Too Long a Sacrifice
Rating: T, for adult themes and mild violence and battle scenes.
Disclaimer: These characters (apart from my original 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 Raksha and Deandra.
To sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there's the rub;
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come – Shakespeare- Hamlet
Faramir suddenly cried out in his sleep while his limbs began to flail wildly.
"Awake! Come, ion nîn, wake up!" Aragorn cried. On getting no response, he lit a candle and then shook his friend awake, reaching swiftly to grasp Faramir's hands before he could lash out.
The Steward's eyes flickered open. They were wide with terror and he was trembling.
"Easy now," Aragorn soothed. "T'was but an evil dream." He placed his arm around Faramir's shoulders and held him as he so often held Eldarion after some nocturnal terror had disturbed his slumbers. In the candlelight, Faramir looked paler even than the bandage wrapped around his head.
"What darkness troubles your sleep?" Aragorn prompted, his own mind sensing the turmoil of the younger man's thoughts. "Were your dreams about the fire?"
Faramir nodded. "I dreamed that I was in Númenor of old and the White Tree had just been chopped down to make a great pyre, save it was our own fair tree. The priests, together with my father, were about to offer a most dread sacrifice .To think of it turns my blood cold!"
"They were about to sacrifice you?"
"Far worse than that!" Faramir shuddered violently. "They had you bound upon the pyre, together with Éowyn and my little ones. The boy, Fikri, was already burning and he cursed me for his fate. Then the logs around you, my sweet lady, and my little ones caught alight. I was begging them to burn me instead. Then you woke me, Valar be praised, but I can still see the terrible sight in my mind's eye."
"I am here beside you," said Aragorn. "Éowyn and your children are with Arwen in the City guarded by my best men. No one can harm them, they are safe and well."
"The boy lies rotting in the ground, though; that is, if Beregond was even able to give the poor child a decent burial. I fear he will trouble my dreams for a long time."
"It was not your fault what happened, ion nîn. Sadly, we cannot save every young fool from their folly and that of their elders."
"Born into a family of Sauron worshipping fanatics, the poor lad never stood a chance," Faramir said sadly. "I had hoped the destruction of the Dark Lord's power would have meant no more lives destroyed on his account."
"Sadly, human folly was not destroyed with the One Ring," said Aragorn. "Now let me call for some hot water and I will make some tea."
Aragorn pulled on a robe over his sleeping attire and called for a servant to bring a jug of hot water. He poured some into a bowl, into which he crumbled two athelas leaves. At once, a living freshness filled the room, banishing all traces of any phantoms that dark dreams might leave behind. He set the steaming mixture down on the bedside table. Faramir breathed it deeply. Aragorn busied himself mixing a mug of herbal tea for his friend to which he added a few drops of poppy juice.
"I feel so foolish!" Faramir said after a few moments. "You should be resting not caring for me!"
"Many men would be driven to madness after what you have endured," said Aragorn. "That you are sane and whole speaks much for your strength. Better that you should have the nightmares now while I have athelas at hand to cleanse the demons from your mind. Now drink this, it will help you pass the rest of the night peacefully. I shall not leave your side."
"Thank you. It grieves me to cause you so much trouble."
"Think nothing of it," Aragorn soothingly patted his friend's shoulder.
Faramir slowly sipped the mixture and soon his eyelids grew heavy. He soon drifted into to sleep, his head resting against Aragorn's shoulder.
Aragorn remained wakeful for a little while longer, watching over the son of his heart. He too took deep breaths of the refreshing athelas vapours. They were balm to his soul after the horrors of the day.
As Aragorn had hoped, the draught proved effective and Faramir was still sleeping deeply when the King awoke the next morning. The remainder of the night passed peacefully. He was just debating whether to order breakfast to be sent to him when a servant entered.
"Captain Beregond is here, sire," said the man. "He has an injured Southron with him, though the fellow looks more dead than alive. The captain awaits your orders."
"Have Captain Beregond and the prisoner taken to one of the guest chambers," Aragorn commanded. "I will join him in a few moments."
With a heavy heart, the King went to collect his healing supplies, all the while wondering why ever Beregond had brought the prisoner here. Faramir's would-be murderers were miscreants of the worst sort who deserved the heaviest penalties that the law allowed. Death on the battlefield was the best they could have hoped for, once their plot was discovered. Now Faramir would face the added ordeal of giving evidence at this fellow's trial, should he survive his wounds.
The Haradrim were also by far the hardest captives to treat. Warriors wounded in battle preferred to fall on their own swords rather than be taken captive and would often try to harm themselves or refuse to eat while recovering from wounds. The healers usually dealt with them by leaving them alone with tempting food until their desire for it overcame their death wish. Those that did recover, seldom went home, though, as they were considered outcasts amongst the warrior tribes for allowing themselves to be captured. They generally made a new life for themselves amongst the more pragmatic merchants. Not that this prisoner would be going anywhere save the gallows if he lived, Aragorn thought grimly.
