Winter's balm by sian22

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February, F.O. 82 Emyn Arnyn

His cheek was cold and wet, pressed into the whorls of fine light snow that lay like dust upon the winter garden. Dry and prickled, a stalk of horsemint tickled his nose. He could smell its spice and tang, strong even in its frozen state. A memory flitted by. This was the smell that brought the butterflies she loved.

Snow was good: there had been little snow since Metarre.  Instead the north winds had brought sere, cold air from down the mountains, drying and freezing trembling plants unused to little cover. Hyssop, crushed beneath his legs, would survive he thought, its deep taproot untouched by the frost. In spring its sap would rise anew to light and life. Like her.

His head ached fiercely and his body was leaden. I must get up. As he pushed against the unyielding ground only his right fingers flexed a little and right knee shifted. Exhausted by the effort of such little movement he sagged, letting the earth cradle him again. It was wet and cold but easy, gentle in its cool embrace. It took no effort just to lie.  His body shivered then just a little as a few light flakes settled down and frosted more his grey-flecked hair.

Why had he come out? The owl. An owl had called and he wanted to see it. It had sat upon a branch of Lebrethon, the king of the night birds, looking solemnly down and majestic in its cloak of winter white. Bringers of wisdom and portent, owls were never in Ithilien this time of year. He lay and pondered for a while this sign as a cool and silken darkness descended yet again.

He awoke next at the gentle touch upon his head. The hand that stroked his hair was large and callused, but not warm; cool even against the sharp twilight air. A sigh floated beside and he opened his eyes. The fair young man sat cross-legged, his breeches incongruously dry amid the snow.

"Come little brother, come. It is time, little one."  The great hand moved to clasp his fingers, his own hand finer still despite the knuckles reddened with cold and time. Dimly he struggled to focus; the grey eyes were familiar and the straight raven hair, his own nose and his grandfather's brow.

"Little one? Even now? Don't make me laugh…it hurts." He tried to chuckle but only a garbled pant came out. "I am the one who is old and grey and you are yet young."

Slate grey eyes became grave, an expression that did not sit well upon a proud, smooth face more used to open laughter. "It was better thus. I was not made for peace."

The truth twisted sharply but could not be denied. "Oh Boromir, I have missed you so. I was not made to be without you."

"Then come. Come and we shall be together now."

"Now?" He was startled by the thought. Surely not now. What of all he had to do? Spring council was just six weeks away.

"Yes. It is time."

"No!" What of Bron? And Finn? And Theo? He must see them. There were things he needed to say. Fear was a great bubble that expanded in his chest: it felt too tight to breathe and pressed hard against his heart. Panicked, he tried to unclasp his brother's hand and rise. Small shocks jolted through his limbs at the effort; the muscles' messages garbled in his haste.

"Peace!" He stilled, for the words and voice work even now. Long used he had been to his brother's commands, loved, and ordered and governed since childhood. A hand descended to stroke his back.

Cold lips now grazed his brow; an apology. "You were ever stubborn and too conscientious for your own good. The great head shook, a wry smile lingered. Do what you must first. Not for a few more days would I have you so grieved."

Of a sudden Boromir looked toward the house. His lips were pursed and brow was furrowed: he had scented something. It was a look Faramir remembered well: the soldier alert always for intrusion. There came a breathy shift upon the air, a flush of welcome warmth as a door opened. The great head nodded in acceptance and his shoulder was gently squeezed. "Farewell for now."

A new sound came: the wet and squelching crunch of footsteps running in the snow.

"Papa!" A soft warm face pressed against his cheek: an ear listened for his breath. Warm fingers clasped his shoulders and tried to turn him but so stiff and cold was he that nothing moved. "Papa, no!"

The face lifted up and he mourned the loss of warmth.

"Arun! Arun, come quickly!" The woman's call was urgent, heavy with fear and certainty. Hot tears fell upon his neck.

