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One Title: Your Story

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Catatastrophe


Animals of Middle-earth

Rated T.

Summary – When a wild beast invades Ithilien, Aragorn tries to help Faramir and Éowyn with disastrous consequences.

Disclaimer – Tolkien invented these wonderful characters. I have just borrowed them for pleasure and not to make money.





My beautiful foals, this is just too much!” Éowyn buried her head in her hands; she was on the verge on tears. “It is bad enough to lose lambs, but such is nature and all creatures must eat to survive, but not my horses! What will this creature take next? A hound, a cat, one of our children?” She shuddered. “It grows ever bolder. I have never known the like!”

My best Rangers are tracking the beast even as we speak,” said Faramir. He drew his wife close, attempting to comfort her.

They have tracked it for days now, but to no avail. They follow its trail as far as the trees and then it seems to vanish into thin air.”

I will join them this afternoon.”

As shall I.” Unnoticed by the Prince and Princess of Ithilien, the King had entered the room with his silent, catlike tread.

My lord!” Faramir and Éowyn rose to their feet to greet Aragorn.

I am sorry to catch you unawares, but as I am on my way to visit the Elven Colony, I could not pass so near to Emyn Arnen without greeting you. It seems I have just come in time to lend my tracking skills to hunt down this creature.”

But you are on your way to visit Legolas,” Faramir protested.

I will send a message that I shall be delayed.”

Éowyn rose to her feet. “I had best go and tend the surviving foals. What manner of creature can devour one, leave another for dead, and injure four others? One of them is so terrified; she will not let me near her. Even Faramir, who has such a way with horses, could not approach her.”

I have some experience of tending horses; if you would permit me to assist?”

Of course, my lord.” Éowyn sounded sceptical. Aragorn was a great healer of Men, but horses were a very different matter. He was the King, though, and she could not deny him.

Aragorn carefully examined what had been a lovely grey foal that was now disfigured by hideous deep scratches across her flanks. She shied away from him and neighed in terror He sang softly in Elvish until she came closer to him. He rubbed her nose and offered her a juicy apple. Only when she was calm, did he apply a healing salve to her wounds. ”With time and care she should recover,” he told Éowyn. “Now let me see the other injured foals.”

What do you think the beast is?” asked Faramir quietly, as he calmed a jet-black foal.

No wolf or bear caused these injures,” said Aragorn. ”I wager it is some sort of large cat. That is no doubt why it is proving so elusive, but we should be able to track its footprints.”

Faramir glanced at the stable cat that was slumbering curled in the hay, almost invisible, so well did its tawny coat blend with its surroundings. Cats were indeed masters of stealth and camouflage. “That would explain much,” he said. “But there are few records of any such creatures in Ithilien. Still, much has changed since records were last kept in my great-grandsire’s time.”

This one is more frightened than hurt,” said Aragorn as he examined the black foal. “He just has a few scratches.”

The black horses are especially precious,” said Éowyn. The Dark Lord depleted the herds of the Mark of too many of these beauties. My beautiful horses were thriving so well before this monster, or monsters came!”

And they will thrive again, my lady,” said Aragorn. Looking thoughtful, he began to rub salve on the black foal’s wounds.

ooOoo

The King insisted that no special provision be made for him; therefore, the noonday meal comprised simple but tasty fare. The Princess of Ithilien was proud of her kitchens and the good food that the home farms produced.

After the meal, Aragorn and Faramir changed into Ranger clothing and sharpened their weapons. Deciding that horses or further members of the party would only hinder their progress, they set out on foot.

Faramir led the King to the paddock where the injured foals had been found. The grass yielded few clues; only flattened blades and bloodstains, around which a few flies buzzed in defiance of the autumn chill. Aragorn espied a muddy patch where the ground had been torn up by flaying hooves. He stooped to examine it more closely. “Look!” he said. “There and there are hooves, but see that print, as large as a man’s foot almost? That is creature we are seeking.”

Faramir looked but could discern only hoof prints and indistinguishable marks. Aragorn looked around until he espied some flattened grass near where the paddock bordered on an area of forest. Still following, what to Faramir seemed invisible tracks, they walked briskly amongst the trees for some considerable time until the track petered out into a wilder area, where a rippling stream fed the dense undergrowth beneath mighty oaks and slender birches.

We are still clearing paths through the woods,” said Faramir. “As yet, though, this part is almost untouched.”

We will follow the stream,” said Aragorn. “See, there is a print. All animals need to drink, so I would wager our quarry’s lair is not far from here.

For the first time Faramir clearly beheld a large paw print, the size of a man’s hand in the soft earth beside the water. He followed the King deeper into the forest. The undergrowth was so dense here that the men had to cut their way through with their swords.

Aragorn suddenly halted and sniffed the air. “We are close,” he whispered to Faramir. The two stealthily moved forward, not speaking again lest they disturb their prey.

