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Danger in Ithilien  by Linda Hoyland

With grateful thanks to Raksha, Deandra and Ellynn.

A/n This story was written several years ago and I have only just decided to edit and post it. It is a multi- chaptered story in much the same style as "Shadow and Thought".

ďAsk, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you:Ē- The Bible. Matthew.7.7

The Stewardís near- naked body was well- nigh unrecognisable, so covered was it in blood and bruises. Rage and grief surged through the King. How dare anyone treat his friend thus? There were no signs of Orcs in the vicinity. It was Men who had abused him thus.

Aragorn leapt from his horse and ran towards Faramir, taking his friend's weight in his arms. He prayed desperately to the Higher Powers that the one he loved as his own son still lived.

The Guards entered the clearing and stared open mouthed at the outrage. Aragorn heard Beregond swear under his breath. "Cut him down!" Aragorn ordered abruptly, pulling off his cloak as he spoke. Beregond and two of the younger men started toward the tree; but Legolas was faster. The Elf shinnied up the tree and took out his knife. "Carefully!" Aragorn urged him.

A moment later Faramir sagged in his arms, his head lolling sideways. Supporting him, Aragorn sank to a sitting position and wrapped the cloak around his friend, shielding him from the appalled and curious gaze of his men. He pressed his ear to Faramirís wounded chest, and was rewarded by a faint and rapid heartbeat. Aragorn seized his dagger and carefully cut through the filthy rag that gagged his Steward.

Faramir gave no sign of life. Aragorn, blinking back tears, tenderly kissed his forehead. "Wake up, ion nÓn!" he pleaded, smoothing the hair back from his face and noting with a healerís instinct how cold and clammy the skin was.

Faramir slowly opened his eyes. "Ada!" he rasped with a faint smile then started to retch as result of the gag, his body contorting in agony.

As soon as the choking ceased, Aragorn held his water skin to Faramirís dry lips. Faramir managed to drink several mouthfuls of water before lapsing back into unconsciousness.

"How is Lord Faramir?" a young soldier who was one of Beregondís White Company, enquired. He looked somewhat pale and his tone was unsteady.

"He is very ill. He needs help quickly," Aragorn replied grimly, wondering how he could bring Faramir home. There were too many miles between them and the house to dare ride swiftly with an injured man.

"There is a woodcutterís cottage nearby," said the young man, collecting himself.

Aragorn hesitated only an instant before voicing his assent.

"We will take him there that I may tend his wounds with all haste," he said. He looked at the young man who had mentioned the cottage. "What is your name?"

"Sador, son of Davros," said the young man. "My uncle dwells within the cottage, though he is in the City at present."

"You shall lead the way, Sador," said Aragorn. "Your uncle will be recompensed in full. I require two men to ride on ahead to the cottage, and speedily to light a fire and draw water to boil."

Two of Aragornís men immediately set off in the direction indicated by Sador. Aragorn turned his attention back to Faramir, swiftly examining his head and neck, determining if it were safe to move him. The Steward lay motionless in his arms, hardly seeming even to breathe. Was he too late to aid his best friend? No, that would be too cruel! He had found him while he still drew breath and somehow he would save him. "Fetch my horse here and help me lift Lord Faramir," he commanded. Aragorn debated inwardly whether to send messengers to inform …owyn that her husband had been found. He decided to wait until he could tell her just how severe Faramirís injuries were. It would be cruel to kindle false hopes.

Aragorn reluctantly relinquished Faramirís prone form to Legolas while he mounted his horse. Then the Elf gently lifted the Steward up into the saddle beside him where he sagged limply against the King like a rag doll.

The King turned to Legolas, ď"Those who put Lord Faramir to such torment must be brought to justice. Mellon nÓn, take your Elven trackers and follow the miscreants trail. They must not escape."

"I promise I will find who did this to him!" said Legolas, uncharacteristic fury in his voice. "We will deliver the vermin straight to Minas Tirith when we catch them. I would not have them within ten leagues of Lady …owyn and her children."

"Thank you, Legolas. We shall meet again soon".

Legolas and his twenty Elves set off in pursuit of Faramir's assailants.

Aragorn, with one arm supporting Faramir and the other guiding the chestnut mare, set off slowly, following where Sador led. The young man rode cautiously, ever alert for anyone who might wish them ill. Aragorn and the unconscious Steward were flanked by Beregond and four other White Guards, who rode with bows ready and eyes sharp.

The cottage could not have been more than a quarter mile or so distant, but the ride seemed endless. The motion of the horse roused Faramir and caused him to groan with pain. Aragorn kept stopping to ensure he was not aggravating his friendís injuries and trying to coax him to swallow sips of water.

