The Price of Duty by wtiger5

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The Price of Duty

 

"Faramir! No, you will not take my son from me! Faramir!" Wizened hands reached towards him even as hot orange flames overcame his father's face. "My son!" Denethor's cry ended in a tortured sound. The heat seared his face as he instinctively recoiled from the fire.

"Father!" Faramir's eyes flew open, straining to pierce the darkness of the third watch. He sat up trying to catch his breath as his heart continued to pound. His nightshirt clung to the sweat on the back of his neck. The newest Steward of Gondor slowly slid out from under the bedcovers, thankful that on this night, his intended was in Rohan. He wrapped a robe around himself and padded barefoot out onto the balcony over looking Emyn Arnen. The late night breeze was cool on his sweat-beaded forehead. Across the valley, Ithil sank slowly, its full face silver against the darkness of the night. Faramir trembled slightly as he recalled the vividness of his dream. He still wondered at times if the images were actual memories stored in his unconsciousness or if he was simply reacting to the story he had been told shortly before he had taken up his authority in the white city. His eyes closed as he brought to mind the events surrounding his learning of the truth of his father's death.

 

"Please, Mithrandir. I must know. How did my father die?" Faramir's grey eyes showed both the depths of his pain and the intensity of his desire. "I walk amongst gardens that should bring me peace but my soul cannot find rest. The healers avoid my presence and refuse to look me in the eye. When I ask of my father, they suddenly find other matters to occupy them." He paused to take a deep, shuddering breath. "I do not know if the pictures that haunt my dreams are real or just horrid images." 

The wizard sighed softly. "What do you see Faramir?"

"I don't actually see anything. It is more of a sense that everything around me is aflame. I feel the heat searing my face and I cannot escape it. I hear my father calling my name yet I can neither see nor touch him. The flames grow more intense and Father calls my name once more before everything goes black and I awaken in here in my bed." The young man's words were soft and hesitant. His eyes were bright with unshed tears and his hands shook as he gripped the sheets, obviously fighting for control.

Gandalf sighed again, knowing that he could no longer hide the truth. "When your father learned of your injuries, he finally lost his wits. He sat by your bedside until at last, convinced that you were beyond hope, he ordered you carried to the Silent Street. He intended to burn both himself and you on a funeral pyre. Pippen, Beregond and I were able to save you, but Denethor succumbed to his madness and died by his own hand in the fire of his making." He gripped his friend's shoulder in support as the wounded man began to weep.

 

Faramir felt fresh tears sliding unhindered down his face as his thoughts returned to the present. In the few months since the coronation, his dream had plagued his sleep no less than five times. Something though was different in this waking. He felt a strong pull towards the Morgul Vale; a pull that he could neither explain nor ignore. He turned his gaze toward the silhouette of Minas Tirith, wondering not for the first time if Aragorn was a man in whom he could confide.

Early morning's light found him saddling his horse, the captain of his guard at his side. Beregond glanced over at his friend, noting both the weariness of his shoulders and the dark circles under his eyes. "What troubles you, milord?" His voice was gentle and quiet in the stillness of the stable. "I know that this trip was not intended until later in the week."

Faramir shook his head. "I do not wish to burden you with knowledge that I myself do not understand."

Beregond straightened up from where he was checking his mount's girth strap. "Faramir, you are my prince and yet you are more than that. You are my friend. Please know that I would gladly help you carry this burden. You are not walking through this life alone." He placed a gentle hand on the prince's arm. "Share your concerns with me." The muscles under his touch trembled as Faramir fought to maintain his control. He raised tortured grey eyes to meet the concerned ones of the White Guard Captain.

"I cannot explain, my friend. I simply ask you to trust me." He whispered hoarsely, his voice thick with emotion.

"I trust you with my life, my prince." Beregond said firmly as he mounted his horse. "Now let us make haste to Minas Tirith."

 

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Aragorn was relaxing in his study, enjoying a few moments of much needed privacy, when a soft knock intruded on his thoughts. "Enter." He called as he looked up from his book. A look of surprise crossed his lean face as his steward hesitantly stepped across the threshold.