The King strode into downstairs chamber where he had directed Beregond and the prisoner be housed. He found Beregond pacing beside the bedside of an unconscious Southron. He was no man, but a beardless boy. One glance at the prisoner was all it took for Aragorn to recognise him as the lad Faramir had been grieving over, the boy who had tried to help him.
"We slew every Sauron worshipper we could find," said Beregond. "Then I noticed someone stir near the altar. I raised my sword to strike the death blow; then I saw it was but a boy and I recalled Lord Faramir's words. He had an arrow in his back, which the healer we had with us removed. By some marvel, it had missed any vital organ. The healer said the boy had a serious head wound too, caused by hitting his head on the altar."
"You did well to bring him here," said Aragorn. He went to the door and called for a servant to bring hot water. "Help me undress the boy and put him to bed," the King told Beregond.
Together, they cut off what remained of the scarlet robes decorated with the emblems of Sauron. Both men eyed them with distaste, and when the servant brought the water, Aragorn ordered him to take the garments and burn them. The boy's skin was little better than his clothes; for in the fashion of the Haradrim warrior tribes, he was covered in ritual gashes and tattoos. Aragorn recognised the Great Eye and other symbols used by Sauron's followers, tattooed on the boy's chest and arms. The ritual gashes were more numerous than the ones Aragorn had seen on Ambassador Tahir's back. The boy also bore the healed scars of wounds that appeared to have been inflicted by a whip.
Beregond gasped at the elaborate markings, but Aragorn ignored them, and concentrated on the boy's wounds. When he had removed the bloodied bandages that covered them he found that the lad had a deep gash on his head, which had bled profusely, but his skull appeared intact. The arrow wound was far worse, the arrowhead having torn the muscles and tendons in the boy's right shoulder and been far from expertly removed. Should the lad live, he would most likely never have the proper use of the arm again.
Aragorn cleaned, salved and bound the injuries then gave the boy a thorough wash. Still unconscious, the lad looked very young and vulnerable. The King took more notice of the tattoos as he bathed him and was surprised that some of the markings appeared to be tattooed on top of earlier ones, a phenomenon he had not noticed before. He was just about to bathe the boy's feet when Faramir came into the room.
The Steward took one look at the boy on the bed and exclaimed, "Fikri! Why did you not tell me that he lived?"
"Beregond brought him but an hour or so ago while you were resting," said Aragorn. "He is very ill. I did not wish to raise your hopes in vain until I had a better idea of whether or not he might live. If he does recover he will be maimed."
"Do all you can for him, please," said Faramir.
"But he is a follower of Sauron who did you great wrong, my lord!" Beregond sounded bewildered. "He even covers his skin with the mark of the Eye!"
"There is good in the boy and he tried to help me," Faramir replied. He walked to the foot of the bed and caught sight of the soles of Fikri's feet. "Those are not marks of the Eye," he exclaimed. "They look like the moon!"
Aragorn looked for himself. "Strange indeed," he remarked. "I thought the Sauron worshippers despised the old religion of the moon and all that it stood for."
"We should send for Ambassador Tahir," said Faramir. " He might be able to explain the markings to us. He ought to know about the activities of the Sauron worshippers as they threaten Kha Khan Janab as well as Gondor." He went over to the writing desk in the corner of the room and scribbled a note to the ambassador. "Beregond, my friend, will you see this message is despatched with all haste," he said. "Then go and take food and rest."
"I will, my lord," said Beregond. He hastened from the room clutching the letter bearing Faramir's seal.
Aragorn finished tending the boy and clothed him in nightshirt. "I have done all I can," he told Faramir.
"Thank you. Will Fikri live?" the Steward asked.
"I do not know, maybe it might be better if he succumbed to his wounds," Aragorn said gravely. "His future is bleak if he recovers."
"I will not let him be harmed!" Faramir said fiercely.
"You should know me better than that, ion nîn," Aragorn replied. "The boy will take no harm from me. He has paid for his crimes with his grievous wounds. But what will become of him? We cannot send him back to Harad where the Kha Khan would have him executed for siding with the rebels, while his former associates would shun him for being captured alive and being unfit to fight again. I would send him to labour in the North, but I could not treat a crippled boy thus. He will be alone and friendless."
"I will provide for him," said Faramir.
"Éowyn would not be happy for a young man who could be a danger to dwell here," said Aragorn.
"Maybe he could live in the City and help me translate trade documents?"