Fin. Why is my little girl weeping? Fin does not cry.

~~~~000~~~~

When next he woke he was tucked into the warmth and softness of their bed, the one that held their lifetime within its great expanse. Memories drifted gently down like snowflakes, each one so different yet so very precious: the laughter of all five of them having breakfast in bed, sticky honey smeared by excited children everywhere; 'Wyn propped against the pillows, smiling and exhausted with toil and triumph, a wizened little face tucked into her arms; Her fingers coiled within the sheets, eyes closed and face flushed, as their single heart beat faster with a passion that never dimmed. Eighty years were not enough, he thought. I was greedy. I wanted her forever.

The morning sun slanted low through the window. It was early. Fin had slept upon the window seat, a blanket on her shoulders. Strands of her fine black hair escaped the ever present plait, though it now too had some few streaks of grey. 'Nana' little Aralin called her, the great-granddaughter in whom he was so lost; a novelty amongst so many boys.

Fin was home. She had been home these forty years, but still he felt the lack of the years without her. Her gifts so strong and varied, knowing not how to direct them, it seemed she fought the whole world from the moment she was born. She had run. Run all the way to the end of a desert road, selling her sword, until she found the one person who could the calm the storm within. Afraid then of the calm, she ran so far she came back to where the journey began, Arun trailing in her wake.

He remembered well both their heads bowed before him, two blades; one curved, one straight; presented as they swore their bond of duty. That moment melded with another; her grandfather reciting the selfsame oath when Faramir had bowed his knee and kissed a ring, a century before.  A century. That was another lifetime, before he and his daughter both learned that to journey was to gain a gift: to come back to the beginning and see it washed anew.

A door murmured welcome and his son-in-law stepped in, ebony-eyed and graceful as a cat. Seeing his wife asleep, the soul of quiet reason, Arun sat down and inclined his dark head. "How fare you my Prince?"

Raised in a court where titles mattered greatly Arun only ever called him Prince, never father, and so Faramir, but half in jest, had returned the favour. 'Shahzadeh' Arun was to him, the princely son of the Emperor's best-beloved, but least and youngest wife. To Faramir's frustration, the words would not come out clearly.

His son-in-law, ever resourceful, took a paper from the bedside and a quill. He inked it for his Prince and held the paper still against the soft coverlet. Right hand shaking, Faramir scratched out the words: Fine. Bron? Theo?

An amused snort greeted his outright lie. "Messengers have been sent my Prince, and also to the King. They will come as swiftly as they are able."

Faramir sank deeper into the pillows, relieved, but with it overtaken by the terrible fatigue. Arun watched as his father-in-law, that most vital and energetic of men, became just slightly indistinct about the edges. Loathe then to let only the quixotic Valar guide events, he bowed his head and prayed judiciously to his own Wind Lord for speed.

~~~~000~~~~

It was morning again. He had slept the day round and felt just slightly better for it. Elboron, Eldarion and Barahir had arrived the night before. He did not remember the healer they brought from Minas Tirith, although they explained he awoke for a little while and suffered uncomplaining to be examined. He did not ask what they found, it mattered little. He had no need of healers to tell him he had but little time.

Bron hugged his stiff, uncooperative body very carefully and scanned his father's face. There was much concern that Faramir had hardly drunk the past two days. Already his eyes were sunken and his lips were chapped.

"Father will you try?" His son's blue eyes were pleading. Faramir tried hard to sip as Bron held the cup, he knew better than to argue with his eldest. Stalwart but determined, Bron was the best of both his uncles; blond, blue-eyed and horse-mad like Eomer; headstrong and generous as Boromir. Time and parenthood had softened just a little his mother's quicksilver temper. Faramir smiled inside, remembering the fireworks as Bron and Fin and 'Wyn had battled, while he and Theo had snuck out and left them to it; their quiet mediation in truth not wanted.

Of late he saw in his elder son an unsettledness he remembered in his brother. Elboron and Eldarion, sword-brothers and inseparable, were the vanguard of the kingdom's peacetime army. Together they had fought in Rhun and Umbar and beyond, had secured the lasting peace all knew would come in time.  Restless now, he knew Bron both dreaded and tired of waiting for the role that was his birthright.

Quietly Faramir had passed on a chosen few of his many duties, ones he hoped would interest his energetic son. Instead it was Bron's eldest, Barahir, who listened eagerly to his talk of treaties and tithes and politics. He was much like his grandfather; he too loved lore and music and poetry. Hours they could sit, in the study or the garden, discussing lines of lilting words, their parry and their thrust.

A vision seized hold tightly then what sight he had. Barahir, not Elboron, held the rod and wore the White Tree, as Eldarion, his King, was crowned. With the sound of ringing trumpets from the white walls fading, Faramir mourned. Their lives would ever be too short to fully serve their kings.

~~~000~~~

He drifted, and in the stillness of the night he saw beside him another young woman named Finduilas, graced also with a waterfall of fine black hair and clear grey eyes. The bed did not dint where she sat and Bron, asleep upon the chair, did not stir.

Her face was not the one he remembered, not the one full of pain and rasping with tortured breath that last winter of her life. This was the calm and peaceful face his mother bore when last he walked the shadows, before his king had called him home.

A bow-shaped mouth alike to his defined a troubled frown. "Little love why do you tarry? Why not come with me now?"

It was so tempting. How easy it would be to take her hand and follow as the little boy had done; her warm hand clasped about his own, the grasses swaying on the strand, sun sparkling on the waves. In his memory her hand was always warm, as were her arms, but now the elegant fingers he strained to touch were cold. They seemed so wrong.

"I cannot Mother, I cannot leave the king just now, and Theo needs me yet."

"But you must." Her tone was wistful, her grey eyes now deep and dark with the depths of time. "They are all there my jewel and wait for you."

"All?" He asked, the sense of wonder growing.

"Oh yes. Eomer and Thiri, Imrahil and Leylin, Boromir and I, we all wait for you come."

"and 'Wyn?"

The bow-shaped mouth, amused at an unspoken jest, curved into a merry smile. "Of course. She does not like waiting love, as you well know." Oh he knew.

"and Father?" His heart lurched, afraid to know the answer. Had not his father's heathen act of insane pride barred him from those halls?

"Yes my little one. Eru has mercy. Denethor was not denied judgement at the last."

A long slow sigh escaped his lips. The cool hand stroked his damp hair as it had so many nights when he cried out, caught in the wave's green fury. She tried to soothe him with touch and voice but the bubble yet pressed too hard against in his heart.

"Farewell my son. Do not be long." He was alone once again with his own son.