"May I speak with you milord?" Faramir murmured softly, his eyes lowered in deference to his lord.

"Certainly, Prince Faramir." The king matched the younger man's formal tone. "Please have a seat." He gestured to a nearby chair. "Would you care for a draught of wine or some refreshment?"

"Just some wine." Faramir accepted the goblet handed him, still not meeting the king's eye.

"Now, what brings you to the city early? I wasn't expecting you until two or three days hence." Aragorn sat on the edge of the couch, elbows on his knees, his gaze focused on the younger man before him.

Faramir turned the goblet in shaking hands. His breath quickened and his heart pounded as he contemplated how to speak to the king. The room painfully reminded him of another time when he had brought a dream before his father. He forced himself to take a deep calming breath, focusing instead on the fact that this man had never treated him with anything less than respect. "I have been having disturbing dreams of late." He spoke with more confidence than he felt. "I see my father burning before my eyes. He calls my name but I cannot see him." He felt the grief welling up in his breast and he clenched his jaw to maintain a grip on his emotions. Suddenly, there was a gentle hand on his shoulder and he looked up into the concerned eyes of his lord. There was encouragement and pity in Aragorn's face. Faramir swallowed hard before continuing on in a hushed voice. "This time when I awoke, I felt a dire need to ride to the Morgul Vale. I do not know what draws me there nor do I know what awaits me. The last time that I felt this strongly was when my brother and I had dreamed of Imladris."

"How long has this dream plagued you?" Aragorn asked, his left hand remaining on his steward's shoulder as his right drew a chair closer so that he could sit down.

"Five times since your coronation, milord but it did not start until after I began to restore Emyn Arnen. It is as though my ancestral home has had some adverse affect on me." He couldn't look away from the king's face. "I'm not sure whether this is a vision of sorts or if I am somehow reliving my father's death."

Aragorn felt his heart would break from the despair and pain that colored the younger man's voice. "Faramir." He spoke without using the formal titles of state hoping to show the other man that he desired to help. "Your brother oft spoke of your abilities. He held you in the highest regard. If you are sensing something this strongly then I do not believe that it should be ignored. This vision is calling you for a purpose and we must discover what that is." He leaned back in his chair and looked intently at his steward. "I wonder if you have a sensitivity that could be used to bend a palantir to your will."

Faramir blinked. "But the seeing stones are what enslaved my father and led to him losing his wits. How can I use such a thing?" He protested quietly then frowned. "Why do you draw that particular conclusion from my dream?"

"Because what you are describing is the image that is initially shown in the stone that your father had in his possession at his death. If it is calling to you, then you might be able to use it."

"Use it to what end, milord?" The younger man's brow furrowed in confusion.

Aragorn steepled his fingers as he regarded his steward. "I have heard rumors from some of the Southrons that one of the seeing stones may have been lost along the edges of the Morgul Vale. Now you come before me speaking of a dream that leads you to the very place those men have mentioned."
Understanding dawned on Faramir's face. "You think that I can use the one my father had to find the missing one."

"I believe that it might be possible, yes. Even if we don't use the missing one for any purpose, I do not relish the idea of it falling into enemy hands." He leaned forward again. "Of course if you are not comfortable with the idea, I would never force you to look into the stone."

"I need some time to think on this milord." Faramir said softly. He felt shamed that he did not share the king's confidence and refused to meet the other's eyes.

"Aragorn."

He raised his head. "Pardon?"

The king's lips quirked into a warm smile. "Call me Aragorn. In this room, we are not steward and king. We are simply two friends."

The simple statement both stunned and warmed Faramir's heart. "You wish me to be your friend?"

Aragorn laughed surprising him with its rich sound. "Of course, why would I not?"

"I am the son of the man who would rather take his own life than surrender his office." The steward answered simply. "I would not blame you if you were to distance yourself from me."

"Faramir, that was your father's choice not yours. I would never blame you for his actions any more than you would blame me for the actions of my forefathers."

"Thank you…Aragorn." Faramir pronounced the name with great care. It sounded strange on his tongue.