"Could you trust him, though?" asked Aragorn. "He is very young and was no doubt led astray by his elders, but he has been raised from birth to venerate everything we have spent our lives fighting against. Most likely, it was a Sauron devotee such as this boy, who wounded Tahir a few months ago. Will it not anger Tahir if we invite such folk to dwell beside him?"
"Most of our former enemies opposed all we hold dear," Faramir replied. "Tahir is not a vindictive man. He would pity one who is little more than a child."
"I can only trust that Tahir may have wise counsel," said Aragorn. "We must hope that he will arrive before nightfall. You should still be resting after your ordeal, ion nîn."
"I think too much if I lie abed," said Faramir. "You should rest too. You rode hard to rescue me."
"I will rest once I have written a letter to Arwen and broken my fast," said Aragorn. "Have you eaten yet, Faramir?"
The Steward shook his head.
"I will have some breakfast brought," said Aragorn. "I must ask one of the guards to sit with the boy. If he awakens, he could be a danger to himself until he comes to terms with his situation. I will ask them to call me should he wake up."
"I will stay with him," said Faramir. "I will call you when he awakens."
Several hours passed before Fikri's eyes flickered open. He groaned and licked his parched lips. Faramir held a cup of water so that the boy could drink. He then called for the guard at the door to bring Aragorn.
Fikri blinked, looking around him in confusion then groaned again.
"You are safe," said Faramir in the tongue of Harad.
Fikri struggled to sit up and became aware that his robes had been removed and that his sword arm was useless. He let out a high- pitched wail.
"Easy now," said Faramir.
"Kill me now!" cried Fikri. "I am shamed."
"I would not kill a helpless boy," said Faramir. "That is not our way."
"Your vengeance is bitter indeed, tark!" cried Fikri.
Just then, Aragorn strode into the room, Andúril was buckled at his side. Fikri started to scream curses at him. "Misbegotten mongrel tark, may the sun burn your eyes!"
"You will not goad me into killing you," Aragorn said calmly.
Fikri screamed again then was suddenly and violently sick. "It hurts, it hurts!" he cried between retching.
"The pain will grow less," said Faramir. He gestured towards Aragorn. "This healer will help you."
"You speak our tongue, tark!" Fikri cried as his wits became less addled. "You knew what we were saying all the time!"
"I did," Faramir said calmly.
The boy's eyes then rested on Aragorn and sudden recognition dawned in them. "You are no healer but the tark warrior with the bespelled sword!"
"I am both and more," Aragorn replied.
Fikri glared at Aragorn and Faramir as they changed his bedding and nightshirt, but said no further word. Aragorn mixed some poppy juice, which the boy was too thirsty to refuse to swallow. They were both relieved when the drug took effect.
It was late afternoon before Tahir arrived. The Ambassador was shown into the study where Faramir was sitting at his desk working.
"It is good of you, to come, my friend." Faramir stood up and embraced the ambassador. He invited Tahir to sit down and quickly narrated the events of the past few days.
"Esteemed friend, how do you fare? It grieves me greatly that you have suffered at the hands of my countrymen. How might this unworthy one amends make?" Tahir was agitated and as a result, his usually flawless Weston suffered.
"I have escaped almost unscathed," Faramir replied. "This bandage is just to cover the mark of the Eye until it heals. I know what happened is neither your fault nor the Kha Khan's. I am writing a detailed report of what happened for you to send to him, but first I would welcome your counsel concerning a wounded boy we have here. I would like you to see the markings on his skin. They are curious for a follower of the Dark Lord."
"I will help gladly, esteemed friend," said Tahir. "I fear I have but a limited knowledge of what evil runes the accursed worshippers of the dark one bear. May they never rest in shade!"
"This boy bears the signs of the moon god and goddess on his feet," said Faramir.
"What?" Tahir looked appalled. "These Sauron worshippers come from the tribe of Suhayb who have turned their backs on our beloved Lord and Lady."
"Come and see for yourself," said Faramir. "Could the boy be a captive? "
Tahir shook his head. "The hatred between the tribes who are true to our Lord and Lady and the sons of Suhayb runs too deep. They have slaughtered many of my kinsmen. They never take captives. Their slaves are folk from their own tribe who have fallen on hard times."
Faramir led Tahir to the guestroom where Fikri lay; Aragorn was dozing on a chair beside him, but was immediately awake and alert once the two men entered.
After Aragorn had greeted the Ambassador, Faramir asked how Fikri was faring.
"He sleeps deeply," said Aragorn. "His body might well heal, though he will most likely lose the use of his sword arm. I am less hopeful, though about his mind."
"Esteemed friend Faramir told me he carried the marking of our Lord and Lady of the moon," said Tahir.
"Indeed. Let me show you." Aragorn pulled aside the blankets that covered Fikri's feet.
Tahir stared at the markings in astonishment. "How can this be?" he exclaimed.