his love for his younger brother, saying that he and their father were often at odds with one another, maybe because they were so alike in many ways. Aragorn sighed. That boded very ill for his claim to Gondor's throne and any hope of winning Arwen's hand.

Then whatever had processed Denethor to die so dishonourably by his own hand? And to try to burn his still living son? Such a thing was unheard of! Sometimes, a wounded comrade could only be spared capture and torment by a swift and lethal blow. Such was seen as an act of mercy, but how could death by fire be merciful?

His thoughts were forced back to the present when they arrived at the Houses of Healing. Pippin was overjoyed to see him. How Aragorn hoped that he could save Merry, who was also grievously ill. Then there was Lady Éowyn. He blamed himself somewhat for her plight. The pain of unrequited love had driven her forth to seek death in battle.

First, though, he must see this son of Denethor's. Aragorn would have known immediately who this man was without being told. How like his father he was! It were as if time had been rolled back and he beheld Denethor as he appeared forty years or more ago. This son of his was dying, though. It hardly took a healer to diagnose that the burning skin, rapid pulse, and laboured breathing were that of a man destined very soon to depart beyond the circles of the world.

Aragorn would have preferred to tend first to Merry and Lady Éowyn, but those two, though gravely ill, were not yet at the very brink of death.

For a moment, he stood at the foot of the bed and studied this Faramir. He was too weary and heart-sore for this task. With athelas, he could most likely save him, but there was none to be had. Whatever he did, the man was likely to die. His healing abilities would be better employed in trying to save Merry and Lady Éowyn, not the one man who stood between him and the throne of Gondor.

No! Aragorn inwardly chided himself sternly. He must resist this temptation as he had resisted the lure of the Ring. Most likely Faramir would die whatever he did, but if he did not at least try to save him, he would be betraying everything he had ever fought for. He could not claim Arwen's hand at the cost of this man's life even if he did most likely awaken only to complain about the presence of a Ranger in his chamber!

He knelt beside the bed and took Faramir's hand in his own. The features might be Denethor's, but the hand was not. Those long slender fingers were a masculine version of Finduilas'. Aragorn recalled dancing with the lady, who was almost Elven fair, and how her graceful fingers had entwined around his own.

His other hand he placed on Faramir's brow. The blood of Númenor obviously ran true in Faramir's veins as almost immediately, Aragorn's spirit connected with his patient's. He was plunged into the shadow realm where Faramir's spirit currently dwelled. Aragorn had seen many horrors in his long life, but surely, these were amongst the worse!

He found himself in a place filled with burning heat and the stench of death. Beneath his feet lay rotting corpses, the insignia on their armour showing that they were once the very flower of Gondor. Thorns surrounded him and torn at his clothing, while Sauron's fiends threatened him from all sides.

Aragorn steeled himself and drew Andúril. This was but a nightmare created by Sauron's dark magic, he knew, but it felt very real. He cut down the creatures of darkness and concentrated on finding Faramir's wandering spirit. He soon espied Denethor's son a little way ahead of him, stumbling along towards a light in the distance. Aragorn had seen that light before. It led beyond the circles of the world. If Faramir reached it, he would not return.

Aragorn quickened his step and called Faramir's name. Faramir turned to answer his call. Aragorn reached out to grip his hand, but almost immediately, one of the fiends assailed Faramir from the other side.

Sauron is determined to destroy this young man, Aragorn realised. He must be of some importance to his evil plan. Sudden anger flared through him. He will not succeed!

One stroke of Andúril despatched the foul monster. Faramir turned to look upon his rescuer. He did not look like so like Denethor now. He regarded Aragorn wonderingly with Finduilas' warm grey eyes. "Who are you, sir?" he asked. "Lord Mandos?"

Aragorn laughed despite the gravity of the situation. "I have been called many names, but never before have I been likened to one of the Powers!" he exclaimed. "Do I appear as grim as death?"

"No, lord, the gem you bear makes you shine like the Evening Star!" Faramir replied. "But what living man could be in this place? Maybe you are Lord Manwë, the Star Gatherer's consort?"

Aragorn laughed again. "I am a living man like you, Faramir. I am Aragorn, son of Arathorn, bearer of the Sword that was Broken."

A sudden light of recognition flickered in Faramir's weary eyes. "Envinyatar!" he cried, sinking to his knees. "Long have I dreamt of your coming. You shall save Gondor and I can die content."

"First, I must save you," said Aragorn. "We must leave this dread vale of shadow."