"You're welcome, mellon." Aragorn replied. "Now, I have business to attend to and you look like you could use some rest before the evening meal. You shall dine with Arwen and me tonight."

"Until tonight milord." Faramir bowed as he left the study. He moved stiffly as he wandered down the corridor to the chambers that had belonged to him before his return to Emyn Arnen. He closed the door behind him as he allowed himself to relax in the familiar surroundings. He was far wearier than he wanted to admit. Sinking down onto the edge of his bed, he removed his boots before falling back across the mattress. His eyes closed and he sank into slumber.

"Faramir! No, you will not take my son from me! Faramir!" The flames rose around his father's hands, obscuring his face. He could feel the heat of the fire as it burned his clothing and singed his hair. The inferno rose higher and he spun in circle looking for a pathway to safety. He felt himself being pulled deeper into the blaze. He choked on the smoke and fell to his knees, his vision going black.

"Father! Father!"

"Faramir! Faramir, wake up." The command was firm as was the grip on his shoulder. Someone was shaking him, rousing him from the depths of his dream. "Faramir." The voice repeated.

Faramir's eyes snapped open as he involuntarily jerked back from the touch. The light blanket that he had pulled over himself was wrapped tightly about his body and his chest was heaving as if he had been fighting. Sweat drenched his shirt and soaked his hair. Aragorn was leaning over him, a look of concern in his grey eyes. The scent of athelas filled the room. His throat was parched and painful as if he had been shouting. He tried to sit up but a wave of weakness washed over him and he fell back against the pillows.

"Here, drink this." The king handed him a mug of tea that smelled faintly of oranges and lemongrass. "It will make you feel better."

Faramir took the mug, mildly embarrassed to see his hand was shaking so much that Aragorn had to steady him. "Thank you." He whispered hoarsely.

The man before him sighed in obvious relief. "I wasn't sure I could get you out of that dream. You wouldn't respond until I used the athelas."

"I couldn't escape this time. The flames were all around me and there was no way to safety. Father was calling me. I couldn't find him. I couldn't save him. I couldn't…. I couldn't…. I…" His words trailed off as the lump in his throat suddenly grew. He squeezed his eyes tightly shut trying to hold back the tears that sprang behind his lids. A part of him wondered belatedly how he must look to his liege yet before the thought was even finished he realized that he was being held in a comforting hug. All coherent thought fled as his grief overwhelmed him and he wept, finally allowing his heart to begin to heal.

Aragorn simply held him, letting him release his pain. As the wrenching sobs began to abate, the king rose and dampened a cloth in the water pitcher before handing it to the younger man. Faramir took it and wiped his face, a soft chuckle sounding from him.

"What is it?"

"Boromir used to do the same thing. He was always making me wash my face or change my shirt when we were growing up."

Aragorn laughed as well. "Yes, I know the feeling. My brothers did the same." He paused then sobered. "Your dream was worse this time." It was a statement, not a question.

"Aye. I couldn't wake up. I felt like I was burning." Faramir shuddered at the memory. "I am sorry for losing control."

"Do not apologize. You simply needed a release. I would never begrudge another for that." Aragorn sat on the edge of the bed, facing his steward. The fatigue and weariness etched into his face reminded the king of a former time and place when he had encouraged another to take some rest.

“My lo…Aragorn?” Faramir’s hesitant tones jolted him from his musing and he blinked to bring his thoughts back to the present.

“Forgive me mellon. My thoughts wandered away. What were you saying?” Aragorn refocused on the young man before him.

“I do not believe that I am strong enough to look into the palantir. What if my mind is twisted as my father’s was?”

Aragorn regarded the other for a moment, weighing his words. “First, there is no evil inherent in the stone itself. Now that Sauron has been destroyed the influence that drew in your father no longer exists. Second, I believe that your will is stronger than you give yourself credit for. By all rights, you should have died from the black breath during the war. Instead you persevered and you lived. Third, I have had much time to learn about you. Your uncle speaks very highly of you and your abilities, just as Boromir did. Your gifts of judgment and foresight are much stronger than those of your father. The stone will hold no sway over you. However, as I said earlier, I will not force you to look into the stone and whatever decision you make I will support you in it.”