There was a sudden rustle in the treetops followed by a thud and a loud cry. A great cat had leapt from the trees on to Aragorn’s back and was ferociously clawing him.

Faramir’s ranger training fast overcame his horror. He reached for his bow and swiftly nocked an arrow. The King lay face forward on the ground, the giant cat atop him, the two a tangle of fur and flesh. To shoot the beast carried a grave risk of also shooting the King. Faramir shot several arrows into the trees in quick succession.

Sensing danger, the beast panicked and fled. Faramir noticed that it bore an ugly festering wound on its flank, which would explain why it had been seeking easy pickings amongst Éowyn’s foals.

Faramir ran to the King’s side and dropped to his knees. Aragorn’s cloak and upper garments were torn to shreds, exposing his back, which resembled a raw and bloody steak. Faramir felt sick.

Aragorn groaned. Faramir swallowed hard and lifted him, turning him over, and cradling him in his arms. He pulled off his cloak and pressed it against the King’s back to staunch the copious bleeding.

He pressed the cloak harder against the wounds. There was so much blood! It seemed to take an age for the flow to abate, but gradually his efforts succeeded.

Aragorn groaned again and opened his eyes. Faramir?”

Yes, my lord?”

My pack - healing supplies.”

Faramir looked around him and espied the pack a little way away; it had been torn open and the contents scattered. Now the initial shock was wearing off, the realisation struck him hard that the King’s survival lay in his hands and his alone. After what seemed like an eternity, the bleeding slowed. Faramir dared to gently put Aragorn down upon his side. He got to his feet and began to gather up the healing supplies. All the while, he remained alert lest the beast return. To his dismay, very little was usable apart from the knives and a metal cup. Most of the bandages were scattered and soiled and the pots of salves shattered to smithereens, including what he recognised as the precious vials of pain relieving poppy juice. He collected anything that looked as if it might be usable and hastened back to Aragorn’s side. The King’s face was ashen and his grey eyes filled with pain. He smiled wanly when Faramir knelt beside him again.

Faramir showed him the pots of salve. Aragorn weakly shook his head at the first one.

For rashes,” he muttered.

“That is no use then. And this one?”

“For bruises. That pot- Scratches- might help a little. You need -clean wounds.” He groaned again and closed his eyes.

Faramir half dragged, half-carried Aragorn to the bank of the stream. He filled the cup with water and held it to the King’s lips, all the while wondering what he could use to tend the wounds with. He realised he did have adequate cloths. He unlaced his shirt and tunic and pulled both over his head; then replaced his tunic and carefully cut up his shirt with one of Aragorn’s knives. At least the garment was fairly clean having been donned fresh from the laundry that morning.

He would have liked to boil the water, but had nothing with him in which to heat it, At least it looked clean, for the steam rippled constantly over a bed of gravel. He cupped his hands and sipped the water. It tasted sweet and pure.

“I shall try to cleanse your wounds, sire, I fear it might pain you,” he warned Aragorn.

“Do it,” Aragorn muttered through clenched teeth.

Faramir washed his hands in the steam then took a deep breath and peeled away what remained of Aragorn’s shirt and tunic. Now the bleeding had slowed, he could see that Aragorn’s back and shoulders were covered in deep ugly gashes. He had seen men’s backs bloodied from a flogging, but these wounds went far deeper than those a lash could inflict.

He began to bathe the gashes as gently as he could. Even so, Aragorn groaned at every touch of the cloth. The wounds started to bleed anew, but mercifully, the blood flow was sluggish this time. Faramir staunched it with more cloth from his shirt.

As soon as the wounds were clean and the bleeding had ceased, Faramir again washed his hands and applied some of the salve. He supported Aragorn against his shoulder and carefully bandaged the injuries with the few bandages he had salvaged from Aragorn’s pack and from what remained of his shirt.

He turned Aragorn over on his side again. The King’s face was even paler and drenched with sweat, while his breath came in short pained gasps. Faramir supported his lord’s head and gave him more water to drink. His thirst sated, Aragorn closed his eyes. A little colour returned to his cheeks and his breathing became more even.

Faramir turned his attention to the gravity of the situation that faced him. Aragorn needed help from a trained healer and quickly. Éowyn was well versed in the healing arts and would know what to do, but how could he get the King to her? If he left Aragorn here to go for help, he would be able to return within an hour or two. Yet how could he leave a badly injured man alone with that monstrous cat abroad and hungry for his blood? Aragorn was not just any man either; he was Faramir’s liege lord, and not only that, but the man to whom he owed the life that his father would have snatched from him. He could not leave him. He would somehow have to carry him to safety. Faramir’s spirit quailed for a moment. He was a tall strong man, but the King was even taller. He would be a heavy load to bear, but bear him he must. They could not remain here in the depths of the forest. If only he could have shot the beast while he had the chance, he might then have dared leave Aragorn to summon help! Faramir shook himself. It was no good dwelling on what might have been.