~~~~000~~~~

"Captain, the King has arrived." Faramir started out of his doze, the instinct to rouse at the guard's summons too strong. He smiled inside. That was not for me.

Fin rose and went to greet their guests. He could not see, but heard faintly the murmurs and the tears as Aragorn had pulled his son and grandsons into his large embrace, and Arwen took Fin's hands firmly in her own.

He looked up to meet the deepening gaze of the one who padded not quite silently across the room. This king, unknown but waited for, had been his dream and spark of hope through shadows and through fear. The man who was the king, now known and well-beloved, for much more than half his life had been his dearest friend. Both were the very centre of the realm and its rebirth, the focus of his duty; served with all his skill and heart. It pained him now to know that he must fail.

His king, the healer, cared not a fig for duty in that moment but focused instead upon the health of his friend. He quickly ascertained from Faramir's laboured response and Fin's answers that they would have a rather one-sided conversation. Aragorn's voice then brushed lightly on his thoughts.

"Have you much pain mellon nin?"

"Not much." This was the long-played game; the King asking for the truth and his Steward giving only what he judged to be sufficient. Kings had burdens enough. But from Aragorn he could not wholly hide the burning pain that lingered, and at his liege's touch a spreading warmth and strength eased the tortured nerves for a yet little while.

"Boromir came for me. And mother." Faramir searched worriedly his friend's face, but found him unsurprised how very thin the veil had now become.

Aragorn nodded once. His smile was grave yet full of love. "Then you must go. None could have done his duty with more care and love and courage. You deserve to rest. Always I have known I would have two stewards. Bron will serve me well." Now wry and teasing, the king's dark head tilted, one eyebrow raised. "Perhaps he will not be so stubborn at times, nor drive himself so hard?"

Arwen looked down from beyond her husband's broad shoulder and caught the quickly stilled mask of fear across the Steward's face. She wrapped her thought within an image of a green and rolling land, brushed softly by sea air. "Do not fear, Faramir. This is but a step."

He closed his eyes, willed the peace of Eressea to wash over, but it did not come and his gaze became more troubled. "But that is not what I fear."

Long ago he had let fly that dove, as soldiers do, to accept that death should come to him. It was for the others left behind that he worried and had not have the courage to leave. Especially his youngest whose time he knew was shortest. "Theo…I must see Theo."

"Then we shall wait yet a bit." said Aragorn, his face grave once more. Fin and Bron gathered beside and the king spoke aloud, for alone of his children Bron had not the gift of Hurin. "If you must wait my friend then you must drink at least a little."

A strong arm raised his shoulders and a cup of something cool and wet was pressed gently to his lips. To swallow took great concentration but the water soothed his parched and aching body.

For a moment then he was lost to them, the tide of memory too strong. Sunlight rippled upon the brook, bright as the fine gold hair that tumbled down as 'Wyn dipped her head to drink the cool water cupped within his hands. Their laughter too tumbled free and at the sound the new leaves rustled and rejoiced.

Aragorn saw the ghost of a crooked smile upon his Steward's face, and flashed a wicked grin. "Mellon nin it is useful that you have practised a one-sided smile down all these years. You look almost normal."

In apology he held his friend gently as he choked with laughter that made little sound.