“You would not condemn me as weak for not looking in it?” Faramir asked as one eyebrow lifted in surprise.

“Certainly not.” Aragorn replied firmly. "I am not like your father. I will never treat you in the manner he did and I will not condemn you for making a decision that you feel is best."

Faramir trembled as the truth of the king's words struck him. "Thank you Aragorn." He murmured his words nearly inaudible. Suddenly he felt completely drained and the need for sleep swept over him. Despite his best efforts, his eyes slid shut as Aragorn gently laid the blanket over him and departed from the room.

Sometime later, he awoke feeling greatly refreshed. He sat up and stretched, noting that someone had brought his saddlebags into the room while he slept. "I must have been more tired than I thought." He muttered to himself. He pulled out a clean silver blue tunic and black breeches before ducking into the bathing chamber to prepare for the dinner with the king and queen.

 

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The next morning, Faramir rose early. He dressed and walked upon the wall of the city, lost in his thoughts. Aragorn watched him from the window of his room. He smiled as Arwen's arms encircled his waist.

"Do you think he will change his mind?" she murmured softly in her musical voice.

"I don't know. He has been weighed down by great fear and many cares for a long time. I do not blame him for being frightened by the very thing that destroyed his father." He turned to face his wife. "However, a couple of his friends from the rangers are coming in today and they may be able to sway his decision."

"Who is it?"

"Damrod and Anborn. I hope Faramir will confide in them and that the two of them will give him good counsel. Damrod indicated that they along with two others have been close friends since childhood."

"If they are as close as you believe, then it will do Faramir's heart good to speak with them." Arwen observed with a quick kiss to her husband's cheek.

The royal couple's prediction came true just a few hours later. Faramir had sought solitude at the top of the white tower when he was accosted by his friends.

"Don't you know it's hazardous to one's health to attempt to sneak up on a ranger?" the prince asked as Damrod silently appeared behind him.

"Whoever said I was trying to sneak?" The ranger replied cheekily, a broad grin spread across his tanned features. "I knew you would sense me behind you, so what's the point in saying anything."

Anborn chuckled at the amiable swat Faramir gave his best friend. He sank down next to the other two men, noting the weariness written on his captain's face. "What's troubling you, Miri?" He kept his tone light and gentle.

Faramir's shoulders slumped forward. His face fell and his gaze dropped to his hands. He closed his eyes briefly before looking over at the other ranger. "I haven't been sleeping well. I've been dreaming of my father's death."

"You what?" Damrod gasped. "I thought you were unconscious when Lord Denethor passed. How can you then be dreaming of it?"

Faramir sighed. "King Elessar believes that somehow one of the missing seeing stones is calling to me. The images that I'm seeing in my dreams are the same that the palantir shows."

"What does the king want you to do?" Anborn asked softly.

The steward pressed his lips together and took a deep breath before answering. "He wants me to look into the stone my father used. I don't know if I’m strong enough to do it." He stopped at the shocked look on his friends' faces.

"Miri, what are you talking about? You're one of the strongest men I know." Damrod protested. "Even the king said you have a staunch will."

"But I am also my father's son; and I am as sensitive as he was, if not more so. What if my mind becomes enslaved as his did?"

Anborn placed his hand on his friend's shoulder. "Faramir." His voice was soft yet firm capturing the other's attention, for the ranger was one of the few who still called him by his childhood nickname. "Faramir, you can do this thing. When you were so ill at the end of the war, many despaired of your healing. Yet here you are, healed, strong, and alive. You were spared for a reason. Perhaps this is it."

Faramir looked at him with eyes that remained shadowed by doubt. "I wish I shared your assurance, my friend."

Anborn's only answer was a quick squeeze of his shoulder before he rose and disappeared down the steps.

 

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That evening, Faramir knocked hesitantly on the door leading to Aragorn’s study. He took a deep breath to steady himself as the king’s voice bade him enter. “Might I have a word with you milord?” He stopped, a faint blush coloring his cheeks as the king raised an eyebrow at the formality of his speech.