He knew they would be missed when they did not return by nightfall. Éowyn would send out search parties. No doubt as soon as they reached the path, they would come across the searchers. With this new hope kindled in his heart, Faramir filled both their water bottles and transferred what was left of the healing supplies into his pack.

“We cannot stay here,” he told Aragorn. “We must make our way back to the house.”

“I know, but how?”

“I will carry you.”

“You cannot bear my weight.”

“I shall try. If the strength of Númenor lingers in my blood, I can do this.”

Give me a little time to rest and I can walk. I too, have the strength of my forebears.”

Faramir regarded his lord doubtfully. It took all his strength at present to speak, let alone walk. “We cannot delay, sire,” he said. “The sun will soon set and we cannot tarry here after nightfall.”

“I am ready,” said Aragorn. “If you could just help me up.”

Faramir gripped both Aragorn’s forearms and hoisted him to his feet. Aragorn groaned loudly then swooned. He sagged forward, almost knocking Faramir off his feet. For one dreadful moment, he feared that Aragorn was dead. “Aragorn, my lord!” he cried. He placed a hand on Aragorn’s chest and could have wept with relief when he detected a faint heartbeat.

As a soldier, Faramir had been trained to lift wounded men to bear them from the battlefield. He eased the King up on to his feet. Faramir then bent his knees and hoisted Aragorn across his shoulder. Faramir straightened up, staggering slightly beneath the weight he bore. Aragorn was as slender as a sapling, but he was an exceptionally tall man and well muscled. Faramir gritted his teeth and concentrated on the task at hand; one step at a time, pushing his way through the undergrowth and between the mighty oaks and birches.

Sweat was soon dripping from his brow and his back felt as if it would snap in two. To make matters worse, the wool from his tunic irritated his skin and he itched as if a multitude of fleas had taken up residence in his clothing. Ignoring the discomfort, he trudged resolutely onwards. He would happily have traded everything he owned for a horse at that moment.

Aragorn had regained consciousness and was groaning. Every step Faramir took was jarring the angry wounds in his back.

“Stop, put me down!”

“I am sorry; sire, but I must bear you to safety.” It tore Faramir’s soul to cause his lord pain, but there was no other choice. The pain in his own limbs increased and he felt as if his back would snap in two. Aragorn fell silent again apart from the occasional groan.

The light started to dim. Faramir stumbled onwards until he caught his foot against a tree root and almost stumbled. He could go no further tonight. He looked around him for somewhere they could rest. Fortunately, a mighty oak had fallen nearby, creating a clearing in the forest.

He laid Aragorn down as gently as he could beneath one of the great trees, placing him on his side. It was Faramir’s turn to groan when he straightened up. Ignoring his own discomfort, he knelt beside Aragorn, who lay unmoving, his eyes closed.

“My lord?”

“Faramir?” Aragorn’s grey eyes flickered open.

“We can go no further tonight. I will gather wood for a fire to keep the creature, or any other savage beasts, at bay. Would you like a drink?”

“Please.”

Faramir supported his lord’s head and held the water bottle to his lips. When Aragorn had drunk his fill, Faramir gathered branches from the fallen oak and built a fire. Fortunately, he had his tinderbox to kindle a flame and it was soon blazing merrily. Now they had some defence against any wild beasts that might be lurking, Faramir turned his attention to the King. In the firelight, Aragorn’s face looked haggard as if he were in considerable pain, but at least the bandages were only a little bloodied.

“What manner of a cat could do this?” he mused aloud.

“A lynx,” Aragorn replied. “Did you not see the tufts on its ears?”

“A savage creature indeed,” said Faramir.

“Only rarely,” said Aragorn. “They are timid beasts that usually live off rabbits.”

“It had a nasty festering gash on its side.”

“Wounded beasts are the most dangerous.” Aragorn then lapsed into silence. He shifted restlessly.

Faramir settled himself down beside the King, trying to ignore the throbbing in his back and the itchy wool against his skin.

“You should try to rest now, sire,” said Faramir. “I will keep watch.” He sighed and tried to scratch surreptitiously.

“Use the salve,” said Aragorn.

“What salve?”

“For rashes. You have one!”

Faramir could not repress a smile. Even as badly injured as he was, Aragorn never forgot that he was a healer. The Steward rummaged amongst the depleted healing supplies and took out the little pot. He pulled off his tunic and found he was indeed covered in red itchy blotches where the wool had chafed his skin. He smothered them in the soothing cream.

“So cold,” Aragorn muttered.

“You have my tunic,” said Faramir. He cut the seams open with his dagger and wrapped it around the King together with his blood-drenched cloak and Aragorn’s torn one. As he did so, he placed a hand on the King’s forehead. It was drenched in cold sweat. It seemed that the King was developing a fever.