"Long have I tried to do so," said Faramir. "I can find no way out. Flee from this place if you can and save yourself, Lord Aragorn. Gondor has need of you!"

"She has need of you too, Faramir," said Aragorn. "Come!"

"Gladly would I follow you, lord, even to the very bounds of Arda and beyond," said Faramir. "I do not know the way, though, and I am sore weary. Listen! Can you not hear Boromir calling me?"

"It is not yet your time to follow him," said Aragorn. Where was the athelas he had asked for? Had Gondor lost all knowledge of the lore of Númenor that they failed to keep any to hand? He had found Faramir, but he would lose him again without the precious herb. There was another way he could try that might buy more time for Faramir. He could give his own strength to the dying man. Had he sufficient, though to bring both Faramir and himself to safety, or would they both perish?

Faramir remained patiently kneeling before him. It was long since Aragorn had beheld one in whom the blood of Númenor ran so true. To behold Faramir was almost like beholding his own reflection in the glass. If he had sired a son, surely he would be the very image of this young man! He reached out, gripped both of Faramir's hands, and guided one to the green gem that he wore, the other he took between both his own hands. "Faramir!" he cried. "Take my hand and I will lead you home."

Faramir did as he was bidden, but could not rise, though he tried with every remnant of his failing strength.

Throwing all caution to the winds, Aragorn hoisted Faramir to his feet and supported him, bearing the other man's weight. He felt his own strength waning as he poured it into the dying man. Together they stumbled along the thorny path, stepping over the corpses that surrounded them. More and more fell creatures blocked their way. Again and again, Andúril struck home. The path grew ever steeper and Aragorn felt his life force draining from him. How much longer could he endure? Yet, he could not abandon Faramir. He could now sense the very essence of the young man's soul. Such grief and pain had wounded it, but even more, he sensed an abundance of goodness, courage, and honour to a rare degree. This soul had remained pure and unsullied despite the evils that assailed it. He would not, could not, let Sauron snatch this one. Should he ever come into his kingdom, he needed this man at his side.

Twice, they came upon steep precipices. Faramir almost stumbled over the edge and was almost lost. Just in time, Aragorn was able to pull him back. The next time was far worse as Faramir slipped from the rocky cliff face and for a moment, only Aragorn's hand kept him from falling to his doom.

Sweat poured from Aragorn's brow and he felt as if his arm was being wrenched from its socket. This might be a shadow realm of the enemy's devising, but should they fall, their deaths would be real enough.

"Lord, you are sore weary, leave me and save yourself!" Faramir pleaded.

"You cannot stay here alone," said Aragorn. "I will not leave you."

"I want to come with you, lord," said Faramir. "I would not have you risk yourself for me, though."

They stumbled onwards together, but their steps became slower and they increasingly stumbled.

At last, Aragorn became aware of a voice from the outer world telling him they had kingsfoil.

"Wait here, for a little while, while I fetch help," he told Faramir, placing the younger man with a blackened tree at his back to support him. "Be comforted, the worse is over."

"I will wait, lord," said Faramir. I will watch for the light that surrounds you."

Aragorn brought himself back to the real world and the crowded little room in the Houses of Healing. Gandalf, Éomer, and Pippin were regarding him with worried faces, as was the lad who held out six precious athelas leaves wrapped in a cloth.

Swiftly, Aragorn took two of them and breathed on them, then crumbled them before casting them into a bowl. He inhaled deeply of the refreshing fragrance that filled the room. His strength renewed, he stood up and held the mixture in front of Faramir's face.

Will he still know me? Aragorn wondered. I am but a weary, battle stained Ranger, not some shining figure out of legend, as he beheld me in the shadow realm.

Faramir's grey eyes flicked open and met Aragorn's. A light of love and knowledge was at once kindled in his eyes, "My lord, you called me. I come. What does the king command?" he said.

Aragorn smiled at him. 'Walk no more in the shadows, but awake!' he said. 'You are weary. Rest a while, and take food, and be ready when I return.'

'I will, lord,' said Faramir. 'For who would lie idle when the king has returned?'

'Farewell then for a while!' said Aragorn. 'I must go to others who need me."

He left the room with a new lightness in his heart and spring in his step. A strange first meeting indeed, but a most wondrous one.

A/n. Some lines are quoted verbatim from Tolkien.

I wrote this for the Teitho "First Meetings" Contest a few months ago where it was placed third, but am posting this today as Aragorn healed Faramir on 15th March. Hope you are not fed up with my versions of this scene as I've lost count of how many times I have retold this story! It is my favourite part of LOTR!

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