“Certainly Prince Faramir.” Aragorn replied in kind. He directed his steward to a chair then waited for the younger man to speak. The silence reigned for several minutes broken only by the crackling of the fire in the hearth laid to ward off the evening’s chill. Finally Faramir spoke.

“I do not know the strength that lies within my heart. I do not know if I am capable of bending the stone to my will or if I can receive the knowledge that you seek. However, if you believe me able, I will attempt to look into the palantir.” He paused, catching his lower lip between his teeth. “Though, I fear I shall need your guidance, milord.” His voice was almost childlike, longing and quiet.

Aragorn smiled gently. "Of course, mellon nin. I will be at your side the entire time. When do you want to attempt this?"

The tiniest of smiles quirked at the corner of Faramir's mouth. "Now, before I lose my resolve, milord."

The king smiled too. "Very well." He rose offering his hand to his steward before a teasing glint came into his grey eyes. "On one condition, stop calling me milord. It's Aragorn."

Faramir blushed again. "I cannot call my liege by his given name." He murmured, staring at the ground.

"Can you call a friend by his given name?" Aragorn countered. He knelt in front of the younger man, gently raising his chin, forcing their gaze to meet.

Faramir stared at him for a moment, a flicker of fear in his orbs. Finally he blinked and took a deep breath. "Aye, that I can do."

"Then come, let us face this destiny together." The king led the way to a smaller room, just off the study. He lit the candles with a spill from the fireplace. Both palantirs lay side by side on a small table, both covered by a simple white cloth. "The one on the right is the one your father possessed." He pulled the cloth away revealing the black stone.

Faramir paused, feeling the first fluttering of fear in his stomach. His breathing quickened and his palms became sweaty. He closed his eyes to steady himself as he felt Aragorn grip his shoulder in support. Taking a deep breath, he raised his head. "Show me what to do."

"Place your hands on either side of the stone and look into its center. The rest should happen on its own."

The steward gently took the stone in his hands. It was strangely warm as if it were somehow alive. Its smooth hard surface reflected the light of the candles around them. He bowed his head staring at the middle of the stone. Suddenly it flared to life and he made a strangled sound as flames appeared. Buzzing sounded in his ears and a great weight pressed upon his head. A choked sob escaped his lips as he beheld the wizened hands from his dream. Aragorn spoke from behind him, his voice distance and muffled.

"Bend it to your will. Tell it to show you what lies along the Morgul Vale."

Faramir struggled to comply, his body trembling from the effort. Suddenly everything around him disappeared and he seemed to be standing upon a hill overlooking the vale. He moved forward on instinct, his feet following an unseen path. His course wound down a steep hill, each step bringing him closer to now silent and empty city of Minas Morgul. He shuddered slightly, chilled by the echoes of evil that still prevailed. He cast a cautious gaze about his surroundings, searching for the thing that drew him so forcefully. A sudden glimmer caught his eye as he turned his head. There, half buried under dirt and loose shale was a sphere, dark as midnight. Its center swirled with flashes of orange and red. Faramir knelt, reaching his hand out toward the stone. As his fingertips brushed against it, sharp pain abruptly exploded behind his eyes. He tried to pull back from the palatir, but it seemed to be attached to his hand. Agony raced through him as he felt himself falling. Something hard impacted with the back of his head and his vision went black.

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"Faramir! Faramir!" There was a cool hand on his brow and freshness to the air. He groaned as he tried to open his eyes. His head was throbbing and waves of nausea washed over him. "Go easy mellon nin."

"Wha…what…hap….happened?" Faramir stuttered over the words. He couldn't focus on the face above him.