“Huddle close and you will be warm,” said Faramir. He stretched out beside the King and drew his head against his shoulder. He shifted himself into as comfortable a position as he could for both of them. He feared it would be a long night.

The last remnants of the sunset quickly dropped below the western horizon and the moon rose, though little of its silvery light penetrated the dense forest. An owl hooted then swooped in search of prey. Faramir could only hope that no other, less friendly predators, were abroad that night. He stretched out his free hand and threw more branches upon the fire. The movement disturbed Aragorn. “Thirsty,” he murmured.

Faramir reached for the water bottle and held it to his lord’s lips.

Aragorn drank deeply then muttered. “So cold.”

“I wish I had a better means to keep you warm,” Faramir said ruefully. He was starting to feel cold himself being bereft of shirt, tunic, and cloak. Cold sweat from Aragorn’s brow dripped on to his bare shoulder.

“Faramir?”

“My lord?”

“Do not leave me!” Aragorn reached out a shaking hand.

Faramir grasped it, his heart lurching .The King must be even more gravely ill than he had feared to plead with him like a frightened child. “I will never leave you, my lord,” he said firmly.

Aragorn seemed to settle for a little while then he groaned loudly. “Arwen, alas, Arwen!”

“I will take you too her,” Faramir promised.

“So much pain, so cold - tell Arwen so sorry.

“There is nothing to be sorry about, be easy now, my lord.”

“Gave so much- so short a time, alas!”

“You must not abandon hope, sire,” Faramir said firmly. “Éowyn will tend your wounds and you will soon be well again.” Despite his words, Faramir’s own spirits sank even lower. He did not think Aragorn’s wounds were mortal, but he knew from the bitter experience of losing comrades that the infection that followed was often more deadly than the wound. He had also seen men appear to recover then lose the abilty to swallow and die horribly. The Steward shuddered. Gondor had waited too long for her King to lose him again after so short a time. Faramir had only known Aragorn for a few short years, but he had come to care for him deeply. He had loved his lord since their first meeting when Aragorn had saved Faramir’s life and the King had come to fill the void left by Boromir and their father. To think that such a man might die while trying to help Faramir and his lady protect their herds. It was unthinkable! He tucked the tattered garments more firmly around his lord and huddled closer.

Aragorn eventually fell into an uneasy sleep, but Faramir tried to remain alert. Eventually, though, weariness overcame him and he slept.

Faramir awoke to the joyous sounds of songbirds greeting the dawn. For an instant, he wondered where he was. Then he remembered. Aragorn lay still against his shoulder. His heart lurched. Then the King stirred and opened his eyes. They were filled with pain and glazed with fever, but he still lived.

“Faramir? Thirsty.”

Faramir reached for the water bottle, noting with dismay that there was not much left. As he moved, every muscle in his body protested. Faramir ignored the agony and held the water bottle to the King’s lips. When Aragorn had drunk he said, “I need to stretch my legs for a moment, then we will be on our way.”

“Do not leave me!”

“I will not. You have my word.”

Faramir paced the clearing trying to ease his stiffness with little success. He returned to Aragorn. After tending to him as best he could, he eased him to his feet and hoisted him over his shoulder.

Today the weight seemed twice as heavy. Even worse, Aragorn made no protest at being carried like a sack of coal.

Faramir started off, concentrating on one step at a time. His back felt as if it were breaking and so did his heart.

0000

The Steward trudged onwards, weary step after weary step. He dared not stop to rest for fear he would not be able to get up again. Only an occasional groan from Aragorn assured him that the King yet lived. His legs started to buckle and he stumbled. He collapsed exhausted on the ground with the King beside him. Faramir cradled Aragorn in his arms. He feared now that they might both be fated to die here in these woods.

The grey eyes flickered open. “Faramir?” Aragorn feebly reached out a clammy hand.

“My lord?”

“You can go no further. Leave me. Tell Arwen I,” His strength exhausted, Aragorn fell silent.

Faramir swallowed hard. Summoning up his remaining reserves of strength, he willed himself onwards, this time half dragging, half carrying Aragorn along with him.

The sun rose higher in the sky and the woodland started to thin out. He had reached the path. Suddenly, Faramir heard the sound of approaching hoof beats. He called out as a rider came into sight. “Stop, we need help!”

The rider halted. Faramir could have wept with relief. It was Beregond.

“My lord!” Beregond stared at Faramir and the King in sheer horror. Only then did Faramir realise what they must look like; dishevelled, covered in blood, and only half clothed.

“Are you injured, my lord?” Beregond was already drawing off his cloak.

“I am well enough, but the King is sore hurt. A great cat attacked him. Could you help me get him on to your horse? Never have I been so glad to see you, friend!”

“And I, you, my lord! Every available man is out looking for you. My men are close behind. Your lady organised search parties when you did not return last night.”

Faramir wrapped Aragorn carefully in the Captain’s cloak.