They sat long together then in the lowering twilight, now in silence, now in silent speech. Memories flowed between them full and warm like winter wine.

~~~000~~~

Bron greeted the newcomers in the courtyard knowing his little brother would be exhausted by the journey. Both tall and blond, alike yet so unlike in many ways, they hugged lightly, Bron careful not to throw Theomund off balance. He pulled back to search the younger man's grey-blue eyes for a sense of how he fared. They all knew better than to ask; all had grown adept at reading the small lines of pain and tiredness their brother could not hide.

Against all advice Theomund would not rest and so Thalon had carried him straight from the carriage to his father's side. While the ellon set his companion carefully down upon the bed, Legolas held back. The lord of Lasgalyn saw upon his friend's face there was yet time.

Fin came quickly out of her chair, relieved yet fearful for what this meant. "Oh Theo you are here! " He reached up to clasp her gently to him, planted a kiss upon her brow that made her smile. Possessed of his father's warmth and humour and his mother's exuberance, Theo's easy charm shone brightly; a contrast to his frail and awkward frame.

"How is he?" Concern quickly clouded her brother's fair features. Part of Faramir wanted to protest that they were speaking about him, but he knew his son the healer would have his report.

Theo ran quickly through his questions and Fin answered as best she could. "Yes he can hear, but his speech is not clear. He has little strength and has difficulty swallowing. His left side does not seem to move at all."

Then came the questions to him in his son's working voice, deeper and assured. Faramir wanted to smile, but this time his mouth did not listen. As he answered as best he could with thought and gesture, he in turn searched his youngest for the changes that came always on. To his practiced eye it seemed Theo's back and hands were yet more cramped, the tendons tight as the muscles ever weakened.

It is peacetime he thought and my children are fighting other battles: Elboron with his Prince in far off Rhun; Finduilas the whole world it seemed for a while, but now just the Company of Ithilien; Theomund an endless rear guard action against the body that betrayed him inch by inch.

A thin hand picked up his own gnarled fingers from upon the bed. Over his shoulder Thalon's fair features creased as he touched his companion's thoughts. "He has waited for you." Theo looked back. Tears were quickly brushed away. "I know."

"Rest now, Father. We will talk in the morn." A hand helped Theo up while Bron passed over his canes. Faramir heard then the familiar tack, tack, tack upon the wooden floor. My son is home.

Thalon, by the door, turned briefly back. Grey eyes as bright as winter starlight saw clearly the fear that coiled within Faramir's heart, carried from that moment as a child, they first knew of Theo's fate. Eowyn was always braver for him than I.

It was the hardest duty to lay down, caring for one's child.

"My Lord, we will all watch over and care for him, as he in turn cares for us. I pledge you I will be all that he needs for as long as he has." The ellon bowed gracefully and slipped silently away.

It would be enough. Fear flowed away like water and like a muddy stream that joined a crystal river, it was gone.

~~~000~~~

Through the bright and chill next day the house swelled comfortably with friends and children, though quieter than it was wont to be at Yule or Mid-summer's Eve. His grandsons came and he had kissed them all in turn. His children sat near, for Theo and the King had said it would not now be very long. He thought that they were right, for indeed he tired of the effort.

Drifting for so many days, he asked at last what day it was and found it was the 26th: It hurt a little to have forgotten how close it was. This was the day so long ago the horn of Gondor last rang throughout the realm, its voice heeded but answered far too late.

Brother, it is time.

~~~000~~~

Ithil had risen and through the window its silver glow filled his failing sight. The owl called once more. As its mournful note died away he thought he was mistaken, he heard the drumbeat of a horse's hooves. Surely it was but a figment of his hazy thoughts.

His lashes felt heavy as the night. Gratefully he laid them down and felt the bubble next his heart ease at last. He was freed.

Faramir rose then and the man who took to his feet had no grey upon the raven waves and wore the white tree upon his leather jerkin. No sound did his footfalls make as his worn boots paced across the floor. The hand that touched each of them in blessing bore the many cuts and blemishes of battle once again.

Yearning had made his spirit nearly solid; the night birds chattered in surprise as he crossed the veranda and walked out into the snow-bound garden.

Gleaming silver in the moonlight, Windfola stood and tossed his head, a snow devil whirled behind him in his wake. His mistress slid lightly off his back. Clad in white, her hair a waterfall of sunlight, it was silvered just a little by the moon. With relief he saw her face undimmed by time and care: the face he always saw within as the years slipped slowly by.

Suddenly Faramir was in her arms, the place he had ached to be again for every minute: between the longing and the act have lain a score of years.

'Wyn." His sigh mingled with the moonlit air and rushed outward to enfold her. His lips rested upon her hair. Poised again as if upon the walls, the snow devil whirled around them; gold and raven strands mingled together in its swirl.

""Come my love, tarry no more." She reached up and pressed a kiss upon his lips. Both the kiss and her body against his chest felt cool and light, as substantial as his sigh. "Lay your duties down." Gladly now he did.

He swung up onto Windfola's back and lifted Eowyn before him. Together they took reins in hand and turned to westward. They set their path: to follow Earendil's star throughout the dim, unto the Doors of Night.

 

 


Chapter End Notes:

Owls in Celtic and ancient mythology have long been symbols of vision and dreaming and as heralds of death, guide souls to the underworld. The image of Windfola and the snowdevil was inspired by Michael Murphy's song Wildfire. Thanks to the ladies of the Garden of Ithilien



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