"Somehow a surge of power from the palantir threw you backwards and into the doorframe. You've been unconscious for several minutes.” Aragorn’s voice was gentle. His visage swam as Faramir concentrated on keeping his stomach in place. It would never do for him to be sick in front of the king. Unfortunately his body didn’t seem to agree as something sour surged in the back of his throat. He gagged, pressing a closed fist against his lips. Aragorn, recognizing the distinctive jerk of his steward’s shoulders, quickly grabbed a nearby container. Dumping the numerous odds and ends out of it, he held it under the younger man’s mouth just as Faramir lost the battle with his stomach. The king pressed his hand against the other’s neck, focusing all of his energy into a soothing touch that Lord Elrond had taught him many years before. Finally the retching slowed and color crept back into Faramir’s ashen cheeks. He opened his mouth to apologize but Aragorn cut him off. “There is nothing to apologize for, mellon nin. I was a healer long before I was a king.”

Faramir nodded, feeling too dizzy and sick to respond any differently. He closed his eyes trying to will the room to stop spinning. He never noticed Aragorn’s departure nor did he react when the king returned with Damrod in tow.

 

The morning sun had climbed high in the sky by the time Faramir opened his eyes the next day. He glanced around the chamber in confusion until he realized he was in his own bed. He frowned trying to recall how he had gotten there. His head still carried a dull ache.

“Damrod helped me get you into bed after you collapsed last night.” Aragorn's voice spoke softly from the corner as the king moved into the Steward's line of sight. "How do you feel?"

"As though I had been run over by a company of orcs." Faramir groaned as he struggled to push himself upright. Aragorn threw an arm behind his back to support him. "Forgive me milord."

"Forgive you for what?" Confusion ruled the king's tone.

"I failed you. I was unable to control the palantir and so I did not find the missing stone." The steward stared down at his hands, distress evident in his posture. "My only accomplishment was to force you to use your healing skills on me again." His voice was barely above a whisper.

"Faramir, you did not fail me. You faced your fear and you attempted that which you did not believe you could do. I could not ask for anything more."

“And if the stone were to fall into enemy hands? What then? Evil could gain a foothold in Minas Tirith because of my failure! Perhaps this shows that I am not fit to be your steward.”

“Enough, Faramir!” Aragorn spoke sharply, using the abrasive tone to jar the steward from his self-loathing. The prince looked up at him in surprise and he softened his words. “I appointed you steward because I judged that you will carry out the office most faithfully. I do not expect you to be perfect or to never make a mistake. As for the stone, we shall deal with that situation when it arises. Do not berate yourself for matters beyond your control.” He regarded the younger man with intensity in his grey eyes.

Faramir shuddered under the look. For a moment, the king reminded him of his father and the disapproval that had shadowed their relationship. He dropped his eyes, ashamed of what the king must see in them.

Aragorn tilted his head abruptly realizing what was going through the other’s mind. “Faramir, I know how hard this must be for you, having never lived up to your father’s expectations. However, I promise you that I will always treat you with the respect you deserve.”

Faramir felt a sudden rush of tears fill his eyes and he quickly tried to blink them away. “Thank you mil…Aragorn.”

“You’re welcome mellon nin.”

 

Late that night, in the depths of the third watch, Faramir slipped silently down the corridor towards the king’s study. He felt strangely compelled to look into the stone once more. He knocked quietly on the door to the study then when only silence answered, pushed the door open. He crossed to the storage room and quickly stole inside. He took a deep breath, focusing all his will on the stone before him. “You will not control me.” He muttered fiercely. He placed his palms on either side of the stone, feeling it once again flare to life. Drawing on the same strength that had sustained him during the war, he forced the image of the flames to disappear. He felt himself once again transported to hill above the Mogul Vale. He retraced his steps until he located the palantir still covered in dirt and rocks. He knelt, staring at the orb. It was still flashing with orange and red light, just as it had been before. He closed his eyes focusing his entire being on the task before him. Taking a deep breath, he reached out and grasped the stone with both hands. Once again, pain seared through him burning his hands and exploding behind his eyes. He gritted his teeth and bowed his head trying to force back the agony that threatened to overwhelm him. Slowly he felt the hold of the stone lessening and a wave of weakness took its place. With a gasp, he was suddenly aware of being back in the store room, his entire body shaking from the effort to stay on his feet. This time however he was filled with the knowledge he had so desperately sought. His last conscious thought was of the location of the lost seeing stone.