“You mount my horse and I will lift the King up,” said Beregond.

Faramir tried to mount but his numbed limbs failed him miserably. Wordlessly the Captain offered him a hand.

“Could you lend me your tunic, Beregond?” Faramir asked. “I do not wish to cause alarm appearing before anyone else like this.”

“Of course, my lord.” Beregond was wearing leather armour, which he removed together with his tunic. He replaced the breastplate over his shirt.

Faramir thankfully donned the borrowed garb. It was even itchier than his own.

With considerable difficultly Beregond lifted the semi- conscious King on to his horse. The animal snorted restlessly, uneasy at the scent of blood, but quieted at a word from Faramir.

Beregond slapped the gelding’s rump. “I will follow you on foot,” he called, as the horse set off in the direction of the house.

“Have a care, the beast might still be on the prowl!” Faramir called after him.

Faramir gripped Aragorn tightly around his waist and urged the horse into a brisk canter. Roused by the motion, Aragorn groaned.

“Easy, sire,” Faramir soothed. “You will soon be safe now.”

They had only travelled a short distance when they came upon two of Beregond’s troop. Faramir commanded one to ride after the Captain to fetch him. He told the other, who rode the swifter horse, to go and alert Éowyn that the King was badly injured.

Faramir again urged the borrowed horse forward. He had always loved horses, but today especially appreciated that the noble beasts would bear men upon their backs. A distance, which had seemed on foot had seemed so great, when carrying the King, did not seem so far at all on horseback.

It was not long before the house came into sight and he could hear his hounds barking. Éowyn ran out to greet him.

“Faramir, my love!” she cried, anxiously regarding his dishevelled and blood splattered form.

“I am well, beloved,” he assured her. “The King, though, is badly injured, set upon by the great cat that savaged your foals! Help me get him inside!”

Faramir was almost at once surrounded by servants and guards. Two burly sergeants lifted Aragorn down from the horse and carried him within.

“Lie him on his side, his back is injured,” Faramir called after them.

Éowyn followed, calling out instructions to the servants. A groom helped Faramir dismount. The Steward bade him care for the horse then stiffly followed on unsteady legs.

The men carried Aragorn to a spacious chamber and laid him on the bed. Éowyn had already ordered a fire lit and her healing supplies were laid out ready. The housekeeper and the maids bustled hither and thither with hot water and towels.

Éowyn was already unwrapping Beregond’s cloak from around the King when Faramir entered the room.

Aragorn groaned and opened his eyes trying to focus on his surroundings. “You are safe now at my home, sire,” said Faramir, gripping his lord’s hand.

Éowyn frowned as she caught side of the blood stained makeshift bandages that covered Aragorn’s upper body. She felt his pulse, then laid a hand on Aragorn’s brow and sighed deeply. The King moaned softly at the lightest touch.

“We will tend your wounds now and all will be well,” Faramir soothed.

“You, Faramir are going to have food and drink, a hot bath, and clean clothes,” Éowyn said firmly. “The servants have them ready for you.”

“I cannot leave him,” Faramir protested.

“You are half dead on your feet and in no fit state to be in a sickroom!” said Éowyn. “I need to give him poppy juice before I attempt to remove these bandages and it takes a while to take effect. All I plan to do while you bathe, is to examine him and give him the medicine and plenty of fluids.”

Faramir could see the sense in her words and made to leave. Éowyn moved across to a table and filled a glass with water, to which she added several drops of poppy juice. She supported Aragorn’s head so that he could swallow. After he had drained the glass, she replaced it on the table and covered the King with a warm blanket.

“Do not leave me!” Aragorn muttered feverishly and clutched frantically at Faramir’s hand. “Arwen, where is she?”

“I will return very soon and I will send for your lady. You have my word.” Faramir reluctantly freed himself and made his way to his study, where he scribbled a note to the Queen telling her that her husband was injured and needed her at his side. He gave the message to a servant, telling them to despatch a messenger to the City with all haste.

A steaming bath awaited Faramir in his bathing chamber. On a tray beside the tub were jugs of wine and of cordial and glasses, together with a plate of thinly cut bread and slices of cheese and fruit. Faramir poured himself a drink. He had not realised just how thirsty he was. He thankfully discarded the itchy woollen tunic followed by the rest of his stained garments and eased his aching back and limbs into the soothing warm water.

Faramir had little appetite, but forced himself to eat while he soaked in the tub. He had succeeded in getting Aragorn to safety, but he was still desperately worried about his lord. He finished his ablutions swiftly and donned the clean clothing laid out for him. It felt good to have linen rather than wool next to his skin again.

The bath somewhat eased Faramir’s many aches and pains and he walked back to the King’s chamber more easily. Aragorn lay much as he had left him, though his features looked less haggard now the pain relieving draught was taking effect. Éowyn had dismissed the hovering servants and was bending over the King, taking his pulse.

“How is he?” Faramir asked.