Aragorn could not have been happier to set foot in a palace when they finally reached the welcome shelter of the cottage. His men had worked hard and a fire was already kindled in the hearth while buckets of water were being carried inside. Beregond and four other White Guards took up the watch around the cottage. Sador supported Faramir while the King dismounted. Together they carefully carried the Steward inside the cottage and gently laid him on the bed, a surprisingly large one for such a humble dwelling. It was a sturdy, yet beautifully carved piece of furniture, obviously made lovingly by the woodcutter.

I need water to wash my hands," Aragorn ordered the man nearest to him. He swiftly unpacked his healing supplies, which one of his guards had brought to him. The cottage was better than he had dared hope, as it appeared clean and comprised two fair- sized rooms.

As soon as the water was brought, Aragorn dismissed the men, desiring to give his friend and Steward some privacy. Alone with Faramir, he sighed deeply, dreading the task ahead and what he might discover. He carefully unwrapped his cloak from around the Steward and removed the filthy and tattered garment he was wearing, which hung precariously from his hips. The firmly- tied knot had held, though. Aragorn had often seen Faramir use the same one to tie up a horse. The Steward struggled feebly.

"Easy, ion nÓn," Aragorn soothed. "I seek only to tend your hurts." Aragornís voice was thick with emotion now he could see the true extent of Faramirís injuries. He forced himself to control his feelings as he covered the Steward with the blanket he kept with his healing supplies. To tend a loved one was a healerís most difficult task.

Faramir quieted at the sound of the familiar voice. By the time the King had washed his hands, the Steward had lapsed back into what Aragorn considered a merciful oblivion. Starting with Faramirís head, he was relieved to find only minor cuts and bruises. Faramirís lips and tongue were swollen as result of being gagged, but none of his teeth were missing. His upper body was covered in dried blood where he appeared to have been repeatedly cut with a knife. The ugly wounds were already becoming infected and were hot to the touch.

Faramirís hands were grotesquely swollen while his wrists were raw and bloodied from the ropes that had secured him, as were his ankles. His shoulders were bruised and also swollen. When Aragorn pressed his ear to his friendís chest, it was all too obvious that his lungs were badly congested with the effort of trying to breathe. Mercifully, though, Aragorn could detect no other damage inside, nor could his gentle touch detect any broken bones. Neither had the miscreants subjected the Steward to any worse degradation.

Faramirís entire body was covered in bruises and insect bites. Worse and most serious, though, was his cold and shrivelled skin and racing pulse. Faramirís life was hanging by the merest thread.

Aragorn placed pillows under his friendís head to help him breathe more easily. He softly called his friendís name, but Faramir made no response. He appeared to have sunk deeper into unconsciousness. Aragorn thought quickly, knowing he must rouse him to take water if Faramir were to survive.

"Bring me a large bowl of hot water!" he called to the men waiting outside. Sador appeared within a few minutes, bringing the King what he required. Dismissing him, Aragorn reached inside his healing supplies and took out two leaves of athelas, which he breathed upon and crumbled into the water. Aragorn placed the bowl beside Faramir so that he could breathe the healing vapour. He laid a hand upon his friendís brow. "Come now, Faramir, ion nÓn!" he called. "Your friend and King bids you awaken. I know you are sore wounded in body and spirit, but you cannot leave me, cannot leave your lady and your children. Awaken!"

Faramir opened his eyes slowly and painfully and blinked. "Aragorn?" he croaked. "So much pain!"

"Drink, ion nÓn, then I will try to ease you," Aragorn said raising a cup to Faramirís peeling lips. "I will be as gentle as I can." Faramir drank until it was empty, and then closed his eyes again. "I trust you, ada," he whispered.

Aragorn dipped a cloth in the athelas mixture and started to cleanse the grime and dried blood from his friendís body. He froze, cloth poised in mid- air above Faramir's stomach. He realised that these were no random cuts, but the Stewardís own device, carved into his living flesh! As a healer and warrior, Aragorn had a strong stomach, but this outrage made him swallow hard in revulsion. Faramir was the most gentle and loving of men. No man less deserved such treatment. Whoever had done this would pay dearly for their crimes Aragorn vowed inwardly. As Aragorn had hoped, the athelas seemed to strengthen Faramir as well as cleanse the grime from his skin and treat the numerous bruises and insect bites.

Aragorn coaxed Faramir to swallow more water then began the necessary, but painful task of cleansing the wounds thoroughly.

He placed a small, sharp knife into the fire to cleanse the blade by heating it. As soon as it glowed red-hot he removed it and placed it one side to cool. He anxiously checked Faramirís pulse. How he wished that it were not necessary to subject the wounded manís heart to further strain, but to leave an infection to fester could easily kill the strongest of men.

Aragorn draped a towel over Faramirís hips and then called to Beregond. "I need you to hold Lord Faramir down," he explained. "I have to drain these wounds."

Beregond nodded; his eyes, showing that, like his King, he wished that it were not needful to subject his former Captain to further pain.