 

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Aragorn's eyes flew open in the darkness. He sat up wondering what had awakened him. At his side, Arwen slumbered peacefully. The room was silent, yet a feeling of dread consumed him. He shrugged into a simple linen shirt and breeches before slipping out of the bedchamber. As he continued down the hall, he suddenly noticed the study door was slightly ajar. "I thought I left it closed." He thought to himself before a sudden realization gripped him. "Valar, let Faramir be unharmed." The king whispered the prayer on the run as he barged through the opening. Further in, he could just make out the motionless form of his steward lying on the floor. He dropped to his knees, placing his ear over the man's mouth, hoping to hear a whisper of breath. Fear gave way to relief as gentle air brushed his cheek. He felt for the heartbeat in the wrist and frowned slightly at the speed he noted.

"Estel?" Arwen's soft lilt broke into his musing. "What's wrong?"

"It's Faramir. He looked into the palantir again and has collapsed."

"Why on Arda would he look into it without you at his side?" The queen knelt beside her husband, taking the steward's hand in her own. "He's cold."

"I know. I need to get him to his chambers to examine him before his condition worsens."

"I hear footsteps in the hall. I'll see if it is some to help us carry him."

"Fetch a blanket too, my love."

Arwen nodded as she hurried from the room. She returned in short order with two young men who were on their way to relieve the watchmen. They swiftly helped their king bear the sick man to his chamber. Aragorn grew increasingly concerned as Faramir seemed not to respond to anything around him. He remained sitting beside his friend's bedside until the early hours of the morning. He jumped as Beregond slipped inside the room, just as dawn began to streak the sky. He waved off the bow as the other realized the king was still at the prince’s bedside.

"How is he?" The captain of the White Guard asked softly, approaching hesitantly.

"I don't know. He seems to be in a natural sleep but he hasn't moved and his heartbeat is still faster than it should be." Aragorn answered in the same tone.

"He's exhausted. He's not had a good night's sleep in the last couple of months. I know he's been dreaming of his father and perhaps of his brother.” He flushed under the king’s questioning gaze. “Miri... Faramir doesn't know that I've heard him shouting."

"Have you spoken with him?"

"He won't talk to me." Beregond dropped into a chair next to the king. "Faramir has always kept things close. Lord Denethor berated him enough that the only person he really talked to was his brother. When Boromir left for Rivendell, that confidence was gone. Even his commanders in the rangers didn't always know what he was thinking." He shot a sideways look to his liege. "He knows he can trust you in his heart, but after so many years of his father's disapproval, it is difficult for him open up and share his feelings."

"I can certainly understand. Boromir often spoke of his younger brother. There was great love between them."

"Yes there was. If not for his brother, I do not think Faramir would have returned to Minas Tirith as often as he did. He was happier in Ithilien than anywhere else on Arda."

He was interrupted by a sudden whimper from the form on the bed.

"Father! Father!" Faramir began tossing back and forth. His dark hair flipped over his face, the dark strands sticking in the sweat forming on his brow.

Aragorn leapt to his feet, attempting to calm the steward. "Faramir, wake up," his voice was low and compelling. "Faramir, my friend, come back to us." He placed a gentle hand on the prince's brow and one on his shoulder. Beregond came to his other side and took Faramir's hand in his. He didn't speak but his dark eyes were focused on his friend's face. With a gasp, Faramir's eyes flew open and he struggled to sit up against the king's restraining hands. "I have….find….it.  Know where…..is." His voice was strangled. "King….depend….on me."

"Faramir, be at peace. I can wait until you rest," the quiet words seemed to capture the sick man's attention.

"Ar..a..gorn?" Faramir focused bleary eyes on the king. "Forgive….me. I had….to try again."

"There is nothing to forgive, mellon nin. You said you know where it is. Are you speaking of the stone?"

Faramir nodded, sending a wave of pain through his head. "It's buried....along the…..the north….ern edge of the Morgul….Vale. It's under a…..mound of dirt and loose rock." He closed his eyes against the agony pounding through his brain. "I can…show…..on a map."