“A little easier I think,” said Éowyn. “I have removed his boots, but will leave you to put him to bed once his wounds are tended.” She dipped a cloth in a bowl of warm water and begun to soak off the bandages. It was a slow and laborious process as the blood had dried hard. Aragorn groaned and shifted restlessly on the bed. Faramir knelt beside the bed in front of him. He gripped both his lord’s hands. Easy, sire,” he soothed, “it will soon be over.”

Éowyn bit back a cry of dismay when the wounds were finally revealed. Aragorn’s back and shoulders resembled a chunk of raw meat and were crisscrossed with deep angry scratches, which oozed pus and blood. “This is even worse than what befell my poor foals!” she exclaimed. Gritting her teeth, she began to clean the wounds as gently as she could.

Aragorn moaned softly, his features contorted with pain. He gripped Faramir’s hands tightly.

Éowyn then regarded the wounds critically. “They are all deep enough to need stitching,” she said. “I think it is better, though, to leave them open to drain. I dare not close them, lest I trap poisons within.”

She smothered the wounds in honey and covered them with clean bandages.

Aragorn never released his grip on Faramir’s hands. He groaned softly, but did not otherwise cry out.

“There, my lord, all over now,” Éowyn said at last, relief evident in her tone. Her pale blue gown was now splattered with blood, giving her a somewhat alarming appearance. “I must go and change before I frighten the household. I will leave Faramir to put you to bed.”

“Thank you, my lady,” Aragorn murmured. He lay back exhausted against the pillows.

Faramir straightened up, grimacing at the pain in his back and legs.

“Are you well, my love?” Éowyn enquired. “Maybe the servants should aid the King?”

“I am just a little stiff,” said Faramir.

A sudden thought struck Éowyn. “We could find no trace of you in the fields or the surrounding woods,” she said. “Where was the beast?”

Deep in the uncleared forest. The King followed its tracks to its lair where it attacked him.”

“You took no horses. However did you manage to bring the King home?”

“I carried him.”

Éowyn’s jaw gaped. “You carried him? But how? Such a feat would take several men or a horse.”

“He is my lord,” Faramir said simply. “To him have I sworn both love and fealty. He once brought us both forth from the dark vale, so how could I leave him to perish alone in the dark forest? I carried him hence on my back.”

“You are a remarkable Man, Faramir of Gondor! I chose well when I married you!” Éowyn planted a tender kiss on Faramir’s lips, then bustled from the room.

A servant brought fresh water and cloths. As quickly and gently as he could, Faramir removed the rest of Aragorn’s blood stained clothing, dressed him in clean linens, and pulled the bedclothes over him.

Aragorn looked unhappy at needing to be tended like an infant, but bore the ministrations patiently enough. He then asked for water, and by the time Éowyn had returned, he had drifted into an uneasy sleep.

“You should go and rest now, husband,” said Éowyn. “I will sit with him.”

“I will stay with him until the Queen gets here,” said Faramir in a determined tone.

“Just as I thought you would, I know you to be a stubborn man,” said Éowyn. “We will both sit with him then.”

“How will he fare, Éowyn?” There was fear in Faramir’s voice.”

“Such hurts would have killed a lesser man,” said Éowyn. “The King, though, is of pure Númenorean descent and exceptionally strong. He is sore wounded and has a fever, but I can detect neither broken bones nor hurts within. We can but wait and hope.”

“May the Valar protect him!” said Faramir. He kissed Aragorn lightly on the brow to emphasise the blessing.

“The Queen’s presence should help him,” said Éowyn. “If she rides a swift horse she should be here before nightfall.”

Husband and wife pulled up chairs on either side of Aragorn’s bed and waited. After a while, Éowyn felt she should look in at the nursery. Faramir realised that he felt hungry again. He went to the doorway and called out to a passing servant to bring him some refreshments.

He had left Aragorn’s side for only a few moments, but when he returned, he found one of the house cats curled on top of the covers against Aragorn’s chest, purring loudly. He immediately made to move the cat, but Aragorn’s eyes flickered open. “Warm”, he murmured.

Faramir let the cat be. Aragorn sank back into his poppy induced sleep.

When Éowyn returned she exclaimed in horror “Whatever is that animal doing here?”

“It sneaked in while I was talking to one of the servants,” said Faramir. “I was going to remove it, but its presence seems to soothe the King.”

Éowyn regarded both King and cat with a critical eye. “He does seem to be resting more easily,” she conceded. “It can stay for the time being as long as it does not touch his back.”

Husband and wife resumed their stations either side their King’s bed.

The sun was low in the sky, its fading scarlet rays illuminating the bedchamber, when the barking of the hounds alerted Faramir and Éowyn to the Queen’s arrival.