Aragorn bent over Faramir. "I am sorry, but I have to lance the wound, mellon nÓn," he said gravely. "I will be as swift as I can, but fear it will pain you."

"I trust you - do it," Faramir whispered.

The site of the infection was easy to behold, as one of the grotesquely carved stars, together with one of the letters was red and swollen.

Aragorn first held his hand above the wounds, trying to ease his friendís pain. He then nodded to Beregond, who held Faramir pinioned against the mattress as he swiftly lanced the infected wounds.

Faramir arched in agony then went limp.

Aragornís heart missed a beat as he anxiously searched for a pulse in Faramirís throat. To his relief, the Steward had only swooned, but his pulse was weak and rapid.

"You can go now, thank you for your help," he told Beregond.

The Captain inclined his head and went to re-join his fellows. He was visibly relieved to be dismissed.

Aragorn had no such respite from his friendís suffering. He staunched the wounds, which now oozed blood rather than pus and applied honey to the cuts before bandaging them. Next, he applied comfrey salves to the many bruises and swellings that disfigured his friendís body. Aragorn wished the woodcutterís sheets were less coarse against Faramirís damaged skin, as he prepared to pull the covers around him.

Faramir was by now starting to regain consciousness. He moaned softly and instinctively tried to cover his nakedness with the poor maimed hands.

Knowing that Faramir would feel more comfortable with some clothing, Aragorn rummaged in his pack for his clean linens and clothed him in a pair of drawers. It was too painful for Faramir to raise his arms to don a shirt, so Aragorn simply wrapped his soft linen shirts around his tender skin. He then pulled the covers over his friend. There was still much to be done, but at least some measure of comfort and dignity had been restored to Faramir.

With the question of the Stewardís safety answered, however precariously, Aragorn now dared to send messages to …owyn and to his own lady. He wrote that Faramir had been found alive, but wounded after being attacked and that he was caring for him. He added a stern warning to …owyn that it was likely an unknown number of dangerous men were at large, and she and the children must be closely guarded at all times until the villains were caught. He requested that clothing, pillows, and bed linens be sent to the cottage with all haste for Faramirís comfort.

The message sent, Aragorn returned to the wounded Steward who was being watched over by Sador. The King told the younger man to go and re-join his fellows. Faramir opened his eyes as soon as the younger man had left. "…owyn, the children?" he whispered.

"They are safe and well," Aragorn reassured him. "Would you like another drink?"

"Please."

Aragorn held the cup to Faramirís lips again while he drank. The Steward closed his eyes, seemingly finding even this small effort of keeping them open too exhausting. Aragorn frowned and pinched the skin on Faramirís arm gently. It took several seconds before the fold of skin fell back into place. Faramir groaned. "Pain, very bad," he muttered.

Aragorn dared not give Faramir poppy juice yet. He needed him to stay awake to keep drinking. He pulled back the covers a few inches, revealing the Stewardís bruised and swollen arms and shoulders. How his friend had suffered and was suffering still! If only he could have found him earlier! He ought to have been able to! The thought of Faramir hanging from the tree alone and in agony for so long was too painful to contemplate. But this was no time for brooding. It was within his power to aid Faramir now. Aragorn held his hands a few inches above Faramirís shoulders and poured as much of his healing power as he could into the younger man.

Faramirís pain ravaged features visibly relaxed. "Do not endanger yourself, " he whispered.

"It hurts me far more to see you suffer," said Aragorn. He then gently took Faramirís injured hands in his own and concentrated his healing powers on easing his friendís pain.

Faramir sighed. "Thank you," he murmured, settling somewhat more comfortably on the lumpy pillows. His breathing was still far too laboured for Aragornís liking.

Aragorn pondered as to what herbs he should give his friend. He decided on dandelion root to help drain the fluids in Faramirís lungs, garlic to fight infection and rosehips to promote healing. He swiftly mixed the herbs and brewed them into a tea sweetening it with honey. Faramir was still so thirsty that he drank it without complaint.

Aragorn could do little else now but sit beside his friend, give him frequent drinks, keep him warm, and wait. There was so little he could offer in the way of comfort as Faramir's hands were too wounded for him to clasp.

Beregond entered with a plate of stew for the King, the same that the men were dining upon. "Please eat something, sire," he said. "Lord Faramir will need you to keep your strength up."

Seeing the wisdom of his words, Aragorn ate, albeit with little appetite.

"How is Lord Faramir?" asked Beregond, glancing anxiously towards the bed.

"He has suffered great pain and privation, but his wounds are not mortal," Aragorn answered. "I am doing all I can to aid him.Ē

"Then he will soon be back on his feet!" Beregond exclaimed, relief flashing across his tired face. "I will be outside if you need me, my lord."

Aragorn forced himself to finish the stew. No doubt it was quite good, but it tasted like ashes to him.

TBC





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