"Show me after you rest." The healer in Aragorn noted the pain etched on the younger man's face. "Stay with him for a moment, Beregond."

"Yes, sire."

Aragorn hurried to his own chambers, quickly retrieving his healer's bag. Fetching some hot water from the kitchen, he brewed together a mixture of healing herbs and just a hint of a sleeping draught. Finally he sweetened the entire mixture with a touch of honey and returned to the steward's bedside. "Drink," he ordered firmly, holding the mug to Faramir's lips. "It won't taste good but it will make you feel better."

Faramir made a face at the bitter taste but obediently drained the cup. Aragorn and Beregond helped to reposition him against the pillows before covering him warmly. His eyes were almost closed before they finished and the guard captain sketched a brow.

"Did you drug him?" He asked with a barely concealed grin.

"Yes. I don't want him getting up until he has truly rested and I don't need his sense of duty interfering with his healing."

Beregond chuckled outright. "Both brothers Hurin carried that trait. One practically had to sit on them to make them stay down long enough to heal properly." He followed the king out into the hall, leaving the steward to his slumber. "How long will he sleep?"

"If he is as weary as you say, he will probably sleep through the night." Aragorn replied. "Now, I have an errand for you. Find Damrod and Anborn. They came in with a patrol the day before yesterday and I have a mission for them."

Beregond bowed, "As you command, my lord. Where shall I bring them?”

“To my study. This is a matter of utmost secrecy and you will not repeat anything which you have heard your prince and I discuss.”

Beregond bowed a second time. “Yes my liege.”

The king returned to his chambers and splashed cool water over his face. He swiftly exchanged his shirt for a clean one and added a tunic as well.

“Is Faramir any better?” Arwen murmured sleepily from the bed.

“He woke briefly and I put him back to sleep. He’s too proud to admit it but he’s most weary and probably has a splitting headache as well. I know I had one the night I wrestled with the palantir that Sauraman had.” He crossed the room to sit on the edge of the bed, idly playing his wife’s hair. She shifted so she could look up at him.

“Was he successful in his endeavor?”

Aragorn nodded. “I believe he was. I’ve sent for Anborn and Damrod since they know that country better than I. If they are willing, I shall send them to retrieve the missing stone.”

“Isn’t that dangerous for only two men?”

"They are Ithilien rangers, beloved. They do not fear danger and would probably be offended if I suggested that they required assistance." A teasing glint sparkled in Aragorn's eyes.
"And you know this because it is exactly what you would do." Arwen answered with a smirk of her own. Her husband answered her with a quick kiss before departing the bedchamber.

 

--------------------------

Morning sunlight streamed into the bedchamber sending its warmth across Faramir's face. He slowly woke, stretching as he did so. For the first time in several months, he felt refreshed. Suddenly he bolted upright as he recalled the event of the previous night.

"You look to be greatly improved." Beregond's voice came from the corner. He rose from his seat to sit on the edge of the bed.

"I feel better. How long did I sleep?"

"Just over a full day. The king slipped a sleeping draught in with the herbs he gave you." The captain explained a twinkle in his grey eyes.

"But the palantir?"

"Do not worry. Damrod and Anborn left yesterday morning. They will find the stone and bring it back."

"But they don't know where it is. I never showed Lord Aragorn where I saw it." Faramir protested.

"Perhaps not, but when he described to them what you saw, they both seemed to know exactly where to go." Beregond shrugged. "They seemed quite sure."

"They're rangers. I trained them to be sure." The steward ran a hand through his raven locks. "I just wish I could have gone with them."

His friend laughed out loud. "Damrod said you would feel this way. Don't worry. They will be back by the first of the next week."

Four days later, the two rangers returned bearing the spoils of their search. Damrod presented the king with a familiar cloth wrapped orb.

"It was precisely where Prince Faramir said it would be, my lord."

"Thank you Damrod." Aragorn answered gravely. He took the sphere with gentle hands turning it over cautiously. He considered the stone for several long moments before handing it to Faramir. "Duty has its price as well as its own reward. Guard it well, mellon nin. Guard it well."

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 




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