Aragorn’s fever had risen and he had become restless. He alternately sweated and shivered. The cat had become alarmed and after washing its whiskers thoroughly, had removed itself to more peaceful surroundings. Éowyn had given Aragorn willow bark tea, but it seemed to be to no avail. Her patient had become increasingly exhausted and his breathing became ragged. He now struggled even to open his eyes. Faramir was sponging his lord’s face and coaxing him to swallow more water when Arwen glided silently into the room, startling the Steward and his lady.

“How is he?” Arwen demanded as she hastened to the bedside and lovingly kissed her husband’s lips. Aragorn’s eyes flickered open with a mighty effort. “Vanimelda!” he whispered, a weak smile lighting his pale face.

“My lady, I am so glad that you are here!” Faramir greeted her.

“Have you brought a healer?” Éowyn enquired.

“I brought two assistants from the Houses of Healing to help with nursing care,” said Arwen. “Estel has little time for healers who know nothing of Elven arts. There is nothing any of them could do for him that you have not done already.”

“My skills do not seem to be helping him,” Éowyn said sadly. “His fever is getting worse.”

“Uncover his wounds that I may see them!” said Arwen, “ and tell me exactly what happened

“They are a distressing sight,” Faramir warned.

“Am I not Elrond’s daughter? I have seen far worse.”

Faramir and Éowyn exchanged a glance and nodded. Faramir recounted all that had happened to the Queen.

Éowyn called for hot water then pulled back the covers and started to soak off the bandages. Aragorn groaned in protest.

“Easy, my beloved,” soothed Arwen.

“So ugly for you to see,” Aragorn protested.

“You have been wounded before,” Arwen said calmly. Even so, she blanched and swallowed hard when the lacerated flesh was bared to her gaze. She quickly collected herself and said. “These hurts need treating with athelas.”

“I will send one of my maidservants to gather some from the herb garden,” said Éowyn.

“Eldarion is with me,” said Arwen. “The herb will be more potent if he gathers it, young though he is. For the blood of Luthien runs twofold in his veins. Maybe your maid would show him where it is?”

“Of course,” Faramir responded while Éowyn was still shaking her head in bewilderment at such a strange request.

Arwen studied her husband intently for a few moments. Then she held her hands a little way above his wounds and concentrated intently as her hands moved slowly from his neck to his waist.

At last, she opened her eyes and pronounced. “The wounds have gone deep and he has a cracked collar bone and ribs.”

“I examined him thoroughly.” Éowyn sounded defensive.

“I do not doubt it. Only an Elven healer can detect changes in the energy that surrounds all living creatures. Even I have only fully learned this art since I came to dwell amongst Men. My father and brothers always tended the sick in Imladris’ healing rooms and they saw no need for me to practise healing too.”


“Naneth, I have it!” a boyish voice called from outside the door.

Éowyn swiftly pulled the sheet up to Aragorn’s chin as Eldarion burst into the room, followed by a dismayed looking nursemaid. The little boy skidded to a halt beside the bed and regarded his father with dismay. “Ada!” he cried.

Aragorn opened his eyes and managed to smile at his son. “It gladdens my heart to see you, ion nîn,” he said. “Go now and play. You must care for Naneth.” He swallowed; studying the child’s frightened face, and then added, “Until I am well.” He closed his eyes again, exhausted.

Arwen took the athelas from the boy and kissed him. “Thank you, Eldarion. I will use this to made Ada well again. Now go and have your supper, I will come to you as soon as I can.”

With a last anxious glance at his father, Eldarion permitted the nurse to lead him away.

Arwen called for a servant to bring more hot water and asked that the kitchens keep a constant supply in readiness. As soon as the water was boiled, she took two leaves of athelas and bruised them between her palms, murmuring something in the ancient tongue of her people, as she did so. She cast the leaves into the bowl of steaming water and at once, a living freshness filled the air, banishing the stale odours of the sickroom.

Faramir found himself inhaling deeply and his heart felt strangely lighter. Arwen held the bowl in front of her husband’s face. Aragorn’s breathing deepened and some of the tightness left his face. Arwen sang softly, which seemed to ease her husband further.

After some little time had elapsed, she called for more hot water into which she cast two more of the athelas leaves. She then bade Faramir remove his outer tunic, sit on the side of the bed, and support the King against his shoulder. She repeatedly bathed Aragorn’s wounds with the athelas mixture. Arwen continued to sing as she worked, a sweet haunting melody, which Faramir surmised to be a prayer of healing to the Valar.

Faramir held the King fast, at first in a gentle restraint when he flinched at the touch to his wounds. Then marvel of marvels, he felt Aragorn’s heartbeat strengthen against his own and saw the tense body gradually relax as the wounds drained their poisons away, washed clean by the healing athelas.

“We should bandage his back again now,” said Arwen. If you would assist me, Lady Éowyn? More honey needs to be used to prevent further infections. And mix him a draught of poppy juice. Sleep will be his best healer if his body is to recover from the shock and loss of blood.”

Faramir continued to hold his lord while the two women worked. As soon as they had finished, Arwen and Éowyn gently eased the King down on to the pillows and pulled the covers over him. Faramir tried to assist them, but his stiff and aching arms refused to comply.

“You should rest now,” Éowyn advised them. “Go and lie on the bed in the adjoining chamber as I assume you will not leave the King?”

“What of the Queen?” Faramir asked.

“I shall sit beside Estel,” said Arwen. “My kind needs far less rest than the younger children of Ilúvatar. Lady Éowyn, you should retire to bed now.” Thus saying, she settled herself on a chair beside the bed.

“Call for me at once if you need me,” said Éowyn. She paused only to give Faramir an affectionate kiss before making her way to her bedchamber.

Faramir noticed as she left the room how exhausted she looked. The past day had taken a heavy toll upon them all. He looked again at the still figure upon the bed, studying Aragorn’s pale still face. He did look less drawn, though and a little colour had returned to his pale cheeks. He was breathing deeply and did not seem to be in too much pain, though he looked exhausted after so many hours of being tended. Faramir gently kissed Aragorn’s forehead then retired to bed.

The Steward had not expected to be able to sleep when he lay down upon the narrow bed in the next room. He pulled off his boots with some difficulty, given how stiff he was, and lay down, drawing a blanket around him. He knew no more until the sun streamed through the window the next morning.

For a moment, Faramir wondered where he was ; then he remembered and got up as quickly as he could, his heart filled with anxiety as to how the King fared. He was still stiff and sore, but not as badly as the day before. He hastened into the next room. Arwen was still sitting in the chair. It was as if she had not stirred from the night before. Aragorn had not moved either. He lay so still that Faramir’s heart lurched.

“How is he?” Faramir enquired.

“He is still sleeping,” said Arwen. “The fever has abated. Would you sit with him for a moment, please, while I wash my face and change my gown?”

“Of course, my lady.”

Faramir took her place by the bedside. Aragorn must have sensed his lady’s departure as his eyes flickered open.

“My lord?”

“Faramir?”

“How do you fare, sire?”

“Well enough, apart from having a sore back and feeling as weak as a new born kitten! I feel as if I have not eaten for an age!”

Faramir was overjoyed to hear Aragorn speak in a near normal tone of voice rather than a pained whisper. There was more colour today in the King’s face and his eyes were bright and alert.

“Shall I fetch your lady, my lord, and order the cook to prepare some refreshment for you?”

“In a moment. Come here, Faramir, I have not yet thanked you.”

“For what, my lord? “

“For saving my life.”

“It was I, alas who could not shoot the beast; while my lady and the Queen tended your wounds,” Faramir protested. “Had you not offered to help protect our lands, you would never have been injured.”

“I freely chose to hunt the lynx,” said Aragorn. “You brought me here safely by carrying me for miles, a feat worthy of the songs of old. Thank you, my friend.” He held out his hand.

The Steward clasped his lord’s outstretched hand. The grip was not as firm as usual, but the hand was no longer clammy and shaking. Aragorn was on the way to recovery. His heart sang with joy and gratitude.

ooOoo

Autumn had turned to winter and life had returned to normal for Aragorn, Faramir, and their families.

Faramir was staying in the City for a whle to take part in some important trade negotiations. They had concluded for the day and he had joined the King and Queen in their private sitting room after partaking of an evening meal with them.

A blazing log fire burned in the hearth and the room was brightly illuminated with candles. The wind could be heard moaning outside, but no chill draughts penetrated the cosy room. Aragorn was sprawled on a chair by the hearth, absently stroking one of the nursery cats, which had found its way there. His favourite hound reclined on the hearthrug at his feet. Arwen was in the nursery, telling Eldarion a bedtime story. Faramir was seated the other side of the fireplace perusing a message he had received earlier that day.

“A message from your lady?” Aragorn enquired.

“Yes, she has good news. I will read it to you. The horses are all thriving and Swiftmane foaled last night- a beautiful little filly. The King’s suggestion that Legolas should hunt the lynx was a good one. He came several days ago with an Elven hunting party and they managed to kill the creature. It is a relief not to have to post a guard over the foals now winter is drawing in. I told the Elves only to kill the rogue lynx that threatened my foals. If there are more, I believe Ithilien has food enough for them.” He smiled and folded the parchment into his tunic pocket. “I hope we never again get a rogue beast,” he said thoughtfully. “Yet it would gladden my heart if all manner of animals could thrive in Ithilien now that we are free from the Shadow.”

“Indeed so,” said Aragorn. “I would have my realm be a place where creatures of all kinds can flourish alongside Man, Elf, Hobbit, and Dwarf. We owe much to animals. They are our companions, they bear us on their backs, and they give us food and clothing. My kingdom could not prosper without them.”

The two men lapsed into companionable silence. As if in agreement, the cat purred and the dog gently wagged its tail.

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